Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A faith without any piety...

Every now and then I get a little fed up with those Lutherans who decry the liturgy, who ridicule fasting and other godly preparations before receiving the Sacrament, complain about any "outward" piety such as ashes, who insist that private confession and absolution is hardly essential, or who insist that church music and worship "style" are purely a personal choices.  They are the adiaphora police who turn on the siren anytime they fear someone might get close to suggesting that there is a practice inherent to the Confessions.  They turn on the red lights anytime good works are mentioned and insist that justification is the most proper subject of preaching and teaching and that sanctification will come if justification is preached.  They wince at a clerical collar and wear vestments uncomfortably as if they had to prove that their hearts are not really in it.  They complain at a mention of chanting or pipe organs as if these impede the cause of the faith or, at best, are expensive and unimportant.  They resist any impulse to art or excellence and act as if beauty is inimical to the Gospel instead of flowing from the Gospel.  They hold to a temporary presence of Christ in the bread and cup -- or a receptionism which avoids any real connection between the Lord and these earthly elements.

In short, these folks refuse any sort of piety whatsoever -- except a mental one.  They would insist that Lutheranism is a faith without a piety and that the reformation war was basically a battle over piety.  They are wrong.  Their constant poo-pooing of a recognizable piety is weakening the Lutheran faith and turning it into an intellectual exercise.  Yet the weird thing is that a lot of these folks read Max Lucado (and all the other evangelical authors), listen to contemporary Christian music radio, and read the generic how to magazines of evangelical Christendom as if these were fully consistent with Lutheran faith and identity.  They refuse every vestige of catholic piety in favor of an evangelical piety slanted to a non-sacramental theology.  I recall one of these folks telling me that they read Harold Senkbeil and wondered what on earth he was talking about.  In the next sentence he was telling me about a great article on youth ministry in the latest issue of Group magazine.

So we are left with a Lutheranism that hums the music of others, that reads generic Christian literature, that prays the prayers of evangelicalism, and that tolerates only reluctantly the sacraments.  In this Lutheranism, we have jettisoned every outward manifestation of our evangelical and catholic heritage and the most profound aspect of our piety is prayer, everyone holding hands in a circle telling God what we "just" want.  I am not trying to make everything I do or think mandatory for Lutheran piety but suggesting that there are legitimate aspects of a Lutheran piety which we should acknowledge and encourage.

  • Lutheran piety is centered in the means of grace (Word and Sacrament).  Lutheran piety realizes and rejoices in the God who comes to us hidden yet accessible in the water of baptism, the living voice of His Word (read, preached, and heard in absolution), and, especially, the heavenly food of His body and blood in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.  These concrete places where God has placed Himself are the anchors of our faith and our life in Christ as the baptized people of God.
  • Lutheran piety flows from the Divine Service on Sunday morning in which we confess and are absolved, where we gather to hear His Word read and preached, and where we receive together the body and blood of Christ... AND Lutheran piety flows back to the Divine Service as source and summit of our faith and life as the baptized people of God.
  • Lutheran piety mandates no outward gestures, practices, or ritual forms but rejoices in the evangelical and catholic heritage and in the privilege of these church usages which, though not demanded, are salutary and consistent with our confession (everything from kneeling to ashes to crossing yourself to the church year to vestments, etc.  We welcome these and use them both in Christian liberty and sober reflection as they show externally the faith spoken on our lips and believed in the heart.
  • Lutheran piety rejoices in the gift of music and receives this privilege from God as it was intended -- primarily as a means of expressing what we believe, confess and teach (saying back to Him what He has first spoken to us).  We honor music as the hand maiden to the Word and we acknowledge that its content is to be a vehicle of the Word and only when it is this servant of the Word can it also include the faithful and joyful response of the Christian.  Lutheran piety is expressed in both an appreciation for the arts in service to the Gospel and for the role of art and beauty as a way of teaching and helping us appreciate what God has given to us in Christ and our faithful response to that gift.
  • Lutheran piety remembers that in baptism we are given the gift of vocation and Lutherans celebrate this worship, witness, prayer, and works of mercy as the high and holy calling of the baptized.  Lutheran piety sees the domain of our service to God as including most prominently our service to our neighbor.  We are mindful that although certain callings are especially noble (church work vocations), the life of the laity is not second class but the very sphere in which the baptized carry forth the works of God to spouse, children, family, friends, neighbor, employer, community, and nation.
  • Lutheran piety rejects every usage of good works as cause or reason for our justification and yet rejoices and confesses that good works flow from faith and are marks of the work of the Spirit within us.  We speak of good works and encourage one another to good works both as part of our common life within the church and our care for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • Lutheran piety refuses every attempt to turn private confession and absolution into a rule to be satisfied and yet rejoices in this gift of God through which the burdens of our hearts are relieved, our place within the community of faith restored, and our lives directed to the fulfillment of that baptismal calling.  Lutheran piety is neither ashamed of nor embarrassed about this godly practice rooted in the words of Jesus and practiced faithfully throughout Christian history (though restored from its abuse during the Reformation).
  • Lutheran piety remembers the distinction between the kingdom of the church and the kingdom of the state yet also remembers that we are members of both and we have responsibilities to both.  We are citizens and Christians not as competing or conflicting identities but as the baptized people of God living in but not of the world, doing His bidding as He has called us within the framework of the relationships we have in both kingdoms.
Now I have only written this off the top of my head (rather square and dull) and yet I think this is a place where we can start to speak of and encourage a Lutheran piety with is both fully authentic and consistent with our Confessions and yet not the imposition of rule or requirement in such way that this excludes the free response and expression of the Christian to the work of the Spirit and the Word of the Lord.  You tell me if I am off base or not...  Feel free to add to this list where you think I have omitted something.  Let the discussion begin!


Paul said...

Growing up LCMS, I was never encouraged to even think about private confession and absolution, let alone partake of the gift at least once a year. My current pastoral practice seeks to remedy that sad situation by offering private confession regularly every Advent and Lent. At least someone might be curious enough to ask the question "Why" is Pastor talking about this?

Anonymous said...

Our Holy Scriptures speak more about
Christian discipleship than Lutheran
piety. The Holy Christian Church
is built on Word and Sacrament.
God's grace forgives the repentant
sinner. Faith in Christ receives
his gifts of forgiveness and eternal
salvation. Martin Luther wanted his
followers to be called Christians
not Lutherans. The Bible is more
important than any man-made book.

Kelly Klages said...

Anon- what are you talking about? Lutherans believe that Lutheran piety *is* Christian piety, that Lutheran discipleship *is* Christian discipleship, that Lutheranism *is* what Christianity teaches. If they didn't, they'd belong to another church and have a different confession of faith. Who is saying that there's some man-made book more important than the Bible? That's quite the red herring.

Terry Maher said...

Two problems:

1) Make piety the focus and goal, and what you get is pietism. Not the kind as in Pietism, but another way of doing the same thing. Call it liturgical pietism; it simply looks to find the feel-goods in works where Pietism does not, but the quest is the same.

2) The "worship wars" landscape is not so cleanly divided as is suggested here. For example, it is not a matter of tabernacles and monstrances or receptionism

Anonymous said...

Terry, "For example, it is not a matter of tabernacles and monstrances or receptionism..." where did Pr Peters even mention these???

Terry Maher said...

"They hold to a temporary presence of Christ in the bread and cup -- or a receptionism which avoids any real connection between the Lord and these earthly elements."

I found that comment typical of the black/white characterisations throughout the post, and chose that rather than any other comment since recently tabernacle reservation of hosts etc has been promoted here as what one does given a real connexion between the Lord and the earthly elements.

Sonst noch etwas?

Pastor Peters said...

I will answer this one, Terry, that is a sacramental piety based upon the Word that keeps its promise and not eating and drinking that effects its presence. I did not even have reservation in mind here but rather contrasted a somewhat Reformed idea of sacramental presence with the Lutheran understanding of the Word that does what it says and bestows what it promises...