Tuesday, June 4, 2019
Lutheran reverence. . .
For now I will skip the part about without Jesus' actual presence and go to the core of his observation. Reverence. The truth is that the vast majority of Lutheran parishes (my experience here is almost exclusively LCMS) have a very reverent Sunday morning Divine Service, following the outline of the Lutheran Service Book (even if it is printed out in the service folder). That IS who we are. Lutherans have from the beginning been concerned about the Gospel and not about making our encounter with Christ through the Word and Sacraments more homey or casual or easy. Our concern is for liturgy that reflects the faith and preaching that preaches Christ crucified and risen for the forgiveness of our sins, for the grace of new life now, and for the gift of everlasting life. It should not be a surprise that Lutherans are reverent. It has always been who we are. Early on Lutherans were concerned that Sunday morning not be a free for all or chaotic but orderly and ordered according to the ancient mass form that we acknowledged as our own as much as Rome's.
That said, the majority of people probably attend an LCMS congregation in which at least one of the options is a so-called contemporary service of one sort or another. Some of these are less objectionable -- substituting some pop gospel songs for hymns -- but other forms are so adulterated that it is impossible to see anything Lutheran in them -- they are copies of the latest and greatest stuff used in non-denominational or evangelical entertainment services. So the majority of our congregations use the hymnal but the majority of our people are subject to at least one version of something not in the hymnal (even if they do offer traditional services as well). I hear this complaint all the time when our members go away on vacation or for business travel or move. Pastor, where can I find a congregation like Grace? Of course, they are referencing the seriousness with which we approach liturgy, a reverent service, majestic music, and solid Biblical preaching and teaching (along with a deliberate welcome to new people). It should not have to be that way, but it is. Nevertheless, I am heartened that one Roman Catholic noted more reverence among Lutherans than in his own church.
Without Jesus' actual presence is harder to unpack. Is it that they attended a so-called dry mass or half mass in which Holy Communion was not offered or is it that they are referencing the fact that Rome does not consider Lutherans capable of having the Real Presence, what without apostolic succession and a rightly ordered ministry (by their definition) and the failing of not affirming transubstantiation. I am not sure what he meant by that comment. But if it was they he came to a service that ended abruptly at the offering and hastened to a closing prayer and benediction after starting off like the Divine Service, well, then, shame on the Lutherans. This is not who we are, either. We are reverent but our reverence is posited toward a vibrant and dynamic life of the Gospel faithfully preached and the Lord's Supper rightly celebrated, on every Lord's day and every other day communicants desire to receive it. When Lutherans forget this and get into the habit of thinking of Holy Communion as an optional add-on to the preaching service, Lutherans are being false to their identity and confession. It is not a matter of elevating one over the other (as a few charged in my previous post on the liturgical movement) but of Word AND Sacrament -- the Lord's day, house, Word, and Table! That is who we are. Period.
But. . . if it is a matter of a judgment that says Lutherans could not possibly have the real presence since their ministry is not rightly ordered, not in apostolic succession, and they fail to define that presence within the exclusive terminology of transubstantiation, then shame on Rome. You obviously do not know who Lutherans are. Our apostolic succession is a succession not merely of priestly order but pastor and people, clergy and community. It is not that we have no bishops but plenty of them since we have defined the term in the manner of the early church and see every pastor as bishop in that place, finding the distinctions in jurisdiction to be of human origin and not divinely inspired. Further, transubstantiation is for Lutherans too much baggage added onto the clear word of Scripture that after the consecration the bread, still bread, IS the Body of Christ (the crucified and risen Lord Jesus in flesh) and the wine, still wine, IS the Blood of Christ (shed for us on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins). I fail to get why transubstantiation has to go with the Real Presence since the East does not define things in that way and their sacrament is valid (according to Rome). I have no particular beef with transubstantiation except to say it adds too much to the simple word of Christ that this IS My body. . . this IS My blood. For us Lutherans, the Sacrament is Christmas, Christ incarnate where He has promised to be (flesh and blood and Son of God in the manger and flesh and blood in bread and wine upon the altar). That Lutherans are reverent should not surprise Rome because, if they knew us, they would know that we are reverent not toward symbol or sign but toward Christ whose voice speaks in His Word and whose flesh and blood are given and received in the Blessed Sacrament.