Today on Issues, Etc.: Piety Matters
This is a post from May 27, 2010. I've moved it up here because I'm scheduled to talk about the same topic today on Issues, Etc. - +HRC
Can a religion be only cerebral? Is religion only a way of thinking and not a way of doing?
I don't believe so. I think that religion is a matter of soul, mind, and body. It is a way of thinking, doing, and living. In other words, it is a matter of piety. The old saw about “Lutheran substance and [American] Evangelical style” is all wrong – in fact, the catch phrase intentionally plays down the importance of a lived religion: it's merely “style.” And we all know that style is unimportant. Once men wore fluffy collars, now they wear ties. Just a manner of style.
But it's the wrong word. What the advocates of such a plan mean to say is: Lutheran substance, American Evangelical piety. The piety of a Christian is how he lives the faith he professes. Piety is what a Christian does and the words that rattle around in his head without him consciously thinking about them: the words and actions of his Sunday morning worship, how he prays in his daily life, the pattern of sound words that pop into his head throughout the week, the songs he sings, the proof texts he knows by heart and repeats to himself, how he explains the faith to his children, the way he dresses for worship, the popular activities he avoids because of his faith, and the like.
So is there a distinctively Lutheran piety? Or is being Lutheran simply a cerebral matter: Here is a list of doctrines: if you assent to these, then you are a Lutheran and your piety is up to you, as an individual or community, to devise on your own from whatever source you like. Is that how it is?
I certainly don't think so. And I think the history of the Reformation and even a cursory reading of the Lutheran Symbols give the lie to such a notion. Indeed: the Reformation was about piety, about actions, about a faith lived in a particular way.
So what is the distinctively Lutheran piety? It is not hard to define. It is spelled out in the Symbols and the history of our fellowship, it is written on millions of hearts – it is so well known that it is easily caricatured on the radio by Garrison Keillor.
Lutheran piety begins at the Divine Service. The Mass is celebrated among us as the thing of most importance(AC XXIV). Lutheran piety is reverent (think of Luther sucking up the Precious Blood off the altar rail in 1543). Lutheran piety dresses up for church. Lutheran piety dwells within the traditional prayers, lessons, vestments, and ceremonies of the Western tradition (Ap. XXIV.1). This is a rich tradition, therefore, Lutheran piety recognizes that there is room for one parish to have more ceremonies than another: so long as the ceremonies in use comport with the pious tradition within which we live, for we are not frivolous, jocular, or offensive in the house of God (FC SD X). Lutheran piety bows or kneels at the altar. Lutheran piety adores Christ present in the Sacrament. Lutheran piety stands for the Gospel Lesson. Lutheran piety chants and sings. Lutheran piety considers one day more holy than another, unto the Lord, and thus offers the Sacrament on every Lord's Day and the other high feasts. Luther piety has pastors, celebrants, and ministers. Lutheran piety is one of Word and Sacrament, tilted slightly toward Sacrament: thus the Sacrament has pride of place over the sermon.
After the benediction, Lutheran piety goes into the home. Lutheran piety, while standing or kneeling, makes the sign of the cross, morning and evening, and recites the Creed and the Lord's Prayer. Lutheran piety goes to confession and says, Dear pastor please hear my confession and pronounce forgiveness in order to fulfill God's will. Lutheran piety reads Luther's sermons, Portals of Prayer, and the Fathers. Lutheran piety thanks God for clothing and shoes, house and home, eyes, ears, and all my members. Lutheran piety teaches his children to say, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Lutheran piety expects crosses. Luther piety expects that it will daily sin much and need forgiveness.
Lutheran piety is, as you can see, molded and formed by two things: the liturgy as described in Ap. XXIV.1 and the Small Catechism. These tell us the how of the Faith. Through these the Lutheran Faith is lived. The Catechism is not a doctrinal treatise, a merely cerebral book: it is an instruction manual for personal piety. It gives words and actions. Just as Anglican piety is formed by the 39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer and Roman piety by the canon of the Mass and the rosary, Lutheran piety is shaped by the liturgy and the Catechism.
The words of the liturgy and the Catechism constantly rattle around a head shaped by Lutheran piety. They are the lens through which daily life is filtered.
The mind and heart shaped by Lutheran piety can complete all of these ellipses:
Isaiah mighty seer....
I believe that I cannot by my own....
What is the world to me....
...that we are by by nature....
Lord now lettest...
A mighty fortress...
The Lord be with you. . .
Lord God, Heavenly Father, bless us...
O Lord, open Thou my lips...
This is most certainly. . .
Yes, yes it shall...
We should fear and. . .
Glory be to God on high. . .
. . . therefore with angels. . .
Lord, let at last thine angels. . .
There are other pieties that have different catch phrases, different actions, different ways of worship. The American Evangelical piety uses the 19th century camp meeting liturgy: warm up songs, call to worship, prayer of confession/humility, songs, scripture reading, sermon, songs. American Evangelical piety does not wear vestments or regard one day as more holy than another (except for Sunday, Christmas, and Easter). American Evangelical piety does not make the sign of the cross or go to confession. American Evangelical piety, when it celebrates the Sacrament, does so in a simple manner without ceremonies that would indicate worship or adoration toward the Sacrament. American Evangelical piety is upbeat, casual, and jocular. American Evangelical piety expects daily improvement and victorious living. American Evangelical piety reads Guideposts, My Utmost for His Highest, and the Purpose Driven Life. American Evangelical piety knows what AWANA stands for. American Evangelical piety has worship leaders, song leaders, praise bands, and preachers. American Evangelical piety is one of Word and Sacrament, tilted strongly toward Word: thus the sermon has pride of place over the Sacrament.
The mind and heart shaped by American Evangelical piety cannot complete many ellipses besides the lyrics of currently popular church songs. The words that rattle around the head formed by this piety are generally phrases of their favorite preacher, song, Bible verse, or currently popular book.
Now – what would happen to a Baptist church who wanted Baptist doctrine but took up Lutheran piety via the Common Service on Sunday morning and replacing Guideposts and free form prayer with Portals of Prayer and the Creed throughout the week? What would happen to an E-Free church that swapped out their current list of songs for those in LSB and had their pastor wear an alb and stole? If they did this for a generation at the late service, what would the next generation of Baptist and E-Free preachers be like?
The generation that brought American Evangelical piety into the Lutheran Church is now in late middle age. Their confirmation classes are now graduating from seminary and Synodical schools. For the first time in history, we have Lutheran pastors who cannot complete all the ellipses listed above because they always went to the late service that was formed not by Lutheran piety but by American Evangelical piety. For the first time in our English-speaking history, we are ordaining pastors who do not know the Common Service (or any setting of the Western liturgy) by heart. For the first time in history, we have school teachers who cannot say Matins from memory – but know all the lyrics to the top five selling worship songs as listed each month by CCLI.
Will a church body really be the same church body if a number of its parishes are formed by Lutheran piety and a number of others by American Evangelical piety?
We are not just minds – we are minds, souls, and bodies. Piety matters. That's why the Confessions say so much about it. A sea change has occurred in the piety of the Missouri Synod – a change away from Lutheran piety and toward American Evangelical piety. We are only beginning to feel the repercussions.