Monday, November 28, 2016

The practices that change the doctrine. . .

According to reports, Pope Francis has chosen to replace all of the members of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship, the larger deliberative body that assists the prefect of that congregation which has in its purview liturgical questions.  Everyone expects a pope to appoint a few new members to every Vatican congregation (a department of the Vatican) but October 28 Pope Francis took the unusual move of appointing 27 new members to the Congregation for Divine Worship -- in effect transforming the entire body into one that appears to reflect his own more liberal bent, certainly one more friendly to Novus Ordo and less supported of Cardinal Sarah, the prefect of that congregation.  While certainly giving the congregation a more international flavor, the new members seem destined to undermine the work of Cardinal Robert Sarah,  a leading proponent of more reverent liturgy and Benedict XVI and his “the reform of the reform.”

While I do not have a horse in this race, it does show a significant pattern for Lutherans as well.  Tinkering with worship is the real means to effecting lasting change in doctrine as well as its practice.  It is reform by the back door but it is a reform (deform) no less effective.  Change what happens on Sunday morning and you change what people believe.  That is lex orandi les credendi at work.  It is both positive, changing for good, and negative, changing for bad.

It has happened in evangelicalism and it has happened among Lutherans.  Evangelicalism has been transformed by the invention of seeker worship, entertainment worship, and personality cults.  The roots once securely attached to Calvinism and Arminianism have evolved into churches unrecognizable by their theological forefathers.  In effect, the transformation of Sunday morning has become the transformation of what is believed.  The same thing has happened among Lutherans.  The borrowing from Protestantism and evangelicals has effectively changed what typical Lutherans believe, confess, and teach.  What no convention would pass has become normative among the many Lutheran congregations who emulate what happens in evangelicalism -- all in search of a methodology that works while insisting that style does not affect substances.

Francis is no fool.  He is determined to transform Rome.  He knows what has no chance of happening officially (remember amoris laetitia) can work when viewed as a simple practice that has been adjusted while affirming in theory the doctrine (which no one can change).

Yet we should not be smugly watching from afar for the danger to any church and to Lutherans is the transformation of doctrine by the seemingly subtle change in practice.  Eventually, the doctrine will be changed and the change will seem perfectly normal and even seem as if it is what we have always believed.  This is how Lutherans became iconoclastic and how Lutheran worship began to be seen as a slightly more liturgical version of generic Protestantism to the point where the weekly Eucharist appeared foreign to Lutheranism, private confession seemed alien to this church, and the rich ceremonial life became a stranger to Lutherans.  While it is tempting to think of this as a stylistic evolution, when happened was not style at all.  Instead Lutheran piety shifted from the means of grace to feelings and the profoundly sacramental shape of the faith became a Word centered faith (almost in opposition to the Sacraments).  Lutherans began to substitute an inerrant Word for an efficacious one, satisfied that if Scripture was preserved it was not so important what kind of Scripture was preserved.  That is not to say that inerrancy is foreign to Lutheranism but to ask what benefit is it to keep a Scripture without error if it is primarily a book of information, rules, and history and not the living voice of God addressing His people with His gracious favor in Christ?

What we do on Sunday morning will affect what we believe on Monday morning.  Francis knows this and this is the tack he is using to reshape Roman Catholicism.  We Lutherans may be a little slow to catch on but we had better wake up.  The ELCA has already reconciled the ordination of women to the Lutheran faith so deeply that even former ELCA folks who disdain the CWA 2009 changes in sexuality refuse to open women's ordination to review.  In the same way, those who remain within the pale of the ELCA have now grow accustomed to same sex marriage and the full GLBTQ agenda and are shocked that Lutherans might object.  In Missouri we refuse to address the diversity of what happens on Sunday morning to what the Augustana insists and in failing to hold each other accountable have laid the groundwork for a Lutheranism that will end up believing like the evangelicalism it mimics on Sunday morning.  Close(d) communion that continues to be affirmed in convention has become a dirty word to some parishes and some regions of our church body and this is ample demonstration that a doctrine which fails to inform practice will become a forgotten doctrine no longer believed.


Jason Kiefer said...

This current pop is a disaster. And while our ecumenical sectarians in the ELCA will hate hearing this, Francis is embodying the Pope as Antichrist that Lutheran forefathers railed against. I view him as doing what is right in his own mind. Lord have mercy on the Catholic Church.

John Joseph Flanagan said...

Change is inevitable and predictable because history is dynamic, not static. One cannot engage in wishful thinking about the way we want things to remain. New and old hersies abound across all denominations. The ELCA splintered the Lutheran church in a profoundly negative way, but even this fact is nothing new, as Christ warned us about false teachers and those who would fall away...indeed the blind leading the blind into perdition.

Anonymous said...

LCMS does not need a singular pope, as congregationalism, adiaphora, missions, and lack of commitment to the Book of Concord has allowed for disintegration of worship, liturgy, and the resultant bad doctrine. While the battle must be fought to retain our doctrine, in many cases it is too late and the doctrinal chaos continues.

Unknown said...

I believe you meant "Arminianism", not a doctrine related to being Armenian.