Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How did we get to this point?

Growing up in a German Lutheran congregation in Northeast Nebraska in the 1950s and 1960s, it was obvious that these folks loved order.  Whether this was due to the German or the Lutheran part of their origins, I did not know.  What I did know is that anarchy and chaos are antithetical to the minds and hearts of these people.  Order and routine were not only comforting but highly prized, even virtuous.

Our Pastors seemed to have had little marks on the flood of the chancel since they all seemed to move alike and stand in the same places at the same points in the liturgy.  Women were not allowed in the chancel and the elders set up for Holy Communion (so it was only 4x a year at first a later 12x). 

We were not allowed to leave our pew after the benediction -- not until we were given the go ahead by an usher.  The very slight nod of the head let us know it was time to leave and the line was moving orderly through the door.  The cry room was not so much a place to take a crying child as it was the place to take an unruly child to make him or her cry.  I know this from personal experience.

Families did not sit willy nilly but seemed to own or claim specific pews and they did not venture far from their routine seating order.  Visitors seemed to know this instinctively and they generally saw in the front pews where no self-respecting member would sit.

Until my senior year in high school, hymnals were brought from home.  A memorial for a great aunt left us not only with red (a little flashy compared to the blue but not necessarily gaudy, either) hymnals but pew racks fashioned especially to fit the curved wooden pew backs.

I admit to being an abject failure as an usher.  A couple of times at bat proved that I had not sufficiently studied and memorized the movements of the experienced ushers or was not observant enough to have noticed the routine.  There was no apprenticeship and so I washed up and out.  But, I did not really see myself as an usher, anyway.

Now, you might be wondering, what is the point of all this rambling, meandering excursus.  My point is this.  How did such a church with an intuitive sense for and love of order degenerate into a conglomeration of Pastors and parishes each doing their own thing and jealously guarding their freedom and independence to do what is right in their own eyes? I just do not get it.

Order was the first of Missouri's crises upon making it to the American shore.  I understand the desire for church order that would create a churchly kaiser like Stephan to carry them from their fatherland across the ocean to their new home.  I understand how some thought absent the bishop that they were not a church but anarchists who maybe should just get back on that boat and head home again.  What I cannot understand is how these German Lutherans crafted a democratic structure for a church body which they left only advisory and which cannot make or enforce any rules.  But that seems to be where it all ended.  And so we argue at each other through blogs and and online forums over issues that will not be resolved because neither side can legislate an answer.

History shows us the order behind the Lutherans.  Their regional jurisdictions involved little democracy but plenty of supervision and oversight.  In Germany the bishop was replaced by the superintendent -- hardly a term of endearment to folks who like to make up their own rules and go their own way.  Luther sided with the nobles in the peasant revolt (mostly out of the need for order and authority) and it was the excess of his most zealous followers that cause him to don the dress of the knight and ride in on a horse to end the looting, destruction, and vandalism of statue, stained glass, and sacred vessels.  But not today.

Today if you suggest to the Lutheran preacher that he use the lectionary you are called a communist.  If you suggest that one of the liturgical forms approved for the Divine Service be used, you care called a fascist.  It is as if we have turned the page and discovered that the Spirit no longer inhabits the old orders.

Now don't get me wrong.  I am not the liturgical police and I do not advocate a liturgical gestapo to inform on, judge, and convict offenders.  I am not in favor of abandoning pastoral discretion.  I do not believe in cloning.  All I really want is for Lutherans to talk like Lutherans, to sing like Lutherans, to act like Lutherans, and to look like Lutherans -- at least on Sunday morning.  We have had enough diversity in our past to satisfy us for a long time to come.  We do not need to push the boundaries out any further or we risk having no liturgical identity at all.

Why, even Franz Pieper sported a bow tie and a stray hat when 801 DeMun was dedicated in 1926.  Yet at the same time you cannot tell me that Pieper did not value a little order.  We do not all have to wear the same black suit and collar but we can surely limit ourselves to those liturgical forms and hymnals which our church body has commended -- at least a base or starting point.

I grow weary of those who insist upon recapturing some golden age of Lutheran theology and practice.  They give us liturgical folk a bad name.  But I am also weary of "the Pointes" and "the Alleys" who flaunt their freedom by trashing their Lutheran heritage and the moniker into merely a vague principle instead of a specific confession and practice.*

Like the solid Midwesterner I am, I look at my church body like I look at Washington, DC, and wonder -- what ever happened to common sense?  To our identity as a community, Synod, or nation?  To the common courtesy and politeness and respect for good order?

I suspect that our lack of order is as much a reason for our troubles as a Synod as anything.  All those jokes about rigid, staid, and stuffy Lutherans were funny when there might have been a semblance of truth to them.  We have long since buried that stereotype under a mountain of change.  We have Lutherans all over the theological and liturgical spectrum and it is getting harder and harder to know what it means to be Lutheran.

We act as if some degree of uniformity would kill us and kill the Church.  But then we love Wal-Mart because wherever you go, the stuff on the shelves is the same and the shelves are in the same places in the different stores.  We lament the chain mentality that has become American retail and food marketing yet we expect a Big Mac to be the same at every McDonalds and the pasta at Olive Garden to be predictable.  So then, why do our folks have to wonder when they see the sign "Lutheran" and the familiar maroon cross logo -- "I wonder what I am going to find inside?"  You should be able to predict something of what you might find there and what the Divine Service might look like.

Okay.  End of rant.  My apologies to those I have offended.  A little Lutheran medication and I just might make it through the night and things may be better tomorrow.  The good thing about tomorrow, it never comes!  Stay tuned for more....


Janis Williams said...

Using the lectionary does not make one a fascist; you are correct. I really wish people would learn what fascism really is. The Nazis were only a form of it. It is far more subtle, far more dangerous than people imagine.

Calling someone a fascist because they don't agree with you politically (or any in any other item) does not make one a fascist. As the old saw goes, "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it."

Sorry, a rant in response to a rant. Thank you, Fr. Peters for being a ranting, raving Lutheran!

Anonymous said...

It is possible for the LCMS to have
unity without uniformity. Every
parish I know is using the 3 year
lectionary, but there are some who
use the l year lectionary. Some
parishes receive the Eucharist every
week, and some every other week.
Some use the ESV as their pew Bible
and others use NIV (1985 edition).
Some pastors wear alb and stole,
others prefer the chasuble. Most
parishes use the LSB for weekly

The point is these parishes are
still LCMS and are UNITED in their
adherence to our Lutheran
Confessions and Christ-centered
approach to Scripture. They simply
are not completely UNIFORM in their
choices for Sunday morning worship.

Terry Maher said...

I am not one of those offended. I share those concerns. I share all the concerns expressed here. My comments come from what I think are things overlooked by many of the people who share the same concerns I do, not from disagreement on the concerns. Here, two points.

One: The situation to-day is in no way derivative of a "congregational polity" or the result of the actions of Walther et al. If it were, the situation to-day would have been manifest long before, and you would have grown up in a church much like now instead of the one you did. Moreover, a church much like now is exactly what existed BEFORE Walther and for which they founded LCMS as it is to correct. If we ourselves have that situation now, it is not because of Walther but because of we have departed from Walther.

Two: There is no bigger source of the situation to-day that what Synod HAS approved, not the lack of any ability to approve. Specifically, we ignore that the "battle for the Bible" that was the focus of Seminex etc and the "battle for the liturgy" now are related, and not just in LCMS but in the movements across denoms from which they come, and are two fronts of the same war, one in the classroom and one in the chancel, lex orandi lex credendi from the dark side. A professor reaches a few, a pastor reaches many.

We no longer have "the" lectionary, "the" calendar, "the Divine Service", usw but rather followed the ecclesiastical spirit of the age in the "liturgical movement" to replace the singular with a pastiche from various times and places to be done within an approved range. Once that spirit is adopted, the cause is lost -- the debate will only be what is or is not permissible within the approved range, if this then why not that, all of them claiming that they do not upset unity but only uniformity.

Just like in the other front, where the claim was it is not new but only a new expression suited to our times of the one faith which endures.

The spirit of the age can afford to lose the battle in the classroom. Lex orandi lex credendi.

Anonymous said...

It's the doctrine, not the practice. Where there is unity of doctrine, practice will follow. The doctrinal divisions fracture the LCMS. You are barking up the wrong tree. Where the Lutheran Confessions are a paper tiger, this is the result. There is no doctrinal discipline in the LCMS and the DP's are the worst offenders. It's time for our elected leaders to take action against the offenders.

Paul said...

Apparently the self-respecting members still haven't got the word that it's OK to sit up front:)

Terry Maher said...

It's the same tree. That's my point.

Change the practice, the doctrine will follow. That is precisely why the liturgical "reform" was more essential to the "reformers" than the shake out in any given seminary or university re doctrine.

LCMS is behind the curve in this progression (a good thing). But the progression is identical across denoms.

Anonymous said...

Anon #2...All of LCMS pastors have
been certified by either Ft. Wayne
or St. Louis Seminary for their
ordination into pastoral ministry.

This means they are doctrinally
qualified to be LCMS pastors. If they
are teaching false doctrine, then
the seminaries did not do their job
in weeding them out. District
Presidents were never intended to
be the ones who form the pastors into qualified candidates for

Pastor Peters said...

Quote from Terry: If it were, the situation to-day would have been manifest long before, and you would have grown up in a church much like now instead of the one you did.

Well, I am not so sure. Part of the reason the LCMS was able to remain so homogenous is that until more recent times, Pastors grew up in parsonages or teacherages and the clergy shared the same uniform educational system that was much more than Seminary alone. In addition, they married into other clergy families. I know this sounds sort like shopping for a bride at a family reunion, but the clergy of Missouri (up to WWII) was powerfully and familially connected. This was a powerful contributing force for unity of confession and practice. When Missouri left the ethnic ghetto and embraced American society, things began to change and this is largely traced to about WWII. Today the numbers of sons of Pastors who become Pastors is drastically reduced and we know these men only for the short time they are at Seminary (as opposed to the 8-12 years of Synodical schooling when I became a Pastor), You cannot discount or overlook this powerful ally of uniformity of confession and practice. It also speaks a bit to the anonymous commenter above.

Boaz said...

If folks really got the confessions, they'd be tripping over themselves to offer to sacrifice their preferred worship styles for the sake of unity and confession rather than playing the weaker brother card, adopting decision-theology based arguments to make worship appeal to our base culture, or incorporate Roman views onthe authority of tradition and practice into confessions, all abusing the central idea of Christian freedom.

Lutherans do not have a required practice, we have a doctrine of practice. Teach the gospel. Administer the sacraments. Do it in a way that avoids fighting and offense, and preserves unity, as much as that is possible on this side of the judgment. I like DSIII, but not enough to watch the church split over this cowo liturgy vs historic liturgy.

I'd say, put a cowo order in the next hymnal, in return, we agree to weekly communion, fellowship communion, and to use lcms materials for confirmation, Sunday school, or bible study in lcms churches. Crap like Beth Moore, or rob bell, or not using small catechism, etc is far more dangerous to faith than omitting the Gloria and agnus dei.

I'm impressed at the rate Pr. peters can keep churning out these rants and PE keeps finding new and interesting ways to respond.

Anonymous said...

The Synodical "System" of training
pastors was buried when they closed
Concordia Senior College at the
Anaheim Convention in 1975. The
trust factor was gone among clergy
and the Synod became divided.

Pastors no longer encouraged their
sons to study for the ministry to
the same degree that previous
generations did. We now have men
entering our seminaries with no
degrees from LCMS colleges.
With no pre-sem training it is
difficult to train any theologians.
Basically, we are turning clergy
with a functional view of ministry.

Anonymous said...

So who enforces the doctrine and practice? Who supervises the pastors in their doctrine and practice? Is anybody in charge, other than the seminaries? Do pastors admonish and discipline one another according to Scripture and the Confessions? If pastors don't have integrity, nothing else matter. What a mess we have in the LCMS with such schismatic and false teachings leading to shoddy practice as everyone does what is right in his own eyes.

Terry Maher said...

Well PP, "Missouri" was famous for the clerical culture you mention in your comment, and for that matter for the general culture you mention in the post itself, well outside LCMS itself.

And its effect was not a good one, I can tell you as one well outside LCMS growing up though it was all around me in MN. Clergy and congregation alike in LCMS were generally perceived outside LCMS as a closed club, enter at your own risk and be prepared to feel totally ill at ease when there. I've actually known lCMS Lutherans to go to other Lutheran or to non Lutheran bodies when they themselves encountered the same thing moving to a new parish as any outsider.

For as much as such a culture may have led to a unity of sorts, I submit it also led to the speed and force with which the Ablaze! thing took hold as well as movements that make Ablaze! look conservative.

Nor is cultural homogeneity necessary to unity or the appearance thereof. In my own background, a "downtown" RC parish serving also a downtown medical centre with patients from around the world, one found one or two of everything. At home there may be a different language spoken and food served etc at parish functions, but at the altar is was the same, whether you were from anywhere in the world or anywhere in the world yourself.

That was a good thing, we were told. The language in which Christ was sentenced to die, Latin, itself now expresses the triumph of the Resurrection as the Eucharist is celebrated in it worldwide in every circumstance from great to humble.

All gone now.

So I think the "how did we get to this point" question in any denomination is not ultimately a cultural change effect but has it fons et origo in precisely the operation of lex orandi lex credendi from the dark side. Which is why those who wanted a change in the lex credendi sure as hell went after a change in the lex orandi. Which is also why the nova lex orandi will never fit the traditional lex credendi any more than CoWo.

Pastor Peters said...

Terry... aside from the good educational foundation and the experience of the prospective clergy for 8-12 years prior to ordination, I am not suggesting that the culture of Missouri prior to 1950 was necessarily good. I was merely suggesting that this did have a powerful influence upon homogeneity of doctrine and practice. Of course, the explosion in numbers (gain of 1 million in a few decades) contributed to the break down of old barriers -- not to mention Lutherans beginning to think that their tired old ways needed refreshing from outside (theology and practice)...

Anonymous said...

Regarding the use of ad hominems,
i.e., "fascist," "nazi",when people resort to such in a discussion, they have already lost the argument. It's wise to just turn away from such and/or change the subject.

William Weedon said...

A fact that is so often ignored is that the men who penned FC X, that charter of Christian liberty, also penned - at the same time - Church Orders that had the binding force of law on their respective territories, and Chemnitz, at least, as superintendent, not only composed the Church Order, but regularly visited (more than once a year) and inquired into how it was being taught and practiced. See the latest Gottesdiesnt Online for a bit of a discussion of that.

Terry, speaking of those Church Orders, I'd point out that they commonly had two separate orders - one for the City churches and one for the village churches. There wasn't "one" order of Mass. The distinction between the two pretty much ran down the line of whether or not a choir could be counted on to fulfill the choral parts (the idea that all the people should sing all the liturgy hadn't dawned yet).

Terry Maher said...

Well PP, I agree that the former cultural homogeneity was an huge factor in homogeneity in doctrine and practice. I am saying it was not the only one, and more importantly that the loss of the latter is not attributable to the loss of the former. Lifer Lutherans from the former are often those leading the charge to dump the latter.

Nor, PW, am I arguing for a single service, though the Common Service worked well in this regard, one structure in which such degrees of ceremony encompassing those with greater or lesser resources could be accomodated. And the "city" and "rural" orders are not all the different, let alone pastiches drawn from scholars who like to poke around in this stuff, but rather with the aim of considering the abilities of various places.

William Weedon said...

What I find of interest about the city and the country stuff is that now quite frequently it is reversed: the greater musical resources for the offering of the fullest service tend to be found more in the country; less in the city. Though, of course, there are huge exceptions.