Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Seeds of Lutheranism's Death

"If each and every local congregation does not make the solemn, sacred, self-effacing worship of God its absolute pastoral priority, one by one they will go extinct, drowning in an ocean of mediocrity, relativism, irrelevance -- in a word -- in a total lack of Catholic identity..."  -- from the Last Catholic Standing blog...

Ahh, the wisdom of all of this.  There are those who would insist that Lutheranism is dying because of what is or is not happening in evangelism but the seeds of our destruction are sown not in the way we do or do not witness but rather in what happens on Sunday morning.  If this is true for a Roman Catholic with all the structures of the priesthood, episcopacy, papacy, and holy mother church to make up for local weakness, excess, or lack, then it is even more true for us as Lutherans.

I am fully convinced that our problems are less about evangelism than about worship -- the theology of worship, our worship practices, and the integrity of it all.  Listen again to what this blogger has posited:  The main reason Catholic identity is now so weak is that, forty years ago, we began experimenting and tinkering with God’s sacred mysteries, and now nothing seems holy, nothing permanent, nothing worth reverencing, nothing worth genuflecting before.  For him the issue is the new mass introduced after Vatican II.  For us it is not so simple since our problem is less a new order of mass that is being followed than no order mass and parishes and Pastors doing whatever they will on Sunday morning.  All the casual character of contemporary worship -- even that form of CoWo which follows the basic mass form which has been part of Lutheran identity since Luther and catholic identity from, well, the beginning -- has diminished the idea that anything real is happening here, that anything worth noticing is present here, and that anything worth paying attention to demands our focus.

The whole focus of worship in Lutheran congregations is on the efficacious Word that does that of which it speaks and of the Sacraments that not only bestow the gifts of Christ but make the Giver present where His promise has been attached.  The truth is that you no longer know whether this Word or the Sacrament will be the core and center of what happens on Sunday morning in a Lutheran congregation.  We are not talking about musical style or page numbers in a hymnal but our confession and the liturgical identity that flows from that confession.

The only thing we have to offer the world is the efficacious Word and Sacraments.  Apart from this, Lutheranism has little raison d'être.  We were not born of intellectual debate, evangelistic zeal, or personal piety but of the very practical issue of what people hear and receive on Sunday morning.  It was not a curious quirk of theology that gave us birth but the need to speak the saving Gospel in all its truth and purity and the need to receive the sacraments as gifts and means of grace and not the sacrificial offering of the Church.  These may have been debated and discussed on the pages of seeming academic setting and language, but their domain is decidedly liturgical and practical in nature.  What is the Word that is proclaimed on Sunday morning and what is there to be received on Sunday morning.

The distance that is created by experimentation, by association with evangelical expression and style, by congregation autonomy, by disdain for adiaphora, and by novelty and innovation, the less we are who we claim to be and the more we deceive those we serve and those to whom we witness about Lutheranism and its confession.  This is what is killing Lutheranism -- the lack of awareness and appreciation for the sacred mystery that is God's presence in Word and Sacrament AND the idea that there is nothing real on Sunday morning other than personal taste, feeling, and expression.  We are not killing Lutheranism by our failure to knock on people's doors and speak the Gospel to them.  If we are dying as a church body, it is because of what happens on Sunday morning is no longer true to the mystery, consistent with our confession, or consistent with our evangelical and catholic identity.

This is my problem with Ablaze -- the issue that deserves our primary focus is not how well or how poorly we communicate the Gospel to those outside the Church but how well or how poorly the people on Sunday morning are confronted with the efficacious Word and Sacraments.  When we bring them into the Church and we have nothing really to offer them there, then we have failed even more so than if we never spoke the Gospel to them in the first place.  Don’t we have more important, more urgent things to worry about than worship?  I don't think so....


Anonymous said...

What is killing Lutheranism in the
21st century is an abundance of lazy
Lutheran pastors. They don't have
the passion and self-motivation to
prepare meaningful sermons. Many are
unprepared when they enter the pulpit
to proclaim Law and Gospel, instead
we get some rambling words of human
wisdom and even lame jokes. Their
Homiletics class at the Sem did not
inspire them to prepare excellent
sermons on a weekly basis to feed
the souls of God's people.

We have Lutheran clergy who see the
ministry as a job with a paycheck,
rather than a divine calling to
wholeheartedly serve the Lord and
His Church. God's Word cannot be
proclaimed effectively without
adequate time in the pastor's study
The Holy Spirit can not work on the
hearts of people, if the pastor
does not do any work himself.

Bill Hansen said...

The liturgy is rich with Law and Gospel. So when the sermon is less than stellar, The Word is still proclaimed and heard. The tragedy is when not only is the sermon lacking, but also the liturgy is lacking. Then there truly is nothing being proclaimed or heard. Too much experimentation has led to the belief that everyone can tinker with the liturgy. This can be cut, this can be substituted, it makes no real difference. Often we are left with liturgical fragments simply left to sell the lie that we do use the historic liturgy.

Anonymous said...

Another sign of a dying denomination
like Lutheranism is no accountability
in a parish. District Presidents
and Circuit Counselors who never
make an official visit to a parish
will never know what is going on,
good or bad. The local board of
elders are usually not able to make
the tough calls due to a lack of
courage. If there is no worthwhile
preaching and the liturgy is badly
butchered, then the people suffer.
Ultimately, they slowly leave the
parish and never return.

Anonymous said...

"Lutheranism" has always been on the chopping block, always was threatened with death, sadly, at the hands of "Lutherans" themselves. There never was a golden age--every age including ours has had to the contend for the faith once delivered to the saints. Every generation has had it's "first love" at risk of being lost in a sea of apathy. In the current age, what things are killing it? cite just one, there is simply a lack of belief in the sole efficacy and clarity of the Word of God (as such is delivered in the liturgy, hymnody, sermon, and Sacraments), and hence, an embrace of things other than this Word of God as efficacious, if not "more relevant" sources of human origin. Sadly, the push for an evangelism (Ablaze) which amounts to little more than consumerist marketing is not the solution as a lack of valid evangelism was never the root problem, only a symptom. I mean, since when does it cost even one penny to share the Word of God with another person? And yet millions of dollars have been spent on "programs" like Ablaze which have only made the root problem worse. True apostleship (faithful pastors zealous to feed the Word to the lambs) and discipleship (faithful lambs zealous to feed upon the Word offered by pastors) not evangelism, is the root problem. Kinda hard to share Christ with another person in what you say and do if you yourself do not only not know Him very well, but care little to learn more and in fact complain when the pastor or layperson tries to offer you more.
Hence, the apathy in the parishes, and the tyranny in certain District headquarters, where the DP exercises ecclesiastical supervision in cases where he shouldn't (almost always over confessional pastors and their congregations), while turning a blind eye to the many evident cases where he should be exercising supervision and doesn't. And as things stand, the rules have been rigged in such a way that there is no way of bringing reform, of holding our leaders to account other than by a majority vote. But as Jesus has said, some are getting their reward now, not later.
These are the end times...did we expect a church other than one under the Cross?

Bill Hansen said...

Yes, but what about the congregation where the liturgy is routinely redacted, mutilated, and the District President is a member of that congregation--and does nothing?

Karl Cleven Davies said...

I do believe that it is also a matter of conviction concerning who we are and what we believe. I remember reading a book, late 1960's, I think I have it somewhere, that described the American Lutheran synods, written by someone by a name like Thorkelson--not LCMS. But his comment introducing the LCMS was that this Synod had the attitude "we've got the truth." Truth is, as a Synod, we aren't convinced of that any more. As a matter of fact we're apologizing for it, or worse, we were wrong, sorry about that, let's try something else. The Liturgy should be conducted with as much conviction as law/gospel preaching. It would be great if we all hung together on this, but unfortunately so many in Israel have bowed the knee to Baal.

Paul said...

Then we need to pray fervently and act diligently for DP's who deeply care about preaching and liturgy and honestly believe what was stated by Fr. Peters on this blog about Word and Sacrament faithfully administered.

Anonymous said...

Great article. One nitpick: raison d'être," not "raison d'état."

Pastor Peters said...

Fixed it.... how about doing my spell checking? My eyes see my intention and not what I sometimes type... thanks.