Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Uninformed is not the same as unintelligent...

There are not a few, including some who comment on things on this blog, who think that the laity need to be protected.  It is as if the laity are fragile and stupid and so we must treat them like children.  Because they have limited understanding and little discernment, we must make sure that things are absolutely clear -- lest they get the wrong impression about something. 

If we publish the Apocrypha, we must be careful to plaster "NOT THE BIBLE" on every page and set up the pages to look radically different than, say,  The Lutheran Study Bible OR the laity will be confused and mistake words for The Word.  If we use the word "catholic" in the creed, the lay folk will be confused and think ROMAN Catholic since they cannot make a finer distinction such as the small "c" and big "C" and what it means.  I could go on and post some things from the comments section of this blog.  You get the point.

Many have made the same point about people outside the church and how we must not confuse them with ritual or liturgy and the like.  Everything in worship must be absolutely clear and drawn from the secular world in which these people live or we will turn them off simply by virtue of a different vocabulary, musical style, liturgical culture, etc.

I am offended by such thinking.  Far from being protective of the laity and having their best interests at heart, I believe it is demeaning and disrespectful.  The folks in the pew are not stupid, just untaught.  They are not unintelligent, just uniformed.  The point is not to reduce everything in church to its simplest form or words but to engage and teach the lay folks to hear and discern the Word of God, the Gospel, the music and culture of the Church.

People may sometimes be lazy but that is because we treat them like children.  The Church has become like the helicopter parent who does the kid's homework, fights all the kid's battles for them, and makes every decision for them (lest they make a mistake).  I require those being confirmed to visit a non-Lutheran church for worship and to complete a survey form about what they can discern of that congregation's faith and practice.  One family informed me that on a visit to a local contemporary worship Baptist congregation, the kids complained that the minister and worship leaders "did everything for us" and that there "was nothing left for us to do" but watch and listen.  In other words, they "got" it; they missed the liturgy and the hymns.  They felt cheated because either they were not smart enough or good enough to really participate.

Our people (and our children) are not stupid.  They interact with all sorts of technology all day long.  They manage households and budgets.  They work in all sorts of intensive environments (from saving lives to building houses to manufacturing goods to repairing our broken technology to high finance).  They tune into cable news 24/7.  They write blogs and order things on line.  They make countless decisions every day.  They can handle getting into the Bible if we teach them... They can handle their part of the liturgy if we teach them... They don't need to be spoon fed; they need to be taught the faith.  We need to equip them to fulfill their baptismal calling of worship, witness, prayer, mercy, and service.  We do not need to dummy down Bible study or the Divine Service.  We need to teach, catechize, equip, and expect them to learn, grow, and become discerning of the things of God, the voice of His Word, and the work of the Kingdom.

Part of the reason our church body is in such a fine mess is that we have dulled the senses of our people by failing to teach them or by implying they will not understand or get it.  Without instruction in the liturgy, they accept pale imitations for the real thing... without instruction in God's Word, they cannot distinguish the voice of the wolves from the Shepherd... without instruction in the catechism, they do not know what we believe, teach, and confess as Lutheran Christians nor are they able to differentiate what we claim is the proper understanding of God's Word from one that is not faithful to Scripture...

Sometimes those within the Church's leadership act like the politicians in Washington who tell us what we say to them in polls because they believe we are either too stupid or too distracted to handle the nuances and depths of the real problems facing our nation.  That has got to stop.  On this blog I try NOT to do that but to engage people on the depth of the meaning and understanding of what it means to be faithful Lutheran Christian.  We do not need a religion for dummies which turns God's Word into Scripture Lite or the Divine Service into worship lite.  We need the real thing.  Period.  I have every confidence in our people in the pew as long as we engage them faithfully in the depth of God's Word and our Lutheran Confessions.  Only then will they be equipped to fulfill their important role of discernment as hearers of the Word and their rightful place as doers of that Word.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

It's not even that we treat the laity like children - you at least teach children in the hopes that they grow up some day -- it's we expect them to be forever theological Peter Pans, never planning on growing up.

Anonymous said...

Maybe before even thinking of getting the laity back into the BOC a few Christian education classes on the difference in the meanings of "catholic" and "Catholic" would be in order.

Sheesh, even the Roman church has restored the lower case "c" in the Apostles Creed.

Pastor Brown, you bring up a moot point. I posted elsewhere about a run-in I had with my pastor about what the Catholic church teaches regarding the mass, that Christ is not "re-sacrificed" at every liturgy and that non-Catholic clergy who convert and are married are not required to be celibate as he claimed. He was very annoyed with me and told me to "look it up." I pointed out as charitably as I could that not only is half my family Roman Catholic but I spent ten years in the Catholic church and have had an insider's view. He didn't want to hear it and I sensed that he resented the challenged to his "authority".

I have found that some LCMS pastors can be quite adept at keeping the people in the pews compliant and regressive as far as their theological and spiritual growth goes. I am not at all defending the theological errors of the ELCA but the laity there are treated with much greater respect as far as encouraging them to learn, grow and assume an adult Christian persona.

Anonymous said...

It has been said that "the people in
the pew can rise no higher than the
pastor in the pulpit."

This means the pastor must be a
teaching and preaching theologian
in his parish. He needs to do this
in his sermons and Bible classes
on the basis of Holy Scriptures with
a Christ-centered approach Our laity
deserve to be nurtured so they grow
mature in Christ

Janis Williams said...

True, Anon., but as the old colloquialism goes, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink."

Speaking of animals, would that we were all like the Syrophoenician woman. After being associated with dogs by Christ she persisted by saying, "even the dogs eat the crumbs...."

Dogs are eager to eat; just put food in front of him. Wish more parishioners were like that...

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

I am continually impressed (and occasionally embarrassed) by how smart and well read the laity are. The great joy of teaching God's word and the doctrines of the church is when I and my class learn together.

We should read the Apocrypha, and we Lutheran Pastors should have a copy of the Catholic catechism, The canons and decrees of the Council of Trent, and the Dictionary of the Liturgy on our bookshelves so that we actually know what we're talking about and if we don't have the answer we can look it up.

I recall that the German translation of the Bible that Concordia published many years ago contained the Apocrypha, so I don't think their actions today are without precident.

Anonymous said...

I was listening to Rev. Wolfmueller on the Issues Etc. and he made the point that the fragmentary phrasing of praise songs are far less clear and far less accessible than the clear propositional statements in the liturgy and our traditional hymns. He pointed out that contemporary worship started out with the aim of accessible language etc. but quickly devolved into just using verbal and visual imagery to evoke emotional responses devoid of understandable statements.

Irenaeus said...

Reading the posts and the comments reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Luther, from his explanation to the Fourth Commandment in the Large Catechism: "We all lament over this state of things, but we do not see that it is our own fault. The children and subjects we have are the children and subjects we rear." Naturally, we should turn to solid Christian education and Christ-centered catechesis, always.

My concern, however, having read this post is that, left untended, we can easily fall into what some have referred to as "sheep bashing" (not that I believe that Pastor Peters is doing that here, or in any other of his posts for that matter, for I do not believe such at all!).

I love the Liturgy of the Church, and have a great affinity for the historical liturgies of the Church. However, my experience has taught me that, unless the people you are called to serve are fully aware that you actually have God's love for them, and that they are more to you than just rats in one's personal laboratory of "liturgical experimentation du jour," nothing will "fly," regardless of how holy, true, good, or pious it may be. Jesus met people with love. The early Church was known by its love, His love for the world.

The sad reality is that I have personally encountered far too many "liturgical gurus" who were long on knowledge, quotes (Latin and German included!) and "good churchly practice" and short on love for the ones they were supposed to be shepherding and leading in the way of the Truth.

Jenny said...

Thank you for this post Pastor Peters. It is salve on the wounded dignity of this uninformed, but not unable to learn, layperson!

ErnestO said...

Who said "So many in the pulpit have a great knowledge of theology(religion) but so few have tried it"? My guess is it first came from the pew(s).

As the chief of sinners - I should better spend my time at prayer than posting on this blog.

Anonymous said...

Right on, Pastor Peters. Kudos to you. Your comments are true.