16 April 2008

The Best Theological Analysis I've Read

yet on what lies before us in the Missouri Synod. God bless you, Pastor Harju, for sharing such wisdom:

Unity Ablaze


wmc said...

It's another piece in the puzzle. I think he confuses the two-kingdoms. One problem with us pious liturgical types is that we don't like to get our knuckles bloodied in church politics because we fancy the synod to be a right-handed institution rather than the left-handed beast that it is. Beasts need to be tamed by bit and bridle, something the other side seems to understand a bit better.

On the other hand, YOU did participate in a demonstration at synodical headquarters. Very left handed. There's hope yet!

Scott Larkins said...

Par for the course. What we are witnessing is disintegration of yet another Lutheran "church" body. Bogus ecclesiology. Bogus doctrine of the ministry. Typical Protestantism. I hate to say it but it's so true.

Fr. Timothy D. May, S.S.P. said...

The Reformation brought some good but through consequent circumstances, intentional or not, lost what it means to be Church. We are heirs of a "reformation" gone too far. As Chesterton says, "The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right."
We are continually struggling with symptoms of problems created in the Reformation and trying to keep our heads above water (or our hands out of the fire). We forget that Luther was a catholic reformer and that the Augsburg Confession a catholic document. These symptomatic struggles will remain as long as there is a thing called protestantism.

Rev. James Leistico said...

Fr. May,
I think this analysis illustrates quite clearly your point:
Pietism (and every other -ism that considers itself an heir of the Reformation) says Luther is good, but he did not reform far enough.

wmc said...

"Typical Protestantism. I hate to say it but it's so true."

Ah, yeah. Catholocism's bird cage is held together by the institution of the papacy. It remains to be seen how well Orthodoxy will fare in a land where they are not the only legal show in town. But to be fair, Orthodoxy doesn't claim to be much of a church body.

I'll take the chaos over the alternatives; God seems to manage tohu-we-bohu just fine.

Fr. Timothy D. May, S.S.P. said...

Pr. Leistico,

Thank you for passing on this analysis. I agree that while the Church is being hit on many different fronts our main challenge as heirs of the reformation is Pietism. In response, objectivism also can pose some of its own dangers. What we need to promote is objective truth/catholic/orthodox doctrine backed with liturgical/sacramental piety (not "pietism").

Anonymous said...

Just a comment/question from a lurker layman. The Issues, Etc. cancellation uncovered a whole other side to the LCMS that I didn't know existed. As I tracked the responses to it on various blogs, I started to look into the Liturgy (listened to Pastor Weedon's Liturgy series from Issues, read blogs, websites). I inspected my own views on the matter in light of this new information I was unaware of.

And I've come out the other side with a deeper understanding of why several pastors do what they do. And I respect it. And I'm discouraged by the either/or flavor of the comments from both sides of the issue. I honestly believe that a false choice is being presented between the full Liturgy and emotion-driven crap that would feel at home in a Unitarian "Church".

What is the essential cannot-do-without parts of a Liturgical worship service? I know, I'm doing the typical American Evangelical thing, maybe throwing out too much. But please humor my quest for education. I would argue that the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Lord's Supper are those parts, but I'm barely educated enough in these matters to ask the question.

William Weedon said...

Dear Anon,

I think the problem with the "what's essential" question is that it lands us in a minimalist stance that impoverishes us: "What's the least I can do to be Lutheran/Christian whatever?" The Church, as Fr. Gregory Hogg ceaselessly used to point out, is not about "the least" but about "fullness." So the question would be: What optimally confesses the faith in all its richness as we have received it?

If the question is put like that, in my opinion the historic liturgy shines for the great thing it is - which is not something in and of itself, but what gives us Jesus so maximally and so fully.

Rev. Benjamin Harju said...

Pastor Weedon, thanks for the plug. Rev. Cwirla, I wouldn't be surprised if it seems like I'm mixing the two kingdoms. This is a kingdom-mixing issue. Some of us are complaining that too much of the secular kingdom is seeping into the life of the Church (I mean that liturgically, not institutionally), and some think otherwise.

For the record, I think it is a person's vocation to participate in the political machinery of the Synod (if he or she is a member thereof), in whatever honest ways God opens up. But the reason there are Synod politics, and why one gets involved in the politics of a synod is because of our shared unity and everything which that entails (common faith, mutual love, etc.). We are involved in the Synod's politics because we are one in Christ, and we will therefore have to tackle governmental administration in our journeying through the exile of this world together.

But what is the point of politics in a synod that lacks unity? What is our reason for dealing with each other? Our current political situation is one of union, but not unity. Is the political stuff what holds us together now, or is it Christ? Which is the servant and which is the master now?

We can "get our knuckles bloody" in Synod politics, but it should not be as a means of holding everything together, because that's Christ's job in the Spirit through faith. Being together in the LCMS is supposed to be because we are united to Christ, not as our means of becoming commonly united in Christ.

Either we endure the weakness of our Synod and its politics, all the while preaching and teaching and worshiping and sacramenting under the cross until the end (of either us or the lack of unity), or we leave the LCMS for the sake of unity.

Anonymous said...

So, asking questions like this impoverishes us? I should just shut up and take my medicine? ;-) I understand your point, and I share some of the sentiment. But I'm trying to understand the least so as to find the most. I don't learn how to appreciate a triple integral before I can do basic algebra.

What optimally confesses the faith in all its richness as we have received it?

Fair question. What do you mean by "optimally"? This leads into deep water, I think.

I understand if you don't wish to go into all this on your blog (I'm an intruder, after all), but if you could at least point to some pertinent resources that directly tackle my question, I would appreciate it.

Thank you.

William Weedon said...

Oh, I don't mind discussing my favorite topic here or anywhere! :)

Optimally, I mean confessing in such a way as to impart the fullest expression and vision of the gifts that God offers us in His Son and through His Spirit. The historic liturgy sets before you a grand and sweeping vision for all of life in union with Christ where thanksgiving is perpetual and universal ("at all times and in all places") and where the cause of it all is the gift of LIFE that's been reached us in our Savior ("through Jesus Christ, our Lord") who is revealed as the Lamb of God (Gloria and Agnus) who came down from heaven to plant into our flesh a life that death cannot destroy; a forgiveness bigger than all sin; a Kingdom that cannot be shaken; a love that embraces the world (intercession) and remembers the forgotten and the lowly. Oh, so much more. The historic liturgy of the Church simply opens up vistas to us of the Age that is coming, where Love will be all and triumphant and where peace will be perpetual and the toda sacrifice of thanksgiving, the songs of thanksgiving, never cease to all eternity.

William Weedon said...

Oh, and one more thing, that historic liturgy opens up to us the true vision of the Church: a single community of believers, united to the Triune God through the saving work of the Eternal Son made flesh, and to her calling in this world: summoning the dead to life in union with Christ, offering always a teasing taste of the Age to come in her own living of that Age (however fragmentarily and imperfectly).

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Anon and Pastor Weedon,

If I might jump in here as well. . . rather than asking what we ought to keep - how about thinking in terms of what should be present to make the worship service the best at doing what it is supposed to do?

At minimum, I could play a game of baseball with a few people, rags for bases, a broomstick for a bat, and a tennis ball - baseball could be played, and people would say, "look, it's baseball" - but it wouldn't be the fullness of the game.

The focus of the worship service is the blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation given unto you - a liturgy must clearly be a place where God does that to be true liturgy (maybe that would be minimum, although not a specific answer), but the goal isn't a barebone, but what forms and ceremonies convey, give, and teach the most that God is giving out forgiveness and life through the Word and Sacraments.

What sad is as Lutherans we had stopped teaching what goes on in worship, why we do the things we do. We forgot the reasons therefore - and so they suddenly just became things we did for no reason. We almost end up being like young folks who toss away precious antiques from their grandparents because they don't understand the value. It's the tragedy that happens when generations don't teach the following ones.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Brown,

Thank you. That's the discussion I've been looking for. Trying to find someone to discuss it in this manner is like trying to nail jello to a wall. Everyone skips to their conclusion, whichever side they land on. That may be appropriate for people with a wide knowledge base, but it just frustrates those (like me) who are trying to learn.

So, given a "contemporary" service, how can I judge if it meets your criteria? Shouldn't the LCMS come up with a framework for a contemporary worship service?

Lieutenant Conspicuous said...

KFUO’s Sharathon begins today.

David Strand will portray every dollar given to KFUO as a vote in favor of his decision to cancel Issues, Etc.


Scott Larkins said...

Again. Protestant ecclesiology is fatally flawed. Period.

Anonymous said...

Scott Larkins. Unhelpful. Period.

Rev. Benjamin Harju said...

What is the "least" of the liturgy? That's a hard question to answer. I know Pr. Weedon spoke of fullness, and that in itself can seem ambiguous, but it speaks to how we approach the liturgy, and that's important. When asking about the least, do you mean what's the heart of the liturgy, or what's the minimum you have to do, or something else? Am I making sense?

To try to answer your question about "basics" or "least" you could look at the Western liturgy in its early days. Frank Senn notes in "Christian Worship" (p.76) that Justin Martyr's accounts of the liturgy reveal an outline which has remained to this day:

intercessory prayers
kiss of peace
presentation of bread and wine
great thanksgiving
distribution and reception of eucharistic gifts
extended distribution to the absent

The early Roman and North African liturgical family (which is part of our ancestry) generally followed this outline (p.138-139):

a sung psalm (=introit) by the choir
prayer or collect by celebrant
Scripture readings
- a psalm is interspersed (=gradual)
collection of offerings of bread & wine
- a sung psalm (=offertory) by the choir
collect referencing offered gifts
Canon/Eucharistic Prayer
Lord's Prayer
Extended prayer for deliverance from evil
Communion of the people
- a sung psalm by the choir
third collect (=post-communion collect)

If you are wondering where the sermon is, don't blame me; Senn doesn't mention it here, so I won't either. But here you find the Western rite in its simplicity.

Between the outline assembled from Justin Martyr and the description of the Western rite in the 5th century there is found the framework that sets the context in which the Faith is prayed and lived. To build a grossly different (contemporary) framework is to build a different context and results in a skewed Christianity.

It can be helpful to remind ourselves that the aim is to be contemporary with the liturgical life of heaven as revealed in the Scriptures, as opposed to being contemporary with the desires of mankind.

I'm trying to keep this simple without skimping on relevant details. I think it is better to look at what happened first in history, rather than to assign a particular goal to the liturgy and then construct it based on my own vision - even though that vision may seem meet, right, and salutary. I say this because the liturgy is about the entire Faith. And this is why it's so hard to answer questions of what's the least or the minimum.

Perhaps what is least in the liturgy is the entire Christian Faith; what is most is the fullness thereof of which we become partakers in Christ. Since the liturgy is really about God's Word in its proper context, it's first a matter of faith, then of knowledge.


Anonymous said...

Pastor Harju,

Yes, that helps. That's a good amount to chew on. I guess what I'm really trying to understand is the interaction (in the Liturgy) of culture (early Church) and what is actually commanded by God. Can you even separate them? According to your post, probably not. Was the early Liturgy commanded by Christ, or was it contemporary with the desires of mankind at the time? This is a hard question, because it is almost always a fallacy to project our thought process on a past age.

I'm not trying to suggest scrapping the Liturgy, I'm just trying to understand what is wrong with contemporary worship and if it can be adjusted to fix it. And the way I go about things is to try poking holes and breaking into small pieces. Maybe I shouldn't play Jenga with the Liturgy, but its the way my mind works.

If anyone can point to some good books/resources on this whole topic, I would appreciate it.

Rev. Benjamin Harju said...

Anon wrote, "Was the early Liturgy commanded by Christ, or was it contemporary with the desires of mankind at the time?"

Are we under the law or the gospel? The way of the law is to require commandments and directives in order to curb and reveal sin. The way of the gospel is to walk by the Spirit in faith, recognizing and giving ourselves to what is of truth and love without being forced by any law.

Sadly, too many people nowadays only pay attention to our freedom from commands, and use this as a license to do whatever is not expressly forbidden. This motive lies behind Contemporary Worship. The liturgical practices of the early church (that we can observe, at least) show a faith that is grounded in the liturgical life of heaven. (Of which the OT tabernacle was a copy, according to Hebrews.) Lutheran liturgy shares this same grounding. Contemporary Worship does not. Sometimes the opposite of law is not gospel, but antinomianism (lawlessness).

Scott Larkins said...

Anonymous said...
Scott Larkins. Unhelpful. Period.

Ahhhhhhh? What? Who? Whatever!

Valley girl tone.

Scott Larkins said...

It's not far down to paradise
At least it's not for me
And if the wind is right you can sail away
And find tranquility
The canvas can do miracles
Just you wait and see
Believe me

It's not far to never never land
No reason to pretend
And if the wind is right you can find the joy
Of innocence again
The canvas can do miracles
Just you wait and see
Believe me

Takes me away
To where I've always heard it could be
Just a dream and the wind to carry me
And soon I will be free

It gets the best of me
When I'm sailing
All caught up in the reverie
Every word is a symphony
Won't you believe me

It's not far back to sanity
At least it's not for me
And when the wind is right you can sail away
And find serenity
The canvas can do miracles
Just you wait and see
Believe me

Nathan said...

Posted also on Pastor Harju's blog:

Re: Ablaze and "snap, snap, snap".I do not think that this is really an argument between persons saying "God loves all therefore we need to be sharing the Gospel" vs. those saying "in His secret knowledge, God has elected those who will believe". I tend to think that many (probably most) persons on both "sides" believe these things. I suggest we not talk about persons being like Uzzah or their having a "faulty predestinarianism" just yet.

To quote Luther (an old Don Matzat article on Predestination through Issues ETC.): A dispute about predestination should be avoided entirely... I forget everything about Christ and God when I come upon these thoughts and actually get to the point to imagining that God is a rogue. We must stay in the word, in which God is revealed to us and salvation is offered, if we believe him. But in thinking about predestination, we forget God . . However, in Christ are hid all the treasures (Col. 2:3); outside him all are locked up. *Therefore, we should simply refuse to argue about election.*

Seriously, what do we say? How ought we to distinguish these matters? Try to express our well-formed intuition that something is wrong here? Please allow me to humbly offer some thoughts I have collected that I think relate to what's been said already:

Kurt Marquardt, answering T. Wilken on an Issues Etc radio program on March 11, 2003, on whether or not Matt 28:19-20 is the most important (or one of the most) passages in Scripture: "I think the modern church suffers from a dose of feverish activism… impatience with the careful training of Gospel preachers… someone as well said that 'there is not in the NT that breathless hysteria that you find in much of today's so-called evangelism propaganda…[Jesus] took 3 years to indoctrinate [his disciples] soundly and than he sent them'…" Likewise wisdom from Dr. David Scaer: "Works have no standing before God and faith has no standing before the world. Activism before God is an affront to Him and makes Christology meaningless. Passivism in the world prevents God from acting Christologically in the world and thus thwarts His purposes." Scaer, David P. "Sanctification in Lutheran Theology", Concordia Theological Quarterly. 49.2-3 (Apr-Jul 1985): 181-195 http://www.ctsfw.edu/ctq/text/aprjul85scaer.pdf It is for reasons similar to those above that I think the following prayer is appropriate: "O Father, forgive your son through your Son for believing that my neighbor can't or can spiritually survive without me." When I think of my children, for example, I must believe that it is ultimately the Lord, not I, who is their protector and provider. And yet, the Lord has given unto me the call to bestow on them the riches of Christ. As Edward Preuss wrote in his "Justification of the Sinner Before God", "he who wishes rightly to divide [the doctrine of good works] must understand both the worthlessness and worth of good works" (found in Preuss, Edward. "Justification of the Sinner Before God". Concordia Theological Monthly. IX:8 (August , 1929): 227 [by J.A. Friedrich, a reprint of the monograph as it appeared in Theological Monthy, Feb. 1928-Septermber 1929 inclusive, Concordia Seminary Print Shop, Springfield, Illinois, June 1967)

When the issue of predestination came up with the Synodical Conference, Walther summed up the issue thusly:

"It consists in the following twofold question: 1st whether God from eternity, before the foundations of the world were laid, out of pure mercy and only for the sake of the most holy merit of Christ, elected and ordained the chosen children of God to salvation and whatever pertains to it, consequently also to faith, repentance, and conversion; or 2nd whether in His election God took into consideration anything good in man, namely the foreseen conduct of man, the foreseen persevering faith, and thus elected certain persons to salvation in consideration of, with respect to, on account of, or in consequence of their conduct, their non-resistance, and their faith. The first of these questions we affirm, while our opponents deny it, but the second question we deny, while our opponents affirm it."

I would be really surprised if many of the more thoughtful folks who are cool towards Ablaze but not overly hostile did not agree with Walther.