Some of my readers are wondering why I bother with this but this is not something isolated to Rome. It has already happened among Lutherans. The rainbow is almost as recognizable as the Luther Rose as a symbol for many Lutheran congregations, jurisdictions, and agencies. That marker is laid down not as goal but as the starting point for what is considered Lutheran by those groups. Gone are the days when justification was the chief article on which the church stands or falls and here are the days when the litmus test of Lutheran identity has become a social construct. While this is less true among some Lutheran groups, the big names of the West have all caved into this political ideal to replace the cross and empty tomb. The Gospel has become love without bounds, without judgment, and without direction. It has become a pathetic shoulder pat or side hug from God who cares little about who we are and what we do -- as long as we are true to ourselves (whatever we think those selves to be).
The agenda of synodality begins with the call for a voice from those considered on the margins of the churches. It began so among Lutherans when the ordination of woman was pressed as a justice issue instead of a theological one. One of the earlier Lutheran women ordained in the LCA renounced her ordination and headed for Rome in part because she felt that she had been given an office without a theological underpinning to that decision to depart from Scripture and tradition. I am countenancing her choice to head to Rome but only pointing out what happens when you invent a lex in search of a ratio. It was only natural to extend beyond women to others (LGBTQ and more) the laying on of hands without bother for a rationale. The Gospel was only creative and had become little more than an allowance to do what is right in our own eyes. We have seen such justification in everything from morality to what happens in worship and the end result is to gut the meaning of the very word Lutheran -- perhaps what the Germans and their allies are seeking to do with Rome -- and let everyone decide for themselves what the words mean.
It is the inherent danger of democracy as the guiding principle in organizing and governing the Church. We think that we need to mirror political strategies in bringing as many people as possible to the table and giving them equal voice and vote to decide what is good and right in their eyes -- presuming then that it is good and right with God as well. There may have been a day when churches could distinguish between voting on the Word of God and voting on other matters but today that distinction has become so blurred that the only caveat we give is that to overturn Scripture and tradition you must have at least a two-thirds majority vote. The sacred deposit and the living voice of God's Word are no longer the singular authorities in the minds and hearts of many Christians (including Lutheran ones) and so they are no longer the rule and norm for what the Church believes and lives out before the world. The democracy has become a tool in the hands of those who would undo what Scripture says because it is either unpopular or deemed irrelevant. There is only one group routinely excluded from the table today and that is the faithful who went before. As Chesterton so put it: "Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead."
We have deemed leadership to follow where the world, the culture, society, and the minds of the people are headed and gone are the days when leaders of stature could say "no" to these influences. It is a struggle and a fight to hold onto God's Word and live in the pattern of the faithful throughout the generations who went before us. It has become a challenge to pass on without diluting or changing the faith once delivered to the saints. But this is precisely where we must be and what we must do. We cannot claim to be the Church and betray the Word of God to meet somebody's ideal of diversity or satisfy someone's desire for equity or fulfill everyone's desire to have equal voice with the Word of God. Indeed, that is where we relinquish our right and claim to be the Church and become the dead stones on which nothing can and will be built that endures.
What we think about the things of God cannot be allowed to edit or obscure the things of God. This happens every bit as much when we lead the people by poll or opinion sampling as it does when we lead God's people with our own agendas superimposed upon the Lord's. That is not a danger simply to Rome and the Germans but to every Christian congregation and jurisdiction. In the end, the test ought to be the fruits. The fruits are poison and our experiment with relevancy and inclusion have not led to more people in worship but fewer and fewer.
The evangelicals pass around their people to the newest and latest thing to hit town. The Romans strum their guitars and sway with their aging priests in an effort to make casual what is serious and to make ordinary what is mystical. The Anglicans keep the words and do it all in fine style but the words are empty and underneath it all is a surrender to modern morality and values under the image of fine ceremonial. The Protestants in their own ways have tried to follow the world, jettisoning their more conservative voices, so they can sing with one voice the song of the moment, couched in the vocabulary of the eternal. And we Lutherans are just as much a mess. We are silent while the largest of our congregations practice like the evangelicals or offer a smorgasbord of services to fit every taste and then nitpick at those who insist that we did not ditch our catholicity in the name of reform. We are all growing smaller and facing the increasing temptation to keep the doors open and the lights on until the last one leaves or dies. This is how we have surrendered not only God's Word and truth but the hope that is in us. For these we will all be held accountable on the day of judgment -- have we rightly handled the Word of truth and faithfully served the cause of Christ no matter which side the pew we find a seat.
Plato said something to the effect that democracy devolves into despotism. It appears the democratic leaders both in politics and the Church have either done so, or are making that transition.
It is particularly rich to read from a pastor whose generation “knew better,” and derisively labeled old Missouri “Bronze Age” lamentations about a chaotic liturgical landscape that they themselves created. I wish you would share sometime on your blog some of the criticisms of TLH back in the day. My guess would be that much of it was concerning the Anglican, Presbyterian, and Methodist theology of much of the English hymnody, which led to the perception of the LCMS as just another mainline Protestant church. This in turn led to the perception that the LCMS could follow whatever mainstream worship trends that were popular. And so now we have casual church LCMS Lutherans, which is frankly ridiculous, and high church pastors parading around as “Father” and claiming to really be old Missouri.
True Lutheran worship is steeped in the theology of Lutheran hymns that have been not simply neglected, but discarded altogether in favor of the dreck of contemporary hymns. What is needed in the LCMS are not chasubles and incense. This is child’s play for the simple minded. What is needed is a thorough overhaul of the hymns which are sung in our congregations.
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