The historical experience of their church body ought to warn modern Lutherans to be slow in bartering their liturgical treasures for illusory promises of huge evangelistic successes. The modern assault on liturgical worship is aimed not simply at a few old-fashioned customs or adiaphora, but at the whole liturgical, churchly spirit itself, which necessarily goes with a serious doctrine of the means of grace. One of the most significant books of our time, Marilyn Ferguson’s The Aquarian Conspiracy, tells us in no uncertain terms that there is a massive cultural “shift from a religion mediated by authorities to one of direct spiritual experience.” the church of the “external Word and Sacrament” should be the last to yield to that carnal spiritualizing which is “the source, strength, and power of all heresy” (SA III, VIII, 9). And Carter Lindberg has shown the deep inner connections between the fanatics of Luther’s day, the Pietism that followed, and our modern Pentacostalist/Charismatic “renewals.” If the means of grace are to rule, and not just to reign ceremonially, then they cannot be combined with all sorts of incompatible, anti-liturgical bric-a-brac like the “Spiritual Gifts” scheme. One must choose either the one or the other, the liturgy or the “new measures,” the Gospel or enthusiasm.
The church’s historic liturgical ways, however, are not, as it were, a necessary evil, and evangelistic liability, to be endured for the sake of orthodoxy. Quite the contrary, the “liturgical mode” is actually a great missionary advantage, because it is the best, most natural setting for the priceless jewels of the means of grace. It is deeply moving to observe among the spiritual heirs of Zwingli, Calvin, and Finney the sort of yearning for sacramental and liturgical fullness expressed by The Chicago Call of 1977. A decade later some 1,800 of these “evangelicals” as a body joined the Antiochene Orthodox Church. But why did these seekers have to wander as far away from the Reformation as exotic Damascus? Why did they not see in contemporary Wittenberg a credible bearer of historic Christianity, in content as well as form?
In sum, the argument for this writing is not a plea for an unthinking, rigid traditionalism. it is rather an appeal for spiritual, churchly consistency. Let Lutheran practice be determined by Lutheran theology, and then it will be accorded the kind of respect which is the best possible basis for genuine missionary attraction. Integrity, not image or cheap verbiage, must draw men to the Gospel (1 Pet. 3:1-2), and the Gospel itself converts and affirms. No one can doubt the Good Shepherd’s missionary zeal and compassion for his sheep. Yet he draws them with a quiet dignity that is entirely free of that breathless pestering and pandering which is mere salesmanship. When multitudes turn from him in fickle disenchantment, he does not run after them, shouting, “Wait! Just a moment! You’ve misunderstood my words about flesh and blood. All this can be put differently, too! Let me make it clear to you in cultural forms you will find more congenial!” None of that. Sadly but serenely he turns to his disciples: “You do not want to leave, too, do you?” Peter replies for them and for the church of all ages, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67-68).