Sunday, January 21, 2024

Perspective. . .

Much is made about the need to be on the cutting edge of things.  Technology certainly values the edge as it seeks to jump ahead of competitors and bring to fruition the next best thing that the consumer will want to purchase.  Medicine also seems to have jumped upon the bandwagon of first is best.  Walk down the aisles of your market and you will find in big letters new and improved -- as if to say it is not old and the same.  From fashion to entertainment, we are all affected by the press for what is new, edgy, and the coming thing.

Even the Church cannot escape the pressure to be in the forefront on the next wave of things.  From worship to music, the edge has been where most evangelicals and mainline Protestants want to be.  Look at the playlist in the contemporary Christian music sources and you see how quickly a sound track moves from being in to being out.  Catch up is where nobody wants to be.  The whole attraction for many churches is that they are not old -- they were not even there yesterday!  So when a new one opens its doors some folks flock to it to see what is the newest and next best thing in church -- only to depart for the next start up when that appears.  Even the names have the context of new and different.

You might think that Rome was insulated against such a thing but the whole Synodality thing and the state of affairs in Germany indicates that Rome is not immune to the pressures to be new and different either.  Indeed, look at some of the videos of the Novus Ordo online and you see priests who have sought to be in sync with what is new even while trying to track with the order itself.  Music is the typical place where the Vatican II mass embraces what the evangelicalism has already adopted -- better late than ever according to those who think this is where Rome ought to be.

Lutherans have institutionalized the diversity of worship practices.  From ELCA to WELS with LCMS in between, we all have our cutting edge congregations.  Some are on the cutting edge of things to the left of center with sparkle creeds and female titles for God while others insist they are Lutheran in substance even thought the worship form better reflects the big box evangelical style (conservative but hardly confessional).  In most jurisdictions, there has come a rather peaceful co-existence of those on the fringes with those in the middle.  Indeed, among Lutherans it is more highly suspect if you are too traditional rather than less so -- we like flexibility, now, don't we?

The problem is that you cannot always know if the cutting edge is where things should be headed or on the lunatic fringe of what we should not go.  We are only now beginning to see what generations of lax catechesis, praise songs instead of hymns, entertainment worship instead of the Divine Service have produced.  It is not good.  Indeed, if we had to go back to say 1958 again, we might make sure that some of the triggers that have resulted in the loss of tradition, identity, and dogma were not pulled as they were in the heady days of so much cultural and musical change.  We thought we could preserve substance while being a bit more flexible about style but it did not turn out that way at all.  Substance and style may be distinguishable but they cannot be separated.  In the end, being on the cutting edge may be the equivalent of being on the brink of disaster.  Depart from the tradition passed down through the faithful over the ages and you have nothing left to norm or guide the moment but whim, fancy, preference, and newness.  Novelty is not one of the important criterion of the Gospel but faithfulness surely is.  I suspect that in the end we will find out the obvious.  The cutting edge was also the brink of disaster and the loss so quickly surrendered will be hard to restore.

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