Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Collective Ignorance of the Church's Roots

Do we really know our history as Lutherans? I suspect not in many cases. This was brought home to me the other night at a youth meeting when I showed a video clip from the Luther movie. Before I ran the clip, which happened to be Luther before Charles V at Worms in his famous "Here I stand" speech" (1521), I tried to review the basics of Reformation history. Basic as in "Does anyone know who Martin Luther is?" While some of the answers were predictable, as in confusing the great Reformer with the U.S. civil rights leader who happened to also have his name, they were also alarming in their ignorance. They seemed to have no idea of who this man was, what history surrounded his actions, and how any of that pertains to where we are at today. To my defense, in part, some of these kids did study these things under my catechetical direction.

I realize that Americans, in general, are often ignorant of their historical roots, as evidenced more than once on late night talk show street surveys. Viewers laugh at the ignorance, yet probably know little more than those they deride with their chuckles.

We are a people who value immediate relevance over long-term effects. Pragmatism reigns as the operating philosophy of many. Yet are we paying a price for our historical ignorance? Time will tell. In the Lutheran church it has already meant a mass eroding of our liturgical treasures and a distancing from our distinct identity. Our people regularly read Evangelical literature and sing Evangelical songs and prefer it over the perceiving dryness of the corresponding Lutheran books and music. Little by little we are evolving into Baptists.

That night at the youth meeting reminded me, however, that I am responsible for this as much as anyone else. Educating the next generation about who we are and where we came from begins in the local parish. That is "ground zero" for our efforts. With so many resources now available, such as first-rate films, there is no excuse for us to wait. May Reformation 2008 be a new call for rediscovery of our rich treasures as Lutherans before we lose them in a haze of indifference.

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