Monday, March 5, 2012

Playing the das-ist-Katholisch Card

I was chatting with a college friend on Facebook this past week. He was questioning why the likes of the Gottesdienst Crowd weren't more hard on the papists. He questioned why we were so hard on the Evangelicals and didn't seem too concerned by similar errors made by Rome.

First, I’ve found that, in advocating for and making use of the ceremonies of the Western Rite, I must be very clear about what we, as Lutherans, believe, especially regarding our departure from the Roman Catholic Church. Second, I’ve also found that the vast majority of Lutherans I encounter reflect the beliefs of generic American Protestantism and have almost a gag-reflex reaction to anything they deem to be Roman Catholic (which incidentally can be as wide and broad as Harrison's stache).

But, I digress. So, here’s a portion of what my friend wrote:

"Besides being convicted that certain practices are essential to christian life and teaching, some just like things like vestments and the like. There is a difference between thinking vesting is appropriate and stopping by every catholic supply shop to pick up something new. I am suggesting that some people, especially when organized into groups with charismatic leaders pick up practices because they are being done by those who share similar interests. And in some of my circles, an affinity for Rome seems to be one of those things people are picking up. If Rome does or did it, it must be good. It moves them farther from the Evangelicals. Luther judged whether a practice was good based on how it effected the hearing of the gospel or the administration of the means of grace, not on whether it was moving, reverent or whatever other adjective describes what people happen to like personally. . . . Again my first point is that our ultimate affinity must be for the Gospel."

And that’s when it hit me. My friend mistakes the Western Rite and its attendant ceremonies as being fundamentally and doctrinally Roman Catholic. This is his first assumed and unstated premise. And since this is the case, then logically, anyone who gravitates toward these is also suspect. For he must love Roman Catholic style more than Lutheran substance. This is his second assumed premise, namely, those who love ceremony and beauty in the Divine Service love them more than the Gospel itself. And finally, his third assumed and unstated premise is that the Gospel itself is neutral and can and does exist outside of history and/or ceremonies. This is the same old style versus substance canard. Now let’s say it all together: Petitio Principi!

Regardless, let’s take a closer look. The Western Rite and the ceremonies that go with it have already been vetted. We've had that battle: been there, done that, got the T-shirt. What has been retained is therefore de facto Lutheran. The Western Rite then should be the Lutheran's default position not an add-on of Roman Catholic style to an otherwise abstracted and neutral Lutheran substance. The historic ceremonies of the Western Rite retained during the Reformation are ours. They are our heritage. This isn't about style. This is about who we are as Lutherans and about what we believe, teach, and confess. After everything that obstructed the Gospel was removed, what remained was pure Gospel, a Gospel enacted by the very ceremonies of the Western Rite.

And so claiming the ceremonies of the Western Rite is, in fact, to teach and confess as Lutherans believe. It is teaching what it means to be Lutheran in word and deed. That is, after all, what ceremonies do, is it not (AC XXIV:1-3)? They teach. So let's teach. Teach your people. Use the historic ceremonies of the Western Church, vetted and retained during the Reformation, to teach what we as Lutherans believe, teach, and confess.


  1. Father Braaten,
    Thank you for a very logical and salutary post. Your arguments will be most helpful.
    Deo Vindice!

  2. And perhaps some day, some poor parish priest will have to face any angry parishioner pointing his finger in his face, "You can't do that, that's Lutheran!"

    Fr. J. W. Berg

  3. Agreed. I refer to the use of the Western Rite with the royal "we" or the "our churches use." Yes, I know the rite is woefully neglected. I prefer to speak in the way of the Confessions and making the same assumptions they do.

    For example, "Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among us, and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved, save that the parts sung in Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns, which have been added to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned be taught [what they need to know of Christ]."

    Fr. Beane's description/prescriptive paper is helpful here.

  4. I just reviewed for CPH the upcoming Kevin Walker translation of Ernst Zeeden's masterful work *Faith and Act: Medieval and Lutheran Practices Compared.* It will be an important work for lovers of Lutheran liturgy to have on their shelves. Nagel gave me a copy of the German some years ago. By the way, I think Zeeden's original title was a hoot: "Catholic leftovers in the Lutheran Church Orders of the 16th Century."

  5. Jason,

    I have read your post and I can agree in substance with everything you said about doctrine and practice.

    You have missed my point altogether. I have no issue with the catholic traditions of the Church or the liturgy. Much to the contrary. I value them greatly and seek to practice them faithfully. If you read my post, I never question them at all. I do not hold in suspect those who value them, for to do so would be to hold myself and my closest colleagues suspect. I think you characterize me quite falsely here my friend.

    I certainly agree that substance and style go together, that the liturgy is a great treasure the Church has passed on, and that many ceremonies of the church are great teachers of the faith.

    The point is that since we tend to be closer to Rome in style, we often can forget that Rome is still by our confession headed by the anti-Christ who denies Christ the glory do to Him by leading many people to trust in themselves for salvation. We should be able to treasure the liturgy and ceremonies of the church which give Christ the appropriate glory and at the same time speak with passion about how the Roman Catholic Church has for centuries led people straight into the fires of hell with their false teaching. That is what our confessions do, both treasure the traditions of the true church and speaking clearly about the lack of the Gospel in the Roman Church. That is where I want to be. Often times I fear that our passion is all used up on correcting the Evangelicals that we leave the Gospel open to attack from those in the Roman church still proclaiming works righteousness, which is a false doctrine so easily received by the flesh.

    I am, as far as I know you and those that frequent this site, one of you. But I think that if we always just pat ourselves on the back and do not analyze where those of our confession might have weaknesses, it is dangerous indeed. That is what I sought to do in my post ( encourage those of this mindset, myself included, to be as bold as our confessions are in rebuking the errors of Rome.

    1. I considered you a friend of the cause, so to speak. And that's what made me consider your response so at odds with what I otherwise knew. Thanks for your understanding and your comments.

    2. To be fair, Fr. Philip, Gottesdienst did just have a conference themed around the Pope being the Antichrist. . .


  6. Many Lutherans are so removed from Lutheran history and practice, theology, liturgy, etc., that what is Lutheran now appears Catholic. The evangelical pop influence leads to a Gospel reductionism that is more comfortable with the secular. Many protestants do not even know what the reformation is because it is not "my here and now faith" encouraged with entertainment. Over the years I have seen examples of this thinking among lifelong Lutherans. Whether it is use of the word "catholic" or the use of vestments or making the sign of the cross or having processions or baptizing babies or receiving the sacrament often or attending a church with the name of a saint or mention of Mary or any other practice that has not since been discarded by today's marketable churches, many have no idea of the value of what we have.

    An eye opener many years ago was when we read a section of the Augsburg Confession during a Bible Study and one Lutheran said, "Pastor, that sounds like a catholic document." What Lutherans may not realize is that this thinking, or lack of understanding, together with the influences of secularism, is the majority mindset among us. This is why it is more common to hear anti-Catholicism among us (it is so easy to bash the Catholic Church isn't it?) and criticism of anything "evangelical" is so foreign to our ears. The Confessions, and Luther, do not forget the errors of the co-reformers.

    If we are to retain the gifts that are the sacraments we ought to think twice about attacking those Lutherans who are more "high church" than we are or following the crowds. We ought to consider why Peter, James and John fell on their faces at the voice from the cloud on the mountain rather than consider worship as a place to experiment with one's own ideas of relevance. We also may want to re-consider our own superstitions or stereotypes vis-a-vis the Roman Church. For example, consider this prayer called an "Act of Hope" in the 1962 Roman Missal, "O my God, relying upon Thy goodness and promises, I hope to obtain pardon for my sins, grace to serve Thee in this world, and life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer." Here is what may be considered an "evangelical" prayer in a Church that also retains sacraments that the Lord has instituted.

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  8. There are two ways to look at ceremonies:

    1) The Buffet Table - You pick what you like. All are equal. It's all adiaphora. Therefore, the law of averages says that there should be roughly equal parts of: Roman Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and Non-Denominational elements of our ceremony. "The Gottesdienst Crowd" shuns the ceremony of the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and Non-Denom ritual, hence, TGC is "Roman Catholic" - at least in bias, and very likely in doctrine.

    This is a flawed way of looking at the spectrum of ceremony. The more accurate analogy is the...

    2) The Chain - Our churches (pastors and laity) are links in a great chain that extends back to the Lutheran Reformation, back to the apostles and our Lord, and even beyond, back to David, Abraham, Noah, and Adam. With each link in the chain, a transmission has occured - of what is true. It has been communicated with words and ceremonies.

    As Lutherans, we are part of this chain (handed over, Lat: "tradire") as we received it from Luther and the 16th century reformers in Wittenberg. They in turn received the chain from the medieval western church, the unified eastern-western church, the ancient fathers, the apostles, and our Lord. So, the stuff that was added (or removed) from the chain later is not part of our tradition. Those things were added (or subtracted) by the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and Non-Denoms to accommodate their theology. Instead of polishing off some of the rust or gently repairing dings in the links, they chopped off not just links, but entire centuries worth of the chain.

    The Lutheran philosophy of reform is explicitly laid out in the Augsburg Confession. It can be summed up like this: "If it ain't broke, don't 'fix' it."

    This is why our ceremonies are "catholic." They are part of a bigger chain. The rust has been removed, the dents have been fixed, but the chain is entact. That's what "tradition" is. The Protestant groups have largely started a new chain. They threw out the baby with the bathwater.

    I think seeing Lutheranism not as just one more buffet option - or a series of dishes that someone in 21st century America happens to like - but rather as a specific chain of tradition within a larger tradition - it makes sense why we worship the way we do.

    We are being faithful to the chain because the chain links us to Christ and the apostles. Without the chain, the physical link, all we have is fantasy, opinioons, and ultimately, our own fickle tastes and preferences - hardly the kind of thing that can serve as a foundation of the truth about who God is, who we are, and how we are related.

    Sorry to ramble. I hope this makes sense.

  9. Of course, the simplest answer to the charge: "That's catholic!" is to say: "Well, thank you. I do try." ;)

    Years ago a friend of mine inquired of Dr. Nagel if there was anything new he was covering in a certain class offered in the summer. Nagel's response? "Oh, no. Nothing new. Same old catholic and apostolic faith." Bingo.

  10. Thank you for the apologias on holding on to "a specific chain of tradition within a larger tradition" and keeping the "same old catholic and apostolic faith." This is what I attempt to address in part with the disconnect among us that I show in my post. In addition, I suggest that "anti-Catholicism" within Lutheranism puts future generations in danger of sliding up to the Buffet Table or opting out for straight out secularism. The Holy Trinity, the two natures in Christ, the Scripture, the Creed, the Sacraments and many other substantial pieces of the one tradition of the one faith are a lot to push aside just so people do not confuse us with the Catholics. It is like the pastor who will not wear a clerical so as not to be confused with the Catholics but then cannot be distinguished from any business man or leader of any other group. Can we see how we may inadvertently be putting food for our people on the Buffet Table? So I hope too that we may not over-react over a handful of Lutheran churches that may have a few more ceremonies than most as long as they are faithful in their preaching and in the administration of the sacraments. There is never going to be complete unanimity in every detail among congregations, even those of the same chain of tradition. We hear and fear of a "high church" danger among us, while little by little the Buffet Table moves closer to swallowing us whole.

  11. If rituals are required, how is this different than the battle Paul fought in Galatians with the Circumcision Party?

  12. Dear jC,

    I refer you to this post and the article by Dr. John Kleinig linked therein

    Ceremonies and rituals are required because they are inherent in everything we do. And so the question is not whether we will use ceremonies and rituals. The question is: Will the ceremonies and rituals that we use teach and confess the things of the church, of God, of forgiveness, life, and salvation? Or will they confess something else? We, at Gottesdienst, are not interested in being high church. We simply seek to confess and teach the Gospel in everything we do. Ceremonies and rituals confess and teach always teach something. We simply want the ceremonies and rituals we use to be of the church and proclaim the Gospel that gives forgiveness, life, and salvation.


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