What if you woke up one morning, turned on the TV, logged on your Internet service provider, or opened the morning paper, and you saw or read something like this:
The President of the United States has declared that churches in the United States will no longer direct their own affairs or constitute their own leadership, and this function will now be assumed by a new government department, the Department of Religious Affairs and Education, and a commission will be appointed to write a common worship service book for the new United Church.
All candidates for ordination will indicate whether they support the Union, their ordination vows will express support for the Union, seminary professors and other religion professors will support the Union, and denominational designations such as "Lutheran" will be dropped from church names.
That is absolutely unthinkable in the United States of America.
And that is exactly what happened in the Kingdom of Prussia under King Friedrich Wilhelm the Third. Over time, but you get the idea. The decree about writing a new common liturgy for all churches was in 1798, the new agenda was completed in 1821, the order for its sole use was the next year, 1822, and the mandated name changes came in 1829. Resistance was widespread among Lutherans; by 1834, pastors who resisted the decrees were suspended from the ministry and those who persisted were imprisoned, and many began to leave for other countries seeking the freedom to worship and teach according to their confessions. One such emigration led to the formation of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod in the United States.
It was different here in the US. Being founded out of colonies of a country with an established, which is to say, a state religion, a specific denomination endorsed and supported, including financially, by the state, and many of these colonies owing their origin to escaping the burden of being outside the state religion, this new country specifically rejected the establishment of any particular church.
This does not at all mean that no religious presence shall be allowed in the public sector, but that no particular church shall be a part of the government and the government shall not be a part of any church.
We are here free to be Lutherans -- and the Catholics are free to be Catholics, the Methodists free to be Methodists, the Baptists free to be Baptists, on and on, and for that matter the Jews are free to be Jews, the Muslims free to be Muslims, and so forth.
So for us Lutherans here in the United States, in addition to the many benefits that are ours in common with all here in the United States due to our independence as a nation, we celebrate our freedom to be Lutheran, itself our version of a benefit shared by all here. Throw in an extra firework for that one!
Wouldn't it be an irony beyond measure, a sadness beyond description, if we were to squander this great freedom and do to ourselves what the government cannot, our church do here what the government did there -- alter our liturgy to be more in common with other churches, alter our teaching so as to seem less distinct from other churches and therefore more appealing, start dropping the word "Lutheran" from our usage, tie financial and other church support to acceptance of such church actions, even keep an eye on the 500th anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession just as Friedrich Wilhelm had his eye on the 300th?
Yes, wouldn't it. Or rather, isn't it.
May we Lutherans here in the United States, who have recently celebrated our national independence allowing our great freedoms and blessings here, renew our dedication to the faith declared to the government there in the Augsburg Confession, whose anniversary we have also recently just celebrated, and free of state and state churches, never act as if we were not, doing to ourselves in freedom what the government cannot, but believe, teach and confess the faith presented in the Augsburg Confession against all efforts to suppress, modify or co-opt it in our day as they did in theirs.
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