Monday, March 7, 2011
Diversity and Unity in Tension
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...