Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Wise Words from Richard John Neuhaus
Neuhaus was hardly labeled a traditionalist in Missouri, became one in the ELCA, and spent his two decade life in the Roman Catholic Church well established on the traditionalist side. Interesting... where will fidelity lead you if you...
I knew Neuhaus somewhat. He worshiped in the pews in my parish in New York state several times. I found him to be gracious and welcoming to me, then a fresh face from the Seminary still trying to find his pastoral wings, so to speak. But this post is not about him. It is about his words. The solution to our crises in the Church is fidelity... These are words which Lutheran ears need to hear.
In comments to other posts on this blog, we find ongoing discussions about the loss of membership, about the fear of being the Lutherans we confess we are, about the struggles of unity both in terms of faith and practice, about the peeling off of new church bodies from the ELCA, etc... I suggest that Neuhaus' words need to be heard now as much as they ever did. The solution to our crises is fidelity. We cannot be successful in being something other than who we are.
Almost a year ago President Matthew Harrison began the Witness, Mercy, Life Together emphasis by saying something like in order to become who we are, we must know who we are. I believe he also said that in order to become better, we must first be who we are... It is as if he were borrowing a theme from Neuhaus. The solution to our crises is fidelity.
Lord knows, we have tried other things. The American Lutheran experiment is filled with stories of Lutherans ashamed, embarrassed, or no longer confident of who they were or are. We have borrowed hymns from the Methodists until our own Lutheran chorales are strangers to us. We have borrowed worship forms and music from the non-denominational contemporary Christian music gurus until we no longer look like Lutherans on Sunday morning. We have borrowed evangelism methods from split off Presbyterians until we are more comfortable with the Kennedy questions than the ones from the Small Catechism. We have borrowed church growth models from Fuller and its adherents to the point that we think strategies make the Church grow instead of the means of grace. We have sought to transform our stagnant congregations by borrowing from those who make everything expendable except growth and pay lip service to our Confessions in the process. We have traded in the great music of Bach, Brahms, Pachelbel, Buxtehude, Walther and so many others for praise bands playing the sound of the top hits of the 90s. We have borrowed church administrative structures from business models and prefer democratic terms like President to good Biblical terms like Bishop and govern the church more by poll than principle.
It seems that what we have not really tried is just being who we are. Today I echo the solution to our crises offered by Richard John Neuhaus, former son of Missouri. Our solution to the crises facing the Church is fidelity, fidelity, fidelity.