- Lutheran Tradition as Heritage and Tool: An Empirical Study of Reflections on Confessional Identity in Five Lutheran Churches in Different Contexts by Niclas Blåder
This book examines the core confessional and missional convictions of five Lutheran World Federation (LWF) churches, (1) the Iglesia Lutherana Costaricense (ILCO, Costa Rica), the Igreja Evangélica de Confissão Lutherana no Brasil (IECLB, Brazil), the folk church of Iceland (ELCI), the Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy (FLM, Madagascar), and the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP, Indonesia), in order to ascertain how each church confesses its faith and does its mission in light of the social dilemmas each faces. The standards used to assess the ministry of each church body are: (1) community and pluralism, (2) openness and particularity, (3) power and servant-hood, and (4) similarity to and difference from culture (15). The goal is to explore how each church employs its heritage as a “tool” to face these concerns. Blåder also explores each church’s self-identity, incursions of Pentecostalism into the church’s worship, the role of women, and other “burning issues” (18). Blåder’s research included a week-long visitation to each church in 2009–2010. Striking differences exist between these churches due to the size of each church, the degree of urbanization, cultural attitudes about women, and motivation to engage the culture.
With hardly 1,000 members, the ILCO is the smallest of the churches examined. Yet it is a lifeboat for Costa Rican Christians who seek a progressive faith, one informed by liberation theology and praxis (30). Few women serve as pastors since many women lack the university-level degree required for ordination (38), but even so “the ILCO is unusual in its work among poor, marginalized and exploited people. It is a church that in many ways must be said to be directed outwardly more than inwardly” (43). Alternatively, with over 700,000 members, the IECLB is less involved in liberation endeavors since advocacy for human rights is not so straightforward in a democracy as it was when Brazil was a dictatorship (53). It has women pastors but many of them feel profound guilt “for provoking ruptures with tradition,” and from feeling inadequate, “the most dangerous form of guilt” (58). [End Page 455]
Quite different from these two churches is the Icelandic folk church which seeks to minister to all Icelanders, regardless of the level of individual involvement in the church. This leads to complex political dynamics between the church and the state. For example, the Icelandic parliament wanted approval from the church before it allowed for same sex marriages. This approval, however, was not forthcoming. But, once the government moved forward, a survey indicated that 77% of the clergy favored the legalization of marriage for same sex couples, while only 7% were opposed.
The FLM in Madagascar has found a way to incorporate revivals, so important to the spiritual life of many, as a part of its life, in spite of the fact that its formal liturgy remains quite traditional (81). While women can study for the ministry, no women hold significant leadership roles in the church (85). Similarly, the HKBP in Indonesia is significantly influenced by the charismatic movement. It also has a higher percentage of women clergy in comparison to some churches: between twenty and thirty percent of its clergy are women.
In examining how each church fares with respect to pluralism, openness, service, and cultural awareness, Blåder references his evaluation in light of recent theologians such as Bonhoeffer, H. Richard Niebuhr, Steven Sykes, and Jürgen Moltmann. Anglican theologian Steven Sykes teaches that exercising power is an unavoidable feature in Christian mission. The key is to exercise power but not so as to undermine the “weakness” of Christ. In Blåder’s estimation, the Icelandic church would do well to put this paradox into action. In contrast, the Costa Rican church is exemplary, since it affirms transformation through vulnerability and...