Saturday, March 31, 2018
So, are we better off?
I grew up in a congregation that had something of an odd liturgical identity. Things were rather plain, liturgically, except that our pastor chanted;, there was a crucifix on the altar; the altar was an elaborately carved oaken for;, the communion vessels were sterling and intricately made.. but the pastor wore a black gown; Holy Communion was held only quarterly; no one in their right mind would mistake this for a Roman Catholic building and congregation... That said, the people were serious about the faith, rarely missed church, were sacrificial in their support of the work of the kingdom there and elsewhere, and lived humbly. Now we no longer live all that humbly, we are less generous in our support of the church, we consider once a month faithful church attendance, and we treat the faith as if what you believed really did not matter (both as an individual and as a church).
Is this an improvement? Are we better off? Is the church stronger and more faithful and are we as individual Christians stronger in our faith and more faithful in doing God's bidding than our ancestors?
Let me say up front that I am not at all suggesting that everything was perfect 60 years ago or more or that we were living in the golden age of Christianity in America. There were many things that were not so good and some of those have improved. At the same time, however, many things have changed that have contributed to the weakness of the church and of individual Christians. These changes have to addressed; we cannot live in the past, after all. But these changes do not have to be lauded as progress. Because many of them are not. They are regressive and not at all progressive.
To treat the Bible with skepticism and treat doctrine as not all that important is not progress. To spend more time in catechesis but to end up knowing and believing less is not progress. To have the Sacrament of the Altar more frequently but still on the fringes of our piety is not progress. To be so comfortable in our sins that we do not seek out private confession and to presume that a general confession is a fit replacement for this private confession is not progress. To be in church less often and to give less (percentage wise) is not progress.
The past was no pristine moment of glory but neither is our modernity progress when it destroys the best of the past and offers nothing substantive to replace it except doubt and disregard toward the means of grace. I am not saying we need to go back but I am suggesting we should repent of much of what we have done with the things of God entrusted to our care.
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First, there is no Church discipline to speak of. The Office of the Keys is not exercised judiciously to retain public sins and excommunication is rare. Tolerance of all manor of belief and behavior is the byword. We may have gone beyond the point of no return.
Second, people like me wouldn’t mind going to private confession with a pastor who doesn’t know us but confessing our dark side to our regular pastor is disconcerting. We are concerned that it would change the way he thinks about us and that it would become a barrier to a closer personal relationship, fellowship, friendship when he hears how sinful and dysfunctional we truly are. Like asking someone to go out on date for the first time, it changes the dynamic of the relationship. Confessing our sins anonymously is a much more comforting prospect, even in a setting of private confession, more along the lines of going to a therapist with no intention of having further social interaction outside of the professional relationship.
"I grew up in a congregation that had something of an odd liturgical identity."
Exactly! It was a unique Lutheran identity reflecting 500 years of Lutheran beliefs.
It wasn't just your congregation, that was everybody's congregation because that was Lutheran.
Then around 1982 we became self-conscious about our oddness, almost like a teenager, and distanced ourselves from who we are by becoming either more Anglican or more Evangelical in our worship identity. Maybe now we can be like everyone else.
Excuse me but quarterly holy communion is not Lutheran and our confessions wouldn't recognize that practice.
This is the story of the church throughout all ages and is nothing new. There is nothing new under the sun. We are at this time and place, for better or for worse. Let's pick up the pieces and forge ahead faithfully as confessional Lutherans in doctrine and practice. Mine is not to reason why - mine is but to do and die. The LCMS is in shambles today and most diverse in many ways. Let's not let our leaders tell us things are calm when they are not. Any person with reasonable sense knows this. Our piety is all over the map, especially on Sunday mornings and it shows. Contemporary, traditional, blended, praise, etc. You take your pick. Doctrinal and practical discipline by our leaders simply isn't there.
Walther, Pieper, and a host of other LCMS Lutherans I could name revered the Book of Concord and didn't practice every Sunday Communion. Are you suggesting your understanding of the Lutheran confessions is superior to sub-confessional Walther? Is the chief article of the Lutheran church justification by faith alone? Or is it quantity of sacraments equals salvation?
All means of grace (the Gospel, Confession, Baptism, the Supper) confer the same forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. But it is faith alone that receives these gifts. Baptism saves and regenerates us. The rest of our Christian lives are spent growing in faith and sanctification, not prioritizing the quantity of reception of a single means of grace as the definition of Lutheranism.
Fasting (giving up certain foods or meals for Lent) and prayer are not to be put into the same category for Christians.
An LCMS FAQ states (p. 9 of 11):
From the perspective of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, "giving something up for Lent" is entirely a matter of Christian freedom. It would be wrong, from our perspective, for the church to make some sort of "law" requiring its members to "give something up for Lent," since the Scriptures themselves do not require this. If, on the other hand, a Christian wants to give something up for Lent as a way of remembering and personalizing the great sacrifice that Christ made on the cross for our sins, then that Christian is certainly free to do so--as long as he or she does not "judge" or "look down on" other Christians who do not choose to do this.
Is this LCMS FAQ in error and in need of correction?
Let me chime in. . .
Yes, Walther and others who knew the Confessions and did not push for weekly Holy Communion should have. One can be thoroughly orthodox in theology and fall short in practice. That does not take anything away from them. We may be better in practice, at least when it comes to a weekly Eucharist, but fall far short in our doctrinal fidelity at this time. It is NOT an either/or but a both/and. One does not diminish the heroes of the past by admitting some of the weaknesses and such should not in any way presume we are superior to those who went before us. Luther knew only weekly Holy Communion. The Confessions presume and insist that we have not abolished the Mass but observe it even more diligently and faithfully -- not in theory nor in practice!
Fasting and prayer are not the same in the abstract but, if you read my words, you could see I was talking about the extra prayers that in the past were reflective of Lenten practice. Additional devotions at home, additional worship services, etc... which are not practiced as they once were. Let us admit that the extra devotions that once characterized Lenten practice at home and church are not done with the same diligence or by as many. Lent has become, to many of our people, no different than any other time. Our poverty is not that we have looked at practices of the past and in Christian freedom chosen others but that we do not know our past nor do we make a choice but we simply do what we do and that ends up being driven mostly by things other than the Church Year. In LSB we hear on Ash Wednesday: From ancient times the season of Lent has been kept as a time of special devotion, self-denial, and humble repentance born of a faithful heart that dwells confidently on His Word and draws from it life and hope. Read for the Holy Thursday service and again this Lenten discipline is referenced. This is the stuff of which I spoke. Are we better off for NOT doing these?
More pietistic questions:
Are we better off for NOT doing twice these?
Are we half better off for only doing half these?
Not pietistic at all but about the strength of the faith in the faithful. Piety is not unimportant.
Pietists tended to ask good questions but didn't tend to generate good answers.
The strength of faith in the faithful comes from and is increased by God through Word and Sacrament, not from pietistic works of the faithful.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
It is one thing to launch a full frontal assault on core Christian beliefs. It is quite another for someone to crowd out said traditional beliefs by completely reinterpreting scripture and claiming it as mainstream Christianity. We have to work harder to guard ourselves from those institutions that seek to redefine everything taught in the bible:
So Mr Vehse thinks that piety is just fluff, contributes nothing to our faith, but pious acts are done only by imposters who are not real believers who just want to show God their stuff. That is the goofiest baloney I have ever heard from him. Piety does not compete with the Word but flows from it and is shaped by it. Except in the mind of Vehse. Fasting, almsgiving, devotions, and additional church services should be banned then because they obscure the Word, eh Vehse? It is exactly this kind of attitude which has left our children ignorant of our traditions and under the mistaken idea that a piety that does nothing is equal to a piety which does what God bids us do.
In the words of the kids today, Anonymous, BOOM!
Do we really believe Eph 2:10, that we are created in Christ Jesus for good works? If you want to limit good works to those listed in Scripture (a good thing), then caring for family, fulfilling vocation, etc. qualify. However, do we take all the praying, fasting, “buffeting” of the body St. Paul did as pietism? We must come to terms with the real difference indefinition between Pietism, and piety.
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