Whenever you leave one place for another you always take something with you. In some way October 31st will always remind me of the Reformation and I will always travel back in my mind to singing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" at my childhood congregation in southeast Missouri. We take something with us from every place we've been. It will forever be my Grandpa's church where, along with my grandmother, they sat on the left in the second row from the front. The same place I sit with my wife and 6 kids now.
When I was in college and seminary a popular phrase in the circles I ran in was "still attending Grandpa's church". That resonated with me because I wanted the Lutheran church of my fathers.
In my studies I would go on to learn just how much the Lutheranism that I considered to be normal was a departure from what my ancestor Fritz had known in Germany and then when he came to America in 1865. He traveled here in part for religious liberty.
He didn't care for the "rationalist catechism" being used in northwest Germany at the time, and also in part because he didn't want his sons to fight in the wars going on in Germany. America seemed like a safer bet for a man with a wife and nine children.
Not just aesthetically, but in important ways, he would not have recognized the Lutheran church I left one year ago.
Recenty a video was shared with me from an LCMS congregation in the St. Louis area that is going through a name change or "brand process". They want to move from the more traditional "St. John's" to "Pathfinder Church". You can watch that video here.
If one thing stood out to me it was the pastor's disappiontment that despite his extensive efforts to sell his congregation on the name change, still 40% of his people wanted to keep their original name. In a congregation that scarcely resembles what my ancestor Fritz would have known, indeed even further from what Luther would have recognized, their name is one of the few points of contact remaining with their past.
Would Luther recognize the Lutheran church bodies of today?
Would Calvin the reformed churches?
John Knox the Presbyterians?
John Wesley the Methodists?
None of this change happened overnight. Heresies and schisms don't cause everything to fall apart all at once. The Lutheranism of the 1st and 2nd generations was more stable than the Lutheranism of today, but eventually it started to unravel. The same goes for all other Protestant confessions.
And even if you could locally create the ideal Lutheran Church that matched in every way the life lived by those who made the 1580 Book of Concord, then what? Do the other Lutheran congregations you are in communion fellowship with share that vision of life together? Are you an island? What about after the current pastor leaves?
What about your children? Who will hand over genuine Lutheranism to them? Will it stick, or will it eventually unravel as well? If this error in doctrine and practice is not inherent to original Lutheranism, why did 100% of Lutheran Churches decline? Why is there not one single church body that looks like the life described in the 1580 Book of Concord?
Doctrine provides the guidelines for a Christian community as we engage together in the process of working out our salvation. This process is often called Tradition. We must not only value what has been handed down to us; we must also pass on this way of life, Tradition, to the next generation.
The pastor of St. John's Church said in the video that for the sake of mission it was our duty to give up our "heritage". Our heritage is our salvation! We can only inherit our faith from those who have come before us! To give up our heritage, our inheritance, is to give up salvation and to bring new people into a reality that is less and less salvific.
You can find bridges to Orthodoxy in every Christian church body because every one of them took something with them in their departure from Tradition. Perhaps in these congregations there is enough left of that Tradition to lead some to salvation. But if you look carefully at the trajectory of all Protestant traditions, there is not much reason to hope that this way of life will be preserved for our children or grandchildren.
Stressing that Orthodoxy is The Church and that within her is found salvation is not the same thing as saying, "Oh, you're not Orthodox? I guess you're going to hell." I don't know any such thing, neither does anyone else.
But the constant, changing state of the life of Protestant churches begs the question about what will be left for the next generation. So much money and time and attention is spent trying to keep kids in church, but what are they being given? What is being handed over to them? Is it really the unchanging Tradition of Christ and the Apostles or a wolf costumed as a sheep?
My own children were a driving reason in my investigation of Orthodoxy. I worked to be as faithful to the Lutheran Confessions as possible, but what happens when they grow up and move on? What if they end up where all of the faithful St. John's Lutheran Churches had morphed into poll-happy Pathfinder Lutherans? What would they and their children have? Certainly not a way of life that I would have recognized.
The dogma and canons of the Orthodox Church are tools the Lord uses to protect a way of life, not an end in themselves. Salvation is the way that leads to theosis or the deification of man.
It is not the Sola Fide, Sola Gratia idea that the righteousness of Christ is legally credited to me by fiat.
It is not that His death took the punishment I had coming so that the Father's wrath is appeased and He is finally able to love me.
It is not that instead of seeing miserable me our Heavenly Father sees the legal fiction of Jesus' perfect life covering me like snow over mud.
No. This is not the way that leads to salvation, but an idea that came about in the midst of a departure from the Tradition that saves. These are falsehoods intermixing with the truths of Scripture, masquerading as "Gospel", and poisoning each generation a little more than the last.
Whenever you leave somewhere, you take something of it with you. You might start with a moving truck, but eventually pieces get lost or broken or thrown away. You pick up new things, and eventually what you had from Home makes up only a small portion of what you possess.
The Reformation churches started with a much larger share of Tradition than what is present today. And yet my former church body has more of Tradition than many other Protestant confessions. For that I thank God! It means she preserves more of a way of life that leads to salvation than you can find in many other places.
But she isn't stable. She isn't Home, and so what she has will continue to be lost and broken, with no way to replenish what is no longer there. As a pastor I wanted to impart what was lived and taught by Christ and the Apostles. As a father I wanted the same for my children. That could not be done in any full or stable way as a Lutheran.
Not because Lutherans are bad.
Not because Lutherans are going to hell.
Not because there was nothing good.
The doctrine of her Confessions simply lacked the tools needed to guide people on the way to eternal life. And so churches like the almost newly minted "Pathfinder" pick up secular tools like polling and re-branding and whatever else they can find as they wander in the world, travelling farther and farther from home.