Keep the Lutheran Church Catholic

Divine Service (Lamb)My family has had the opportunity to attend Lutheran churches in Denver, St. Louis, Johannesburg, London, Las Vegas, and Capistrano Beach, California. In our prior Fundagelical existence we attended many more churches in many more places. The contrast between the Lutheran and Evangelical episodes has been enlightening.

The Lutheran churches have been oases in our travels, offering Word and Sacrament refreshment during a trip away from home. Each congregation was a unique reflection of its location and circumstances yet also thoroughly universal — “glocal” as the Harvard School of Church types might say. We knew the exact waypoints to navigate to in order to get exactly the same life-giving nourishment. Use to find churches you can trust to deliver Christ and the Cross.

Evangelical church tourism offered no watering holes. There were just endless and searing wastelands where you would be fortunate to stumble into mere heterodoxy rather than aimless apostasy.

Our only aberrant Lutheran experience was in St. Louis where the entire service (sermon included) was given over to teenage girls gushing about the emotional highlights at a recently concluded youth gathering. Right under the nose of Mother Synod, this particular church cast us back into the wilderness by making the service entirely about itself rather than Jesus.

It was the sort of hyper local church that is much in vogue among church growthers and urban missionalists. They are inclined to believe that the community institutes and justifies the church. This manifests in hipster churches, brewpub basilicas, baptism bashes, and sacramental entrepreneurs ablaze with catchphrases and hashtags.

Yet these churches and movements are so finely sifted that they cannot serve you if you do not fall within their market researched granularity. Likewise, such churches invariably head-hunt executives rather than call Pastors. The executive skills are seldom portable in ministry without growing the organization into the Sahara of churches. When those avenues close out, they resort to cloning the original by desiccating neighboring churches, or becoming consultants to others doing so.

By contrast, the Confessional Lutheran churches we sojourned with provided the catholicity required and expected of them.

Whilst finding parking, being warmly greeted on arrival, and not being given the stink-eye for taking over someone’s heirloom pew was nice, it was irrelevant. It was far more important to get the Divine Service under way. At that moment we were connected with our fellow believers as we confessed the same thoughtful elaboration of Romans 3:28, and received forgiveness of sins and salvation in the Lord’s Supper.

In a recent stop over, the Pastor somehow memorized all five visiting family members, and named us during the Lord’s Supper. You will not receive that in a mega church even if you attend for 30 years, let alone for a single hour.

Not one second of acclimatization was necessary except to be alert to the idiosyncrasies of accents and slightly different customs than we were used to. Whether it was South Africa, the United Kingdom, or the United States, the confession was identical despite the diversity. And so it should be; Lutheran theology travels very well.

The common denominator in the Confessional churches was Pastors who submitted to the Office of Holy Ministry, and were respectful of the doctrines and practices necessary to walk together in true altar and pulpit fellowship. This is another way of saying that they were disinterested in innovation. In return, we were careful to speak with each pastor before taking the body and blood of Christ.

Pastors occupy an office instituted by Christ, which cannot be improved upon with KPIs. The Divine Service comes from Scripture, which cannot be improved upon by performing Highway to Hell on Sunday. Let us be thankful for Pastors and congregations that remain faithful to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.

Romans 10:14-17
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.


Keep the Lutheran Church Catholic — 9 Comments

  1. I couldn’t have said it better. And I’m sorry to hear your bad experience was in St. Louis where I am. I know it wasn’t my particular church but it could have been any one of dozens of LCMS churches in the area who follow willow creek. Sadly our once confessional only congregation has caved to a few loud voices wanting to be more upbeat and cool so we now have a gym service as it is called and have to hire another pastor. We were the only mega church (by Lutheran standards) in the area to not have a contemporary service but we fell to pressure and oddly this never was voted on. It just came in stealthily. Anyway I’m glad you are still able to find churches that are not Lutheran In Name Only.

  2. My husband and I were out of town on two separate trips last month. For the first, which was to a Denver suburb, I was able to research potential Lutheran houses of worship. There were three in the vicinity: two I rejected because they offered a choice of traditional or contemporary worship, although I don’t remember the exact language they used. The third was a very small congregation offering confessional Lutheran Divine Service every Sunday. We attended and feasted on Word and Sacrament, feeling blessed by everything that was said and done. For the second trip, (to a suburb of KC, MO) there was unfortunately only one choice. Communion was offered, but the statement of who could partake was not the best. We attended the traditional service, which consisted of hymns and liturgy from LSB, but everything was displayed on the white walls on either side of the altar. Their vicar gave the sermon, in which he talked about how God nourishes His people, yet the young man failed to mention Word or Sacrament as a source of that nourishment. I was not shy; after the sermon I firmly but lovingly chided the vicar for his sermon’s lack of content. I hope my criticism was taken constructively, and perhaps he will someday be a better pastor for it.

  3. The word, “inexorable” comes to mind as does the phrase from the Book of Judges, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” to describe today’s church landscape. The tendency toward loosening and liberalizing is everywhere and in everything, and is hailed as a beneficent expedient. Don’t have a cow, man! The loosening and liberalizing comes from human nature wanting to take the path of least resistance. It’s easier to conform to the world’s expectations (James 4:4) than to hold to and teach pure doctrine to youth and adults who have an attention span that won’t allow them to boil an egg. I think people have become more “Theory X” than “Theory Y” preferring the easy way, the quick way, the convenient way, the superficial way, where the words “church discipline” and “supervision” are no longer in their vocabulary and accommodation in the church is the new orthodoxy that trumps long held confessional rectitude. Like the storied past of the Israelites, man cannot help but stray from the narrow path into idolatry. Man is a sinner and so he sins. It’s what he does, inexorably.
    The hard way to get here, the hard way to stay
    The hard way to work and the hard way to play
    The hard way, the long way, the rough way, the slow
    The hard way to get here and the old hard way to go
    Frankie Laine – The Hard Way

  4. @Gayle wehrli #1


    That’s the way it was foisted on us; No vote. Just all of a sudden we were having a “contemporary service” one Sunday a month and we had brought in a DCE to implement it. No discussion with the congregation, no conversation, no opportunity for input. Simply fiat from above (pastor, church council, and district). It took us 15 YEARS to eradicate it! And we are certainly no better off for the experience. Good luck.

    soli Deo gloria,

  5. @Gayle wehrli #1

    It was billed as a replacement for the “family service” which used mostly piano and no amplification. Now, congregants cannot hear themselves because of the excessive amplification. The band is in front, getting maximum attention. They are unable to negotiate the chordal and rhythmic structure of normal Lutheran hymns. Untrained people are routinely attempting solos and leads, with embarrassing results. All of this at a church with one of the best and most respected music programs in the synod.

  6. @mbw #7

    Untrained people are routinely attempting solos and leads, with embarrassing results. All of this at a church with one of the best and most respected music programs in the synod.

    “all created equal” [except for musical ability/training] “endowed with unalienable rights”… including the right to butcher the traditional Lutheran service, if that strikes the Pastor’s urge to be “special”. (Dana Carvey “special”)

  7. @helen #8

    I believe there are people who claim they won’t attend if this event is not staged every week on Sunday morning. In a spirit of self-sacrifice, hoping to save some, the church lays down and allows the weekly event (but not in the sanctuary — yet!).

    But what about the congregants who held the line personally, in their families, among skeptical friends and acquaintances; who learned the slightly difficult melodies and rhythms in order to partake of the rich content of the words in those hymns and songs?

    What about people _fleeing_ from pop Christianity and faux rock and faux folk-music?

    What about people genuinely troubled by their sins and scared of what the devil is doing to the world, who want the presentation from the seminarian to have an element of gravity (graveness) and not a hip little anecdote addressed to “you guys”?

    What about musically gifted children who will miss a Bach cantata — in church! — in order to be blasted with the amateur folk-rock chosen by their confused parents?

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