Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Past and Future. . .

There is little rush to claim the past these days.  Oh, to be sure, Rome has its warriors and Lutherans, too, who fight over whose position the past supports.  Perhaps you have read it right here.  But the truth is that we are rather offended by the past.  We find its language archaic, its values out of step with modern sensibilities, its images of women and men stereotypical at best and offensive at worst.  We seem to delight in dredging up the worst moments of our history and then painting modern day folks with the sins of those who went before them. 
Theologically, it does not seem that many want to be informed by the past, much less shaped by its witness, legacy, tradition, and faithfulness.  We live too much in the present to give much more than scant glance at the past.  Arguments which dredge up what was believed, confessed, and taught by our theological ancestors bear little weight in determining what we believe, confess, and teach today.  Witness how quickly we went from the millenia of conviction that same sex marriage and the GLBTQ agenda conflicted with the moral vision of Scripture and tradition to the present moment in which most of Protestantism, most of Lutheranism, and a goodly number of Roman Catholics seem intent to disconnect with this catholic past and find accommodation with those who insist what feels good, is good.

In many respects the same could be said of the future.  We seem to wear blinders for the future and can only see into the foreseeable tomorrow, without much care or concern for the eternal one.  Business and industry seem to pay more attention to immediate profits rather than financial security for the future.  Our technology has made the present so rich and interesting that we can hardly turn away from the next cuddly puppy video on Facebook or wait for the next cute Instagram post.  We are so hungry for conspiracy theories and easy explanations of why things are as they are that we are easy targets for fake news.  If it cannot be said in 140 characters, excuse me, 280 characters, we presume it is not worth the extra time it takes to read the Twitter version of a long novel.  We have fast food, fast shopping, fast internet, and fast relationships.  Today is too busy to worry about tomorrow.

Strangely, even death does not seem to confound us anymore.  We have made our peace with life -- as long as we get enough todays we do not need a tomorrow.  Give us a good laugh at the expense of the dead or a tearful moment of remembrance and we are good to go.  Let the dead bury the dead.  We have more important things to do.  So theologically we do not desire or crave the promise of the risen Lord.  We want our best lives today and we are not sure we want to pin much hope on an eternal future floating in the clouds.  In fact, the resurrection and life everlasting have become the stuff of sitcoms in our age.

So it is no wonder that the Lutheranism of the Augsburg Confession sits strangely upon the river of today.  It is the bridge between the past and its catholic heritage of faithfulness and its catholic witness to eternal truth and it is the herald of an eternal future prepared for those who have loved His appearing.  We claim the past in our Confessions.  But we claim the future as well.  It is the present we are not so worried about.  As long as we are faithful in preserving and proclaiming the abiding faith and eternal truth of Christ and Him crucified, we do not harbor the angst of those who impatiently complain about the pace of progress nor do we give into hysteria about the world coming to an end with an out of control person in the White House and a kook in North Korea.  We believe that God has entered history and, indeed, that all history looked to the moment when the eternal Son of the Father was incarnate of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit.  We believe that the future is not some aimless and fearful tomorrow but the one prepared by this Christ for those for whom He came and comes still in Word and Sacrament.  It it this that the echo of our forefathers in the liturgy recalls and it is this that we teach to our children who will outlive us.  The dead are not dead but live in Christ and we await with them the dawn of the eternal day.
Perhaps this is why we cannot marry the spirit of the age nor attempt to repristinate a golden moment in the past.  We are those who rejoice in the legacy of the faithful and whose faithfulness passes on a legacy to those who follow us, ever more moving toward the outcome of the faith, the salvation of our souls, and never content to glance around us and say "this is enough."

This is what it means to be a catholic -- not only do we connect to our past and rejoice in the rich and joyful legacy of those who went before us, we also pass on the abiding and eternal Gospel to those who will come after us.  Truth matters.  The Word endures.  We shall not die but live in Him and soon with them who went before.  This is the great and grand mystery of that precious word catholic.
“To the so-called Lutheran, that is the true catholic Christian, belongs the entire past, before and after Luther.  The future must belong to him as well.  All things true and scriptural are his, when and where they are spoken.”  (Wilhelm Loehe, The Pastor, p. 157) 


John J. Flanagan said...

In my flawed opinion, based entirely on anecdotal experience and perceptions of human conduct, past conflicts characterized the tension between orthodoxy and modernism at every stage in church history. Today is no different. Mankind is always restless, discontented, desirous of self will, rebellious. It has been that way since the beginning, and will not change until the end comes.

Anonymous said...

The Loehe quote may be a rallying cry for many pastors in the LCMS these days, but though it sounds nice it's also fundamentally untrue for confessional Lutherans. The entire past before and after Luther that flies under the banner of "catholic" includes quite a bit of heterodoxy, as opposed to the Book of Concord to which the thousands of so-called Lutheran pastors and nobility pledged themselves to during the Reformation. Note that the original German text, which was what the BOC's subscribers read and signed, reads "the holy Christian church," not "the holy catholic church." So even that terminology is not confessional.

Anonymous said...

Here's my thing. I went through catechism in the 70's. I memorized the Apostle's Creed and Nicene Creed with the holy Christian church, not the holy catholic church. We didn't have crucifixes in the church, we had crosses. We didn't "cross ourselves" or genuflect. The liturgy wasn't chanted, it was spoken. We didn't dip our fingers in the font and cross ourselves, that was for the Catholics. For these reasons, even though I am an active member of my local congregation, my funeral plans do not include a church funeral.
If we should "connect to our past and rejoice in the rich joyful legacy of those who went before us...," should we not maintain the traditions and legacies of those less than a generation ago. Or, should we just toss those legacies out the window and hope those members from that generation continue to sit in the pews and make their offerings.
A different perspective.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:20 am,
Luther himself in the Catechism tells you to make the sign of the cross and he quips about crucifixes and having a crucifix before his eyes at death.

So because of looking at a crucifx (which Jesus himself calls His glory) and other optional historical practice that is done to point to Jesus; that most true Lutherans, including most Lutheran fathers, before 1900's in America often did; you want to have your funeral in a place that INTENTIONALLY voids itself of Jesus and INTENTIONALLY removes Christian symbols so it can appeal to Pagans and not offend them?

You can probably guess what Martin Luther, Martin Chemnitz, and every Lutheran father and true Lutheran that lived prior to 1900 in America would say. It is primarily the Americanized Lutheran Church that removed what you say from 1900-1970, as to not be accused of being Roman. All your grandfather's churches had a prominent crucifix on the altar and your father removed it when they built a new church in 1950, since we hate being accused of being too Roman.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:44 AM
So what evidence is there from your arbitrary date of 1900 that indicates a mass iconoclasm of crucifixes, censers, albs, stoles, tiaras, and magna capas from LCMS churches? In fact, evidence points to the opposite. 1902 was the date of D.H. Steffen's article "The Liturgical Question" in the Lutheran Witness, which argued against attempts to introduce high church accoutrements into LCMS churches. But what about Walther's famous quote about Methodists deriding Lutheran ceremonies as being too "Romish," and that Lutherans should be proud that they are not like other Protestants? Walther here was talking about the Lutheran use of liturgy, which the Methodists did not. Walther was not referring to high church ceremonialism. As for even earlier American Lutheranism, Muhlenberg was stating in the 1700s that American Lutheran worship should be "devoid of popery," i.e. high church pompousness. Speaking of, Luther said worship should be devoid of pompousness as well, and he meant the same thing as Muhlenberg. The high church movement in the LCMS is a mid-20th century novelty, championed by Fry and Pieperkorn, and reflected the unionistic aspirations of American Lutherans at that time.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:44
So, what I was taught in the 70's somehow makes me less of a Lutheran than someone taught in the 40's and 90's?

I don't know what the answer is, really. Now, we have created a generation that is comfortable with the catholic creed; that is comfortable with the crucifixes and the chanted liturgy. So I guess the baby boomers and the millenials are more closely aligned church-wise that my generation. I guess I'm kind of like the "dreamer" of the Lutheran Church?

I guess I'm the odd guy out here; so it's up to me to change what I was apparently incorrectly taught and re-learn. Not likely.

Anon 9:20 am

Anonymous said...

I travel for work and pleasure. I have been in about 200 LCMS congregations on a given Sunday. It seems, less than 20% of the churches are chanting, make the sign of the cross as encouraged by Luther, have a crucifix, and have worship services as DEFINED in various places in the Book of Concord that LCMS have taken a vow unto.

In my experience, 80% have women lectors; offer CoWo; over half don't use a pulpit which I find makes it harder to see and hear; 80% don't chant the Psalms (although the Psalms were written to be sung and sung by God's people for 1000's of years). I've seen more comfort dogs in the pews than people dipping a finger in the font. More entertaining skits than people kneeling in the pew. More people giving personal testimonies than incense. While every Constitution of LCMS Congregations mandate exclusively use of doctrinally approved materials, that is really a hypocritical joke.

In talking to people after the Service I often ask, "do you study the Book of Concord here?" Most give me a blank stare, have no idea what I am talking about. The problem in the LCMS is not being too traditionally Lutheran or Romanish but being overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly "modern evangelicals."

Anonymous said...

" worship services as DEFINED in various places in the Book of Concord that LCMS have taken a vow unto."

Oh, if I had a nickel for every time I've read this quote. When you read the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 10, do you just shut your eyes?

"31] Thus [According to this doctrine] the churches will not condemn one another because of dissimilarity of ceremonies when, in Christian liberty, one has less or more of them, provided they are otherwise agreed with one another in the doctrine and all its articles, also in the right use of the holy Sacraments, according to the well-known saying: Dissonantia ieiunii non dissolvit consonantiam fidei; "Disagreement in fasting does not destroy agreement in the faith."

"An unconditional subscription is the solemn declaration which the individual who wants to serve the church makes under oath that he accepts the doctrinal content of our Lutheran Confessions..." Walther

Anonymous said...

Anon 1044
Yes that is part of the DEFINED. Absolutely, no confessional Lutheran has issues with the more or less. How about if there is none? How about when it is innovation? What about when the practice contradicts our theology. What about when Lutherans, disregard all the other DEFINED parts of the BOC. Article X doesn't allow for "everything goes" yet look around the Synod and "everything goes." Of course it's interesting how the very authors of the piece you cite, what Orders they put in place, how they understood Article X in concert with the rest of the BOC. Of course the BOC is written in the context an individual pastor or individual congregation would/could never go off and do their own thing or innovate. It is not YOURS to do as you please, it is OURS. If you want it to be YOURS, that's the antithesis of being in a Synod.

Anonymous said...

The BOC is not a church order. Your argument has now shifted to Chemnitz and others writing church orders with the BOC in mind. That is not the dispute. If the LCMS wants to publish a church order and have the DPs enforce it, fine. But the LCMS views the congregation as the church, and the synod as an advisory body, so I don't know if that would be confessional. The overall point is, stop spitting in the faces of 80% of your members who like CoWo or traditional Protestant Lutheran worship by insisting that everyone should conform to Wittenberg's order of worship circa 1530, as if the BOC demands it. Just come up with a Lutheran contemporary order of worship and add it to what we have already and move on. What article 10 demands is uniformity of doctrine, preaching the Gospel, and right administration of the sacraments, not ceremonies.

Anonymous said...

Quote. . .
"31] Thus [According to this doctrine] the churches will not condemn one another because of dissimilarity of ceremonies when, in Christian liberty, one has less or more of them, provided they are otherwise agreed with one another in the doctrine and all its articles, also in the right use of the holy Sacraments, according to the well-known saying: Dissonantia ieiunii non dissolvit consonantiam fidei; "Disagreement in fasting does not destroy agreement in the faith."

If I had a nickel for every time somebody threw this quote up to justify worship services without any recognizable form and without resemblance to anything Lutheran at all, I would be rich. What a foolish thing to say. Dissimilar ceremonies does not mean none, no liturgical order, only a sermon and some singing led by a praise band. How goofy it is for us to argue as if this were simply about more or less ceremonies when it is about the heart and soul of the Divine Service, the means of grace vs preacher on a stool with back up singers. Really!

Anonymous said...

Let the modern evangelical services continue as Lutheran in our churches! Our churches are pleased to have Rick Warren, Beth Moore, Hillsong works and all kinds of evangelical teachers and if anyone rebukes us for not being Lutheran, I use a deeply embedded paragraph in an deeply embedded article in the BOC (ignoring other parts) to justify I can do anything and you can't suggest I can't. We want to worship like the Methodist, Baptist, Evangelicals and if want insist historical liturgy LIKE THE BOC INSISTS ON HISTORICAL LITURGY and gestures, I will condemn you for being Romanistic and tell you I can do whatever I want and call it Lutheran freedom (and even cite non-quia, fake Lutheran like Muhlenberg).

Anonymous said...

And this is how these debates always end. Equate confessional LCMS Lutherans with Evangelicals and that's the end of it. Yes, in parts of Germany and especially Scandinavia the historic pre-Reformation vestments, copes, albs, maniples, stoles, chasubles, dalmatics, censers, cruets, spoons, chalices, maces, etc. were retained in Lutheran churches, usually as means to legitimate Reformation institutional claims (both political and clerical).
So it is correct to state that these things are indeed "Lutheran." What they are not, however, is culturally "LCMS Lutheran." We are no longer living in the 16th century. Even by the 19th century, the city of Nuremberg inventoried a vast archive of these pre-Reformation ecclesiastical items that were no longer used. They certainly were not in use throughout the history of the LCMS. So the neo-Reformation ceremonial revival of the past decades is not really connected to what was the tradition of the LCMS. That tradition was discarded (again, because times had changed), and contemporary worship has largely taken its place. Like it or not, Midwestern Lutherans are not by and large a naturally high church bunch.

Quia subscription to the BOC does not mean statements such as "We uphold the mass" are prescriptively ordering all Lutherans to worship with 16th century ceremonies until the end of time. Quia subscription means agreement with all of the doctrines presented in the BOC as faithful to Scripture. "We uphold the mass with vestments, candles, etc." is not a doctrine.

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