13 June 2007

On Being Lutheran

A friend wrote me a sad note a bit ago about not enjoying identifying himself as a Lutheran anymore. I have to confess that it is something that I do not quite understand. Yes, I know being a Lutheran is mega-uncool. All the self-professed "thinkers" have left or are leaving. My friend mentioned being fed up with the whole Lake Woebegone schtick, disgusted over reading the latest Reporter and stuff about the upcoming Synodical Convention. I have sympathy with his revulsion to the way many contemporary Lutherans are headed, of course. But the name Lutheran? It's still one that brings good associations.

What does it mean to me? This is just personal reflection, understand. But when I hear Lutheran...

It calls to mind my first encounter with the Eucharist as the true body and blood of Christ. I can still see the young people at St. Andrew kneeling to receive and then walking back and spending time in prayer afterwards. Their heads bowed, their faces, well, grateful.

It calls to mind my brother Maupin ribbing my side as the water was poured into the font and him saying: "That's for you!"

It calls to mind Palm Sunday services with palms! Maundy Thursday solemn celebrations of the Supper. Good Friday with seven sermons on the seven last words. And Easter with overflowing joy. It calls to mind Advent and Lenten Vespers in the middle of the week, and learning Psalm 130 by heart from the back of TLH, with pastor singing the bass-line.

It calls to mind spending six weeks each year with the Passion of Jesus in sermon, hymn, anthem, and prayer.

It calls to mind joining the choir and processing in to the music of "Built on the Rock" as we celebrated a jubilant Reformation Day; and this was when I still had not the foggiest notion how to sing in parts. But the others did - and what a rich sound.

It calls to mind Bible studies that wrestled with the sacred text and invited us not to be afraid to hear what was being said and honestly to react to it.

It calls to mind the beautiful Christmas trees and the real branches around the Advent wreath. The acolytes standing on tiptoe to reach the tall candles on the gradine.

It calls to mind the ringing of bells, the chanting of psalms, the huge "for you ness" of it all.

It calls to mind evangelism visits and visiting the booth at the county fair, replete with tracts from LLL.

It calls to mind listening to sermons that did not fail week after week to deliver the goods: real law that exposed and stripped me of all excuses and real Gospel that refreshed me and sent me on my way with joy.

It calls to mind hymns and chants that sounded different from anything I'd ever heard before. I still remember the first time Herzliebster Jesu made itself known to me.

It calls to mind memorizing the catechism and reciting it for Mrs. Bleckley and receiving her kind chastisement for not having it down exactly correct.

It calls to mind the heady years at Bronxville where the music of the Lutheran Church opened before me like a vast ocean waiting to be explored, and into which I got to plunge in chapel choir, tour choir, and chorus.

Lutheran to me calls to mind the people, the vast numbers of people, to whom p. 15; Trinity Sunday and the Athanasian Creed; and "this is most certainly true" brings the smile of shared experience to the face.

To me the word "Lutheran" conjures up all that to me and so much more. A negative? No way. A joy. The joy of a forgiven sinner, welcomed home to the Father's house and learning to rejoice in grace from so many who have gone before. Indeed, "this is most certainly true."


906Lutheran said...

Thanks Brother Will...I enjoyed that!

For me I remember my grandfather, a Lutheran pastor for 38 years, and his passion from the pulpit--yet a passion that proclaimed the Law in all its sternness and the Gospel in all its sweetness...

I could think of many more--but this is your blog, not mine! Anyway, that's the first one that came to mind.

BTW--Brother Cwirla had an interesting response to the one-year/three-year question I posed...here's the link again.

William Weedon said...


Thanks for the heads up on Cwirla's comment. :)

By all means, feel free to share more of what the name calls to mind. I left off so much. Here's a weird one: it calls to mind The Lutheran Hymnal (ours were blue, and not the new ones with the cross on the front, but the old with the name across the cover). The sheen of the pages. The smell of the book. Yes, I always smell books.

Anonymous said...

"...replete with tracts from LLL."

Huh? The LLL as a powerhouse? What the...?

William Weedon said...


LOL. It was a memory from many years ago. Because of the unrepented sin involved in the treatment of Pastor Schulz, I have not supported the work of the LLL since those tragic days. It was so odd, because the spring before that happened I was even privileged to be guest speaker on the Lutheran Hour for two Sundays.

Past Elder said...

From a convert, who grew up RC in Lake Woebegone (literally, I remember when it was a local radio show, seeing Garrison, nee Gary, around campus), I resonate with Luther when he says No-one is baptised in the name of Luther, Luther didn't die for anyone's sins, and we do not profess the one, holy, Lutheran and apostolic church. In the same breath, the name Lutheran calls to mind:

-- sitting alone in my car doing some late Sunday night bachelor grocery shopping (cold meat, doughnuts and pop) listening to the Lutheran Hour, thinking what is so un-Catholic about that, and why can't my guys just up and say it so clearly, and why can't I just get it?

-- seeing all the Vatican II liberals at the abbey rooting for the Seminx crowd against the oppressive, suppressive, depressive, patriarchial reactionaries, waiting for LCMS to join in the interfaith dialogue hammering out a universal apostacy, and me secretly rooting for the supposed bad guys.

-- walking past the LCMS parish in the Back Bay in Boston, thinking those would be my guys, if I had guys, but they can't be the real deal since they aren't Catholic but then again neither is the Catholic Church anymore, so I'll just keep walking.

-- finding out that this complete and total babe who to my utter astonishment actually agreed to go out with me, was actually LCMS, the one Christian denomination for which I retained any respect, and had bolted after Seminex much as I had bolted Rome after Vatican II.

-- being married to that babe by an LCMS minister we knew in the LCMS rite but in a non denominational chapel, after the Orthodox rabbi who was to marry us in a non Jewish ceremony got booted by his congregation for being too Orthodox (we ain't the only ones with problems!).

-- sitting in our living room with that babe, now a very pregnant Mrs Future Elder, resolving not to inflict our religious burnouts on our children and to call every nearby LCMS parish, the one denomination either of us would consider, and this one WELS parish too which "everybody knows" is just like LCMS only worse (read: better to me).

-- showing up at the WELS parish because they followed up on my call and the others didn't, thinking this Common Service thing is a little different sort of mass, getting the hang of it and starting Bible Information Class.

-- reading a little red paperback, "Three Treatises", I had bought years before and never read, almost shaking at what I read since this guy Luther could have been writing about what I had seen myself, up to and including what he called "unmentionable", thinking man, you saw what I saw too.

-- reading the Tappert BOC the pastor gave me (no McCain BOC then!) between our first son's overnight feedings (I took the first shift, to 0200 hours), my amazement unfolding from page to page as I saw the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith laid out clean and clear, stating simply and plainly what my church had hemmed and hawed to say, finally seeing it hadn't been lost at all, it was right here!

-- not quite a year after my profession of faith, being at the babe's funeral, who had died the night before Thanksgiving, and amid the human emotion hearing it ring out loud and clear that the only dead people at the funeral are the ones not alive in Christ, that while we here celebrated a Thanksgiving that lasted one day, she began one that lasts an eternity.

-- being at my parents' RC funerals, wishing among all the mays, shoulds, subjunctives and other hemming and hawing the priest would just cleanly and clearly announce what Christ has done like my pastor does.

-- reading the 1943 synodical LC edition, which I had bought two copies of years ago, one I gave to a Lutheran seminarian who wanted one but couldn't find an LC at seminary (now ELCA, surprise, surprise) and kept the other but never read.

-- visiting the LCMS parish on Christmas Eve that was the runner up in my phone calls years ago, thinking if I could get these guys to do a verse or two of Silent Night in German too (I'm English descended, just grew up around all these Germans) this would be just about perfect.

-- professing the faith in that same church last year, knowing that profession is the Rock that the gates of hell and even synodical conventions cannot overcome.

-- being able, after years of not knowing what I am or should be, to look someone right in the eye and say, I'm a Lutheran, here's what we believe.

Past Elder / Terry Maher

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

All true book lovers smell their books. It is a gentle obsession, to be sure.

Loved your post, WW. Good stuff.


123 said...

How do these kinds of 'good associations' fit in with those who convert from very different religious communities, especially if they still love that culture rather than having come to lose respect for it, into another faith? I hear similar things to the musings here from Greeks talking about why they could never be anything but Orthodox, for instance, and I'm sure the same can be said of other Christian and non-Christian cultures - 'how can you turn your back on your culture, your people?...', which I am sure was something that the early Christians heard from the Jews and the pagan Greeks and Romans.

William Weedon said...


I think a kind of answer was offered in Elert's *Structure of Lutheranism* in which he posits that the Gospel has an impact. It shapes a community. Not that it always shapes things the same. The Gospel impacting the Greeks of the second century no doubt looks different than impacting the Greek of today; and similarly with different cultures in different places and times. Which is to say that there is not ONE way that the Gospel's impact is to be experienced as definitive for all time. I think that's a little bit of the mistake Rome made once upon a time in assuming that her way was THE way.

The danger is that one comes to think of the results of the impact as the defining mark of the Christian experience. Hence, one associates *being Christian* with *being Greek, German, Arabic, Ethiopian* whatever. When that happens, we've subbed the result for the cause, and we end up trying to preserve a shell.

But to love and thank God for the ways that the Gospel has impacted a community and the gifts given through that is what is more at the heart of the original posting. When I think of the word "Lutheran" I do not think strictly in doctrinal terms (though that is never excluded) but in terms of how what the Lutheran Confessions professed was prayed, celebrated, and lived out.

Maria said...

I also remember the first time I heard "Herzliebster Jesu". It remains one of my favorite hymns, both for text and for melody.