December 3, 2020

Liturgical Gangstas 6: Unappreciated Strengths and Overlooked Weaknesses

Welcome to IM’s popular new feature, “The Liturgical Gangstas,” a panel discussion among different liturgical traditions represented in the Internet Monk audience.

Who are the Gangstas?

Father Ernesto Obregon is an Eastern Orthodox priest.
Rev. Peter Vance Matthews is an Anglican priest and founding pastor of an AMIA congregation.
Dr. Wyman Richardson is a pastor of a First Baptist Church (SBC) and director of Walking Together Ministries, a resource on church discipline.
Alan Creech is a Roman Catholic with background in the Emerging church and spiritual direction. (Alan’s not a priest. If he is, his wife and kids need to know.)
Rev. Matthew Johnson is a United Methodist pastor.
Rev. William Cwirla is a Lutheran pastor (LCMS) and one of the hosts of The God Whisperers, which is a podcast nearly as good as Internet Monk Radio.

Here’s this week’s question: What is the most misunderstood positive thing about your tradition, and the most ignored weakness of your tradition? Of the five traditions represented, from whom do you believe your tradition could learn the most?

Father Ernesto/Orthodox: The Internet Monk’s question was quite a thought provoker for me. In fact, I ended up throwing the questions out to a few friends, who included a layman who is a professor at an university, a nun, and a couple of priests. That was a first for me. What surprised me was the unanimity of thought expressed in the three responses I received. I was expecting more variety and expecting that I would then distill their thought down into an answer. But, instead, I received unanimity. So, here is our thought.

All agreed that the Baptists are the tradition from whom we could learn the most, but in only one area. The area? The dynamic preaching that is often embodied in the best of the Baptist tradition. It not only encompasses a serious desire to communicate God’s Word to the hearer, but also a serious desire to have people respond to God in a life-changing way. That is, the Baptists, when at their best, often offer a winsome balance between teaching and a dynamic call to change. No serious Baptist preacher can stand in the pulpit without ending a sermon by asking the hearer to reflect on what this means for their life, and to reflect on what they must change in order to bring their life into accord with the teaching that they have just received. Not all Baptists live up to this high standard, but, when they do, God’s Word truly comes to earth in the spoken word. It is at those times when it almost seems as though preaching has become the eighth sacrament.

You might think, then, that I would say that the most ignored weakness (by us) is our lacks in the area of preaching. But, actually, all our seminaries are working to improve the levels of preaching within our tradition. We are not ignoring it; we are cognizant of it. No, I would say that our most ignored weakness is the way in which Western thinking has, inevitably, worked itself in on our people. No, I do not mean outward things like watching TV, or using iPods, etc. Those are merely external. No, I mean the creeping agnosticism which is so prevalent in modern First-World Western cultures. It is that thinking which causes your mind to “switch gears” once you “leave church” and to adopt a practical agnosticism. What do I mean? Watch a professional baseball game some time. Whenever a Latino player comes up, he crosses himself before taking the plate. There is a consciousness that God is present in all aspects of life, even sports. But, in the USA, we denigrate that by asking whether it is appropriate to pray during sports. After all, why would God answer a prayer in favor of one team and not another? But, in asking those questions we feed an agnosticism that, little by little, removes God from this bit or that bob of our life, until all that is left is Sunday morning, maybe Wednesdays, and maybe some little volunteer work here or there. We Orthodox have also been infected by that disease. We make fun of pious practices as though they were mere superstitions rather than the outworking of a consciousness that God is present everywhere and in every aspect of our lives. Not every “tradition” can or should be defended, for instance, I really do not believe that Jesus has imprinted his face on many tacos. But, when we take down our “home altars,” when we lose the prayers before meals, when we forget the night prayer before sleeping, and, yes, when we fail to cross ourselves at important times in our lives, we show the result of the creeping agnosticism which has so thoroughly infected the USA.

Finally, the most misunderstood positive thing about the Orthodox is our worship. I am now not talking about misunderstood just by us, but misunderstood, even more, by those who are not Orthodox. A creeping agnosticism leads to creeping doubt that God is present. Our worship is mystical. It is the place where we encounter God, not simply in symbol, or in liturgy, or in litanies, etc., but rather, it is the place where we truly encounter God, where we are present with Him in the heavenly worship. But, a creeping agnosticism leads to a lack of faith that there is such an encounter occurring. A creeping agnosticism leads to a concentration on the details rather than a simple acceptance of the whole of it. This does not mean that we ignore the details. We have scholars aplenty who can intimately describe every detail of our Divine Liturgy, and where they wish it would be somewhat different. We have bishops who meet to discuss appropriate wording, appropriate inculturation, etc. But, when we step into the Divine Liturgy, we put the scholarly world aside and simply enter in. The details no longer matter. They will be worked out in the proper place and at the proper time. Now is not that time. Now is the time to enter in and simply be with the Father, who is from everlasting, His Only-Begotten Son, together with his all-holy and good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Matthew Johnson/United Methodist: I think for United Methodists and Wesleyans in general the most misunderstood positive thing has to be the doctrine of Christian perfection. I used to be like most everyone else in that I thought the whole thing was about sinless perfection which seemed to be Biblically untenable. But then I heard people teach it and I saw what belief in Christian perfection looked like in the lives of those who believed in its place within the via salutis.

I’ll readily admit my own misunderstandings and hope that I do not misrepresent it in my answer but let me start with an assignment from a class on the Gospel according to Matthew I took my first semester of seminary. We had to interpret the tail end of the 5th chapter with particular focus given to Jesus’ words “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” I’m still not entirely convinced by arguments based upon the multivalent meanings of words, but in completing this assignment I was struck by the number of times “perfect” is translated in the New Testament as “mature”. It’s easier for me to live with this kind of language because what I see in those who have lived what we call Christian perfection are mature Christians in the fullest sense – they love without question and they forgive like it is going out of style. When I think of the fullness, the completeness of Christian perfection, it always plays out as one who loves God and loves neighbor not only more than self but even at the expense of self – Philippians 2 in action. I read last week in my New Living Translation Study Bible, “Real love is always sacrificial.” I think that about covers it for me.

I’d be surprised if any of our weaknesses are ignored – those are the ones that always make the news! We allegedly believe in holiness, both personal and social. In fact, we believe you can’t have one without the other. In my experience, this doesn’t happen very often in our missions outside the church. By this I mean that we’re good at building houses, digging wells, feeding the hungry, and education but we’re too timid or embarrassed, or unwilling to present the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ to go along with our labor on behalf of others. It’s so bad that many years ago a group of people started a mission called The Mission Society so that United Methodists would have an evangelistic presence in world missions to go along with the social presence. I still don’t see why there has to be a split between the two (although, as a disclaimer, I know the Mission Society does both together pretty well and I’m pretty certain there are some General Board missionaries who are evangelistic).

I believe our denomination could learn the most from the tradition that has learned that it’s possible to be faithful to our call and mission without a bureaucracy. Which one is that?

If that’s not possible, I’m going to say that we need a fuller sacramental life. Out of the four groups that I consider to be more sacramental than Methodists, I’m probably going to go back to the Lutherans mostly because we sometimes have a hard time remembering exactly what the Gospel is which is what Wesley heard and preached from his time with a group of Lutherans, even if they were pietists 🙂

Peter Vance Matthews/Anglican: The most misunderstood positive thing about Anglicanism is what I call
essentialism. There is an old saying attributed to different people that says: In the essentials unity; the non-essentials liberty; in all things charity. Of the different traditions I have been part of Anglicanism has best exhibited this. Anglicanism sees itself as nothing more than an expression of ancient historic orthodoxy manifested in an English context. This means we do not have one particular theologian or theology that guides us. We have formularies found in our liturgies, ordinals and the Articles of Religion, but nothing like Calvin’s Institutes or Luther’s Catechism. As long as one adheres to creedal orthodoxy and one is part of an Anglican worshiping community, one is faithful to Anglicanism. I often express this when we host introduction to Anglicanism classes at Saint Patrick’s Church by telling folks that if you are wondering if Anglicans are Arminian or Calvinist or Thomist or Augustinian or etc., the answer is yes. In fact, there are folks from those different persuasions in the pews at our parish. And all are Anglican.

The reason I love this is that I love the security of being grounded in historic orthodoxy with the freedom to explore and benefit from different theologies. I like being able to free range in Schmemann, Calvin, Wesley and Augustine. I can draw from all these and use them in my life or ministry.

Of course, one of our great weaknesses is this very same reality. As you were reading you probably found yourself asking, “Yes, but what are the essentials and who gets to decide what they are?” Good question. This is especially germane now that the Anglican Communion is in turmoil over the
question of human sexuality. The battle is over whether this issue is essential or secondary. If it is essential than it is dividing. If it is secondary than everyone ought to be able to get along and agree to disagree. As you might guess the more conservative side of the debate thinks the issue is essential and cannot be compromised while the more liberal side of the debate sees it as a secondary issue that Anglicans can disagree about.

Anglicans need some sort of magisterium, like our Roman sisters and brothers have. It would look different, and would be more purely conciliar than the Roman system, but having a conciliar doctrinal body would help us stay more clear about what is essential and what is secondary.

Alan Creech/Roman Catholic: OK, this could get interesting. The most misunderstood, POSITIVE thing about my tradition, the Roman Catholic tradition – hmmm. This, of course, is only from my perspective and can only come from my own experience. I really think the most misunderstood, positive thing in Catholicism is the whole notion of the Communion of Saints, including our continued interaction with one another as One whole Body of Christ. In general terminology, I mean the whole “praying to the Saints” thing. I find myself having a good many conversations about that concept with Christians of other traditions and what I hear when this happens is always very interesting and quite a bit off what we hold and practice as Catholics.

Well, let me make sure and be totally fair here – “we” may “practice” a bunch of things as Catholics which also might cause some confusion among those peering through the window from the outside. I’m saying “we” may have a bit of misunderstanding going on ourselves in this category as well, which puts a double-whammy kind of spin on this. It’s positive and misunderstood both from within and from without.

We don’t (or shouldn’t at all, in any way) “worship” Saints – who are human beings like us, gone on into the fullness of the Kingdom of God in heaven. Also, these Saints can’t really “do” anything directly for us. Often you see or hear things that might sound as if Catholics are directly asking St. Whozitz to “give them this” or “do this” for them. MMMmmm not so much. What we are encouraged to do and what we have been doing for a long, long time, is understanding that our brothers and sisters in Christ who are now enveloped in the full Life of God are in a “state” now where they are able to see us, know as they are known, where they have, as it could be said, “the big clue.” So, still being a part of the Communion of Saints who make up the Body of Christ, they can offer intercessions for us just as they did on earth, but in a greater and fuller way. They can still pray for us, and pray for us in a deeper and more effective way because of “where” and “what” they are now (by “what” I mean their fully transformed state as fully Human Beings). Fully comprehending all that is a bit out of the picture for us, so a lot of scare quotes must enter anything written.

There is a continuity in this concept of Communion which is very positive indeed. We are not so separated from those who are now “gone” to us. We are still one with them – still an active part of the same Body, the Church. And not only in that they can pray for us, but that we can also still pray for them. Yes, the purgatory thing. Itself, purgatory is a very misunderstood idea, again, both in and out of the Catholic Church I believe. I don’t want to get sidetracked by that, but it’s connected in that we, as much as we can know about how those things work in the realm of eternity, can pray for the completion of the transformation of those we love after they have died to us and gone “over there.” Could it be that our prayers work in some mysterious way outside of time and they are instantaneously transformed into the fullness of His Image? Maybe so. Again, very hard to say. One way or another, the continued interaction is there, our praying for them, them praying for us.

The most ignored weakness of my tradition, I would say, is probably the deep institutionalization of every aspect of Catholic life. It seems to me just rampant and almost incurable. I’m being very honest in saying how discouraging it can be. It seems it kind of goes without being questioned at all, as if to have things so bound in all manner of red tape is just normal, everyday stuff in the Church. Everything takes a long time. New things? – oh man – pray for MUCH patience in order to get that happening. In the midst of the unbelievable beauty and spiritual depth in the Catholic tradition, is so much built up “plaque” – the residue of years and years of doing things a certain way that it seems very difficult that anyone would see any other way. It would seem a return to some of the monastic simplicity that is still alive within our own tradition is in order on the parish level – seminary level – diocesan level, etc.

The other end of of the question makes me think of the Orthodox tradition. I believe the Western Catholic tradition could learn a great deal from our Orthodox siblings. A couple of things that come to mind are — Using less legally restrictive and analytical language when talking about salvation instead of a more fluid, relational understanding. You’ll notice my use of the word “transformation” above. I believe the ideas are basically the same in our two traditions, but the way we think about things can be quite different. I think it would be extremely helpful for Catholics to move toward a less legal understanding of the process of salvation.

I also think about the collegiality of how the Orthodox hierarchy works. It’s a bit more “flat” in how they work things out. We have developed a bit more of a rigid system in Catholicism, which can cause it’s share of problems. For us to be open to and learn/adopt (re-adopt?) a more collegial way of working things out might be a very good thing.

Again, these are my own observations and thoughts on the question. As Michael might say, 5 or 6 other Catholics might give you 5 or 6 different answers – but they’re not… Liturgical Gangstas! Peace to all in this house.

Wyman Richardson/Southern Baptist: Wow, this is a great question. Southern Baptists are frequent targets of derision, much of which comes as a result of our own foolishness. When I hear criticisms and even caricatures of Southern Baptists, I oftentimes find myself saying, “Yeah, I can’t really deny the truthfulness of what you’re saying, and yet…” It’s the “And yet…” that keeps me a Southern Baptist.

I actually believe that SB’s have a number of positive traits that could be mentioned. Our historic contribution to the idea of religious liberty is a major one. As for “the most misunderstood positive thing about your tradition,” I think I would have to say our evangelistic impulse. In many ways, this is the aspect of Southern Baptist life that some find most off-putting. Or, rather, it’s the oftentimes boorish, arrogant, or non-strategic approach to evangelism that people see in Southern Baptists that they find off-putting. And yet, beneath all of the myriad examples of how not to do evangelism that one can find among Southern Baptists, I am increasingly impressed by the Baptist commitment to take the gospel to the world.

At the very least, this missionary prerogative is a safeguard against an insular form of Christianity. I have a friend who is an Orthodox Presbyterian. He is no fan of Southern Baptists, to put it mildly, and yet he recently pointed out to me that the lack of such a missionary heart is a major weakness of his own tradition. I have spent the major part of my life among Southern Baptists. I am, as it were, “in the camp.” I often grieve at our foolishness and at my own foolishness. But, through it all, I see time and time again that the average Southern Baptist (1) believes Jesus is the world’s only hope and (2) believes that it is the job of His people to take Him to the world.

As for “the most ignored weakness,” I’m not sure how “ignored” this is, but the elevation of the individual and the erosion of community is a huge problem. I personally think that the tradition of E.Y. Mullins is somewhat responsible for this, and, probably more so, the syncretism of Southern Baptists churches with American hyper-individualism. In other words, the autonomous individual has been elevated above the church and, as such, we have, I believe, a very weak ecclesiology. To be sure, this weakness hurts our strength: our lack of ecclesiology actually undermines our missions efforts. But there are signs of hope that many Southern Baptists are thinking and praying deeply about the renewal of the church.

As for which tradition we could learn the most from, Rev. Matthews will perhaps be amused to find out that I think Southern Baptists could learn a lot from Anglicans. I could say more, but I’ll stop for now.

William Cwirla/Lutheran: I appreciate this opportunity for a bit of critical self-reflection in the company of my fellow gangstas.

One of the more misunderstood of the positive aspects of my Lutheran tradition is pastoral care. In the Lutheran tradition, the pastor as Seelsorger, a physician of the soul, is a venerable image. Think of the old-fashioned family physician with his little black bag making house calls on his people. For a good descriptive narrative of what that looks like, I commend the book The Hammer of God by Bo Giertz, who was a Lutheran bishop in Sweden. This little book nicely captures the essence of the pastor as Seelsorger, who brings the Word of Law and Gospel to bear in the lives of his people through preaching and the sacraments.

Unfortunately, this aspect of the pastoral ministry seems to be declining in importance in our growth-driven mega-church era. It is often spoken of derisively as “maintenance ministry” by church bureaucrats and ecclesiastical entrepreneurs. Pastors are under ever increasing pressure to be the visionaries and CEOs of growing enterprises, leaving the humble and often messy work of pastoral care to volunteers and “pastoral staff.” I believe that a commitment to Seelsorge will naturally limit the size of a congregation. I recall Eugene Peterson’s statement that he never wanted to pastor a church with more members than whose names he could remember.

Another positive aspect of my Lutheran tradition is the proper distinction of the Law and the Gospel. This is often misunderstood as a categorical division in which Scripture verses can be dropped into a Law bucket or a Gospel bucket. Rather, it is a dynamic polarity within the Word of God that both kills and makes alive. Practically speaking, it distinguishes Christ’s work from our works and maintains the Christ-centeredness of our teaching and preaching. Though other Christians often make this distinction better than Lutherans (we certainly have no monopoly on this biblical distinction), we have this distinction as a fundamental component of our theological tradition.

This distinction of the Law and the Gospel also profoundly influences Lutheran sacramentology. We view Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper as primarily God’s work acting on us, applying the gifts of salvation to the individual objectively and forensically to create and sustain saving faith.

In my opinion, the most neglected weakness of our tradition is personal evangelism. We are simply not very good at it. Historically, Lutherans have been most comfortable with the regional or territorial church model in which people associated with the local church and dealt with it through its official channels. Growth was largely by reproduction as children were baptized and nurtured in the faith. Reaching out to the unbeliever was not a top priority, our Lord’s mandate to “disciple the nations” notwithstanding. The language of apologetics and evangelism are not native to our traditional vocabulary; our Lutheran confessions have little to say on the subject.

From our vantage point as evangelical catholic Christians in the western tradition. we Lutherans can learn from all the traditions around us. From the Orthodox we can learn the virtue of liturgical stability and a reverence for the early church. From the Evangelicals we can learn about how to speak comfortably of the faith in personal terms. One thing I’ve always admired of Evangelicals is their ability to speak of their faith in Christ to friend, family, and stranger, as well as their confidence in doing so. I’m sorry to admit that two Lutherans can work side by side for ten years and not know that they are Christians let alone Lutheran. From our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, we can learn our common heritage in the greater western tradition and be reminded that we share a greater historic context and are not simply another Protestant denomination.

If I may go slightly beyond the scope of the question, I think that my Lutheran tradition can serve as a continual witness to all Christians that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the hermeneutical center of the Holy Scriptures and the article of justification by grace through faith in Christ is the doctrinal center of Christian theology.


  1. I consider Tom to be a constant prayer partner….hence most of my problems in life 🙂

  2. Very interesting questions and answers. Though raised Catholic, I find myself leaning toward the Anglican way of viewing our Christian “walk.” (More freedom in how you think about religious matters, without the “worry” that you are not a good Anglican.)

    What I like about Catholicism, though, is that there is likely some place for everybody, depending on their personality. You have your contemplative dimension (which I seem to be most “comfortable” within); you have your charismatic group; you have those who work with the poor, ill, needy; you have the teachers, and on and on. There is often a great focus on the mystery and majesty of God which I think is good.

    But I have the same problems many have with the Pope, Marian issues, purgatory, one-issue-politics, and to some extent, the view of the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper/Holy Communion. As I get older, though, I think I can even make peace with those. I have decided to think of purgatory as a final sanctification and surely not a place that we help get people out of by PAYING for special masses to be said. That whole thing about “indulgences” always REALLY bothered me. I thought it had gone away, but I recently read something online about the Pope granting indulgences to some folks who were making a pilgrimage. I was surprised.

    Oh, and hey, no one has mentioned Limbo. I think all of you are more educated than I am on religious history and whatnot, but for anyone who does not know about Limbo, here’s a little bit from Wikipedia:
    “The Limbo of Infants is a hypothesis about the permanent status of the unbaptized who die in infancy, too young to have committed personal sins, but not having been freed from original sin. Since at least the time of Augustine, theologians, considering baptism to be necessary for the salvation of those to whom it can be administered have debated the fate of unbaptized innocents, and the theory of the Limbo of Infants is one of the hypotheses that have been formulated as a proposed solution. Some who hold this theory regard the Limbo of Infants as a state of maximum natural happiness, others as one of “mildest punishment” consisting at least of privation of the beatific vision and of any hope of obtaining it. This theory, in any of its forms, has never been dogmatically defined by the Church, but it is permissible to hold it. Recent Catholic theological speculation tends to stress the hope that these infants may attain heaven instead of the supposed state of Limbo; however, the directly opposed theological opinion also exists, namely that there is no afterlife state intermediate between salvation and damnation, and that all the unbaptized are damned.”

    Well, I am happy to read “Recent Catholic theological speculation tends to stress the hope that these infants may attain heaven.” I have always believed that infants will be with God when they die. Perhaps I really don’t believe in “original sin.” Perhaps I believe that all babies are born innocent and as they grow up, they will often choose to things that are opposed to God’s will, thereby joining the rest of us in needing God’s grace to set us right. I don’t know what kind of Christian that would make me if I believed that children are born as innocents. Maybe it makes me non-Christian, but I hope not. My hope is in Jesus and without his help, I am not able to go forward. Jesus loved the children and said that we should be like them and I think by that he meant that we should be trusting, joyful. (I know there are sad, deprived abused children. I and Jesus are talking about the loved children.)

    I do like the Eastern Orthodox mystical tradition and have read writings from the Desert Fathers (I think that is the right terminology.) The Jesus Prayer (and things like it) are great. Catholic priest/monk Thomas Keating teaches Centering Prayer which has a lot of aspects to it similar to using the Jesus Prayer. I use Centering Prayer in my prayer life in addition to other forms of prayer as well.

    That’s enough from me!

  3. Another great example of the “Village Green”

    Thanks for keeping this up!

    (Changing to Keith B, I see there’s another Keith on the Green)

  4. “Of course, I’d say that the worst thing about the Lutheran church is the atonal singing, but that’s just me (seriously people, “Hallelujah” means that you’re supposed to be excited, and there are more than 3 notes in any song).”

    Of the 600 hymns in our current hymnal (Lutheran Service Book), I don’t know of a single one that is “atonal” or consists of three notes or less. If anything, the complaint about Lutheran hymns is that they have too many notes, too many stanzas, are too difficult to sing by the non-musician, and attempt to deliver the whole counsel of God.

    I look at it this way. Music is very tribal these days. One likes this, another likes that. It’s all individual iPods and earbuds when it comes to music. Lutheran hymns bring people together as one. We sing hymns nobody likes.

  5. Ky boy but not now says

    Please kill the previous post. Wrong subject.

  6. Michael,

    This was wonderful. Can somebody please take the best of each and run with it? No? Yawn…

  7. Steve,

    Some of us do try to take the best and run with it. All I need to do is to find a tangible community that is going on the same path that I am. 🙂

  8. Michael, sorry. I did worry that I was coming across as the scary stalker lady pushing the Third Secret of Fatima and the Garabandal revelations, and it would seem that my fears were well-founded.

    The perfect illustration of the big difference here between the Catholic and non-Catholic viewpoints is what you say about praying to dead people. My instinctive reaction to that was they’re not dead!

    Okay, bodies in the ground, but not *dead*.

    One last illustration and then I’ll shut up, I promise 🙂

    The saints are like sponsors in A.A. They’ve been through that. When we say “I can’t do it”, they say “I’m no better than you and I was a lot worse. The only difference is I’ve been sober longer.”

    How did they do it? Turned their lives over to a higher power.

    Yeah, but changed forever? Just do it one day at a time.

    You’re rich? Poor? Old? Young? Pretty? Ugly? Smart? Thick as the ditch? A pillar of the community? Lying in the gutter? Violent? Peaceful? Here is a saint who was in your shoes. They are examples to us – so you’re afflicted with the cares of the world, either through great status or great poverty? Here are the royalty and the beggar saints. It’s all well and good for guys who can flee to the desert and work on their souls, but you’re the father of a family or a busy housewife? Here are men and women in your same situation. You are too happy to think of God? Here she is, who was blessed with all that and yet could set it aside. You are too wretched? Are you more wretched than him, who had nothing but sores? You are beautiful, young, and the springtime of life is sweet, the world and the flesh alluring? Here are your brothers and sisters. You are old, abandoned, in sickness, despised? Here are your brothers and sisters who went before you. You are the greatest of sinners? She was a whore, he was a thief, she was a witch, he was a murderer – the harlots and the publicans enter the kingdom of heaven before you.

    And they are our rebukes – you are clever and look down on the ignorant and simple? Here is a saint who was so stupid it literally took a miracle for him to pass the simplest examination his teachers could set him. You think airy-fairy academic theories are fine for the ivory tower but real life is different? Here is a saint who was, as someone put it, the only person made a saint for thinking. The poor deserve what they get? This poor woman got the kingdom of heaven. The rich are all greedy swine? This queen gave all away in service. The races shouldn’t mix? So you’d send St. Martin de Porres to the back of the bus? The ugly, the beautiful, the kind, the mean, the soldier, the pacifist, the black, white, brown, yellow, red – all are here.

    Enough! I should worry instead because (1) next Tuesday is Shrove which means (2) next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday which means (3) Lent is starting!!!! Ahhh!!!!!!

  9. Martha, I enjoy your posts. I guess I am not a practicing Catholic since I don’t attend church, but I can appreciate the points you are making.

  10. Thanks, JoanieD. And I’m certainly not trying to lure Michael or anyone else into Catholicism (“Come to the Dark Side – we have cookies! Or, as Jack Chick would have it, Death Cookies!”)

    I was trying to give a description of how, from the Catholic side, the invocation of the saints is feasible. Hmmm – I wonder who the patron of Knowing When To Shut Up is? 🙂

  11. Martha:

    Again, with all due respect and appreciation, what I’m reading here is illustrative material defending and explaining a practice. In my tradition, that’s what we do after we establish it’s clearly taught in scripture. It’s not how we infer what scripture teaches.

    I believe the Christian dead are alive, but since scripture calls them “dead” in the New Testament and not just alive, I don’t feel I am coloring outside of the lines.

    In fact, if I may say this: scripture presents an abundance of images of the church triumphant, and they seem quite busy. So it’s not that scripture is bashful about saying what they are doing “up there.” But out of all those activities mentioned, none involve passing on prayers or helping me with the keys.

    Again, not something that I find antithetical to Christian practice. Just a matter of Biblical silence.


  12. wmcwirla-

    You misunderstand me. I don’t mean to say that they hymns aren’t beautiful (they are, and I rather enjoy listening to them). I mean to say that Lutherans can’t sing. 🙂

  13. As always, lots to mull over and enjoy in this post. Thanks to Michael and all the Gangstas!

    I mean to say that Lutherans can’t sing.

    Really? 😉 I think this varies a lot from church to church; has much to do with the music director. Seriously.

  14. I never got the concept of praying to the dead, but at one point on a silent retreat I came across the Hail Mary. I tried it and found it to be a very comforting prayer for me, somehow.

    I believe it has to do, in my spiritual walk, with there being neither man nor woman in Christ. Refocusing my thinking toward the divine feminine and moving away from the masculine imagery I had always embedded in my psyche somehow ‘clicked’ in my soul.

    And even though I am a dyed-in-the-wool Protestant, maybe my most moving spiritual experience happened on Easter in Rome, when the Pope blessed the gazillion people standing in St. Peter’s square.

    To me, he’s a sinner like us all, closer to perfection surely, but a man nonetheless, but I could feel God that day coming down through that blessing.

  15. I wanted to check a little further into what the Catholic Church says now about limbo and came across:
    One thing there says:
    “If there’s no limbo and we’re not going to revert to St. Augustine’s teaching that unbaptized infants go to hell, we’re left with only one option, namely, that everyone is born in the state of grace,” said the Rev. Richard McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.
    “Baptism does not exist to wipe away the “stain” of original sin, but to initiate one into the Church,” he said in an e-mailed response.
    And that article talks about the 41-page document, titled “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized,” which was was published in Origins, the documentary service of Catholic News Service. Pope Benedict XVI authorized its publication in April 2007. The document said the idea of limbo “seemed to reflect an “unduly restrictive view of salvation.” It also said grace has priority over sin, and the exclusion of innocent babies from heaven does not seem to reflect Christ’s special love for “the little ones.”

    I am done with that now. I just wanted to clarify what the Catholic Church is saying now. Note that I don’t know if Rev. Richard McBrien (who was quoted in the first article) is actually speaking on behalf of the church’s teaching. I don’t know if the Pope would take it that far, but like Rev. McBrien, I think if we say that infants “go to heaven” we HAVE to then be saying what McBrien is saying. And yet, if he is correct, that would throw many Christians into a tizzy because many think we “need” original sin to need Jesus. I, personally, don’t think we do. My Christianity and my Jesus is needed even if we are not born with “original sin” as taught by many within the church. We may be born inclined to choose that which is not God’s will, but if we do not even live long enough to make a conscious choice, we have not left the realm of “God’s heart” and are therefore firmly within God’s grace. That’s my take on it at this time anyway, and I am not a teacher, preacher or writer, so if I am wrong, don’t worry…I won’t be influencing many people.

  16. Ah, yes. The pastor as physician of the soul. I see few, very few pastors these days willing to fill the role of the humble parish priest. What’s so bad about doing maintenance ministry? If your people feel loved and cared for and love their Lord, what is so bad about that? But most pastors, it seems, either want to be the next Rick Warren or bask in the joy of being so incredibly, fastidiously, painstakingly doctrinally pure that doctrine and practice supplant God, people go elsewhere (or nowhere), leaving the pastor to joyfully proclaim that he is persecuted just as were the saints of old.

  17. e2c-

    Well, I’ve been to whole bunches of Lutheran churches all over the midwest, and they seem to be stuck on about 3 notes, and absolutely passionless. They will look at you like you have spouted a third eye if you ever sing louder than “mumble” and dear god, what whack job sings “Joy to the World” like it’s actually a song of thanksgiving?

    The ONLY place I’ve heard Lutherans singing well is at church camp, but I’m strongly beginning to suspect that church camp is the religion (at least for people in my age group). I’ve met Lutherans all over the world: ask their opinion of transubstantiation over consubstantiation, or what their pastor preached last Sunday, and they’ll give you blank stares. But start busting out “My God is an Awesome God” or “Pharaoh Pharaoh” and it doesn’t matter which church camp they went to, they’ll start singing along AND do the corresponding dance moves.

  18. Antigone, at least Lutherans sing. You should have been at the last Mass I was at, where the priest multiple times from the altar tried to get everyone to sing along with the children’s choir, and all us sitting in the pews resolutely looked down at the kneelers and kept our mouths shut, except for the final hymn which was one of the old ones (that is, not one of the 70s ‘relevant lyrics’ type) that everyone knew. And they say Catholics are mindlessly obedient to the clergy? 😉

    Michael, yes, indeed, I understand what you’re saying. I hope I didn’t come across as trying to pound anyone over the head with “You MUST do this or else!!!” because that just ain’t so.

    To me, the dead dead are the damned souls, cut off from God and from the rest of the Body eternally. The dead who sleep in Christ are a different matter, especially since we all believe in the resurrection of the body (we *do* all believe in the resurrection of the body?) This may sound either weird or pretentious or both, but the ‘Purgatorio’ of the “Divine Comedy” is the best thing to read that I can recommend to anyone as to what I feel about the whole topic (yes, I get all my theology out of Dante, which is why I’m in the shape I’m in. I really like the recent Hollander translation, but any fairly modern one is good – stay away from the 19th century ones, as the attempts by translators to sound like Milton just muddy the waters.)

    The good thing about here is that you provoke thought and allow us all to express ourselves, when we (or at least I) then have to say what I believe and why I believe it, rather than just going along with a vague sense of contentment but not looking at what I think, much less seeing if I can get it to hold water.

    Besides, it’s very good for unity – I realised I must have come off sounding like Surfnetter to you on this one and since I’ve been tut-tutting to myself about some of his views, it’s great that we’re both on the same page about this – ah, how pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity! 🙂

  19. Antigone – I’m not from the Midwest; more of a PA German Lutheran. There are some significant cultural differences (a lot of it may come from the fact that people are proud of all those great Reformation-era chorales).

    But I’m not entirely surprised that you’d run into what you have where you are.

  20. “You misunderstand me. I don’t mean to say that they hymns aren’t beautiful (they are, and I rather enjoy listening to them). I mean to say that Lutherans can’t sing. ”

    HIstorically, Lutherans have been known for their singing, the 17th c. being the high point. Our congregation does quite well. Remarkably well for a little group. Where the organist is good at leading congregational song, the singing is good. We suffer from a lack of decent organists these days. It’s easier to hire a drummer.

    Where Lutherans can’t sing is when we’re forced to sing contempo Christian stuff. It’s not in our musical genetics. A Lutheran praise band is a bit like a white reggae band. Right notes, wrong rhythm. It’s kind of embarrassing.

    In my experience, Catholics are the worst singers. I’ve stood out singing hymns in a packed cathedral. Talk about funny stares. Evangelicals sing refrains well enough, but I don’t think they have the stamina for a 15 stanza Reformation chorale, at least without a guitar solo.

    Your mileage may, of course, vary.

  21. Antigone, you clearly haven’t been to Pennsylvania, or (more accurately) to a typical Lutheran church in Pennsylvania. They make you sing! 😉

    I kid, but only a little. My family belonged to a church that insisted on the congregation singing loud, proud and long – if a hymn has 8+ verses, we sang ’em all. (And some do.) It was supposed to be fun, all that singing, and I did/do love it. Like I said above, there’s this thing about the German Lutheran chorale tradition… and wcwirla is right; we don’t do “contempo” stuff well, which is – IMO – a good thing. 😉

    I honestly find it hard to imagine a bunch of Lutherans not belting out “A Mighty Fortress” etc. etc. Luther loved music, and hey – there’s J.S. Bach! Lots to live up to, y’know?

    Re. transubstantiation v. consubstantiation, I’m not surprised at the lack of response, because that’s not the terminology used in the various catechisms or the Augsburg Confession (IIRC on the latter; it’s been a while & I’m sure wcwrla will help out here if I’m wrong…). Now, you could have asked John Richard Neuhaus about this and gotten an eloquent, well-reasoned answer, I’m sure. but it’s not a big issue in the average cathecatical class. 😉

    Oh, and… my amazement at RC congregations working hard to not sing is still with me, more than 30 years after my 1st experience at attending a Mass with Catholic friends.

  22. Oops – should be “John Richard Neuhaus.”

  23. Oh never mind – Richard John N!

  24. “Re. transubstantiation v. consubstantiation, I’m not surprised at the lack of response, because that’s not the terminology used in the various catechisms or the Augsburg Confession…”

    This is correct. We do not use the term “consubstantiation,” since we do not engage in Aristotelian metaphysics to explain “how” the bread of the Lord’s Supper IS the Body of Christ, and the wine His blood. “Transubstantiation” is an attempt to explain the mystery of the real presence of Christ’s Body and Blood by a change in substance of the bread/wine without a change in accidents. Trans-substantia.

    Lutherans do not have such an explanation but simply confess that the Body/Blood of Christ is given IN the bread/wine (indicating where these are), WITH the bread/wine (indicating no material change in the bread/wine), and UNDER the bread /wine (indicating that these are hidden beneath the forms of bread/wine (mysterion) and must be revealed by the Word of Christ.

    The term “consubstantiation” is a term laid on Lutheran teaching by others, but Lutherans lay no claim to it whatsoever.

    We also don’t hold to Platonic and neo-Platonic sign theories such as Augustine’s signum (sign) and res signata (thing signified) view of the sacraments. We decline to attempt to explain how the bread/wine are the Body/Blood of Christ but simply confess our Lord’s “is.”

    This too may well be one of the misunderstood positive features of Lutheran theology. Lutheran sacramentology is frequently misunderstood by others, particularly Protestants.

  25. We decline to attempt to explain how the bread/wine are the Body/Blood of Christ but simply confess our Lord’s “is.”

    This is one of my favorite things about Lutheran theology!

    And thanks so much for bringing me – and the rest of us – up to speed. 🙂

  26. Amen Rev Mathews! Along with its rich liturgy and theological history, the “Essentialism” is exactly why I became an Anglican.

    On the doctrinal group, I don’t know where you stand on the Covenant Process – most of my orthodox bretheren are fed up with the whole thing, but I have hope! – but part of that includes such a group.

    Thank you all Gangsta’s for your input!

  27. I like to kid my Catholic friends that all those sainted early church fathers they are praying to are Lutherans. Saint Chrysostom? check. Saint Augustine? check. Saint Clement? check. …

  28. Lutheran musical abilities vary. I’ve belonged to a couple congregations where half the congregation was in the choir and could do 4-part harmony. I haven’t been back since we’ve gotten our excellent new hymnal (which is written to be sung in 4party harmony), and I’m sure they sound even better now.

    On the other hand, some congregations haven’t been taught to appreciate the Lutheran hymnody, and sang like it (though a lot of them seem to have moved on to try praise music, with sometimes hilarious results!)

    Lutheran hymns can’t be topped. They are written so that the tune is not too catchy, but to serve the purpose of hymns to teach and instruct.

    For those interested, here are good resources:

    Lutheran Hymn Blog:

    Lutheran Hymn Bible Study (start in October 2008)

  29. Re Consubstantiation;

    Huh, that’s not what they taught me. Mind, I’ve been out of the Lutheran church for near a decade now, and out of churches at all for about 5, so there might be a bit of rust in the memory, but I’m fairly certain that I learned in in Confirmation classes (and that’s all I could remember; if pressed, I might be able to remember 2 of the 95 thesis, and that “God” is always supposed to be capitalized).

  30. Antigone –
    If it came up in confirmation class (or any other class) it was the pastor’s personal addendum. “Consubstantiation” is the Reformed label for the Lutheran teaching, a kind of Eutychianism of the Lord’s Supper. It is not our view.

    I offer this from the Lutheran Cyclopedia:

    View, falsely charged to Lutheranism, that bread and body form 1 substance (a “3d substance”) in Communion (similarly wine and blood) or that body and blood are present, like bread and wine, in a natural manner. See also Grace, Means of, IV 3.


  31. wmcwirla:
    Again, many thanks for your post and follow up comment. I agree with you on music being tribal. Our biggest concern as Lutherans is that we tend to be so “German” in our hymnody that no one else can follow along. It is almost like an exclusive club at times. Granted, the new CPH hymnal does (thankfully) expand upon that a bit and give us quite a few more options, but I do love your “we sing hymns everyone hates.”

    I’ll never forget when I first became Lutheran and it was Reformation Sunday: I looked in the bulletin and we were singing “A mighty fortress.” I thought, “Good, finally a hymn I know.” And then they sang with a rhythm and musicality that made me feel like I was riding a broken roller coaster. My wife says it this way: The British Isles gave us Riverdance and Clannad. The Germans gave us the polka and dirge. Again, music is tribal, so if Christians are from “every tribe” so ought their music to be. (BTW, we also joke that Martin Luther was originally scheduled to be “Martin O’Malley” but that God wanted to shake up the mainland a bit so He sent him to the Luther family instead.) 😉