When I was growing up in southern Minnesota, the Church meant the Roman Catholic Church, and to turn Lutheran meant to leave the Church. (In my parents’ eyes this was worse, but only slightly, than leaving the DFL party.) In those parts, outside the Church pretty much meant Lutheran. And this mostly with a Scandinavian accent. (How can you tell when a Norwegian farmer is extroverted? He looks at your shoes when he talks to you.) The Lutherans and the Catholics got along quite well, in fact, and my father would report with pride that he had sat in the booth at the coffee shop with the Lutheran minister and visited with him “just like that,” as if he were a regular guy. Something Pa probably never would have done, but in this day and age we’ve become ecumenical.
Within limits. When as an undergrad I got a job playing organ for the Lutherans (they paid the best), my parents went along with it only because their morning worship wouldn’t keep me from the evening Mass at Saint John’s University. (“It’s OK to take their money but not their message.”) When my father was thinking of having a Mass said for a deceased Lutheran farmer who was a good friend, the question arose as to why we should put out our good money for them, since they weren’t paying to have any Masses said for us. Ecumenism won out and I celebrated the Mass.
And so I follow with interest anything happening among my brothers and sisters in the Lutheran Church (note my generous shift in terminology). Most of them are known as the GBLC -the Great Big Lutheran Church - or more properly as the ELCA, from the 1988 merger which brought into being the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Any split in the Body of Christ is deeply tragic. And now the Minneapolis paper reports that 2% of ELCA congregations are leaving because of certain culture-war disputes. This week the PSLC (Pretty Small Lutheran Church), also known as the North American Lutheran Church, will begin to form itself in Ohio. The website GetReligion (in the sense, “Get my conservative view of religion”) wonders why the media give so little coverage to the Lutheran split, especially since their proportion of dissidents is higher than the Episcopalians’, whose difficulties have enjoyed wide media coverage. I think they have a point.
For a decade now Lutherans in these parts have had the Word Alone movement, which arose mostly to counter the dangerous catholicizing tendencies of the Lutheran-Episcopal agreements. (Ordinations would always have – gasp! – bishops.) The Word Alone folks came out with Reclaim: Introductory Edition, a step on the way to a complete Word Alone hymnal. (A confrere asked whether it would also include music, or just the texts.) But the hymnal was not to be. It seems that the kind of folks who set out to restore the correct version of Christianity have strong opinions about many things, and they don’t always match up. (As an aside, their liturgy uses the response “And with your spirit.”) The Introductory Edition is noteworthy for its mediocre service music, and also for its reprinting without permission of an illumination from the Saint John’s Bible. I think we’ll let it pass.
Let’s all say a prayer for Christian unity – within and between all the various denominational traditions in Christ’s one Church. Here’s a nice prayer for the church from the Word Alone Introductory Edition.
We pray for your holy church
gathered and nurtured by your Word
and sent into the world to be the body of Christ.
Give us always the mind of Christ,
that we may seek the lost,
bring good news to the afflicted,
bind up the broken hearted,
and proclaim liberty to the captive.