Lent is a powerful season for personal, spiritual growth. There are many traditions associated with Lent that have come down through the years. In and of themselves, there is nothing wrong with any of them. Giving up something for Lent, special devotions, time of reflection, use of ashes, mission outreach and many more that I am not familiar with in my life. Through out the years (since being in the ministry I guess I should say), Penny and I have practiced the discipline of giving up something for Lent. It is a personal and private discipline. And in many ways, it has been very helpful in our spiritual walk. It has drawn us closer to our Lord. So in that way I believe it has been very good.
I normally don't talk about what we give up for Lent. Actually, very few even know that we do it. I take that from what our Lord says in the Sermon on the Mount, doing your acts of fasting and piety are meant to be between you and the Lord. So we have kept it that way.
But this year has been a challenge for us to follow what we have done. Not because we have the desire for it, which of course we do, but under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we have been able to train our bodies and minds to follow the way of the Lord not the way of the flesh. The challenge for us has come from others within the Lutheran Church (and here I do not mean the members of St. Paul's, Troy. I am talking about the other clergy of the Lutheran Church.). It has seemed to me that we are taking our personal piety to great lengths and it has become a show. Things that were not part of the practice of the Lutheran Church have seemed to become almost a necessity if you want to be considered a good, confessional Lutheran. The more Lutheran you want to be, the more pious, the more "ancient" your practice is supposed to be. Things that were not a part of the Lutheran Church are now considered to be the "norm" and when you don't follow the practice, you are made to the outsider, the strange one. It is like everyone who wants to show that they are "true Lutheran" will jump on the bandwagon. For example, the whole imputation of ashes. It has become the craze among Lutherans. It seems that if you really want to be on the "in" crowd, you will make sure that your congregation uses ashes, and then you will talk about them over and over again as though they are the focus of your spiritual life.
It just seems to me that our actions have become the focus. We are so busy trying to prove we are good Lutherans, that we are following the way of the the ancients, the church of years gone by, that we are losing sight of who we are as Lutherans today. I am not a Lutheran from the 16th century. No matter how hard I try, I cannot be. I did not live then. The personal practice, the form of worship, the way of life - all are different now than they were then. To try to reach back and pull all that practice and form from then seems to be plastic and fake. It is like we are trying to be something we are not and cannot be. People today cannot worship as people in the 17th century. Nor do they really want to. Will they worship that way? Sure they will. They will do whatever the pastor of the congregation wishes to do. And some will even grow to like it, perhaps even love it. But that is not the majority of people in the pew. Lutherans don't want to be Catholic or Presbyterian. They don't want to act like they did in Walther's day (19th century) nor do they want to be like they were in the mid-20th century. They want to practice, worship and live as Lutherans in the 21st century.
Why do we feel that we need to go backwards in time? Is it because there are some Lutheran pastors and congregations that try to be Reformed or Baptist in practice, thinking that is the way to draw people in? Is it because we have this reaction against the mega-churches that we seem to want to drive people away from our churches by forcing an ancient form of worship upon them and making them feel that if they don't like it then they are not being good Lutheran?
All right, I know that I am generalizing. And any time you generalize you run the risk of saying the wrong thing or offending someone. That isn't my goal. I am just venting against the push that I am feeling from those within the Southern Illinois District of the LC-MS to return to a time that I don't enjoy, like or feel is necessary. I feel like we are leaving behind our Lutheran heritage. And before you jump of that and say, "But that is our heritage," understand what I mean. It feels and looks like we are trying to become Catholic or Orthodox. It feels like we are trying to force upon the church, me and others, people in the pews, etc. a form of worship and a type of piety that does not fit into the lives of people today.
Yes, there are those that like and enjoy the ancient form of worship. But there are more that don't. Why don't they speak out? Most of the time because they are intimidated by those who are brash and out spoken. They are made to feel less than Lutheran if they speak out and say that they don't like it. They are beaten down with this ancient father and that ancient father, and having never read them, nor caring to read them, nor having the time to read them, they feel that it is easier to say nothing and suffer in silence.
I don't like doing that. Back to my thoughts on giving up something for Lent. I have felt less inclined to hold to it, not because of weakness of the flesh but because of the sick feeling I get in the pit of my stomach when I listen to those who are of the "true Lutheran" mindset. I feel that such action is nothing more than man trying to prove something. And at that point, I realize that my personal spiritual piety has become nothing more than show - trying to say, "See, I can do this. Look at what I am about." And then, I know that I am wrong. I have lost sight of why it is being done.
This too is the rambling of a parish pastor who is upset with the direction of his Church body. And soon, perhaps sooner than he thinks, he is going to have speak out and work to return to the Lutheran Church he grew up knowing and loving and wants to continue to have for the years to come.