I am beginning to realize that the Missouri Synod knows some things very well. For example, we know who we are NOT. For example, we are NOT Roman Catholics, we are NOT Orthodox, we are NOT Reformed, we are NOT mainstream American Protestant, we are NOT charismatic, and we certainly are NOT EVANGELICALS!!
When my parents and grandparents were growing up in the Lutheran Church, the thing NOT to be was Catholic. As a matter of fact, there was nothing worse than the idea that we were just a different “kind” of catholic. As I am growing up in the Missouri Synod and learning more and more about our history, it seems that we have a long line of groups that we are NOT. It seems that in my career in the Missouri Synod, the thing so far that we are trying to distance ourselves from (at least the more vocal among us) is that of the dreaded Evangelical. Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that I am NOT one of those mainstream, mega-church, feel good, polo-shirt wearin'-to-church-on-Sunday Evangelical ministers (actually, I’m not quite sure what I am sometimes, since I am, after all “just a Vicar.”) The atmosphere among the “in-the-know” theologically educated shuns this feel-good Evangelical, smiley, nice dressing and generally watered down group of happy-clappies.
Unfortunately, no one is clearly telling our people or our clergy what we ARE. Are we liturgical? If so, how liturgical can we be without crossing the historically dreaded line of Catholicism, or the mysterious, although somewhat alluring, line of Orthodoxy? Are we contemporary? If so, how many praise bands, testimonials, and “worship leaders” are we away from being general Protestants, or worse (gasp!) Evangelicals?!!
It's always a fine line that I find no one wants to cross. As a matter of fact, no one even really knows where it is, that is, until it's been crossed. By the time the line has been crossed in either direction it is not much longer until accusations are being made, threats are being lobbed by all sides and the fear of schism rears its ugly head in our beloved Synod.
So, here’s a real question, and I hope I will get some constructive feedback on this. Who are we as Missouri-Synod Lutheran Christians? How far can we go in either direction? Is incense too far one way? Are all out heavy metal Divine Services too far the other? No one really seems to know until it has already been done, and often times by that time it's too late.
I am confident that, for the most part, the majority of our pastors and theologians are well right of the center as far as theology goes. But what are we going to do about who we are? Can anything be done? Who knows? As for me, I’m gonna keep pushing that liturgical envelope until I can someday have people, without fear, follow Luther’s suggestion to “make the sign of the holy cross” as a rememberance of their baptism, to “let their prayers rise before God as incense” and all sorts of other fun and meaningful liturgical stuff that may be considered “too Catholic.”