Friday, September 20, 2013
The growing pains of faithful Lutheran identity. . .
I grew up in a Lutheranism was which decidedly anti-Catholic. There was no greater offense than for an outsider to visit the Divine Service (sorry, make that, Order of Morning Worship with Communion) and say "why, that looks Catholic to me!" How dare you! But it was easier to be Lutheran in the 1950s. All Lutherans used the Common Service of 1888 (in our case, on page 15 or ante-communion on page 5). The music might be different in liturgy and hymnal but we were secure in our Lutheranism and could afford not to take our Confessions all that seriously. So when our Confessions insisted that we had the Mass every Lord's Day, holy day, and every other day communicants desired to receive it, we could wink at that and continue our quarterly or monthly Lord's Supper.
We had an American culture (on the surface) well integrated with mainline Protestantism so we sought to be a Lutheran version of that mainline Protestant identity. Lutherans were coming out of their ethnic conclaves in the 1950s and were hitting America big time. We seemed comfortable enough with an outward facade of Calvinism coupled with a somewhat odd (bizarre?) sacramentality and a predilection for formal, liturgical worship (mostly black gowns with an occasional surplice and stole). Again, we could ignore our own Confessions and their insistence that we observed faithfully all the liturgical traditions (read that church usages and ceremonies) that did not conflict with the Gospel because all the Lutherans pretty much looked and acted fairly similar. Who was to hold us to account?
When confessional renewal began and voices like Arthur Carl Piepkorn began challenging this view of Luther and the Lutherans, we had to take sides. Sadly, the side of taking worship and the confessions more seriously seemed to fall more to those on the side of a decidedly non-confessional view of Scripture and the Gospel. You know what happened in Missouri and you can also follow the evolution of Biblical inerrancy through Frederick Schiotz and the old ALC through to the present ELCA. The side of Biblical truth was deeply suspicious of those who sought a more faithful Lutheran confessional identity.
Now we find ourselves full circle. Those who take Scripture seriously in Lutheranism are generally also those who take the Confessions seriously and do not view them through a predisposition to a dressed up Calvinism, Protestantism, or evangelicalism. That view has been on the ascendancy since the 1980s and resulted in the election of Dr. Matthew Harrison as President. Lutherans are being held accountable to our Concordia more now than ever. This has been primarily a clergy movement but not exclusively so. Now, to be sure, those who worked to address the Biblical inerrancy issue in the 1970s are still not at home with this and continue to label these Lutherans who believe confessional is not merely a descriptor of what is believed but a cause for practices wholly consistent with what we say we believe. Whether hypo-Euros or sacerdotalists, it would seem that the Cascione crowd has found an unlikely ally in the Kieschnick crowd. Now the complaint is clergy dominance -- Cascione believes that lay influence will Protestantize the "Catholic" practice of the some of the Confessionals and Kieschnick believes it will moderate arbitrary and unbending doctrinal adherence and practices of the Confessionals.
I grew up in a Lutheranism which was decidedly formalistic (all our Pastors seemed to stand and sit and move according to an unwritten script) but it was also mostly unliturgical. They did not do this because they believed the liturgy confessed the faith but simply because this was what Lutherans did and what they were taught to do. They were rigorous in the way they followed the rules but they always felt a little uncomfortable in the vestments, clerical collar, and at the altar. They were preachers more than liturgists.
Now we find ourselves at a time in which the call of the faithful (lay and clergy) is becoming more a both and than an either or -- take worship seriously and take the faith seriously. This has resulted in a division. There are those who elevate the cause of the lost higher than any other value and who seem willing to dump every liturgical identity of our Confessions and our history in order to convert one lost soul. There are also those who believe that you cannot have a high view of the Bible and not have a catholic (small "c" folks) view of worship and the liturgy.
This has left some Lutherans with some uneasiness. They go to a Lutheran congregation in which the Word is held in proper Confessional esteem and with it come liturgical practices that some have rejected as "Catholic" but which were properly and always the practice of the Lutheran Church until the last couple of centuries. They find their Pastors chanting, wearing Eucharistic vestments, crossing themselves, kneeling, genuflecting at the consecration, ringing bells, etc... and they do not like it. They were raised to instinctively reject all the frills as adiaphora (translate that unnecessary) or as impediments to the simple worship of Jesus (as much as you can call it that using a hymnal and following some of rubrics). They wish that they could return to the 1950s when liturgical simply meant using the hymnal, when Holy Communion was a more occasional than essential part of the Divine Service, and when the more catholic practice of Confessional doctrine was more circumspect.
When these Lutheran lay folk visit other Lutheran congregations, they tend to find the neat divisions of the modern worship wars. The praise band Lutherans (generally larger congregations and those planted more recently) and the pipe organ Lutherans (generally small to medium size and with a longer history). They wonder what happened to their old Protestant style Lutheranism. It is gone. It was a victim of the battle for the Lutheran soul that asks either the Confessions or not. Sure, you may find it occasionally in the WELS or ELS (or some rural parts of the Upper Midwest), but you can also find in these the same divisions as Missouri -- because this is not strictly a single synod issue. When they go to the ELCA, they find a different liturgical strangeness -- inclusive language, gay or women clergy presiding, social issues parading as the Gospel, and union with those who disagree with us about many things but seem to agree on others (Presbyterians, Reformed, Episcopalians, UCC, etc...). This group of Lutherans seems to have lost their church home and they don't like it one bit. But they don't know where to go, either.
I grew up in the days when catechesis meant simply the memorization of the Synodical Catechism and its hundreds of proof-texting Bible passages -- NOT a framework for piety and practice of the Lutheran faith. Now we find that the Confessionals who advocate the full Divine Service are also insisting that the Catechism not merely be taught but actually shape the piety of Lutherans. We have arguments over how the Small Catechism is being translated and about what happens in classes leading to Confirmation and in new member instruction. The catechism is no longer a hurdle that must be jumped to belong, it is a living part of what it means to believe, confess, and teach as Lutherans -- for parents in the home, for children in the faith, for converts from outside, and for Sunday morning classes (where the Catechism accompanies our study of Scripture).
Some Lutheran lay folk like this but they are also somewhat suspicious of the catechism as if it were being used to replace the Bible. They have grown up with the idea that Bible study is good but are not so sure about all this talk of the catechism. When they read that the Catechism, the Hymnal, and a good Lutheran study Bible are the print resources that support the Christian life in the home, they think this sounds good in principle but they wonder why not just the Bible (along with, say, Portals of Prayer)? So they like the emphasis upon Bible study but they wonder why their Pastors keep bringing up the catechism or the Confessions.
In other venues, the catechism is completely lost. Here the mission of the Church is strictly converting the lost and these folks see the catechism the way they see the hymnal -- a distraction at best and an enemy at worst to real, measurable, church growth. They insist they teach the substance of the catechism but do not use the book, the vocabulary, or the structure of Luther's catechism. To this, the confessionals cry foul. How can you teach the catechism without teaching, well, the catechism?
This is where a bunch of folks in my parish fit... or, rather, do not fit. I suspect it is true of many throughout the Synod...