Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Even More ELW

If you thought my review of ELW took a bitchy tone before now, just wait. I was just having fun until I got to the Creeds. Now I'm really upset.

The first thing you'll notice when you read the Nicene Creed is that is adopts the first-person-plural point of view - "We believe" instead of "I believe." This is because a bunch of liturgical smart-alecks and church historians have decided we should use the original text of the creed (which did, around 1,500 years ago, begin with "We believe"). I'm all for historical authenticity and what-not, but I should think the many centuries in which the church confessed the Nicene Creed in the singular ("I believe") should count for something. The third of five parts of the "ordinary" of the historic Holy Communion service, practiced in common by Lutherans, Catholics, Anglicans, and western Christianity in general, begins in Latin with "Credo" ("I believe"), and it is in that form that composers from Guillaume Dufay to the present have set it to music - including such Lutheran maestros as Bach. As in the case of the historic lectionary, but I think more seriously, the liturgical/historical smart-alecks would sever us from the continuum of church history in the name of some ridiculous ideal, such as repristinating the 4th century. I don't know where their heart is, but their head isn't in the right place.

Let me put this in terms that probably mean more to the average Joe or Joanne Blow in the pew. How do you like the idea of not being able to say the creed together with anyone whose church doesn't use the same book, or even to say the version you learned until now? As you stumble over different words for a creed that should never ever change - though it has changed, and for the second time since 1978 at that - does it comfort you to think that you're using the same verb form as St. Athanasius? Or does that seem like a paltry compensation?

This is one of several areas where an enthusiasm for historical authenticity has had the ironic effect of canceling out a millennium of church history. After encountering a number of similar absurdities, I was caught up in an epiphany. I realized that a historically pure, authentic, catholic/apostolic liturgy is a pipe dream. It is a hoax, a sham, a deception. It does not exist! Some people may chase after it forever, but it will never be realized; and in the meantime, they will routinely and wantonly destroy many salutary customs that, for some time, have anchored the church in the faith once delivered to the saints.

So it's "We believe in one God" now. All right. That's not even the bad part. Nor is, necessarily, the dumbed-down language such as "all that is, seen and unseen," though I'm not sure "invisible" and "unseen" mean the same thing. "Eternally begotten" could pass for "begotten...before all worlds." I'm hip to phrases like "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God." I only grimace because well enough couldn't be left alone, and because, since 1978, there haven't been two new hymnals that had the same words for the creed. Clearly the liturgy committee doesn't invite a lot of representation from the ecumenical crowd, or there would be more concern about having a word or three in common with anybody else. But when it gets to "of one Being with the Father" (vs. "of one Substance...") it occurs to me that the liturgy committe may also not include any systematic theologians. I wonder if the word "Being" would really stand the test of Trinitarian theology.

It's all right that the creed changes "by whom all things were made" and "whose kingdom shall have no end" to "through him" and "his kingdom," which help to clarify phrases that could easily be misunderstood. But it's not all right that they clarified "was made man" to read "became truly human." I have no respect for politically-correct paranoias, especially when the fear of offending some feminist moonbat forces us to use unclear language like "became truly human." How long did it take for him to become truly human? When was this process completed? Questions that should never even be raised, are raised by this stupid translation.

And it's not all right that they rendered the phrase "for us men and for our salvation" down to "for our sake." "For our sake" does not clearly express the scope of Jesus' atoning work (i.e. for all mankind), which means this wording will give absolutely no offense to limited-atonement Calvinists. "For our sake" also does not clearly express the aim of what Jesus did; for all we know, based on these new words, Jesus might have suffered and died to set an example for us, to motivate us, or to demonstrate a new world-view, as opposed to saving us!

I'm not convinced that the new wording, which says the Holy Spirit "has spoken through the prophets," is an improvement over "spoke by the prophets." Even the suggestion that the Holy Spirit might still be speaking through the prophets is at least potentially an opening for Pentecostals and even Mormons to bring their continuing revelation under a Lutheran umbrella.

Here's another interesting phenomenon. The smart-alecks stuck the word "catholic" back into the creed (it is, after all, in the original Greek and Latin), even though generations of English-speaking Christians have used the word "Christian" at that point - "one holy catholic and apostlic church." While I can't bring myself to condemn this phrasing, I must admit that it surprises me to see this done without even an asterisk or a footnote explaining that the word "Christian" is an acceptable substitute. And yet these self-same smart-alecks do stick an asterisk after "who proceeds from the Father and the Son," leading to a footnote: "Or, 'who proceeds from the Father.' The phrase 'and the Son' is a later addition to the creed." Holy repristination, Batman! Have we now taken back the Western church's commitment to the filioque? Is ELW attempting to sneak a reconciliation with the Eastern Orthodox Church behind everyone else's back? To my jaundiced eye, the wording of this footnote seems calculated to raise doubts about the filioque ("and the Son"), which does have, after all, the weight of nearly a thousand years of church history and a considerable amount of theological baggage under it. Did these jokers consult any theologians at all?

So changing the word "Christian" to "catholic" isn't a big enough deal for a footnote, but keeping the words "and the Son" in place does. What an odd sense of priorities these smart-alecks have! I am proud of the LCMS's Commission on Worship for declining to make any of these changes, though they did footnote "catholic" as an alternate reading for "Christian." And I have it on good authority that the vote to keep the "I believe" language (vs. "We believe") was pretty close. What a blessing for the LCMS that there are still enough cool heads to prevail.

Then there's the Apostles' Creed, which makes me just as angry. I confess, with ever so much regret and sorrow, that when I got to the phrase "he descended to the dead," the word "Bastards!" exploded out of my mouth. It kept happening too, the first half-dozen or so times I re-checked the passage to make sure I hadn't dreamt it. They asterisked this line and added a footnote at the end: "Or, 'he descended into hell,' another translation of this text in widespread use." When I read this, I screamed "Bastards!" again. It was quite involuntary, I assure you. The liturgical thought police patrolling this page were enforcing I know not what law, but it comes into direct conflict with Formula of Concord Article XI and, basically, with every Christian fellowship that has not completely sold itself to rationalistic denial and unbelief. There is no compelling historical precedent for this change, and the characterization of "he descended into hell" as "another translation...in widespread use" is like calling the name Elizabeth "a common nickname for Betsy." It's nothing but condescending tripe, but by forcing it on an entire church body, the smarties are clearly aiming to reshape members' perceptions.

Oh yes, and once again the change from "Christian" to "catholic" sneaks by without so much as an explanatory footnote. This wouldn't bother me half so much if the b-... I mean, smarties... hadn't already shoved a by-far-majority reading, with vastly superior historical and theological support, into a pooh-poohing footnote and replaced it with words I consider deeply disturbing.

Prayers of Intercession follow. I'm going to pass lightly over this, except to announce the arrival of a new response after each petition: "Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great." When the prayers are ended, the minister and the assembly greet each other with the peace of Christ, which surprises me because there's already been a "let's stop to greet each other" moment in the service. This additional passing-of-the-peace seems to be a novelty. Except for the fact that the words are easier to remember, I could say the same about it as I did the sharing of the apostolic benediction earlier in the service.

I know I'm going to have a lot to say about the "Meal" segment of the service, so I'd better stop here for now. Anyway, I need to cool off before I make myself angry again. I've been through all this half a dozen times and I know what's coming. I can sum up all that I have to say about it in the words: "Those who think Lutheran laypeople are on fire to see the Canon of the Mass restored, are out of touch with their people - to say nothing of the Gospel." But the devil is in the details!

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