Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Another Lutheran Swims the Tiber. . .
Another Lutheran has swum the Tiber. Russ Saltzman, erstwhile Lutheran Pastor and commentator, has signaled his intention to be received into the Roman Catholic Church, with his wife Dianne. In the end, when Lutheran pastors leave Lutheranism, it is seldom to find something less but the something more the Lutheran Confessions expect but one sees all too infrequently among the parishes and jurisdictions of Lutheran bodies -- namely, evangelical catholicity.
Evangelical catholicity, as I said on another forum, is summed up best in the Augustana itself: "That in doctrine and ceremonies nothing has been received on our part against Scripture or the Church Catholic." Evangelical catholicity is doctrinal and liturgical - not a choice between them. Missouri often seems to choose doctrine over practice, insisting for example upon a quia subscription to the Symbols but then entirely comfortable with an occasional Sunday Eucharist and a liturgical minimalism which would be completely foreign to our Lutheran fathers. ELCA often seems to choose liturgy over truth, willing to allow full diversity of what is believed, confessed, and taught but more likely to follow the book and have a full sung Eucharist on Sunday morning. Evangelical catholics cannot choose between the theory and practice but insist upon both. They do not believe in the need to reinvent the church or redefine away her truth for the moment but neither do they pick a moment in time or a particular person (say 1847 and Walther) as the Lutheran zenith.
In this respect Lutherans are still coming to terms with their own confessions, content on one hand to be Evangelicals with a peculiar penchant for semi-liturgical worship or Protestants who say words they neither believe nor profess. Evangelical catholics want nothing more and nothing less than Lutherans fully consonant with and consistent with the Lutheran Confessions. We can find pockets of such evangelical catholicity in places but so far no Lutheran body fully fills the bill. I would say, some might say selfishly or pridefully, that Missouri offers more pockets and more visible leadership in this direction than any other Lutheran body. . . for now. Many Lutheran pastors who leave find the pockets too few and far between and have judged the leadership of the various Lutheran bodies as unable to restore what Lutherans lost to pietism, rationalism, Evangelicalism, and mainline Protestantism. They have decided that a better chance of finding evangelical catholicism is in Rome (or perhaps Constantinople). Naturally I disagree.
That said, when Lutheran laity leave, it seems more because they are looking for less rather than more. They have been poorly catechized and so cannot see any difference between Lutheranism and the various other churches that dot the landscape. They never got what the Word was and so they are too quick to give up the Law and Gospel for a religion of preference, feeling, and desire -- God approving and giving us the great nod that all is okay as long as we are sincere in whatever we seek or want. They never got the Sacraments and so they quickly exchange what are only symbols for other symbols they manufacture or find more meaningful than the means of grace which deliver to us Christ and His grace. They never got the liturgy thing and so they are all too willing to ditch what always seems foreign to them anyway. The last thing most of them want is an evangelical catholic Lutheranism. They want something out of the mainstream, a mixture of culture and spirituality vague enough to accept nearly everything and broad enough to see a little bit of truth in just about anything.
In other words, both Lutheran pastors and Lutheran laity who leave have given up on Lutheranism for different reasons. I blame those who catechized most of the laity who leave and I blame the impatience of the Lutheran pastors who are unwilling to wait for the fullness they desire and so exchange one set of disappointments for another. I know that Lutheranism is better in theory than in practice. It is painfully reminded me over and over again when I look around Lutheranism. But I am not ready to believe that Rome or Constantinople offers better.
If I were to head to Rome and stay in the city where I now live, I would find a Roman parish hopelessly overrun with people, running through the liturgy as fast as it can be done, relying on laity to do what priests once did, and with an abysmal program of liturgical music and congregational song. If I were to head to Constantinople and stay in the city where I now live, I would find a small mission that is barely sure the light bill will be paid, sparse attendance at the services, and a shell of the robust liturgical life claimed by my Orthodox friends. In the end, the little corner of my own parish offers a more robust evangelical catholicity, closer to what the Confessors envisioned, than either option. If I were to head to one of the big box churches in town I would be selling out to the very things our Confessions decry -- Word-less, Gospel-less, Sacrament-less faith, too swept up in feelings and preferences to see the God whose is where He has pledged to be and doing what He has promised to do.
I believe more progress can be made sticking it out with the tools of the means of grace than to find a slightly different shade of grace on the other side of the fence. So here is where I will be. . . trying to keep myself focused upon the means of grace and not me. . . trying to catechize my people so that they will be focused the same place I am. . . in the hope and expectation that this is where God wants me to be. . .
HT to Matthew Block for another thoughtful response to one swimming the river; read him with my own words above or just read him. . .