Friday, November 6, 2009

Authenticity and the Church

I remember once being handed a piece of cake. It had been beautifully decorated. The piece given to me had several roses on -- roses I assumed were made out of frosting. I am generally not one for sweets but every now and then a piece of cake just seems to sit right. So I cut into it with my fork, one of the sections with the frosting flowers on it, and put it in my mouth. The flowers were not frosting. They tasted like, well, crap. I was caught with something in my mouth that did not taste like it looked and not a clue what to do about it. I ended up spitting the piece into my napkin when no one was looking and then ditched the rest of the cake later. If it looks like cake, it ought to taste like cake. Period.
We who call ourselves Lutheran should have an appearance, a practice, and an identity which are consistent with who we are, authentic to our Confessions. Or else we should not use the name Lutheran at all. I say this with no particular group or issue in mind. I think it is a principle that applies to everything about us.

The architecture of our buildings should be consistent with the worship understood in our Confessions. Prominent and center should be the altar. Prominent and to one side, a pulpit or ambo. Prominent and central (either by the entry or closer to the altar) should be a large font. Prominent and central should be a crucifix (Christus Rex will do, but our preference is clearly for a cross with the figure of Christ on it). The character of the building should encourage corporate singing (liturgy and hymns). The altar rail should presume many people communing (and not one of those 6 people rails for a congregation of 600). You can build it baroque, romantic, byzantine, modern but the things listed above need to be there. Prominent. As central to the eye as they are to the Confessions. That is who we are. Period.

The worship that goes on in that building should be consistent with the Confessions. We are Word and Sacrament people. You can have music with a Latin rhythm or the wonderful hymns of Sweden or the mighty Lutheran chorales of the great German composers and authors or music with an Asian, Russian, or American sound -- preferably all of them appropriate to the propers and the season BUT the text married to the tunes must speak the Gospel (and not focus upon our feelings, desires, generic themes, or phrases repeated ad nauseum). You can have high ceremony or simple ritual that befits the place and the resources of the place but reverence for the Word and Table of the Lord is not optional whatever the setting. We are not casual about the means of grace. Not during the liturgy or afterwards when we clean up the Lord's Table. Period.

The preaching should be liturgical -- drawing from the liturgy and its lectionary and driving people back into the liturgy and its sacramental grace come to us in the bread which is His body and the cup which is His blood. It should be timely, its setting should be drawn out of the sitz im leben of the people in the pew but the message should be clearly Law and Gospel. The preacher's style in the pulpit is not of great concern unless the style become more prominent than the message itself. Even the preacher is the medium for the message or else the Word that comes forth from Him is no longer a means of grace that does what it promises but the monologue of an individual who has made himself higher than the Word itself. That is who we are. Period.

The programs that go on in this building and the ministries that flow from this community gathered in worship should be authentic to who they are, who WE are. How we go about sharing the Gospel should not be out of synch with our Confession and our liturgical identity. We cannot borrow or reconfigure what belongs to the identity and confession of others and make it our own without giving up what is essentially ours. We can have fellowship and fun together but let us not demean the Gospel by calling a ballroom dancing class outreach or evangelism. We can have a home brewers club and a softball team, brats and beer and Oktoberfest but let us not make these a substitute Bible study, prayer, the offices of the hours, catechetical instruction of young and old, baptismal preparation, pre-marital instruction, etc... These things belong to our identity and our Confession -- the other things we can do but they do not flow from our identity and our Confession. That is who we are. Period.

The structure that we use to govern ourselves, the rules and by-laws that order our life together, these must be consistent with our identity and Confession. We cannot take on a business model without losing some of that identity and Confession to a corporate mentality. We are the Body of Christ in this place or in that place. How we order our life together in constitution and by-laws must be consistent with this understanding of who we are. We can have voters assemblies and councils and boards of directors and task forces and committees but we must not forget that the Church of Jesus Christ is not a democracy -- we can vote on certain things but we cannot ballot about such things as the frequency of the Lord's Supper, what we believe, teach and confess as the Church, and the like. That is who we are. Period.

The Office of Pastor is not a function or responsibility delegated to whom we desire when we desire it. The Office of Pastor is the essential Office in the Church by divine right. Who is called to this Office, how this Office is conveyed, how those who belong to this Office are trained, and what responsibilities belong to those who occupy this Office are not decisions made locally but by the Church. Pastors serve in congregations but the Office of the Ministry is not created by the congregation or defined by the congregation. These things have consequences that require that the Church has common requirements, procedures, and qualifications or else the Church is only one congregation large and every congregation acts as its own Synod. Now how we train, qualify, ordain and care for Pastors is defined by our Confession and shaped by our identity. How we do this must be authentic to our Confessional identity. That is who we are. Period.

Mine is not a call for absolute uniformity (there may be those who desire this) but for authenticity that flows from our Confession and consistency that flows from our identity. Diversity is not a high value within our Lutheran Confessions. Many things may vary and the unity of the Church is maintained but certain things may not vary or the unity of the Church is breached.

Once I think we had a much better idea of this than we do now. Now, when I go to District Convention or Pastoral Conferences, I see a parade of people who are on the "cutting edge" of ministry and I hear the success stories of those who do it differently than the rest of us and I am encouraged to break the rules, to learn new paradigms, to risk giving up some of that which was part of our identity, and to re-examine everything that I hold dear to see if it is a barrier to growth or a path to growth. The dare to be different has become the new mantra of a Church no longer comfortable in her own skin. Some are insisting that this is not your grandfather's church (or, like Oldsmobile, it will be gone tomorrow) and others are insisting that everything went down hill when we gave up the old hymnal (uh, that would be the older hymnal, TLH). I am not advocating for a return to some by-gone era or the repristination of some golden era of Lutheranism, liturgy, or church work. I am calling for us to be who we are as Lutheran Christians, with an identifiable Confession that shapes us because we believe in that Confession and in its faithfulness to the Word of God. You can call it quia but I call it authenticity to who we are. Period. This is who we are.

If we are not authentic to who we are, people will bite into us thinking we are one thing and finding out we are something else. They will not wait to find out who we really are or why we masked that identity. They will spit us out and label us hypocrites (actors, according to the Greek). And we will end up rejected as so many are because what said we believed was irrelevant to how we worshiped, preached, taught, practiced, and lived.


Anonymous said...

Rev. Weedon is right. You should be locked up to write nothing but profound blog posts. God bless your work. :)

Anonymous said...

If we swallow that cake it will make use sick (maybe to death).