Sunday, October 14, 2007

A "Kazoo in the Orchestra Pit"!

I don't keep up much with Lutheran church developments in the States (although more, I guess. than I keep up with Seventh Day Adventist politics in Norway). But I did read this round up of the recent LCMS synod meeting in Houston from Forum Letter editor Peter Speckhard. There are a few classic comments and perspicacious insights into Missouri Synod Lutheranism from a Catholic point of view. My favourite is this:
Yet social issues are perhaps the only area where the LCMS is growing closer to the Roman Catholic Communion. Evangelical Catholics are increasingly outnumbered by the Just Plain Old Evangelicals in the LCMS. The Ablaze! campaign with all its trappings could easily be adapted for use by Baptists, Assemblies of God, and various independent evangelical megachurches, but would stand out like a kazoo in an orchestra pit in an Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or high-church Anglican or Lutheran setting.
Maybe he hasn't experienced a World Youth Day yet...! Still, one get's his point. Even among us REAL Evangelical Catholics (ie. Not Evangelical Lutherans trying to be Catholic, but Catholic's trying to be Evangelical!) you won't get too much enthusiasm for big rivalistic campaigns. "The New Evangelisation" launched by Paul VI and so much encouraged by John Paul II and now Benedict XVI is not a temporary "campaign" but a total Church orientation toward the missio ad gentes. Not that the total Church has caught on yet...

There are some other interesting things in this roundup. On pro-life issues and moral issues surrounding homosexuality, the democratic voting of the Synod was almost unanimous. This leads Speckhard to comment that:
It seems that on social issues at least, the people of the LCMS believe in the official Roman Catholic position even more univocally than Roman Catholics do.
He's probably right. It might seem, at first glance, to falsify the old adage of Catholic converts that papal infallibilty is more dependable than the voting of democratic assemblies. However, a moment's reflection will explain this near unanimity in LCMS voting. Those who disagree with these positions have a perfectly respectable alternative to remaining in the Missouri Synod: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. And its bigger by far than the LCMS. So while there is near total moral agreement among remaining LCMS Lutherans, most American Lutherans who do not share the official LCMS position on these issues have already voted with their feet and gone to the ELCA.

Which leads me back to a common reflection: Many Catholics--even strongly dissident Catholics--hold communion with the Pope as more important than agreement with the Pope. (Please note: I am using "the Pope" as shorthand for the episcopal magisterium of the Catholic Church here). I'm not saying this is right. It is just the way it is. No group of any significant size calling itself "The Catholic Church" has become established as an "alternative" for those who wish to remain "Catholic" but don't want the Pope. The largest significant split was in the 19th Century, resulting in the "Old Catholic" Church--but this is so tiny, and now so obviously NOT Catholic that it hardly rates a mention.

If the LCMS was to enter into full unity with the ELCA, the first synod of this newly united Lutheran Church in the US would not be nearly as harmonious as was the meeting recently held in Houston. In fact, those who "believe in the official Roman Catholic position" would be the ones sounding like a "kazoo in the orchestra pit"!

6 Comments:

At Sunday, October 14, 2007 7:42:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

If the near unanimity on moral issues in the LCMS is explained by those who disagree having left for the ELCA, then why don't those who want an American rather than a Lutheran understanding of "evangelical" do the same?

The explanation doesn't hold up. If it were the availability of other options that explains unanimity in our synod whereas Catholics keep everyone under the same tent regardless, then why is this only operative on moral issues but not liturgical or evangelisation ones?

As to "coming closer" to the Roman Catholic position -- we hold what we do on moral issues not because it is Catholic, but because it is catholic, and to the extent that what is catholic survives in the Roman Catholic Church we certainly rejoice, particularly for the benefit of this to those in the womb. Not even I, whose opinion of the RC church you know, would minimise this.

It has been my experience that most Catholics are Catholic in a similar way as most Jews are Jewish: a matter of culture primarily. And a good many Lutherans functions the same way. Which even in the days in the RC church from which you celebrate being delivered, was held to be unfortunate. In my Baltimore Catechism (which is not out in the garage with the Dutch Catechism) it was quite clear that the church to be really itself must be made up entirely of converts whether preceded by a birth into a Catholic environment or not. In other words, belief, whether so raised or not.

And the flip side, the dark side, of this coin is, that a great many people who do not share the faith but do share the culture remain because the culture is part of their understanding of their identity, and in human terms that is hard to walk away from. And within that phenomenon, some choose to attempt to formally change the faith to fit their cultural attachment, while most simply ignore what they want to ignore.

Hence Reform and Conservative Judaism, the endless denominations of Protestantism. What prevents this from happening in the Roman Church is that unlike Judaism and Protestantism a visible top-down hierarchy is part of that culture so that something similar to the emergence of new Orthodox bodies does not happen to any significant degree. And you just don't have a bunch of guys deciding you're wrong and setting up another ruddy synod!

This is operative on both sides. For just as the dissidents typically remain out of cultural attachment with all its personal extenuations, so the hierarchy is extremely reluctant to force them out because of the religious belief in the divine nature of the visible structure from which they would be excluded. So they all stay under the same tent, each hoping the other will at some point change.

Now as to Ablaze! and the ELCA. I am not big on Ablaze! and think it overall will have a bad effect on LCMS. Twice over -- since that sort of thing taken as evangelism is being done much better by the folks who originated it our results will be diappointing, and in the process many already with us will lose significant parts of what it is to be Lutheran.

Nonetheless, if all those in the ELCA had to contend with who are trying to maintain confessional Lutheranism, or those in other denominations trying to maintain their historic confession (and I would include here the RC church too), was an analogue to Jerry Kieschnick and Ablaze! they would rejoice. Full communion with the Pope is not required to be part of the Whore of Babylon.

However much I may disagree with how they have chosen to address it, these are men deeply concerned about both those who do not believe in Christ and those emptying the pews, and if these brothers are seriously mistaken to the point of danger about how to address these matters it is not out of dissidence from the faith as we confess it -- which is the real explanation for our unity on moral matters.

 
At Tuesday, October 16, 2007 1:20:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

then why don't those who want an American rather than a Lutheran understanding of "evangelical" do the same?

They don't need to leave. Enough LCMS start-ups are giving them precisely the dose of American evangelicalism that they want.

As Pastor Wally Schulz noted in his recent paper those Lutherans who are inclined to the "American evangelical view" are more likely to have books authored by James Dobson and Billy Graham on their coffee table than LCMS generated material. And this isn't just an LCMS phenomenon. I saw it in the ELCA also. The ELCA has also been a refuge for many Catholic/Evangelical couples who decided that being an ELCA Lutheran was "just" catholic enough and "sufficiently" evangelical enough that they could both call it home (I knew several such when I was a member of an ELCA congregation).

Of course, these kinds of problems are certainly crossing confessional lines. The 60 minutes interview last night with Joel Osteen should have been seen by any Christian who still identifies with historic Christianity.

One of the highlights was a book signing by Osteen at which an elderly couple came by and the husband gushed "I'm Roman Catholic and my wife is Jewish and we watch you every Sunday!"

Oy vey.

And yes, Lutherans also function on a cultural level. My mother was very proud of her East Prussian heritage; to be Prussian was to be Lutheran.

 
At Tuesday, October 16, 2007 3:20:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

so the hierarchy is extremely reluctant to force them out because of the religious belief in the divine nature of the visible structure from which they would be excluded. So they all stay under the same tent, each hoping the other will at some point change.

I would respectfully disagree to a point with you on this one, Terry. The irony is that for all its "hierarchical" structure the Catholic Church is very maternal in her instincts and over the centuries has learned to live with the fact that her children will live within her at various levels. She always holds out the hope that even at the very last, on one's deathbed (i.e., John Wayne, of all people) a member will make that final conversion that will usher him/her into the presence of their Lord.

My ELCA sister's thinking is very different. Her view is that there are plenty of denominations to choose from and if one is not satisfied one can go elsewhere. Plus, she thinks nothing of skipping church on a particular Sunday if she is going out of town or has something else she'd rather do. And it's not because she's a "bad" Christian. She is often a far more loving, compassionate person than I am on my best days. It's just that, as Dr. Martin Marty once wrote, Lutherans don't judge their life of faith on how many nights they keep the light burning in the Church" so she doesn't have the same "ecclesiastical" sensibilities that I have. Not a judgment on her, mind you, but to illlustrate the differences in view.

Ideally, all church bodies would be made up of folks who have made that "conversion" a living part of their lives but that's never going to be on this side of eternity and I don't think it ever was.

 
At Tuesday, October 16, 2007 3:22:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

Grrr, why don't I collect all my thoughts before I post :(

But you are entirely right, Terry, in that Catholics are often cultural hangers on. Protestants, with their more "masculine" and "prophetic" Christianity usually just leave entirely if they chuck it all.

 
At Tuesday, October 16, 2007 1:05:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

The maternal instinct derives from simply this: if the hierachical church takes itself to be or to be part of a divinely instituted visible structure, then being put out of it is serious indeed, therefore one would be loathe to do it.

Really, that is what it all comes down too. And I understand that just as the Protestant generally thinks nothing about changing visible churches, the Catholic thinks everything about it.

The practical effect though, and quite apart from the conclusions one may draw from it, is that you have this big tent with all kinds of conflicting elements within it, each hoping the other will change somewhere along the line, one unwilling to put another out the tent and another unwilling to leave the tent because the tent is a big deal -- not necessarily the same deal -- to all of them.

And if I still believed in the tent in the same way, I'd still be trying to tell myself it's still the same church for the same reason. Actually that's what I did for many years until the observed facts just became painfully overwhelming beyond any further denial.

Yes all church bodies have many people who are there out of culture rather than faith. But I think that phenomenon differs when the church body is itself part of the faith.

 
At Wednesday, October 17, 2007 1:32:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

if the hierachical church takes itself to be or to be part of a divinely instituted visible structure, then being put out of it is serious indeed, therefore one would be loathe to do it.

No getting around that. Both Orthodox and Catholics would assent that the Church developed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit into a very visible structure.

The big tent was certainly an adjustment for me in the first few years as a Catholic. Coming from a somewhat homogeneous Lutheran environment filled with (for the most part) German and Scandinavian names all of a sudden I'm sharing the pews with Italians, Irish, Poles, Filippinos, East Indians, Africans, and who knows what else. It was a bit of a culture shock in the beginning, very much part of that "big tent" as well as the whole gamut of views that exist in such an environment.

That's one of the interesting aspects of getting back on the wagon train of pre-Reformation Christianity. To be sure, that big tent has produced some real rascals but it's also produced some of the greatest spiritual figures the world has ever known.

One of the couples I knew at my former ELCA congregation (and God bless em, there are still many faithful Christians in that body in spite of their knuckleheaded leadership in Chicago -- Dr. James Nestingen is one of the finest Lutheran scholars I ever encountered), the wife was a former Baptist and the husband a former Roman Catholic. They decided that a Lutheran identity was something they could both live with but in the beginning Bob, the husband, said he very much missed receiving Holy Communion every week.

At any rate, as the West grows more and more hostile to Christianity those of us who still lift high the Cross and Name of Jesus will find ourselves increasingly praying for each other, I think.

Dr. Philip Pfatteicher, a devoted and orthodox ECLA pastor who shepherds a congregation in Pittsburgh (with a beautiful and classically Lutheran church building and very catholic liturgical ethos) wrote a wonderful little book called Foretaste of the Feast to Come: Devotions on Holy Communion some years back. It drew from classic Lutheran, Catholic and Orthodox sources and I still use it. When I pray some of its time-honored prayers I see that vision in the Revelation of that vast multitude gathered before the Throne and I think to myself please, Lord, may it be so on earth as well.

 

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