Nomenclature

The Rev. David Juhl had a simple yet profound post lately. You can read it here. Given my own proclivity for the Lutheran Confessions, I agree wholeheartedly with that the distinction must be made simply as to whether a pastor is faithful or unfaithful.

Within the Lutheran Church, that distinction must be made solely on the basis of faithfulness to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, as Pastor Juhl indicates.

The challenge is to see that personal preferences don’t begin to trump the true doctrine and practice. At this point these thoughts are rather rough as they’re coming out. Hopefully as I get through them some sense may be made of them. What follow are examples of what I’m trying to get at.

Worship style need not necessarily indicate faithfulness or unfaithfulness. It may indeed be a faithful act to set the liturgy to contemporary arrangements and instrumentations. If these settings direct the worshipers to the things the Lord is giving them and doing to and among them in the divine service, they are indeed the acts of faithful ministry. If, however, such stylistic choices bring with them it’s-all-about-me anthropology rather than actual divine service, then it becomes an unfaithful act.

Accordingly (and please put the pitchforks away until you’ve read the whole point), the liturgy didn’t fall in its current form from the throne of God into our laps. The liturgy focuses us on God’s work among us. Indeed, God does things in the parts of the liturgy. He changes us through his work in the divine service. For example, he reminds us of our identity as his baptized children in the invocation. He drowns us anew and raises us up to new life in the Absolution. He hears and answers our prayers. He feeds us with his Word in the readings and the sermon, and with his Body and Blood. He places his blessing upon us as we leave. All of these are God’s acts upon us. We leave worship as changed persons. Yet demanding that worship be the same at all times and in every place may be an unfaithful act, if it elevates form over substance. Likewise, changing the wording, say, of the confession and Absolution is not necessarily an unfaithful act, provided the confession covers general sin and applies to all sinners, and God’s first-person forgiving of our sins is still there.

The above examples are places where I think “faithful” and “unfaithful” might get prematurely applied to a minister, if you follow. It’s vital that one use sanctified discernment when making such assessments, and that he is never hasty in declaring an observed practice to be unfaithful.

Yet there are decidedly unfaithful practices, and there are men who have chosen to be unfaithful in the ministry to which God has called them. For whatever reason, these men have sold their birthrights for a mess o’ pottage. They have functionally renounced the faith they claim to confess. The general reason seems to be a disposition toward the path of least resistance. It’s laziness, and laziness is easier than faithfulness.

It’s easier to “not rock the boat” of contemporary American Protestant Christianity. If we don’t seem any different, they’ll get off our backs.

It’s easier to win hearts and minds when we don’t preach appropriate Law and Gospel. We’ll “Dr. Phil” them to death and call it relevant or life-related, and they’ll love us!

It’s easier to quantify the effectiveness of ministry by means of numbers and programs.

It’s easier to let let others do the work for us. Point, click, print, preach.

It’s easier to be blown with the winds of change rather than to remain rooted in universal truth. We’d rather be deemed to be hip than thought a curmudgeon.

It’s easier to reach out to people “where they are” and praise their uniqueness, leaving them in the comfort of their sinful selves. We might be thought to be unloving if we challenged the status quo of Old Adam.

It’s easier to do snappy rather than substantial.

I could go on. I won’t right now. It’s not just a personal gripe. Unfaithfulness is an afront to faithful ministry in the church throughout the centuries. It’s reckless endangerment of God’s people. Every minister makes mistakes. Every minister is a sinner. But willful and overt unfaithfulness to Scripture and the Confessions is an unconscionable offense.

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7 Responses to Nomenclature

  1. Anonymous says:

    “Why Catholics Can’t Sing” is an interesting book. It was written by a Catholic Layman who is a professor of music. Overall, it is a thought – provoking look at many of the same questions we Lutherans are facing.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The library copy of that book (WCCS) I checked out once had the last “g” covered by the library sticker. People gave me odd looks as I read it.

    I think part of the counter argument to you is the difficulty that we tend to preach L+G disconnected from life. Sanctification is the work of God, but it is the work of God as I am experiencing it in myself. As a pastor, if someone gives me a nice doctrinal treatise on something disguised as a sermon, I shut it out. It’s not that I don’t care about the doctrine, I do, but I don’t care for the delivery. It is, to put probably way too fine of a point on it, a masturbatory experience – here’s the truth I gots today, God doesn’t change, and guess what? God could pretty much give a damn what the hell happened to you this week. To quote a professor once upon a time on his first sermon, “They said to me, ‘You forgot the angels’ and I said, ‘What?’ They said, ‘You managed to get every other point of Christian Doctrine into your sermon, but you forgot the angels.'” To take my admittedly bad analogy further, if the seed is to enter in we must be connected. God must actually care about us, not just the abstractions and multisyllabic words.

    Of course, that could just be me. I have been accused of caring too much.

  3. OSC says:

    Anonymous 2,

    I’m not getting a sense of how that is a counter to the argument that I’m making. In accord with the argument I’m making, preaching L&G in a “disconnected from life” manner is an act of unfaithfulness. It takes the “art” of it (a la Walther) and turns it into a science of sorts. That is not faithful, because it begins to idolatrize pure doctrine for its own sake. Perhaps I didn’t include this in a part of my laziness rant, but I would argue that it is of the same cloth, just toward the other end of the spectrum. It’s the attitude that says, “I’ll preach Law and Gospel and if God wants people there to hear it they’ll be there. That’s Lutheran Evangelism, biotch.” That’s simply lazy. Or more specifically, it’s quietism masquerading as confessionalism. It says, “I’ll do as little as possible, but I’ll be orthodox in the three things I will do.” This attitude effectively buries doctrine, because doctrine is a living breathing thing. Doctrine does not change, but it exists to be practiced as well, if you take my meaning. In your example of the disconnected L&G, I’d argue that neither one is being done, because, to quote the late Dr. Gerhard “Why Won’t People Quote Any Of My Other Books” Forde, “Theology is for proclamation.” A theological treatise doesn’t necessarily qualify as said proclamation.

    And, frankly, hack preachers piss me off. Preachers who adopt the preacher voice, who don’t think about their audience and how to communicate God’s truth to them, who point-click-print-preach, who are more pompous than pastoral in the pulpit(, who use unwarranted alliteration!)–I just want to throttle them. They should learn about proclamation, but they should also learn a little something about delivery. The West Wing, season 3, episode 5: “War Crimes” contains near the beginning a scene specifically about homiletics. Read it here.

  4. Anonymous says:

    My apologies. I was simply being reactionary your labeling. I also am kind of tired today.

    However, what I heard was principally the complaint of people who say I get up and preach the word in its truth and purity, and I could really care less about you. Snappiness, creativity, novelty, etc. in preaching the word, to connect so that the word will enter, is verboten. That just annoys me. It actually does more than that, it pisses me off, becuase it doesn’t take serious the lives of the people before them, and unfortunately, that is what I heard you say in your talk against the new breed of pastoring. The lovely thing about communication is that I don’t always hear right. That kind of sucks, especially when I harness the internet to spout off about it.

    Click-Print pastors know they’re frauds and they’re scared to death everyone else will figure it out, I think, except the ones without a conscience.

    My fear is what do we have to correct it? Who gets to be the judge between my novelty and my orthodoxy? I don’t think I’m being unfaithful to my call, but who knows, to some I probably am.

  5. OSC says:

    Sorry for not getting back to you. I’ve been sick as a dog.

    I don’t think I’m talking about a new breed of pastoring. I’m seriously talking about lazy unfaithful pastors and faithful pastors. I’m tired of laziness masquerading either as confessionalism (read: “I refuse to engage anything or anyone…I’m just about being right and you can take or leave me/it.”) or as novelty (read: “It’s just easier not to be distinctive.”). I don’t think this laziness describes everyone in these camps, but I see evidence for it within both.

    Additionally, I’m not holding novelty and orthodoxy as mutually exclusive, at least in the way you’ve lifted them up here. Preaching the Word “in its truth and purity…to connect so that the Word will enter” is precisely what we are called to do. “Snappiness, creativity, novelty, etc. in preaching the word, to connect so that the word will enter” is what I try to do in my own preaching. I think these are good and appropriate things in preaching the Word, but these are stylistic choices, not substantial. The Truth of God’s Word still remains, and God-willing, is what I preach. The problem is when the truth and purity are deemed to be passé and replaced by that which is novel. This only “take[s] seriously the lives of the people before them.” This kind of thinking makes them mutually exclusive, and chooses one over the other. In that case, I’d hope orthodoxy wins over novelty. I don’t think you’ve got to choose. I would hope that any choices to be novel would be intentional and responsible choices.

    Who gets to be the judge? I don’t think this is the right question. Or the answer is Scripture and, in the Lutheran church, the Lutheran Confessions. And in combatting laziness, as pastors perhapse we owe it to one another to engage each other with edifying conversations about some of these things, that we might all be faithful and intentional in faithfulness with the choices that we make. Or perhaps I’m unrealistically idealistic. That’s possible. Or I’m just smoking crack.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Well, let’s see. Truth and purity of content don’t necessarily rule out novelty of style. So as long as there is truth and purity, the style doesn’t matter.

    Interesting thing is, it may not matter much to God — and I really doubt that it does. But it matters to us individual humans. It matters a lot. We are profoundly affected by ritual style, and we have profound preferences. Are those preferences, one way or the other, to be neglected? Is it sinful to hold them? Truth be told, I would feel more comfortable in a formal Presbyterian service than in a praise-band, but doctrinally-pure, LCMS service. Of course, doctrinal purity trumps my ritualistic comfort, so I’d look for a high-church LCMS operation, rather than trying to be a modern-day unionist. If all I had available was an LCMS praise band, I’d stay home and save up for a trip to the big city. But that’s just sinful me. I’m the Lutheran equivalent of the elderly lady with the rosary in “Why Catholics Can’t Sing.”

    I personally can’t help feeling a little sad that we Lutherans are squandering our heritage. The mass (which we Lutherans are said to hold in the highest esteem) has been around for a thousand years. Its words link us to Christian forebears who lived half a millinium before anyone ever thought of the Lutheran reformation. It may not be the only way God wants to be worshipped. But it will be sad when Lutherans no longer know it.

    Since there are a couple of us anonymouses here, I’ll sign off as

    Mort

    PS: hope you’re feeling better, Pastor OSC.

  7. OSC says:

    Mort,

    I’m being pulled in two different directions here. One, the one I’ve been primarily dealing with, pits style against substance. The other deals with edification and good order.

    My argument was primarily in regard to preaching. Regarding liturgy, I’m most edified by a service that follows our Lutheran liturgical heritage. However, if a contemporary liturgy was substantially sound I would not necessarily call it unfaithful. Granted, I’ve not seen such a liturgy yet.

    Yet you raise the often ignored yet important issue of edification. If worship is less worshipful for God’s people in a contemporary style, that style should be abandoned. I’m of the mind that if people are not edified by the traditional forms of the historic liturgy, we ought not to be too quick to abandon them, but find out exactly where the disconnect is happening. My impression is that poor education or a lack thereof (and poor preaching) has led people to seek contemporary worship styles. There is a felt need there that contemporary seeks to address. I’m not convinced that contemporary forms adequately address that lack.

    And on our Lutheran heritage, I mourn with you. It seems there’s nothing we Lutherans aren’t willing to sell for a bowl of lentil stew.

    The burden lies with those who would make sweeping innovations in the liturgy, whether they admit it or not. It has not been my experience that they have met their burden.

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