Friday, June 21, 2013

Semper Idem (Always the Same)

It has become fashionable to reinvent ourselves.  We look in the mirror and attempt to remake us into a new person and leave behind the old person we do not like.  We look at our lives and decide that we need to remake our lives -- especially when reaching a magic age that seems to kindle such desires for newness and change.  We grow tired of our things and buy new ones in an attempt to make new what has become ordinary, routine, and predictable.  We elect people to bring change and make new what has become old and unworkable.  Yet at the very same time we retreat to that which is familiar when trouble, trial, adversity, or tragedy strikes.  We are funny people -- caught up in our quest for that which is ever new and our love for that which is familiar.

So often the Church gets caught up in this same tension and tilts in one direction or another.  The 1970s were certainly the time of things new and experimental and the result was that the Church that people new was replaced with one that they did not know.  It may have satisfied the desires for things new but then that has never been the real attraction of the Church in the world.  In masking our continuity with the past, we lost the voice that has echoed through the ages and that which made the Church the place and the means of comfort in time of change and chance.  This is no more profoundly revealed than in the way the liturgy was made new -- so new, in fact, that people had to look around and make sure that they were actually in the Church.  For Rome and for Lutherans this abrupt change was not without its impact upon the people in the pews as well as those who fall away and come home again from time to time.

Semper Idem (always the same) is a Latin phrase, motto perhaps, that well expresses one of the chief characteristics of the faith, the Church, and the liturgy.  It is not that change does not take place or should not take place.  It is that this change is incremental.  It is a slow evolution and not a radical departure.  When we forget this, we run the risk of becoming, as Dean Inge once said, a widow in the next generation.  Marrying the spirit of this or attempting to see through the crystal ball to wed the spirit of the next age has always been our great temptation and our great weakness.  We have certainly abused a ton of Scriptural texts in our justification for the new song, new approach, new paradigm, and new way we believe will save us from our failings in the past and the danger of our irrelevance in the future.  But Scripture has never not been abused by those who proof text it to support their own predetermined conclusion.

It seems to me that the genius of the Church has been its slowness to change -- precisely at those moments when change is rapidly occurring all around her and voices are clamoring for the Church to jump on the train or be left at the station.  In art and architecture, in music and liturgy, in theology and practice, we remain the Church of yesterday.  Not as those who wish to repristinate what was but as those who know that as Jesus Christ is yesterday, today, and tomorrow the same, so must the Church never distance herself from the familiar resemblance to Him who changes not.  For what is our demise is not the judgment of the world or those outside that we are not current enough.  No, what is our demise is when we no longer are found to have faithfully kept the Gospel and practice that Christ has charge us to keep, whole and undefiled by sinful and unclean people.  What mystery and what majesty that the God who remains forever the same is the same Lord whom we know as the merciful Savior who has redeemed His people with His own precious blood!

Semper Idem is hardly the worst thing that could be said of the Church, her doctrine, and her liturgy.   It might even be the best. 

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

Truth is always true. It is always consistent. It is the same. A good reason for the Church to be semper idem.