Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The law is for the protection of the people. . .

I must admit that I am an unabashed anglophile and consider that Cate Blanchett is the face I see when I think of Elizabeth, the so-called Virgin Queen.  Her portrayals of Elizabeth in both movies rank among the best acting I have ever seen.  Usually sequels are not up to the caliber of the movie they follow but it has been said of The Golden Age that This sequel's a crown not of inferior metal to its original...

There are, of course, may quotes worth quoting from the scripts but one that comes to mind is from the dialogue between Elizabeth and the ever present Walsingham (played brilliantly by Geoffrey Rush).  Walsingham is counseling Elizabeth to sentence Mary Stuart to death for her treason.  Elizabeth is reluctant to do so but even more antagonistic against the idea that she must do anything. 

Elizabeth:  Must? Mary Stuart must die?
Where is it written? Who says so? Have I ordered it?
Walsingham:  Majesty, this is no time for mercy.
Elizabeth: Don't preach at me, old man!
Look at you. You can hardly stand.
Go home to your wife and your bed.
Walsingham: The law must have its way.
Elizabeth: By whose authority do you condemn me?
Walsingham: God is my only judge.
Elizabeth: The law is for common men. Not for princes.
Walsingham: The law, Your Majesty, is for the protection of your people.

Therein is the line so precious.  The law is for the protection of your people...  It is a truth monarchs have often forgotten and to their peril.  It is the one buffer between the whim of a despot and the victimization of the people.  The same can be said of canon law.

Though Lutherans seem to have no canon law, in essence we do.  We have constitutions and by-laws, of course, and structures to offer the opportunity for redress against the arbitrary use of power.  More than this, we have rubrics.  The red letter law of the hymnal, agenda, and altar book.   And finally, we have the Confessions which both prescribe and proscribe what is the boundaries of orthodox confession and orthodox practice.

Sadly we have gone so far afield from our Confessions that they no longer have much direct impact on what is believed, confessed, taught, and practiced locally.  Our people have become ignorant of their confessions, except, perhaps, for the Small Catechism, but even this is less known among us than the pronouncements of the popular evangelical authors.  Every now and then there is an unpopular figure like a Walsingham who pleads against the arbitrary rule of either pew or pulpit and begs the church to restore to its proper place rubric and confession.  But just as Elizabeth had few voices like Walsingham, so Lutherans suffer from too few who will agitate for the unpopular of what is both our confession and our practice.

Our people have come to bristle at these rubrics and confessions as if they were monarchical and alien to  both our freedom and our popular identity.  Pastors have come to resist them when they limit pastoral discretion and when they conflict with the personal presumptions of the Pastor.  So the practical outcome of our ignorance of these types of canon law is that Sunday morning has become the domain of pastoral prerogative, the personal preference of the local people, or the tool of a larger purpose and goal (winning souls for Jesus).  The criteria of success is no longer faithfulness but success -- success in its most raw and earthy dimension of numbers.

We have forgotten.  The law is for the protection of your people...  Rubrics are for the protection of the people against innovation and practice in conflict with what we believe.  Confessions prescribe and proscribe to protect the people against the loss of the very Gospel itself.  Instead of running to them and demanding that the Mass be observed with every diligence and piety, instead of insisting that the church usages, ceremonies, and rituals of the church catholic be retained, instead of paying attention to the why and what of our practice, we have gotten the screwy idea that these are burdens upon us.  It is to our great shame that we find rubric and confession to be an ill fitting straight jacket instead of the comfortable clothing of our Lutheran identity.  We are not liturgical Methodists or sacramental Presbyterians or formal evangelicals or Roman style Catholics without a Pope.  We are Lutherans by intention and design.  We believe that our Lutheran confessional identity is Scriptural, catholic, and evangelical in the very best senses of those terms.

It is a sign of how far we have strayed that these rubrics and Confessions are now seen as excess baggage summarily dismissed with terms like high church or low church.  It was not so when Lutherans fought for the cause of the Gospel in the beginning and it is no less a fight today, though the battle lines are not nearly the same as in the sixteenth century.  When we are no longer comfortable with the Divine Service and its incumbent ceremonial as was Luther of old or Chemnitz after him or which Bach led from the organ bench, we are no longer comfortable with what it means to be Lutheran.  Period.

Though some are quick to point fingers at those who have added ceremony or practice not required by rubric or explicitly expressed in the Confessions, it is not the same to add as it is to subtract.  It is one thing to add something and quite another to take away that which is the pattern of the church's praise and thanksgiving.  It is one thing to add to the minimum but quite another to subtract from that which is the face of what we believe, confess, and teach.  I find it disingenuous when people complain about something added (the consecration bell, a passage of Scripture after the absolution, a Eucharistic Prayer from one of the previous worship books of our church body) and treat these as the same pastoral sin as abandoning the church's liturgy and hymnoday in toto.

We must come again to the point in which rubric and confession become the protection of the people against the loss of our Lutheran identity on Sunday morning, against the arbitrary rule of Pastor or culture over practices and ceremonies no longer comfortable with our culture, and against the loss of what is confessed from what is practiced (lex orandi lex credendi).

Walsingham was right.  Would that we might rekindle the wisdom of his words and stand.


Dr.D said...

our national CEO (I hesitate to call him president) needs to hear, and take to heart these wise words from Elizabeth I.

It seems to me that Elizabeth II could also afford to hear these words. While does not legislate, she has blithely given the royal assent to all sorts of ungodly laws in the UK. She should have long ago found the moral strength to oppose many of these immoral and unchristian laws.

Janis Williams said...

We came through the Reformed camp on the way to Lutheranism.

Being familiar with what the Reformed are wont to call the Regulative Principle, it seems the crypto Calvinists are still hanging on. If there are those who are against adding a prayer, a bell, or (heaven forbid?) a scripture to the Divine Service, doesn't that sound a little like RP?

I know they likely would not call it or consider themselves Reformed. I know their reasoning is "relevance." However, sometimes there are faint echoes in our practice of what was theology in the past. Even the emergents will hang onto "bells and smells" though they are devoid of original meaning or purpose.

Additon can be a detriment, but how detrimental is the addition of rock-n-roll that doesn't improve worship (and only makes rock worse)?

There, that ought to get some irritated comments...