quod pro nobis traditum est

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The "c" word

Recently, a Lutheran pastor received an anonymous phone call from out of state from someone asking, "Are you a 'contemporary' church?" When the pastor began to explain the liturgical practice at his church the person on the other end of the line hung up. Obviously, the pastor had offended the anonymous caller by not simply saying "yes" or "no".

On a trip south through Illinois I noticed some new "churches" in sight of the freeway. These buildings were not called churches, cathedrals, basilicas, temples, synagogues or other words that reflect the theological and historical nature of the religion's belief but simply "Worship Centers."

One could probably bring up many examples of similar experiences of one's own that reflect what is happening in terms of worship in the protestant tradition, not excluding what is happening in Lutheranism.

In fact for some Lutheran congregations this is the Future, the very thing that makes them one and at home in the Christian faith. "Contemporary" is a good word and not something to be questioned.

Normally, "contemporary" means something totally different, something new and vibrant. Contemporary is here and now. It is in. It is cool. There is plenty of hype about this word to go around. Having been introduced on the basis of adiaphora it is now left to stand without question as the norm for all future liturgical endeavors.

Whether or not this focus and insistence on "contemporary" is a fad or is here to stay it is certainly distinct from that which stands in the historic catholic tradition. In view of the height, depth and width of the historic liturgy and the church's hymnody "contemporary" seems to fall better under some "e" categories: "experimental", "experiential" and "entertaining." When I am there I know it is all about me and my feelings about God.

The catholic faith and liturgy stand in contrast to the trends of the day. The catholicity of the church holds on to that which is true for people in all ages and in all places. This faith and liturgy are clearly focused on the Triune God and His love and salvation in Christ Jesus for us. The holy faith is prayed in the liturgy and the "now" does not stand in stark contrast to all that has gone before us nor all that is to come. Contemporary is but a part, and not the central part, of the Church's ongoing faith and liturgical practice.

To know Luther, Chemnitz, et al, is to know the church fathers and the historic traditions. They were not looking to a future without a past but a future that is one with the past and the present and that is fulfilled in Christ. They handed over what they received in line with the Holy Scriptures.

From the Augsburg Confession and Apology:

"What need is there of a long discussion? The holy Fathers did not institute any traditions for the purpose of meriting the forgiveness of sins or righteousness. They instituted them for the sake of good order and tranquillity in the church." (AC Ap XV:13)

"We gladly keep the old traditions set up in the church because they are useful and promote tranquillity, and we interpret them in an evangelical way, excluding the opinion which holds that they justify." (AC Ap XV:38)

"Nothing should be changed in the accustomed rites without good reason, and to foster harmony those ancient customs should be kept which can be kept without sin or without great disadvantage." (AC Ap XV:51)

"In our churches Mass is celebrated every Sunday and on other festivals,when the sacrament is offered to those who wish for it after they have been examined and absolved. We keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of the lessons, prayers, vestments, etc." (AC Ap XXIV:1)

"The purpose of observing ceremonies is that men may learn the Scriptures and that those who have been touched by the Word may receive faith and fear and so may also pray." (AC Ap XXIV:3)

"As can be seen, there is nothing here that departs from the Scriptures or the catholic church or the church of Rome, in so far as the ancient church is known to us from its writers." (AC XXI:1)

"Only those things have been recounted which it seemed necessary to say in order that it may be understood that nothing has been received among us, in doctrine or in ceremonies, that is contrary to Scripture or to the church catholic." (AC Conclusion 5)

"There is nothing contrary to the church catholic in our having only the public or common Mass." (AC Ap XXIV:6)

"So in our churches we willingly observe the order of the Mass, the Lord's Day, and the other more important feast days. With a very thankful spirit we cherish the useful and ancient ordinances, especially when they contain a discipline that serves to educate and instruct the people and the inexperienced." (AC Ap VII,VIII:33)

Maybe a more appropriate "c" word for the Lutheran Church and her worship is catholic.

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