Saturday, August 16, 2014

An astonishingly rich tradition. . .

What was sacred for prior generations, remains sacred and great for us as well wrote Benedict XVI on July 7, 2007, when he issued the document Summorum Pontificum.  For Roman Catholics it has meant a legitimate restoration of the Latin Mass to a church that has long lived with experimental liturgical change that became normal, robbing them of much of a connection to their past.  It was, as many Roman Catholics had said, that we went to sleep one day and woke up the next to a completely different church.  While the doctrine supposedly was the same, the nature of the liturgical changes as well as a "climate" change within that communion transformed this tradition in ways that no one could have foreseen.  Benedict was, as he has often pointed out, restoring the past, practicing a hermeneutic of continuity.

As much as I have great respect for Benedict, I remain unsure that the restoration of the Latin Mass is the redemptive force so many traditional Roman Catholics believe it to be.  It is symbolic, highly symbolic, of the great and crying need within that church to reconnect their present to their past in a way that does more than offer lip service to a liturgical legacy, a musical heritage, a practice or piety, and a dogmatic tradition.  There is much water that has gone under the bridge since Paul VI promulgated the liturgical reforms after Vatican II and there has grown up another Roman Catholic Church made up of cultural Catholics who may not attend Mass or go to confession but who certainly do not accept the historic teaching of their church without qualification.  More work will have to go on to deal with these issues -- perhaps a few generations of Benedicts and priests who follow in his path.  With respect to Francis, I am not sure he represents a link in the chain  of such a hermeneutic of continuity with Benedict XVI.

My point here is that we Lutherans ought to listen to such conversation.  We have endured a few generations of liturgical change.  This was seen as our own Wittenberg spring that was supposed to refresh the church, rekindle the fire, and help us stop the bleeding off of members to other churches or to ecclesiastical oblivion.  Instead, it has done the opposite.  Where once you knew exactly what to expect on a Sunday morning in a Lutheran parish (pretty much the Common Service of 1888), now Lutherans open the door uncertain what they will find -- from clowns to entertainment worship to seeker services to throw away liturgy to worship from the book to catholic liturgy and ceremony... and the list could go on.  We do not have a public face anymore.  It has become a white board on which we draw whatever face we want to draw to show ourselves both to the faithful and to the world.  We do not have doctrinal and catechetical unanimity (though we came pretty close to such in the 1950s) but we have Lutherans officially all over the page.  Some are mainline Protestants with a lot of show but not much content.  Some are evangelical wannabes with all the emotional fervor and relativisitic appeal of an Osteen but little consistent with our Confessions.  Some are fundamentalists -- liturgical Baptists, if you will -- who diminish our catholicity.

What was sacred for prior generations, remains sacred and great for us as well...    It is a classic statement of the catholicity of what is believed and how it is lived out on Sunday morning.  This calls us all to the means of grace from our speculative focus on psychology, happiness, and self-fulfillment.  It compels us to remember what we too often forget -- we did not invent the faith nor do we invent how we practice that faith on Sunday morning.  We are heirs of an astonishingly rich tradition -- not of museum pieces to be adored but of liturgy, hymnody, and piety.  By keeping faith with the tradition handed down to us, we manifest our own identity today as the Church of the ages, catholic in doctrine and catholic in practice.  We cannot afford to disdain what was sacred in order to reinvent ourselves or what is sacred.  We are bound to Scripture and its living tradition of saints who have confessed it through the ages.

The great danger to us liturgically and doctrinally is the same as what haunts Rome.  We have made a radical disconnect from our past.  We have disdained the sacred which was past down to us by those who went before.  No one is saying that we have to slavishly adhere to the past without offering the best of the present.  The liturgy expects and anticipates the living tradition lived out in our own time and doctrine that remains the same must always be restated to answer the challenges, questions, and changes of the modern day.  But when we disown our doctrinal past, we force ourselves to redefine who we are as a church and what we stand for without the aid and benefit of the resources, history, creeds, and confessions that enabled us to once say "this we believe".  When we disown our liturgical past we end up worshiping the present moment and ourselves as much as the God who transcends time and eternity.

Benedict spoke a prescient word for Rome some seven years ago... but Lutherans ought to be listening to the truth of those words for our own house.


Janis Williams said...

As recovering Evangelicals disover Lutheranism, it is amazing how many Lutheran churches adopt the very things that send many Evangelicals out of their former churches. They (Lutherans) even adopt what the Evangelicals have left behind as ineffective.

The saddest part is that the pragmatic adoption of the world's culture (ostensibly to attract seekers) is that it generally misses culture's boat. The church apes what the culture has left behind. I'm not saying that aping the culture is right. Howeverr, in the rush to be cutting edge, the churches' efforts are behind time, and they seem not to notice it.

Papa Joe said...

One thing which is weighing heavily on my mind is that Lutheranism on paper is fantastic, but in practice is lacking. I love the theological depth, and yet simplicity, of the Book of Concord, but unfortunately what goes on in most Lutheran churches is not what is described in the BoC.

Portwenn59 said...

Dear Pastor Peters,
Thank you for writing this blog. You always have something meaningful to say. As a LCMS member all my life, I'm so frustrated with the variances one finds in LCMS church services on any given Sunday. My own congregation has a 'celebration' - happy clappy service on the first Sunday of the month so we try to attend somewhere else. This past month we attended St. John Lutheran in Wheaton, Il. The Litrugy was beautifully done with great reverence, incense and the ringing of bells. Not the typical Lutheran service for the midwest, that's for sure. At my own congregation on that 1st Sunday of the month there was a drama, a Patsy Cline type singer leading the songs that were probably very generically Christian, and a form of the liturgy probably from Creative Worship by CPH. During the summer the Introit, Kyrie and Gloria are left out, I suppose to save time. Why such a huge divide? Pastors seem to say the laity wants this or that and the laity seem to say the Pastor wants such and such. Thanks for letting me rant.

In Christ,