Friday, August 19, 2011
A Pointed Question...
In a spur of the moment question I asked if priests of the Roman Catholic Church are able to marry. A trick question, to be sure, and the predictable answer was "no." Of course, I pointed out the Byzantine Catholics (Eastern Rite Roman Catholics) where priests are normally married and mentioned that there are Lutherans and Anglicans who have swum the Tiber and that they serve as married priests in the Western Rite as well. And then a simple question, "Pastor, why would a Lutheran leave to become Roman Catholic?"
Short answer? Without knowing the personal factors which may have influenced each of their decisions, I could think of one answer. Lutherans not being Lutheran.
If there is one thing that seems to have been in common among those who have left it is that they were well informed of the Lutheranism embodied in our Confessions and disappointed in the Lutheranism as it is practiced and lived out among us. Those who take seriously the Eucharistic center of the Confessions are often derided as Romanists. Those who take seriously the Confessional insistence that we depart in no doctrine nor in church usages (read that ceremonies) from the Church Catholic are often dismissed as Pastors who like to dress up and play Church. Those who insist that Lutheranism has a liturgical face and identity on Sunday morning (the form of the mass or Divine Service) are often described as legalists and "wooden" with respect to worship. Those who rightly speak of the role of individual confession and absolution within the life and piety of the Lutheran Christian are treated as anachronisms of another era before Lutheranism matured beyond these hold ons from the past (into its current methobaptistopentecostal identity). Those who insist up thoroughgoing and life-long catechesis in the life of the Christian hear the constant complaints about too much focus on doctrine and not enough on relevant issues and using faith to make a better life for the child of God. I could go on...
I have no intentions of swimming the Tiber (or the Bosporus) but I understand some of the frustrations of those who have. I have seen congregations torn apart when the work of faithful Lutheran Pastors is followed by those who march to the beat of evangelicalism, contemporary worship, and Lutheran Lite. I have watched as those who assume leadership positions in our church body worship in such congregations and lead us toward a Lutheranism in which the methodology and theological moorings of other traditions are borrowed with impunity because they "work." Yes, we are seeing some of these things undone and we have an unapologetic Lutheran as Synod President (and other important leadership positions in Synod). But... we have flirted with evangelicalism with respect to worship and piety and fundamentalism with respect to doctrine for so long that the way back will be long and difficult. We still have any number of parachurch organizations hawking the lastest stuff from non-Lutherans trying to light a fire under our church body.
As a young Pastor I was given the wise counsel to move slowly and teach diligently as you move a congregation back under the Lutheran umbrella but the idea that such Pastors must constantly defend themselves and that they might be pariahs in their Districts and Circuits is wearing upon us. I do not blame the people in the pew and I have found great support and a great willingness to learn again Lutheran faith and practice. But put it all together and it means that to be intentionally Lutheran in identity, confession, and practice is a daunting path (more or less so depending upon the area or congregation in which you serve).
Lutherans not being Lutheran is one of the main reasons why some Lutheran Pastors depart and seek Rome or Constantinople.