Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Just Published: The New Testament in His Blood

A Gottesdienst book. 118 pages, paperback. Available at www.lulu.com for $18.00.

The purpose of this manuscript is twofold: first, to present the Divine Liturgy in such a way as to highlight its beauty and dignity, and second, to show the liturgy's necessity by making the connection between Christ’s fulfillment of the entire Old Testament and the proclamation of this fulfillment by the liturgy. It is not accidental that the term “new testament” refers both to the canon of apostolic books arising after Christ’s ministry and to the Holy Sacrament of the Altar. There is an integral connection between word and worship, between faith and the reception of the incarnate Christ. And just as the written New Testament is the word of God, and therefore the ultimate norm and rule for all of Christian life, so the new testament as sacrament, in Christ’s blood, must be the heart of truly Christian worship, from which all other forms of devotion and piety flow.

Monday, August 30, 2010

About face?

The new poll at right asks our pastoral readers (or our lay readers can report on their pastor's celebration in their congregation) which direction they face while consecrating the Lord's Supper. The traditional manner is called ad orientem - to the East. After the liturgical reforms coming out of Rome from 1960-70 many Lutherans imitated the move to a free-standing altar and facing the people - this is called versus populum. I have also seen some Lutherans with a traditional altar turn around to face the people during the consecration.

The case for a versus populum consecration, as I have heard it expounded by its proponents, is that it is more evangelical: the Words of Institution are Gospel and should be proclaimed to the people. Thus, the proper direction to face during the consecration is toward the people, as with other "sacramental" portions of the liturgy.

The case for facing ad orientem is chiefly that it highlights the eschatological nature of the Lord's Supper - "proclaiming His death until He comes." The whole congregation faces East - awaiting the Risen Lord's return, especially during that greatest miracle of His presence with us in the Supper. In this understanding, it would be very odd indeed for the celebrant to turn his back to liturgical East at just that moment when the drama of the Supper is highest and we want to express the unity of the presence of our Lord in the Supper with our longing for His coming again in power and glory from the direction of the rising sun.

In fact, as Roger Pittelko is found of noting, the Words of Institution in the Divine Service are neither "sacrificial" nor "sacramental" language in the sense in which those terms are used in the liturgical rule of thumb "face the people for sacramental language and face God for sacrificial language." The Words are consecratory - what the celebrant properly faces at the time of the consecration are the elements. In the same way, the pastor faces the baby when he baptizes and he faces the penitent when he absolves; and when dedicating a new stained glass window, he faces the window. How odd it would be for the pastor to make eye contact with the congregation while baptizing someone at the font!

Thus, if a versus populum celebration is used, the celebrant should still be sure to direct his attention, his eyesight, and the Words to the elements, and not to the people. Our own Fr. Petersen celebrates the Supper in this way and published McClean's update of Piepkorn'sConduct of the Services to give directions for a reverent versus populum celebration

What really drives me nut, though, is when a versus populum position is taken during any of the prayers. Surely, when praying the celebrant should face the same direction as the people are facing: liturgical East, toward, you know, the One to Whom we are praying.

This brings on another problem with the versus populum celebration. When do you perform the walk around back of the altar? In the Common Service, it would make an odd break right after the Lord's Prayer - because you don't want to be back behind there for the Prayer, do you? Facing the people? Shouldn't you be praying the Lord's Prayer facing the Lord with the people instead of versus populum?

The newer LSB rites present this problem even more starkly as they are Eucharistic quasi-prayers (an Amen was tossed in before the Words of Institution to alleviate some Lutheran sensibility or other, even though many on the LSB Committee wanted to simply leave it as a Eucharistic prayer, as in the Synod's Culto Cristiano).

I was ordained in a church with a free standing altar and served there until I was called to my current parishes which have traditional altars. I always felt it odd to go around back of the altar for the prayers and was surprised at just how relieved I was when I came down here to these traditional altars.

So, if you are going to use a versus populum celebration, don't forget that you are consecrating at that point in the liturgy, not preaching to the people. Your eyes should be on the elements, not the people. Likewise with the prayers. The most awkward moment in my seminary career (and that's saying something) was when one of my classmates was performing his "practice mass" during Worship 101 at the free-standing altar in the studio chapel in the basement of Becker Hall. According to the directions given to us, he went behind the altar just before the prayers. During the prayers he was making eye contact with all of us in the "congregation." No, that's not strong enough. He was doing that American-Evangelical making love with your eyes thing. Creepy.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Worst "Worship Song" Ever?

This is right up there with this.

How much more damage will Baby Boomers continue to do to the dignity of worship? I was going to ask if the last Boomer would turn out the lights when they are done messing up western civilization, but I think it would be best if they didn't. The rest of us need to see to start cleaning up...

HT: Catholic Vote Action and Dr. William Tighe.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On Temptations to Go East

By Burnell F Eckardt Jr.

This article first appeared online in 2005 for Reformation Today, a web site that is no longer available. A recent request for it has prompted this republication.

It has been stylish in recent years to be optimistic about the prospects for reunification of Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Christendom. The talk has intensified this year, because Pope Benedict XVI has wasted no time making clear to delegates from the East his earnest desire for unity. But Frederica Mathewes-Green, writing in The Wall Street Journal (“All for One?,” July 15, 2005) provides an insightful reason for keeping those hopes from getting too high, however desirous the new pope, or we, might be for an end to the millennium-long schism. She explains, “From a Roman Catholic perspective, unity is created by the institution of the church,” but for the Orthodox, “unity is created by believing the same things.” Interestingly, these competing concepts of unity have also been seen among American Lutherans over the past hundred years. A desire for institutional unity among the more left-leaning churches has led to merger after merger, the most recent being that which brought the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America into being. On the conservative side, one can contrarily see no great impetus for any bureaucratic unification, but confessional unity is understood as something arrived at when altar-and-pulpit fellowship is declared between church bodies.

Confessional Lutherans ought therefore to have a certain appreciation for the Orthodox perspective over against the West. Mathewes-Green, writing from the Orthodox point-of-view, describes the Eastern notion of unity in terms with which we ought to have no trouble agreeing:

"You don't need a big bureaucracy to keep them faithful. Across wildly diverse cultures, Orthodox Christians show remarkable unity in their faith. . . . What's the source of this common faith? The consensus of the early church, which the Orthodox stubbornly keep following. That consensus was forged with many a bang and dent, but for the past millennium major questions of faith and morals have been pretty much at rest in the Eastern hemisphere."

A large part of the reason for the occasional temptations of confessional Lutheran pastors to consider jumping to Orthodoxy has to do, I think, with this refreshing kind of unity. To be sure, cultural differences easily manifest themselves among the varying strains of Orthodox Christians around the world, and yet when it comes to theological controversy and debate, in stark contrast to what the West has known for hundreds of years, the Eastern silence is deafening. And the more that those who defend traditional stances of faith tend to lose the battles for the minds and hearts of the people in the West, the more appealing the peace of the East gets.

That appeal gets magnified when mixed with a common contention of the East that the West has had its troubles precisely because it abandoned the consensus of the Ecumenical Councils in favor of Papal supremacy. Confessional Lutherans would be quick to find points of agreement with their assessment, of course, since the very existence of Lutheranism arose from Luther’s rejection of Papal supremacy. Our agreement with the East tends to be tempered with a different understanding of the relation of Ecumenical Councils to the Scriptures, but we have to admit that on the question of the supremacy of the Chair of Peter, the East was right all along.

What has too easily been granted entry into the discussion of East versus West, however, is this notion that the seemingly incessant squabbles in the West prove somehow that the West is the wrong place to be. An excerpt from the Greek Orthodox “Oberlin Statement” dating back a half century (from the North American Faith and Order Study Conference, Oberlin, Ohio, September 3-10, 1957, for which see www.orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/oberlin.aspx) is quick to point out that the Orthodox Church “has been unassociated with the events related to the breakdown of religious unity in the West,” and declares their “firm conviction that this Unity can be found only in the fellowship of the Historical Church, preserving faithfully the catholic tradition, both in doctrine and in order.” They might as well have said, See you have had all these struggles, and that demonstrates that you should never have separated from us in the first place. The gist of the contention is that our controversies are the children of our folly, and ought to convince us that we should at once go and seek chrismation in an Eastern church. And some of us do just that.

But it seems to me that the whole argument is rooted in the old post hoc flaw. The fact that the West is the place of all the controversies cannot be held forth as the result of flawed Western thought, any more than the coming of night can be offered as proof that we shouldn’t have allowed the sun to set. Indeed, according to a well-known Luther line, whenever a cathedral is built, the devil builds a chapel next door, a logion which makes perfect sense: Would not the devil seek to make more trouble where his purposes could be the more severely assailed? C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape would certainly agree. That is not to say that this line of thought is necessarily the right one, for it can just as easily fall victim to the post hoc mentality. The point is that neither can be used by itself to prove validity.

Yet what can definitively be said is that the existence of controversy in the West offers us the opportunity—forced upon us by necessity—of dealing with matters that have never surfaced in the East. The Reformation provided us with the Augsburg Confession, whose descriptions of faith and justification contain an unsurpassed depth of succinctness and clarity. That volatile period of our history has forced us to arrive, through much struggling, at a point of confessional clarification we had not attained prior to it.

This is, ironically, the very same kind of process as was seen in the periods leading to the great ecumenical councils to whose decrees the East refuses to add or detract. They call the Nicene Creed settled dogma, and so it is; but its declarations too came in just the same way as those of the sixteenth century, out of much tribulation. The need arose to state with great clarity what the church believed against the heretic Arius, and so the Nicene Creed was crafted by the 318 bishops assembled at Nicea in a.d. 325. After a half-century of further strife, during which the catholic faith was greatly suppressed, the Second Ecumenical Council met at Constantinople, and the Creed was expanded and refined. Our Creed is the result of exasperating confrontations of error. By this token, the second millennium struggles and controversies of the West would place it in a more favorable vantage point over against the East, rather than the other way around. In a manner of speaking, we have wrestled with God and with men, and have prevailed.

The most salient theological issue between East and West has always been the filioque, which the East oppose because of their contention that it is an innovative doctrine and therefore to be avoided according to clear apostolic admonition, repeated by the seven ecumenical councils. What they tend to avoid, in their argument, is the difference between contending that the filioque is an innovative formula, something we readily admit (unlike Charlemagne who once ignorantly blamed the East for omitting it from the original Creed), and saying that the doctrine which the filioque expresses is the truth. They reject the latter primarily because they do not see it in the former.

Interestingly, the filioque, like the Creed itself, is also the result of struggles against the Arians’ repeated attacks on the catholic faith, specifically their rejections of the divinity of Christ. The date normally associated with its inclusion in the Creed is 589, when at the third local synod of Toledo the formerly Arian Visigoths were required to accept the Creed so amended. But it was at Toledo’s first synod in 447 that they first added filioque to the Creed, lifting it from a letter Pope Leo I had sent them in response to the heresies they were confronting. The clause itself actually dates to the fourth century, however, and was explicitly used by St. Ambrose (De Spiritu Sancto, 1, 11, 120, PL 16, 733) and St. Augustine (De Trinitate XV , 25, 47, PL 42, 1095). In addition to this use by these Western fathers, incidentally, is the notable first-ever introduction of the phrase into the Creed by a regional council in Persia in 410, which makes the filioque an authentically Eastern expression of thought on the Trinity. In addition these data reveal, remarkably, that the expression is virtually as old as the Creed, which serves to debunk the idea that it is a novelty. Most important, though, is the fact that the filioque is evidence of the Church’s further struggle against heresy. Like the Creed itself before it, and like our Lutheran Confessions after it, it arose in the heat of battle. It is a token to the Church’s continual need for vigilance against error. As long as she is on earth, she is ecclesia militans.

What became a point of contention for the East was the fact that the Third Ecumenical Council, the Council of Ephesus in a.d. 431, while acknowledging the Second Ecumenical Council’s amendments to the Creed, now forbad anyone “to bring forward, or to write, or to compose a different Faith as a rival to that established by the holy Fathers assembled with the Holy Ghost in Nicaea” (Canon VII, NPNF, Vol. 14: 231). The meaning of this phrase has been subject to varying interpretations, but it has been interpreted by the East as a prohibition of any further textual changes to the Creed.

Thus although the filioque was employed theologically against heresy, as Leo had done, neither the Council of Chalcedon nor any succeeding Ecumenical Council could, according to the East, see fit to provide any further alteration to the text of the Creed, even if an alteration such as the filioque were deemed theologically acceptable, since the undoing of any of the decrees of a prior Ecumenical Council would have called into question the authenticity of all the Ecumenical Councils.

The East, moreover, is rather insistent about maintaining the infallibility of the Ecumenical Councils, seeing them as having been guided necessarily by the Holy Spirit. The addition of the filioque in the West is an implicit assertion that we do not believe even an Ecumenical Council has the right to declare that there will never be a need for a further creedal declaration of truth, whether or not that was the intention of Canon VII.

Here the East claims authority where the West is not so quick to do so. But here the Lutheran Church parts company with both. For we reject impious papal decrees with the same criterion by which we accept the Councils: we only allow the authority of the Councils because they are found to be in agreement with the Scriptures. And while we certainly accept the decrees of the seven Ecumenical Councils, we do so in the same way as we accept the Lutheran Confessions, namely as a matter of theological agreement. We accept the Creeds, and the Lutheran Confessions, because they agree with the Sacred Scriptures, but never in addition to them. There is a bit of a conundrum here, admittedly, since one can here charge (as Eck did against Luther in the 1519 Leipzig debate) that by saying this we appear to be placing our own private views of the Scriptures above those of everyone else, the ultimate error of the sectarians. On the other hand, to take one’s final cue from the decrees of the Councils is to place them above the Scriptures. Our reply is to point to the perspicuity of the Scriptures: they interpret themselves, and they are clear; we confess as doctrine only what the Scriptures teach, and it is only by their authority that we confess it. In this regard we have a differing view both on the nature of Biblical authority, and on the life of the Church and her struggles against error.

So we accept the Creeds and the Confessions theologically, and not necessarily with respect to non-theological matters, such as whether we ought feel bound to a particular point of exegesis in the Confessions, or whether one may add a theologically acceptable term like filioque to the Creed.

I cannot help but admit, on the other hand, that I certainly wouldn’t want to see anyone get the idea from this that it’s therefore acceptable to make any other wholesale changes. Heaven knows the levees have already burst in that regard; but let no one cite the filioque as imprimatur for some of the wild innovations recent years have seen. It bears remembering that the Creed in both its forms comes from the Ecumenical age when churchmen were more apt to think and speak in terms befitting a venerable theological tradition, and that we will certainly court disaster if we seek to undo what they have done.

What is perhaps most damaging about the Orthodox perspective is their insistence that they are the visible Church of Jesus Christ on earth: “We do not admit that the Unity of the Church, and precisely of the "visible" and historical Church, has ever been broken or lost” (Ibid.). This insistence has been consistently evident in all their deliberations, including specifically those of Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople to the Lutherans between 1576 and 1581. In reply to the Lutheran overtures to the East, the final word was, in effect, Drop your heretical adherence to the filioque and other matters with which you disagree with us, and we will gladly receive you as sons. Otherwise, go your way and leave us alone (see George Mastrontonis, Augsburg and Constantinople, Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Press, 1982).

By throwing the full weight of their venerable tradition at the Lutherans, the Orthodox have caused the knees of the historians among us to quiver a bit. Their tradition is harder to gainsay than that of Rome. We can more easily withstand such threats to our own integrity when they come from the latter, seeing that Rome had clearly veered from her own apostolic moorings beginning somewhere from Gelasius’ fifth-century conception of two swords under God (pope and king) to Leo III’s coronation of Charlemagne (a.d. 800) and reaching its ugliest mutation in the early 13th century genocidal pomposity of Innocent III. But the fact of the East’s clear sailing through history without any Middle Ages to speak of provides them with an added weight of authority behind their claims of tradition. No wonder there are capitulations among us.

Nevertheless it ought to be remembered that saying one is in the right is not what makes it so, no matter how forcefully or impressively one is able to say it. For us, the unity of the Christian Church has never been manifest except in her marks, in the same way that the divinity of Christ, during His humiliation, was not manifest except in His marks. The cross marked Jesus, as could nothing else, as the Christ, the King of the Jews. Not even His healings and miracles, as important as they were, pointed as clearly as the cross itself did to who He really was, in fulfillment of the Scriptures, as the centurion at the cross in St. Matthew 27 also confessed. So also, it is not necessary to say that the schisms which have externally beset the Church in any way encroach on her unity, any more than it would be to say that the passion and death of Christ is a renunciation of His glory. We live by faith, not by sight. By faith, then, we agree that the unity of the Church has never been broken or lost, but we do not believe that this unity must be visibly evident. Its concealment might even be said to betoken its likeness to Christ’s divinity. And as the bitterness and travail of Christ’s soul resulted in ultimate good for the human race, so the struggles we have endured through the centuries of the Church’s tribulations, both inwardly and outwardly, have produced the good fruits of confessional stamina and refinement.

All in all, the temptations to go East are easy to understand. The East has peace. The East can say it has the more pristine Creed. And the East has visible unity. But we must go on fighting the good fight. We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness. By the same token, I believe, it is admissible to say that we preach a cruciform Christianity, which likewise is a stumblingblock and foolishness to some. Tho’ with a scornful wonder, men see her sore opprest; By schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed; Yet saints their watch are keeping, Their cry goes up, How long? And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Faithful Lutheran Bishop "Defrocked"

By Larry Beane

The institution that claims to be the Church of Finland has has "defrocked" the Rt. Rev. Matti Väisänen, the Lutheran Mission Province bishop of Finland.

This is how you know that he is a "faithful" bishop.

His ministry will, of course, continue unabated. He is, after all, a missionary. He is reaching out to both the apostate "church" as well as the innocent victims of that organization's abuse.

Being "defrocked" by the "Church" of Finland is a little like having one's morals criticized by Larry Flynt. The words of Brer Rabbit come to mind: "Please don't fling me in that briar patch!"

Let us keep Bishop Väisänen, the Mission Province, and all faithful Lutherans (and other Christians) in Finland in our prayers. Our faithful Scandinavian brothers and sisters are among the most courageous Christians on the planet.

HT: Fr. Tapani Simojoki for the link to the English language news report.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Liturgical Preaching: Trinity X

This Sunday's Gospel has Jesus weeping over Jerusalem and lamenting her coming destruction. What an odd Gospel for the middle of the summer, no? Wouldn't this be more in place either in Advent or in Holy Week?

The mystery is solved by a look at the calendar. The Tenth Sunday after Trinity in the historic lectionary usually falls in the first couple of weeks in August – and the armies of Vespasian and Titus entered Jerusalem on August 10, A+D 70.

I love this historical realism in the lectionary, and I lament the fact that the post-Vatican II 3-year lectionary disassociates this text from the anniversary of the fall of Jerusalem (in all three years, July-August are given over to a lectio continua of a given Gospel). I believe this was part of John XXIII's attempt at rapprochement with the Jews – he also did away with the traditional Good Friday collect which prays for “the perfidious Jews.”

The fall of Jerusalem is a very big deal for Christians because it is a direct fulfillment of Jesus' own prophecies and a further proof that He is Who He said He is. Pastors and congregations would benefit from having the destruction of Jerusalem and its meaning exegeted from the pulpit this week. In years past, it was even the practice to read a portion of Josephus narrating the fall of Jerusalem from the pulpit or lectern.

It is also an excellent week to preach on the topic of taking God's grace for granted. The Jews cried Peace, Peace when their was no peace. They assumed that God was on their side, that they could do no wrong, that they would always have God's grace no matter what they did. Perhaps before writing this week's sermon, you should glance at SA III.3.42-45 and work that teaching into the sermon as well.