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 http://lutheranliturgy.org 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.
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.