Friday, April 1, 2011
Ritual without the Religion.... Religion without the Ritual
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.