What’s a Lutheran? Let a traditional Lutheran explain it

If you’re an Evangelical, have you ever wondered how a traditional-orthodox Lutheran might feel about him or herself?  Or how a traditional Lutheran pastor might feel about Evangelicals?

I just came across an interview posted at The Gospel Coalition blog titled “Those Dern Lutherans“.  Blogger and Reformed pastor, Rev. Kevin DeYoung (RCA), interviewed Rev. Paul T. McCain, an orthodox Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor (LCMS) who is the editor at Concordia Publishing House, and who blogs at Cyberbrethren.  Let me say that he sure can tell you what Lutheranism is about. I have been a reader of his blog for years.    I’m not a traditional born-and-bred Lutheran; I’m an evangelical transplanted into the Lutheran church–so I provide this disclaimer–“What I say about Lutheranism is not necessarily representative of most Lutherans”. In this interview, Pastor Paul says it well.

Question 9. “Anything else you think the world needs to know about Lutherans?”

Answer: “I would say this: I think Evangelicals often find themselves searching for something they feel might be a bit “missing” in their Christian walk, and think that Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy may fit the bill, while all the while Lutheranism is there, right around the corner. Often when they find a traditional Lutheran Church they are surprised to find a robust, rich worship life, rooted in the Scripture (which is what the liturgy is, in its entirety). They find a rich focus on Christ and the Gospel–Lutherans are adamant that Christ is the heart and center of everything, and they also find a tangible experience with God, not based simply on feelings or emotions, but on a concrete and objective experience with God’s grace through the sacraments. And all this is wrapped up in such a vibrant passionate love for Jesus. We Lutherans combine the best of what is Evangelical, with the best of what is truly catholic about the Church, with the rich heritage of the Lutheran Reformation. I think it is a winning combination, but of course, I’m kind of biased.” (…Read full interview)

I think he’s right in what he says about some Evangelicals–whether we admit it or not.  Evangelical theology has much to learn from Lutheran theology, albeit, the opposite is true too.  The same goes for worship-liturgy too.  If you’re Lutherans, sorry but the vice versa is true too.

When all is said and done, I can honestly say that every denomination, church, or tradition, e.g., Lutheran, Presbyterian, Evangelical, etc., we have much to learn from one another.

The Church: always forming and reforming

Throughout my seminary career, I’ve heard professors being openly critical of other churches, especially those that practice different methodologies in ministry.  Both mainstream evangelical and confessional mainline churches are continually criticizing one another’s methodologies, and even, critiquing one another’s motives in ministry.   I have had a foot in both camps for a while now so I can totally understand where the two are coming from, and also feel torn between the two.

In our mainline confessional churches (e.g., Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic), we seek to maintain the confessions of the historic church in order to preserve the truths.  This explains why the growth in or historic confessional churches tend to be stagnant.  However, the upside is that historic positions of the Christian church are maintained and preserved.

In our evangelical churches, we are constantly trying to change in order to be missional.  This explains why our growing evangelical/charismatic churches tend to re-invent ourselves all the time (e.g., new forms of worship).  The upside is that there is growth in evangelical churches (especially worldwide Pentecostalism and charismatic churches).

On the missional church, Craig van Gelder describes the church as: always forming (missional), and always reforming (confessional).

    He says that in this polarity lies a healthy and dynamic tension between change and continuity, and between mission and confession.  This forces us to be challenged by a need to recontexualize a congregation’s ministry while maintaining the truths of the historic Christian faith.

    Can there be a “Third Way”?  I have come to position that in order to survive and even thrive as a Church, the ministry of the Church must begin to practice what I call the “Third Way”.  In my pastoral ministry, I have been trying to implement and meld some of the accepted methodologies of mainstream evangelical and historic confessional churches because that is the only way to be dynamic and growing, while maintaining the established Christian truths.  I believe that we need to be challenged by one another.  Those who do not submit to learning one another’s differences will never understand the advantages of the other methodologies of ministry.  I do hope that we can all, one day, come to a more common understanding of ministry.