Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wise Words from Richard John Neuhaus

Father Neuhaus was fond of saying that the solution to our crises in the Church is fidelity, fidelity, fidelity!  Such was a line from a sermon on the 20th anniversary of Neuhaus ordination as a priest of the Roman Catholic Church.  In truth, however, that line predated his move to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome.  It was Neuhaus' perspective with respect to the liturgy and worship and it was his attitude toward the Lutheran Symbols (Confessional documents).  Even acknowledging his drift from Missouri to ELCA to Rome, one can also appreciate his shift in thinking in which fidelity became more prominent and, to quote some of his critics, with it a move to the right.

Neuhaus was hardly labeled a traditionalist in Missouri, became one in the ELCA, and spent his two decade life in the Roman Catholic Church well established on the traditionalist side.  Interesting... where will fidelity lead you if you...

I knew Neuhaus somewhat.  He worshiped in the pews in my parish in New York state several times.  I found him to be gracious and welcoming to me, then a fresh face from the Seminary still trying to find his pastoral wings, so to speak.  But this post is not about him.  It is about his words.  The solution to our crises in the Church is fidelity...  These are words which Lutheran ears need to hear.

In comments to other posts on this blog, we find ongoing discussions about the loss of membership, about the fear of being the Lutherans we confess we are, about the struggles of unity both in terms of faith and practice, about the peeling off of new church bodies from the ELCA, etc...  I suggest that Neuhaus' words need to be heard now as much as they ever did.  The solution to our crises is fidelity.  We cannot be successful in being something other than who we are.

Almost a year ago President Matthew Harrison began the Witness, Mercy, Life Together emphasis by saying something like in order to become who we are, we must know who we are.  I believe he also said that in order to become better, we must first be who we are...  It is as if he were borrowing a theme from Neuhaus.  The solution to our crises is fidelity.

Lord knows, we have tried other things.  The American Lutheran experiment is filled with stories of Lutherans ashamed, embarrassed, or no longer confident of who they were or are.  We have borrowed hymns from the Methodists until our own Lutheran chorales are strangers to us.  We have borrowed worship forms and music from the non-denominational contemporary Christian music gurus until we no longer look like Lutherans on Sunday morning.  We have borrowed evangelism methods from split off Presbyterians until we are more comfortable with the Kennedy questions than the ones from the Small Catechism.  We have borrowed church growth models from Fuller and its adherents to the point that we think strategies make the Church grow instead of the means of grace.  We have sought to transform our stagnant congregations by borrowing from those who make everything expendable except growth and pay lip service to our Confessions in the process.  We have traded in the great music of Bach, Brahms, Pachelbel, Buxtehude, Walther and so many others for praise bands playing the sound of the top hits of the 90s.  We have borrowed church administrative structures from business models and prefer democratic terms like President to good Biblical terms like Bishop and govern the church more by poll than principle.

It seems that what we have not really tried is just being who we are.  Today I echo the solution to our crises offered by Richard John Neuhaus, former son of Missouri.  Our solution to the crises facing the Church is fidelity, fidelity, fidelity.


Paul said...

How is it that the US Marines understand this (apparently) better than some Christians? Semper Fi!

Anonymous said...

Richard John Neuhaus emphasized the
faithfulness of God in his book,
"Freedom For Ministry". According
to 2Tim.2 "Even when we are faithless
God remains faithful."

Neuhaus was aware of human infidelity
but placed his hope in God's fidelity
to us. Human fidelity is always
trumped by God's fidelity.

Terry Maher said...

So a guy goes from LCMS to a Lutheran In Name Only church to the Whore of Babylon and has wise words about fidelity.

Oh right, it's about the words. Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while. Others say the same about Rick Warren, Joel Osteen,etc.

boaz said...

Hilarious. You find a Roman convert to quote about being Lutheran.

The thing about Lutherans is that its key distinguishing mark is passive righteousness, reception of word and sacrament., justification, Gospel. That's what it looks like. Neauhaus understood that and rejected it. He wanted tradition, human authority, works. He was a fool.

Anonymous said...

RJ Neuhaus left the LCMS over the
Preus purge of the St.Louis Sem
faculty. It was extreme legalism to
Neuhaus. He left the ELCA over
their approval of abortion and gay
clergy. It was antinomianism to him.
He joined the Roman Catholic Church
because he wanted the authority of
the Pope on abortion and gay issues.
He also felt he was making a statement as an evangelical catholic.

Anonymous said...

Gosh you people are hard and cynical - nary a half full glass kind of person among the critics here! Neuhaus was Lutheran most of his life and he did not consider his journey to Rome a repudiation of his past. He thought his words about faithfulness had fallen on deaf ears in Missouri and ELCA and perhaps he was right. Missouri was sounding and acting like a semi-liturgical fundamentalist sect about the time he left and ELCA was a momentary stop at a mainline denomination heading for empty glory. In the end Rome offered him what he thought both Missouri and ELCA were ditching - faithfulness to an evangelical catholic ideal first found in the Lutheran Confessions. You can disagree with him all you want but to dismiss him in the way some of you have done is just plain foolish.

Anonymous said...

Recalling the Church to her core of faithfulness, I believe, is the thrust of the original post-a good and necessary one considering the state of affairs today. How does that get translated into an invitation to rake a fellow brother in Christ over the proverbial coals?! No wonder the world seeks solace elsewhere...