Tradition–And Lutheran Stuff Again

In the face of a spate of recent criticisms of the new (ELCA) Lutheran worship book, the Lutheran Zephyr raises an important set of questions and issues. He writes:

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.

4 thoughts on “Tradition–And Lutheran Stuff Again

  1. The young fogey

    It’s my understanding as an outsider who knows a few former Lutherans that their worship wars not only may be traditional versus modern but there’s always been at least a tension between on one hand the distinctive Lutheran doctrinal orthodoxy and liturgical semi-Catholicism brought to America from Europe and on the other blending in with mainstream American Protestantism and now modern American evangelicalism – let’s get rid of vestments and the hymnal and have a praise band and overhead projector like the Baptist megachurch, that kind of thing. (Which affects the LCMS too.)

  2. Derek the Ænglican

    Yes, YF, and what makes it even more complicated is how this fits within the history of the development of the tradition. In some senses, Lutheranism in America is a complicated alignment of tribal groups. To really understand Lutheran conflict, you need to have a sense of the history of the various predecessor bodies. To the informed insider a throw-away, “Oh, that’s a former Suomi Synod church” brings an understanding nod and a change in topic. Lines between varieties of churchmanship and retention of catholic elements are often connect to issues of nationalism–particularly as it relates to the political fortunes of Norway in relation to her neighbors and various regional tensions within Germany.

    As a simple for-instance, two ELCA Lutherans may stare hard at one another over this book as one comes through the LCA-ULC-Augustana Synod tradition of the very catholic Church of Sweden while the other comes through the ALC-ELC tradition of Norwegian pietist lay preachers. Both are authentically Lutheran and may even hold to the Confession–but in very different ways. Add in further non-Confessional complications like Evangelical or Liberal Protestant incursions against Lutheran Confessional theology and things start getting *really* messy.

    So–to make a long story short, east-facing altars are a logical extension of certain strands of Lutheranism, but praise bands too can be seen as a logical extension of certain schools of Lutheran pietism as well.

    The Anglican Churches have just as many divisions, of course, we just all talk past each other in a common tongue… ;-)

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