If you ask people what does it mean to be a Lutheran, you’ll get a whole host of answers. Some “Prairie Home” Lutherans (a reference to the Prairie Home Companion on NPR) may cite things like Jell-o with fruit in it, hot dishes, brats, lutefisk, and all those things that are not really theological but stereotypically Lutheran. Others may cite things like following in the heritage of Luther as reformer (and even rebel). Conservative Lutherans will probably talk about believing what Scripture alone teaches, and in doing so often they will express concern over anything that has too much in the way of tradition, specifically if it looks too Romish. Finally you may hear some people speak about the Lutheran Confessions (a collection of documents that are a summary of what Lutherans believe, teach, and confess published in 1580).
Yet even among those who fully subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions there still seems to be a difficulty in coming to some agreement as to what this idea of Lutheran identity is. Some will emphasize the freedom expressed in the Confessions, and in turn have a decidedly general Protestant approach to things. On the other hand there are those that would affirm the former but also recognize that our Confessions have a conservative approach when it comes to tradition: Basically, if it isn’t contrary to Scripture (or an affront to the Gospel) we are willing to keep it. The first side will fear things that look “too Catholic,” the other side will define their identity as “Evangelical Catholic.”
The difficulty is when these two mindsets are present in one fellowship (such as the LCMS). I would argue that to an extent, both are needed lest we blindly put our trust in ritualism/traditions or lest we run off and become complete sectarians who would just rather see their grandfather’s church die. At the same time, as you can imagine, this presents a difficulty as it really is two, almost diametrically opposed theological approaches. So long as both sides are willing to listen to one another in humility and with an attitude of mutual accountability, a fellowship can survive. However, if we are unwilling to listen, unwilling to accept constructive criticism from others, then really the fellowship is a sham and makes a mockery Christ and His Church.
I say all this in reflection as our Synod is about to begin its convention in a few days. Lines have been drawn and political agendas seem to be what is expected. If the LCMS is going to continue to exist at all, it is imperative that our delegates and leadership actually listen to one another rather than attempt to silence opposition while making power grabs. I don’t know what the outcome of this convention will be. There are things that, as I see them, completely undermine our Lutheran identity, namely our Scriptural and Confessional basis. I can only pray, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.
Read also: Rev. McCain on how the Lutheran Confessions are not (just) Lutheran: http://cyberbrethren.com/2010/07/07/the-lutheran-confessions-are-not-just-lutheran/