Monday, October 25, 2021

The temptation of power. . .

There was a time when the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod was moving from its linguistic and cultural ghetto of German immigrant identity and entering into the American mainstream.  During the 1950s and 1960s the people of the LCMS were themselves moving and we were becoming a more urban and suburban church body.  At the same time, our theological professors were also moving out of the shadow of our own educational circles and were enjoying a prominence and acceptance in the halls of the ivy league as well.  

Rome was also enjoying its own access to power and glory in the vaunted institutions of American government and education.  The phone calls of cardinals and bishops were being taken and Rome was making friends and influencing people all over the place.  For a church body whose membership had once been primarily among the immigrants America accepted but did not welcome, Rome became more than a bit player on the political and educational stage.

The limelight was not without a cost.  The roots of Missouri's unpleasantness were planted not simply in the exposure of our theologians to the doctrinal and hermeneutical influence of others but in our desire to be included at the table and given their respect.  Eventually, Missouri would go through a conflict which was created not only by interest in the heterodox but by the distance this interest created between the teachers of the church and her people.  The end result was not simply the reaffirmation of an infallible Scripture but the embrace of a diversity which insisted evangelical worship was as legitimate a face for Lutheranism than the liturgy.  Our people were now free not only to sample the once forbidden wares of higher criticism but also to feast at the table of the church growth movement.

Rome's own problems were and are similar.  The Cardinal McCarricks of the world are the poisoned fruit of a tree already rotten with desire to be seen as full members of the American industrial, educational, and governmental elite.  Slowly but surely the moral authority of Rome would be compromised with a corrupt hierarchy and a church in love with the spotlight.  It did not take long before doctrine would become fuzzy and virtue would give way to expediency.  The elitism of experts would take the modest reforms of Vatican II and turn it into a wholesale change of piety and belief.  The rupture between the past and the new post-council church would come back to haunt a church body whose leadership were sure that the change or die was their future.

In the end, it is the same thing -- the temptation of power.  We want a church that is feared more than one that is loved and we want access to the powerful even if we do not have that kind of power.  It will be our undoing more than anything else.  Perhaps the grave threat to label the orthodox faith hate speech and the intimidation of a government at ease enforcing its point of view will finally expose our fornication with power and force us to be see the real choices before us.  The world has attacked the sanctity of life since before 1973 and many churches have drunk the kool-aid of progressivism.  The world has challenged the distinctives of Christian morality especially in the area of sexual ethics for some time.  Only now do we see the great divide between those who have silenced the Scripture and ignored Christian tradition and those who are willing to suffer for the sake of the truth.  The world has attacked the historical base of the Scriptures until so many Christian theologians have agreed with the critics that the Bible is myth and legend that we preach a Christ who did not have to die and one who certainly did not rise but none of that makes any difference to the preaching.

There is a part of all orthodox Christianity that ought to welcome the persecution the world seems ready and willing to give.  It may just force us to find the backbone we had and forgot.  It may teach us the wisdom of the Psalmist who warned us against trusting in earthly kingdoms and rulers and flesh and blood and its ways.  I fear that day when churches may well have to live on the fringes of our society but I do not fear that this will be our end.  Our end will come from our own willingness to trade faithfulness to God for respectability in the world.  Who wants to bother with a faith and a church that fears what man can do more than what God can do?  That is more concerned with the passing treasures of the moment than the eternal treasure of Christ's body in suffering and His blood shed to forgive sinners and grant them everlasting life?  That plays with truth to get power instead of speaking truth to power?  Nothing good will come from or to a church embarrassed by the Scriptures or ashamed of its own history, theology, and doctrine.


Anonymous said...

“Nothing good will come from or to a church embarrassed by the Scriptures or ashamed of its own history, theology, and doctrine.“

One of the most vexing questions for confessional Lutherans today regarding the history of authentic Lutheran worship practices is this: “Did 16th century Lutherans cross themselves and was this practice rapidly lost due to Reformed influence later on?”

I think I’ve stumbled across the answer.

One of the less studied documents of Lutheran liturgical history is Cranmer’s 1549 Book of Common Prayer. Cranmer's new prayer book was based on the Sarum Use, but was influenced by German Lutheran services. Regarding the individual sign of the cross, we read the following rubric: “… Kneeling, crossing, holding up of hands, knocking upon the breast, and other gestures, they may be used, or left, as every man’s devotion serveth without blame." So it is logical to conclude that this would have also been the common attitude and practice among Lutherans of the time as well. Indeed, when we search through various Lutheran writings on liturgical practices of the day, it is Luther’s principle of adiaphora that shines forth as a Lutheran guide and constant in distinction from Reformed or Roman Catholic attitudes and practices. This is also probably why “Adiaphora” is enshrined as an entire topic within the Lutheran Confessions.

Archimandrite Gregory said...

Rome has become a church with many synods and high sounding slogans that change at whim much like fashion marketing. No real substance in any of it and among many in their hierarchy. Our own Ecumenical Patriarch is here in USA in order to cash in on the American money. Thank God Orthodoxy is not a monolithic church in spite of what the patriarch of Istanbul might want us to believe. "Put not your trust in princes, the sons of men in whom there is no salvation."

William Tighe said...

It is rather rash to use Cranmer as an authority for Lutheran attitudes, as he has already embraced a Swiss Reformed view of the Eucharist by the time of the promulgation of the 1549 Prayer Book. In any event, one gets a rather different picture from Ernst Walter Zeeden's Faith and Act: The survival of Medieval Ceremonies in the Lutheran Reformation, (St. Louis, 2012: Concordia Publishing House. Original German ed., 1959), pp. 36-46 and elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I respectfully hear you, William, but I don’t think that Cranmer’s Swiss view of the Eucharist has anything to do with kneeling, crossing, raising hands, or knocking on one’s breast, all of which were common individual medieval liturgical expressions of piety, as adiaphora. If his views had influenced this particular rubric, he would have instead followed Zwingli’s 1531 order of service which did not include any of the above practices. The Swiss were not kneeling for communion in 1531, much less 1549, so their practice does not have any bearing here. This tolerance for an either/or approach however IS consonant with Lutheran writings of the same time, hence my connection to Lutheran practice. The 1549 prayer book was influenced by Lutheran, not Zwinglian services. And while most Lutheran Church Orders of this time are frustratingly sparse on specific liturgical rubrics (for example, Bugenhagen may mention in his orders that the traditional vestments be kept and bells rung during communion, but little else) they do share a common spirit drawn from Luther regarding adiaphora.

Why crossing oneself vanished from Lutheran practice is as fascinating a question for the historian as early Evangelical attitudes towards it. Zeeden’s work was retitled by CPH from the original German “Catholic Leftovers in the Lutheran Church” to the very different meaning “Survival of Medieval Ceremonies in the Lutheran Church.” The original correctly implies a hodgepodge localized reality, whereas the American version implies an intentional monolith of continuity. I personally believe that the individual sign of the cross in Lutheranism survived as adiaphora among Lutherans while Luther and Melanchthon were still alive, but rapidly vanished afterward in the wake of the Interim and second generation Lutherans. Change comes rapidly. Calvinism’s influence swept like a tidal wave over the Evangelical lands in the 1550s. The Imperial Catholics went to war against the Lutherans in 1548. Gnesio-Lutherans, who American Lutherans today mistakenly view as faithful champions of all things traditional and medieval, banned all mass vestments in the Book of Confutation. So there were several significant mid-century events that precipitated a more uniquely Lutheran self consciousness in practice that was opposed to both Roman and Reformed. The workings out of this development can be seen in the Book of Concord, where adiaphora is ultimately restated as the Lutheran position, albeit with the new caveats that practices are not adiaphora when forced on the churches from hostile opponents (against the Imperialists and Reformed) and when practices imply that there is no longer a difference between the churches (against Melanchthon).

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters,

Either allow your readers to comment and converse, or don’t allow comments at all.

Your selective curating of remarks only creates the illusion of a free exchange of ideas for what is instead the selected applause from the choir.

Pastor Peters said...

I had open comments without moderation until some commenters abused this and were vulgar or offensive. I do not have to allow comments at all. If you don’t like it, don’t read the blog. Since I work full-time and this is a side line I do not check comments every day. Further, you can look me up and email me if that is a problem.