Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Pastoral Concern -- Being concerned for the right reasons

A number of weeks ago, before we began a pot luck meal at church, the pastor was asked to pray.  So I said: "Bless us, O Lord, and these, thy gifts, which we are about to receive from your bountiful mercy, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen."

The reaction was interesting.  Those who had been raised in Roman Catholic families were quick to join right in.  Others commented on this "Roman Catholic" prayer.  My response: "Like they OWN that prayer!"  All in all, it was no big deal.  I prayed.  We ate.

Then a few weeks later after praying for another meal, someone commented (though joking), "Oh, we didn't say the Catholic prayer this time."

Now, I don't think this little incident has really been divisive or scandalous in our little congregation, but the comment a few weeks after the incident got me thinking about rites, ceremonies, and other things which are labeled Roman Catholic--and often wrongly so.

Consider another word of instruction: "When you awake in the morning, make the sign of the holy cross on yourself and say, 'In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.'"  We begin our Adult Bible Class this way every Sunday.  Though most do not make the sign of the cross on themselves (and are not forced to do so), these words are plainly in print.

What gives with these incidents?  Is the pastor a closet Roman Catholic after all?

It may interest people to know that the source for both the aforementioned rites (the prayer and the invocation) is Luther's Small Catechism.  Rome does not have exclusive claim on these things.  They are, however, catholic, that is to say, good Christian rites and practices.  They belong to the whole Church.

It should also interest people to know that the Evangelical Lutheran Church did not reject the rites and ceremonies of the Church.  It did reject false doctrine, and it, therefore, had to jettison portions of the rites and ceremonies of Rome.  But nothing was rejected or discarded simply because the Church of Rome practiced it.  These rites and ceremonies were the practice of the Church.  They belong to the Church, not to Rome.

When the statement is uttered, "That's Roman Catholic," people usually mean, "I don't like that."  If a person is so bold as to label a rite or ceremony as Roman Catholic, he also ought to explain clearly what makes that rite or ceremony explicitly Roman Catholic.  If he cannot explain how or why it is, then he has no business making the charge.  Such a person is a bully who just wants to have things the way he likes them, and the charge he makes sullies the reputation of a faithful pastor using good Christian rites and ceremonies, even if they are mostly unused by Christians in a particular segment of the Church.  Please understand, I don't feel that anyone has wronged me or accused me of heresy.  I am not seeking apologies.  I am merely hoping to use the previous incidences as a teachable moment about labeling what is Roman and what is catholic.

Making the sign of the cross is not exclusively a Roman Catholic practice any more than saying the Lord's Prayer in a Divine Service or saying Grace for one's meal prayer is Roman Catholic.  These things belong to the Church.  We do well to remember that these are OUR rites and ceremonies as much as any other Christian's.  Why deprive ourselves of useful and laudable things when we can enjoy and employ their usage?

If you want to tell me that the rites and ceremonies we use are catholic (note: small "c" there), I will not argue with you.  I could have sworn that the Augsburg Confession goes to great lengths to say that the Evangelical Lutheran Church is a catholic church, and we have the rites, ceremonies, and doctrines to prove it.  In fact, I did swear to it--literally--at my ordination.

We need not fear the things that are catholic.  We cannot keep the errors of Rome.  And we ought to know the difference between the two.  If you don't know the difference, your pastor should be able to tell you.  You have called him to do as much, and God holds him accountable for faithfully doing so.

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