Friday, April 5, 2019
Code words. . .
Strangely, those who are usually labeled radical are those who are not only trying to preserve and conserve but restore what has been lost. A case in point. My parish is celebrating our 60th birthday this year and, though we generally use Divine Service 1 or 2 from Lutheran Service Book, we have been using Divine Service 3. It preserves the form in use when this congregation was founded and it has been conserved in our liturgical tradition since it was framed in 1941 in The Lutheran Hymnal -- itself a preservation of forms much earlier and most uniformly shaped in the Common Service of 1888. All well and good, right? Maybe not.
Since this order preserves the chanting of the Words of Institution -- not something usually done in the first two Divine Services, that chanting stands out like a sore thumb as something new -- a departure from the past. In reality it is the restoration of the past (and something restored not simply locally but by rubric and setting in Lutheran Service Book). Yet to Lutheran ears in Tennessee, it is radical, new, an innovation, and, worse, katholische. This is, of course, rather goofy since Rome did not even speak these words loudly for the hearing of the people, much less chanted the Words of Institution, in so long I cannot even document it. In other words, this is a distinctly Lutheran practice, innovated by Martin Luther, who directed that they be chanted in the Gospel tone. So, to some, I am a progressive because they think I have innovated. To others, I am a medievalist since I am preserving something unworthy or not essential to be preserved.
And therein lies the problem. When we fail to know our history, we confuse what is progressive with what preserves and what preserves or restores with what is radical. This is no small thing because it means that we are ripe for the plucking by those who seek to steal from us not some small liturgical practice like the chanting of the Words of Institution but the big things of Scripture and its clear teaching of the Gospel and Tradition and its preservation of that truth in every place and every time. That is the big danger. It is no big deal that a Lutheran pastor has to explain himself for something as small as the chanting of the Verba but it is a big deal when we have to restore what has been lost because we no longer know the difference between the sacred deposit once delivered to the saints and that which has been invented to make the faith more palatable or accessible to those outside the faith and more reasonable to those within who find believing a stretch.
By the way, the greater danger is not that Lutherans will come off looking like Roman Catholics to those who do not know better but that Lutherans will themselves presume that they are more like the big box evangelicals all around them than they are the people of the Augustana, the Catechism, and the faith they confess. In essence, what we have today are Lutherans who know so little of their faith and history that they find it more reasonable to think of themselves as Methodists with a liturgy or vested Baptists when it comes to the Bible or friendly evangelicals when it comes to styling their church before the world than the people and faith the Symbols insist we are. Sacraments are not some residual Catholic thing we can ditch but the essence of who Lutherans are. The efficacious Word is not simply an inerrant Word but one that works -- that does what it says because the Spirit is at work in it and through it. The liturgy is not adiaphora so be tinkered with or abandoned because we do not like it or we like other things better but the other side of the confession coin. To lose it is to lose what we believe and not simply a format. And all of this is hastened and encouraged by people who confuse conservers with progressives and progressives with conservers to the the point where it actually becomes reasonable to abandon the faith in order to save it. Then, Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore.