Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Until the changes are permanent. . .

According to his own statements, Pope Francis hopes to remain as pontiff until the changes he is making are permanent.  Interesting.  Most of the changes he is making represent a distinct departure from the past and from his own predecessors.  But that has not stopped him from attempting to move Rome away from that past and from the former occupants of the papal chair.  Curious, though, is the idea that if he stays a few more years, the changes will be permanent.  That is a dangerous assumption for him to make.  The changes he has put in place represent a short-term change against what had been in place for many centuries.  How can you make something permanent in the brief span of his pontificate -- especially in relation to the longer tenure of the things he is trying to change?

I am not without sympathy for his intent.  In fact, I hope to do something of the same thing.  Having come to a congregation in which Holy Communion was occasional, private confession was never spoken about, and Lutherans were envisioned as a conservative Protestant group with a peculiar worship style, I hope that I am here long enough for these to be forgotten and disavowed.  But the difference between us is that I am trying to renew what has always been Lutheran confessional and liturgical identity while he is attempting to distance Rome from its past.  There is a difference.

There are those who constantly flood my mail with comments when I post something about this evangelical catholic commitment to doctrine and practice (as the Augustana sets forth).  They would rather see Lutheran identity as an evolving one in which the more catholic version of the Reformation era has moved past this to a less catholic face for Lutheranism -- particularly one I have sometimes characterized as bronze age.  This identity is happy to replace private confession permanently with the general absolution of Sunday morning (or even a simple declaration of grace) and to vest like the Reformed in their academic gowns and to have the Sacrament quarterly.  This identity sees the practices of the earliest days, retained more or less in different geographic areas of Lutheranism, as alien to the true spirit of the Lutheranism (which seems to be less is more when it comes to ceremony, ritual, and church usage).  For the life of me I cannot understand why anyone would choose this aberration as normative over the more catholic ceremonial unless preference is really all that matters here.

My point is this -- and I think it fits for Rome as well.  Either what we do on Sunday morning reflects our confession or our confession does not affect what we do.  The surest way for us to end up with a meaningless faith is to insist that what we do does not matter and thus the faith becomes theoretical rather than practical.  For Rome this means alienating the shape of the liturgy from the past because the new liturgy really does represent a change in faith -- this seems to be something upon which both Francis and his more conservative critics are agreed.  Francis seems intent upon trying to make the two incompatible and cement the reform that represents a different chapter in their future than you could read in their past.  

I fear Lutherans might be tempted to the same thing.  If what we do on Sunday morning does not shape or norm or define what we do on Sunday morning, then the faith is really merely an idea -- it lives in the head but not the heart or hands.  Those who reject drinking from the well of evangelicalism insist that if you change the liturgy (or ditch it entirely), that is a change in doctrine and faith.  What you do on Sunday morning matters.  No, we cannot bind someone's salvation to things Scripture does not require but we must admit that what happens in too many Lutheran parishes on Sunday morning requires a very selective reading of the Augustana.  I think that down deep it does not matter what side of the worship wars you are on, you know this.

Back to the point, the restoration of what we have abandoned is not simply liturgical and can never be.  It represents a return to the central core of our claims in the Augustana -- namely, that we are the true catholics, that the faith we confess is the same faith as the apostles, that the faith we confess (and our reform) represents not a departure from the early church and their councils but their continuation, and that foundational principle (justification by grace through faith) is not simply a truth to be confessed but a pattern of worship to be lived.  Therefore, the restoration of liturgical practices not uniformly practiced today or in the more recent generations of our churches but solidly among the Lutheran identity of our earlier days represents not innovation but recovery -- a recovery that is not novelty but the reclamation of that identity.


Carl Vehse said...

Men on one side of the nave; women and children on the other side?

Michael Taylor said...

Exactly! Precisely! As opposed to such things as advocated in a Fortress Press Book "Evolving God, Evolving Purpose, Evolving World"