Saturday, February 25, 2012

Forgotten Luther, Perhaps???

A question to the Wisconsin Synod Forward in Christ magazine wondered why Lutherans do not generally cross themselves (a pretty good question, actually) and the answer was, well, less than salutary.  In addition to resisting the questioner, the answer pointed out that this practice is so fraught with problems that it is not good.

Crossing oneself brings with it potential problems too. It may promote superstition or become a thoughtless gesture.  Yes, you heard it from the WELS... crossing yourself can lead you to become a Wiccan!  Run, run, and run even faster from this terrible practice lest you do not give in to superstition or become a thoughtless Christian!

The only problem with this statement is that Luther says just the opposite in the Small Catechism when he bids us prepare for morning and evening prayers with the invocation and the sign of the cross -- suggesting that this is a most salutary remembrance of our baptism into that name.  Well, I guess there is reason for that.  Luther lived at a time when the confusion of this practice with Rome was not so pervasive as now... WHA????

But be cautious. Historical developments have shaped our culture, and we shouldn't recklessly ignore them. Over the centuries making the sign of the cross fell into disuse among the majority of Lutherans in western Europe and North America, while among Roman Catholics it thrived. We cannot list all factors, but we can acknowledge the reality. Furthermore, crossing oneself is more than simply a pervasive custom for Catholics. It is a sacrament that earns indulgences. Extra indulgences are earned if holy water is used. The simple gesture is linked to horrible doctrines like the treasury of the merits and Mariolatry.[emphasis theirs]

Apparently the answer man (probably not a woman in WELS) is smoking something funny.  Rome has seven sacraments but crossing oneself with or without holy water is not among them.  Crossing oneself is linked to the horrible doctrines like the treasury of merits and Mariolatry?!?!  It is???  I guess Luther was somehow so oblivious to the terrible ties that bind this practice to the devil's doctrines that he screwed up here.  Ya think???

Forest Bivens (now that is a name) has advice for those contemplating the practice of crossing yourself:  Let love be the main player in this drama. Don't be quick to find fault. Cherish your freedom and protect the freedom of others. Explain your choices and listen when others explain theirs. Keep Christ and the cause of truth at the heart of all talk about making the sign of the cross.Hmmmm  I would think that keeping Christ and the truth at the heart of it all is exactly what making the sign of the cross is all about...

But then what do I know....  I guess I would never make it pass doctrinal review in WELS!

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Reverend Pastor: As a non-Wisconsin Synod Lutheran who makes the sign of the Cross upon himself, I respectfully think you are going a bit overboard in your response to the article. First, how does suggesting making the sign can become superstitious suggest one becomes a Wiccan? Luther taught that God's Name can be used superstitiously. Shall we assume Luther, too, put all such as do in the Wiccan camp (note: I am not defending Wicca or Wiccans, just commenting on your strong reaction to the suggestion. Secondly, there is a difference between a "sacramental" and a "Sacrament." Whether or not one makes the sign of the Cross, the cited examples from the article, I believe, can help us recall Jesus' own words, "Beware of practicing your piety before men." Peace!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Pastor Peters should give up blogging for Lent as an act of piety
and humility.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, Pastor Peters? Did you actually read the article, or just certain snippets from it so you could snipe at it?

Do you deny what Prof. Bivens affirms, that crossing oneself is something neither commanded nor forbidden?

Do you disagree that the exercise of Christian freedom, such as choosing to make the sign of the cross when few around you do the same, is something that should be done with love and wisdom?

Do you deny that within Roman Catholicism the practice can become superstitious, or that crossing oneself is considered by the RCC a "sacramental" ("sacrament" was a misprint in the original article, corrected in a subsequent issue) that earns indulgences?

Do you suggest that it's impossible for a Lutheran's use of his freedom to make the sign of the cross to give others an impression (wrong as it may be) that he is "approving or participating in corrupted religious practices"?

And did you miss all the parts in the article where Prof. Bivens talked about the "benefits" of crossing oneself, affirmed that "Christians today may adopt the practice from wholesome hearts and with good intentions", and said that for anyone to "find fault with their use of Christian liberty is inappropriate".

Or is it perhaps Prof. Bivens' conclusion to his balanced discussion of this practice, in the context of Christian liberty, that you have difficulty with?
"Let love be the main player in this drama. Don't be quick to find fault. Cherish your freedom and protect the freedom of others. Explain your choices and listen when others explain theirs. Keep Christ and the cause of truth at the heart of all talk about making the sign of the cross."

I'm disappointed in you, Pastor Peters. While I don't always agree with everything you say, I've come to expect much better from your writings here.

Pastor Peters said...

First of all, I apologize if what I wrote was more snarky than usual. I did not mean to be so short and the Wiccan comment was over the time. I am sorry.

But, why are others not shocked by this article's answers to a simple question?

What shocks me is that any Lutheran would find a need to express caution against a practice Luther himself commended in the Small Catechism -- as if this were not Lutheran or salutary.

Second, the cautions issued could be said about everything including saying the Lord's Prayer. We do not caution people against the Our Father, do we? Why is it that Lutheran practices and obvious parts of Lutheran piety suddenly need a warning note placed upon them?

I did not see or hear that the "sacrament" was an error. I read the article as posted and responded to such. Even so, the warning against it could just as well be placed against receiving the Sacrament of the Altar since the Roman Church turned this from sacrament to sacrifice and this abuse is far more egregious than the "sacramental" character of crossing oneself and its earning of indulgences (which I do not think is even taught anymore if it ever was).

Superstition and thoughtlessness are not the fault of the practice but of the practitioner. Anything and everything could be used superstitiously or thoughtlessly. By the same standard, we might shake things up a bit and ditch the liturgy on Sunday morning so that nobody is on cruise control in the pews.

Yes, I am exaggerating because the answer exaggerated the potential for abuse and suggested that really it might not be a good practice at all. That is just plain not Lutheran.

Finally, the point about love being the main player -- who ever suggested in a Lutheran setting that the sign of the cross was obligatory? Is not the sign of the cross one way in which our piety keeps Christ front and center -- especially the Christ of our baptism.

Pastor Peters said...

BTW I was equally snarky about the Lutheran Witness when its answer to a question about the Pastor's self-communion during the Divine Service failed to acknowledge the Lutheran orthodoxy and roots of this practice and made it seem as if it were an option, not a great one, but an option if it could be done without offense. Pretty much the same tone the WELS answer gave to the question of crossing ones self...

Pr. Kurt Hagen said...

WELS people would probably not be familiar with Luther's commendation of the practice of crossing oneself because mention of making the sign of the cross is omitted in the edition of the Small Catechism that WELS produces. Which again begs the question why....

Terry Maher said...

The only reason I'm not shocked by the article is that I was WELS and this is absolutely typical of them. Welcome to why I am LCMS, for all its problems, now.

Judas H Priest OSB, the mass itself got corrupted into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and all sorts of superstitious practices which now have a long historical record and associations. What are we supposed to do -- quit having the mass? Your point is great re that.

Unknown said...

Since I grew up surrounded by Russian Orthodox family members, crossing oneself was commonplace. We even made the sign of the cross over each other, when one of us went on a trip, went to the hospital, and the like. This would be accompanied by the words, “Christ be with you,” a perfectly normal practice among believing Russians. But I did not start crossing myself as part of my Lutheran worship until my thirties.

When I did, I decided to adopt the Orthodox “fingering” for the practice; i.e. to put the thumb, the index finger, and the middle finger together, rather than using the open hand. The Orthodox do this to remember the Trinity. Which reminds me that when a papal nuncio came to see Ivan the Terrible in order to discuss unity between the two churches, Ivan told his advisers that he would tell the nuncio that the Roman Catholics were obviously wrong, because they crossed themselves with three fingers, rather than two, which was the custom in Russia before the reforms of Patriarch Nikon.

I also adopted what I think is a good Orthodox custom: when the celebrant says, “The Lord be with you,” I bow to him when the congregation responds. I make an exception when the celebrant says these words with his back to the congregation. It happens. You can’t know everything.

Christ be with you!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

Snark is called for here. Prof. Bivens was out of line for suggesting that this practice might be harmful because of its connection to the Roman Church. I am a WELS member who uses the sign of the cross; I picked it up from some LCMS friends in college; (Oooo...scandalous!); and I find that it is a good custom that needs a revival in the WELS. The WELS needs to get over their over-the-top Romaphobia. (Yes, they are afraid of Roman Catholicism. Not like homophobia. ... I am not afraid of gay people.)

Mark Beitz said...

The article is also published here for all to see

http://www.wels.net/news-events/forward-in-christ/june-2011/question-and-answer

The article spends much energy on how crossing oneself looks to others. However, the article does not mention why one would use the sign of the cross in to remind us of our Savior. I agree that this WELS Q&A is a poor answer to the question on the sign of the cross.

Pastor Peters - maybe too much snark in the original post today, but the follow-ups in the commets are spot on. I would also question why we shouldn't do something just because some Roman Catholics do.

Pastor Hagen - your point is taken that the making the sign of the cross doesn't appear in the daily prayer section of a WELS published catechism. Why this is omitted here is a good question. However, I really didn't learn making the sign of the cross in my LCMS catechism classes, either.

Daniel Baker said...

I do not think your comments were unwarranted, Pr. Peters. As a member of the Wisconsin Synod, I think the article at hand is atrocious, and not something the Synod should accept from someone training candidates for the Office of the Holy Ministry.

Anonymous said...

To make the sign of the cross is clearly indicated in our Lutheran Confessions. Just do it. It is beautiful and a wonderful gesture that God gave us. Thanks for the post and for the valued work you do in bringing these things to our attention.

Anonymous said...

If this article is any indication of the state of Confessional Lutheranism in WELS, then I'm not favorably impressed. Too bad they have this problem with doctrine and practice.

Anonymous said...

Apparently the answer man (probably not a woman in WELS) is smoking something funny.

Apparently in the LCMS a woman would be answering their doctrinal questions. We're dumping on the WELS because they don't cross themselves? Really? This is what causes you to be "not favorably impressed"? I live in Florida and i still can't figure out why it is that the vast majority of LCMS churches celebrate open communion! That's a far greater indication of the state of Confessional Lutheranism.

Anonymous said...

To an LCMSer, the WELS critique of people who make the sign of the cross is silly nitpicking.

I would hope that the WELS could focus on more important issues, such as their immenent acceptance of the liberal NNIV bible.

Question for the WELSians: What is change or die! It seems the Church Growth Movement is alive and well in the WELS.

Pr. D. Bestul said...

Thanks, Brother Peters, for standing with the Martins of our faith who would have likely felt very much at home at Grace in Clarksville:

"I only desire to have the conscience free and to have all Christians make the sign of the cross against a faith which believes that the pope is right in his rule." Martin Luther

"Among all the ancient writers there is indeed frequent mention of the sign of the cross. ...at the time of Tertullian and afterward the Christians with their fingers formed a transverse figure like a cross in the air, and in this way identified themselves. It was...a profession and reminder that they believed in Christ crucified, and that they were placing all their hope and confidence in Him." Martin Chemnitz

Daniel Baker said...

If I'm not mistaken, Anonymouse, there are (is a?) LCMS pastor participating in Change or Die! as well. So be careful where you criticize. Also, TPTB seem to have backed off the NNIV issue for the time being, since it appears that we can continue to use the '84 version for the foreseeable future.

I'm the first person to criticize my Synod where it's warranted, but keep it focused, please, and don't cast stones that could rightly be lodged at your own glass house.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters responds: "Second, the cautions issued could be said about everything including saying the Lord's Prayer. We do not caution people against the Our Father, do we?" I have, indeed, heard many a good Lutheran Pastor preach not against the prayer itself, but certainly against a mindless, disengaged recitation of the Our Father. This entire discussion of making/not making the Sign of the Cross reminds me of comments made in C.S. Lewis' "Screwtape Letters." Spot on, Mr. Lewis!

Joanne said...

Simple: Is the Lutheran church a catholic church or a sectarian church? If the Lutheran church is a catholic church then we do what the catholic church does unless we have doctrinal reasons to make a reform. Unless our doctrine makes us change, then we remain with our catholic brothers in practice so that we appear to be marching with the church catholic.

In some of the earliest paintings of what Lutherans did in their liturgy, the only clue you can find that this is Lutherans and not Roman Catholics is that the chalice is also being offered to the communicants. It may have to be pointed out to you, look the priest on the right is offering the chalice, this must be a Lutheran paintng.

Luther even mentioned making the sign of the cross as an everyday practice of the common people when passing a cemetery or coming upon a terrible accident. Luther just assumes that this is what christians do when they need to comfort themselves by remembering their Christian hope.

And I might add, the Angels cannot hear our thoughts, but they can see us make the sign of the cross. It's for the Angels that so much of what we do is aural or visual or olphactory. Only God knows our thoughts, the Angels live with us and especially worship with us in large numbers, they need to see, hear, and smell, just like we do.

The sign of the cross, with several versions, is done by all the catholic churches. You sectarians out there please just ignore this catholic drivel I'm spewing.

Anonymous said...

This is a silly discussion. Shaking hands is a gesture when greeting people. Holding your hand over your heart is a patriotic gesture. Making the sign of the cross is a nice religious gesture. Why even bother discussing this? It is a Christian sign - end of discussion.