Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dignity Matters!

By Larry Beane

Well, you've probably seen the video of the "dancing bishops."  In case you haven't, it's embedded above.  And yes, it is real.  It is part of a welcome to the bishop of Rome's visit to Rio.

Here is a well-written response from the point of view of an Eastern Orthodox cleric.

Much of his perspective will likely resonate with Lutherans, we likewise being historical, Catholic Christians who reject the lofty claims of the Roman see.  And setting aside the issue of our doctrinal differences with the Roman Catholic Church for the time being (see especially Articles 21-28 in the Augsburg Confession, Article 4 of the Apology, the Smalcald Articles and the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope to review these issues of doctrine and practice which for the most part remain divisive to this day), I think it is interesting to see how the Roman Catholic Church is perceived when she resorts to such frivolity and gimmickry.

And my purpose here is not to throw stones, for we in the LCMS live in our own glass houses, do we not?

As the author points out, what attracts a lot of people to Roman Catholicism is its antiquity, its gravitas, its, well, "Catholicism."  The Roman Church stands like the Rock of St. Peter over and against the rise and fall of nations and empires, of changing paradigms, of the modern storefront Protestant "churches" where women "bishops" govern over their "pastor" husbands, where thousands of organizations lay claim to being "the true church" when they have only recently been founded and incorporated, where a plethora of doctrines and personality cults compete in a cacophany of voices and confessions.

Over and against the noise stands the Church of Rome.  Any serious student of western history encounters her.  Like the ocean, like the sunrise, she is always there - sometimes acting nobly in her saints and martyrs, teachers and servants of mankind, and sometimes acting diabolically in her bureaucrats and popes, her money scams and torture chambers.  And in spite of the Borgias and the Inquisition, there is something compelling in her antiquity, in her chain of ordinations stretching back to the apostles.  Notwithstanding human sin and organizational depravity, there is dignity.

Or there was.

One might argue that the episcopal flashmob was not a worship service; this was just a bit of fun.  And that is true as far as it goes.  But these men are bishops, representatives of our Lord and the apostles, men consecrated into the Office of the Holy Ministry, clad in the uniform of their office, men whose ministry is to oversee dioceses of churches and dozens or even hundreds of pastors. Their presence for this youth event is intended to remind the young people of the treasure that is the Christian faith, the one true faith, the only thing of lasting importance in this fallen world. And while some may be amused and appreciative of this lighthearted display, there is also an outpouring of shock, revulsion, sadness, and anger among Roman Catholics.

This did indeed cause much offense.

I think we Lutherans should learn from this episode.  Peruse the responses from the blog readers.  And then think on our own narrative as 21st century Catholic Christians within the Lutheran tradition and confession, rooted deeply in history, whose own chain of ordinations extends likewise back through the ages to the apostles as well.  Think about the seriousness of the Reformation, when souls were imperiled by false doctrine, then the Word of God was re-emerging from darkness, when men and women gave their lives resisting religious tyranny, when hymnody, preaching, participation in the liturgy, daily prayer, and study of the Holy Scriptures - all in the common languages - were restored to the faithful!  What a treasure!

In my own case, I was drawn to Lutheranism because of this historical gravitas that did not throw out the baby of the gospel with the bathwater of medieval power politics and corruption.  In Lutheranism, I found liturgical, sacramental, Catholic Christians and Catholic congregations that were not beholden to papal decrees and human traditions over and against God's Word.  I found salvation and life, intelligent study of the Word, and dignified (yes, dignified!) traditional worship that connected me to the church of every age.  I could get rock music anywhere - even from the speakers mounted in the windshield of my motorcycle, even in my eccentric 11th grade teacher's classroom.  But there was something else in the Lutheran Church - something transcendent, something apostolic, something that communicated the only thing in this life that matters.

And the dignity of liturgical worship among us is a confession of that apostolicity, that gravitas, that serious centrality and constancy of the Church's proclamation and mission.

So what message do we send a world and a culture that is lost at sea in rapid change, in sarcasm, in 24/7 entertainment, in frivolity, in licentiousness, in boredom, and in skepticism, when we try to imitate the shallow cultural waters in which they swim?  Do visitors to our churches see us as yet another storefront fly-by-night denomination, or to they see us bound by doctrine and practice and history to the apostles - in our worship, in our confession, and in our dignity?  For dignity itself is a confession that we take our faith seriously.  In other words, we really believe this stuff!  The catch-phrase of today is "authenticity."  And ecclesiologically, authenticity is embedded in our creeds in the word "apostolic."

Ironically, those who push for drum kits in the chancel, drama teams, rock and roll, dancing girls, a lounge atmosphere, big screens, cup holders, lattes, and other elements of entertainment, are likely pushing the younger generation they claim to be seeking away from the church.  While young people tend to like dressing and acting casually in their day to day lives, has anyone considered that maybe they actually might be drawn to something transcendent, dignified, apostolic when it comes to their quest to find the True God?

I was 17 years old when I found a home in the Lutheran Church.  During the week, I rode my motorcycle and listened to heavy metal.  I was always clad in jeans and tee shirts.  I played basketball with my friends, attended concerts and parties and midnight movies, and lived well within the parameters of youth culture.  On Sundays, I appreciated the dignity, the gravitas, and the apostolicity of my rather low-church humble Lutheran congregation.  Even in its simplicity, the ancient liturgy proclaimed the church's authenticity.  When they introduced the "contemporary" service, I avoided it.  I think that puzzled some of the older, well-meaning folks.

Of course, that was a long time ago, and times have changed.  Maybe young people today see the world differently than I did when I was drawn to the Church of the Augsburg Confession.  But whether one is young or old, whether one is a pastor or a layman, if we believe the Nicene Creed that we (hopefully) recite publicly at every Sunday Mass, we owe it to everyone - to visitors to our church, to the faithful members of the body of Christ, to our fellow Christians around the world, and to those who came before us, including the apostles and our Lord Himself - to be reverent, to avoid frivolity, to steer clear of offense, to be dignified, authentic, and apostolic in our worship and in how we hold ourselves out to the world; to be Catholic in all that entails according to our Evangelical confession.

Dignity matters.

These Roman bishops, likely with all good intentions, surrendered the dignity of their Catholicism for the dark pottage of the ephemeral youth culture.  Let us ever be mindful of our confession of the Lamb and His Gospel, the Holy Scriptures, our blessed confessional symbols, our rich heritage and tradition, and how we are perceived by souls in need of salvation when we act as undignified as these men who likewise lay claim, with our common ancestors in the faith, to the confession of that "one holy catholic and apostolic church."

Dignus est Agnus.


  1. Somebody needs to put that to the music of The Village People's YMCA.

    (I couldn't get farther than about 10 seconds into it - I was embarrassed and I'm not even a Catholic)

  2. I love the ID badges worn in place of (or covering over?) their episcopal crosses. Nothing better symbolizes the bureaucratization of the church!

  3. I'm a very high church Continuing Anglican, brought up in LCMS.. In between those two I was very unvolved (even as a pastor) on Pentecostal/Evangelical circles. Eventually I fled back into the traditional ways precisely because the Gospel demands more gravitas. I said that to preface this:

    You know, I have no objection to a bunch of bishops having fun, even being a little foolish -- in a social occasion -- but not in worship -- and not in situations that look like part of a worship service. If Their Exellencies had only had sense enough to shed their formal and official-looking robes of office and had done the same thing in street dress (even if it be clericals) I don't think the reaction would have been half as bad. It wasn't so much what they did as the way it was presented that made the thing so embarrassing. No, it wasn't worship, but the current developments have made the defining line so vague that it really is hard to tell where worship ends and playing begins. That's the tragedy of contemporary so-called liturgy. When Cardinal Cushing (back in the Latin Mass days) danced a jig at a St. Patrick's day party it raised no eyebrows and nobody confused it with Mass. Today? Well, vonfusion reigns.

  4. Perhaps it all comes down to this:

    "He shall come again in glory, to judge ..."

    It's what we of the Church Catholic confess. He will not come frolicking and shaking booty, whatever appeal the "Lord of the Dance" may have for ... well, for the fleshless and sexless Shakers. He won't be sporting an ID badge on top of a very ample middle; instead, He'll carry the wounds ours sins gouged in His very fleshly hands, feet and side. There's a lot of gravitas, a whole lot, found in St. John's vision of the Risen One (Rev 1:13-16). Of course, when St. John saw Him in His Presence, the Apostle didn't chortle, or yawn, or maybe throw back a sterile shot-glass of grape juice to steady his nerves; no, he fell down at the Lord's feet.

    But that's things to come (for which we Lutherans should be fervently practicing ... since we truly meet and receive Jesus giving of Himself, in the flesh, every Sunday. At least, we claim we do. Okay, so our Augustana fathers "describe" that THEY do). I'm not sure what excuse the Roman Catholic bishops have for their present, if their stunt did happen in the context of what passes for "worship." But can we all agree that they succeeded in managing to look less like icons of the Crucified Christ, than spittin' images of happy Budai?

    In other words, they're happy buddies. Put the camera on these guys, and the gang predictably starts doing the wave like they're at Mudhen Park equipped with a cold brat and a warm Budai. Man, that's entertainment!

    Your (unworthy) servant,
    Herr Doktor

  5. My sentiments exactly, Fr. Beane.

    I have a little hobby: I'm on the keyboard for a little jazz ensemble in town, and they all know I'm a Lutheran pastor. So clearly, I'm not averse--and they know I'm not averse--to some fun, even some frivolity; but I would never engage in such things in my vestments, to say nothing of anything suggesting worship. I don't even wear my collar when I'm at a "gig."

    I have members who say that years ago Lutherans would frown at such a thing. And it's true: there was a kind of Pietism that was in evidence among us in the mid twentieth century that wouldn't allow any such activity at any time. But it seems to me that the line of demarcation is, or ought to be, between what is sacred and what is common. So enjoy your entertainment, have your music, ride your hog, and dance with all your might, even as David did. But not in the synagogue. Not in the church. Not in the presence of the Incarnate One.

  6. Fr. Eckardt's comment reminds me of the horror I experienced at St. Peter's ELCA Lutheran Church in the Citigroup Center in Manhattan one Sunday morning.

    Jazz is good. Liturgy is good. "Jazz Liturgy" has no goodness in it at all. Beer and ice cream do not go together.

  7. This just in... http://thechristianpundit.org/2013/07/17/young-evangelicals-are-getting-high/

  8. I'll be discussing this issue on Issues, Etc. at 3:25 pm this afternoon (Wed. July 31).

  9. I am a Roman Catholic and aside from the little digs at my church which I am trying to ignore, I am in agreement with you about the way those bishops acted and the way Holy Mass is celebrated in general. I long for the days when you stepped inside a church just before Mass and the only thing you would hear was a pin droppping. No one would dare talk as the only Person to whom any conversation should have been directed too was residing in the Tabernacle. There are many people like me in our ancient and apostolic Church who long for those days. We can only pray that our Lord will wake these bishops/priests up to clean up His house and the liturgy.


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