Friday, September 25, 2020

How Protestant Can We Be?

That America has always been a WASPish sort of country is hardly in dispute.  For a very long time the majority face of Christianity has been anything but WASP but you would be hard pressed to know it -- except in the Irish or Italian or Polish neighborhoods of some urban areas.  Suburban flight disrupted those old neighborhoods and moved the Roman Catholic population into new subdivisions, in some cases quite a ways away from where they once were.  As the populace moved away from the places where a common language and heritage bound them together, they learned that America could be decidedly unfriendly to them, their roots, and, especially, their religion.

I was reminded of this not long ago when I read the oft quoted but so far unascribed but pithy observation:  “America is such a Protestant country…even the [Roman] Catholics are Protestant.”  If this was true of Roman Catholics, it was even more true of Eastern Christians.  The Byzantine liturgy is not simply foreign to America but alien to most of the cultures of those who immigrated to America.  It remains a tradition somewhat cloaked in mystery to most Americans.  The curious iconostasis raises questions to Americans accustomed to an upfront and rather transparent form of worship.  What goes on behind those walls?  The odd vesture, the lack of pews, the many candles, the icons themselves, and the sound of the chant all combine to make it clear to any American who wanders in, "Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore."  Yet even the various jurisdictions of Orthodoxy have left the safety and comfort of neighborhoods and disbursed more than most could have imagined.

Lutherans were also strangers in a strange land.  The beer halls contributed to the rise of the Temperance Movement and with that a rather typical condemnation of things German.  Two world wars did not help.  But Lutherans found it safe to be a little less Lutheran in their venture to the American landscape.  So much was this accommodation to the resident culture that when others came to America they condemned the Lutherans who had gone before as Lutheran in name only. CFW Walther was one but not the only voice suggesting that Lutherans had tilted too far to the side of Protestantism.  While it was also true of the Scandinavians, they assimilated more easily than the Germans while retaining a bit more of their Lutheran appearance than some others.  

The problem in all of this is that the Protestant forms have prevailed.  Even Roman Catholics suffer from a tendency to see dogma as choices in a smorgasbord of truth and what binds is less a common set of beliefs than it is a common tradition and common affinity for the Pope.  Visit any typical Roman Catholic congregation today and you will hear the mighty hymn of the Reformation and pop-Gospel more than chant, a praise band that mirrors contemporary Christian music more than the organ, and spoken liturgy more than chanted.  Lutherans say they have not abolished the mass but it might be hard to find a Lutheran to defend that proposition today.  Lutherans prefer Protestant terms like the Lord's Supper to mass or Eucharist and, even though we use Divine Service I am not sure our people get why.  It is not for lack of teaching but for the press of American culture and its Protestant shape.  The larger the Lutheran congregation and the more likely you will find there a praise band and music from the Protestant playlist more often than a Lutheran chorale.

So it is no wonder that there are arguments from folks reading this blog.  They probably grew up in the period in which Lutherans were more comfortable in their Protestant skin than in the catholic clothing of their Augsburg Confession.  I grew up in that era as well.  I watched my home congregation and pastor shift from a quarterly Holy Communion to monthly and then twice monthly and then on the fifth Sundays and festival days as well.  I saw my home pastor move from the Geneva gown to cassock surplice and stole to alb and now occasionally chasuble.  However, it is more typical to presume these to be personal affectations of the pastor than representative of Lutheran identity.  What bound us together was the Small Catechism but as congregations have used other materials to supplement or even replace the Catechism, even this common focus of belief and prayer is either weakened or missing entirely.  It is as if Lutherans tolerate the liturgy more than embrace it and perhaps Walther would criticize our forebearers as much as he berated the Lutherans he found in America in the 1840s and beyond.

My meandering thought today is that the Protestant ethos is so deeply rooted in us that no matter how hard we are pressed to acknowledge our catholic identity, it is a difficult idea to sell.   Still.  And if Rome has become the Protestant Catholic Church in America, it would be strange for us to try and steal their thunder.  We are not sure what to do with the Orthodox, so, I guess we will continue to be a church of many colors, mostly red, white, and blue.


Anonymous said...

I have read both Zeeden’s “Catholic Leftovers in Lutheran Worship” and Heal’s “A Magnificent Faith.” I will admit that it is a bit appealing to think of 16th century Lutherans in Mark Brandenburg ringing bells during Communion, wearing chasubles, and chanting the Magnificat during Vespers. There is a fascinating reconstruction of this by Andrzej Szadejko on the CD “Gdańsk Organ Landscape” where the Buxtehude Magnificat Primi Toni is played on organ in alternation with a male choir chanting.

At the same time, Thuringian Lutherans tore down altarpieces and dragged altars to become freestanding, as Luther describes in his 1526 German Mass, and banned elevation and mass vestments. Believe it or not, each Land of Germany had their own identifiable “Geneva gown,” or black preaching robe (Talar), including the “Old Lutherans,” our forebears in the LCMS.

My point is that it has always been a mixed bag in Lutheranism. Yes, some want to be like everyone else and have informal praise worship. There is no going back to mass chanting and chasubles or black robes because they are costumes of the past, much like a tricorner hat. I disagree that LCMS Lutherans are not passionate about The Lutheran Hymnal, most of which is preserved in LSB. And our polyester white albs and neon stoles look pretty good. And we continue to teach the Small Catechism. Maybe we should celebrate our many blessings rather than cast envious, yearning eyes at imagined glory.

Carl Vehse said...

"Lutherans prefer Protestant terms like the Lord's Supper to mass or Eucharist and, even though we use Divine Service I am not sure our people get why."

I think we Lutherans do "get why," especially those of us who read the 2001 Logia article, "Luther and the Mass: Justification and the Joint Declaration," in which Rev. Daniel Preus states:

"By 1533, however, Luther carne to the conclusion that 'mass' should no longer be used in reference to the sacrament of the altar. Luther's Letter Concerning His Book on the Private Mass [AE 38, 227; WA 38, 262-272; StL XIX:1286-1299] is very illuminating in regard to his distinction between the two. In this letter Luther provided a definition of the term 'mass' that clearly drives a wedge between mass and sacrament.

"The word 'mass,' Luther believed, should be defined as the sacrifice that the priest offers for sin. It should never be used to speak of that sacrament which grants to believers the body and blood of Christ and the forgiveness of sins."

"Luther was convinced that the use of the terms 'mass' and 'sacrament' interchangeably has resulted in great confusion, and that the only way to provide a clear understanding of the nature of the Lord's Supper is to stop calling it the mass. ”Indeed, I wish and would very much like to see and hear that the two words 'mass' and 'sacrament' would be understood as being as different as darkness and light, yes, as different as devil and God."

Deacon Nicholas said...

"We are not sure what to do with the Orthodox." Really? You need to do something about us? Well, come and see, learn and understand, and when you're ready, join yourself to the Vine. Yeah, we have our problems, as we are constantly reminded, but I'll take those problems over, well, others, any of the eight days of the week.

Lutheran Lurker said...

Anonymous #1 The Lutherans may have been a mixed bag but their Confessions are not and affirm the salutary value of ceremonies and vestments without making them law. Further reading would show you that the more orthodox the Lutherans the more liturgical.

Vehse Yeah, we have heard your tired words before but the Pastor Peter's point is valid -- preferring Protestant terms for the Lord's Supper may reap seeds of Protestant and non-Biblical doctrine about the Lord's Supper. What is the greater threat? You seem to think Rome is but Pastor Peters has demonstrated often that the Evangelicals and Protestants are a more serious threat to Lutheranism.

Deacon Nickolas I believe what Pastor Peters means is what to do with in the sense of how to engage the Orthodox. YOu take offense where none was intended.

Carl Vehse said...

Read it again, Lutheran [sic] Lurker. Those are not my words, but quotes from Rev. Daniel Preus and Dr. Martin Luther. Luther also stated in the Smalcald Articles, "In addition to all this, this dragon's tail, the Mass, has begotten a numerous vermin-brood of manifold idolatries."

As for your red herring of the "greater threat," all the doctrinal threats from Romish, non-Lutheran Protestant and the Eastern [Un]orthodox religions come from one source - Satan. Castigating the false teachings of one branch while ogling the structure or form of another plays into the plans of Satan.

Pastor Peters said...

My point is this: Why must we always strive for as little as possible instead of as much as possible? In ceremony, liturgy, vestments, frequency of the Sacrament, private confession, and a host of other things we Lutherans have had a history of racing to the bottom, doing the minimum instead of striving for the most. That is also our Protestant failing. It need not be and it should not be.

Anonymous said...


The honest answer is that there is no Lutheran bias against nice things. We just as a group haven’t been able to afford nice things on a congregational level until now. I didn’t drive a nice car from the 1970s until last year because I couldn’t afford it. Same goes for most of our congregations’ history. Lutherans would be happy to have nice churches, choirs, and organs if money were plentiful. Lutherans are very proud of churches like the Frauenkirche in Dresden, etc.

As to your points:

Ceremony: is described in the confessions as edifying traditions we keep for teaching the faith. Lutherans are averse to ceremonies that are trifles (another word used in the confessions to describe ceremonies) or seem to border on synergism, superstition, or idolatry.

Liturgy: our liturgy follows that of the Common Service, based on the Brandenburg-Nürnberg church order.

Vestments: How many images of Luther preaching in a black robe do you need? Cranach depicts Lutherans in albs as well.

Communion frequency: There’s always communicants, so good job on the LCMS for encouraging the weekly ideal.

Private confession: still an option for Lutherans. General confession and absolution does the same thing.

I guess I just don’t see a real race to the bottom here. Unless pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic practice is the benchmark. Lutherans have 500 years of their own traditions, however.

Lutheran Lurker said...

The word trifles is used in the article on monastic vows and within the context of earthly traditions that are used to displace the Gospel and God's atoning work. These trifles are otherwise mentioned as good and salutary both to express and teach the faith.

Yes, Lutheran Church Orders are many but not all are equal nor were they seen as equal in weight, value, or faithfulness.

Regarding Luther in vestments, many of these paintings were done later when the historic vestments were no longer being used. But Luther's own practice is not our standard.

Funny how private confession becomes normative for Lutherans when it was not known, imagined, or desired within the first several hundred years following the Reformation.

If you want to pick a time that reflects Lutheranism best, go ahead but if you pick a time far removed from the Reformation, you have ignored both the context and the desire of the Confessions themselves.

Funny how these things get the dander up of Pastor Peter's readers more than anything else. You can disagree with him but I doubt you will change his mind. Or mine.

Anonymous said...

I don’t think we are trying to change your mind if you believe that Lutherans are not Protestants. You could even argue that we should get rid of elders, which are a Calvinist thing that have no provenance in European Lutheranism, and have bishops instead. You can argue that historic Roman Catholic forms of worship are the ideal. You can argue that Hermann Sasse’s teachings on the Sacrament are more persuasive than Luther and the Confessions. Or that they are the same.

The problem is presenting these as if this is confessional Lutheranism, or the only real Lutheranism, which must be battled for against a “less than confessional” Missouri Synod. The LCMS has a living culture and traditions based on a fidelity to the Book of Concord that her members embody in being and practice. To argue that you are not a real Lutheran unless you wear a chasuble, chant, cross yourself, place the Sacrament at the center and height of worship, have a crucifix on the altar, genuflect, pine for bishops, eschew the laity and evangelism, and think the 2017 Small Catechism and CTSFW are the very best, is simply silly and flies in the face of the reality of who we already are as confessional Lutherans.

Pastor Peters said...

Do you really think that I am saying that "unless you wear a chasuble, chant, cross yourself, place the Sacrament at the center and height of worship, have a crucifix on the altar, genuflect, pine for bishops, eschew the laity and evangelism, and think the 2017 Small Catechism and CTSFW are the very best"????? If that is all you get from this blog, you need to re-read what I have posted. Furthermore, those who would suggest that any of these things are somehow a threat to those who disagree, do not know the LCMS. These things, while more the norm in early Lutheranism, are still not the norm in the LCMS and certainly not the norm for larger congregations. The tail that wags the dog are not smaller congregations who may be more liturgical but large congregations who don't even bother with the name "Lutheran" anymore, do not use the hymnal at all, and who insist that Lutheran substance can be carefully distinguished from its style (justifying looking like a typical evangelical congregation on Sunday morning).

Honestly, I wonder if you or others who get their dander up by my posts know what happens on a Sunday morning in the LCMS -- especially in larger congregations. We have them in our region -- congregations without a liturgy, church year, altar, pulpit, baptismal font, creed, or confession and absolution. The people who go there would never in a thousand years show up at my door or at the door the plainest liturgy from the hymnal. Yes, 80% of our congregations use the hymnal and liturgy but more than half our people on Sunday morning are in those congregations where this is not the norm.

Those congregations that are more liturgical are often the object of scorn among some District Presidents and even the Pastoral Profile used to identify pastors to call still uses the unfortunate term "high" to describe the fuller use of the liturgy and treats this as an oddity to be avoided -- who wants a rigid liturgical guy as their pastor!

No evangelical style congregation in the LCMS fights to justify its choices as much as more liturgical congregations must battle against the label extreme. Many of the comments on this blog demonstrate this. You will note that I publish most comments of those who disagree with me but some commenters are so personal in their attacks I do not publish them. This vitriol shows that perhaps this issue hits a nerve with some folks. If that happens, I figure I have done my job.

I do not understand those conservatives who insist that there be no latitude when it comes to the faith we confess but do not attach the same level of concern to some of the outrageous practices that go on in the name Lutheran but are not consistent with our Confessions.

FWIW, I do not comment on my own posts very often. But I do when the issue of worship practices comes up because it is to volatile. I am not sure who "Lutheran Lurker" is but he/she is one of the few voices whose comments support my post and more often than not more of the comments register disagreement.

Anonymous said...

Good thoughts. I knew the following men:

Wilbert E. Griesse, 1966–1985.
Norman L. Groteluschen, 1985–1991.
David W. Callies, 1991–2003.
Kenneth E. Lampe, 2003–2012.
Roger Paavola, 2012-present.

They all supported traditional Lutheran liturgical worship. So does our president, CPH, seminaries, etc. The CoWo mega churches exist as outliers. Perhaps they wag the dog in California. I know of none in the Mid-South district.

Luther indeed stated that vestments, candles, incense should be free. They are adiaphora. All Lutherans understand this, and dislike the Calvinist regulatory principle of worship. The rhetoric of the high church enthusiasts unfortunately usually borders on simply a different type of regulatory principle of worship. Perhaps another tack rooted in historical Lutheran examples would be more winsome.

Another fallacy is that Lutherans only abandoned certain practices because of Reformed influences. Sweden’s Church Orders ten years removed from the Augsburg Confession tossed out prayers to saints, incense, holy water, private confession, and crossing oneself. No Reformed there. Does that mean we have to be like Sweden? No, but why battle to bring back incense or other long discarded practices if nobody cares or is clamoring for it?

A Neighbor said...

Did you forget about LakePointe? I'm not in the Mid-South but folks far and wide know about this congregation which claims to be the largest church in the district.

Anonymous said...

They have 500 on the books, which means probably around 150 in weekly attendance. That’s not a megachurch. Pastor Peters’s congregation is larger than that.

A neighbor said...

They claim an attendance of more than 700.