Lutheranism: Too clannish, cliquish and negative?
I had a very interesting conversation with some new friends Sunday morning. They are a couple who recently joined our congregation and found their way to our congregation after listening to Lutheran radio. They both come from a non-church background. In conversation one of them asked me why it is that Lutherans are so insular and stick so much to themselves and never really do much to tell non-Lutherans much about Lutheranism. Good questions! Then we talked about how odd it is that when Lutherans do try to get aggressive about reaching out they often just present themselves as no different from the E-Free or non-denom. down the road. I told her how I told the woman in the
couple that it has always been my observation that conservative
Lutherans suffer from an inferiority complex. I told her
that many of us are convinced that nobody would, or could, really be
interested in classic historic Lutheranism and so we fall all over
ourselves excusing it and even apologizing for it, and then try to
present ourselves as generic protestants when we
have such an awesome treasure of truth to offer.
Why are we Lutherans so often so clannish and cliquish? Why are we embarrassed and unsure of our own doctrinal heritage and
liturgical traditions and think that nobody but "us" will really be
I’m forever making contact with people who, in their own way, basically are all saying the same thing: "What’s wrong with you silly Lutherans? Why don’t you tell anyone about
yourselves? And why do you do such a bad job at reaching out boldly
with your Lutheran distinctives?" Notice, for instance, the poignant
comments in the Gerhardt post below! So, what’s with us Lutherans?
What is our major malfunction when it comes to being positive,
winsome and bold about reaching out with our unique message? Are we
really capable only of being negative about everything that isn’t
Lutheran? Sometimes it seems that all we can ever do is criticize and
blast anything that is not Lutheran, but how much time and energy do we
spend on presenting our unique doctrinal heritage in a positive and
Then we fall into the ditch on the other side of the road when we do get passionate about outreach and tend to want to water down our Lutheran distinctives to make ourselves more "attractive" to non-Lutherans. I had an odd conversation a few months back with a Lutheran pastor who seriously asked me why I use the word "Lutheranism" so much. He said, "It sounds like an ‘-ism’ and that’s not good. Don’t you think we should just talk about Christianity more?" I was left speachless by this remark. I responded, "Well, the Roman Catholics don’t seem to be too concerned about talking about Catholicism, so why should we be concerned about talking about Lutheranism?" This is a good illustration of the flip side of my main point here. We do not have to give up the unique distinctives of Lutheranism in order to reach out boldly with the Gospel as Lutherans. In fact, it is precisely in the unique distinctives of Lutheranism that we can, do and must reach out boldly with the Gospel!
But I have been very concerned for a long time that we are spending so
much time letting everyone know what we don’t like, what we are
against, what is wrong with everything that is not Lutheran that we
finally don’t have much time left to pursue an energetic program to
tell people all the good things there are about Lutheranism.
I’ve lost track of the number of converts who have contacted me over the years from various places telling me all the reasons they were attracted to Lutheranism And you know what? I can’t think of a one of them who told me, "I was really attracted to Lutheranism because it blasted XYZ." Nope. In every instance I’ve been told by converts that what attracted them was a Lutheran pastor or teacher or layperson who was so fired up by the beauty and treasure that is Lutheranism that their zeal was infectious and contagious. One convert told me it was precisely in how Biblically powerful Lutheranism’s presentation on Holy Baptism is that convinced him. Another told me that he had never heard the Lord’s Supper so beautifully explained and confessed and lived out as it is in Lutheranism. Time and time again converts tell me that it was in the clear proclamation of the liberating Gospel that they found only in Lutheranism that they were won over for Lutheranism. I simply do not recall many converts who told me that the reason they were attracted to Lutheranism was because of how powerfully negative Lutherans were about anything that wasn’t Lutheran.
Please hear me out. If you have spent any time at all reading this blog you know I do not hesitate to speak out against error and what is wrong. But what I’m talking about here is how we approach non-Lutherans with our Lutheran heritage. For every minute we spend criticizing and finding fault (and there is plenty to find!) with non-Lutheran churches, let’s just be sure we are spending two or three minutes teaching clearly, simply and plainly what Lutheranism is all about and why it is so correct and so powerfully liberating and so faithfully Biblical. I’m adding some more to this post after a few comments. Notice the one from the man who is expressing a very legitimate concern about the extent to which, or not, we teach those who have been brought into our congregations. Very telling remark!
I’m all for
apologetics and polemics, but that’s never the end of the story, but if
you listen to Lutherans and read Lutheran blogs [mea culpa, even this
one!], you may come away with the distinct impresion that we are more
interested in telling everyone what we are against, than what we are for. And more’s the pity!
What do you think? Is Lutheranism too clannish, cliquish and negative?