Saturday, October 31, 2009

Something scary: Reform!

As a parent and a suburbanite — as well as someone who occasionally watches TV — today is defined as Halloween. A few of us (maybe more Anglicans than other Prods) will remember the Celtic link. As the TEC rationalization for a Halloween-specific liturgy helpfully explains:
The term “Halloween”, is shortened from “All-hallow-even”, as it is the eveningbefore All Hallows' Day. Halloween originated with the Celtic tribes who lived in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany. For the Celts this Festival marked the endof summer - the coming of winter. For Celts it is a time when the bridge that separates the world of the living and the world of the dead becomes firmer,allowing spirits and ghosts and ghouls to cross over. These spirits or departedsouls are honored and asked to grant luck and prosperity
However, as someone who briefly walked on the German side, today is also the 492nd anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenburg. The Lutheran church (or at least the LCMS churches I’ve attended) make a big deal about this every year — it is their day, and that makes sense since it marks the beginning of their branch of Christianity and (John Calvin notwithstanding) the Reformation. I’m still hoping to make it to Wittenburg in 2017 for the festivities but perhaps that’s a forlorn hope.

The more I learned about Luther — the theses, his small and large catechism — the more I liked. On the big issues (sin, salvation, communion) I didn’t see anything in Lutheran doctrine that would prevent me from being an Anglican. And often I find it comforting to read Lutheran doctrine, precisely because the Lutherans actually have doctrine rather than those squishy 39 Articles that encompass a wide range of (sometimes conflicting) Anglican beliefs.

With the Vatican’s recent invitation to disaffected Anglicans, 2009 seems like a particularly interesting time for Anglicans (and Protestants) more generally to think about Luther and the Reformation. Martin Luther didn’t set out to create a new church but to reform the existing one. Similarly, many Anglo-Catholics long more for a Catholic church without its faults rather than dream of a perfected CoE.

Another interesting recent development is that the Catholic intellectual journal First Things has started a blog called evangel for evangelicals to help promote dialog among American Christians. (LCMS pastor/blogger Rev. Paul McCain has been spotted making comments there). The news peg of Reformation Day has extended the ongoing conversation of what divides and unites Christians across the Tiber. For example, Hunter Baker (whose parents were Catholic and Church of Christ) on Friday summarized his dilemma as follows:
The division of the church scandalizes me, especially in the world we live in. Part of the reason we lost as much as we did in American culture is because the Protestants worried more about “Romanism” than they did about secularism.

I wish I could see the Reformation’s end in sight, in a way that would somehow satisfy us all.
This was not the only evangel posting about Reformation Day. Blogger Jared Wilson notes that if the Catholics are excessively ceremonial, when it comes to (Calvinist) Protestants:
we are Keystone Kops over here. We are the Million Stooges, the overflowing clown car.

I think one reason the Reformation was so brilliant, so powerful, so swift in its spread, and still such an anchor—honestly: Luther and Calvin and Zwingli,, but especially Luther, make me feel sane—for many of us today is because as it was taking shape and rescuing hearts, there was no Protestant Church yet to discredit it.
I’d like to think that’s the one thing that liturgical Protestants (esp. Anglo-Catholics) do well. We are a serious bunch, focusing on preserving the faith through the generations, without either infallible pontiffs or all-too-fallible televangelists. (Of course, the bells and smells and other rituals often take the place of actual belief — but hey, nobody’s perfect.)

On a happier note, “Byzantine Calvinist” blogger David Koyzis posted a YouTube video of Luther’s famous doctrinal hymn: Ein' Feste Burg ist Unser Gott, noting its derivation from Psalm 46, a psalm that provided comfort to Luther during his long fight to reform the Church. (Like the LCMS types, Koyzis favors the original syncopated rhythm rather than the even rhythm most of us know.)

Even if the latest efforts at church reunification bear fruit, there will be many more Reformation Days in which Protestants and Catholics worship separately the same God who gave us the same Scriptures.

If nothing else, I think we should rejoice that the splintering of the church brought us all those great stanzas from the Protestants hymnodists: Luther, Watts, Wesley — with translations by Winkworth — as well as tunes from Bach, Haydn, Vaughan Williams, S.S. Wesley and so many others. I still love my medieval Catholic plainsong (as translated by J.M. Neale), but our Sunday worship would be impoverished if we lost all the music that has been written in the past 450+ years by Protestant apologists.

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