Sunday, October 22, 2006

Who Are You, Who, Who? Who, Who?

Speaking of magic numbers . . .

I guess it really is true, that Lutherans do seem to have more identity problems than any other communion.

But when we talk about identity we're really talking about the Other -- in other words, "Who are we as Lutherans" actually means "Who is related to us and who isn't?" And in that context it makes a big differences, as in every game, how many parties there are. When someone divides the world into two parties, then the meaning is "Let's Rumble!" If someone divides the world into three parties, then the meaning is "Let's you and me ally first and the rumble with the other guy!" But if we divide the world into four parties, then the meaning is, "This isn't going to change anytime soon, better get used to it."

So when someone asks, "who are we as Lutherans?" I need to first of all know: how many types of Christians are there? And the answer will also push your definition of theological distinctives.

I. A few of the "Let's rumble!" Schemes:

1) Protestants vs. Catholics: In this scheme, we Lutherans (LCMS and ELCA alike) are just another denomination of Protestants, to join in pointing out the errors of Catholics. This was of course mostly advocated by non-Lutherans as the program we were just too slow to get with.

2) Spiritually alive Christians vs. spiritually dead Christians: in this one, Lutherans whose hearts are on fire about Jesus should join arms across denominational lines in a Spirit-empowered unity. Denominations should not be abandoned, but left to handle the boring stuff, like paying the bills and training pastors. This is a nice way of fighting but without admitting to yourself that you like to fight.

3) Liturgicals (or "small-c catholics") vs. non-liturgicals ("evangelicals"): In this scheme, Lutherans (LCMS and ELCA alike), along with Catholics, Orthodox, and Episcopalians, are traditional liturgical churches and we should follow along with the slogan "lex orandi, lex credendi." (I don't think that's quite right but it's a slogan of that school.)

4) Conservatives vs. liberals: Here the LCMS joins Southern Baptists, non-denominationals, Catholics, and Orthodox, and so on as just another component in the big pro-life, traditional family church movement.
As moral issues pull the liturgical bodies apart, 3) is being replaced by the updated:

5) "Traditionalists" (i.e. pro-life, "sex-has-rules" liturgicals) vs. liberals (in morals or liturgy): This is a lot like 4, but aesthetically more like 3: chant vs. praise songs; city vs. suburbs; crunchy vs. mainstream.

6) Orthodox vs. heterodox. This is the hard-core confessionals' Sinn Fein-style program: "Ourselves alone!" The Christian world is divided into real Lutherans and everyone else

7) Real churches (Catholic and Orthodox) vs. "ecclesial bodies" (everyone else). You'd think no Lutheran would actually support this, but Josh Strodtbeck's "excommunicated Catholic" idea seems to embrace this very identity.

II. Two of the "Strategize first, then rumble!" schemes:

1) The Conservative Reformation: In Charles Porterfield Krauth's version of the via media ("middle way") idea, Lutherans are the conservative reformation, other Protestants are the radical reformation, and the Catholics are the unreformed reactionaries. Confessional Lutherans should displace the Episcopalians as the real standard bearer of the conservative Reformation, assert leadership over the rest of the Protestant world, and then lead it to victory over Rome. Say what you will about this scheme, it is the only one ever offered to give Lutheranism some kind of actual distinctive role in world Christianity.

2) The Luthodox strategy: in this one, it is assumed that only "liturgical" "real presence" Christians count. In it, there are three bodies: Catholic, Lutheran, and Orthodox. The strategy is, Lutherans and Orthodox ally as the non-Papist, small-c catholics. This is a significant presence in the LCMS intelligentsia, and will probably remain so, unless and until its advocates convert to Orthodoxy.

III. Some "learn to live with each other" schemes:

1) The old American denominationalism in its Indiana version: Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists; or Missouri version: Episcopalians, Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists; or its Wisconsin version: Episcopalians, Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists.

2) My (on occasion) scheme of the four major theologies: Orthodox, Catholic, (Augsburg) Evangelical, Reformed.

You may wonder why the "evangelical catholic" terminology, ever-popular in intellectual circles, doesn't show up here. That's because I think it's more a slogan than a viewpoint or strategy. It is used alike by those who as "liturgicals" want to rumble with "generic American Christianity," by "traditionalists" defining themselves against those who have given in to modernity, by Luthodox who want an alliance with Constantinople, and even by "Ourselves alone"-ers who see themselves as the only real evangelical body and the only real catholic one.

The most interesting conclusion is that: people like to rumble. The dualistic, the rights vs the wrongs schemes are definitely the most common. In contrast strategizing or let it be schemes are much less popular. At least, that is, in the blogging world -- probably III.1 is the biggest in the pews. Those who want to rumble "off-line" are probably mostly into I.2 and I.4, with I.6 a distant third.