Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Culture of Continuity. . .

“My main reasons for making the [Tridentine] form more available,” Pope Benedict explains, “was to preserve the internal continuity of Church history. We cannot say: Before, everything was wrong, but now everything is right. The issue was internal reconciliation with our own past, the intrinsic continuity of faith and prayer in the Church.” We need to participate in a continuous tradition of faith and prayer.

“Hold fast,” St. Paul urges, to “that word which I preached to you” (1 Cor 15:2). Again: “Stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught.” (2 Thess. 2:15). This urgent exhortation echoes through the Bible: “Let us hold fast to our confession” (Heb. 4:14). In the book of Revelation, the voice of the Lord says to the churches that await his final triumph: “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.” (Rev. 3:11).
Borrowed from Robert Reno's contribution called The Pontificate of Continuity from FIRST THINGS.

Robert Reno gives us a detailed perspective of the overall focus of the pontificate of B16 and it is a compelling one.  And this from a Pope who as young "radical" was an advisor to Vatican II which represented a radical shift from the past and, what some have described, a disconnect with that past.  Ahhh, but I am not here to comment on Benedict or Rome.  I am here to suggest that his words might well have been spoken of the need and challenge before us as Lutherans.

We live in a culture enamored with new things.  Whether technology or trend of fashion, fad or freshness, we love anything you can call new and different.  When it comes to matters of faith, it is no different.  Our culture and our self-inflicted love of new things have pressed the same idea upon the Church -- who we are and what we do.  I well recall the early days of the liturgical movement when some jumped on the bandwagon because what was being spoken about and done in that movement appeared to be new and different.  In reality it was not so new but sometimes new is as much perspective as it is descriptive. Herb Lindemann wrote The New Mood in Lutheran Worship to describe the liturgical movement.  In the end, some were disenchanted when they found out the liturgical movement was not about things new but a recovery of things lost.  Those who grew impatient and out of step with this recovery of the past soon left for other pursuits.

I also well recall when people began speaking of the "new paradigm" of mission and when it began to be fashionable to say "We can't keep doing the same old things and expect to get new results."  I remember when Don Abdon began talking about evangelists as specially trained individuals with specific gifts and then evangelism became the domain of the few rather than the calling of the whole Church.  I remember when a Lutheranized Evangelism Explosion insisted that we have to change the way we witness and learn from those who were more effective at it that we had proven to be.  I remember when people began talking about Pastors of large congregations as different kinds of Pastors and how we needed to learn from their success at administration, delegation, leadership development, visioning, being missional, teaching others to minister instead of being the only minister, etc...

I watched as Lutherans began to embrace relationships based on tolerance of diversity rather than unity of faith, as Lutherans began a disconnect with their past over how marriage is defined and who can and should be married within the Church.  I watched as acceptance of behaviors once called sinful has come to dominate the modern day debate within Lutheranism and how a "new" thing some believe God is doing has brought turmoil and shame to one church body -- all because the past was rejected (both the past of the Scriptures and of what Lutherans had confessed and believed about what those Scriptures taught and teach).

I saw Fuller Seminary become a new training ground for Pastors who wanted to learn new methods for being Pastors and doing Church.  I read books by Lutherans, who found the approaches of people whose theology was very foreign to Lutheranism, but who, nonetheless, adapted these approaches for Lutherans.  Over time "Church Growth" became a specific term for approaches relating to everything from spiritual gifts to marketing the Church (and the Gospel) like a commodity. I watched as parachurch leadership organizations like PLI (Pastoral Leadership Initiative) and congregationally focused organizations like TCN (Transforming Congregations Network) developed programs borrowed from American Baptists and other authors and perspectives to rejuvenate tired, old, Lutheran parishes that were not growing.  Worship, constitution, structure, roles, responsibilities, and presuppositions must change, they said.

It would be wrong to cast aspersions on the motivation behind these movements.  The people who worked in them were good people and are good people.  They firmly and passionately believe that old Lutherans must learn new tricks or we will simply go away, like dead branches on a vine, to be pruned away and cast aside.  "We have to do something."  And, in this, they are correct.  We must do something.  But what shall we do?

My greatest concern about the things called new and different, is that they represent a significant disconnect from our past.  Many of them represent a rather blunt and harsh judgment upon our past.  The things of yesterday do not work today.  "You can't do the same things you have always done and expect new results."  "Who moved my cheese?"  The people whose worship and parish life and identity is consistent with the past are like the drone mice who follow the same routine over and over again but the cheese (results) are no longer to be found there.

I am not advocating a slavish duty to be who we were and do what we always have done.  What concerns me is that the means of grace are lumped in with the old that needs to be tweaked (at best) or ditched (at worst).  We learned to harp on the inerrancy of Scripture from those on the evangelical right but we forgot that the primary characteristic of Scripture is its efficacy (it does what it says).  We learned to worship like those on the evangelical left with all sorts of new songs and new chancels and new technology but we forgot that the liturgy is not some straight jacket forced upon us but the very flower of our Confessional beliefs at practice (Word and Sacrament).  We learned to shift the roles of the Pastor from presider and preacher to coach and visionary but we forgot that the Pastor is not really leader but priest and proclaimer and seelsorger (carer for the souls).  What we have learned is that others have a lot of wisdom (perhaps more than we possess) and we can learn from them but what we forgot is that Lutheranism is not some denominational label or sectarian identity -- Lutherans confess the one, true, catholic and apostolic faith, once delivered to the saints, confessed in the Book of Concord, and manifest in visible form where Pastor and people of God gather around the Word rightly proclaimed and the Sacraments rightly administered.

New things can and must be learned but there is also a deep seated need to maintain what Benedict has called a culture of continuity.  We cannot afford to be set adrift on a sea of modernity without an anchor to that past, the living tradition. We cannot afford to label as old or out of date the very nature of our identity as Word and Sacrament, Law and Gospel Christians and to the church usages and practices that flow from these.  We cannot afford to become strangers to our ancestors (living or departed) or, as Dean Inge put it, we will be become widows in the next generation.  We cannot afford to see our past as museum nor to become strangers to the home of our fathers.  The Church is not born again by every wind of change but who she always was and is -- even amid the changes and chances of this mortal life.  Every disconnect with this past is an opportunity for apostasy and every time we label that past or judge it unkindly we risk being orphans with no yesterday and an uncertain tomorrow.  Even in the Reformation of the sixteenth century, the point was not the reinventing of the Church but the recovery of what was lost (as the ample testimony of the fathers in the Lutheran Confessions attest).

Finally, you seldom see the word "new" in a favorable light in the Scriptures (except when it is God who decides to do "a new thing" -- and even then it is new to us but old to Him).  But Scripture is replete with references, commands, and exhortations to hold fast to the faith delivered to you, to the tradition, to the Apostles' doctrine, koinonia, eucharistia, and prayers...  As Reno concluded: a commitment to continue in the truth—and not futile efforts to become relevant—forms the basis of a Christian witness that has the evangelical power to make a dramatic difference in the world. We believe a faith once delivered, not one renegotiated every generation. A truth powerful enough to refashion the world, not one remolded in accord with changing political or moral or cultural fashions.


Todd A. Peperkorn said...

I'm with you on this, but the opposite is also true. Maintaining the continuity of the church catholic is good and laudable, but making into commandments the traditions of men is not. How do we guard against allowing the traditions of our fathers becoming new works for us to do?

Anonymous said...

In the late 1960's it was Guido
Merkens "Living Lutheran Leadership"
that offered a structured way to do
parish administration. In the early
1970's James Kennedy offered a
structured way to do evangelism with
his 2 challenging questions. In the
late 1970's & early 1980's Don Abdon
used new nomenclature to produce a
parish renewal.

All 3 of these pastors filled a
perceived void in LCMS Seminary
training to ignite needed dialogue
in some parishes which were not
making any evangelism efforts or
were unorganized in parish

Chris Jones said...

making into commandments the traditions of men

Given that the Apostle commands us to hold the traditions which [we] have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle, it's clear that not all tradition is "the tradition of men." I don't think it is all that easy to identify the traditions of men that we ought not to follow. St Basil the Great tells us that neglecting the Apostolic tradition runs the risk of "injuring the Gospel in its very vitals."

There is no doubt in my mind that the liturgy, in its basic shape, its intent, and its function in the life in Christ is part and parcel of the tradition to which St Paul commanded us to "hold fast." The way that the Lutheran Confessions speak of the Mass and the role of the public ministry of Word and Sacraments suggests that my view of this is eminently confessional, as well.

Anonymous said...

"I also well recall when people began speaking of the "new paradigm" of mission and when it began to be fashionable to say "We can't keep doing the same old things and expect to get new results."

True. We also can't do things a different way and get the results we got when we did things the old way. In the old days people had more children and their primary mission was to teach their own children, which is why they came to Missouri from Germany in the first place. Now folks have small families and feel the need to grow the church without a primary mission in the family but instead using their resources for marketing and entertaining outreach. So now we have different results because we are doing something different. We do not have as much continuity.

Anonymous said...

Continuity is preaching the Gospel
in every century as a message of
the crucified and resurrected Christ
who forgives the sins of all who
believe in Him and gives them the
free gift of eternal life. It is also
preaching the Law to show the sins
of humanity and that we are condemned
to eternal death. The dynamic of Law
and Gospel is the Word of God rightly
divided so that the hearer hears the
severity of God's wrath and the
sweetness of God's grace.