Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Remember when. . .

Before Vatican II, there was no priest shortage.  But then the Lutheran seminaries were also full of bright, young men seeking to serve the Lord in the church's priestly service of Word and Sacrament.  Some in Rome have presumed that since the liturgical undoing of post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism, it was the liturgical change that took the wind from the sails.  Of course, this is both true and false.  It was surely not simply the shift to a vernacular new Mass that deflated the numbers of seminarians for Rome just as new hymnals had little to do with the decline in the number of Lutherans seeking the ministry (at least as first career seminarians).  But the liturgical changes did not take place in a vacuum.  In fact, they were a reflection of cracks in the foundations of Christendom that were shaking the towers of faith in every denomination.

The decline in Mass attendance and the drop in numbers for non-Roman parishes also began with Vatican II but were not simply due to the abandonment of Latin as the normative language of worship or to the introduction of revised forms of the liturgy.  Yes, these did have a small part to play but the shift was more than merely a face on Sunday morning.  It was a growing fear that what we believed may not be true or exclusively true, in any case.  It was the willingness to insert doubt where confidence once lived.  It was the shift not exclusive to worship in which the central focus was no longer of God alone but on self and the new found arena of personal choice, preference, and unashamed desire.

Rome has its folks who believe that it all happened when Latin and the EF Mass all but disappeared and for Lutherans (especially those of Missouri type) when TLH was replaced by new books or the whatever of the copier and the whim of the worship leader.  Yes, these things did have an impact but they were mere reflections of other things happening within Christendom that shook the foundations of the faith and distanced the faithful from the confidence they once had in the questions and answers raised by the faith and answered by that faith.  Just as Rome cannot be fixed by simply restoring the Latin and EF as normative for Sunday morning, neither can the LCMS be fixed by imposing the hymnal and a few thees and thous.

We live in an age of minimal catechesis.  Too many of our people are only slightly schooled in the faith, in Scripture, and in the catechism.  When asked the familiar questions, they have no answers except feelings, opinions, and doubts.  When faced with Sunday morning, they wonder what is relevant about the structure of the Mass (which Lutherans preserve) or the Scriptures themselves.  Sermons have for too long sought to do other things besides teach the faith and so they walk away disappointed if their interest has not been piqued by something new and different, their quest for relevance left unsatisfied with advice on how to have a better, happier, more successful life, and their personal preferences of style and music left unfulfilled.  It is not a problem that can be solved by changing only what happens on Sunday morning.  It is a crying need for certainty in the faith into which they have been catechized -- a lifelong catechesis that happens in overt words and in the more subtle realm of symbol and sign.

Our people are not really so different from the folks in the generations who went before (the folks who filled the churches on Sunday morning and whose sons filled the seminaries as well).  We face the same grave questions about life and its meaning and purpose and death and its natural or unnatural end -- and, of course, what God has to say about it all.  Yet that is precisely the problem.  We live in a culture in which death is no longer the problem and meaning and purpose have shifted from the realm of God to pleasure.  As long as our culture sees death as normal, natural, and is willing to settle for this brief life, Christ's death and resurrection are the answer to that which is no longer a big problem.  Choice and abortion and even euthanasia are seen as the lesser evils than a life not well lived (that means filled with personally satisfying experiences).  Having made peace with death as long it is prolonged until life is deemed not worth living, the focus is left to self, to pleasure, and to pursuit of desire.  Even Christians have fallen into the trap of defining ourselves by our desires instead of God's creative purpose and intent (to which Christ has redeemed us and restored us).

The liturgical change is the result of a deeper change -- a focus on life instead of God, on self instead of Christ, and on desire instead of righteousness.  We can change Sunday morning all we want to and it will make no difference unless we address the underlying issues of a life defined by pleasure and desire rather than creative purpose and intent and death that has become friendly instead of our enemy.  What was once the strength of Lutheranism (and Rome) is that our people knew who we were, what we were here for, and found in the Divine Service (Mass) the liturgical expression of that faith.  It was certainly not a perfect era nor was it without its own fallacies and faults that tried to obscure the Word and Sacraments.  It is not our goal and purpose to repristinate another time or place but to do the faithful job of catechesis and liturgical leadership consistent with that catechesis that will bear fruit in the lives of the faithful living out their baptismal vocation of worship, witness, prayer, and mercy works.  It will certainly help if architecturally and liturgically Sunday morning is consistent with this confession but changing the drapes and dinner table alone cannot undo the damage already done and restore our robust understanding of the Word and the vibrant life of faith lived around the font and table of the Lord.


Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters said, "We live in an age of minimal catechesis."

I think this is precisely the problem, the big problem. We no longer teach effectively. The man in the pew no longer knows what he believes, and worse, no longer really cares. The last is because he has been convinced that it does not matter what he believes. He has been told, and has accepted, that you can believe anything or nothing and it all comes out the same in the end.

There was a very good reason why TLH was better than any of its successors. It expressed the faith better, it taught better, than anything that has followed it.

Modern man has been led to believe that variety and choice are the ultimate good, and a hymnal with 5 rites is better than one with on one rite. This is utter nonsense. Read the Torah. God does not tell the Israelites that they have multiple options for how He is to be worshipped. He lays down one and only one way, and expects it to be followed to the letter. Sunday morning needs to be about the Holy Trinity and most specifically not about ME!

Anglican Priest

Kirk Skeptic said...

@Fr D: are you invoking the Reformed doctrine of the Regulative Principle of Worhsip? If no, then do understand that, as wonderful as TLH is, it has no divine warrant as did templar worship. Unfortunately for even we conservative Lutherans, we can only commend rather than command a particular form or use.

Robert Placer said...

Kirk I think that you have missed the point that Pastor Peters was making that the Lutheran Common Service or Mass in English is a liturgical expression of the catechism and indeed the doctrines contained in the Book of Concord. Moreover, the Lutheran Mass Church Orders are rooted in the liturgies of the Ancient Church which were modeled on the Temple worship. Contemporary debased liturgical rites reflect our lack of faith and doctrinal ignorance.

Kirk Skeptic said...

@RP: it is *a* liturgical expression contra *the* liturgical expression of our symbols, Occidental Christianity, and *an* exprssion of both templar (sacramental) and synagogal (word) worship. I'm a TLH man and see no reason to go for debased modern worship, but can you legitimately say that to not use TLH is to be either non- or less-than-a-Lutheran? Historic Christendom also holds to the three-fold ministry whereas we are thoroughly American congregationalists; wheree do you draw your boundary lines, and why? Our polity reflects our lack of faith, ignorance of the importance and place of the Predigamt. Your thoughts?

Carl Vehse said...

Rev. Peters: "We live in an age of minimal catechesis. Too many of our people are only slightly schooled in the faith, in Scripture, and in the catechism."

Such minimal catechesis is sometimes referred to as "shake 'n bake" or "whip 'n chill" or "first [pre-confirmation] communion instruction."

It is therefore a welcomed sight to see in the 2016 LCMS Convention Workbook (p. 347), Overture 5-11, To Reaffirm Standard for Pastoral Admission to Lord’s Supper: Full Agreement in All Articles of Christian Doctrine, which states in part:

"Whereas, C. F. W. Walther (first president of the LCMS) comments on 1 Corinthians 10:17, writing, '... Therefore one who goes to Holy Communion in a Lutheran church declares openly before the world: I hold with this church, with the doctrine that is confessed here, and with all the confessors who belong here. The pastor who administers the Sacrament to him declares the very same thing' (C. F. W. Walther, “Communion Fellowship,” Essays for the Church, vol. 1, p. 215);
"Whereas, The LCMS has repeatedly reaffirmed that to administer the Lord’s Supper in accord with Christ’s institution is to do so admitting only properly instructed Lutherans to our Lutheran altars, thus requiring full agreement in all articles of doctrine prior to establishing fellowship at the altar (1967 Res. 2-19; 1983 Res. 3-12; 1986 Res. 3-08; 1995 Res. 3-08; 1998 Res. 3-05.); and
"Whereas, Many LCMS congregations today have sadly abandoned the standard of full doctrinal agreement for admission to the Lord’s Table by limiting that agreement only to a selected few doctrines, or by eliminating any limiting Communion statement at all, or by opening the Communion Table to all baptized Christians, and the like, thus abdicating their pastoral oversight responsibility toward the spiritual well-being of those communing or proclaiming a unity in doctrine which does not exist; therefore be it
"Resolved, That the LCMS reaffirm that the standard for pastoral admission to the Lord’s Supper is full agreement in all articles of Christian doctrine."

Such full agreement in the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church is made by the catechumen at the time of his confirmation and is a requirement in the constitutions of Missouri Synod congregations for all communicant members.