Monday, March 24, 2014

Unreformable. . . Or not. . .

It has not been without interest on my part that some with the Roman Catholic Church have wondered about the progress the "reform of the reform" that began under Benedict XVI.  As a few have observed, Benedict XVI deservedly has been called the Father of the New Liturgical Movement and its critical reappraisal of the documents and practices that we tend to lump together under the heading of Vatican II.  Certainly Benedict's practice as well as his writings have reflected a vastly different path from the radical disconnect of the past.  Whether his liturgical hermeneutic of continuity will live on remains an open question both with the concern over Francis' commitment to and and agreement to what Benedict began and the entrenched nature of the poor liturgical practices of the post-Vatican II period.

Many have come to agree that Whatever else might be said of the reformed liturgy—its pastoral benefits, its legitimacy, its rootedness in theological ressourcement, its hegemonic status, etc.—the fact remains: it does not represent an organic development of the liturgy which Vatican II (and, four centuries earlier, the Council of Trent) inherited.  What some are also coming to conclude is that the reform of the reform may also be impossible.  The tide of those who believe the ‘reform of the reform’ is not realizable because the material discontinuity between the two forms of the Roman rite presently in use is much broader and much deeper than . . .imagined.  With this may well come a new reform which requires abandoning the Paul VI radical reform and the development of a reform which represents both continuity with and deference to the pre-Vatican II liturgy (1962 Missal) that is simply not possible with the rites promulgated by Paul VI.

You can read more here. . . and also here. . .  Both authors seem to have come to this lamentable conclusion with a great deal of sadness.  Both recognize that something more than the reform of the reform is a much larger proposition than the repair of an existing rite and its abuses.  Where this will go is unknown to me.  It is of interest to me but I have no real stake in it.  However, it has made me wonder about some of the folks I know who have given up on Lutheranism and those who are pessimistic about the ability of Lutherans to reclaim their confessional, liturgical, and doctrinal heritage.  Can we reform the reforms or has it gone too far already?

It seems the that first step to leaving Lutheranism is the lament that the Lutheranism of today is too far removed from its Confessions to reclaim its once vigorous orthodoxy and liturgical integrity.  I will admit that I wonder this sometimes.  There are always moments when it seems like a losing battle to hold for a dogmatic orthodoxy and a liturgical recovery when so much is at stake and there are so many who seem both unaware of the issues at stake and unwilling to change their practices to be consistent with those Confessions.  However, we have reason to hope that the reform of the reform in Missouri has more chance of succeeding than not.

Only a month or so ago the LCMS remembered the 40th anniversary of the Seminary community leaving the campus of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and entering a self-imposed exile complete with the start of a new Seminary in Exile (Seminex).  While many will lament the blood on the hands of both sides and the seeming inability of Missouri to grow beyond its contentious past, the truth is that Missouri was one of the few traditions to face a growing liberalism with its suspicion about the truthfulness of Scripture and its use of a form of Biblical criticism that began with skepticism about the Biblical record.  Missouri not only faced it but turned the tide.  Seldom have denominations so soundly reset their course as Missouri did then.

Secondly, one Seminary in Missouri has produced thousands of Pastors since who were nurtured not only in Lutheran orthodoxy but in a liturgical Lutheran piety.  Forty years had made a powerful difference in Missouri.  Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, had a more consistent track record of producing Pastors with both confessional and liturgical orthodoxy, though it seems now much more open to contemporary, non-liturgical worship, and to church growth style agenda.

Finally, Missouri not only restructured its national organization but left this task in the hands of those who remain unwavering in their commitment to Lutheran confessional orthodoxy and Lutheran liturgical integrity.  So far it seems that the Synod has given its blessing to this recovery twice in the election of a Synod President who has been unapologetic in his affirmation of Lutheran dogmatic and liturgical vitality.  There seems little real or organized opposition to this national stance (though we all recognize that it is not universally held among Missourians).

So to those who might be tempted to say the reforms that have led Missouri away from our Lutheran theology and liturgical practice and into a more evangelical identity are unreformable, I say say "not so fast..."  Sound liturgical and confessional identity is no retreat but the advance of a church body only now beginning to remember that Lutheran is a positive statement both in terms of theology and its worship practice.  We have the edge.  We should not be proud or arrogant about this but neither should we discount the tremendous movement that has already taken place to reclaim and renew the dogmatic mind and the liturgical heart of this church body.


Janis Williams said...

This is a little off-topic, but...

Unfortunately, it seems the average parishoner sees '"theology" as a four-letter word. The word "liturgy" is questionable - somewhat akin to "darn." Seminary is something otherworldly, and doesn't concern them. What goes on in synod just simply doesn't matter. I know I'm painting with a broad brush here, and slopping pigment on many who don't fit here.

The "selfie" is our theology today. We must switch the picture we keep next to our hearts to Jesus. I need to repent my self focus and stop sending others pictures of me. The picture I need to send others is Jesus.

Janis Williams said...

More off-topic: If we only understood that every time we say, "I believe" (which included, "I think) about not just Christianity we are speaking theology.