Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Fear of Jumping Ship

Although I have posted this before, let me say it again: I am not inclined to swim either the Tiber or the Bosphorus. I read of a friend (who, like me, contends for the richest liturgical expression consonant with our Confessional identity) was written up in another blog as a Romanist ready to jump ship. This is not the first time and it will not be the last time those who believe that our evangelical catholic liturgical heritage is a rich treasure and and not excess baggage are targeted by the naysayers.

Over the thirty years of my ministry as a Lutheran Pastor, I have seen some friends, acquaintances, and folks whose names I know struggle with the question of where is the right place for them. Some of them have jumped ship -- none of them that I know of jumped for liturgical reasons. In fact, most of them were in parishes where the fullest of liturgical tradition and ceremony had long been practiced, without much complaint. It was not their love of "smells and bells" that made them leave. They left for theological reasons.

A few rejected their Lutheran past but most of them, including the most famous one -- Richard John Neuhaus, did not reject their Lutheran identity but saw their move as the completion of that identity. While I have great respect for them, I also respectfully disagree with their decision. Some of those who hopped on the train East have felt the need to disparage all things Lutheran and ditch like excess baggage. Strangely, most who went to Rome were kinder in their view of their Lutheran identity before conversion.

It seems that many are consumed with the fear of Lutherans jumping ship and swimming either the Tiber or the Bosporus. They have targeted liturgical practice as the big sign of an impending leap. I do not think it quite so simple. While it is true that those who leave for Rome or Constantinople tend to be very liturgical in their practice (dare I say "high church"), what served as the foundation for their decision were theological questions about the continuing validity of the Reformation division, the reasons for that Reformation, and the results of that Reformation (an ELCA that seems happy at being a high church version of the UCC and a Missouri that seems too consumed with its own history to remember that Lutheranism came before it and exists outside of it).

I am thoroughly convinced that those whose liturgical practice flows from the Confessions are more securely held within the Lutheran anchor than those who do not. The people I wonder about are not those whose ceremonies outnumber that average Lutheran parish. The people I wonder about most are those who are uncomfortable with just about any ceremonies that flow from our Confessions. They are not only rejecting liturgy and ceremony, they are rejecting doctrine and faith. I worry most of all about those whose center is not in the Eucharist as the weekly chief service of the community (Hauptgottesdienst). I worry most of all about those who want to ditch every vestige of our catholic heritage so that Sunday morning looks nothing like it did in Luther's day or in the 11th century or in the 4th century.

I worry most of all about those whose liturgical pricinple is minimalism and who use music as if it were a mood altering agent instead of the handmaiden to the Word. I worry most of all about those who are uncomfortable in their Lutheran skin standing at the altar on Sunday morning or reading through the Concordia on Tuesday night. I worry most of all about those who think that the best Lutheranism is the one that has no liturgical identity at all -- except for some vague sense of content (substance) which can be reduced to a few words tacked on to a Bible study parading as a sermon. I worry most of all about those Lutheran Pastors who like the limelight and who use the Brittny Spears microphone as their most important vesture and the chancel as their stage on which to shine. I worry most of all about those parishes devoid of all liturgical and theological symbols save the giant video screens, speaker clusters, and ever present drum set down front.

I worry most of all about those who snicker at things Lutheran, who read books on church growth and have stopped reading theological books, and who use terms like missional, paradigm, and emergent more naturally than they do sacramental, efficacious, and liturgy. I worry most of all about those convinced that anything good needs to come from outside our own tradition and must be borrowed from others (without any consideration of how they may change our Confession and identity). I worry most of all about those who are more at home in a non-denominational church building with its consumer driven worship style and songs for worship by the latest pop gospel stars than they are with a crucifix, altar, pulpit, font, vestments, the Divine Service, and the great Lutheran chorales.

To those bloggers who are so afraid of liturgical fullness being the sign of those ready to head either to Rome or Constantinople, I say "look out!" All around are Pastors and people who have already gotten on the elevator ride down or have left the Lutheran building for generic Protestantism (either mainline or conservative) or a non-denominational identity rooted in the moment instead of in the living tradition of the past. That is what you should be writing about!


Janis Williams said...

Why do Lutherans have so many Baptists coming into the 'rich liturgical tradition?' I've been noticing how many newbies (people not baptized into the Lutheran church) have to have the capital 'B' tattoo removed from their chests.

Could it be that they've been there, done that stuff the BRTF is suggesting Missouri do? Why do we have to always learn the hard way?

I am one of those who has had the tattoo removed, and supppose I could be accused of jumping from another ship into this one.
I cannot understand why those who want to continue in the tradition of the (ancient) church, and follow the confessions (which BTW are the main reason I jumped ship) are demonized. What will those folk do who advocate change when something 'newer and better' comes along?

The ship does not have a leak in it! Why jump into a life raft when the waves are 20ft. high?

Anonymous said...

Very astute observations, Pastor.

Father Neuhaus in his later years tended to speak in a more sober tone than he did when he wrote "The Catholic Moment." He came to see quite clearly the divisions that exist under the Roman umbrella and admitted he was under no illusions as to the state of the Catholic church.

Those Lutherans who are thinking of swimming the Tiber in order to "complete" their Lutheran identity are in for quite a surprise. The "high church" environment they think exists is lacking in the average Catholic parish. They would also do well to thoroughly examine the missalettes published by Oregon Catholic Press, which is what most parishes use.

I'll never forget the culture shock I experienced in my first year as a Catholic after leaving the ELCA (whose Vatican II wannabe liturgy prepared me well for my Roman sojourn). No more of the theologically rich Lutheran hymns that I grew up on, not to mention the lack of enthusiasm for singing at all (Thomas Day's "Why Catholics Can't Sing" is quite a read) and as for incense and other perks, lucky if I saw them at Christmas and Easter.

Yes, the Lutheran Confessions were instrumental in bringing me back home to my heritage and I will be ever grateful for their solid witness to what it means to be an evangelical catholic. The worship at my LCMS parish is far more faithful to that than anything I experienced in my ten years in Rome.

Your observations about the ELCA being "UCC high church" are sadly true and those of us in the LCMS would also do well to take your admonition to heart that the Lutheran Church existed before the formation of the LCMS and she is the steward of a grace-filled, liturgical heritage.

I will give the Orthodox credit for remaining faithful to their own identity in a way Rome has not, but having sojourned in Rome I have no temptation to swim the Bosphorous either.


Steve said...

Thank you for writing this; I know in my church those who don't like the liturgy are few but they are there. There are a few who do feel uncomfortable being Lutheran.

I too am a former Baptist who truly saw the beautiful accuracy of the Lutheran faith both Scripturally and historically. I wouldn't, couldn't trade the blessing I have now for literally anything else. I would say that stronger except I just don't know how.

When I read posts like this I wonder just how strong the "big" movement is to do away with the treasures we have. It would shake me to my core if Lutheranism as we find it in the Confessional obedience to our Scriptures and our gift of the liturgy ever went away.

Anonymous said...

Janis and Steve,

With the company of Lutheran brothers and sisters like yourselves there really is hope for our Synod!


George said...

Pr. Peters wrote: "All around are pastors & people who have already gotten on the elevator ride down or have left the Lutheran building for generic Protestantism..."

What's even more unfortunate is that there are plenty of people who have left Lutheranism for generic Protestantism but they haven't bothered to leave the Lutheran churches. Instead they've changed their Lutheran churches into the generic Protestant ones. At least the people who go to Rome or Constantinople leave; they don't usually hang around pretending to be Lutherans while they're really not.

At least that's been my observation over the years.

A very well balanced and thoughtful article, Pr. Peters. I'll have to buy Pr. Weedon a beer for directing me to your blog. :)

Anonymous said...

I think that's one of the main obstacles for American Lutherans, that so many of them self-idenify as "Protestant" and I understand the historical reasons for that.

The Confessions must be re-taught in our congregations as well as what it means to be evangelical and catholic, which is what binds us to the church of all ages.