Wednesday, July 22, 2015
We have no doctrine vs we have no liturgy. . .
. . .the Church of England was really the Catholic Church of this land, just 'with it's face washed'. We were truly Catholic; had not the Archbishop said that “The Church of England has no Doctrine of its own,only the Doctrine of the Catholic Church”? (And that Archbishop was Fisher, the headmasterly pontiff who was no friend of Anglo-Catholicism.)
In that one quote is summed up both the strength and the weakness of the Church of England. The strength is that the self-identification of the CoE has always been its insistence that it was simply the Catholic Church of this land. Kings and queens may change and archbishops come and go but the CoE was the once forever church located in that specific place and nothing less. On the basis of this identity alone the CoE has survived over the ages. It is more than anything else a liturgical claim and has been largely understood in this way.
At the same time, however, the weakness is that the Church of England has no doctrine of its own. For too long and for too many that is exactly how it has been. While the liturgy anchored the CoE in catholic identity (and ceremony, who can do ceremony better than the English!), there was no doctrinal confession or stance to hold up the other end of it all. So the CoE has had its self-identity betrayed with bishops who stopped believing or were more interested in the cocktail circuit than the pulpit and teachers who too easily traversed the fringe of Christianity to explore pagan ideas and proclaim them Christian. In the midst of it all, it was wagged by the government and those who saw the CoE as a spiritual twin to the cultural agnosticism that was changing the values of the nation and commonwealth. It did not help that the daughter churches of the CoE had also long abdicated Catholic Doctrine from their confession and witness.
All of which reminds me of how Lutheranism is just the opposite. Lutherans have preserved catholic doctrine (read the conclusion to the Augustana for our use of this phrase) fairly well -- at least on paper. But catholic practice has been chaotic and uneven among Lutherans for a long time. At least in America we had reached a rather high point when the Common Service (1888) was settled upon as the liturgical face of Lutheranism but it did not last. In official hymnal and unofficial parish practice we held to a catholic Lutheranism in theory but without a liturgical practice to mirror what we believed, confessed, and taught.
Furthermore, though the CoE always was a wannabe when it came to being Catholic, Lutherans grew to be more and more hesitant of things catholic as well as things Catholic. We forgot our positive affirmation and became in popular form identified more by what we were not than what we were. Though we claimed in our Confessions to be catholic to the core in doctrine and practice, we wished to be identified with nothing that might mistake us for the Catholics of the Roman kind.
It only proves that the key to sustaining catholicity lies not in choosing doctrinal integrity against liturgical practice or the other way around. We must have both. We need both. We need a vigorous and robust self-understanding of who we are based not upon the opinion of one or even a majority but upon the Confessions that bind us to time and history as well as to one another. But we also need a liturgical practice which does not shy away from this catholic confession and one which upholds on Sunday morning what we say we believe, confess, and teach.
We have seen it happen over and over again when a church chooses form over content or content over form that it is a short journey to losing both. The CoE, no matter its self-understanding, has become an empty shell of a church (and all its daughters, except perhaps those in Africa). It does not desire to be Catholic in doctrine anymore and its liturgical unity has been shattered both by the lack of theological substance in its preaching and teaching as well as a ceremonial which has become mere ritual that mirrors nothing in the realm of faith and teaching. Lutherans of the ELCA stripe are often following the same path - keeping better than conservatives the liturgical framework of Sunday morning but without believing its words (especially in terms of the creeds). Lutherans of the Missouri stripe are on a divergent path in which liturgical diversity that contradicts our Confession is allowed on Sunday morning in the mistaken belief that our unity is preserved by common confession in theory (or on paper). In the end we cannot choose between confession and liturgy, we must have both -- both to witness our faith to others and both to secure our own selves in this faith from one generation to another.
The great Swede Bo Giertz saw this and produced a marvelous little pamphlet entitled Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening. I urge Lutherans to read it (and those not Lutheran as well!).