Saturday, September 24, 2011
From whence comes doubt...
Every departure...from our Lord's mandate only introduces doubt. Beloved, let us not set stumbling blocks before the people of God! Let us rather abide by the mandated institution of our Lord and thus live from the certainty of His giving. Take bread and wine, bless them with His words in thanksgiving, and thus give out to His royal priesthood His body and blood, having tasted of them yourself. Take anything else, bless them with His words and give them out, and what do you give out? Neither you nor your people have the first clue! We mayn't suppose our Lord is bound to what He has not commanded.
I copied those words from my friend Pr Will Weedon. They illustrate a great principle which is behind faithful liturgical practice. As a Pastor I get questions all the time about allowing this or that deviation from normal practice. Whether the simple rites of a wedding or funeral or the divinely mandated elements of the Lord's Supper, we find ourselves under the gun to pick and choose, to adapt and respect the wishes and desires of people. It seems such a little thing to make exception or agree with changes or experiment here and there. Some are certainly of more importance than others. Why would we refuse such earnest requests for exception? In the end, Pr Weedon has it right. We must live from the certainty of His giving.... The point here is to be true to the Word and to our Confessions.
There are those who love to poke fun at the slow pace of change in the Church. How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? Change? Why would we change? Why we love that old light bulb. It has served us well. Let's just wait and see if it may serve us still.
The reality is that Lutheranism has changed and radically so... There was a time when you could walk into any Lutheran congregation on Sunday morning and know what to expect liturgically. The Common Service was the rule, the Galesburg Rule (Lutheran pulpits for Lutheran Pastors and Lutheran altars for Lutheran communicants), and a common hymnody made us thoroughly predictable. No more. There was a time when you could count on Lutherans to have learned the Small Catechism as youth or adults and to continue to look to the catechism as faithful expression of what we believe, teach, and confess. No more. There was a time when you would expect elements used in the Sacrament of the Altar to be uniform, that those elements would be treated with respect for what they are (by the Lord's own word, His body and His blood), and that those who commune would share a common faith and confession. No more. There was a time when you might expect that Lutherans heralded the family -- husband and wife (with their children) endeavoring to live within the framework of forgiveness and grace for as long as they lived. No more.
Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that there was a golden age of Lutheranism or a perfect time for Lutherans or perfect Lutheran people. But there was confidence in the Word, confidence in our Confession, confidence in our catechism, and confidence in the liturgical expression of our commonly held faith. With all the changes, have we grown more confident or less? Are we more sure of the Gospel because it comes in so many flavors (sort of like the elements in the Sacrament of the Altar)? Are we more sure of Scripture because we have read all the scholars? Are we more sure of the order the Lord intended for His creation because of the various forms of family available to us now?
What the good Pastor Weedon is saying specifically about the Sacrament of the Altar, applies in many ways to many different aspects of our beliefs and our life together as Lutheran people. Experimentation has become more the rule than exception. Our tinkering with the faith has led us more to doubt than confidence. In the end we find ourselves drawing the ultimate false conclusion -- that it matters not what you believe or how you practice it but that you are sincere. Again, I am not suggesting that we never change but that faithful change grows from and reflects back to the source. Many of the changes we have seen have only left us more and more distant from the source and adrift on a sea of sincerely held doubt. Not a good thing...