Thursday, July 14, 2011
What are we afraid of?
When our fear of things catholic makes less than Lutheran...
Now that is a profound thought. For much of Lutheran history we have lived in fear of being identified as katholisch(e) or Römisch (catholic or Roman). I grew up on the Nebraska prairie and nothing was more wounding to the Lutheran folks there than some knave calling them "catholic." Yet there was a crucifix on the altar, kneeling on the hard floor, tolling of the bell during the consecration and Our Father, only the chalice, and chanting. These were unabashedly Lutheran and I grew up knowing this. It was only when I went to college, seminary, and into the parish that I was informed by some folks that these things were katholisch and therefore verboten.
Unfortunately, our fear of things catholic has had a tremendous impact upon Lutherans in America. In our history here, the Lutherans were easily intimidated by the strong anti-catholic prejudice of America's first two hundred years and by a desire to "fit in" with the picture of Protestant America. There were voices all along that challenged this peer pressure. One of them was CFW Walther. The arrival of those unafraid of being called "old Lutheran" or katholisch, they stood up to the Americanized and Protestant version of Lutheranism so rampant across this nation. They loaded one of the boats from Germany with the katholisch appointments of fabric for vestments, a pipe organ, etc. They were determined to be Lutheran and escaping the constraints of a forced union between Reformed and Lutheran in Germany, they were unwilling to be less than Lutheran because of the fears that some might be offended or others confused by the manner of worship.
In 1858, Walther preached on Reformation: "It is true that of all the church bodies which have left the papacy, it is precisely the Lutheran Church which is accused of retaining many papal abuses and of having been the least successful in cleansing itself. It is pointed out, for example, that in our church priestly clothing, church ornamentation, pictures, altar, crucifixes, candles, confession, the sign of the cross, and the like are still apparent. But, my friends, whoever regards these innocent things as vestiges of the papacy knows neither what the papacy is, nor what the Bible teaches. The very fact that the Lutheran Reformation was not aimed at
indifferent adiaphora, but retained those things which were in harmony with God's Word, shows that it was not a disorderly revolution, but a Biblical reformation; for whatever did not agree with God's Word was unrelentingly cleansed from the church by the Lutheran Reformation even though it seemed to glow with angelic holiness."
Neither was Walther concerned about offending those who called such ceremonies, liturgy, vestments, and customs "catholic." Walther was not concerned about offense nor was he concerned that others might "misunderstand" what they saw and heard in the Missouri Synod on Sunday morning. To a Synod convention he proclaimed: "We refuse to be guided by those who are offended by our church customs. We adhere to them all the more firmly when someone wants to cause us to have a guilty conscience on account of them. It is truly distressing that many of our fellow Christians find the difference between Lutheranism and Papism in outward things. It is a pity and a dreadful cowardice when one sacrifices the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American sects, lest they accuse us of being papistic (i.e., too catholic!). Indeed! Am I to be afraid of a Methodist, who perverts the saving Word, or be ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather rejoice that the sects can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them? We are not insisting that there be uniformity of perception or feeling or of taste among all believing Christians neither dare anyone demand that all be minded as he is. Nevertheless it remains true that the Lutheran liturgy distinguishes Lutheran worship from the worship of other churches to such an extend that the houses of worship of the latter look like lecture halls in which the hearers are addressed or instructed (Will Weedon noted if he were writing today, he¹d no doubt add: they look like movie theaters in which the hearers are entertained!), while our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which Christians serve the great God publicly before the world."
Lutherans introduced (rather, recovered) the Divine Service in the late 19th century and this Common Service of 1888 was indeed a "catholic" form in comparison to what so many Lutherans had been accustomed to on Sunday morning. Yet Lutherans were undaunted by those (ala Schmucker) who thought the future of Lutheranism lie in minimizing its catholic heritage and confession. No, when we are afraid of being catholic, we also end up being less Lutheran and if less Lutheran, then why Lutheran at all?