Tuesday, June 9, 2015
The claim of truth. . .
While listening into a long email conversation in which a Roman Catholic was urging a Protestant to chose Rome over Orthodoxy, I heard familiar complaints about Rome. The church is a mess. People do not take doctrine seriously. People like the personality of some popes but completely disregard their teaching and in other cases are drawn to the personality because they think this pope may not be serious about doctrine. The liturgical state of the individual parishes is also a mess. Throw away missals and music predominate and masses seem like mass production industrial style events to see how fast they can go through the liturgy and commune the assembly and send them home. Morality is in decline and many Roman Catholics openly reject the church's teaching on everything from homosexuality to birth control to divorce to sex outside of marriage.
The sole argument in favor of Rome was ecclesiology. As long as you get the church, everything else will sort itself out in its own time. What you have to make sure is that you have chosen the one true church that fulfills all claims -- authority, catholicity, liturgy, etc... Normally this would not be a compelling argument for Protestants accustomed to Biblical truth and authority. What makes this attractive is the sad and sorry state of the church among most Protestant denominations and even within Lutheranism.
We look around us and we see the signs of a broken church and wonder how can we claim we got the Scriptures right, confess the correct doctrine, and we have such a confusing and contradictory mess when it comes to oversight, discipline, and faithfulness in the church? Take the Lutherans, for example. We have a wonderful church -- at least theoretically -- but in practice we have DIY church on Sunday morning with little of our doctrinal catholicity showing up in worship. We have the highest sacramental theology but treat the elements as if they were barely symbolic and treat the means of grace as if it were a little added extra to our faith and piety and not source and summit. We have a high view of the pastoral office but hire and fire our pastors at will for such things as failing to make "sales quotas" or "being all things to all people." We have mighty words of vocation and baptismal calling but we are losing youth in part because they find nothing compelling about the church and we have left them incapable of discerning eternal truth from momentary whim.
As I have often said, few people become Mormon for the doctrine. They are drawn in by the fellowship and swallow hard at the outlandish claims of Mormon dogma. Could it be that the attraction to Rome is equally a mix of what attracts and what one must stomach as well? Could it be that the soft underbelly of Lutheranism (church and ministry) are the very things that are clear in Rome? Could it be that Rome also has a soft underbelly but we can stomach this as long as we have the ecclesiology we long to know?
Just a few thoughts as I ponder what makes Rome so attractive to some among us. . . Contrary to those who think that liturgical type Lutherans are attracted by the smells and the bells, the average Roman parish does little of either. Roman Catholic parishes typically do not chant, do not sing, and have a sparse ceremonial -- perhaps even barer than a typical traditional Lutheran Divine Service! If smells and bells are what turns your crank, the better choice is a traditional Lutheran Divine Service with mighty organ, strong congregational song, and a people not held captive to Catholic prejudice -- I would certainly choose this over a strumming guitar, Joncas/Haugen song, a liturgy rushed so 500 enter, commune, and exit in 45 minutes, and a sermon empty of everything except some pious platitudes and moralistic guilt. No, liturgical considerations cannot be the magnet for Rome but ecclesiological concerns may well be.