Tuesday, May 3, 2016

How long can a true hold or toleration exist?

Ross Douthat has written of Pope Francis rather rambling, folksy, and confusing  new Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia (AKA The Joy of Sex Love).  In doing so he notes that nearly every church body has become divided on the subject of modernity.  Most Protestants have suffered serious hemorrhaging of members over the issues of sexuality that have so quickly moved from the fringes of culture to mainstream.  Rome is no different.  But Rome seemed to have found a means of uniting those who disagree with each because they agree to the papacy.  That toleration has left Rome with distinctions that cannot be resolved -- some doctrinal ambiguity and a great deal of difference over practice.  The shaky truce that escaped most denominations has found some sort of success in Rome but at the same time this true was understood to be a problem in and of itself.  It was an anomaly that most believed needed to be resolved.  Most folks knew where B16 landed and it has seemed rather apparent that Francis has not come down in the same place.  Douthat believes that Francis has institutionalized the uneasy truce and given it papal sanction and blessing.  He is rather convincing.

But there is also now a new papal teaching: A teaching in favor of the truce itself. That is, the post-1960s separation between doctrine and pastoral practice now has a papal imprimatur, rather than being a state of affairs that popes were merely tolerating for the sake of unity. Indeed, for Pope Francis that separation is clearly a hoped-for source of renewal, revival and revitalization, rather than something that renewal or revival might enable the church to gradually transcend.

Again, this is not the clear change of doctrine, the proof of concept for other changes, that many liberal bishops and cardinals sought. But it is an encouragement for innovation on the ground, for the de facto changes that more sophisticated liberal Catholics believe will eventually render certain uncomfortable doctrines as dead letters without the need for a formal repudiation from the top. 

This means that the new truce may be even shakier than the old one.  In effectively licensing innovation rather than merely tolerating it, and in transforming the papacy’s keenest defenders into wary critics, it promises to heighten the church’s contradictions rather than contain them. 
And while it does not undercut the pope’s authority as directly as a starker change might have, it still carries a distinctive late-Marxist odor — a sense that the church’s leadership is a little like the Soviet nomenklatura, bound to ideological precepts that they’re no longer confident can really, truly work.

A slippage that follows from this lack of confidence is one of the most striking aspects of the pope’s letter. What the church considers serious sin becomes mere “irregularity.” What the church considers a commandment becomes a mere “ideal.” What the church once stated authoritatively it now proffers tentatively, in tones laced with self-effacement, self-critique.

Francis doubtless intends this language as a bridge between the church’s factions,  just dogmatic enough for conservatives but perpetually open to more liberal interpretations. And such deliberate ambiguity does offer a center, of sorts, for a deeply divided church.

But not one, I fear, that’s likely to permanently hold. 

I think that Douthat has hit upon something that affects (afflicts) other church bodies -- even the LCMS.  We have lived with a seeming truce between the missionals and the confessionals that is tested every Convention year.  We have tolerated a great diversity of practice when it comes to Sunday morning (not only liturgy but who may commune) for a long time that has only marginally moved with the occupants of the Synodical President's office.  But this truce is tenuous at best and the toleration we have sustained is something we cannot sustain.  The time is coming when Missouri will have to decide (and most other Lutheran groups) what it means to be Lutheran in doctrine and practice and then we will see how the whole thing unfolds. 

We have no means of sustaining this truce held up by a string because we have no papacy and we cannot simply go back and forth from convention to convention or from one SP to another SP.  I believe that our SP knows this and is trying to prevent us from see sawing back and forth but desires us to take small but serious and lasting steps to decide what kind of church we will be.  I laud him for it though I know it is a path fraught with problems and potential issues of self-destruction.  Part of us wants to sustain the incongruous diversity of what a Lutheran is and does on Sunday morning if only because we fear the other side in ascendancy and the other part of us does not care who will be lost if we are more uniform and united in doctrine and practice.

What fragile truce Rome is enjoying under Francis (technically holding to the doctrine it espouses but attempting to frame it in some sense of local discretion and appearing flexible to those outside the church) is not something that we Lutherans can follow.  What binds us together is not an office of a pope but we believe, teach, and confess.  We must find a way around the impasse of deliberate ambiguity.  Sooner rather than later.


Kirk Skeptic said...

This is the same sort of "truce" experienced in the Anglcian world; ie a temproary ceasefire when both sides can rearm and take additional target practice. Can one really expect a different result now or later?

John Joseph Flanagan said...

What is a Lutheran? In the LCMS, I have worshipped in about four different churches in various locations and found many characteristic differences in the style and manner of worship, in the music and hymns combining traditional and contemporary, and in the sermons spoken. I believe uniformity is not evident. Each crop of seminarians coming into the LCMS fold bring cultural and theological perspectives of their own. When you go on the Internet, you can find an underground of sorts and disgruntled LCMS pastors rail about the system. Like I said, maybe uniformity is a myth. In the early church, the Acts gives us an indication of differences between the early church leaders. It is like trying to identify a distinctly "American" personality. Once this seemed easier...I thought maybe John Wayne fit the picture. The rugged, individualist, moral but not legalistic, adventurous but never rash...dependable and honorable. But in reality, many types of people claim to be American as well, and hold other values. I am a Lutheran...indeed..but first a Christian. I want to make my life less complicated now that I am old.

Carl Vehse said...

Ross Douthat: "What the church considers serious sin becomes mere “irregularity.” What the church considers a commandment becomes a mere “ideal.” What the church once stated authoritatively it now proffers tentatively, in tones laced with self-effacement, self-critique."

How pervasively and deeply this demonic tolerance has infected the Roman Church is demonstrated by Loyola Marymount University, one of the largest Roman Catholic universities on the West Coast, in its announcement of the keynote speaker for its 2016 commencement ceremony. LMU President Timothy Law Snyder announced, "President Clinton is one of the great statesmen of our time, and he will address our students as they embark on the next stage of their lives. His commitment to improving the lives of other people, during and beyond his career in U.S. politics, embodies the ethos of becoming women and men with and for others. President Clinton will inspire our graduates as they seek to lead lives of meaning, purpose, and global impact."

Sadly, the Missouri Synod and Concordia Seminary's 2015 Reformation500 speaker series, allegedly part of the quincentenary commemoration and celebration of the Lutheran Reformation, featured as its 2015 speaker, Tullian Tchividjian, bringing "his own legacy of American Christianity and ministry," which was more completely revealed several months later. And for 2016, Concordia Seminary reached down into the bottom of the barrel to bring in noted islamosyncretist, Miroslav Volf, who would be more appropriate for honoring the Yankee Stadium and Newtown heresies.

One can hardly wait to see if the Reformation500 speaker for the quincentennial year will be this guy, this guy, or this.

Padre Dave Poedel said...

As one who came into the LCMS from a Roman Cattholic upbringing, I have watched with amusement the myth of "walking together". First being exposed to and becoming a Pastor through an evangelical Catholic parish with good liturgy, but not taking the rubrics too seriously. I adapted it into "Liturgical with a Smile" in the 3 parishes I was privileged to serve as Pastor. Since the late '70's I have witnessed every iteration of worship style from the neo-Pentecostal to a Mass that would put an Anglican Anglo-Catholic to shame. Strangely, and encouragingly, whatever the worship format, the preaching was always Cross-centered, Christ-cantered, Sacramentally oriented, even when (GASP!) the Holy Eucharist was not celebrated and offered to the congregation.

Now that I am an Emeritus Pastor, I am asked to fill in at congregations in the Central Arizona area a few times a month. I have learned to ask for the "worship folder" in advance to I can prepare for the local preferences. I am amazed at how many parishes still have services without the Eucharist. I am getting to the place where I will decline to serve them if Holy Communion is not offered. I rely on the Deacons, which many to most of our parishes have on staff or as retired men who serve faithfully but do not preside at the Eucharist.

While my preference is to bring my alb, chasuble, and stole to preside, most congregations have at least one service where the Pastor doesn't vest, even for the Eucharist. Adiaphora, I am told. BS!

So, regardless of what may come out of a given Convention, congregations here in the West do whatever their Pastor decides is right and appropriate. I heard this week that the parish I served for the past 19 years in a "Liturgical with a smile" is planning to move the altar to the rear of the chancel to make more room for a paradise band. To say that I am grieving would be an understatement. Uniformity in the LCMS....c'mon guys, get real!