Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Something old, something new...
I am telling you that whenever you hear someone speak in this way, hold on to you wallets, your hymnals, your prayer books, your alb, your pipe organ, your pew, your Confessions, etc... When church leaders say we cannot afford to keeping doing what we have been doing, they mean nothing in the future will be the same. Whether the liberal Episcopalians (Bp Schori is one who spoke those words in her opening remarks to Episcopal Church Council) or by the conservative Missouri Synod Lutherans (who tell us gleefully of the new paradigms we must learn from the non-denominationals and any other add group the believes and confesses differently that Lutherans), caveat emptor.
Now I am not an idiot (no, really) and I know that we have things to learn. I know that technology may offer us a platform to speak the Gospel in new ways to people who communicate in different ways than they did in the 1950s. I know that we cannot go on assuming that the world still looks like it did in 1958 when Lutheran growth was exploding. I am not at all saying that we must act exactly like we did in 1958.
What worries me most is that methodology is not isolated from theology and the methodology that we learn from non-Lutherans and which conflicts with our Confessions cannot be used or adapted in such way that it suddenly becomes consistent with our Confessions. Practice and confession are not in separate boxes but at different ends of the very same spectrum. Change one, you change the other...
It is generally not just outreach things that the folks who talk like this want to change. They want to change Sunday morning so that the liturgy is gone and with it the weekly Eucharist. They want to ditch the hymnals and the hymns and the theology in those great Lutheran chorales. They want to remake us into a different church body -- one decidedly more American than Lutheran, more trendy than historic, and more changeable than steadfast and enduring. They have the idea that this process of change will have to take place generation after generation as each age remakes the church in order to meet the expectations of those outside the Church and to make us feel more successful in what we do (numbers talk).
Schori is talking as a radically liberal Christian for whom neither Scripture nor Christ is changeless. In her mind (and in the mind of many in the ELCA), the Biblical writers did not know strong and loving gay relationships and so they could not possibly have said no to them. Therefore, the Biblical thing to do becomes the very thing the Scriptures prevent. And, in case you have not noticed, a ton of things in these very liberal churches seem to be about sex. More about sex than about Jesus.
Missouri has very little to fear from Schori or the ELCA cutting edge. Our weakness is decidedly different. We want to grow more than we want to be faithful to our Lord. We have decided that the only criteria of faithfulness worth mentioning is numbers. We have also decided that most of the things in the Church are values or confession neutral so that we can borrow indiscriminately from almost anyone and use their methods to achieve our ends. We can create short-cuts to ordination. We can ditch the liturgy. We can diminish our emphasis on concrete sacramental theology for feeling or decision or choice oriented convictions that begin and end with us.
I am a radical too... I believe that we cannot keep doing what we have been doing. I believe that the Spirit is inviting us into a new way of being Church. But this new way is actually rather old. It was manifest in the first centuries of Christianity, it was renewed in the Great Reformation of Wittenberg, and it has not been tried much by Lutherans or other Christians since. So I do get excited when I hear Rome fomenting for change from the pack um in and move um out mentality of the Mass Lite or when they begin remembering the music of the Mass instead of a strum strum throw away tune and missalette. I do get excited when I see the President of our Synod speaking of our fathers and even our Lutheran fathers and calling us to repent from our sectarian ways. I do get excited when the guys coming out of Seminary are more comfortable at the altar than they are reading Group Magazine or the latest from Saddleback or Willow Creek.
As Will Weedon has so often said, perhaps we should try confessional Lutheranism since we have tried everything else and it did not work... Why is what we try last the thing we should be doing first?! What St. Paul said, we need to be able to say.. "I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision..." “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle...” “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition (some translations have teaching, at any rate teaching can be passed on orally before it is committed to writing) which he received from us...”