Thursday, July 19, 2012
Descriptive.... Not Prescriptive...
The ELCA position affirmed that the historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions recognized marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman. However, they also affirmed that this was not necessarily definitive for a Lutheran jurisdiction looking at the whole question today. In other words, the Lutheran Confessions were descriptive and not prescriptive of Lutheran doctrine and practice. In any case, those with bound consciences to disagree with this judgment were supposedly protected in their disagreement.
Taking a cue from the ELCA, nearly every Lutheran in Missouri practicing some form of contemporary worship, as well as many who use the Hymnal, would say the exact same thing about the witness of the Lutheran Confessions about worship -- they are descriptive and not prescriptive. So, when we claim not to have abolished the Mass or commend church usages (Lutheran speak for ceremonies, rubrics, and the like), the claim is made that these words cannot be forced upon Lutherans today. They were not intended nor can they be used to prescribe what Lutheran teaching and practice is or should be. They were merely descriptive of what Lutherans were doing then (and thanks be to God we are not the same kind of catholics today that they were then!!).
Why, who would have thunk it! The ELCA in official teaching and the LCMS in practice believe pretty much the same thing about the Lutheran Confessions. We can read them as historical documents, as reflections of Lutheran teaching and practice at the time, and they do contain core Christian teaching, but we cannot use them prescriptively to say what Lutherans believe, confess, and teach nor can they norm Lutheran practice on any level.
Hmmmmm... news to the Confessors, I would think! What point is a confession if it merely describes -- like a snapshot of a particular church at a particular time facing a particular circumstance? What ends up happening is that we will view the Confessions as we do old family photos -- laughing at some (the naivete of those people them), teary eyed at others (wasn't that sweet), sad at others (wish we were back there), and oblivious to others (can anyone remember who that was, oh well, doesn't matter)... Either what we confess prescribes who we are and how we live out this confession or it is hardly worth having those Confessions at all -- except for nostalgia sake! When we confess that we keep the Mass more rigorously and zealously than our opponents and when we address church usages in those Confessions, we Lutherans are binding ourselves to a common faith and practice which goes to the heart and core of what it means to be Lutheran. We cannot raise up against others whom we believe to play fast and loose with those Confessions in certain areas and then justify our own decision to ignore or abandon confessional teaching and identity in other areas. When we do this, we are making Missouri out to be the same kind of church body and hold the same kind of confessional subscription as those we love to condemn - namely the ELCA. We have to awaken to the fact that the means used to justify so much of what is going on during Sunday morning in Missouri is in plain and direct opposition to what we say we believe, to what we insist we confess, and to the practices to which we have bound ourselves before the Lord and the world.