When large numbers of congregations reject the beloved traditions
enshrined within Lutheran Book of Worship (and Service Book and
Hymnal), what is the ELCA to do?
- Should the ELCA just sit there and do nothing while an
increasing number of congregations fish around for worship resources
from other traditions?
- Should the ELCA whip these congregations into Latin-rubric
submission and simply give them more of the traditional liturgies that
they are already rejecting?
- Or should the ELCA venture to create liturgies that embrace the
spirit – if not the letter – of the church’s grand liturgical
tradition, while simultaneously welcoming new language, tunes and
The ELCA had to create a book for the church we have – a diverse
church whose identity 20 years post-merger is not yet formed – not for
the church some of us wish we had. We’re a church, for
better or worse, with a congregational polity, freedom in matters of
worship, diverse heritages, and pieties that range from evangelical
catholic to haugian. Would a Lutheranized Book of Common Prayer be the
prescription for this church? That seems to be the answer Pfatteicher
and others would provide, but it is not the right answer for our
I note in this passage the many times and many ways in which the word tradition is used. In particular, I want to draw attention to the ways that the word is used in the three bulleted points. (Let me preface this by saying that I’m not criticizing the Zephyr here, rather I’m interested in how the word is functioning rhetorically.)
In the first case, “tradition” is that which is alien–given the contrast with “ELCA”, these would appear to refer to non- and un-Lutheran traditions. I’m thinking he means praise choruses and “contemporary” music from low-church denominations and para-church movements. But I find myself wondering if “Catholic” traditions would be included in this category or not.
In the second case, “traditional” is both natively Lutheran and pejorative. Traditional is that which is being rejected. Interestingly, this same use is modified by “beloved” in the opening paragraph of the quote, clearly drawing a distinction between those for whom these traditions are “beloved” (i.e., Pr. Pfatteicher, LutherPunk, myself, etc.) and the greater majority of Lutherans who are rejecting them.
In light of these two, the third use is particularly interesting. Here “tradition” is modified by “grand” and “liturgical.” The rhetorical intent identifies liturgies that are, once again, natively Lutheran but are distinguished from those being rejected. The “grand” implies (for me at least) both a broader scope—perhaps implying that the (or a) reason for the rejection in the liturgies in 2 is that they were narrowly or parochially Lutheran—and implying an aesthetic difference.
The Zephyr is confronting, I believe, one of the major issues that faces church leaders and liturgists of our generation. That is, in the face of disjunctive upheaval in our societies and our denominations, how do we connect or reconnect with the “grand traditions”–liturgical and otherwise–from which we believe we should take our bearings? At the root, it’s a question about identity.
Furthermore, it’s a question about direction. Here we are at this time and in these places. Where do we go from here and where should we look for guidance? How do we talk about who we are and how do we shape who we will be?
I’ve wrestled with these same questions before on this blog. In a piece I linked to yesterday I talk about my reaction to the construction of liturgy and tradition in the Anglican Missal while in this post I discuss the elusive quality of tradition especially when it’s backed by historical research. Yes, research and historical knowledge complicate rather than simplify the issues.
I’m guessing that the Zephyr and I agree on the big picture: tradition is not a thing to be grasped for its own sake but rather is a thing to be pursued because of the ways that it enables us as individuals and as “traditions” to proclaim the Good News of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ and the effect that this Good News should have upon our lives–what we think, what we do, how we choose to be incarnate in the world.
I also know we have some disagreements on the little picture –how this works out on the micro-level, especially liturgically. As a Lutheran I was very much for a “Lutheranized Book of Common Prayer.” Indeed, I argued that given the freedom of liturgies enshrined in Augsburg Confession, Article 7, there was no reason why Lutheran congregations couldn’t use the BCP as is…
Disagreements aside, this conversation about how we uncover, construct and utilize a “grand tradition” is an essential one. Lutherans, Episcopalians, Catholics, and others should not only be having these conversations in their own groups but should be sharing methods, findings, and dead ends on the road. Personally, that’s one of the things I’m hoping to achieve with this blog. So, while I disagree with some of the choices that the Lutheran Zephyr might make in his construction, I heartily encourage and support his process of discovery and construction as I parallel it with my own.