Monday, September 20, 2021

Not who we are. . .

I recently read a criticism of The Lutheran Witness by some wag who thought the official periodical of the LCMS did not accurately portray our Synod as we are.  This person thought the art work was not even of Lutheran congregations and complained that the journal was skewed toward a high church viewpoint.  I suppose you could argue.  We could go back over the last year and debate how many photos or graphics would fit a more liturgical lens and how many pastors were photographed in Eucharistic vestments or how many an elegant reredos or crucifix was shown.  I am not sure that would get us anywhere.  For what it is worth, I can well recall when I first saw a chasuble on a pastor in an official LCMS publication.  But I am old.  It was a long time ago -- more than a couple generations!  That said, this post is not about what you will or will not see on the pages of The Lutheran Witness or any LCMS periodical.  It is about the role of these publications.

There is really not much value in showing us as we are.  We are not always that great.  What gain have we of displaying what might be essentially our mediocrity?  A great number of years ago our Synod published a book with photos that depicted one day in the life of the LCMS.  It was but a snapshot in time of a church body that is not stuck in time.  We are ever breathing the air of the Spirit who works through the Word of the Lord to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We are ever becoming more and more the new person in Christ who rose up from those baptismal waters to wear Christ's righteousness before the world.  We are ever growing and being grown by this Spirit through the food of Christ's flesh and the drink of His blood.  We are ever maturing and growing stronger in the faith as the Spirit brings us to repentance and then leads us to the comforting and consoling word of Christ's absolution.

The role of our official church publications should not be to give an accurate view of who we are at any given moment but those periodicals should be aspirational -- they should challenge us to become the people we confess we are and the church we confess we are.  It is more the function of an ELCA publication to portray their church body as they are -- every fringe and stray thread of a loosely woven fabric in which other things seem to come before faithfulness.  It is not the function of an LCMS publication to celebrate who we are but to give the best witness of what it means to be Lutheran to those inside our church body and to the world watching from the outside.  We need to be on those pages the best of who we are in theology, confession, witness, service, worship, art, beauty, and rite.  Kudos to those who make sure that what we read in that monthly journal is a call to be our best self, our best church, and to best practices -- consistent with the Word of God and reflective of our Lutheran Confessions.

It is tiresome to constantly try to reflect the accuracy of adiaphora and its diversity of those who love to deviate from our Confessional goal only for the sake of being different.  Yes, there are pastors who wear polos and khakis or tees and jeans in warehouse buildings devoid of the ordinary accoutrements of chancel and nave and who try to turn technology into a sacramental grace.  There are too many.  But do we need to display them in our official publications and promote this face of the LCMS?  I don't.  I expect that just about any moderate to low church LCMS pastor or congregation in black gown, cassock surplice and stole or alb and stole would feel a deeper kinship with their high church counterpart more than with these evangelical style big box non-denominational wannabes.  And they should.  The battle here is not with those who would encourage a richer ceremonial, architecture, or liturgical life but with those who strip away these markers of our identity in what they claim is a pursuit of mission.  Perhaps our church is in the fight for its life over how little you can look like a Lutheran on Sunday morning and still get away with it but that tragic conflict will do little good for us displayed upon the pages of our Synod's periodicals.

From mission to worship, from confession to congregation, from parochial school to seminary, we ought to be striving for more and not settling for less.  And the pages of our periodicals ought to encourage this aspiration and not derail it by attempting to portray every attempt to flaunt our tradition.  We are not iconoclasts.  We are not opposed to art and beauty in service to the Gospel.  We are not a people who allow a few odd folks who love more while striving for less over all.  Thanks be to God that our editors and contributors have worked so tirelessly and well to encourage the best from us.  I say to Roy Askins and those who went before him and their whole crew, you are doing a fine job!  Keep up the good work!  And for all those out there who do not get what I am talking about, subscribe today for the bargain of the year!

6 comments:

Paulus said...

I was once one of those who considered 'high church' to be a pejorative description of worship. Now, I have a deep reverence for Confessional worship as expressed in the Divine Service. It is solid, timeless, and undergirds my faith in ways difficult to express. It is heartening to know that our seminaries are graduating men who would not "strip away these markers of our identity" in the claim of pursuing a "mission".

Steve said...

Thanks for calling me a wag.

Thanks also to Pastor Weedon for this quote, which reflects the traditional Lutheran balance between freedom and order:

“A faithful servant of the Church should not have such a desire for change to the point where he wants to change according to his own desires the usual church practice and ceremonies that have been accepted by a holy consensus of the Church. By such changes, all sorts of offenses and divisions can easily arise. Instead, he should above all else, keep the traditional salutary church practices.”

Traditional LCMS church practices at present include alb, stole, liturgy, LSB, and singing “The Church’s One Foundation” regularly.

They don’t tend to include copes, incense, bishops, calling pastors “Father,” genuflection before the altar after the consecration, icons, or the saccharine paintings of Bouguereau. The Lutheran Church has a rich artistic tradition of its own waiting to be mined, from Dürer, Cranach, Aldegrever, Hopfer, Schön, Gerung, Füllmaurer, Schulz, and Hisgen to Donndorf, Friedrich, and Thorvaldsen.

Pastor Peters said...

The Gerhard quote did not reference LCMS church practices but traditional practices of the church period. LCMS tradition is a blip on that radar. Even wider Lutheran history regularizes the practices to which some wags object.

Pastor Peters said...

The Gerhard quote did not reference LCMS church practices but traditional practices of the church period. LCMS tradition is a blip on that radar. Even wider Lutheran history regularizes the practices to which some wags object.

Pastor Peters said...

The Gerhard quote did not reference LCMS church practices but traditional practices of the church period. LCMS tradition is a blip on that radar. Even wider Lutheran history regularizes the practices to which some wags object.

Pastor Peters said...

The Gerhard quote did not reference LCMS church practices but traditional practices of the church period. LCMS tradition is a blip on that radar. Even wider Lutheran history regularizes the practices to which some wags object.