Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Steadfast Lutherans

I was reading a recent blog post, which was a response to another blog post on a website called SteadfastLutherans.org.  It inspired me to write a (bit more strongly-worded) response too, so I'm sharing it here as well:

I was raised in a Lutheran church that held liturgical services early on Sunday and praise/worship services afterward. I'm inferring by what I've read here that steadfast Lutherans don't discourage praise and worship, they merely discourage the adulteration of the Lutheran liturgy. In other words, praise and worship does no harm so long as the liturgy is preserved in its divine entirety.

I must commend those of you who have posted on this site and acknowledged the legitimacy of individual worship preference. I can accuse none of you of the ignorance that would demand only divine liturgy as legitimate corporate worship - although this conversation is walking dangerously close circles around that bottomless pit (a conversation draped in denominationally approved robes and ordained wisdom). I'm gathering here that the Lutheran divine liturgy is intended to serve a very different purpose than praise and worship - to serve strictly as a tool for serving up scripture and sacrament, rather than to facilitate the spiritual or emotional connection between Christ and his body, or even among the members of that body.

I would take this opportunity to remember that the experience of interacting and being edified by the presence of God permeates the entirety of human experience beyond liturgy delivery. Take, for example, David, the man after God's own heart. A sinful and fallen man, to be sure, but one who, to the glory of God made an embarrassing spectacle of himself by dancing and singing the praise of the Lord in the streets. The original words David wrote in the Psalms flowed from the divine inspiration within his heart, serving to calm Saul's rage, and to extol the greatness, reverence, and joy he had for his intimate Lord. We know, theologically, that the Holy Spirit did not reside in David at that time (at least not the way it resides with us now), but that because his words are 100% congruent with the entirety of scripture they were divinely inspired for canonization. It is, however, impossible that they sounded anything like the German Lutheran heritage which this blog so stoutly affirms as divinely liturgical. That can only mean that across millennia and an entire globe of cultures, more than one divinely inspired style of writing and singing praise to the Lord legitimately exists.

All this to say that I hope the steadfast Lutherans understand just how niche a market they serve; just how specialized and miniscule a fragment of the body of Christ is actually edified by the divine liturgy; just how small, aging, and whithering a corner of the global Christian population they are providing any meaning to - after CENTURIES of obscurity have rendered the musical tastes and symbolic significance of the liturgy drastically deficient for reaching the majority of today's audience, if not entirely irrelevant. When was the last time a Lutheran liturgy moved someone -just one person- the way Christ's words moved thousands?

As constant and true as any other characteristic of God, throughout all time, God meets humanity where humanity resides. We are shortsighted if not blind; crippled if not immobile, and completely incapable of our own salvation since the very fall of man. Only God's reaching hands of sacrifice and salvation have clothed our naked shame, and his strength is always greater than our weakness. That is, God is constantly covering the distance between him and us that we cannot; a distance that is never in short supply.

For example, the Old Testament Israelites needed the specificity of sacrificial procedure to understand reconciliation with God. God finally reached even farther to meet us with Christ's sacrifice, and our challenge today is to fully understand the completeness of it's reconciliation for us. Even while Christ was on the earth he explained every heavenly principle in socially relevant earthly terms. A message that does not resonate with its audience bears no fruit; has no purpose; lacks meaning and fullness. Christ spoke in terms of vineyards, seed planting, kings and subjects - the familiar elements of the audience around him; constantly reaching to meet humanity within humanity's limitations. The Architect of humanity has always understood this, so why would those who seek to know Him, with such dedication, exhaspirate themselves over the nuances of the preservation of an ineffectual medium?  
Please, continue in your steadfastness for the growth of your own understanding, or for the continued edification of those generations who appreciate your liturgical nuances, and for the Truth portrayed by divine liturgy. But I beg you, I BEG you, do not allow your intellectual and rhetorical exercises to distract you from the living Spirit which works and moves on the earth, and in your hearts, even now. Do not neglect the starving hearts of those whose tastes and emotions and needs are rooted in THIS place, at THIS time; in YOUR communities and YOUR congregations. Do not forget that Jesus' physical body spent its ministry HEALING, GOING, SERVING, SHARING, and REACHING out to people no matter where they were or what their sins had looked like. If this is our great commission as His physical body now, how significant is the preservation of Lutheran liturgy to His work?

Luther's teachings are certainly essential and they served as a great incubator for my infantile faith from birth through college, but let's remember that he was a first-generation recovering Catholic, only one degree of separation from a tyrannical phariseical organization. Remember that the early church, fostered and maintained by the very apostles whose hands held Jesus' hands, and which wrote the Gospels and epistles, had no such tradition as your divine liturgy; nor did the intimate gatherings of foundational believers in the early body. Did they know the fullness of Christ's redemption any less? I would argue that they knew it better than Martin Luther himself (gasp!).

Christ reprimanded and drove out all sorts of spiritual evil, but he criticized only one group of human beings: the established church - those whose religiosity had prevented them from communicating the Truth God had entrusted to them.

I have no expectation that this comment will be posted, but I would be shocked into a greater respect for this entire community of steadfast Lutherans if it is. Dare you open your conversation to non-synodically approved theology and dissent? What's the greater good - the preservation of your undisturbed homogeneous worldviews, or the opportunity to link arms with the broader body of Christ?

That's obviously a loaded question, but I eagerly await the answer.

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