There is a growing consternation among some Catholics that the Church, at least in her leadership, is living in the past. It seems there is no awareness that we are at war and that Catholics need to be summoned to sobriety, increasing separation from the wider culture, courageous witness and increasing martyrdom.
It is long past dark in our culture, but in most parishes and dioceses it is business as usual and there is anything but the sober alarm that is really necessary in times like these.
Scripture says, Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle (Psalm 144:1). Preparing people for war — a moral and spiritual war, not a shooting war — should include a clear setting forth of the errors of our time, and a clear and loving application of the truth to error and light to darkness.
But there is little such training evident in Catholic circles today where, in the average parish, there exists a sort of shy and quiet atmosphere — a fear of addressing “controversial” issues lest someone be offended, or the parish be perceived as “unwelcoming.”
But, if there ever was a time to wear soft garments, it is not now.
The Church of the 1970s-1990s was surely well described as the era of “beige Catholicism” (a term coined by Bishop Robert Barron, and not by way of flattery either). Those of us who lived through that era, especially in the 1970s, remember it as a time when many parish signs beckoned people to “come and experience our welcoming and warm Catholic community.” Our most evident desire was to fit in and be thought of as “normal.” Yes, Catholics were just like everyone else; and we had been working very hard to do that, at least since the early 1960s when John F. Kennedy was elected. Catholics had finally “made it” into the mainstream; we had been accepted by the culture.
Church architecture and interiors became minimalist and non-descript. Music and language in the liturgy became folksy. Marian processions, Corpus Christi processions, many things of distinctive and colorful Catholicism all but disappeared. Even our crucifixes disappeared, to be replaced by floating “resurrection Jesus” images. The emphasis was on blending in, speaking to things that made people feel comfortable, and affirming rather than challenging. If there was to be any challenge at all it would be on “safe” exhortations such as not abusing the environment or polluting, not judging or being intolerant, and so forth.But what Msgr. Pope has said about Roman Catholics is surely true about Lutherans as well. We have lived in the era of a generic Christianity, a beige faith, that is bland and inoffensive but weak and shallow. Lutherans have been as guilty of this as Roman Catholics -- treating the faith minimally instead of maximally. We have attempted to save Lutheranism by killing it and making it as indistinct and pale as it can be -- a Lutheranism which knows little of its own Confessions and is embarrassed by what it does know. . . a Lutheranism which is ashamed of its own identity on Sunday morning and is content to wear a mask that distorts its face to the very people seeking truth, authenticity, and integrity. . . and a Lutheranism that tries to convince by offering nothing to challenge or offend and therefore is unfaithful to the Scriptures it claims to own.
Again, if there ever was a time to wear soft garments, it is not now. It is zero-dark-thirty in our post-Christian culture. And while we may wish to blame any number of factors for the collapse, we cannot exclude ourselves. We who are supposed to be the light of the world, with Christ shining in us, have preferred to hide our light under a basket and lay low. The ruins of our families and culture are testimony to the triumph of error and the suppression of the truth.
Christianity will not survive by blending in or erasing anything that some might find offensive and why would God be pleased with a church that survives without its soul or heart. Jesus wondered if there would be faith on earth when He comes again and the people asked Him if the number of those who would be saved would be few. We seem intent upon making sure that He does not find faith on earth and that the numbers to be saved are few and we do so not by failing to teach but by teaching and passing off as Christian what are lies and half-truths. We seem bound and determined to succeed by fostering a diversity which betrays any distinctive Lutheran identity and by promoting a faith that listens more to the pulse of the people than it does to the voice of the Good Shepherd.
From St. Peter to Constantine there were 33 Popes. Thirty of them were martyred and two died in exile. Countless clergy and lay people too were martyred. It is hard to imagine the Church in the decadent West being willing to suffer so. Surely our brethren in many less affluent parts of the world are dying in large numbers. But I wonder: After all these years of “comfort Catholicism”, would the average American parishioner or clergyman be willing or able to endure such loss?I hear complaints from people in the pews who say that their pastors are too rigid, too insistent upon knowing and believing the faith, too stuck in the hymnal, and too focused on doctrine. God bless them if they get such a pastor. We have tried an ambiguous Christianity in place of a vibrant Lutheran identity and all that has done is bled off members since 1970. If your Lutheran pastor are too rigid, too doctrinal, and too liturgical, you should be thankful for such a pastor who will not dilute the faith until it is unrecognizable nor smooth the rough edges of the faith until no one finds anything objectionable except Jesus. We have gotten so accustomed to such a broad and bland faith that doctrine frightens us, the liturgy is strange to us, and a steadfast pastor is naive or hard or both.
I do not want to frighten anyone but, folks, the writing is on the wall. Our culture has drawn lines in the sand and dared us to cross them. Our government is promoting a diversity which has not tolerance for truth that will not be compromised and doctrine that will not be adjusted to fit the times. We may not shed blood but we will certainly pay the cost of faithfulness in other ways. What scares me most is not the cost of discipleship amid a world so unfriendly to Christ and the Scriptures but a church that will trade away faithfulness for comfort, ease, and compromise. The creed will soon be much more than a mere confession of faith; it will soon become the hill on which we will sacrifice some of our affluence and complacency or the mound that marks the grave of a church that gave up Christ to be an inoffensive Christian. What will is be? You and I will answer in ways more profound than words. Pray that we may be faithful!