Sectarianism and sincerity

July 31, 2005 | 11 comments
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I visited a Lutheran worship service today, and had one of those odd experiences where what I expect to be familiar is not, and what I don’t expect to be, is. I felt like I had walked into my childhood chapel, built perhaps in the fifties, only with the floorplan slightly rearranged. Everyone I passed in the hall said, “Good morning,” with a warm smile (and when I was leaving, they would each invite me to come back often). Paintings on the walls, of Christ holding a sheep, or walking and talking unrecognized on the road to Emmaus, looked like paintings one might see on the walls of an LDS chapel a few years ago, say, before some of the recently popular paintings were made. Some of our older chapels have exactly the same amount of stained glass as this one. A plaque at the front of the chapel, on one side, displayed the numbers of the hymns to be sung during the service, though some implicit subtlety was required since there were fully three different hymnals in slots on the back of the pews. On an altar at the front, two white cloths were draped over what would later be distributed in remembrance of the body and blood of Christ. My friend who is a regular there explained to me that they feel strongly that only those in communion with the (Lutheran) Missouri Synod should take communion, and I wanted to say, “Of course.” They talk about Luther a lot like we talk about Joseph Smith. I hear Joseph liked Luther’s translation of the Bible a lot. The homily was rendered with a bit too much sanctimony, a squeaky voice and a somewhat strained reading of the feeding of the five thousand, but also with the vital truth that salvation is only through Christ; true happiness is only found with him. Other than the section of the homily about how we all deserve eternal punishment in hell, there were perhaps three words in the service I couldn’t sincerely join in. The organist was an energetic woman just entering middle age, and some of her older children cheerfully helped pour milk into cups and slice donuts in half for a social interlude between “sacrament meeting” and Sunday school. She reminds me of the woman who plays the piano for Primary. Where two or three together are gathered in his name, surely Christ will have a finger or two in, to see that some good is done, maybe even a lot of good. I should invite my friend to my ward one Sunday; she might feel right at home!

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11 Responses to Sectarianism and sincerity

  1. A. Greenwood on August 1, 2005 at 1:05 am

    “Other than the section of the homily about how we all deserve eternal punishment in hell, there were perhaps three words in the service I couldn’t sincerely join in”

    Surely we do deserve it, in some sense.

    “I should invite my friend to my ward one Sunday; she might feel right at home!”

    Yes, you should.

    Over all, sounds like a fun experience.

  2. JKS on August 1, 2005 at 1:42 am

    My children attended a one week only “Bible School” this past week. It was at a nearby huge non-denominational church.
    There was a lot of fun rock music about Jesus and the memorized modern language bible verses.
    The kids loved it.
    I think it is good to see that other people have a spiritual life. Since my children will be the only mormon in their grade at school, I think they should know that not everyone is atheist or worshipping Satan.

  3. Chance on August 1, 2005 at 10:30 am

    This reminds of my brothers wedding at a small, independent church in Port Orchard, WA. All seemed like a standard wedding until the pastor raised his right arm to the square while he was confirming them husband and wife. I think every LDS neck in the room got a bit of whiplash.

    Just recently transplanted to Minnesota, I was almost immediately called to be the ward mission leader in a ward that is small in activity, but big in members. Of course wanting to make an immediate impact I looked to the ward list in hopes of hitting a few easy targets via re-activation. So far no such luck…

    The most common answer as to why they were not coming was they found a good Lutheran service that was closer to their home (my wards boundaries are 100 square miles). I have always known the Lutheran faith to be very similar to ours, but it is painful to hear that someone has settled for something that is less than what they previously proclaimed to be the truth because of a proximal convenience.

    Kristen, I know the wards in Tacoma are a bit shady, and you may be tempted to become a Lute in both faith and job, but don’t do it!

    Go Loggers!

    Chance

  4. claire on August 1, 2005 at 12:32 pm

    Did the pastor or any members cross themselves? This (recent) practice has upset my Lutheran grandmother and several members of her congregation. I think they are in the Missouri Synod as well. They feel like the church is becoming more Catholic.

  5. Lisa B. on August 1, 2005 at 1:07 pm

    Okay, I’m with you here on love and good feelings & etc. for our otherwise Christian sisters and brothers, have attended and fiddled for picnics and services at other churches, and think “it’s only fair” to visit friends’ congregations if we want them to take us up on our invitations to check us out as well. But what about the one and only true and living, abominable creeds, and the like? How are we to regard the change in Church discourse from isolationist attitudes of the early LDS from the “bring all that you have that is good” messages we hear today?

  6. Ben H on August 1, 2005 at 4:07 pm

    Adam, a discussion about hell could become very involved, but let’s just say that we believe even the unrepentant will live in a state much more pleasant than that in the eternities, even though spirit prison sounds pretty much like the traditional notion of hell. Christ is key even for this: the resurrection is due to him as well. But I’m not sure that in other respects they aren’t getting what God thinks they deserve. Plus, remember the Lutheran paradigm implies even people who never heard of Christ deserve eternal punishment in hell. I think that renders their whole paradigm of justice rather dubious.

    JKS, yes, I really wish I had known more about my Christian brothers’ and sisters’ worship and belief growing up. It’s really nice to feel what we have in common, and it helps me to know a lot better how to tastefully invite them to mine, how to present the Book of Mormon, etc.

    Chance, yeah, I can totally see how someone with a vague testimony could fall into that! It is stimulating to me to be confronted with the similarities and have my sense of what makes the difference sharpened. My friend was a bit startled to learn I am a priest (well, elder as we put it) . . .

    claire, yes, the pastor used the sign of the cross, much like Catholics do, at many points in the service, and many in the congregation did too. I was surprised at how many details were just like Catholic services I’ve seen. So is this a new thing (tho also a return, I suppose)?

    Lisa, the “bring all that you have that is good” message was there in Joseph’s and Brigham’s teaching, and is implicit in the Book of Mormon (Alma 29:5-8, 2 Nephi 29:7-14). So I’m not sure what change you have in mind. We’ve changed the way we think about gathering, that’s for sure, but that seems much more naturally a response to changing conditions, the church being more established, persecution subsiding . . .

  7. JKS on August 1, 2005 at 4:38 pm

    The way I was raised in the church was that other churches/religions had good people with many parts of the Gospel….they just didn’t have as much of the truth as we have.
    Martin Luther, for instance, was inspired. It was just not the right time to bring forth the fullness of the gospel and it was not his role to do so. He was a man who saw some wrongs and did his best to make them right.

  8. Chance on August 1, 2005 at 4:55 pm

    I fully agree Ben. That whiplash I talked about occurs every time I experience something in another faith that touches upon LDS doctrine. It encourages me as a missionary to know that we have possibly sites for bridges between our beliefs.

    Speaking of the Prophet, I can see why Brother Joseph would have respected Luther as they not only walked the same path, but Martin Luther was the originator of the reformation that opened a key door for the coming forth of the BoM. I read a talk given by Elder Ballard in which he stated that Martin Luther was moved by the Spirit to begin the reformation, and that his (among others) works created the atmosphere that was necessary for the restoration of gospel truths and the priesthood to the Earth. Now if only the people of MN would realize that what they have is a preparatory church…

  9. Robert C. on August 2, 2005 at 10:36 am

    > [Ben] let’s just say that we believe even the unrepentant will live in a state much more pleasant than that in the eternities, even though spirit prison sounds pretty much like the traditional notion of hell… But I’m not sure that in other respects they aren’t getting what God thinks they deserve.

    So when the term justice is used in Mormon circles, would you say the connotation is more “what God thinks they deserve” than “what some immutable law of justice requires”? This might explain misunderstandings between Mormons and other Christians regarding justice and mercy that I have never really understood. I want to understand better why you were so hesitant to agree with the statement “we all deserve eternal damnation,” since I know many other Mormons would also hesitate.

    I have always thought that as Mormons we believe that justice says we all deserve eternal damnation, if not for Adam’s transgression than for our own sins that we inevitably commit (ignoring children). But since Christ has paid the price, we will inherit blessings based on the tender mercies of God. So I would think that “what God thinks we deserve” is very much synonomous with mercy, a notion that stands in stark contrast to the demands of justice.

  10. Lisa B. on August 2, 2005 at 2:46 pm

    Ben, I really wasn’t trying to be snarky, though it may have come off that way. The balance between emphasizing differences and similarities has already been discussed on T&S in various forms in the very short time that I’ve been participating in the bloggernacle, and I guess I still wrestling with it.

    When one of my closest friends joined the Catholic church after high school, I sincerely expressed my joy at her finding a spiritual path in which she felt comfortable. Yet I have to admit at least a small sense of personal failure (not even having really discussed religion with her, or even having been aware of her soul-searching) and some feeling that I would have been even MORE happy had she found a place with us. When I went to midnight (Christmas) mass with her, I felt very uncomfortable. Perhaps because my own mother grew up Catholic before joining the LDS church at just about the same age that my friend joined the Catholic church? Perhaps because of unfortunate misreadings of “whore of all the earth ” scriptures passed on to me in Sunday School and seminary classes? Perhaps because of the graphic icon of Christ on the cross at the front of the sanctuary? Or my own sanctimoniousness at the time?

    Personally, I have a hard time understanding what could be abominable about people trying to understand God, the scriptures, how worship and belief should be structured, and trying to put that in formal language so everyone is working from the same base terms and assumptions within a spiritual community (i.e. “creeds”). It seems that Alma “on his own” established a church in somewhat similar fashion–was even baptizing, etc. I want to be comfortable within the faith of my fathers and mothers (can’t we please have just a smidgeon of “all is well in Zion”?) but must admit that the emphasis on “the one and only” REALLY makes me squirm, particularly given all the really good, religious, non-LDS people I have encountered.

  11. JKS on August 2, 2005 at 3:20 pm

    As good as other churches can be, they are missing some essential parts of the gospel. Especially these days society thinks “being nice” is all God really wants of us. The definition of Christian has really turned into “being really nice to everyone.” God loves us and wants us to be happy, yes, but he wants us to obey him. Loving God comes before loving our neighbor, and loving God means obeying him and putting him first. Above even ourselves and what we think would make us happy.