For many years much of Lutheranism has suffered from a disconnect with regard to doctrine and practice and their relationship. A few years ago at a Circuit Winkel, a suggestion was made for a joint study of the then new CPH book, The Fire and the Staff (2004). One of the pastors became visibly agitated; “Doctrine and practice have nothing to do with each other; why waste our time with a study like that?”
What happens when doctrine and practice are separated? Simply put, all kinds of naughtiness can and will creep into the church. When practice alone is driving the car and practice is disconnected from pure doctrine, one can only end up in the ditch. When the local congregation, trying desperately to keep up with the latest fad or cultural rage becomes “The Church of What’s Happening Now,” people grow tired and apathetic. They can do all this at home so why bother with church? The often classify themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” In other words they still believe in a God or some Higher Power, and they are sincerely seeking some spiritual meaning for their lives, but they have left the institutional church; it has nothing of substance to offer.
Pastors and laymen alike see that there is a growing indifference and apathy in America with regard to church membership and worship attendance. So, what is the problem and more importantly, what is the solution?
If you believe that doctrine and practice are not related, one possibility would be for you to attend the upcoming seminar at Lutheran Church of the Resurrection (LCMS) in San Rafael, California on September 29. One of the many things that the Spiritual But Not Religious workshop advertises and encourages you to do is to imagine what your congregation would be like if you emphasized practice rather than purity. Surely that is the problem.
Keynote speaker for the event is The Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress, author of Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Practice and The Sacred Path Companion: A Guide to Using the Labyrinth to Heal and Transform. You can read more about her work to introduce people to the labyrinth here. While you are at the event you will also hear from Rev. Lon Haack, Nebraska native and host pastor who is “certified in Labyrinth spirituality and ministry” and well as California-Nevada-Hawaii District President Rev. Robert Newton. According to the advance publicity for this event, remember that “society is changing and the church must change too.”
However, if you believe that doctrine and practice are related and that purity of doctrine is not the problem, might I be so bold at to encourage a return to historic, confessional, orthodox Lutheranism? The problem of indifference and apathy toward God and His gifts is nothing new and is as old and Genesis 3. The answer is always the same: Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow! It’s time for us to stop the insanity of promoting and encouraging practices that distract and deter from the cross and empty tomb, (as well as forgiveness, life, and salvation) and fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. We need to visit our apathetic and indifferent members and bring them God’s Word full strength; Law and Gospel. It’s time for us to demand that our leaders actually lead and our teachers actually teach and to remember that God’s Word has behind it all power and authority in heaven and on earth. It’s time for us to scrap the gimmicks and fads and trust the Triune God who promises to draw people to Himself. It’s time for us to remember our identity as distinctively Lutheran Christians, in both doctrine and practice. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2.
If you are visiting Lincoln, Nebraska, I am happy to report that you cannot visit our labyrinth here at Good Shepherd since we don’t have one; “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” 1 Corinthians 1:22-25. If you are curious, however, the Unitarian/Universalist church on the other side of town has one for you to visit and enjoy.
For part one, click here.