07 February 2011

How Does the Conservative Reformation Guide Us Today

Pastor Weedon gives and excellent look at Lutheran Cathedral services in 1613 at his blog - something well worth looking at. Weedon essentially points out that the services listed shows "the catholic principle of the Lutheran Reformation, that they rejected in the tradition that which CONFLICTED with the Gospel, but accepted that which could be harmonized with it."

I think that is an excellent summation of the catholic principle.

Now, how is that principal to be applied today? How do we who are in the Lutheran Church almost five centuries after the Reformation, on a completely different continent, apply this idea?

I see two, I don't know if I want to call them streams of thoughts, but maybe concerns or responses to that principal. I'll call one the restorative approach and the other the "harmonizing" approach.

1. The Restorative approach. I find that many Lutherans, when finally studying the Reformation in detail, are amazed at how much was retained... and upon seeing how much has been lost among us seek to restore the richness and fullness of that which we had generations ago. (I'm going to assume that to a greater or middling extent, the Blackbirds will have strong leanings this way). That when the the Lutheran Church of the Reformation (historically speaking, not the little modern synod) is viewed, that it ends up being the "ideal" that is striven for, that is aimed for.

Now, of course, different folks will latch on to different aspects to strive for. The Churches in different places had different "flavors" if you will... some might strive more for Magdeburg, some might strive more for Luther -- and on occasion those who strive for slightly varying ideals might bludgeon each other repeatedly in brotherly debates.

But what remains is a principal that there needs to be change - that what we are doing now is lacking and that what was lost needs to be restored.

2. The Harmonizing approach. There is another aspect or approach that can play in very well with this principal - and that is the harmonizing approach... that we retain what can be retained as long as it harmonizes with the Gospel. Here, rather than seeking to restore some lost ideal of the past, the present is observed - and what can be maintained, even if it isn't necessarily classic or traditional.

For example, take the pastor who arrives at a congregation that has individual cups. Are they ideal... probably not. However, can they be maintained without conflicting with the Gospel. One can most definitely argue yes... and so one taking more of the harmonizing approach could thrust that issue to a back burner and not worry too much about it, or even feel a need to try to change the practice.

I'd argue that this is taking that catholic principal and applying it not to the time of the Reformation but to the current, modern day. The reformers were willing to live with much for the sake of the Gospel, so shall I.

3. The Licentious Changers Now, keep in mind, I am making a distinction between those who *introduce* new things to the Church in an attempt to... whatever they are attempting, and those who simply come upon what they have received. We do have those who are much more radical in their efforts for change and who will attempt to introduce anything they think they can put a Lutheran sheen on.

This is how we have much of what we have received. We put a Lutheran spin on things - which is why the lifelong Lutheran can say, "I love the hymn Just as I am" while the convert from 7th Day Adventism has his eyes bulge out. Historical, at least in America, there has been, especially in the 20th Century, a tendency to Lutheranize things... sure, we'll sing Amazing Grace, but we'll just drop that verse out about grace teaching the heart to fear. Sure, the schools will have the "Christian Flag" even though it was created to assert that people who held to distinctive doctrines (i.e. Lutherans) were stupid troublemakers.

Time tends to sanitize.

We see today many who aren't even waiting for time to sanitize but are rather aggressively introducing enthusiast-style practices into the Church willy-nilly, and of course, all for the sake of reaching people with the Gospel (note: there is a vast different between "for the sake of the Gospel" and "for the sake of reaching people with the Gospel." One sees the Gospel as truth to be proclaimed, the other sees it as a product to be trussed up and sold).

+ + + + + + + + +

Now, what does this mean? I think it is clear that I think the 3rd option is right out and un-faithful. It's the radical reformation, it's the worst parts of pietism and rationalism, it's the New Measures. 2nd verse, same as the first. Let me be clear that I am not advocating the random introduction of an "anything goes" approach... so please, no slippery slope arguments, no "two has to lead to three" because, for one, it doesn't, and two, if it does then you have to concede to anyone who says that the first approach automatically means you want to become a Roman Catholic. If one side of the hill is slippery, there's a good chance the other side is as well.

But, to what extent are the restorative desires balanced with harmonizing desires? I think that sometimes it seems as though we will put up with things until we can restore them to the reformation ideal we tend to like... a 1 automatically trumps 2 approach. Are there some things that we should simply let be, that have been introduced, and while they aren't necessarily good or idea, it's okay that they were introduced?

(But... don't you know why that was introduced! Individual cups were brought in to parrot protestants... and Latin was introduced in lands where people didn't understand it simply to maintain institutional power - yet Magdeburg was able to maintain an awful lot of it. Not every practice that has become cherished was introduced for lily pure reasons. And even if *I* know... how many people know, and is that what they are thinking of when they see the practice. The Christian flag annoys the tar out of me because I know it's history... but when little Aunt Bertha sees it, I doubt she's thinking "Let's start having open communion" - or if she is, it ain't because of the flag.)

The second seems to me to be more of what the reformers did in their own day -- should that also be the guide for our actions, or should we seek more to restore things unto what the reformers had? (Shoot, now I'm going to have that power ballad "Don't Know What You've Got 'Til It's Gone" running through my head... perhaps in mentioning it I can at least let Pastor Stuckwisch share my misery.) Have we started doing things the Reformers, in their conservative approach, wouldn't have done, and if so is that necessarily a bad thing? And does the "catholic" part of the principal really mean that you try to do things like other people do... did Wittenburg really care what Magdeburg did in her cathedral... as long as it wasn't in gross error.

Just things to ponder whilest humming a 20+ year old song this morning.


William Weedon said...

I would think that in our day a bit of both is needed. Certainly there are those practices up with which we should put; there are also practices that might come to be cherished again, when introduced with care and thought. I think of how wide-spread the practice of the elevation has become in our own day (sort of an anti-receptionist confession). And the inching back towards a fuller sanctoral cycle such as we discover in LSB compared to TLH. Weekly Eucharist is another example of good, solid old practice coming back into force. The Church has an enormous attic, stuffed full of stuff. Every once in a while rummaging around in it, one finds a piece that our ancestors put away that we think would actually be splendid to bring down, dust off, and use again. We have the freedom to do that, which is part of the glory of being a Lutheran Christian.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Certainly I think both are needed - but you hit upon the heart of the matter (again) with the idea of "freedom". I think both these principals need to be maintained, and perhaps the main errors, or even perhaps the main tension between them arise only when freedom is abandoned and one is put forth as more necessary than the other.

Which is what makes 3 so damaging. It is a claim to freedom that in reality isn't.

William Weedon said...

A Piepkorn quote for you to stow away: The responsible use of freedom is itself a catholic principle.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Key word being "responsible." Legalism and License are the two ditches that people fall into.

I think that it would do well for us to uphold the Confessional principle that we do not condemn other churches for having fewer or more ceremonies. If a congregation understands their freedom in the Gospel, and desires to use more elaborate ceremony, I see nothing in the Scriptures or the Confessions that would prohibit that.

On the other hand, one can show reverence toward the Sacrament without genuflecting. I am not going to pass judgment on a brother or his congregation if they have fewer ceremonies than me, so long as they are using the liturgy of the Church and are not making a spectacle of Divine Service.

William Weedon said...

Exactly, Pr. Beisel. Exactly.

Martin Diers said...

Grumble grumble. Joni Mitchell. Stupid song...

William Weedon said...

You know, I would confess: I have no desire to return to what was practiced at Magdeburg wholesale. I'd love to recapture some of the music (but put it in English and in standard notation); but I'm not a fan of the idea of a return to a Latin Mass; nor necessarily even of chanting every reading. What I would love to recapture for our people is the profound sense of reverence that attended those services - the sheer amount of effort that went into them testifies to how sacred they held the Gottesdienst and the Daily Office. It was a LOT of work. But they did it so that the word of Christ might dwell among them richly, and that it might be given a fitting adornment, together with the Body and Blood of the Savior. I think our LSB has struck a good balance of holding onto the past treasures and helping to make them accessible to our folk today.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

This was Luther's own principle as well when he called for the observance of Matins and Vespers in the Church, "That the Word of God may have free course..."

This is the motivation behind weekday services, behind the lectionaries, etc. It is in service to the Word of God. I hate it when people forget that.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


The thing is we can't simply say, "This is in the service of God" because the people who are coming up with some crazy idea also think that they are doing it in the service of God. We have to show, "This is better than what you are proposing."

It's not that the crazy pastor doesn't think you "want" to serve God... he just thinks you are lousy at it and should use his new method. Have to pick the new method apart.