Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Bronze Age Missourians. . .

There are those who take offense when I use the term bronze age Missourians.  They are probably correct to note that this is not a positive label.  But I think that many do not understand with how I have used that term.  So maybe it is time to explain it.

By bronze age Missourians, I mean those whose understanding of the faith and whose practice was shaped by what many in Missouri call our heyday -- the 1910s-1940s.  Those were the days when we were growing as a Synod, had an abundance of men training to be pastors, had many parochial schools, had many women and men training to be called teachers, and we were mostly in the same lane when it came to doctrine and practice (especially worship).  Those are the things that folks miss in the uncertain days like today when we are not growing, when our parishes are getting smaller, when we are short of men in Seminary and both women and men in training to be teachers, when we are closing schools instead of opening them, when we are not united in doctrine or in practice (especially worship).  I get that.  Believe you me, I wish we had some of that back as well.

When I mean, however, is that however good the times were for us, we were not exactly the best Lutherans when it comes to the markers laid out by the Augustana.  We had abolished the Mass.  Most of our parishes had the Sacrament only quarterly and we can all agree that it had long ago stopped being the center of our focus for the Divine Service or our individual piety.  We had abolished private confession.  There was hardly a passing reference to it in the edition of Luther's Small Catechism used at the time.  Our pastors and our parishes were islands, distant from their community and neighbors -- more known for their isolation than for their connection.  We did not emphasize our baptismal identity but focused more on a faith that gave intellectual assent to propositions (or proof texts) from the Scriptures.  We were out of touch with our past and presumed it was as monolithic as we were at the time.  We defined the faith more by what we were against than what we were for -- never a good thing.  We were deeply suspicious of other Christians and held our Roman Catholic neighbors in deep contempt.  We ran our congregations like democratic institutions -- voting on matters that were in the domain of the Pastor and the Word of God and then insisting we were not.

We thought we knew what Luther looked like and what Lutherans were but we had barely scratched the Book of Concord or looked beyond our own experience growing up to define such things.  Luther wore a black Geneva gown, had the Sacrament quarterly, tossed out private confession (along with the Book of James), told us that German was the perfect language for academic theology, and that it was better to have no piety at all than an external one.  None of this is true, of course.  I grew up with an great extended family which was formed in such a time.  My father questioned me but never questioned the pastor who confirmed him.  It was only when I got him the handy tool of the Readers Edition of the Book of Concord that he read outside the lines.  At first he did not believe this was what we confessed and then began to be angry.  He had been taught that to come to the Sacrament was a solemn ordeal centered in the confession of our sins more than the communication of their forgiveness.  Like him, I experienced a new birth of Lutheranism much more positive than my catechetical upbringing as I began to read, learn, and be taught in preparation for the pastoral ministry.  Unlike some of the people in my age group, I was not rebelling against the music or the reverence or the doctrine but that we had passed on a glimpse of Lutheranism that was not authentic to the bigger picture and then had declared it to be the only true Lutheranism.

While some might insist that my view of such things is skewed by my own experience, I have found many commonalities on the East Coast, in the South, and throughout the Mid-West where I have lived, studied, and served.  I am not condemning the people -- they were taught as their pastors taught them.  What I am condemning is the idea that Lutheranism in its past and its best form for the future looks like snapshot of those times.  We were certainly not Lutheran lite but we were Lutherans with blinders on -- blinders to our own catholic perspective as the Augustana puts it and to what we were really reforming.  Why is it that Luther and the Lutherans of the first couple of hundred years were willing to keep what the Lutherans of that period would fight and die to prevent?  When did the half mass that ended at the offering become the norm for a Church that had insisted we celebrate the Lord's Supper every Lord's Day and every other day people desire to receive it?  When did a sense of liturgical minimalism define how we saw not only the Divine Service but even the shape of our individual piety?

If the contemporary worship movement has spawned confusion and distorted our Lutheran identity, then so has the myth that Lutherans everywhere and always have looked like the bronze age Missourians of our past.  This is not a matter of choosing one or the other.  This is about the rediscovery of the vibrant, careful, and catholic Confessions of our Church.  It is about seeing the hymnal as a minimal Sunday morning expression of what it means to be Lutheran while also affirming that there is a rich history of ceremony that adds to the basic rubrics of the Divine Service as it has been published among us.  It is about a personal and individual piety that is not me 'n Jesus against the world or the Bible as inspirational sentiment but about my life no longer mine as it is born of baptismal water, of a vocation and not simply a secular life with a Sunday morning component, and of the Eucharist as the heart and center of our weekly gathering.  It is about the Scriptures not as book of facts or ideas but the living voice of God who still speaks and addresses us with the words of life -- words that do not have truth because we give them truth or meaning because we define them but efficacious words that do what they say every time they speak.  It is about a worldview shaped by our baptismal life in Christ fed, nourished, and directed by the Word and the Eucharist -- and not simply a more religious or conservative version of what happens outside the Church.  It is about being able to affirm what we confess and not simply negate the wrongs in our culture, society, and nation.  

For example, can any Lutheran actually say why marriage is so important, why marriage between a man and a woman is so important, and why children are so important -- instead of simply saying why divorce and cohabitation are bad or marriage should not be redefined for other genders and sexual preferences or why to have or not have children is a private decision for the couple to make and to practice by any means of birth control?  If we cannot affirm the positive in God's order, how dare we speak at all!  And this goes for much of the faith.  If being Lutheran only matters in terms of what we are not (not Baptists or Roman Catholics), something is wrong.  I grew up on the tail of the bronze age and I did not know why we worshiped as we did, why the family was the shape of the home, community, and the church, whether the Bible was an encyclopedia of knowledge or a book of rules for living or faith propositions to be believed.  I knew I was Lutheran but did not know how to explain my Lutheranism except that I was not something else.  That is what failed us from that era.  Perhaps it did not matter as profoundly as it matters today that we could not answer these questions but I can tell you this, Missouri will not find renewal in trying to return to the earlier decades of the twentieth century anymore than she will find renewal trying to keep up with the rapid pace of change we find today.

If you are offended by my comments, I am sorry.  I hope you are challenged by them to look deeper and give answer in a positive sense to the hope that is in you and to the shape of your life together around the Word and Table of the Lord and individually as you live out what it means to be a baptized child of God.

8 comments:

campusRev said...

Hello Brother Peters! I agree with you. I believe we're about the same age, and your theological discoveries and reaction is nearly identical to mine! I endeavor to instill in my catechumens that the "old Lutheranism" in which I grew up was inadequate in explaining just what "in Christ" really means. It wasn't until I began reading the Book of Concord on my own as a 25 year-old ("Wow, I've heard of this, but have never really seen a copy"). I had moved closer and closer to the evangelicals, and was almost ready to hand in my Lutheran ID, but then I read the entire Book of Concord in a little more than a week. Suddenly I felt joyful being a Lutheran, thinking, "This is what we actually teach and believe?? I'm all for it!" The point in saying this is that I believe that this is why the LCMS has been shrinking. When many a faithful Lutheran received a "half-mass" throughout their life, with no understanding of the gifts received in Word and Sacrament, then they are only "half-taught", not knowing the "Why" of anything they've felt was important throughout their life, and becoming hugely susceptible to going down the road of the contemporary evangelical, non-denominational world, where people "SEEMED to be much more genuinely Christian". I believe bronze age teaching is still going on, with congregations relying on Youth Gatherings to hold on to their kids rather than teaching them of what it means to be a child of the Heavenly Father, how important that little phrase "in Christ" is in understanding the richness of our baptism and the gifts received in the Lord's Supper. Pastor Peters, I am with you! I thank God for the faithful pastors who have been trained with this understanding for the past 35 years or so. There are so many who still do not see it, but we can only pray that the Lord of the Harvest will send faithful men to teach and preach.

Mrs H said...

Thank you for your blog statement. I was born and raised in the LCMS (just celebrated by 72nd baptismal birthday on July 30) and became a Lutheran teacher, graduating from Seward in 72. I then accepted a call to teach in Australia where I still live. I feel quite blessed that God kept me safe after my parents divorced with a father who continued to pray for me and eventually sent me to SJC, Winfield and then Seward for me to be a teacher. I so easily could have gone astray.
Arriving in Australia I was placed in a confessional church and school with wonderful pastors and members. As you probably know, the ALC is going through some troubled times with the push for WO for probably 30 years and now with the push to accept the LBTQ+ community. Thankfully, the churches in my area are still confessional with my particular parish viewed by many of the leaders of the synod as thorn in the flesh because of our push to stand by the Lutheran Confessions and the church's constitution. It is sad that the voting for WO keeps getting added to our synod conventions even though it hasn't been passed by the pastors, which it should.
I still feel I am not only a member of the ALC, but also LCMS and so I get upset when I read on different Lutheran Facebook pages some people are so conservative that they think that only LCMS will be saved, that the only liturgy and hymns are in the Lutheran Hymnal and that they would never watch a movie, tv show, podcast or Youtube video about Christ unless it was Lutheran. Although I still love the traditional order of services found in the hymnal I see no problem with using other orders, because they still follow the same liturgical order but with more modern words and songs/hymns. We never use Hillsong or Bethel songs. Maybe since I have read the Book of Concord, and other Lutheran commentaries, listened to Lutheran podcasts I can discern what I think is correct and reject other ideas I feel there is much we can learn from other media. If they get you back to reading your bible, great!
Sorry, I wasn't going to write so much. I just got carried away with my thoughts.
God bless and stay safe in Jesus' arms,
Dona Hartwich, Hamilton, Victoria, Australia

mlorfeld said...

A slight correction. The Lutheran black talar preaching gown is distinct from the Geneva gown. PE Kretzmann has a discussion of this here http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/KretzmannClericalVestments.pdf

I wrongly assumed they were one and the same until stumbling upon the discussions of the liturgy and vestments by our theologians in the early 20th century.

James said...

Mrs H wrote:

"I still feel I am not only a member of the ALC, but also LCMS and so I get upset when I read on different Lutheran Facebook pages some people are so conservative that they think that only LCMS will be saved, that the only liturgy and hymns are in the Lutheran Hymnal and that they would never watch a movie, tv show, podcast or Youtube video about Christ unless it was Lutheran."

I agree with you. However, most pop-Evangelical movies, tv shows, podcasts and Youtube videos are pure heretical garbage. That fact alone is the reason why so many "LCMS" confessional Lutheran laymen are suspicious of anything non-Lutheran. There are exceptions to this rule, but they are very few in number. How many current and prospective confessional Lutherans would bother reading the Book of Concord and other Lutheran commentaries, listening to Lutheran podcasts, etc. How do you make the "old stuff" seem "cool?"

Pastor Peters: It is true that confessional Lutherans spend more time promoting what they are against than what they stand for. Is there any way confessional Lutherans could ever learn to become more "proactive" about Lutheran doctrine and identity while learning to become "less suspicious" about other Christian denominations and also "less mean" to other people?

Steve said...

I really like the snapshot in time theme you have brought up several times recently. The Augsburg Confession was certainly intended to explain that what the Lutherans taught was fully catholic and that Lutherans should be acceptable within the Roman Catholic Church. That is not in dispute. We have other confessions, however, and the hope for toleration was dashed by the anathemas of Trent. Luther’s Smalcald Articles in particular are much more stridently Protestant Lutheran in content, fully aware of the separation that is real, and so one wonders if this is the sort of document that Luther had wished Melanchthon had penned in 1530. Probably partly this is so and probably partly shaped by the events of the next seven years.

My point is that using the Augustana itself as a snapshot in time presents its own problems. Sure, we can all feel good that we just want to get along with the Roman Catholics. But the ELCA has already gone this route, which leads to universalism, empty ceremonialism, and doctrinal indifference. My fear is that today’s LCMS Confessionals are unintentionally headed the same feel good direction while largely ignoring the later confessions.

It was Piepkorn who first proposed the Augustana as an ecumenical tool for rapprochement with Rome. And this was the globalist ecumenical spirit of the age. And actual Lutheranism did not fit this new paradigm. Lutherans were set apart in doctrine and ceremonies and this was stifling and too isolating for many. And so we created the idea of going back to 1530: when we all were evangelical Catholics happily crossing ourselves and being faithful to the visible Church. Many LCMS theologians defended as many Roman theological ideas as Lutheran as possible, such as declaring that the Mass is a sacrifice. The 2019 national convention featured worship using the Roman Confiteor and the breaking of the host at the altar.

Reinvention of Lutheranism can only happen when the common shared experience of Lutheranism is on the wane. Luther did in fact preach in a black talar. The priests did wear albs and chasubles. Lutherans chanted. Crossing oneself was abandoned as adiaphora, probably because it was seen as medieval, or old fashioned during the Renaissance, and superstitious. Of the two major Lutheran reformers, it was the much-maligned Melanchthon, not Luther, who fought for retention of the surplice. But painting a broad vision of a Catholic Lutheranism based upon the editorial ideal of the 2006 Book of Concord is not any better than a Bronze Age Protestant Missouri.

Steve said...

Pastor, notice in the picture you provided that there is a good confessional Lutheran crucifix on that Bronze Age altar!

Pastor Peters said...

Curious statement: Crossing oneself was abandoned as adiaphora, probably because it was seen as medieval, or old fashioned during the Renaissance, and superstitious. Curious because Luther's Small Catechisms included that from generation to generation so I am not at all sure what it means that it was abandoned. Not officially, at least.

Steve said...

The liturgical history of the Lutheran Church does not include a tradition of crossing oneself. The Small Catechism includes instructions for crossing oneself before prayer. As you noted, this instruction was never excised from subsequent printings of the catechism. How to reconcile the two? As I’ve remarked here before, I believe that there are a few textual clues as to why this was the case. First, as we know from the Deutsche Mass not all of Luther’s liturgical directions were followed. Second, the Lutheran influenced Book of Common Prayer directs that crossing oneself, beating one’s breast, and raising hands as one’s piety moved a man should be counted as adiaphora and not judged by others. This is important in that these are all grouped together as specifically medieval acts of piety, which were seen as objectionable (superstitious) by many Evangelicals during the Renaissance or at best old fashioned. Luther’s principle of adiaphora was very widely known early on and served as a guide for early Lutheran liturgical decisions, as evidence from various church orders. Finally, the tone of the Smalcald Articles is more harshly critical in the Preface of certain traditional practices and ceremonial, even including ones that the Lutheran Church eventually kept, such as surplices, which indicates that even Luther was not deaf to the tone of the times. The practical history of the Reformation was much more adversarial and polemical in general than our more removed academic view of Luther today. Hence the disparity between Luther’s direction and what resulted in practice. It’s a complicated history.