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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Liberal Conservatives in the Lutheran Church

"What's a liberal conservative?" you ask. Well, first of all, let me say that using such labels is pretty squishy. They seldom communicate as well as we think. In fact, I don't usually use terms such as "liberal" or "conservative" when talking about current trends in Lutheranism because I frankly don't think they're that useful. So, you see, my use of the term "liberal conservative" is a bit tongue in cheek in the first place.

"Liberal Conservative" is my own personal designation for Lutheran Christians who consider themselves conservative but who only wish to conserve beliefs and practices they grew up with, regardless of actual Lutheran theology. Such dear folks are conservative in the sense of wanting to keep things as they know them. But they are liberal in the sense that what they know may actually be a departure from historic Lutheranism. I suspect all of us are susceptible to this to some degree.

  • So if you think it's "too Roman Catholic" to make the sign of the cross, you might be a liberal conservative.

  • Similarly, if you think a crucifix is papistic and that Lutherans should prefer a barren cross, you might be a liberal conservative.

  • If you love to sing Methodo-bapti-costal hymns and revival songs such as What a Friend We Have in Jesus and Amazing Grace but can't stomach classic Lutheran hymns, you might be a liberal conservative.

  • If you think "real" Lutheran congregations must have an American flag in the chancel, you might be a liberal conservative.

  • If you refuse to go to individual confession/absolution, you might be a liberal conservative.

  • If you oppose offering the Eucharist every Lord's Day, you might be a liberal conservative.
There are well-meaning, devoted Lutheran pastors and laity who consider themselves good conservative Lutherans but who ignore, reject and sometimes even OPPOSE sound Lutheran doctrine and practice because it's different than what they've always done.

Most of these discrepencies would be addressed with a simple reading of the Lutheran Confessions. Ad Fontes. I only picked the above examples because they seem to be pretty common amongst LCMS folks. Nor are they equally serious in nature.

I suppose the strict definition of a "conservative" is someone who doesn't want to change. Someone once asked me if I am a conservative Lutheran, and I said that depends on who is asking and what they mean. I don't think we should determine our beliefs and practices by the idiosyncracies of the past 100 years. I prefer terms such as confessional, traditional, historic or even classical.

I write this as a pastor of a wonderful loving Lutheran congregation. None of these comments are intended to reflect negatively on my present church or anyone in particular. There haven't been any disputes to speak of over these kinds of issues in the whole time I've served here. It's intended as nothing more than a general critique of a mindset that seems to be prevelant in the LCMS at large.

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Bob Waters said...

Or maybe "Pietists." I'm personally inclined to "generics."

Jason S. Evans said...

It's crossed my mind that for some "conservative" churches, it might be harder for them to move to confessional worship than it would be to bring in a praise band.

There's this fallacy amoung churches that the youth are always looking for flashy music and a "spiritual" worship experience. I imagine that is true for some people, but it's not the rule. Many of us who are coming out of evangelicalism are looking for more depth. So many life-long Lutherans are used to using a minimal liturgy and worship, that they are blinded to the idea of going back to something fuller. That is, going back to weekly sacrament, confession and absolution, and law and gospel preaching. Instead, they want to take the easy way out and hire the praise band to sing 23 verses of "Jesus, you are my all in all".

Anonymous said...

Yes, the frustrating thing about pietism is that it, at times, looks
very "Christian"!Scripture reminds us: "A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out." We need to be sure that *we* are not "breaking" and "snuffing out" a fellow believer by pre-judging wrongly.
As St Paul says, "Do not think that
you stand, lest you fall."

ghp said...

One minor(?) nit to pick...

"Lutheran Christian" is redundant, for Lutherans are Christian, and Christians are Lutheran (even if they don't know it yet -- when they get to Heaven, they'll know it!).

Otherwise, you're spot on with your analysis!

I really think that a great many "generics" (*great* word, Bob!) would run away screaming if they actually knew what was in the Confessions to which they (purportedly) subscribe. At best, they'd give a wishy-washy quatenus rationalization...

"Confessionalists: We're here. We're quia. Deal with it!" ;^)

organshoes said...

You guys are so brilliant. And funny.
It's been a heartbreaker for me, to have so many conservative Lutherans (I'm sure they've all taken every conservative *political* stance in the book) request pietistic hymns for funerals, among other non-Lutheran heartfelt 'needs' within worship life, and to resent, to destructive degrees, the lack of a eulogy.
Some pastors I've known, dragging their 'conservative' congregations into confessional Lutheranism, have diligently pointed out, after the singing of some Reformation-era hymn in Divine Service, that, for those who desire old-time hymns (meaning, of course, something more Protestant and quasi-Baptist), you can't get more old-timey than the 16th century.
Quia--it's crucial, and it needs to be explained over and over. And we laymen are evermore grateful for the new BOC/Reader's Edition, in bringing quia back to the pews.
This is a great blog.

Kurt Wall said...

Indeed. I'm with Pr. Stiegemeyer — I'm not sure the using the terms "liberal" and "conservative" communicate much. As for authentic Lutheran worship, I often wonder if even some confessional Lutherans would recognize Reformation-era worship and liturgy. Popular piety has also changed in 500 years...

Orycteropus Afer said...

Have half an Aardie for this post, Scott ...

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