Sunday, April 27, 2014

What we want to deny more than what we want to affirm. . .

One of the marks of growth of a separate Lutheran identity is the shift from being comfortable affirming what Rome had right to being most comfortable denying the what Rome had wrong.  In doing so we have often found ourselves painted into a box, making much of minute distinctions, in order to preserve our credentials as protesters.  Even the greats of Lutheran orthodoxy are not immune from the foible of seemingly disputing what our Confessions affirm in order to make sure we distinguish ourselves from Rome.

It is always the great tendency of those against to shout "no" to the things they deny more than affirm with the "yes" what they believe. This is most certainly true of Lutheranism today.  We are so very quick to distinguish ourselves from Rome and so at ease with our protests that we have fashioned a Lutheranism which is at times uncomfortable with our own Confessions.  This is not the Lutheranism of our first fathers nor of our Confessions.

For example, we are not comfortable talking about the Mass.  We easily use the terms of Protestants and evangelicals (Communion, Lord's Supper, etc...) and there is nothing wrong with those terms except that they are also filled with meaning at odds with what we Lutherans believe, confess, and teach.  The term Mass is our confessional terminology.  So we find ourselves at a point when communion is more frequently offered and a strange seeker style worship (definitely not like the ante-communion service of page 5) has become the norm for many of the larger congregations practicing contemporary worship.  In other words, we are so comfortable arguing against the Mass of Rome that we Lutherans find ourselves, in practice at least, without the Mass of our first confessors.

We have successfully done the same thing with private confession.  We have so successfully argued against the abuse of Rome that we no longer affirm the sacramental character of private confession and we so seldom practice it that it has become an anachronism to our Lutheran identity.  Never mind that our first fathers affirmed the sacramental character of confession and absolution before the Pastor, the discipline of the Sacrament of the Altar and the consolation of the baptized.  No, we cannot even mention private confession today without rushing to insist "oh, no, it is not mandatory but sort of like extra medicine for the [implied here weak and broken] who require something more than the general and generic words of the preparation for the Divine Service on Sunday morning.  As if that were not far enough from our first Lutheran piety and practice, those same Lutherans practicing contemporary worship without a center in the Sacrament of the Altar, have even bypassed the general confession so that even this generic form is outside regular practice and absent from the piety of the modern folk they serve.

Lutheranism cannot survive being comfortable only being against Rome's abuses.  In order for a robust and vibrant church to practice what we confess in words, we must also learn to be comfortable with catholic faith and practice (read that small c) that Rome may also speak of and observe.  We are so quick to suggest that not everything Protestantism and evangelicalism say and do are wrong.  Let us be just as quick to affirm that not everything we inherited from Rome is also wrong.  Our Confessions were that comfortable.  If Lutheranism is to be Lutheran, we must recapture our comfort level with the catholic shape of our identity and this means learning not to run instinctively from words like the Mass or from the sacramental practice of our baptismal life in private confession.


Janis Williams said...

Being raised Baptist (Iknow, I know, I alwayys start my comments this way) we were always warned in Sunday School to "stay away from those Lutherans; they're catholic!"

It seems evangelicals know intuitively what Fr. Peters says Lutherans have largely lost. Though is is more from the "i'm agin' it" attitude he describes in Lutheranism, it still recognizes it.

I cannot tell the number of times I have spoken with evangelical friends who have either warned me of Luitheran's catholicity (yes, they're think of Rome). Or been asked, "they believe what the Catholics do, don't they?"

If as a converted Baptist I've been asked, I've also been asked the same question by as many people who know nothing of my background. St. Peter says we should be ready to give answer for the hope within us; shouldn't we also be ready to explain differences with others without embarassment?

Janis Williams said...

it is, Lutheran's, thinking, and if I missed any other typos, mea culpa.

Cliff said...

Well said!

Anonymous said...

If Lutheranism is to be Lutheran, we must recapture our comfort level ...learning not to run ...from the sacramental practice of our baptismal life in private confession."

I really wish. I told a Pastor once that I was very tempted to go to a Catholic priest for confession. You know what he did? He laughed!