A new liturgy

The rumor has been going around that this new liturgy will be replacing Divine Service One in the Lutheran Service Book.   It dates, though, from April 1.  That is to say, April Fool’s Day.  (HT:  Todd Wilken.)  Still, I suspect this order of service will inspire both outrage and the desire to adopt it:

OUR SERVICE
Setting One

GREETING AND AFFIRMATION

A MEDLEY OF MOOD-SETTING SONGS is sung. Stand spontaneously during the final Guitar Solo
The sign of applause may be made by all in gratitude to the PRAISE BAND.

P.    Good Morning!

C.   Good Morning.

P.    Aw, come on now. Say it like you mean it. Good Morning!

C.    Good Morning!

P. Give yourselves a hand.
Applause

MESSAGE

Silence for Preparation of the Power Point Projection.

P.    Let’s lift our hearts to God in prayer.

A MOOD-SETTING MELODY is played quietly in the background. This MELODY continues through the prayer and for 2 minutes into the MESSAGE. It begins again 2 minutes before the end of the MESSAGE.

The Pastor speaks an EXTEMPORANEOUS PRAYER.
P. Lord, we just want to thank you…

…because You’re an awesome God. And all God’s people said…

C.    Amen.

P.   Aw, come on now. Say it like you mean it.

C.  Amen!

A RELEVANT, GENERALLY INSPIRING MESSAGE is spoken by the Pastor, as well as a series of ANNOUNCEMENTS AND PROMOTIONS, concluding with another EXTEMPORANEOUS PRAYER.

MORE AWESOME MUSIC

A MEDLEY OF INCREASINGLY UPBEAT SONGS is sung. Standing Ovation

P.    Have a great week everybody!
Applause

P.   Aw, come on now. Clap like you mean it!

Applaud until the Pastor smiles and signals to stop.

P.  Give yourselves a hand.

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven”

Our Scripture reading in church yesterday included this passage from John 20:

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews,[c] Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

via John 20 ESV – The Resurrection – Now on the first day – Bible Gateway.

(1)  We Lutherans believe that this passage teaches that Christ gives the Holy Spirit to the Church, which includes the authority to forgive sins.  This is exercised in vocation–that is, God acting through human beings–when the called pastor gives absolution during individual or corporate confession (the latter of which is part of every worship service).   After the individual or congregation admits their sins, the pastor says that as a called and ordained servant of the Lord, “I forgive you your sins.”

(2)  But that authority is not just given to pastors, but to the whole congregation, which has called the pastor to exercise this gift on its behalf.  But laypeople too can forgive sins and absolve those who confess their sins to them.  Again, it is Christ who forgives, but He applies that forgiveness through individual Christians.  (Isn’t that right?  Perhaps someone can explain the parameters.)

(3)  So when we forgive someone, according to this Scripture, that affects not only our feelings about the person who has wronged us.  Rather, that actually does something to the person that is recognized in Heaven.  (Right, Lutheran pastors?)

(4)  I know this sounds outlandish to you non-Lutherans.  But how else can you account for these verses (especially John 20:23)?  Do you think that only the Disciples were given this power?  Or what?

What the “nones” believe

Lutheran sociologist Peter Berger discusses the phenomena of the “nones,” the growing demographic–currently 19% of the American population– that is unaffiliated with any religion.  Some say this group represents the secular elite, a wave of atheism, the sexually-liberated young people reacting against the sexual restrictions of religion.  But, says Berger, the evidence suggests otherwise:

The “nones” are most strongly represented among people with an income under $30,000, with high school graduation or less, who are married but (interestingly) without children. I am enough of a sociologist to think that class comes in somewhere in this matter, but it is unlikely to be a major factor.

I find most intriguing the Pew data on the religious beliefs and behavior of the “nones”. Let us stipulate that the “nones”, especially if they are young, are repelled by the neo-Puritanism of religious conservatives. But does this mean that they have decided (in the words of the authors) “to opt out of religion altogether”? I am strongly inclined to say no. Back to Pew data: 60% of “nones” say that they believe in God, as against 22% who say not. 41% say that religion is important in their lives, a minority as against the 57% who say that religion is not important—but a minority large enough to contradict the assertion that the “nones” have turned against religion altogether. What they have clearly turned away from is participation in institutional worship: 72% say that they seldom or never attend church services.

Let me, with all due respect for Campbell and Putnam [authors of a book on the subject that Berger is reviewing], suggest a hypothesis of my own: Most “nones” have not opted out of religion as such, but have opted out of affiliation with organized religion. Among Christians (the great majority of all survey respondents) there are different reasons for this disaffection. The two authors are very probably correct that, broadly speaking, those who are turned off by Evangelicals and conservative Catholics do so because they don’t like the repressive sexual morality of those churches (the sexual abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church has not helped). But the “nones” have also exited from mainline Protestantism, which has been much more accommodating to the liberationist ethic. Here, I think, there has been frustration with what my friend and colleague Thomas Luckmann long ago called “secularization from within”—the stripping away of the transcendent dimensions of the Gospel, and its reduction to conventional good deeds, popular psychotherapy and (mostly left-of-center) political agendas. Put differently: My hypothesis implies that some “nones” are put off by churches that preach a repressive morality, some others by churches whose message is mainly secular.

What then do these people believe? There is very likely a number (in America a relatively small one) of “nones” who are really without religion—agnostics or (even fewer) outright atheists. The latter have been encouraged by the advocates of the so-called “new atheism”—which is not new at all, but rather a reiteration of a tired 19th-century rationalism, pushed by a handful of writers who have been misrepresented as an important cultural movement. Presumably it is committed atheists who spark litigation over allegations that, for instance, a Christmas tree in a public park is a violation of the constitution. The bulk of the “nones” probably consist of a mix of two categories of unaffiliated believers—in the words of the British sociologist Grace Davie, people who “believe without belonging”. There are those who have put together an idiosyncratic personal creed, putting together bits and pieces of their own tradition with other components. Robert Wuthnow, the most productive and insightful sociologist of American religion, has called this “patchwork religion”. This includes the kind of people who will say “I am Catholic, but…”, followed by a list of items where they differ from the teachings of the church. The other category are the children—by now, grandchildren—of the counter-culture. They will most often say, “I am spiritual, not religious”. The “spirituality” is typically an expression of what Colin Campbell, another British sociologist, has called “Easternization”—an invasion of Western civilization by beliefs and practices from Asia. A few of these are organized, for instance by the various Buddhist schools. But most are diffused in an informal manner—such as belief in reincarnation or the spiritual continuity between humans and nature, and practices like yoga or martial arts.

via The Religiously Unaffiliated in America | Religion and Other Curiosities.

So 60% of those who belong to no religion believe in God, and 41% say religion is important to them, even though they don’t have one.  I agree with Berger that the privatization of religion–the anti-institutionalism that rejects churches and “organized religion” and the impulse to devise one’s own personal theology–accounts for much of this.

That’s a useful term:  “secularization from within.”  That is, the way churches have embraced secular values, thus rendering themselves superfluous.

What other observations can you make about the “nones”?

Are any of you readers “nones,” and if so does any of this ring true?

HT:  Matthew Cantirino

Scandals at the biggest Christian TV network

Christianity has a presence on television.  Unfortunately, its presence come from Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), a forum that presents a schlocky and embarrassing version of Christianity, its programming consisting mostly of “prosperity gospel” preachers.  It’s interesting how such ventures are so often accompanied by overt corruption and scandal.  From World Magazine:

A $50 million jet. Chauffeurs. Mansions in California and Florida. Clandestine affairs. Crimes and cover-up. Even a $100,000 motor home for the pet dog.

These are just a few of the allegations directed against the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) and its directors in a pair of lawsuits filed in February by former employees of the nation’s largest Christian broadcasting network.

The first lawsuit, filed on Feb. 1 in U.S. District Court in California, contains charges by Brittany Koper, the former chief financial officer of TBN and the granddaughter of founders Paul and Janice Crouch. Her lawsuit is not against TBN but against Davert & Loe, one of TBN’s law firms. Koper’s suit says she discovered illegal activities when she became head of finance. Among the alleged activities: “the unlawful distribution of the TBN Companies’ charitable assets to Trinity Broadcasting’s directors,” some of whom are Crouch family members. The suit says “these unlawful financial transactions” exceed $50 million.

She took that information to Davert & Loe, seeking legal advice. The firm “acknowledged that the conduct in question was unlawful but nevertheless advised … Ms. Koper to perform and cover up such unlawful activities,” according to the lawsuit. The suit also says lawyers in the firm harassed her sexually. She seeks more than $500,000 in damages.

The other lawsuit is against Trinity Christian Center of Santa Ana, one of TBN’s corporate entities, as well as other TBN entities and Davert & Loe. Joseph McVeigh, Koper’s uncle, says TBN sued him in retaliation against Koper. A judge dismissed TBN’s claims against McVeigh, who now seeks legal fees and “punitive and exemplary damages.”

Both lawsuits paint a sordid picture of TBN, including allegations that Janice Crouch had an “affair with a staff member at the Holy Land Experience,” a TBN-owned amusement park in Florida. The suit also accuses Matthew Crouch, a TBN director and the son of Paul and Janice Crouch, of sexual and financial misconduct. Koper’s suit said that Matthew Crouch brought a gun to one meeting. He “began tapping the firearm … and asked Ms. Koper what she thought would happen [if] she wrote a memo to the board critical of Matthew Crouch’s financial improprieties.”

via WORLDmag.com | TBN again | Warren Cole Smith | Apr 07, 12.

Christianity and politics, reconsidered

E. J. Dionne is a Catholic who is liberal politically.  I wonder, though, if all sides could find some agreement in what he says about Christianity recognizing the “limits” of politics:

It’s hard not to notice that Christianity hasn’t been presented in its own best light during this election year because Christians have not exactly been putting forward their best selves.

My colleague Michael Gerson wrote recently about the “crude” way religion has played out in the Republican primaries, including “the systematic subordination of a rich tradition of social justice to a narrow and predictable political agenda.”

Gerson is exactly right, but I don’t propose to use his admirable column as an excuse to pile onto the religious right. Instead, I want to suggest that what should most bother Christians of all political persuasions is that there are right and wrong ways to apply religion to politics, and much that’s happening now involves the wrong ways. Moreover, popular Christianity often seems to denigrate rather than celebrate intellectual life and critical inquiry. This not only ignores Christian giants of philosophy and science but also plays into some of the very worst stereotypes inflicted upon religious believers.

What I’m not saying is that Christianity should be disengaged from politics. In fact, the early Christian movement was born in politics, in oppositional circles within Judaism fighting Roman oppression. There is great debate over how to understand the relationship between Jesus’s spirituality and his approach to politics, but his preaching clearly challenged the powers-that-be. He was, after all, crucified.

But because Christians have a realistic and non-utopian view of human nature, they should be especially alive to the ambiguities and ambivalences of politics. The philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain captured this well in reflecting on Augustine’s writings. “If Augustine is a thorn in the side of those who would cure the universe once and for all,” she wrote, “he similarly torments critics who disdain any project of human community, or justice, or possibility.”

Christians, she’s saying, thus have a duty to grasp both the possibilities and the limits of politics. This, in turn, means that the absolutism so many associate with Christian engagement in politics ought to be seen as contrary to the Christian tradition. And that’s the case even if many Christians over the course of history have acted otherwise.

via A kinder mix of religion and politics during Holy Week – The Washington Post.

Now liberals keep bashing conservative Christians for their relatively recent interest in politics.  They don’t say much, though, about the overtly political agendas of the liberal churches.  I grew up in one of them and attended their conferences.  It has been said (by sociologist Peter Berger) that the best way to understand what the American left is up to is to attend meetings of the National Council of Churches. That agenda, by the way, is utterly utopian.

So I can appreciate what Dionne says, especially if he is willing to apply it to his own side.  (Liberal Catholics, by the way, are just as politically focused with a leftwing ideology as the Protestants in the National Council of Churches, if not more so, what with the revolutionary ideology of liberation theology.)

At the same time, all of this talk about “social justice” strikes me as rank hypocrisy as long as it excludes the justice due to babies being killed in their mother’s wombs.  In fact, I would argue that much of the “Christian right” is animated primarily by horror at legalized abortion.  And that if the issue of abortion were taken off the table–either by Democrats tolerating pro-lifers or Republicans embracing pro-choicers–the Christian right would diffuse its presence politically, though they won’t go away as long as this grotesque social evil continues.

“God hidden in the death of Christ”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (who has announced that he is stepping down) has some perceptive comments about Luther, the Reformation, and the Theology of the Cross:

“The Reformation put a question of the utmost gravity to all Christians, a question about the continuity and dependability of human response to God. It affirmed that the Church was capable of error; that no amount of scholastic tidiness could guarantee fidelity to God; that there was in the Church no secure locus of unquestionable authority. It pointed eloquently to human brokenness, the failure of reason and order. But it did so only to claim triumphantly that the Church’s security lay in this very failure, in the insecurity and un-rootedness which drove it always back to its spring in the Word made broken flesh. Against the self-sufficiency of Christendom is set – rightly and decisively – the cross. To Christians looking for a sign, an assurance, it offered only the ‘sign of the Son of Man’, God hidden in the death of Christ… Luther is a reminder to Catholic and Protestant alike that the strength of Christianity is its refusal to turn away from the central and unpalatable facts of human self-destructiveness; that it is there, in the bitterest places of alienation, that the depth and scope of Christ’s victory can be tasted, and the secret joy which transforms all experience from within can come to birth, the hidden but all-pervading liberation.” (p. 160-61)

via Rowan Williams on Martin Luther and the Cross-Shattered Church | Mockingbird.

The quotation is from his book Wound of Knowledge: Christian Spirituality from the New Testament to St. John of the Cross.


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