Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Glimmer of an Idea

My reading over a long time, recent conversations (and contests) over theological issues, some critical reflection on the liturgical practices of my own tradition in comparison to those of other traditions, and my general misfitedness have led me to this question (with overtones of schism, which I don't intend):

Might there be reason in a Lutheran-rite Orthodoxy? I'm not quite sure what that means: I think that the Lutherans (until the recent ELW) showed the most sense in structuring liturgy in a way that properly allowed for the inbreaking of the majesty of God (and, hence, set the proper tone of reverence and awe) while doing so in the mind- and culture-set of the West, which I find such problems in leaving behind. (Yes, I know that that means that I'm setting myself in the center and not being properly eccentric. But at least I'm honest about it.)

I think my chief complaint with my current status is that most of Lutheranism is so stuck in controversy and then without an awareness that polemic is not a good basis for systematic theological reflection that some of us Lutherans feel a need for something more stable. (That's a pretty ironic statement given the vast, sollid, and almost impenetrable Systematic Theologies that have issued from Lutheran theologians.) I am frankly more taken with the Eastern Orthodox orientation in theology than I am with the West's. But I experience such a culture shock when I worship with the Orthodox and I feel so out of place, that I realize that any crossing over would be extremely difficult. (And that doesn't even deal with cost of losing communion with my family and closest friends: Yes, Cha, I have put that too globally; there are various levels of communion, and oneness in Christ is possible even in the unacceptable experience of divisions in the Body of Christ.)

The Finnish Lutheran scholars have brought me to this point, I think. I don't want to swim -- the Tiber, the Bosporus, the Thames (and certainly not Lake Geneva!). But the discontent I feel might best be expressed by the phrase I have (I think) invented.

So like the kid who experiments with different nicknames, haircuts, and attitudes, I'm trying on the new moniker -- Lutheran-rite Orthodox. Nothing earth-shaking will happen, but perhaps I can feel more comfortable in the nest into which I was born and re-born if I change the nomenclature.


-C said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
-C said...

First time, TMI. Trying again -

It sounds like what you want is to have your cake and eat it, too.

I used to want that, also.
But eventually I came to realize that the church is not about me and what I want (or like, or prefer, or am familiar and comfortable with).

Western Rite Orthodox is about as close as you're gonna come to what it is you think you want as described here. But I don't even understand that, really - what's the point?

Dwight P. said...

-C, I wish you'd left up the first comment. I was expecting something like that when I posted this. (It's funny the people whom I expect to be looking over my shoulder when I write: "Oops, that'll get Z upset; oh B will love this; Y will zap me on this. Of course, few of you people actually post your comments here -- dang it!)

I realize as I write this that I reflect a kind of culture-protestant sensibility: I want the church to be "right for me." (I don't think this is restricted to protestants: Roman Catholics are church shopping as much as we prots. And I don't know the extent to which growth in the Orthodox branches is attributable exclusively to the whistling of the Holy Spirit.)

I will say honestly (as I think I have said to your face, so this isn't just an ethernet disputation) that I wrestle with this every time I consider going East: Is it possible to have been raised (and fairly well educated) in the West and then to become truly Eastern? How much enculturation is necessary and/or unavoidable for faith to be what it is meant to be?

I guess much of this comes down to the fact that I don't yet hear myself called OUT of Lutheranism, even though I do hear myself summoned TOWARD the East. Now I will be the first to say that I'm not a very good listener, and that may be the problem. Your voyage across the Bosporus took a lot longer than the pilgrimage I have been on, so maybe you are a sign of what awaits. I honestly don't know. But if I don't believe that there is any one "form" of Christian life/worship that is godly and necessary in contrast to all the others (except maybe I'd allow for the elimination of those blamed seeker services and lectures-cum-worship "experiences" of the televangelists), then I can't say -- e.g., that only Eastern liturgical rites and styles are true, even though I grant that the most basic expression and school of the Church's theology is her liturgy. (That's why I'm so completely disenchanted with _Evangelical Lutheran Worship_.)

I guess that the little involvement I have with the ecumenical movement and with ecumenism convinces me that the unity of the Church can indeed respect differences in style and dress. The issue is the truth of the faith -- truth as a person, Christ; truth as content, doctrine; truth as practice, liturgical and worldly. And if that is the case, I'm not ready to give up my cake even as I eat it. (As Moses and the Israelites discovered, if we enjoy the manna without trying to stock it up for the future, we can both have our cake and eat it too.)

Camassia said...

Having recently revisited both Lutheran and Orthodox churches, I sympathize. The Lutheran liturgy is still my favorite, even though I don't think much of the theology. I like a lot of what I've heard about Eastern theology but its services do seem alien.

I imagine that if a lot of westerners convert to Orthodoxy, a western version of the church will develop whether it's formed from on high or not. After all, Christianity was originally a Jewish Middle Eastern religion, and yet when it was adopted by Europeans it became Europeans. Of course, that took generations so that's not much comfort to you, but it's a thought.

Steve M said...

Funny you should bring this up as I have been mulling over a Lutheran-rite Catholicity for the last month or two and for some of the same reasons you mentioned. But, as you know, I too am fond of Orthodoxy theology and how it relates to Lutheranism (no shock there) so maybe your neoligsim is better.

I would love to hear you tease this out a bit. I *think* I know where you are coming from (and where you want to go) but I don't want to short-circuit the fun process (fun for me at least).

But for a starter course I'll give my two cents: Our political affiliations and proclivities are such that we tend to emphasis them any time we can; even when we shouldn't (read during the liturgy). And instead of allowing God speak to us through the liturgy we tend to speak over Him.

Let also be brutally honest, political correctness in the ELCA (although not limited to the ELCA) has made it even harder to be Lutheran for fear that we may offend. And, of course, the converse is true: just read Forum Letter for a taste.

Anyhoo, your turn Dwight.

Anonymous said...

But I experience such a culture shock when I worship with the Orthodox and I feel so out of place, that I realize that any crossing over would be extremely difficult.

Can you tell us why?

Anonymous said...

a lot of westerners convert to Orthodoxy, a western version of the church will develop whether it's formed from on high or not.

It's far from a western version of Orthodoxy, but a lot of Westerners have converted to Orthodoxy, especially in the Antiochian Archdiocese.

For example our parish priest and our bishop both went to Oral Roberts University and were evangelicals at one point.

Is it possible to have been raised (and fairly well educated) in the West and then to become truly Eastern?

I'm not sure that it is a matter of education. I was an evangelical off and on (more off than on) for 20 years before I "went east." There were a lot of issues I wrestled with. In the end the reasons I went East were (1) reading Pelikan's "The Christian Tradition" convinced me that the Orthodox Church is who she claims to be: the one True Church of Christ began by His Apostles; (2) The richness of the Divine Liturgy and worship compared to a superficial and irreverent evangelical experience; (3) the assuring presence of the bishop and knowing that the parish pastor/priest is not the final authority in matters of the faith; (4) instead of having to work out my personal theology on each and every issue I can look at what the Church believes, teaches, and confesses. There are probably other reasons but I think it boils down to these.

I'm very happy with becoming Orthodox and I encourage people to give a look at Orthodox Christianity. You will find the fullness of the Christian faith within the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church.

-Thomas K

Anonymous said...

I forgot to add that Bradley Nassif's opening essay in the book, "Three Views on Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism" was tremendously influential in moving me towards Orthodoxy.

Eleni Rose said...

Try an Orthodox Church in America Parish, www.oca.org. My parish for instance is at least 80% converts from all belief systems, i.e., Catholic, Lutheran, 7th Day, even a former Buddhist, just to mention a few. One of my fellow Choir members was Minister of Music at his former Lutheran Church before converting. I grew up Catholic but have been Orthodox for 35+ years.

God bless you all.


Camassia said...

I should clarify that by "a lot" of converts I meant culture-shaping numbers. Like, say, the way Baptists and Methodists helped form American culture, which in turn helped form the Baptist and Methodist denominations. I think that requires not only conversions, but having significant numbers of people born into those churches and growing up in both Orthodox and American contexts.

On another note, it occurs to me that when we westerners talk about Eastern churches, we easily forget that there are actually three separate, equally ancient communions over there. Dwight, have you ever looked into Oriental Orthodoxy? I don't know much about it but apparently the current Alexandrian patriarch is big on Christian unity and ecumenical dialogue, so you might relate. Though I have no idea how you'd plug into that from Minnesota.

Anonymous said...

Re. Oriental Orthodoxy I'm not sure of the detailed theological differences but you can read about the divergences here. I'm not sure about the statement of whether the two churches are in full communion or not.

Brian said...

I have heard stories of a Lutheran congregation in/around Pittsburgh that worships in an Orthodox manner... I don't know how accurate that is... just what I've heard.


Dwight P. said...

I have begun responses several times to many of the legitimate questions, arguments, ideas given expression here. And I fear that it would run to several pages. So I'll be addressing some of these issues in future posts. I promise, Steve, to "tease" out some of my thinking.

Let me say as a hint of what is to follow that one of the things that I want to affirm is that I very much appreciate Lutheran liturgy. Oh, not the ways that Lutheran liturgy is practiced in various places -- not the highly formalized and sterile Lutheran liturgy, and not the ritually negligent Lutheran liturgy that is shorn of ornament and reduced to as few "pieces" as necessary, and not the doctrinaire Lutheran liturgies (usually identifiable by the absence of a eucharistic prayer), and not the politically correct Lutheran liturgy foist upon my by my congregation's adoption of the deficient Evangelical Lutheran Worship (with its scandalous misshaping of the Psalms, its nearly heretical avoidance of the name of the Trinity, its lack of felicitous phrasing, and its quite unattractive cover-color -- that last criticism is simply a bitchy complement to the utterly serious ones that precede it).

But I deeply appreciate, and came to deeper faith as a result of, the Lutheran approach to liturgical style and substance that came to flower in the Lutheran Book of Worship.

It is a liturgical style that is most assuredly Western in its roots. But I am Western in my roots. I don't have to affirm the Enlightenment (much of which I do not--even as I write to you and in turn receive your communications back on one of the products of that Enlightenment!) to be Western. But I am Western because that is where I have been raised, how I have been enculturated where I fit(both intellectually and, usually, emotionally).

Even as I read Eastern writers on liturgy (chief among them, I admit, is the not-uncontroversial Alexander Schmemann, may his memory be eternal), I am struck by how the best of the Western liturgical tradition comports with their understandings and insights. While our forms of liturgical expression differ, the phenomena of our different liturgies converge.

When I travel to sister traditions, such as to a Roman Catholic or Episcopalian congregation, I feel that I "belong" not only because I get the deeper structure of what is happening, but also because I feel that it is my culture, my world. But I miss in those traditions the sophistication (how odd for a Lutheran to be so criticizing the Anglicans; good grief!)of Lutheran efforts to fashion a liturgy that lives as liturgy. I enjoy the fact that the Lutheran rite does not rely on a lot of explaining of what and why we are about to do: The Roman rite, in its drearier English translations anyway, almost assumes that people don't have eyes, ears, and minds to figure out what is happening. (Rewriting "and also with you" to "and with your spirit" -- because that's what the Latin literally says -- is not going to help there!) And the Anglican prayer book (of blessed artifact of a different era of language) is so wordy that one wonders whether the only catechizing that takes place is in the liturgy, so we have to cram in as much teaching as possible: Heaven forbid we say simply, "The blood of Christ for you," without half a page of embellishment so that the communicant can't possible allow her intellect and imagination soar to come to various meanings.

And in the East, the sense that various things are going on at the same time is, I suspect, something I could get used to. I can grant the explanations for why it is so structured (even if I don't really believe half of what is written about that). But mind and heart are so entwined with the Western "order" in all its various meanings, that I'm not sure that I want to change. (There, Cha, I admit it: I want my cake even as I devour it. But I remember the manna in the wilderness, so I'm not sure that it's NOT possible to have do so.)

And so, believing that lex orandi, lex credendi is a more compelling explanation of church life than is fides quaerens intellectum (with all apologies for my ignorance of Latin), I cannot imagine my life of faith lived outside of the Lutheran rite.

But it is precisely the faith into which I have been drawn and driven by the Lutheran liturgy, that I feel compelled to question aspects of Lutheran doctrine and life. And that is the story I am trying to tell.

More anon, as they say.

Takk for Alt said...

It is certainly fun and perhaps evening spiritually edifying to contemplate an Eastward movement toward Orthodoxy. The vision becomes ever more compelling with the ELCA's rush toward a Schmucker version of American Lutheranism. However (there always seems to be one of these) perhaps a reality check is in order. Most of those whom I know well in the ELCA will be stopped by the concept of discipline and subjection (read these as humility) required to be Orthodox (including a possible Lutheran Rite). Within Orthodoxy it is not possible even to talk of ordination of women and certainly not gay, lesbian, or transgendered people ergo for many in the ELCA this is a non-starter. If it a question of a preferable liturgial practice, nothing precludes a Lutheran congregation from using the eastern rite (with the possible exception of the wide use of incense required for such worship). With regard to those for whom the above mentioned are not impediments, conisder the possibility of any of the Orthodox Autocephalus churches entertaining such a rite within their communions and it would seem that the dream fades. For a way to spend some time away from reality the dream of a Lutheran-rite Orthodox church might fit the bill, but as for realtiy??? I don't think so.

Dwight P. said...

Well, Takk, no one said it would be easy -- or even possible. But note one thing: I am not interested (in this thread) in adopting Eastern liturgies; the point is that the Lutheran rite is meet, right, and salutary (with the conditions I hint at above). The point is to elevate the thought of the East in the minds and hearts of those who worship as Lutherans (at least of a certain stripe) do.

In my congregation, for example, with the exception of the language of ELW, we practice as we did under LBW. Unfortunately, most of our people, I think, operate with a liberal-protestant or aesthetic mentality so that the liturgy is a marketing tool or a reason for pride or an almost ecstatic experience. There is a regretable lack (not absolute and far from uniform) of connection to the historic tradition (or Great Tradition). In other words, our liturgy does not inform our theologizing as it ought.

I want to encourage a theological stance that reflects the East more than Augustine and Aquinas (who may not be big on Lutheran agenda, but whom Lutherans spend a lot of time fighting against, whether they realize it or not -- or, worse, emulating with talk of natural theology and all that).

In the words of a friend of mine, we need less "worm theology" and more theosis (in word and deed). My friend Paul is likely clutching his chest and gasping for breath at that! (Sorry, Brother.) We need to integrate the insights of the Finnish Lutheran scholars into the life of a church that gathers weekly (yes, in the midst of smoke!) around word and sacraments.

Now, Takk, I don't propose trying to move our Chaste-Whore ELCA into this posture. That would most certainly be a dead cause at the outset. I'm thinking more along schismatic lines (another good Lutheran trait -- at least along one side of the Lutheran tree). Since we are not asked to subscribe the Lutheran confessions when we become Lutherans (although those of us at least once ordained may have to do some jesuitical dancing to avoid the issue), it does not seem to me to be a violation of discipline to think along these lines.

Just as there can be talk of a "new monasticism" and an "emerging Church" (I still don't get that) and such, I think there will be increasing interest in alternatives to the liturgical alternatives offered the faithful.

And I think I've lost track of what I started to say, so I must re-group at another time.

Anonymous said...

Within Orthodoxy it is not possible even to talk of ordination of women and certainly not gay, lesbian, or transgendered people.

The position of the Orthodox Church regarding gay, lesbian, or transgendered lifestyles is ably set out by Fr. Thomas Hopko.

As for the ordination of women, a good explanation of why women are not ordained in the Orthodox Church can be found here.

Please note that it's not my intent to start debates on these separate issues (such debates never end), only to provide more information on the Orthodox Christian position on these matters which you can then read at your leisure.

Anonymous said...

The point is to elevate the thought of the East in the minds and hearts of those who worship as Lutherans (at least of a certain stripe) do.

I agree this is a noble sentiment but you would have to look at the mystical union between Orthodox Liturgy and Orthodox Theology. That is, can you "elevate" Orthodox Theology without the Liturgy? Can one separate the two? I'm not sure that's possible since so much of Orthodox theology is expressed through the Liturgy. The way to elevate is via the Liturgy. So, you have to have those expressions of Orthodox though in the Lutheran rite.. how do you do this?

Dwight P. said...

I think that the interrelation between liturgy and theology, as reflected in the ancient axiom, "lex credendi, lex orandi," is not only critical; it simply is. There can be no Christian thought and life without liturgy; there can be no liturgy without study, discipline, practice. (Note that I think I use "theology" less as a pointer to intellectual activity than as a moniker for the entire life of growing into fullness of relationship with God -- i.e., the growth of heart and hands, mind and strength, will and imagination into congruity with God's will. "Theosis" is theology, I think.)

I think the Lutheran rite is far from exploited -- or let me put it another way, less than fulfilled -- as it is currently practiced. It is, I think, hampered by both Lutheran intellectism and Lutheran pietism. For Lutheran liturgy to be fulfilled, I think, requires a reformation of theological thinking that recognizes and embraces many of the caesurae in Lutheran dogmatic writings -- e.g., the centrality of the Church, the existential tension between the individual and the community, the unbreakable connection between "justification" and "sanctification," just to name a few. It's there in the liturgy, if the liturgy is allowed to hold centrality of place in the Christian experience -- something it is usually not allowed to do in even the most sophisticated "Lutheran" churches (congregations and denominations).

I think that if we take our cues from the Finns (by which I mean the school of Luther students who have re-discovered a more "Eastern" perspective on Luther), we find that the Luther orientation is much more Eastward than most of us have been taught. And to reclaim it from a kind of bondage (perhaps too strong a word -- but one with Lutheran roots) to Western thought is actually to serve the Reformation, not to deny it. But it is also to revivify the Reformation (well, Lutheran anyway) notion of itself as a reform movement within the Church. (We just have to expand the understanding of "Church" beyond that which finds itself focussed on Rome.)

On this, I think I am at odds with beloved Pope Benedict, whom I interpret to require a kind of Western-philosophy tie in for Christian thought to be pure. I'm way to unlearned to dispute that claim at more than an emotional level. But I clearly don't buy his assessment (and that may be why I am not hitching my wagon to those stars who desire a Lutheran-rite Catholic church).

Nice challenges are coming my way. And I realize that I don't deal with them very directly. But the obliqueness of my reply ought at least to signal that you keep me thinking.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

This is just a random thought. Does the dialogue between Patriarch Jeremiah II and the Tubingen Lutheran scholars shed any light on this question for you?

I agree with your statement that "we find that the Luther orientation is much more Eastward than most of us have been taught."

Anonymous said...

Oh by the way in my sentence above should be:

So, you have to have those expressions of Orthodox thought in the Lutheran rite.. how do you do this?

That missing "t" might have been significant.

-C said...

In light of this post, you might find this interesting (or not). Just putting it out there.


Steve M said...

-C: Interesting post from someone who obviously has given this very subject some thought.

To the extent that other Christian traditions can help us better learn and grow in faith is all to the good as far as I'm concerned. I'm less worried about syncretism between trinitarian, sacramental,creedal traditions than I am about the lack of receptivity to what the Holy Spirit might be trying to affect in the one holy, catholic and apostolic church.

Which brings me to my second quibble: Can Christian traditions that hold, fundamentally, the same views (the Trinity, Sacraments --particularly the Eucharist, to name a couple) really be be charged with syncretism? Are we really so parochial that one can't or ought not, when shown the fidelity and integrity of a doctrine from another denomination, incorporate that doctrine into ones own tradition so long as it isn't in fundamental disagreement with ones received doctrine? (rhetorical question -- no need to answer). If this is in fact the case then ecumenical dialog should just stop now.

The author to her credit seems to allow for the learning from another tradition just so long as it isn't "appropriated" out of context. And I can see her point. But if what we are talking about is, for example, a better understanding and emphasis on the Trinity for an already trinitarian denomination then I say Amen!

-C said...

Steve -
My response to your comments is here: http://transposzing.blogspot.com/2008/11/rite-thing.html