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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

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.