Saturday, February 22, 2014

Promote tranquility?!?

We gladly keep the old traditions set up in the church because they are useful and promote tranquility, and we interpret them in an evangelical way, excluding the opinion which holds that they justify.  Our enemies falsely accuse us of abolishing good ordinances and church discipline.  We can truthfully claim that in our churches the public liturgy is more decent than theirs, and if you look at it correctly we are more faithful to the canons than our opponents are (Apology XV.38).

Now there is a novel thought -- traditions (here meaning ceremonies and liturgical traditions) promote tranquility.  What does it say, then, that these traditions have been the fodder of worship wars of our recent past and the cause of some turmoil when we reintroduce of what has been lost?  It could mean that we have drifted further and further from our Lutheran moorings of doctrine, faith, and practice.

For now I will skip such things as chanting and incense and go to more basic traditions.  I have personally participated in the reintroduction of the chalice into two parishes where the use of the chalice was either never the practice or where it had been omitted some time before I arrived.  In both cases there was an initial dust up over those who insisted that the chalice caused illness, passed disease, and was generally unhealthy.  

Or another example.  I have personally reintroduced to two Lutheran congregations the historic and confessional practice of the weekly Eucharist.  In both cases I took the long approach of preaching and teaching the people into what should have been their practice.  In both cases I endured the criticism of those who complained that this was not the way it was when they grew up, it unnecessarily lengthened the worship service, and it rendered common things that God meant to be special (read that exceptional and not normal).  

Or a final example.  I have personally reintroduced the practice of individual (private) confession and absolution only to find folks complaining that I was a closet Roman Catholic or that I was restoring things that were discontinued for good reason, etc...  No matter that this was the norm of parish life as expected in our Confessions and that the practice of a general confession before the Divine Service was a later introduction.

All I am saying is that the Confessions insisted that keeping the traditions received from those who went before (except where they expressly conflicted with the Gospel) was to promote tranquility.  The fact that these are the source of some angst and upset among Lutherans today can only mean one thing -- we are in a far different place than we were.  Now some will surely sigh with relief that we have finally abandoned our catholic identity on Sunday morning and look more like Methodists.  But the sacrifice of liturgical identity is not without doctrinal consequences.  The fact that the things the Confessions describe as normal for us Lutherans have become exceptional is not a good thing.  This is what underlies the worship wars more than whether or not we like it when the Pastor sings or the thurible swings.  It is not the practices alone that have become uncomfortable to us but the teachings that these practices reflect.  

It is certainly true that we have more Lutheran congregations practicing weekly Eucharist but does this mean that we have recovered the Eucharistic piety which is expressed in the Confessions?  We also have fewer using the chalice exclusively or as the primary means of the distribution.  What does this say about the fears of the common cup and our belief both in the real presence and our confidence that God would not ordain something that would cause us harm?  We hear more talk about private confession and all our hymnals have included rites for individual confession and absolution without making much of a dent in its practice.  What does it say that some are offended when the general confession is omitted but scandalized by the prospect of private confession?  The liturgical movement within Lutheranism was never meant to be the recovery of a practice without also recovering the theology that goes with it.  I am not sure that we have gained as much as we think.

2 comments:

Janis Williams said...

Two things:

Yes, practice of traditions (Liturgy) does promote tranquility. C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity (I think) says the pastor who is always doing something different has the people wondering what he's doing next, rather than hearing the Word. The very thing people complain of in the Liturgy (same old thing, over and over ad nauseum) is the very thing they need. It helps keep one focused, and the "habit" of the Divine Service will carry a person through dry times, tough times, and good times.

People can be taught Theology, but you can't make them believe or accept it. Unfortunate. I have seen too many people fold their arms and close their minds for my liking.

Jonathan Mayer said...

To add to what Janis said, in "First Person Singular," Carl Schalk compares the liturgy to a game of soccer. Some people pursue endless variety because they are tired of the "same old." But a constantly changing rite will never allow the worshippers the luxury to learn the rite and just "worship," in the same way that a soccer game with endlessly changing rules would frustrate the players and keep enjoyment to a minimum. It would transform a game of physical skill and teamwork into an exercise for short-term memory.