Thursday, October 12, 2017
Subtraction and addition. . .
Luther was not a liturgical scholar (something both good and bad). He was a reformer who dealt with the circumstances of his time and no one can diminish the good service to the Gospel that Luther gave to the Lord and to the Church. That said, the circumstances Luther faced are different from the circumstances we face today. Luther's chief reform of the Mass, for example, was largely unknown to the people in the congregation since the Canon was inaudible to them and the sacrificial language so objectionable to Luther was not something they heard week after week. The omission of this part of the Canon went unnoticed to them -- except for Luther's explanation and justification. Luther's work in offering a reformed form to the Church was considered radically conservative -- even by folks of his time -- though today we find Lutherans all over the page and hardly anything that happens in the chief Sunday service merits the term shocking anymore.
Though the Lutheran Confessions do not insist upon lock step uniformity of form or ceremony as condition of orthodoxy, they certainly do not expect that the liturgical practices of the Church would be one congregation deep and wide nor do they mean that adiaphora allows anything goes. We find ourselves today in a position in which we must add rather than subtract. The additions are most often those things that were once commonplace and ordinary for Lutherans (everything from the weekly Eucharist to Eucharistic vestments). Liturgical reform today requires restoring what has been lost -- not because we want to but because we must if we are to be consistent in practice as well as doctrine. Lutheran liturgical reform today begins by conscientiously considering, teaching, and restoring what we have lost. It is not first and foremost a matter of borrowing from others but finding out what it was in form and practice that we Lutherans once knew and have forgotten or chosen to ignore.
It does not follow that Luther's omission of things from the medieval Roman Mass was a liturgical principle for reform in our own day. Rather, Lutherans face the serious and very real task of rekindling our identity, an identity distorted and disfigured by our own discomfort with the liturgical shape of the doctrine and faith we confess. Add to that our willingness to borrow from evangelicals and others what we think might work to fill the empty pews and we have shape of the situation we face today. Though I am indeed an advocate for an evangelical Eucharistic Prayer, the chief and primary force of Lutheran renewal must always be reconnecting with and becoming comfortable with our own past. Until that happens, Lutheranism will face not only chaos on Sunday morning but, worse, the presumption that Sunday morning has nothing to do with the faith we believe and confess Monday through Saturday.
Luther subtracted what was objectionable in his day for the theological cause of the Gospel. In our day we must practice liturgical addition for the theological cause of the Gospel in our own day. If we refuse to know and be shaped by the ceremonial and liturgical that flows from our own catholic confessions, then those confessions are lost to us and they become theory that has no application among us. When that day comes, Lutheranism will cease its claim to Luther's legacy and will become just another dying Protestant denomination. Until that day comes, this pastor and the parish he serves will struggle to maintain the liturgical identity that is the other side of our doctrinal coin and will add back into the life of the people those things lost to us by a history of Pietism, Rationalism, humanism, and embarrassment over our own identity.