Thursday, March 31, 2011
After the Benediction, We Are the Same
There are many in Lutheranism who would insist that those Lutherans who experiment with evangelicalism and those who worship from the book are the same -- a difference only in style but not in substance. For too long we have allowed this artificial distinction to stand, something foisted upon us by those intent upon making us different and making sure that some Lutherans, at least, were going to be different, very different. So the worship wars have spent countless words and ink fighting over issues of taste and culture and musical preference -- to the point where many, even passionate voices, have grown weary and tired of the whole darn debate. But that is because we have assumed that we are the same -- at least after the benediction. What we do before the benediction does not really matter because after the "Amen" and on our way out the door we are all the same.
But are we the same? Can we be different before the benediction but the same afterward? Or is piety inherent in what we do before the benediction as well as expressed in what follows the Divine Service? Is it possible for us to have a split personality of American evangelical style worship and retain a Lutheran faith and live out a Lutheran piety after Sunday morning is over and done with? [A caveat here, there are many, including people on both sides of the worship wars, who would argue that there is no such thing as a "Lutheran" piety.]
How we see the world, how we see ourselves, how we understand our purpose, what we value, what priorities we attach to the various aspects of our lives -- all of these are issues of piety but this piety is not indifferent to what happens on Sunday morning -- rather it flows exactly from what happens on Sunday morning. Sunday morning shapes and defines and directs what happens after the benediction. Part of the great problem with the worship wars is that we are ONLY arguing about what happens before the benediction and should be also talking about what happens following the "Amen" on Sunday morning. Worship is not about aesthetics and therefore subject to taste or personal preference and neither should our piety be something indifferent to our confession.
My fear for Lutheranism is not about today or even ten years from now but decades down the pike. What will our Lutheranism look like if our piety is at odds with our confession and Sunday morning is given wholesale over to a mainline Protestant agenda (ELCA) or an evangelical (perhaps fundamentalist) agenda (Missouri)? What will our Pastors look like -- when, for example, the Divine Service that has been our Lutheran identity for nearly 500 years is unfamiliar to those who will preach, teach, and preside in our circles? What happens to a Lutheran church body when the hearts and minds of its clergy are more at home in a piety, vocabulary, and song track that comes from and is shaped by something outside Lutheran confessional identity?
Historically, Lutherans have said that their clergy need to be resident at a Lutheran seminary in order to become Lutheran Pastors. Until rather recently, and then mostly in the ELCA, you cannot go to Harvard Divinity School or Vanderbilt or Duke or anyone of the generic or nominally affiliated seminaries and then be ordained a Lutheran Pastor. Why? Truth to be told, there are some very fine teachers at these institutions and not a few of them are Lutheran. Well, we have said that Lutheranism is not just intellectual property but piety as well. Formation involves not merely head knowledge but being shaped by the daily office, the Eucharist, koinonia (life together)... We not only expected this but required this of those who would bear the Pastoral Office in the Lutheran Church.
This was also part of the rationale for youth and adult catechesis. Becoming Lutheran is not giving intellectual assent to a series of dogmatic or doctrinal formulations. It involves an altar, a pulpit, a people gathered with you around these -- and not in the least of this is both script of the faith and soundtrack of the faith (hymnody). This was the rationale for the RCIA in Rome when they began to realize that becoming a Roman Catholic was not merely a change of truths for the mind but the home of the heart. We Lutherans may not have called it RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) but we had an idea of it when we brought people in through adult confirmation, connected them to Bible study groups, put the under the nurture of those already well established in the faith and congregation, and received them publicly through a rite of reception.
Now, it seems, that we have forgotten much of this and have come to the mistake conclusion that we are only discussing what happens before the benediction and that after the benediction we are the same. We are not. When our piety is shaped by American evangelicalism instead of the Church Year, the Divine Service, the Catechism, baptismal vocation, and an efficacious Scripture, we cease being Lutheran even though we may, intellectually anyway, hold to the doctrinal content of the Confessions. Piety flows from liturgical identity. But liturgical identity is also shaped by piety when that piety is different from or in conflict with that liturgical identity. Is this not what lex credendi, lex orandi means? Worship AND piety either head the same direction or a train wreck will occur and this is the looming cost of adopting the idea that you can have evangelical style and maintain Lutheran substance, or, to put it another way, to believe that after the benediction, we Lutherans are still the same.... no matter what happens before the "Amen."