Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Signs of continuity. . .

Lutherans are pretty adamant that they stand in continuity with our past -- not just recent past mind you but with the apostles, evangelists, and early church fathers.  Our claim is not merely the maintenance of catholic and apostolic doctrine but practice.  That is because they are two sides of the same coin.  One cannot claim to stand in continuity with our forebearers in content while the appearance or practice of that faith is substantially or completely different.  The end result of maintaining content while eschewing the practice (piety) is to turn doctrine into theory and then to refuse to apply that theory to practice.

Among the other reasons for wearing historic vestments and keeping the consistent ceremonial of the liturgy is the visible sign of continuity it gives to the faithful and to the world around us.  In an age in which novelty and newness are valued above all, the Church's mark of consistency and continuity of doctrine and practice is profound.  There is value to this that mitigates against the localization of practice just as the unity and uniformity of confession and creed address that which is larger than the individual parish or jurisdiction.  There is something to be said about this.  In fact, among the Missouri Synod this was enshrined in our original and remains in our present constitution -- the goal of more liturgical uniformity rather than less.  This is because most of us know what some of us choose to ignore -- content and practice are inseparably joined.

While many might agree that the liturgical continuity is important and connected to the doctrinal continuity, the point that you pick as the moment against which such a standard is applied certainly differs. Many in Missouri would point to The Lutheran Hymnal as that high point to which modernity ought be compared and normed.  Others might go back even further to the Saxon Agenda that Walther and the LCMS forefathers brought with them.  I would go back even further -- past the individual choices of jurisdictions and individuals and even national churches.  I wonder if the Lutheran genius is most manifest in the Formula Missae which served less as a stand alone liturgy than it did a sort of evangelical direction for the use of the existing missal (what we today might say is a Roman missal).  

Rather than see the maturing of Lutheranism as the standard of Lutheran liturgical identity, I would suggest that the earlier practice might be the more faithful model.  This is because it remains true to the claim that nothing has been changed in what was received except that which had to be -- because it conflicted with the doctrinal contract of the catholic faith and not simply the position of the reformers.   For whatever reason, we Lutherans have become remarkably and tragically comfortable in our own skin as if Lutheranism were a challenge to the catholic and apostolic dogma and piety and not a true reflection of it.  We seem to be more interested if something is Lutheran than it is catholic and apostolic.  If that is the case, I fear we have become the institutionalized rebels our detractors claim we always were and not the catholic preservers of what was and is the faith believed and lived out.

If we can cite how something is Lutheran, it typically ends the argument but if that is the sum total of Reformation hermeneutics, dogmatics, and liturgy, we are a sad shell of what was begun.  Did the Reformation exist only to install a Protestant point of view on things theological and liturgical?  If so, then it seems we have little room to complain about those Lutherans who have omitted most of the liturgy or replaced it with an evangelical service.  If, on the other hand, we are contending for that which is catholic and apostolic, then we cannot merely draw the line at the content or theology of the thing and then treat its practice somewhat casually.  If we are only a sect of Christendom, even perhaps the true visible sect on earth, what right do we have to ask others to abandon their faith and become one of us?  But if we are, as our confessions claim, the rightful heirs of the catholic and apostolic doctrinal and liturgical legacy, then how can we not call others to leave behind their faith and join in common confession and practice with us?


1 comment:

Wurmbrand said...

I appreciated this statement, which would have been of much encouragement to me in the early 1990s when I was struggling with the matter of Lutheran apostolicity and catholicity.

Dale Nelson