Great Stuff — Dying of its own success. . .

Another great post on Pr. Peters blog, Pastoral Meanderings:


…we may be living at a time when we are watching Protestantism – at least the kind of Protestantism we have in America – come to an end. It is dying of its own success...  So write Stanley Hauerwas.  You can read the rest of his words here. . .

American-and-Christian-FlagsHauerwas has an opinion about nearly everything (I guess I am not unlike him there) so not all his opinions are of equal worth (my own self-indictment).  Yet, here I believe he is on to something (at least the sentence I quoted since the rest of his piece is less clear).  Protestantism (not the classic definition here but the popular definition we use to refer to the odd conglomeration of mainline liberal churches, non-denominational evangelical churches, and fundamental churches) seems to be dying.  It is not for its lack of accomplishments.  It has single handedly shaped religion in America, moving away from a doctrinal identity to one defined by behavior, feelings, and self-interest.  Oh, not in a deliberate sense, perhaps, but the fruits of this style of American Protestantism have been particularly poisonous to dogma, authority, and institution.

What I find so funny is that at one time both Roman Catholics and Lutherans worked like dogs to fit into the schema of American Protestantism.  Both groups lived somewhat contentedly within the ethnic and religious ghettos of their immigrant roots until sometime between the world wars and most profoundly following the second or great war.  It was then that both found the opening to enter onto the American stage and become Main Street American religious folk.  For Roman Catholics that came when one ran and a short time later one was elected to be President.  For Lutherans, normally not in the political spotlight, this came when the fruits of our economic success sent us from our neighborhoods and rural cultures into the cities and suburbs.  We wanted most of all to fit in.  Some of us did.

The great movement to become thoroughly American bore its ultimate fruit for Lutherans when the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was born.  Its roots were in a political compromise as much as theological unanimity and it was in love with all things Protestant and American — social progressivism, size, political activism, and modernity.  The ELCA got what it wanted — a place at the mainline head table — only to find out that there were fewer folks there at that table and fewer who actually cared about the table.  In the end, what killed the ELCA was its success in fitting in.

Missouri has always been an outsider but we yearned just as much for a place at some table.  We could not embrace the social progressives or theologically liberal and we were always a day late and a dollar short when it comes to politics, social change, and conspicuous success.  But that did not stop us from eying a place at another table — this one the loosely fundamentalist and evangelical coalition of the moderately conservative in social values and trending conservative with respect to Scripture.  Though not formally as a church body acting in convention, we have as (at least some and mostly larger) congregations exchanged the stuffy formality of liturgy and hymnody for the pop gospel sound and entertainment ambiance of American populist Protestantism.  Indeed, we were and are at war with the idea of fitting in.  The heart says yes but the theological mind says no.  We fight not others but our own selves in this regard.

Rome (at least in America) thought it had a winner in Vatican II theology, worship, and social teaching.  Whether they corrupted the Council or it was already there waiting for them to run with it, Vatican II provided a platform for Roman Catholics to be almost Protestant Americans.  Sure, it emptied the churches, corrupted the soul, and turned out a corrupt sense of priesthood and doctrine.  Like Missouri, part of this Church got what it wanted with a place at the American table while the rest of the Church worked to remain on the outside looking in.  Rome in America remains a church at war with itself.

My point in this is that we as Missouri Lutherans and Roman Catholics share a common dilemma.  Do we give up our quest to fit in, find a seat at the table, and become thoroughly American?  Or, do we remain on the outside looking in?  It is my fervent hope that we will give up on the dream of becoming authentically American (at least in terms of the grand Protestant ideal (peity?) of size, progressive thought, civic identity, common culture, and worldly influence).  We do not fit in.  The Church never does.  She remains in but not of the world and that is especially true in an America in which a civil religion seeks to co-opt doctrine, liturgy, piety, and morality from the Church and become its own real religion.  Even if we are not fully convinced of the wrong headed goal of this, perhaps the sober reality of the success of American Protestantism that has brought with it the seeds of its own demise should give us pause.

Do NOT believe I am anti-American.  I am truly patriotic.  I pray for our nation, our leaders, and those who make, administer, and judge our laws.  I pray for those genuinely heroic men and women who defend me and the liberty that I so comfortably enjoy.  It is that I believe the success of American Protestantism is as bad for us as a nation and people as it is for American Protestantism.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Great Stuff — Dying of its own success. . . — 10 Comments

  1. Russell Moore’s counsel is not to join the churches that have capitulated to the world. Some “success,” that. — “From Moral Majority to Prophetic Minority”

    Russell Moore–identified as one of those mythical “Lutheran Baptists“–is the new spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention on social issues. He is taking a different approach from the conventional political activist on the “Christian right.” He says that Christians have lost the so-called “culture wars” and that the loss of Christian cultural dominance may actually be good for the church. He says that Christians need to stop thinking of themselves as “the moral majority.” Instead, they have to see themselves as the “prophetic minority.”

    . . . He also questions the political approach of what was once called “the religious right.” Though his boyish looks bring to mind the former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, Mr. Moore is decidedly not a fan of the “values voter checklists” the group employs. “There is no Christian position on the line-item veto,” Mr. Moore says. “There is no Christian position on the balanced-budget amendment.”

    Which is not to say that Mr. Moore wants evangelicals to “turn inward” and reject the larger U.S. culture. Rather, he wants to refocus the movement on serving as a religious example battling in the public square on “three core issues”—life, marriage and religious liberty. . . . — “God’s Gift of Life” — “Marriage and the Church” — “Religious Liberty: Free to Be Faithful”

  2. Dear Norm,

    Thanks for posting another great article by Pastor Peters. I think it is about the best short analysis of where we LCMS folks fit into the American religious culture today.

    Most of our ills within the LCMS would go away if every one of our members read this article and agreed with it. I say: “Let’s be Lutheran without shame or embarrassment for who we are!”

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  3. “Russell Moore’s counsel is not to join the churches that have capitulated to the world”

    An example of capitulation by the LCMS is the public propaganda screed by LCMS National Mission Executive Director Bart Day published in the August 20, 2013, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Day’s article, “Immigration reform will benefit St. Louis,” which supports the Demonrat-hawked, Gang-of-Eight immigration bill.

    This support was endorsed on August 20, by Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) President and CEO Linda Hartke on the LIRS blog. LIRS is a LCMS RSO. However as pointed out in detail by Robert Baker in his Bioethike articles, “LIRS mounts letter-writing campaign to support S.744 in US House” and “Source document? Recent LIRS talking points found in August 8 Providence (RI) Journal,” much verbiage comes from an article, “Immigration reform will benefit Rhode Island,” by Omar Bah.

  4. The implications should be clear from simply reading the two Bioethike articles with links provided in #3. Briefly they include:

    1. The similarities in publication dates and verbiage between the propaganda articles by Day and Hartke and the propaganda article prepared by Omar Bah.

    The connection to Bah and LIRS can be seen in the LIRS blog article, “World Refugee Day: Providence Journal Profiles Omar Bah’s Journey from Gambia to Capitol Hill

    2. The unwarranted public promotion by representatives of the LCMS and a LCMS RSO for leftwing political immigration policy.

  5. @Carl Vehse #5

    i guess i need help in understanding the nature of the grievance.

    i’m reading about an LCMS pastor that wants immigration reform, and people that are putting together the proposal he supports are democrats.

  6. A July 5, 2012, Reporter article, “Synod leaders take part in ‘Refugee Day’ Hill visits,” puts a positive spin on the Obama regime’s ignoring the law (Here the demonratspeak, “undocument immigrant,” refers to an “illegal alien”):

    On June 15, [LIRS President Linda] Hartke praised the Obama Administration for announcing that it would halt deportations and grant work permits to undocumented immigrant youth with no criminal record and who meet criteria such as military service or educational achievement.

    “Since 2010 we’ve been calling on the Administration to stop deporting young people who are contributing so much to our communities,” Hartke said. “We applaud President Obama and the Administration for today’s bold announcement of this urgently needed policy change.”

    A June 15 LIRS news release explained, “Under the change, the Department of Homeland Security will stop deporting undocumented immigrant youth and allow them to obtain work permits if they arrived in the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have no criminal record, have been in the United States for at least five consecutive years, graduated from a U.S. high school or hold a GED, or served in the military.

    “The young people affected by this policy are know as ‘DREAMers’ after the DREAM Act,” the news release continues. “Although most Republicans voted against the DREAM Act in 2010, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rep. Davide Rivera (R-Fla.-25), and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently expressed support for different versions of the DREAM Act. The legislation, which failed in the Senate in late 2010, is aimed at providing DREAMers with a path to U.S. citizenship. It has stalled in limbo for a decade, but some within the GOP have signalled openness to striking a deal that would find a solution acceptable to both sides.”

    This is the same Linda Hartke who contributed to the political campaign of pro-murder-by-abortion MA State Representative Tom Conroy.

    In essense, the LCMS RSO, LIRS, and its president are serving as political operatives for leftist political causes.

    But there is as much chance the Purple Palace will boot the LIRS out as an RSO as the chance the Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois will be booted out by the the Office of National Mission Executive Director after doing nothing for the past three years and Floor Committee 2 derailed a 2013 convention effort to get rid of LCFSI.

  7. that presents some interesting challenges.

    i’ve not seen such avenues for immigration reform from the other political parties. I’m not sure how else bart day can help reform immigration.

  8. Like the bill itself, Bart Day’s support of the Gang of Eight Immigration Bill will not help reform immigration. Enforcing existing immigration laws and strengthening border security would be a start to reforming immigration.

  9. As far as Missouri Lutherans wanting to fit in and have a place at the table, I think 1 Samuel 8:4-9 has a parallel;

    Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

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