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A Lutheran seminarian eagerly awaiting the return of Our Lord. Soli Deo Gloria!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Divine Service and the Changing Context of American Christendom

"It is enough for me that Christ’s blood is present; let it be with the wine as God wills. Before I would drink mere wine with the Enthusiasts, I would rather have pure blood with the Pope" LW 37:317.



I have seen several discourses within our Lutheran circles that simply make my blood run cold. One the one hand, there are those who defend the historic rubrics and on the other, there are those who feel that the historic rubrics, at times, are meaningless, or practiced solely for the sake of one's piety. Before I begin, let me say this about American Lutheransim: We are scared of two things, Papists and Pietists. Historically, I understand the reason for both.



On the one hand, the Papists have destroyed the pure Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone through the merits of Christ alone as expressed in Scripture alone. Through this perversion all manner of adiaphora became tainted, including the very nature of adiaphora itself: Masses could be said for the dead and privately by a priest, the nature of man's relationship to His savior became one of an angry judge without whose intercession by His mother He would smite us for even thinking about calling on Him, blessing objects such as holy water or oil, or the visiting and invoking of departed saints became superstitious and the gaining of atonement for sins, etc.



On the other hand, the Pietists have destroyed the clear feeling of piety! The Eucharist was treated as only for those who already felt a connection to Christ, not as the means for the connection with Christ and the forgiveness of one's sins. Personal piety was separate from communal piety, and strict legalism became a problem! Salvation became uncertain!



What we are not scared of, is Reformed-ism. This belief rears its head as "receptionism," "liturgical minimalism," and also commonly as "crypto-Papal/Orthodox caw-cawing." Indeed, Fr. Todd Wilkens called this last one "playing the Pharisee card" in the newest "Issues, Etc. Journal." Similarly, this heterodox tradition has become inceptive within Lutheranism to degrees that lead to pure absurdities in theological discourse. Is the Formula speaking of doctrine or rites and practices when it addresses the concept of adiaphora? It's the latter. Therefore receptionism is not even a valid opinion as it contradicts Christ's words in the Sacrament (this IS, not "will become" my body), it is contrary to the received tradition of the church catholic, and as a paper by WELS theologian Rev. Dr. Becker has brought to light (though indirectly since he was arguing for the ambiguousness of the Real Presence), the promise of Christ's physical presence in the Eucharist is contingent upon our response to it and not on Christ's promise PERIOD.

Similarly, liturgical minimalism also begins to creep up and attack combined with anti-piety movements. Good lord, someone prays the minor hours regularly, venerates an icon, bows deeply at the point of the incarnation in the creeds, says a Hail Mary or prays a form of the rosary, crosses themselves, wishes to use holy water fonts to remind them of their baptism, etc., and they are a high church pietist! One wishes to retain the rubrics of the service? They must be a high church pietist! Worse yet, one could argue they are going against the Confessions in their actions, because the Confessions are as perspicuous as Scripture and have no context (sorry, being sarcastic as St. Paul here). What a way to defend Christian freedom....attack someone for having piety!!! Mmmm, that's good scholastic and intellectual Calvinism, may I have another?

But here is perhaps the biggest question I can ask, and will bring to light that we MUST be willing to have the guts to actually defend what we believe, teach, and confess. If certain doctrines and practices are TRULY adiaphora...then to attack someone for wanting to follow some of Rome's practices yet still confessing both through them and through the clear preaching of the Word and administration of the Sacraments is the equivalent of destroying church order and being in the spirit of antichrist....period! If it is worth getting worked up over and calling people out as being crypto-Romanists, etc., then let's actually deal with these doctrines. But let's also acknowledge that we in the Lutheran church have been heavily influenced through the backdoor by the Calvinists.

If one doubts that this is true, one merely has to go to a usual Lutheran congregation and ask about bringing in a Roman practice or a Reformed practice....and see which one people turn into sheets of white more for. Good heavens the Roman church has been greatly feared in the Americas so much so that John Kennedy was feared as a catholic! Yet the man in the funny hat from Geneva still affects our doctrines (and this from the man who denied the Genus Maiestacum!!!!).

Get it settled...now. And I don't want to hear Scripture badly invoked either, for all I hear concerning such practices is "they are not found in Scripture." I was unaware that Scripture had to be the source of all that we confess (and be source, I mean clearly exposited source). IF such a reformed view (which is an-oversimplified a-historical and magical view) is correct, then we cannot proclaim condemnation to Hell those who deny the homousious connection of the Father and the Son...for that word is not clearly in Scripture either, yet we say "Amen" to what is in the Nicene Creed. It is not Lutheranism which should be having the problem of changing contexts and how to preach Christ and Him crucified for us in a changing cultural landscape...it is the over-scholastic reformed who take all manner of documents and councils out of context (saying they agree with Chalcedon yet denying it in practice with the Eucharist).

What are we dealing with in the future of America, and sadly within much of American Christianity? Here's a list and a suggestion of ways to deal with them...and horrors, some might be *gulp* Romanizing!
1. Denial of the physical resurrection - Solution: Invocation of the saints (a practice that one cannot seriously deny the early church practiced, and one which can be rescued from the bastardization of it by the Papists).
2. Cheapening of grace - Solution: Preach the Law. I know it is hardly done...when it is, it is usually hidden as weakness that one cannot help, let alone sin one might "plan" to do. How can salvation be sweet to those who need it if they are not truly aware that they do?
3. Relativism in the church concerning truth - Solution: Uphold the historic confessions and creeds of the church catholic as authoritative and guided by the Holy Spirit. We deny this and have a tendency to treat much the councils discussed as "good ideas" rather than as clarifications of doctrine borne out of necessity...something Christ promised to the church that called upon Him in faith.
4. New Age Thinking - Solution: Christian piety COMBINED with the mystical end of the whole church's life of Word, Sacrament, and Prayer. True mysticism is Christ coming to us through His means and us being in communion with the Holy Spirit through prayer. Any other mysticism that comes to us apart from the means instituted by Christ, if not contrary to Scripture, must be tested against Scripture, the traditions of the church, and treated as subservient to the clear means He has given us (for God can operate any way He desires, yet we have a promise in a few).
5. Receptionism - Solution: Eucharistic adoration in the liturgy and the resurrection (forgive the pun) of the Tabernacle and table of repose with consecrated elements to be eaten at the next Divine Service. Again, this practice is adiaphora, but adiaphora with a clear confession against a potentially big problem.

I know, someone like me who does philosophy is dangerous and an Easternizing/Romanizing influence....but as the quote above says, I'd rather have true blood than just wine. And besides...if doctrine and practiced are as divorced as we practice, what have we to lose by taking on a practice? Let's use some common sense (yes, reason: The devil's whore!...oh, and God's greatest gift to man) and Scripture and come together as Lutheran Christians who desire to love and serve Christ.

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