When Lutherans Begin To Reject Lutheranism

Starting in 2011, I spent two years interviewing over 400 former Evangelicals for my doctoral thesis.  The point of the research was to discover the intricate details of what happens when a person leaves Evangelicalism and becomes a Lutheran. (Click Here for Dissertation)

Now, considering this research, I have recently begun to question what happens on the opposite side of the coin. That is to say; what happens when Lutherans start to reject Lutheranism and journey to American Evangelicalism?

Through simple observation and my personal experiences, I believe there is a very distinct pattern to churches and parishioners who begin to reject Lutheranism.  Even though these stages are not comprehensive and have not been officially researched, I believe they show obvious features of a church/person who begins to migrate away from Lutheran doctrine and practice.

Stage 1: Boredom Sets In

After Sunday Service while putting his coat on, Larry turned to his friend Tom and said,
“The liturgy is just so dry and mechanical. Don’t you ever get bored from going through these dead rites?” 
Tom responded,
“I was thinking the same thing the other day. If only we could be on fire like the Baptist Church down the street.  If only we could make some changes, things would be better and we could be alive!” 
Now, what Larry and Tom may not quite understand, is that their conversation displays a great deal of liturgical boredom.

Boredom is an emotional state of being, where a person is not interested in their surroundings, or they feel that what they are participating in is dull, unpleasant, or unimportant.  Boredom creates a situation where people want some stimulation to give them relief from a tedious grind.

In the Lutheran Church, boredom amongst parishioners typically looks like discontentment, or perhaps apathy, towards historical practices.  Aside from being demoralizing, the real danger of boredom comes about when individuals attempt to relieve it.  You see, liturgical boredom is a real thing; however, there are only two options to alleviate this kind of boredom.  They are rediscovery or discovery.

Rediscovery happens when a person acknowledges that they have abandoned their first love, but then return to their Lutheran roots to relearn and remember the gifts that have been set before them in the Divine Church Services.  But rediscovery is difficult. It is difficult because individuals have to acknowledge that the problem is not with Lutheran practices but with themselves. For example, with Larry and Tom, they would have to admit that the burden of boredom is on them and not with the practices of their Lutheran Church. 

Unfortunately, though, individuals like Larry and Tom will often not put the onus on themselves, but will often demand changes in practice (the journey of trying to discover non-Lutheran practices) to offset their boredom and enhance stimulation, thus opening the door to the journey to rejecting Lutheranism. 

Stage 2: Practices Change

Leaning forward, Larry said,
“You know, the Baptist Church down the street is doing something that seems to connect with young folks.”
Tom responded,
“Yeah, I know what you are going to say, they have these really neat bands singing catchy tunes with big screens.  And I hear that the services are just so incredibly relaxing and easy-going.”  
Nodding his head, Larry said,
“I think we can learn a lot from them and maybe make some simple changes here in our church. Besides, everyone knows that church practices are adiaphora.[1]  It isn’t like we would be changing our Lutheran doctrine.”
It is important to keep in mind that long-standing Lutherans, like Larry and Tom, never intend on forsaking Lutheran doctrine. But the desire to relieve boredom and the enticement of something “New” that supposedly attracts young people has a powerful seductive pull on changing church practices.        

Two concerns need to be addressed at this point. First, practice is never neutral.  Church practices are ‘always’ derived and flow out doctrine. Doctrine drives, shapes, and forms church practices.  And practice – over time – can also reciprocally change a church’s doctrine.  Therefore, what Larry and Tom do not understand is that the introduction of Baptist practices in a Lutheran Church is an introduction of Baptist theology shrouded in supposedly neutral Baptist practices.

Second, Larry and Tom fail to understand what is meant by adiaphora.  Adiaphora pertains to things neither commanded nor forbidden in God’s Word, but it is not a license to do whatever one may want with a church service.  Just because something is neither commanded nor forbidden in God’s Word, does not mean that it is beneficial to a church service.  Furthermore, just because something is adiaphora does not mean it can be excluded from being judged by God’s Word.

Here’s the point; after boredom sets in, individuals like Larry and Tom will set out to change the practices of the church, while naively believing that Lutheran doctrine will remain unaffected. 

Stage 3: They Become Faux Evangelicals

When the smallest changes of practice begin to take place in the church, Larry and Tom will feel a sense of jubilance.  Not only will they supposedly be reaching young people, but their burden of boredom will begin to be lifted. 

There is a catch-22, though.  What typically happens is that the small changes in a Lutheran Church are behind the trends of Evangelical Churches.  That is to say; by the time the Baptist Church down the street implements a new trend, and by the time Larry and Tom pick up on the so-called new trend, the trend has already been outdated. 

There is an unspoken stigma upon Lutheran Churches who try to act like Evangelicals. That stigma is that they are 15 years behind the trends.  Furthermore, the stigma is that these Lutheran Churches are faux Evangelicals.  The word ‘faux’ means imitation, or fake, or not genuine.  When someone has the label ‘faux,’ they are easy to spot because they look awkward and uncomfortable in the clothing, language, mannerisms, and tastes of another culture or group that they have hopelessly tried to emulate.   The same is true for a church.  A Lutheran Church that borrows Baptist practices does not look Lutheran or Baptist but looks like an out-of-date-faux-Evangelical Church.    

Indeed, boredom leads to a desire to change practices, and a change of practices leads to faux Evangelicalism. 

Stage 4: Core Lutheran Doctrines Go Missing

One morning before service, Larry turned to Tom in the pew and said,
“I really like the changes; however, with the new changes, things just don’t seem to be jiving in our services. 
With a small smile, Tom responded,
“Yup, I know what you mean.  The Kyrie and the Confession of Sins seem to dampen the mood.  I like the Kyrie and the Confession, but they seem to clash with the rest of the service. Perhaps we could leave them in our 8:00 AM Service and remove them from our 10:30 AM Service.” 
Again, there is more going on here than meets the eye.  What Larry and Tom have correctly identified is what is called ‘cognitive dissonance.’  Cognitive dissonance is what happens when you mix two things that can’t be mixed (think of oil and water).  The dissonance that Tom and Larry are picking up on is between Lutheran doctrine (as expressed in the Kyrie and Confession) and the newly introduced Baptist practices.  Keep in mind that doctrine and practice work hand in hand. Doctrine shapes and forms practice, and practice informs and teaches doctrine to the church. Therefore, a church cannot exist long-term with Lutheran doctrine and Baptist practices. Either the Baptist practices will have to be rejected, or various Lutheran doctrines will have to be omitted to reduce dissonance in the church services.

And so, when churches and parishioners continue on the path to rejecting Lutheranism, Evangelical practices increase and distinctive Lutheran doctrines decrease or is omitted.

Stage 5:  A Defensive Spirit Arises

Early one morning, Larry and Tom were out for coffee with several other men from the community.  In the group of eight men, about half were Lutherans and the other half were Baptists from several different churches. 

John, one of the men stated,
“Larry, I have heard some weird things about your church. Have you guys been getting rid of portions of your service and introducing things from Frank’s Baptist Church?”
Frank, a Baptist from down the street leaned forward and said,
“Yeah, Larry, I didn’t know that Lutherans and Baptist were so alike.” 
Shuffling in his chair, Larry composed himself and said,
“We are very much Lutheran, we are just not like the other Lutherans in town. We are doing something special, for we are reaching out to the youth and igniting a fire in our members.”
Almost cutting Larry off, Frank responded,
“But Larry, there is nothing in your church service that looks anything like Lutheranism. A newcomer to your church will have no idea that you are Lutheran for everything you are doing looks and feels like my Baptist Church.  If you are Lutheran – like you say – why are you rejecting Lutheranism?” 
It is easy to see at this point that Larry and Tom will get extremely defensive, and quite angry with John and Frank.  A defensive spirit is one of the final characteristics of individuals and churches that are journeying out of Lutheranism into Evangelicalism.  We must keep in mind that John and Frank are not being problem makers or being divisive.  They are merely applying the ‘Duck Test’ to Larry and Tom’s church.  If the church looks like a Baptist, swims like a Baptist, and quacks like a Baptist, then it probably is a Baptist Church.  As mentioned, Larry and Tom will be led to a defensive spirit, wanting to preserve the idea that they are Lutheran – at least in their doctrine.  The defensiveness is a result of Larry and Tom wanting to justify their actions in the face of confusion over their conflicting Lutheran doctrine and Baptist practices.    


It is hard to know for sure what will become of Larry and Tom’s church, as well as Larry and Tom. Will they continue down this path of being Lutheran in name only? Will Larry and Tom get tired of the cognitive dissonance and eventually leave for the Baptist Church down the street? Or, will they realize the tragic journey they have been on in rejecting Lutheranism, resulting in a return to Lutheran doctrine ‘and’ practice?

The one thing that is for sure is that boredom opens the door to a desire to change practices.  Once Evangelical practices are introduced, awkward faux-Evangelicalism sets in, which eventually leads to dissonance that will result in core Lutheran doctrines being omitted.  And the icing on the cake?  A defensive spirit intended to self-justify!   Alas, this is what happens when Lutherans go down the road of rejecting Lutheranism.

May the Lord protect us from boredom, the seduction of change, cognitive dissonance, and a defensive spirit.  May the Lord grant us the assurance and joy knowing that Lutheranism is not the only way, but it is the best way.  May the Lord always grant us fresh eyes, ears, and minds to hear and receive the Gospel anew from our Lutheran Churches.  In the words of a close friend, “May we practice what we preach or we will end up preaching what we practice.” 


[1] Adiaphora in Christianity refers to matters neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture. 

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