Thursday, March 31, 2011

After the Benediction, We Are the Same

There is that great line in the Godfather movie (I cannot remember which one) in which Michael (Don) Corleone responds to Senator Pat Geary by saying they are the same, part of the same hypocrisy.  It is a powerful moment in which the illicit Mafia family stands at the same level as the level of an outwardly respectable public official.  We are the same -- a powerful indictment against the artificial divisions of respectability.

There are many in Lutheranism who would insist that those Lutherans who experiment with evangelicalism and those who worship from the book are the same -- a difference only in style but not in substance.  For too long we have allowed this artificial distinction to stand, something foisted upon us by those intent upon making us different and making sure that some Lutherans, at least, were going to be different, very different.  So the worship wars have spent countless words and ink fighting over issues of taste and culture and musical preference -- to the point where many, even passionate voices, have grown weary and tired of the whole darn debate.  But that is because we have assumed that we are the same -- at least after the benediction.  What we do before the benediction does not really matter because after the "Amen" and on our way out the door we are all the same.

But are we the same?  Can we be different before the benediction but the same afterward?  Or is piety inherent in what we do before the benediction as well as expressed in what follows the Divine Service?  Is it possible for us to have a split personality of American evangelical style worship and retain a Lutheran faith and live out a Lutheran piety after Sunday morning is over and done with?  [A caveat here, there are many, including people on both sides of the worship wars, who would argue that there is no such thing as a "Lutheran" piety.]

How we see the world, how we see ourselves, how we understand our purpose, what we value, what priorities we attach to the various aspects of our lives -- all of these are issues of piety but this piety is not indifferent to what happens on Sunday morning -- rather it flows exactly from what happens on Sunday morning.  Sunday morning shapes and defines and directs what happens after the benediction.  Part of the great problem with the worship wars is that we are ONLY arguing about what happens before the benediction and should be also talking about what happens following the "Amen" on Sunday morning.  Worship is not about aesthetics and therefore subject to taste or personal preference and neither should our piety be something indifferent to our confession.

My fear for Lutheranism is not about today or even ten years from now but decades down the pike.  What will our Lutheranism look like if our piety is at odds with our confession and Sunday morning is given wholesale over to a mainline Protestant agenda (ELCA) or an evangelical (perhaps fundamentalist) agenda (Missouri)?  What will our Pastors look like -- when, for example, the Divine Service that has been our Lutheran identity for nearly 500 years is unfamiliar to those who will preach, teach, and preside in our circles?    What happens to a Lutheran church body when the hearts and minds of its clergy are more at home in a piety, vocabulary, and song track that comes from and is shaped by something outside Lutheran confessional identity?

Historically, Lutherans have said that their clergy need to be resident at a Lutheran seminary in order to become Lutheran Pastors.  Until rather recently, and then mostly in the ELCA, you cannot go to Harvard Divinity School or Vanderbilt or Duke or anyone of the generic or nominally affiliated seminaries and then be ordained a Lutheran Pastor.  Why?  Truth to be told, there are some very fine teachers at these institutions and not a few of them are Lutheran.  Well, we have said that Lutheranism is not just intellectual property but piety as well.  Formation involves not merely head knowledge but being shaped by the daily office, the Eucharist, koinonia (life together)...  We not only expected this but required this of those who would bear the Pastoral Office in the Lutheran Church.

This was also part of the rationale for youth and adult catechesis.  Becoming Lutheran is not giving intellectual assent to a series of dogmatic or doctrinal formulations.  It involves an altar, a pulpit, a people gathered with you around these -- and not in the least of this is both script of the faith and soundtrack of the faith (hymnody).  This was the rationale for the RCIA in Rome when they began to realize that becoming a Roman Catholic was not merely a change of truths for the mind but the home of the heart.  We Lutherans may not have called it RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) but we had an idea of it when we brought people in through adult confirmation, connected them to Bible study groups, put the under the nurture of those already well established in the faith and congregation, and received them publicly through a rite of reception.

Now, it seems, that we have forgotten much of this and have come to the mistake conclusion that we are only discussing what happens before the benediction and that after the benediction we are the same.  We are not.  When our piety is shaped by American evangelicalism instead of the Church Year, the Divine Service, the Catechism, baptismal vocation, and an efficacious Scripture, we cease being Lutheran even though we may, intellectually anyway, hold to the doctrinal content of the Confessions.  Piety flows from liturgical identity.  But liturgical identity is also shaped by piety when that piety is different from or in conflict with that liturgical identity.  Is this not what lex credendi, lex orandi means?  Worship AND piety either head the same direction or a train wreck will occur and this is the looming cost of adopting the idea that you can have evangelical style and maintain Lutheran substance, or, to put it another way, to believe that after the benediction, we Lutherans are still the same.... no matter what happens before the "Amen."


+ Robert Wurst said...

What we will look like down the pike if these things continue? The answer is already seen.


Empty churches. No faith. A small remnant.

I don't think I am pessimistic. The road has already been trod.

Anonymous said...

The spiritual formation of LCMS
seminarians is necessary and vital
to the health of Lutheranism. Yet,
it is only given lip-service in
reality. Most married students live
off campus and commute to classes.
They may attend chapel services
depending on class schedules. Second
career students have families to
support and work 20-25 hour a week

My point is this: Chapel services
and campus fellowship are not
really cutting it for any spiritual
formation. What is needed is some
required class room courses on the
formation of the pastor's spiritual
life in the Lutheran tradition.
Each seminarian should be assigned
a mentor from the faculty during
their first 2 years at the Sem.
This mentor could be a big help
in spiritual formation for the
pastoral ministry.

Paul said...

Just wondering how far down the road you see that train wreck coming? Divided congregations cannot continue forever, either.

Anonymous said...

To say in 2011, that LCMS still has
"Worship Wars" is probably passe.
There might be some minor battles
here and there, but the majority of
our congregations offer the Divine
Service every Sunday. Contemporary
Worship is no longer on the hot
button issue list in our Synod.
Some still like to beat it like a
dead horse, but the worship wars
are over in Missouri Synod.

Anonymous said...

Worship wars are over? Tell that to the vast majority of very large LCMS congregations where contemporary worship and music are still the norm. I bet that a very significant number of the people in LCMS congregations on Sunday morning worship in a contemporary worship and music service.

Weslie O said...

Anonymous #1 -

As a current seminarian (vicar for Fort Wayne), I'll say that, in part, what you suggest does happen. Prof. Pless has his students read phenomenal resources in this category the first two years of Field Education, which are required classes.

Additionally, all students are assigned advisors, who aren't merely academic advisors. I know I could have talked to my advisor, Kantor Resch, about anything, and he would have (and was!) available to meet outside of class. This goes for almost any professor.

In a way, though, you are right. Many guys don't attend chapel regularly. I was one my first year, and I highly regret it. What is the answer? Required chapel attendance? Put another way: required piety? I'd be hesitant to go down that road. I do think, though, that it is reasonable for the seminary to discuss with an individual student WHY, as an aspiring pastor, he isn't interested in attending chapel (understanding that sometimes one can't make it). That is the bigger question.

What should be kept in mind is that seminary is a four year "formation." I don't think any guy, even the "really good ones", don't have their piety shaped during their time on campus. I think it's best to give it time. Maturity comes in leaps and bound during the first two years and especially on vicarage. The other issue could be one to discuss in placement interviews or even during the theological interview.

Pastor Peters said...

When I was in Synodical college, chapel attendance was taken and you received a visit from a Dean if you missed more than once.