Observing the church in today's world, one is prompted to wonder what the church is supposed to be about, politics? Or the Gospel?
In congregation after congregation, pastors are being attacked and forced from office for being too Lutheran. That is never the charge made formally, but time and again, a pastor who endeavors to teach faithfully, and lead his congregation in the historic liturgy is being attacked. The charges are things like "arrogance" for daring to confess that he knows the truth, that faithfulness is more to be desired than novelty, and that, as pastor, he is charged with the responsibility to oversee and guide what is taught in that parish. A host of other charges is usually concocted: the pastor is not "a people person", the pastor does not attend to the "needs" of his people adequately, the pastor is autocratic, and the pastor maintains associations with other, hopelessly old-fashioned, conservative Lutheran pastors.
Let me insert here the comment that in almost every case, if not every single one, the issue is theological. It is about doctrine, not the conduct or the person of the pastor. That is the single issue always denied and steadfastly rejected - and yet it is the issue.
That is a reality of the church in modern times. People don't want to stand on truth, and they expect their church to cater to their fluctuating desire and tastes. This is sad. The reason it raises the question about politics or the gospel is that those elected officials who are charged with preserving the Gospel and justice and the rights of both pastors and congregations usually don't. They count bodies and take the side of the larger number (the the deeper pockets) rather than even making a pass at standing on the truth. They are politicians, not churchmen. Their concern is evidently focused on re-election and organizational continuance than the preservation of the truth and the proclamation of the Gospel.
The same principle can be seen in the rush to the new hymnal. As the pastor of a congregation that still uses the old TLH, I hear from people of every age-group who cannot understand why the new hymnal is being pushed. The Liturgies can be had in the predecessor hymnals. The new hymnal loses some more old favorite hymns, and changes the ones it keeps. The single argument in favor of the change is that some people objected to changes in the past. One man even reports that select members of his congregation remember the same sorts of unhappiness with the issuance of The Lutheran Hymnal back in 1941.
I think the memory of 66 years ago is remarkable. The complaints then, of course, were not the same, since TLH did not change the liturgy from the old green Evangelical Lutheran Hymnal. Most of the hymns were preserved, too. The hardest change back then for most was switching from German to English. TLH was not perfect, but it preserved the liturgy, most hymns in familiar form, and the creeds as spoken for centuries among English speaking Christians.
It is sad when the argument in favor of the new hymnal boils down to the reality that after a generation or two have known nothing but this hymnal, it, too, will become a precious old favorite, to be replaced for publishing house profits - and to feed another worship controversy. It doesn't answer the question asked of why the old, faithful worship is being deliberately displaced, and why the cries of those who wish to cling to the historic worship are being cast aside. The answer, "Because we can" doesn't satisfy.
The question is not, "can the new hymnal be used profitably?", but how does the strongly encouraged change to this new hymnal serve the Gospel? I can illustrate with numerous examples how the constancy of the TLH in the life of Christians has preserved and aided their faith. Those suffering dementia have often demonstrated the value of the long and frequent repetition of the Liturgy, as they cannot remember family and friends, but the prayers and confessions of the liturgy remain. What illustrations are there for the rolling changes -- admittedly reduced somewhat in the liturgical sections -- of a new hymnal serve that purpose?
Change is inevitable, I suppose. The question is, does it serve politics or the gospel?
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Politics or Gospel?
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