Saturday, May 1, 2021

What kind of trad are you?

Somebody sent me a few borrowed lines from another author.  He was complaining about people like me.  He did not appreciate those who longed for something different than what we have and especially he did not cotton to those who described themselves as traditional.  I will admit that traditional is not necessary an accurate descriptor.  Bronze age Missourians are traditional but I would not classify myself in that group.  I am not exactly nostalgic because there is no pristine moment I would like to reincarnate.  But I would like to see us take more seriously the heritage of the saints who went before us -- a more catholic view of who we are, the faith we confess, and how we worship.  

I believe it was Scott Hahn who described traditionalists as mad trads, rad trads, and glad trads.  Sometimes I am a mad trad.  Things do have a tendency to get under a person's skin after a while.  But I find it hard to be mad very long.  Some think of me as a rad trad -- radically traditional and hopelessly out of step with the times.  I suppose that is how I appear and I do often speak of radical faithfulness but in the context of the faith, faithfulness is hardly radical.  It ought to be the norm.  I think overall I am a glad trad.  I am glad of the legacy of the saints who went before.  I am not envious of others, other times, or other places.  I am glad to be where I am now.  I am glad that we have such a rich and gracious God who daily and richly blesses me and all Christians with so much more than we deserve.  I know I have my moments but they are the complaints of someone who cares about the Church and the faithful, who loves the Church and the faithful, and who believes that the only hope for the world is a faithful Church and faithful people living out their baptismal vocation.  

Much of modern Christianity is remarkably shallow.  It is like trying to swim in a few inches of water.  There is not much room.  It is hard to get going.  The Word of the Lord is treated more as a reference point or meme than the Word in which the Spirit is at work accomplishing God's saving will.  The Sacraments, if they are treated at all, are seen as sentimental and individual moments, more private than communal, and more about what you bring to the Table than what God gives you there.  It is a bland Christianity that grows old fast and makes you wonder if there is anymore than this.  It is a beige Christianity that has no color and no passion at all -- it is hard to dislike but it is hard to like as well.

Much of modern Christianity is as bland as the warehouse buildings they call churches.  Sprayed black ceilings of industrial framing and HVAC equipment, windowless and defined by their screens, we sit on the same uphostered chairs lined up on plain concrete floors, it is thought to be chic but it is dull. In contrast, traditional churches with their stained glass, statuary, wood carving, and appointments provide an interesting canvas for the eye.  Some people think it is busy but it offers all kinds of glimpses of the faith.  Just like the fuller ceremonial of the Divine Service, it is not bland or dull but rich and deep.  That is what we need.  A deep faith, a deep Church, and a rich faith in a rich Church (no, I do not mean rich in money but rich in the things of God and in the joy that flows from His gifts).  That is the glad trad way.  I know I am not alone but it is a struggle sometimes in the face of those who think our only future is the beige way that blends in instead of standing out.  So call me a trad.  I don't care.  But if you want to be accurate, at least call me a glad trad.


Steve said...

Pictures are worth a thousand words, and the photo of the pastor serving a Franconian congregation in Michigan in the liturgical tradition of Loehe is certainly part of Missouri’s heritage. The problem with moving from the oftentimes cloudy and particular realm of Lutheran tradition to a broader catholic tradition is when doctrine becomes broader as well. There are many intellectual eastern orthodox enthusiasts in vocal clergy circles. These men begin to argue for crossing oneself, incense, communion for children, prayers to saints and for the dead, admire the use of icons, veneration of Mary, and a host of other traditions precisely because they are part of “the received traditions of the church catholic.” There is a certain willful Lutheran amnesia towards our own tradition, which is imperfectly but most closely preserved in the recollections of Bronze Age Missouri. Part of this amnesia is due to the fact that Americans generally assimilate, not isolate. The charge of sectarianism provides the theological cover for creating mistrust and oftentimes ridicule of Missouri’s Protestant Lutheran past.

Most traditional LCMS Lutherans don’t cross ourselves. It’s not because it’s too Catholic. It’s because that isn’t part of the Lutheran tradition. It rather seems to be a practice that was largely abandoned early on by the evangelicals during the Reformation. The theological reason for not crossing oneself is probably because it reflects synergism, in that I am preparing myself to receive grace. Lutheranism is a monergistic theology in contrast. We welcome the pastor making the sign of the cross over the congregation instead precisely because it communicates God’s grace presented to us in Word and Sacrament.

But what young, zealous Lutheran pastor thinks of such things today.

Pastor Peters said...

What an odd comment!
Most traditional LCMS Lutherans don’t cross ourselves. It’s not because it’s too Catholic. It’s because that isn’t part of the Lutheran tradition.

Do you really mean to say that something every Catechism has encouraged, the sign of the cross before morning and evening prayer, is not Lutheran tradition?

Sure there are Lutherans who have disowned the sign of the cross but to suggest that they are traditional and the Catechism is not (along with those who make the sign of the cross) is to defy all logic. Perhaps Lutherans today are ambivalent about their own history and tradition but that is not traditional -- it is anti their own tradition. Isn't that the problem I am trying to identify?

Aaron David said...

Religious Tradition is not determined by what a particular religious people do, but by what they're supposed to do.

doofus said...

Synergism? So the Early Christians and Apostolic Fathers were synergists????

Steve said...

Yes. Not everything Luther wrote became part of the Lutheran tradition. Early Lutheran writings show a keen and widespread grasp of the concept of adiaphora. Luther wrote in 1527 that Lutherans should in his opinion keep the Elevation, but reinterpret it “as a reminder of Christ.”
Note that he did not write, “to confess the real presence after the consecration.” But overall, the Lutheran Church disagreed and did away with elevating the elements, because of the association with sacrifice and adoration. He also wanted the distribution of the bread immediately after the words “This is my body,” and then a separate distribution of the chalice immediately after the words “this is my blood.” The Lutheran Church disagreed and kept the traditional practice of distribution.

Likewise, you will not find widespread individual signing oneself with the cross in German and Scandinavian Lutheran churches, because as a whole, that practice was not part of the Lutheran tradition.

Unknown said...

But the Catechism is not just something Luther wrote.

Steve said...

True, but the principle of adiaphora as articulated by Luther, the Augsburg Confession, and an entire article of the Formula of Concord stipulates that Lutherans are not bound to ceremonies, which are not even accorded the status of true worship, which occurs in spirit and truth. I’m not saying that the early Lutherans abandoned crossing themselves because they were deep thinkers about synergism. The abandonment took place because it was a very visible act associated with medieval superstition. The average medieval Christian crossed themselves as a sign of protection, warding off evil and worry, and as a means of invoking grace. Protestants realized that Grace was God’s unmerited favor for the sake of Christ, received through faith by means of his word and sacrament alone. There was an interesting debate among the Lutherans at the Synod of Uppsala in 1593 over whether to keep the sing of the cross by the pastor as part of the liturgy, which it ultimately was in self-conscious opposition to the Reformed.

Pastor Peters said...

Or they stopped making the sign of the cross under influence of non- Lutherans.

Steve said...

If there were a clear divide between southwest and northeast German Lutheran practices (i.e. northern German and Scandinavians crossed themselves and southern Germans did not), as there clearly was in the Lutheran liturgies from the beginning, I might be tempted to agree with you. But there’s no evidence of the survival of the practice among Lutherans. Even the earliest Church Orders, from Petri’s 1531 Swedish Mass to Brenz’s Württemberg Order of 1536 show significant changes made by the Lutherans independent of whatever the Swiss were up to. An exception to this is Brenz’s reintroducing the surplice (the Lutheran Württembergers had simply vested in black beforehand) in the 1556 order.

Pastor Peters said...

If I followed what you say to its logical conclusion, it would bring almost every serious Lutheran into despair. Because it would mean there’s no such thing as Lutheran worship at all and there is no such thing as normative tradition for Lutherans — as embodied in their confessional documents. It would mean that people are free to do whatever they darn please. While that may be the aberration, the thing that keeps me Lutheran is the conviction that this is only an aberration and not normative, not reflective of our confessional integrity, and not who we say we are on Sunday morning.

Pastor Peters said...

Honestly, I think adiaphora has become liturgical hell for confessional Lutherans.

Steve said...

Not true. Lutherans are notoriously conservative, and we have two volumes of Die evangelischen Kirchenordnungen des XVI. Jahrhunderts, by Emil Sehling that yes show diversity, but much more uniformity overall. TLH is basically a recreation of the Brandenburg/Nürnberg Order of 1533 penned by Osiander and Brenz. Every old American Lutheran congregation has a crucifix somewhere, which once stood on the altar. Eucharistic vestments were the norm. General confession and absolution existed alongside separate confessional services for those intending to commune. Candles on the altar were the norm, incense not so much. Bowing before the altar yes, genuflection before the elements not so much. Refusing to speculate on the “when” of the real presence during the use is Lutheran, defining it at the consecration is not. Chanting or speaking the liturgy are equally Lutheran.

It’s not really that difficult to reconstruct.