What is the direction of the Lutheran church in America? Are we heading up, down, or sideways? Some would say things have improved in the last few generations: every Sunday offering of the Sacrament of the Altar, renewed interest in liturgical worship, renewed interest in study of the Lutheran Confessions and patristics. Yet, this is but one end of the spectrum. At the other end is the wholesale sell-out to Evangelicalism, Pietism, and Enthusiasm. Between these poles is every variation of good, bad, and indifferent.
Thirty to forty years ago, with some exceptions, American Lutheranism was a homogenous mass of mediocrity. While alternating between page 5 and page 15 in TLH from week to week may not have been ideal, it was quite possibly the saving grace of those generations. Where the preaching was weak, the liturgy remained strong and constant. It made certain the faithful heard God’s Word of salvation every Lord’s Day, even if the pastor was not well-versed in Lutheran theology.
Today, we have gone to the extreme in heterogeneousness. You cannot predict from the acronym on the sign out in front of the building what you will hear and see inside. In some places, this is very good. In others, it is terribly sad.
In some locations today the preaching is Christ-centered with liturgical worship and every Lord’s Day celebrations of the Sacrament with excellent catechesis. In others, the Lutheran congregation is indistinguishable from the Christian Reformed church down the street, right down to quoting long sections from Joel Osteen’s latest bestseller during the sermon.
Overall, it has been a lateral move. There is no large consensus among Lutherans. Glaring differences in practice from congregation to congregation make it impossible to hide the differences in doctrine. This should come as no surprise, for it has always been this way with the Church Militant and will be until our Lord returns. There is no golden age to which to return when there were no quarrels and heresies, nor is there such an age coming while on this earth. While we can and should be thankful for those places where the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments rightly administered, we dare not fall into triumphalism. Things are not getting better. That is not what Our Lord promised for His Church on Earth. Here the Church endures because God preserves Her. That is what we are promised. Not success, not growth, but endurance (endurance of the Church, not necessarily your congregation or church body). The Glory is not for the Church Militant but the Church Triumphant.