Wednesday, March 2, 2011
We Are Not Catholics, We Are Christians!
When ILCW began planning for the book that became Lutheran Book of Worship, "catholic" was there. Perhaps this contributed to the objections Missourians found with that more ecumenical book. In any case, when Lutheran Worship was published in 1982, "catholic" was there but related to a footnote. When the Hymnal Supplement 1998 came out it was again a footnote to the actual text of the creed spoken by the people. Lutheran Service Book actually sent out a study of the creed proposing to restore the plural form of its confession ("We believe...") and "catholic" in the body of the creed with "Christian" in a footnote. For whatever reason, fears of those presenting this to the Convention or the desire to refrain from controversy or the imposition of the Convention upon the Commission on Worship, LSB was accepted with the texts of the creeds from LW.
It was a most unfortunate decision, in my opinion, and relegates another generation of LCMS people to grow learning the creed using a word not original to that creed and one that means something very different than catholicam. In my own parish, I began introducing the "catholic" word so that it would not be controversial when LSB came out and when LSB abandoned the quest, I retained it in our usage since we had fought the battle for understanding the word "catholic" as one friendly to Lutheranism and gone on to other things.
Judging from a couple of other blogs or forums, it is still a word that ruffles the feathers of Lutherans in the pews (and some in the pulpit). This is a shame. Methodists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians have all used the word "catholic" for many years -- apparently without dispute. These churches have by their own confession and practice NOT stood within the veil of evangelical catholic identity and yet they have grown comfortable with the word. Why then would we, a church body which claims to be intentionally evangelical and catholic in confession and practice, eschew the word "catholic" in the creed? It literally boggles the mind.
My friend Pastor Wil Weedon put it this way: It all depended - at least in the 16th and 17th century - on whether one was singing in German or in Latin. If the Creed was sung in German - and that means, Luther's "Wir Glauben All" - then one confessed that the Holy Spirit "die ganz' Christenheit auf Erden hält in einen Sinn gar eben." But if one sang the Latin Creed, then one confessed "unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam." And Lutherans for a couple centuries were totally at ease with confessing it either way; in many services confessing it both ways as the German was often sung by the people after the Latin was led by the choir. The notion that "christian" is preferred over "catholic" because that's how the Creeds were rendered in the German Book of Concord does not jive with the actual history of Lutheran liturgy.
I believe that it is imperative that we reclaim our familiarity with this word and raise our comfort level in using it in the creed for we as confessional Lutherans are not only deliberate but historically consistent in our conviction that we are not innovators but faithful confessors of the one, true, apostolic, and catholic faith. For us this is not a word used for window dressing but something that resonates to the whole nature of who we are, what we confess, and how we live. I think it is time to reclaim the word from the footnote and use it until it no longer offends us. I am convinced that until we become comfortable with this word in the creed, we will not be at ease with our own confessional Lutheran identity as evangelical catholic Christians. And that is the point. We ARE catholics!
As a footnote.... why do we confess "I believe" in the Nicene Creed when the original was "We believe?" Even in Luther's creedal hymn, we do not sing "Ich glaube" but "Wir glauben..." I won't take up any more space on this, but to make this point. Unlike the Apostles Creed and its association with baptism, the Nicene is the "we believe" creed used to define what is orthodox -- not only in terms of the individual but in terms of the whole congregation/church. Literally by confessing the Nicene Creed we are submitting our own individual confession to that which has faithfully and in orthodox terms confessed the Holy Trinity -- from time of controversy and conflict to the present day.