Tuesday, January 21, 2020
Where is your starting point. . .
One is knowledge. Most of us base our knowledge on our own experience. Yet we would never pay somebody to file our taxes for us or treat our diseases or fix our cars if that person only had the same level of knowledge we have. That would be foolish. So first of all it needs to be acknowledged that pastors are highly trained (4 years of college, 3 years of graduate courses, and 1 year or practicum). Compared to most, this is an exceptionally well trained clergy. We do learn a few things in this. One of them is to look beyond our own experience base to understand who we are as Lutherans and how worship relates to this confession. We all have preferences. Most folks are mistaken in presuming that my preferences are obvious from watching worship at the parish I serve. Our liturgical practice is NOT my preference but informed by my education in a Lutheran seminary and our Lutheran confessions. Neither is our liturgical practice shaped by poll or majority vote or common consensus. How we worship is not taste but confession -- Sunday morning says something about what we believe. Now, to be sure, not all Lutherans get this or even agree. They are, quite honestly, wrong. And the disconnect between confession and how we worship is one profound reason why the ELCA is bleeding off members like nobodies business and Lutherans don't even know what to expect when they come to an LCMS parish anymore. This confusion and diversity has not helped us one bit.
Another is history. Anyone and everyone can pick a snapshot in time and say this is the best in Lutheran worship and practice. We all do it. It is wrong headed in the worst way. The history we use most of all is OUR history and not the history of the church as a whole. Lutherans often fall victim of picking one moment in time and saying this is the best era of Lutheran history and then they try to recreate it. Can't do it. It is a fool's mission. We are where we and we live when we live. I grew up on page 15 from TLH but the vast majority of my people did not and do not. We cannot go back. So we are always making choices in an effort NOT to satisfy most but rather to be as faithful to who we are in confession on Sunday morning. This means looking at not only the whole of Lutheran practice but the intent of our confessions -- to be the true evangelical catholics. Lutherans are loathe to make absolute rules about what you can and cannot do on Sunday morning but that does not mean anything goes. Instead it means that we should strive for unity of form and a basic uniformity of practice for evangelical purpose and for the benefit of our identity in the world and the care of the flock. We may not have many maximums but we ought to have clear minimums without which Sunday morning is not Lutheran.
Another is need. Where we might have been able to look like liturgical Protestants in another time and get away with it, we live in a completely different world today. Protestantism is imploding on its embrace of culture, society, and social progressivism. It has abandoned the Scriptures and allowed personal conscience, preference, and reason to be the source and norm of the faith. We should not want to be associated with the demise of both evangelicalism and liberal mainline churches. Both ends are dying. That is not where we can go. Secondly we cannot no longer afford to be ambiguous about what we believe, confess, and teach. On Sunday morning the faith needs to be on full display before a hostile and skeptical world. Vestments draw attention to the office and not to the man. Kneeling, genuflecting, and bowing show the world that these are not empty gestures but honors given to the present Lord who IS here in the means of grace. Chanting separates what happens in worship from simply words said and directs what we do to the high doxology of united praise in the song for which music was created. It is counter cultural in a confessional way. We either need to be real Lutherans or give up the term. The times require nothing less.
Finally, is moderation. While Lutherans may have raised this term to almost sacramental level within our identity, moderate liturgical practice is hardly something to be commended. Moderation is a crutch we use because we either believe the people in the pews cannot deal with who we are confessionally or the world around us cannot. The people in the pews deserve nothing less than the truth of our confession lived out on Sunday morning and the world around us will not be engaged by anything less than this full truth. The time when we could get away with anything less than authenticity has long passed. Moderation is not a principle we can afford in a world which is at work trying to moderate who Christians are, what they believe, and how they express that faith.
Something ought to be said about individualism. At some point we got the idea that pastors are only distinguished from the lay for purposes of order and that every individual is a priest with full ability if not faculty to act as such. I don't know where Lutherans got this definition of the priesthood of all believers but it does not accord with our confessions. The individualistic bent that predominates in Christianity today is at odds with Lutheran faith and identity just as it is at odds with orthodox Christianity.