Friday, April 1, 2011

Ritual without the Religion.... Religion without the Ritual

It seems we have trouble with the two "Rs" together -- ritual and religion.  On the one hand we have some who want the ritual but not the religion.  This would explain some Jews who maintain a kosher kitchen and follow the rigorous dietary rules yet do not believe in Messiah to come or really in God at all.  They are in their belief largely secular but in their practice they are pious.  I well recall a conversation very long ago with a daughter of a member who had decided to become a Jew, her husband being Jewish and she wanted to resolve many years of conflict (at least in practice).  "What changed when you (a Lutheran) became Jewish?" I asked.  The simple reply.  "I began keeping a kosher kitchen and observing the dietary laws of Judaism."  Later she admitted that she still kind of believes in Jesus but does not see the conflict.  She (like her husband) became an observant Jew in practice and not belief.

Add to that the many Anglicans across the world who can hardly be bested when it comes to vestments, liturgical appointments, and the finest ritual of the BCP Mass and yet they hardly believe a word of Scripture.  They have adopted every liberal social cause as their mission and they seldom speak of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  I think of folks like John Shelby Spong, Episcopal apostate Bishop, who seems comfortable within the liturgical ritual of his church but extremely uncomfortable with the tenets of the faith (traditional or orthodox).  His cause is accompanied by many of the "high church" Protestants whose practice involves ritual and gesture that would seem to betray belief and yet it does not -- at least not any belief that Athanasius might recognize.

On the other hand are those who want religion without any ritual.  This would represent most of fundamentalism and much of evangelicalism (although there are new rituals associated with the emergent church that might pass for ritual -- like the coffee and the waved arms).  This group believes that religion is almost tarnished by any outward ritual, as if it were offensive to the true worship of spirit and truth.  They take religion very seriously but do not take ritual all that seriously.  Some are confused by the desire or need for ritual and others see it as formalism.  Strangely enough, these folks seem to love the rituals associated with patriotism, sports, the lodge, etc...

Lutherans seem to be well poised to marry both the seriousness of a faith grounded in an authoritative and efficacious Scripture and the ritual that accompanies and even illustrates what is believed with the heart and confessed with the lips.  We do not have many who are in it for the ritual but who prefer their religion lite -- though it may be said that liberal Lutheranism is indeed heading toward this.  We do seem to have a number of folks who are at the least uncomfortable with ritual.  They follow the liturgy of the hymnal and wear the vestments (as few as possible) but they do not feel as comfortable at the altar as they do at the pulpit.  These are the folks who are as conservative as can be with it comes to Scripture and the Confessions but would almost prefer the old black academic or Geneva gown of Lutherans at the beginning of the last century.  Lest we forget, we also have a new wave of "Lutherans" (I am not so sure how deep their Lutheranism runs) who eschew ritual with the best of the evangelicals and who have firmly embraced the idea that they can have an evangelical style with a Lutheran substance and get by with liturgy lite and with abandoning ritual.

It would seem that with the well established liturgical movement as our recent history and the more catholic bent of nearly all newer Lutheran hymnals, Lutherans would be on the cusp of a new and strong marriage of religion and ritual.  It would seem that Lutherans would be well situated to combine a robust confessional identity, confident Law/Gospel preaching, strong Eucharistic piety, and a well ornamented liturgy.  And for many it would be true.  But the facts tell us that we Lutherans are still beset by problems marrying the seriousness of the Christian religion with a ritual that both flows from and identifies with this faith.  Whether ELCA or Missouri, WELS or ELS, or one of the newer or smaller derivations of Lutheranism in America, we still struggle with the union of religion and ritual.  Though, to be sure, we are not so diverse or extremely divided as others in the spectrum of Christian denominations.  There is some comfort in that but I hope we do not take too much of it and instead push toward the strong tie and connection between faith's confession and its practice liturgically.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

If we worship to praise God with our
sacred hymns, scriptural liturgy,
and sacrificial offerings, then our
majestic and mighty God is our only
audience at these times in the Divine
Service.

In our worship of Him, God looks at
our inner heart to see repentance,
our motives and our love for Him.
It is hard to believe that God would
be more impressed at this point with the outward ritual of the
clergy. It does not matter to God
whether the pastor wears an ornate
chasuble or an ordinary stole at
the Eucharist celebration.

Jonathan said...

Anonymous missed the point entirely.

Paul said...

Ritual and Religion: a marriage made in heaven:)

Fr Steve Little, STS said...

It has long been my contention that one of Lutheranism in America's besetting sins is the willing suspension of manners, order, place, and reverence for the idol of equality. For the only place where all are equal is in the sight of God. The church has traded reverence for relevance [so called; women have exchanged their very essence to be men light, and husbands trade thier manhood, for the vain hope of being their wives best girlfriend. Alas

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fallhiker said...

If we follow ritual, to please God, are we not right to do so? If we follow ritual, to please others, are we not wrong? If we follow ritual, to please ourselves, are we not misled? My point is the reason we do or don't do something makes us what we are. Obedient, disobedient, or misinformed....

Unknown said...

The problem with people knowing (and presumably keeping) their place is that so often the oppressed are put in their place by all too human oppressors, claiming to act on behalf of God, that it becomes harder and harder to distinguish which "places" are human-made constructs draped in religious garb to give them the illusion of divine authority and which places God has called us to occupy as part of taking up our cross and following Jesus.

Anonymous said...

When the "average" LCMS member goes
to the Sunday Divine Service, he or
she wants to hear dynamic Law/Gospel
sermons and receive the body and
blood of Christ in the Sacrament.

What costume the pastor wears is
not a big deal nor is the cost of
the communionware or all the correct
liturgical gestures.

Carl Vehse said...

"We might summarize the liturgical distinction between the parties in this way: Grabau worked in the direction lex orandi lex credendi (what is prayed in confessed); the Saxons worked it the other way, lex credendi lex orandi (what is confessed is prayed)." -- William M. Cwirla, "Grabau and the Saxon Pastors: The Doctrine of the Holy Ministry, 1840-1845" Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly, 62 (1995), p. 93.

Pastor Peters said...

Anonymous completely missed the point and, if this is the same anonymous who consistently says almost the same thing whenever something about vestments, chanting, ritual, etc. is mentioned, it seems that anonymous has a burr unpleasantly placed that is causing him or her to view the whole post through this lens. For the life of me I cannot see how anonymous (or, if more than one, anonymii) can so consistently miss the whole article in order to make a disparaging comment on one small thing.

Anonymous said...

What costume the pastor wears is
not a big deal nor is the cost of
the communionware or all the correct liturgical gestures.


"Costumes" -- I've never thought of vestments as "costumes" -- nor do I consider "correct liturgical gestures" a minor matter. It is sad that so many Lutherans have forgotten that to make the Sign of the Cross is an ancient catholic (not Catholic) practice that daily renews our faith in the all-sufficient sacrifice made by the One who alone gives us eternal life. When you arise, Luther teaches, "Make the holy Sign of the Cross . . ."

The rich Lutheran theology of Holy Baptism is also very much connected to the Sign of the Cross as we are daily renewed in that regenerating washing.

Christine