Friday, July 30, 2010

What Shape is a Jellyfish?

Are Anglicans high church or low church? Well both. With "broad church" squeezed in between. Their approach to worship and doctrine alike is well summed up in the little Lain phrase via media, the middle way. Which remains, for many, a true attraction to this church.

One day in class we were studying the collects of the Church of England's Common Worship. A discussion arose around the propers for "All Soul's Day," a point of contention, as one might expect, for the Evangelicals given its association with the "Romish" doctrine of purgatory. I asked what the Church of England's position was on this issue. In reply my instructor answered with a question: "What shape is a jellyfish?" Point taken. Doctrine becomes what one desires or needs it to be, for Angl0-Catholics it is one thing, for Evangelicals another. And the official books of worship are modified and crafted accordingly to accommodate as large and broad a constituency as possible.

This reality came home to me also as I was looking at the 39 Articles in the back of the Book of Common Prayer and reflecting on the text of the Apostles' Creed at the same time. The 39 Articles possess a very clear statement supporting our Lord's descent into hell. However, the creed, in typical Episcopalian fashion, renders it differently as one who went to the realm of the dead. I asked about this one as well and was informed by an Episcopalian priest that the 39 Articles are now considered, at least officially, more as "historical documents." Yet, there they are in the back of their book of worship. How odd.....

As a Lutheran such a lack of conviction and definition signals the potential for all kinds of mischief in the church, and I suspect that my Anglican acquaintances would agree, especially as they witness the ongoing fracturing of their communion into almost as many new micro denominations as the Lutherans. Given the beauty of their prayer book and liturgical convictions it is a shame that their commitment to be a truly confessional church is lacking in so many ways. There is such potential there.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Anglicans and the Lex Orandi Lex Credendi Principle

In my evening class on Liturgical Change in the Church of England, I have had the opportunity to examine first hand the essence of what make Anglicans Anglicans. Of course, I am still working on this, and have come a long way since I arrived a week ago. Being among a decidedly Anglo-Catholic crowd one cannot but be impressed by the reverence for the ancient traditions of the church catholic. However, sitting in class last night with the lone Roman Catholic on one side of the room and me, as the token Lutheran, on the other, I began to realize that our seating might be symbolic of where these folks are. They are in the middle of things, wishing to be Catholic, yet not being able to deny their Reformation roots, and trying hard to reconcile both ends without offending any in the process.

What follows is a little paper I wrote this morning in reflection on a couple of questions given by my professor for class tonight for discussion purposes. It's my first attempt at analyzing Anglican theology, especially in light of the lex orandi lex credendi principle.

While there is no denying that Anglican doctrine is indeed encapsulated and expressed within its liturgical forms (since its commitment to other articles of faith is rather ambiguous and tenuous at best), the question to be asked is whether this expression is definitive. By virtue of its need to appease conflicting convictions from the very beginning (where adherents to the Reformation and Catholics were completing for control of the same church), the prayer book has become over time either a sign of current changes in process (which may or may not remain, depending on the monarch or political force in power), or a compromise to maintain peace and an outward identity of unity. Thus, sometimes multiple theologies may be expressed leaving the decision ultimately to the worshiper’s own interpretation, rather than a clear confession that unites the church in one voice.

Lex orandi, lex credenda, “the law of worshiping founds the law of believing,” a phrase, it is believed was first coined by Prosper of Aquitaine in the fifth century, constitutes the focus of how Anglican doctrine is expressed and developed. Yet, a question arises as to whether Anglicans fully honor the true intent of this dictum, or whether they have misunderstood or misapplied it. Or, for that matter, whether it is even helpful. Unfortunately Prosper’s original dictum is used only in shorthand form, at best, and thus its interpretation and application may not even be true to the original. In fact, it has been shown that the current phrase may actually be coined from the late nineteenth century by Dom Prosper GuĂ©ranger. However, using the dictum as is for the sake of argument, the question therefore is whether the form of the liturgy determines the content of what the church believes, or more so, if it should.

It is vogue today, especially within Lutheran circles, to insist on this principle as a way of defending the ancient liturgical forms over and against current change or outright abandonment of the forms (as in much of the so-called Contemporary Worship movement.) However, might there be a deeper issue at stake here of form and substance, the formal and material aspects of theology itself? Technically, from a Lutheran point of view, placing form over substance is backwards. We begin with the source and central doctrine of the faith (Scripture and Gospel) which then informs the shape of its expression (the confession, the liturgy.) Even Pope Pius XII believed that dogma should inform worship, not the other way around, as Herman Sasse once observed.

So, in regards to the Anglicans, what are we therefore to make of the lex orandi lex credendi principle? As much as I have been intrigued in the past by the principle as a defense of the ancient liturgical forms, I now wonder if the dictim, in this order, is even right. For should it not be, lex credenda lex orandi just as much? In other words, should not sola scriptura rightly inform what the church prays and preaches? Again, this is a form and substance argument, one that may indeed get to the heart of what appears to be the great Anglican weakness. For Anglicans debates over substance between the Evangelicals and the Catholics was never resolved on that basis, but rather the attempt at resolution was simply to change the form and leave the substance indeterminate. Thus, they may work hard to determine the poetic quality of verse and response, but what is their view of the primacy of scripture and what it teaches? We can see the inherent weakness here played out in the debate on sexuality. Anglicanism utilizes a ‘three-legged stool’ as part of its theological formation: scripture, reason, and tradition. The ideal is that all three would be kept in balance. However, from a Lutheran/Reformation/Biblical point of view, should ‘reason,’ as such even be used in such a primary way? And regarding ‘tradition,’ how should this hold equal footing with the inspired scriptures? Lutherans have always understood the ministerial, not the majesterial role of reason. To place reason above scripture results in much of the issues played out in liberal theology. To place tradition in the mix equally lessens the voice of scripture as well, for tradition, at best can only be a witness and commentary, not an authority. A question my professor from England posed to us this week was “If Anglican doctrine is enshrined, proclaimed, inherent in, implied by its forms of worship is it a fudge, a compromise or genuinely, consciously comprehensive?” Aside from feeling a bit ‘baited’ by this question as the lone Lutheran (I’m doing my best to hold my own!), my answer would in the end have to be “Yes, I’m afraid that in the end it is fudged and compromised.”

Don’t get me wrong. The worship is beautiful. And it is true that they attempt to express their faith through their worship forms as opposed to formal creeds. But the weakness remains and the frustrations I hear voiced in the Anglican/Episcopalian community ultimately arise from this weakness of form over substance, a need to put the material form of their theology before a clear conviction of its form.

(P.S. -For further reading on lex orandi, lex credendi, I would heartily recommend the articles on a website by James Waddell: "The Lex Orandi Lex Credendi Question." They informed much of the thinking in the above post.)

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Today represents yet another first. At Evensong this afternoon I will be formally "matriculated" into Nashotah House Theological Semnary. In all my years of education I have never gone through a ceremony, as such, to enter an institution. Apparently in England, at places such as Oxford, this is standard fare. From the instructions given to me this morning I will kneel and formally sign the matriculation book in the presence of the dean of students. There is also some brief rite as well. They tell me that there are two books of matriculation, one going back well into the 1800's. Leave it to the Anglicans to bring a lot of good tradition, pomp, and ceremony to the occasion!

Re: the picture - This was entitled "signing the book" and is an example from one of their matriculations. Don't worry, though, I won't be overstepping any fellowship boundaries as a good Missouri Synod pastor. It's not really an act of worship, although Anglicans give all things a rather 'holy' appearance :)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The New Perspective Revisited

I recently stumbled into an article I wrote on the New Perspective back in 2007. Now in the thick of a class where I am studying the topic first hand, I suspect that it will need some revision. However, a fuller revision will have to wait. Suffice it to say for now that on the one hand I am a bit more sympathetic to some of the scholarly arguments, yet remain concerned that they have simply replaced one perspective with the other (contrary to the claims of such as Dunn that they are merely supplementing.) The case is still not made for me, especially after yesterday's tour de force of several Second Temple texts which are supposedly the basis for covenantal nomism, which in turn forms the basis of the New Perspective. It remains a both/and, not an either/or, to which I fear many in the NP camp have fallen. Today we will be looking at Krister Stendahl, a precursor to the leading lights of the present NP discussions. While I will grant to him as well some credit for making a good point, I sense he also misunderstands Luther, as too many NP scholars also appear to do. As the 'token Lutheran' in this Anglican class I suppose I will feel a burden to now defend the great Reformer and in the process learn about him more deeply. Or at least that it my hope.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Nashotah Day One

I began my first day at Nashotah House where all days begin here: chapel. Getting used to Anglican liturgical practices provided me with my first great challenge juggling multiple books and attempting to interpret the unique codes of their hymn board and the varied rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer. Still, their worship is refreshingly solemn with a slow and deliberate flow that refuses to rush being in the presence of God. Sitting in an ancient choir stall surrounded by the richness of beautiful iconography, statuary and stained glass, there was a sense of being transported to another time, a simpler time. Anglicans surround themselves with history in a sense of unbroken tradition sadly lacking in much modern worship today.

My classes filled up at least six hours of truly stimulating intellectual study. Dr. Garwood Anderson introduced the field of the New Perspective, giving us helpful background on the principle players in this area: Sanders, Dunn, W.T. Wright, et. al. The class is small which provides more opportunity for discussion, and the students in the class bring a wealth of insight as they engage the professor in discussion. My second class with Canon Jeremy Haselock from Norwich Cathedral also did not disappoint. His lecture on worship in the Church of England from Henry VIII to Charles II was a good tour de force of English history and liturgical development during the frequently changing and developing landscape of the formative years of early Anglican worship. Although the class concerns liturgical change in the Church of England, especially from the 1920's forward, the class is going to be broad enough to incorporate other traditions, so I know I will be able to do some interesting comparisons with my own tradition as a Lutheran.

Based on today's schedule I can see that the next two weeks will be challenging and full. The hospitality of Nashotah helps you feel quite welcome, and interacting with students from other states and countries adds to the overall experience. However, I envy the ones from the Bahamas who seem unaffected by this horrid humidity and heat!

Well, tomorrow comes early again, so I best think of getting some much needed sleep.....

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rev. Matthew Harrison's Words After Election Results Were Announced

I suppose one could call this an "acceptance speech," but the tone was more subdued and tempered than what one might expect with such a speech. Hearing him actually speak these words adds much to the gravity of his presentation. However, if downloading it is not an option, or you have dial up like me, this printed version may serve just as well. Congratulations, Pastor Harrison, as the newly elected president of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. You will be in our prayers.

If one member suffers, all suffer together. If one rejoices, all rejoice together. Right now there are many rejoicing and there are many suffering. Luther says when you're walking along and you strike your little toe on a chair or table leg, what happens is the whole body bends over, the face grimaces and grabs that little toe. There's no use saying 'it's just a little toe,' because the whole body suffers.

This, I realize, is a tumultuous change in the life of our Synod. I wish to thank President Kieschnick for his heart for evangelism and his deep desire to move the Synod forward. Many are suffering, and it will be very challenging times to work together.

I wish to inform you that you have kept your perfect record of electing sinners as presidents of the Missouri Synod. I guarantee you I will sin and fail. I will fall short. I will sin against you. I wish also to say that right now I forgive all who have in any way sinned against me or anybody else, and plead your forgiveness for anything I said or did that offended you.

I beg of you your prayers. I beg of you your daily prayers and intercession. These are challenging times. I promise you that I will be as straight with you as I possibly can, to the best of my ability, guided by the spirit of God. I pledge to you that I will not coerce you. I will do my best by the Word of Christ to lead with the generous Gospel of Jesus Christ, which forgives us all of our sins and motivates us to love and care for our neighbor in mercy and compassion.

And I will work as hard as I possibly can for unity around the clear and compelling Word of God and nothing else.

I'm so impressed by you at this convention, how you've borne with one another, been patient, asked for forgiveness. This is the greatest privilege and honor of one's life, to stand before this body in this fashion. I could never imagine it. And I pray the Lord will bless you in the days to come, to work for unity and love and compassion, that the Gospel of Christ may go forth from all of us in every single place everywhere around the world, that many may know, many, many more may know the Gospel of Jesus for eternal life. The Lord be with you.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sorting It All Out

As initial reports on the LCMS Convention filter in from various sources, I find myself with a variety of reactions. On one level I am confused trying to answer the ultimate Lutheran question, "What does this mean?" What is the impact on the church and its mission? I'll be honest, I'm simply not completely sure. One thing I do see is that the structure of what I once knew as the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod seems to be changing and transforming before my very eyes. The other day, if I understand it correctly, many of the elected boards, such as World Relief and Human Care, may have simply gone out of existence, being replaced by the new creation of two overarching organizations for home and foreign missions. As I suspected, the proposed changes for the Blue Ribbon Committee on structure are being passed. The margins may be slim, but they are being passed. This undoubtedly may go down as the real event of this convention, and not the elections on which we usually focus our attention.

For additional insights, opinions, observations, and other coverage you may wish to consult these additional sites (use your proper discretion, of course, with the wide variety of opinion therein expressed):
Steadfast Lutherans
LCMS 2010 Convention Reports (from ALPB's Forum Online)
Luther Quest

Saturday, July 10, 2010

For Convention Updates

If you are confessionally-minded and wish to have regular updates on the LCMS convention now underway, I would recommend going to this site. You can subscribe and have updates sent to you via regular email on a daily basis. It will be much better reading than any that would be provided by Jesus First! :)

For the record I am hoping to see the Rev. Matthew Harrison elected as the new president of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. From what I hear the elections could be as early as tomorrow, although they are supposedly scheduled for Tuesday. It's all in the Lord's hands now.

How do I feel about the convention overall? Hard to say. The Blue Ribbon Committee recommendations for synodical overhaul concern me, and I've written elsewhere about those concerns. To some degree the changes seem inevitable, although I certainly don't want to be a fatalist in that regard. I'm content to wait and see what this week brings. Like most changes, good and bad, we'll adapt and make it work even if we didn't want them to occur.

Personally, as the duly elected alternate pastoral delegate for my circuit, I'm glad that the regular delegate is going. I had my fun in '04 and one convention is plenty for several years. I want to remain optimistic about the future of my synod, and I know that Harrison has provided that encouragement for the confessionally-minded. If he doesn't win, then what? I'm not sure. That's another day and another post......