The Last Lutheran — Reformation Day Wake Up Call
My colleague, Rev. Edward Engelbrecht, penned this powerful little post and how appropriate for Lutherans to read it on Reformation Day. And no, he did not literally “pen” it, ok? I know what some of you in Intertube land are thinking. When you read this, please do yourself a favor and do not think immediately of excuses or justifications, just let it sink in a bit. I’ve read far too many types of comments that go something like this, “We are being faithful so people will find us.” Or “We are being faithful, numbers don’t matter, we are not about numbers, but about being faithful.” Or, the worst of the latest thinking yet on this: “God has elected some to salvation and they will get there because God has elected them, therefore, we should not be caught up in any sense of urgency about the Lord’s mission.” Yes, I’m serious. That’s the latest foolishness floating around on subjects like this.
Faithfulness AND outreach, always a both/and, never, ever, every an either/or.
Here then is the article.
The Last Lutheran
“Grandpa, what’s a ‘Luth-ran’?”
The computer reflected in the boy’s dark eyes as he squinted, pondering his own question.
“Have you tried searching the internet?” grandpa said, looking back from the Skype portal on the computer screen.
“No. I thought you would just know.” The boy reached out, touched the screen to draw up the search engine. Then said, “Luth-ran.” The results screen listed various links to online encyclopedias but no sites for congregations. The boy’s eyes searched the links, wondering which to open.
“Mom said you were a Lutheran, grandpa. I thought you would just know. I have to do a report on how things used to be and the teacher said we could ask questions of our grandparents.”
“I was a Lutheran. That was a long time ago. There was a Lutheran church in town and I went there. But now it’s a recycling center. You know, the one where we turn in our plastics for credit?”
“That place was a church? It’s a mess. . . . Why did people go to church?”
“Everyone went to church then. Well, not everyone. But many did. Church was important. The churches were the biggest buildings in town. You saw your friends there and they taught you about the Bible,” grandpa said.
“There’s a church in our city, grandpa. We drive by it. But it’s not really big and the people speak Spanish there. Do you think it’s a Lutheran church?”
“No. I don’t suppose so,” grandpa said. “You don’t pass Lutheran churches anymore. Was a time when every town had one, or at least an old one boarded up for sale or turned into a museum. You don’t even see that much anymore.”
“So, what happened? Why are you the last Lutheran? The internet articles have a lot about ‘Jesus.’ Is that a Lutheran thing?”
Grandpa hesitated. “I don’t think I can say. That’s kind of a personal question, honey—not one you ask. People have their own beliefs and ideas. Everyone can think what he wants. So, it’s best not to ask about it.”
The Reformation Is Cancelled
In 2017 the Lutheran church in North America will observe the Reformation by closing hundreds of its congregations and preaching stations. We love the purity of our pulpits and quiet of our sanctuaries, which grow every quieter.
I am writing this because of something I saw the other day. Recently, CPH introduced an easy to use Outreach Kit, which some Lutheran congregations have picked up. Most congregations are taking one copy of the kit, which equips them to reach out to 50 households.
What struck me yesterday was when I saw members of another conservative protestant church snap up twelve copies of the kit, intending to reach out to 600 households—shocking contrast in behavior and an indictment of our passive, Lutheran culture.
Some reasons other conservative Protestants are growing while Lutherans are not can be explained as simply as follows:
- Outreach is an on-going priority for them. They build it into their members’ thinking while Lutherans do not.
- They plan for it and budget for it while we plan for the best sausage supper.
- They will work with all the messy, confused, needy people who respond to the outreach. We find such people annoying.
Our congregations tend to be slower or even totally negligent on these points. This is perhaps because we are a 500 year old church and they are more spry by comparison. Be we have got to address this cultural issue.
A New Reformation
Our congregations need to learn to sow the Word liberally while teaching the Word conservatively. Anything else implies a lack of confidence—a lack of faith—in the Word of God we profess. As we believe, teach and confess the life-giving Word, outreach will become our highest priority. That is what I would like us to celebrate in 2017. Lord, have mercy.
I’ve invited the leadership at Concordia Publishing House to consider what we can do to change the passive culture of our churches and turn us outward toward the community with the Gospel.
I invite my readers to consider the same and raise the same questions in their local churches.
”We beg of You, bless, oh bless, the work of spreading Your written Word. . . . You know how listless our hearts are and how easily our zeal grows cold. Grant us therefore genuine glowing love, a love that will never grow cold or weary.” Amen.
—C. F. W. Walther, For the Life of the Church, p. 30.