Sunday, November 3, 2013

Prooftexting our way to minimalism...

Colossians 2:16-23 (ESV) Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

The practice of proof texting works like this. You have something you want to say and then you do a concordance search of Scripture passages to back up the opinion you have already formed. It is a terrible way to do theology. It is a terrible way to decide what belongs in worship.
The context of this quote is often lost upon those who would turn this passage into a principle of worship. In other words, less is more and no one should judge you for not following the lectionary or wearing vestments or using the liturgy or abandoning catholic ceremonies and church usages... What matters is faith alone and everything else is just window dressing. Does the passage not say that this is all debate over shadows -- things that belong to the fringe but not the substance of the faith and of worship? But is that what Paul is saying?
Never mind that the context infers that this was a Colossian problem, Judaizers who were holding Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians to the rigid expectation of the ceremonial and moral law of the Jews. Never mind that Jesus' complain was not what was done in the Temple and synagogue but rather how it was done (without faith in the heart). Never mind that Jesus never once in word or practice suggested that the worship of the Temple or synagogue was less important or not important. Never mind that no one else in the New Testament has ever pitted external act against faith but rather lauded the faith that shows itself in the piety of worship and prayer, service and good works.
The whole point in bringing this up is how easy it is to use a proof text to justify a predisposed opinion. The one I am addressing is the idea that ceremony clutters up, distracts from, and is inherently antagonistic toward the true worship of Spirit, truth, and faith. For Lutherans this often translates into the idea that, yes, we are liturgical, but we are not too liturgical... yes, we follow the liturgy on Sunday morning but we interpret the rubrics to minimize the ceremonial of the (dare I say it) mass... yes, we wear vestments but we don't like them... yes, we follow the church year but that does not necessarily inform the preaching or the hymnody we choose... yes, we are formal but so casual about our formality that most anything goes (from coffee sipped through the service to the choice of whether you want to stand, sit, kneel, sing, chant, speak, pray or follow along -- or NOT...
Minimalism is a constant threat to the Church of the Augsburg Confession -- minimal catechesis, minimalistic worship practices, minimum of what needs to be believed to commune, minimum of what needs to be agreed upon to practice fellowship, etc... Some insist that Lutheranism is more in danger from those who insist that the Lutheran denial of abolishing the Mass is more than a perfunctory claim than it is from those who are ready to give up and give in on any liturgical identity to our Lutheran Confessions.
It is unmistakable that those who do not know us will believe we are catholic when they see what happens on Sunday morning. That is not because we have too many ceremonies but because that is how Lutheran looks in practice, how our Confessions define what takes place on Sunday morning, and the principle by which we approach "externals". The Lutheran course was not to empty the Mass of everything external and anything that might be declared "catholic" but rather to restore what was missing in Rome -- the sacramental direction of the entire action, the faith of the heart that acts out in an external way what we believe and confess, and the full measure of our participation in this mystery of Christ among us (eating and drinking and not merely watching).
In the end St. Paul is no friend of those who wanted to transform the worship of the Church so it looked less formal, less ceremonial, and more in common with the culture around us. No, St. Paul insists that freedom always expresses itself for and not against. St. Paul would find no comfort on Sunday morning where personal preference is the defining feature and where a minimalistic spirit ruled the day. He challenged those who insisted upon the performance of ritual and ceremony in place of faith and not those whose faith moved them to action, to duty, to reverence, and to awe in the Divine Service.

Lutherans have got to stop proof texting our way into non-denominationalism on Sunday morning, acting as if not abandoning the Mass does not necessarily mean we keep it either. This is doing nothing but confusing the people who watch us. If we say it is the body of Christ, how does that shape what we do and how we respond to Christ's presence? If we say the Word of the Lord is not only true but efficacious, then how does that shape what we do and how we respond to that Word? If we say baptism now saves us, then how does that shape what we do and how we respond to the baptismal encounter? Proof texting our justification for looking and acting like Methodists or Baptists or the non-denominational mega church down the road has not helped us one bit. In fact, the lie has deceived us about who we are and what we do for so long, the reverential worship of faith expressed in ceremony and ritual that confesses Christ actually makes us uncomfortable. No amount of Bible passages chosen to justify our predisposition against being who we are will fix this error. Only repentance. Only faith. Only honesty of confession and practice. Period.


Dr.D said...

When you go to see someone of great importance, you dress and act differently than you do when simply lounging around the house by yourself. How you dress and act reflects the importance of (1) the person you are meeting, and (2) the business that you have with that person.

Suppose you decide to go to court to fight a traffic ticket. Do you go, wearing cutoff jeans, a sloppy sweat shirt, and slouching your way into the chamber? Some do exactly this, and they usually loose their cases. If you want to win your case, you dress your best, act alert and respectfully, and try to make a good impression on all around you. This will not enable you to win if you have no case, but it will certainly get you further than looking like a slob.

Or suppose you go to a job interview. Do you go to the interview, looking like you have just returned from a two-week camping trip in the wilderness? You qualifications for the job presumably were not diminished during such a camping trip, but your unkempt appearance will not help you secure the position.

How can anyone be so self-possessed and casual as to sip coffee and slouch in the seat when meeting with Almighty God? How can we say that we want the music that please us, that talks about our likes, rather than what pleases and praises God? Whether we accept it or not, God is truly present when two or three of true faith gather.

In the Old Testament, God laid down rather explicitly just how He wanted to be worshipped. He spelled out the surroundings (first the Tabernacle, then the Temple), and He spelled out the acts of worship. We are not bound by OT ceremonial Law, but we should certainly be guided by it.

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest

David Gray said...

Dr. D is right. If you'll wear a tie to meet the President but not when you worship the King of Kings you've got something wrong. And if you won't wear a tie to meet the President you have a different problem. Broadly speaking.

Janis Williams said...

Along with what the two gentlemen have said, one other thought:

Lutherans believe that we meet with the eternal God in the Divine Service. We also believe we are there to receive God's gifts, not offer Him our paltry, moth-eaten "worship." The minimalist worship we see in the non-denominational and mega churches is more about self-worship.

Let's be honest. We've coveted God's chair since Adam and Eve fell. We will always put ourselves (read: personal preferences in worship-style) above the true worship in Spirit and Truth Jesus said would be His.

Timothy C. Schenks said...


Our entire synodical explanations to the Small Catechism is "proof-texting."

Pastor Peters said...

I have always found it interesting that Luther's catechism had no such passages while the catechism editions that followed added additional questions and answers as well as the Scriptures under each point. In defense of those who added them, it could be said that the American experience required us to show the original sources, the Scriptures, who reveal such answers. But it does sound a lot like proof texting even though I think that proof texting the catholic position is far different than proof texting your way out of it...

Timothy C. Schenks said...
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Timothy C. Schenks said...
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Timothy C. Schenks said...

I have read an account by an early student of Concordia Seminary that the Dietrich Catechismus which eventually became the "Explanations" in the 1941 Missouri Synod Small Catechism was primarily used for teaching seminarians. This was when no one had a Book of Concord and pastors only went into the field with a Small Catechism w/ Explanations, a Luther Bibel, a Hebrew OT, a Greek NT, and a Hebrew-to-English and Greek-to-English dictionary.