Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How do you do it....

I read a lot (some say too much).  In my reading I have noticed what terrible press the Roman Catholic Church gets (some of you will say rightly so).  I mean, the clergy sex abuse scandals have been a stream of negative press (one newspaper so accustomed to this old story ran a headline that said Baptist Priest Accused of Sex Abuse -- talk about bias!).  The change in the Mass translation has brought only round after round of people suggesting that the Roman Catholic Church will implode or explode and life will come to a grinding halt (it did neither).  The Pope is lauded by some as restoring what has been lost and by others as a imposing a Third Reich upon the post-Vatican II Roman Catholic Church (he cannot get a break).  I was talking to a Roman priest I know and asked him how he went on knowing how his church body was getting beaten up in the press like that.

His answer startled me...  though I should have seen it coming.  "For me and for the people in the pew, the Church is the Mass.  We just keep on saying Mass and they keep on coming and, whatever happens, we will keep on saying Mass and they will keep on coming and the Church will go on..."  In other words, the identity of the Church is not in the programs or ministries or ministers but in the Sacraments.

Living in the neck of the woods I do, I hear a lot of negativity about the shelf life of Lutheranism unless we radically re-invent ourselves.  Sadly, I am sure some of this negativity comes out in the form of frustration in this blog and for that I apologize.  But the truth is that we as Lutherans are in great position to fulfill our calling and be the Church -- if we would only believe what we confess.  This Roman priest has good advice for us as Lutherans.  It is great advice for Lutherans living among the naysayers who would insist that Lutheranism is a graying church body that will close the doors and shut off the lights unless we get with the times, technology, and become like the newest and greatest of the mega models.  We just keep on saying Mass and preaching the Gospel and the people will keep on coming....  that is where the life of our Church and its road to health leads -- through the means of grace.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I am not suggesting for a moment that we be closed communities, existing only for the insiders, the people already in the pews.  The Church is always a welcoming community, introducing the Gospel to those who hear it for the first time, initiating the new into the life of the community through baptism and catechesis, acting in the community in agencies of mercy and service simply for the love of Christ and without any other agenda.  Absolutely!  We continue to do these with a passion.  But the heart and center of our life together is the Mass, the preached Word of God, and the community of faith gathered around that Word and Sacrament(s).  We will continue because of the means of grace.  We will be successful because of the means of grace.

No church body gets as much bad press as the Roman Catholic Church.  Even Muslims get more of a break in the media!  We Lutherans do not have the bad press to worry about but we are often our own worst enemies.  I constantly hear from various official and semi-official Lutheran media and jurisdictions that we are a dying church, a graying church, an uncaring church, etc...  Sometimes we get to believing our own bad self-image.  I am convinced that most of our problems in the areas of contemporary worship and music proceed not from bad Pastors but from Pastors who desperately want to SEE growth and who, despite internal misgivings, are willing to sacrifice just about anything of Lutheran identity and piety for the sake of better numbers.  In many cases, they are being force fed this disposition because of their District press for improvement, success, and victory.

We have forgotten what this good priest reminded me -- our life as a church does not flow from programs or press but from the font, the table, and the pulpit.  Where the Gospel is proclaimed within the twin polarities of Law and Gospel, where the lives of the people are rooted in the action of God in baptismal regeneration, and where we are fed and nourished in the Eucharist, the Church will grow, the mission will grow, the work of the kingdom will go on -- because these flow from the means of grace and flow back to the means of grace.

Christmas is a great opportunity for us to proclaim this great good news.  Though our world seems to have room only for the culture of me, the culture of technology, and the culture of consumerism, there is, underneath, the soft belly of fear, want, and need.  Rather than spend our whole time condemning the excesses of our worldly Christmas culture, we need to spend it proclaiming positively what answers our fears, what speaks to the emptiness and want in side, and what will meet our crying need for peace, joy, forgiveness, and life stronger than death.  Here on Christmas we remind our people regularly in the pew and those new to the pews that our life flows from the Word that keeps its promise, from the water that cleanses us from the inside out, and from the altar that gives us heaven's bread and salvation's cup until we hunger and thirst no more.

We will always have naysayers inside and out.  We cannot afford to waste the precious moment by spending our time always saying "no" and we need to be able to say "yes" to the yes God has said to us in Christ.  Our success will not come because we have become masters of the media or because we have our ears to the changes within our culture or because we have the latest and greatest program or paradigm.  Our success will come because we faithfully proclaim the Word of God in all its truth and fullness and because our lives are rooted and nurtured in the sacramental grace of saving water, bread, and wine.

The Roman priest friend said to me he did not pay much attention to the way his church body was portrayed in the media or the critics always ready to tell him what to do to be more effective or successful.  He knew that the life of his church and his own personal life as a Christian flowed from the Mass -- that is what the folks in the pew understood, as well.  As imperfect or fragile as this might be, it is enough.  If that is true for them, it should even be more true for us as Lutheran Christians whose Divine Service has its twin peaks of sacramental Word proclaimed (and preached) and sacramental grace (we eat and drink).

53 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Roman Catholic Mass centers on
the Eucharist. The Lutheran Divine
Service focuses on preaching the Word
and partaking of the Sacrament.

Big difference between the Roman
Catholics and Lutherans. We expect
something from the sermon as God's
Word is proclaimed to us. The RC's
don't expect much from the homily.
Just ask the RC laity sometime.

Heather said...

Anonmous,
I would have to disagree with your comment that RC's don't expect much from the homily, I work next to a RC and I can tell you on Monday's her and I often discuss the homily she heard on Sunday and the sermon I heard.. they often line up..she is listening to her homily and brings it out into the world. :)

Anonymous said...

"In other words, the identity of the Church is not in the programs or ministries or ministers but in the Sacraments."

Which goes to show, better to go straight to the source than rely on the increasingly biased and ignorant media.

Anonymous said...

Lutherans often don't understand that when a Catholic refers to the "Word" it is first of all to Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God made flesh, secondly to the Scriptures, the Word that bear witness to him.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that there are too many comparisons to and information drawn from the RC on this blog.

Anonymous said...

Like it or not, Lutherans and Catholics have common roots, more so than evangelicals/Protestants where one may hear an hour-long sermon based on one Biblical text and no Communion.

Terry Maher said...

That's the whole problem with the RCC, Pastor -- its life flows from the Mass. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Which is not the Divine Service, or mass, and if it is, there was neither point nor need in the Reformation, Lutheran or otherwise.

But yeah, let's do like that priest, and we can have a church like his, numbering in the millions, with a few really into it, and at the centre a perversion of the mass in which, by the power of God's promise to do what it says, his body and blood may yet be found despite the RCC.

Anonymous said...

we can have a church like his, numbering in the millions, with a few really into it,

How on earth do you know how many in a church of "millions" are really into it?

God alone knows.

Anonymous said...

Attention Heather

Maybe it depends where you live.
In our city of 20,000 there is
one Roman Catholic church. The
Deacons give the homily for weddings
and funerals. Their members are
embarrassed by their attempts to
preach and be humorous. Most of
the older priests were never even
trained to preach and it shows.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me the gist of Pastor's post is that this priest and his parish don't let the world crowd in on them but are faithful to doing what they are supposed to do, not on what Lutherans and Catholics believe and practice.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I am embarrassed by Lutheran pastors who insist on playing CD's of "Mary did you know" during Advent.

Or didn't Gabriel know what he was announcing??

Janis Williams said...

If RCC has it's information from the Word (either Jesus or the Holy Scripture), and has not twisted it, then we may quote and use it. If it is not according to Holy Scripture or the Lutheran Confessions, then I doubt seriously Fr. Peters will quote it unless to contradict and correct it.

Comparisons to and information that is true is true. Like it or not, Luther only wanted to Reform the Church, not start a new one. Besides the Scriptures, who else did he have to quote? I think Fr. Staupitz was Catholic, last I checked.

Since I come from outside both RC and LCMS 'traditions' I see a lot of this bickering as straining at gnats and swallowing camels. I indeed have sat during hour-long sermons, and received bread and grape juice (no Communion). The Church has always been and always will be tempted to build programs, lionize pastors/ministers, and ignore the Gospel. I think this is what Fr. Peters is getting at?

Anonymous said...

Pastor, if you will forgive me for changing the subject a bit what in your opinion is the value of pastors ordained in the LCMS via Colloquy by Committee? This seems to show up in more evangelically-oriented LCMS congregations.

Terry Maher said...

To Anonymous (geez which one, nobody stands behind what they say except Janis and a couple others) -- not talking about salvation pal. Just what you can see at any RC parish, should you waste your time going there.

Reforming the one and only church there is does not mean taking a constant cue from the RCC, which remains in Babylonian Captivity. If taking my cue time and again from the RCC is what I read in the Confessions I'd have stayed in Rome rather than a wannabe.

Anonymous said...

Just what you can see at any RC parish, should you waste your time going there

So you're a former Catholic. Big deal. Unless you've been to every Catholic parish in the U.S. and around the world your opinion is just that. Opinion.

I'd hate to have the LCMS judged by your standards. Just a quick look at the stats will show plenty of our congregations claiming baptized/confirmed membership of 300+ with maybe 80 or less showing up regularly for worship so you might want to go easy on the "few really into it."

Anonymous said...

You know what is great about all those folks who are "not really into it"?

They bring their kids.

My family was "not really into it" and only rarely took me to church. I remember going when I was in kindergarten. I remember my Sunday school teacher who taught me to pray and told me Jesus loved me. I remember hearing the Gospel proclaimed by the man who preached. That became the foundation of my life and gave me hope in this life and the next. So while my family was not that faithful and we didn't pray at home together or read the Bible ever, and they didn't really share their faith with me, but they did take me to church occasionally and I am grateful for that despite their failings.

Terry Maher said...

Anonymous whichever hider you are, it's rather amazing when actual experience of something is counted against one.

Look, the RCC uses entirely different criteria for counting membership than we do, and the ethos re attendance at services is entirely different too.

Makes comparisons about "we just offer Mass and people keep coming" just a little less than direct or realistic.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous whichever hider you are, it's rather amazing when actual experience of something is counted against one."

Why do you assume you are the only person posting here who has direct experience of the Catholic church? My Catholic niece and her family have quite a different view of the RC than you do.

Nor is how the RC counts membership the point. That has absolutely nothing to do with the casual attitude too many Lutherans have towards worship today.

Terry Maher said...

Oy. Neither the post nor my comments were about attitudes to worship by Lutherans. Read the black, not the white. It was about media criticsm of a church body and the attention one pays to it, with the completely unbased recommendation that a Catholic priest's answer re his church should all the more be ours despite several factors that make comparison and similarity not so.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should read the black.

As far as the priest saying that he just ignores the media criticism and goes right on doing what he is called to do I say good for him. You are the one who claims that only a few Catholics are "really into it" and I am saying that before you make that criticism you'd better check some sobering statistics in the LCMS.

Nothing whatsoever to do with that the LCMS should adopt Catholic practices.

Anonymous said...

Don't ignore the world. Engage the world diplomatically without conforming to its demands. Respond and tell the world why you believe and practice the way you do.

I would prefer that the RCC answers questions from its critics in order to demonstrate that it is not of this world. Silence is sometimes interpreted by the uninformed as an admission of guilt, e.g. the priest sex abuse scandals:

http://www.bishop-accountability.org/

http://www.snapnetwork.org/resources

Anonymous said...

Rather than ignore its enemies, the Catholic church should respond to some of the most popular (and most bizarre) criticisms against it. For example: Is there satanism in the Vatican; Do pedophile rings exist within the RCC; Is the Vatican the "City built on 7 hills" that is mentioned in chapter 17 of the book of Revelation.

http://www.chick.com/information/religions/catholicism/sevenhills.asp

Why do Evangelicals and many non-denominationals pride themselves on telling all Catholics that they are going to hell. Why do Evangelicals automatically lump Lutherans and Catholics as (almost) the same church? Lutherans are "Catholic Lite?" Really?

Anonymous said...

Respond and tell the world why you believe and practice the way you do.

I hardly think that the Catholic church has failed to tell the world what it believes and practices, not to mention that the RC has probably got the largest social service network in the world assisting all people, no matter what race, religion or background. On some issues that the media delight in pushing such as the ordination of women and gay marriage she rightly ignores those strident voices.

Be careful, because if the government succeeds in clamping down on the RC because she does not ordain women or recognize gay marriage, etc. then the LCMS will be in line for the same.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who wastes even one minute reading Jack Chick's trash needs to get a life.

Terry Maher said...

What a Catholic priest is called to do is not what a Lutheran pastor is called to do. "Our ministry is something different than it was under the pope." That's the point. So how a Catholic priest handles a Catholic situation is a Catholic, not a Lutheran, thing. If you can find in that a statement that everything is fine in LCMS, I have some ink blots to show you.

Anonymous said...

"What a Catholic priest is called to do is not what a Lutheran pastor is called to do."

Good Lord, what is your problem?

The point, as I see it, is that the priest ignores the media trashing and just does on doing what a Catholic priest is called to do. Got that? What Pastor Peters seems to be commending is how the priest ignores the media trashing and just keeps on going.

Is there any mention in this whatsoever that Lutherans should do what a Catholic priest does? What would you expect a Catholic priest to do except say mass?

Then Pastor Peters goes on to say that in doing that the priest is being faithful to his calling instead of relying on programs and church growth, etc.

Anonymous said...

The reason that the Notre Dame
football team has enjoyed success
over the decades....every Roman
Catholic priest in America prays
for them. Obviously, this year
their record was 8-4, and not the
stuff of a national championship.
Perhaps the priests have let them
down.

Pastor Peters said...

The second to the last anonymous is the one who read the post and understood what I was trying to say... thanks be to God!

Terry Maher said...

The post I read stated "We have forgotten what this good priest reminded me" and concluded "If that is true for them, it should even be more true for us". That's a little more than just saying be faithful to one's calling, especially since our situation re the media is not the RCC's, the calling of the priest is not that of a Lutheran pastor, and the Mass he "keeps on saying" is not the Divine Service. If it's true for apples how much more true for oranges? Non sequiter.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters missed his own post.

The Priest said, "just keep on saying
the Mass and they will come"

Pastor Peters said, "just keep saying
the Mass AND PREACHING THE GOSPEL
and they will come"

Big difference between WORD AND
SACRAMENT in Lutheran Church and
no gospel preaching in RCC.

Lutheran Desert Rat said...

Excellent post, Pastor Peters.

Anonymous said...

"If that is true for them, it should even be more true for us" meaning that Lutherans above all should rely on Word and Sacrament above all else, not all the "programs" some seem to keep cooking up.

It's rather petty when an ex-Catholic finds the cordial exchange between a Lutheran pastor and a Catholic priest so annoying.

Anonymous said...

"If that is true for them, it should even be more true for us" meaning that Lutherans above all should rely on Word and Sacrament above all else, not all the "programs" some seem to keep cooking up.

It's rather petty when an ex-Catholic finds the cordial exchange between a Lutheran pastor and a Catholic priest so annoying.

Terry Maher said...

Hey No-Name, it wasn't about the exchange. It was about the priest's and the pastor's situation not being the same, so what is true for them is not true for us, nor does what is true for us come from reminders from a priest.

Not to mention, it isn't even true for them. They aren't coming. Parishes and schools are consolidating and closing right and left, apart from pockets here and there.

Georg Amandt said...

The situation need not be the same for the kernel of wisdom to be the same for both -- instead of relying on programs and other so-called means of growing the church or being the church, do what is the church's to do -- preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments. Honestly, some of the comments have an axe to grind and are rather petty. It took me all of a few seconds to get what the good Padre was saying.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr. Amandt, I applaud your ability to comprehend what Pastor Peters wrote.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention, it isn't even true for them. They aren't coming. Parishes and schools are consolidating and closing right and left, apart from pockets here and there.

In some of the older urban areas that's true. But check this out:

http://www.chron.com/life/houston-belief/article/Catholic-membership-up-most-Protestant-churches-1705514.php

Terry Maher said...

Nice. Point to one of the pockets here and there, while consolidations and closings happen all around, parishes try independent fund raising to stay open or keep their schools open, Mass schedules are curtailed because there are not enough priests to maintain them, etc. It would be better to help your Catholic brothers with that.

And we are to remember what we have forgotten from a comment by someone who does not rightly preach the Gospel or rightly administer the sacraments (the ones that exist, not to mention the ones his church invented)?

Anonymous said...

"And we are to remember what we have forgotten from a comment by someone who does not rightly preach the Gospel or rightly administer the sacraments (the ones that exist, not to mention the ones his church invented)?"

Nope. Not for Lutherans.

Simply stating that urban Catholic parishes are certainly closing, but the ones in the burbs are gettin bigger and bigger.

There's more "pockets" out there than you think.

Anonymous said...

Also seems that whatever one may think of the global EWTN network it is entirely viewer supported. That's quite an output of cash coming from the laity.

Anonymous said...

"Not everything we learn from Rome is Romish. Not only so, but, as Evangelical Protestants [i.e., Lutherans], we may admit, that deep and vital as are the points in which we differ from the Romanists, they are not so vital as those in which we agree with them,"

Charles Porterfield Krauth, The Conservative Reformation, pp. 341, 342.

Georg Amandt said...

Funny, I thought parishes were being consolidated not for being a money drain but because of a shortage of priests?

Anonymous said...

Silence is sometimes interpreted by the uninformed as an admission of guilt, e.g. the priest sex abuse scandals:

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/2011/12/13/ultra-orthodox-jewish-sex-abuse-scandal/

Yeah. And even in other quarters.

Terry Maher said...

Why don't you just go be Catholics (except for the ones who apparently already are)?

I did not say anything Rome does is Romish. The church of Christ can still, though with great difficulty, be found therein despite itself.

You would have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to see the concern Catholics voice everywhere, not just about priest shortages, but closures due to lack of "viability", and the bitterness at seeing nice suburban parishes have plenty of $$$ while those in rural or other areas not packed with well to do white people languish and close.

The legal maxim is not silence admits guilt, it is silence implies consent. And it does.

EWTN took steps some years ago to sever any submission to an ordinary, the American bishops, and Rome itself. It is an independent entity promoting its idiosyncratic version of Catholicism and has no standing whatever with the Catholic Church.

Anonymous said...

As far as "white" parishes in the suburbs go the reason for that is the lack of Catholics in many urban areas (and it's not just a Catholic thing, other denominations face the same problem.) The fact is that the Catholic parishes hung on in the cities far longer than many Protestant ones and some are still operating in urban areas supported by suburban Catholics, especially in operating hunger centers, etc. Most urban churches are now Pentecosal, Baptist or other such denominations and are not going to support a Catholic or Protestant mainstream parish.

As far as EWTN goes you couldn't be more wrong. The bishops wanted to buy it years ago but Mother Angelica wouldn't sell so it's true that the network is not beholden to the bishops and is self-supporting but Catholic clergy, including bishops appear regularly on EWTN and flyers offering weekly programs are found in plenty of Catholic parishes and are highlighted in parish bulletins.

EWTN regularly broadcasts events covering the church in the U.S. and abroad and the Vatican, especially papal events. I have yet to hear that they have been denied access.

It is also a fact that EWTN is watched by many Protestants.

Anonymous said...

On October 4, 2009, Mother Angelica and Deacon Bill Steltemeier, at the time the chairman of EWTN’s board of governors, were recipients of the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (the Cross of Honor) by Pope Benedict XVI for distinguished service to the Catholic Church. Bishop Robert J. Baker of the Diocese of Birmingham conferred the awards. In commenting on the award, Bishop Baker said the award is, "... a significant acknowledgment by our Holy Father, of Mother's labors of love in support of our Church. By giving awards the Church is not saying people or institutions are perfect, but we are saying that Mother Angelica, through this network, has made a significant contribution to the new evangelization heralded and promoted by recent Popes".

Hmmm. Doesn't sound like EWTN is operating on the fringe to me.

Terry Maher said...

Anonymous, get a grip. The Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice does not confer any official standing or capacity whatever. The corporate moves made by EWTN, facing an Apostolic Visitation, were precisely to remove themselves from any offical oversight by or accountability to (which could result in discipline or correction) any bishop, bishops, even the Bishop of Rome.

CNN is not denied access to Vatican events either, and one can find a wide variety of material in the backs of Catholic Churches.

They do not speak for the RCC nor are they representative of actual Catholic life.

I don't know why you insist on such blinders, but it certainly doesn't help the many Catholic faithful stuggling with the reality that, as it was characterised here, "we keep on saying Mass and people just keep coming" is just not happening.

Anonymous said...

CNN may have access to the Vatican (as do much of the media) but last I looked did not have any honors conferred upon it by the Pope.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan was the latest prelate I saw on EWTN, and prelates from all over the world have appeared on the network. EWTN is also linked on the website of the Diocese of Alabama in which it resides. Last I looked that wasn’t the case with the SSPX and other schismatic organizations.

Mother Angelica is now in poor health and has turned the network over to lay administrators. That it is an independent entity is true but it promotes nothing contrary to Catholic teaching. If EWTN were considered heterodox in any way the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, a clerical society with pontifical-right status established by the Pope John Paul II and answerable only to the Pope in terms of their operation would not be permitted to appear on EWTN.

The Network is only going to grow. One of the main reasons the bishops wanted it years ago was because of the lucrative donations it brings in.

As for the Catholic church in general, it is shrinking in some parts of the country and the world and growing in others, as is true of some other denominations.

Anonymous said...

Every big city has churches built for immigrants in the early 1900s that are being torn down because of demographic changes.

Terry Maher said...

One should be careful about honours or anything conferred by a pope. A good many of the leading lights of Vatican II were censured, in one case on the Index of Forbidden Books, in one decade by one pope, made periti to the council in the next decade by another pope, and made cardinals in the next decade by another pope.

And the fact remains that EWTN has no official capacity in the RCC.

Blind yourself all you want, Mass attendance, let alone priests to say them, has fallen off dramatically overall, and the point here was that to take a "we keep saying Mass and the people keep coming" as an inspiration for us is just totally out of touch with reality.

Anonymous said...

And the fact remains that EWTN has no official capacity in the RCC.

LOL, EWTN's numerous visitors and supporters which include clergy and laity don't seem to let that bother them very much.

"and the point here was that to take a "we keep saying Mass and the people keep coming" as an inspiration for us is just totally out of touch with reality."

As usual, you totally missed Pastor Peter's point which was that the priest doesn't let the negative press from the media influence his vocation which is to celebrate the sacraments for his people. It was not an endorsement from Pastor Peters that Lutherans should be worshipping the same way that Catholics do.

Anonymous said...

Some interesting statistics from the latest Pew report:

http://blogs.vancouversun.com/2011/12/19/half-worlds-2-3-billion-christians-are-catholic/

There are 2.18 billion Christians of all ages in more than 200 countries around the world, representing nearly a third of the estimated 6.9 billion 2010 global population.

- In 1910, two-thirds of the world’s Christians lived in Europe. Today, only about a quarter of all Christians live in Europe (26%).

- In the last 100 years, the number of Christians around the world has more than tripled from historical estimates of approximately 600 million in 1910 to more than two billion today… Still, because of rising world populations, Christians make up about the same portion of the world’s population in 2010 (32%) as they did a century ago (35%).

- Christians are diverse theologically as well as geographically. About half are Catholic. Protestants, broadly defined, make up 37%. Orthodox Christians comprise 12% of Christians worldwide.

- Taken as a whole Christians are by far the world’s largest religious group. Muslims, the second-largest group, make up a little less than a quarter of the world’s population.

- Almost half (48%) of all Christians live in the 10 countries with the largest number of Christians. Three of the top 10 are in the Americas (the United States, Brazil and Mexico). Two are in Europe (Russia and Germany); two are in the Asia-Pacific region (the Philippines and China); and three are in sub-Saharan Africa (Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia), reflecting Christianity’s global reach.

- Nigeria now has more than twice as many Protestants (broadly defined to include Anglicans and independent churches) as Germany, the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation.

Anonymous said...

I was surprised to hear about this new group:

http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2011/December/Anglican-Fever-Youth-Flock-to-New-Denomination-/