Monday, March 7, 2011

Diversity and Unity in Tension

Unless you have hidden under a rock for the past generation or two, it is obvious that a new virtue has arisen to primacy in the pantheon of goodness -- Diversity!  We have nations struggling to implement a strategy for diversity that can somehow co-exist within the parameters of citizenship, civic duty, and national identity.  We have business struggling to make sure that not only is the marketplace of jobs equal and equitable but that a nod be given for a diverse work force (ethnicity, religion, race, and sexual identity).  We have schools that teach teachers diversity in the classroom (my daughter is finishing out her academic preparation for a career in education) and we have schools that have sought to make for a diverse school population.  We have seen the political arena become the enforcer of a new political correctness in which certain things are more equal than others (a bow to diversity which appeals to new minorities over old ones).  We have seen worship and religion (at least in the Christian tradition) pressed with the need to celebrate and fully live out a diversity of cultures, expressions, definitions, truths, and lifestyles under the general umbrella of Christian freedom.  But, then, I am not telling you something you do not already know...

In particular I would focus this on the relationship between unity and diversity.  Who can deny that unity and uniformity have become, if not bad words, at least a second class word to the glories and wonders of diversity.  So the once and ordinary allowance that every congregation live out our unity together as a Church striving for as much unity and even unanimity with other congregations has become the mark of the evil empire.  Instead, the tension has been directed the other way.  The Church as a whole has got to learn to live with differences, distinctions, and diversity in worship practice (and, to a certain extent, matters of faith).  So the burden is effectively not on the individual congregations to strive together for the common good of worship practice and doctrinal integrity but upon the Church to allow and even foster such freedom of expression that may even threaten or betray the ordinary unity which might be expected of those who claim the same confession.

A common hymnal and liturgy was, in the past, almost a prerequisite of Synodical identity and koinonia.  For a long time that was mostly achieved through The Lutheran Hymnal.  Now, it is true that this hymnal had some 41 years to move from being new to the only book for LCMS Lutherans.  Antiquity does have its benefits.  Since it was published we have had no less than a couple of supplements, a couple of hymnals, a Spanish language book, almost an African-American book (Missouri declined it), and almost an ecumenically Lutheran book (again, Missouri declined it).  So some "diversity" of worship practice in our Synod -- at least since the early 1960s -- has had an almost official imprimatur upon it through these different books.  In reality, the most powerful push for "diversity" has come not through the publishing arm of Synod or other official Lutheran options, but through the advent of the photocopier, desk top publishing, and the wide and easy array of source materials from all sorts of places. 

We could spend hours talk about this but the point I want to get at is this:  When did diversity become a higher value than unity?  When did difference become more important than uniformity within the boundaries of local appropriateness or ability?  Sure, in the past unity and uniformity in text and the practice of the liturgy was commanded and enforced.  We have seen this to be sure.  Luther and the other Reformers with him were understandably shy about commanding form and practice.  Yet, it is unmistakable that they valued unity and uniformity (as much as was possible), that they sought these, encouraged these, and foster a voluntary unity and uniformity in worship form and practice.  They placed a high value upon the willingness of the congregation (and its Pastor) to forgo novelty, innovation, and diverse expression in favor of those forms and practices which gave physical expression to the doctrinal confession.

When did we lose sight of this goal and when did we begin to see diversity as a higher value?  Was this a fruit of the inherent freedom within the local congregation and Pastor or did this proceed from the adoption of cultural trends and values that exploited this freedom?

There are those who would like to see a top down approach to solving the worship wars in our Synod (indeed, across Lutheranism).  I personally believe that we are ill equipped for such an approach.  If we are to recapture a more united and uniform worship form and practice among our churches, it will come when we recognize the higher value of this unity over diversity and when we voluntarily surrender our freedom for the sake of our identity and confession.  This will mean that some of us -- me included -- may have to change some things as well as those on the fringes of contemporary worship adopt a radically different approach to what happens on Sunday mornings.  When we find again the value of such unity and when uniformity (here I mean the use of our hymnal and the Divine Service(s) within that hymnal as the fundamental core) is our willingness to yield some of the freedom we believe we might possess for a higher value and calling, then and only then will the extreme diversity within the worship of our Lutheran (and specifically LCMS) churches find a common identity and expression that flows from our Confessions and our faith (and not from an imposed rule from above).

BTW if you think this is a "Protestant" problem, read some of the Roman Catholic blogs about liturgical practice and the introduction of the new text of the mass.  Therein we find the same tension in a church body in which a hierarchical structure would seem to make it easier to impose unity and to establish uniformity.

Just a few thoughts...


Anonymous said...

This tension is evident in the 2010
Synodical Handbook.
Preamble: Reason for forming Synod
is our Lord's will that the
diversities of gifts should be for
the common good.

Article VI Conditions of Membership
4. Exclusive use of doctrinally pure
agenda, hymnbooks

Article VII Relation of Synod to
Members 1. Synod is not an
ecclesiastical government exercising coercive is
but an ADVISORY body.

Anonymous said...

The "one size fits all" era of the
LCMS is over. Formerly, the "system"
of ministerial training produced
pastors trained in Synodical junior
colleges which fed into the senior
college at Ft. Wayne and then our
2 Sems. The majority of these men
were 25 or 26 yrs old when they
graduated from the system. They were
Biblically literate and well-prepared
for their first pastorate.

Today, we have a minority who
attended a Lutheran college and
a majority who attended a secular
college and are 2nd career men.
This has watered down the quality
of LUTHERAN bred pastors.

Our Synod faces a lack of true
Lutheran leadership and commitment
from clergy who have little or no
educational background in the
classic LCMS mode.

Pastor Peters said...

I am not sure the preamble is technically a part of the constitution but even then "common good" exists as a primary core value.

Also, unity and uniformity are not an attempt at "one size fits all" but a willingness to maintain doctrine and practice that is reflective of our confessional identity, an expressive of our freedom and not of our constriction...

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

I think the preference of diversity over unity is more an issue of cultural influence over the church than the church acting on its own. The clash of diversity versus unity in my opinion is a reflection of post modern thought (in which truth is transposed with values) being married to the politics of equal rights. Postmodern thought took ‘all men are created equal,’ and ran with it until it became; ‘all individuals are equal.’ What is held to be universally true is not as important as what is valued by the individual as true. And so what ‘works for me,’ is more important than ‘what is best for everyone.’ Consequently an unspoken stigma was attached to unity, a stigma of forced conformity that crushes individuality, that is at best arbitrary, and at worst a form of bigotry. An example of this is found in language. For millennia nations have known that they need a ‘lingua franca’ a common or commercial tongue among people of diverse speech. Yet today expecting immigrants to learn English as a second language is in some quarters looked upon as insensitive to their cultural diversity and racist.

This sort of thinking is inescapable and is an integral part of the way Christians in the 21st century think. Christian unity is an alien concept to an unbelieving world, and unfortunately it is rather unfamiliar to believers as well. We hear a great deal about freedom, and adiaphora when worshipped is discussed, but when unity in worship practice is brought up it is thrown back our faces as ‘uniformity’ (tranlation: authoritarian conformity).’ That is, the imposition of someone else’s idea of what worship is or ought to be upon me and an offense to my Christian liberty. A ‘top down’ approach to unity (if it were at all possible) would fail because I can imagine even the people who did not have to change their form of worship would be appalled at watching their brethren down the street being forced to submit, and would see it as unfair and unloving.

Dear brother Peters you are exactly right when you say that what is necessary for unity is to surrender our freedom for the sake of our identity and confession. That is what will bring unity. Unity in worship begins with us all recognizing that there are as our evangelical friends say ‘non-negotiables’ namely synaxis and Eucharist. Unity means we all will have to change, perhaps in our practice, but moreso in our heads and hearts. Despite what I have said about postmoderns, oddly enough I think they are more likely to sit down at the table to work on unity than moderns. I don't envision a latter day council of Nicea but I do think that 21st century Lutherans can by God’s good grace bring about an understanding of worship that will bless all of Christendom.

Michael G said...

Pr Bergstrazer said: what is necessary for unity is to surrender our freedom for the sake of our identity and confession.

Dr Luther expresses that as well:

Now when your people are confused and offended by your lack of uniform order, you cannot plead, “Externals are free. Here in my own place I am going to do as I please.” But you are bound to consider the effect of your attitude on others. By faith be free in your conscience toward God, but by love be bound to serve your neighbor’s edification, as also St. Paul says, Romans [15:2], “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him.” For we should not please ourselves, since Christ also pleased not Himself, but us all.

But at the same time a preacher must watch and diligently instruct the people lest they take such uniform practices as divinely appointed and absolutely binding laws. He must explain that this is done for their own good so that the unity of Christian people may also find expression in externals which in themselves are irrelevant. Since the ceremonies or rites are not needed for the conscience or for salvation and yet are useful and necessary to govern the people externally, one must not enforce or have them accepted for any other reason except to maintain peace and unity between men. For between God and men it is faith that procures peace and unity.

Nevertheless, both you and your preachers should diligently seek to promote unity and to hinder this work of the devil, because God appoints the devil to do this in order to give us occasion to prove our unity and in order to reveal those that have stood the test. For in spite of all our efforts, enough factions and disunity will remain. St. Paul also points this out when he says, II Timothy 2 [:20], that there are both noble and ignoble vessels in the same house, and immediately adds, “If a man purge himself of such people, he shall be a vessel sanctified for noble use, useful to his master and ready for every good work” [v. 21]. (Luther’s Works: Liturgy and Hymns, J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed., vol. 53, pp 47–50. Fortress Press: Philadelphia)"