Friday, November 28, 2003

Article XVII: Of Christ's Return to Judgment

1] Also they teach that at the Consummation of the World Christ will appear for judgment, and 2] will raise up all the dead; He will give to the godly and elect eternal life and everlasting joys, 3] but ungodly men and the devils He will condemn to be tormented without end.

4] They condemn the Anabaptists, who think that there will be an end to the punishments of condemned men and devils.

5] They condemn also others who are now spreading certain Jewish opinions, that before the resurrection of the dead the godly shall take possession of the kingdom of the world, the ungodly being everywhere suppressed.

Here returning to an ordered read through and commentary on the articles of the Augsburg Confession, I'm skipping XVI. and commenting on XVII. because of its applicability in light of recent lectionary texts.

First, some things must be said about this article. It has had such a complicated history of conversation around it that I feel inadequate to the task of commenting on it in brief. It runs counter to contemporary movements in Lutheran and Catholic thought on the subject. The comments on the Anabaptists is apt, because of certain teachers of the time who actually taught this, but the "Jewish opinions" listed above seem to actually apply to certain radical Anabaptists and/or hyper-spiritualists. I am not sure in what way the idea can be considered "Jewish".

It is a good reminder that the clear creedal witness is to a general resurrection, not simply the resurrection of the righteous, but a resurrection of all the dead. Thus preaching of the resurrection, and Christ's involvement in the judgment attendant thereof, can honestly and forthrightly be done in the midst of all people. The resurrection applies to everyone.

The AC phrases the next comment in a helpful manner. Eternal life and endless joy are "given", they are gifts that the elect receive. They are not intrinsic to those raised from the dead, something they already have that will simply be actualized. Instead, they will be given these gifts, joy and eternal life.

The ungodly and the devils, on the other hand, receive no gifts. Instead, they are condemned. This is not a negative gift, like coal in your stocking for being bad. They are condemned into a place where they have already put themselves. The distinction can be made another way: the elect receive something from God that is abundant beyond measure and undeserved. the ungodly get what they deserve, which means nothing.

There seems to be very little wiggle room, based on this article, for theories of the last judgment that allow for annihilation of the ungodly, or the burning away of that which is sin in them, or some other transformative last ditch effort by Christ to conform the ungodly and devils into the kingdom through the judgment. The anathema makes this clear. The anathema also makes clear the fault of any theory that before the general resurrection there will be any kind of other thing going on. This contra the Left Behind series, among other Rapture-esque myths.

Melanchthon comments very little on this article, other than the affirm that the council approves it without qualification. Thus the Roman and Lutheran factions were in complete agreement on this article. Are they today?

Thursday, November 13, 2003

1. Music written by the saints over time. Matt, you have written a beautiful response, and I'm so glad you mention von Balthasar. Indeed, the main thing I've learned from him in my readings is this simple truth, that beauty is the criterion by which to judge the aesthetic in its manifestation of the Word. So I wonder, what music post-Bach lives up to the standards of the list you've mentioned?

2. Holden Evening Prayer. Irony is one of those words that gets slippery. On purpose. By an ironic appropriation of the liturgy, I guess I mean taking the tradition, then using it to speak a new thing using the old, an old that never intended to speak the new (or may have intended it but then didn't). Haugen's liturgy is beautiful, this I'm convinced of. It isn't perfect. It takes the old Vespers form and makes it about justice. It also makes it singable around a campfire. Therefore it is ancient while at the same time easily sung by those who wear polar fleeces from REI. :) That may not be the best definition of ironic. I'm thankful that Greg and Matt have drawn attention to an unintended consequence of my appropriation of an Eco quote. Maybe irony and liturgy cannot be done. What would a truly ironic worship look like?

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Article VII: Of the Church.
1] Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.
2] And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and 3] the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. 4] As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Eph. 4, 5. 6.

I would remark this concerning the liturgical practices that fall under the category of human traditions: They can, to a greater or lesser degree, conform to and manifest the doctrine of the Gospel. Likewise they can be a more or less appropriate matrix for the sacramental ministry of the Church.
The question is what might be the standard of conformity and appropriateness? Von Balthasar writes, “The sacramental event ought to unfold visibly in as beautiful and worthy a form as possible.” (Exploration in Theology II: The Spouse of the Word) I would make a distinction here between aesthetic sensibilities and something I will term Christian beauty. Christian beauty is conformity to and harmony with the Glorious Word, for “we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” (Jn 1:14) This harmonization, however, can and does take many forms just as there are many possible harmonies to one melody. This is because it is made manifest in aesthetic sensibilities which reflect the diversity of human sensibilities over time and space. Some historical traditions have been deemed worthier and more lasting than others – Gregorian chant, the Lutheran choral tradition (Bach, whose “Mass in B minor” is in my stereo as I write this, being the greatest exemplar), and Byzantine iconography come to mind. All three of these bear witness to that Christian Beauty mentioned above, but also the fact that true art has a transcendent value that appeals to a diversity of aesthetic sensibilities in different ways in and in different times.
Is the continual use of these forms of worship ironic? Yes and no. Yes because a proper appropriation of past is, as Clint indicated, one that goes beyond innocent traditionalism. Irony is characterized by an incongruity between what is expected or intended and what actually occurs. This incongruity is necessarily present in such a trans-temporal/trans-cultural experience. However, it is not ironic in the sense that the substantial conformity of the liturgical practice to the Word remains the same in our appropriation.
Traditionalism can be characterized by one of two contradictory perspectives concerning history; one is fundamentally static and the other, dynamic. The static position would appropriate a practice as hermetically sealed and wholesale – a form bequeathed from a Golden Age, in opposition to and superior to the present. Similarly, the static mindset might reject a liturgical practice as hopelessly dated and forever embedded in the past. The dynamic perspective would be more open to a dialogue with the past that involves a mindful/ironic appropriation of its forms of worship as a sign of unity and common goal. Unity in Christ is not simply a matter of the here and now, it involves the dynamic history of the Body of Christ, enlivened by the Spirit and directed eschatologically to communion with the Father. Liturgical appropriation of the past is a sign of the dynamism which characterizes the Church of our Lord. It is, as Clint wrote, “ancient-future” in scope and simultaneously a principle of the unity and diversity we enjoy in the Body.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Shooting from the Hip

Below I'm reprinting the basic content of an e-mail I sent recently. It is very possible that my thoughts here are slapdash, but my suspicion is they are not, but represent the general direction of my thinking on the question of contemporary worship. I welcome all comments and critiques!

Very well said. Here's a quote I've been pondering that I think applies to
our decision about worship on Saturday evenings.

"The postmodern reply to the modern consists of recognizing that the past-
since it cannot really be destroyed, because its destruction leads to
silence- must be revisited; but with irony, not innocently."

Umberto Eco, postscript to The Name of the Rose

As a pastor trying to be true to the tradition while at the same time doing
something new in the present, I've been struggling with what is appropriate
to the gospel in terms of worship. I think Eco's quote holds much truth.
For example, it is probably an innocent move to simply say, "Well, the Roman
Rite prior to the 14th century was the perfect form of worship, so let's
just go back to that and appropriate it without any real changes." It is
also innocent, and somewhat Romantic, to say, "Well, we finally figured out
how the ancient church worshipped, generally, we put that in the LBW, so
let's just use that." But it is probably a modernist tendency- what you dub
the 60s phenomenon- to want to simply dump the past. A lot of
"contemporary" worship has tended to do that, to embrace the new for the
sake of the new without faithfully attending to the long history of faithful
worship in the church of Christ.

I'm not convinced that the blue worship book (the ELCA's supplemental worship book title With One Voice)is "in the box", for example.
It's very contemporary, because it tries to do multi-cultural worship, it
tries to embrace ecumenical worship styles, etc. Plus it's only eight years
old! I think any worship book that is only 8 years old can't yet be called
entrenched, yes? Lots of the songs we do that are praise songs are much
older and traditional than that! Seek Ye First is 40 years old, for
example. WOV is contemporary also in its tendency to not use Lutheran and
Trinitarian hymns. That's a radical break with the history of Christian
hymn singing. It isn't contemporary in the sense that it doesn't use praise
choruses (ala the Worship & Praise book), but that style of song, the praise
chorus, is very culturally limited. It's done in white boomer congregations
and not much elsewhere. WOV is also not contemporary in that it also
doesn't have much in the way of Hispanic or African-American music, which is
why our church more recently came out with worship materials for those

So, if we are going to be faithful in our worship, but also postmodern,
we'll need to eschew innocent appropriation of the past on the one hand, and
and destruction of the past on the other. The middle road, according to
Eco, is to revisit the past, but with irony. What would that mean?

For St. John's Lutheran Church, I think it would mean the following things.

1) Make our Saturday evening worship more multi-sensory. Lighting might
change throughout the service. We would use more candles, and per Gudie's
suggestion, for example, more incense, or other smells. Music would be
diverse in nature, and as participatory as possible, so that the band, the
congregation, and the pastor all sing together and do different actions.
There might be dance, or movement around the sanctuary.

2) The service would be faithfully laid back. I know a lot of people like
Saturday worship because it is less formal. I think you can have it be less
formal while at the same time remaining beautiful and liturgical, but that
would be hard to do. It would take a lot of thinking and work and planning
on the part of the worship team.

3) We would ironically appropriate ancient forms of liturgy. I think we
already do that by using Holden Evening Prayer. Vespers is an ancient form
of worship, but Haugen has made it accessible, singable, and beautiful for a
modern audience.

4) The sermons would be longer, not shorter, because in the post-modern
situation, like in the pre-modern situation, most of our congregation
members get their information and insight into the faith not by reading, but
rather by listening, and the sermon may be the main place where that
happens. The sermons would be more participatory, though, with people
actively bringing their Bibles, reading along, taking notes, etc.

5) We would continue the central things of the faith, the reading and
interpretation of scripture, communion, and baptism, because these are the
places and ways Christ has promised to be present for us, and not otherwise.

6) We would not let aesthetics divide us. Everybody has their opinions and
tastes re: music. If our aesthetics dictated whether we believed a worship
service was faithful and spiritually uplifting or not, we would be in
trouble. All of us (including myself, a liturgical snob who likes chant
more than praise choruses- including you, a 60s guy who likes folk music)
would attend worship not for the style, but because Christ has promised to
be there in His Word & Sacrament. We would always teach and lead worship in
this way, so that style does not trump substance, but rather become the
vehicle through which substance is communicated.

We could probably all add to the list. But I do believe that the new people
moving out to Oregon, the generation now coming to Dane County, is less like
the Boomer generation who helped build churches like Willow Creek, and are
actually more ancient-future in their faith, interested in a post-modern
appropriation of the tradition. In fact, Community Church of Joy, a church
that flourished during the Boomer boom, is now holding a conference on
Ancient-Future faith that presents some of these main ideas. This is the
direction I'd like to see our worship go at St. John's.