Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why This Won't Work, Part III

To the Reader:
Part II introduced minimalism as a problem why reform in the LCMS will not work. This post continues on the same theme. The long delays between installments are due to my thinking these issues through myself. Therefore, please read these in such a light.


But isn't minimalism a good thing? Isn't it efficient? Does not minimalism have a certain beauty of its own, when one recognizes that everything is in its place, that nothing extra has been added to it, that the piece before you has the elegance (aesthetic) of everything necessary but nothing more?

It could have such beauty, and does for many. But there are two distinctions here. First of all, when we make assertions as to what is necessary in worship, or, God forbid, aesthetically pleasing, we become judge over the things of God. Our notions of excess and necessity become the criteria for judging worship instead of receiving the Word of God and what has been handed down for us. There is no substantial difference in determining that, say, in Holy Baptism making the sign of the cross is an unnecessary action and is not intrinsic to Baptism and saying that John 3:17 is unessential to the Gospel, indeed, offensive and need not be read. In both instances—in every instant of judging necessity or aesthetics in worship—we place ourselves, our views, inclinations, logic and judgments over the things of God.

But suppose one says, “Yes, but the New Testament describes baptism only in terms of water and the Word of God, that is, ‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,’ and makes no mention of signing the cross. In determining that the sign is not necessary we are not placing ourselves over God, but over a man-made tradition.”

For the sake of argument, let's grant that making the sign of the cross is “man-made.” The objection remains valid. What makes the man who says it is unnecessary judge over what others have done in the past? On what basis does he suppose himself better, or better suited to determining the value of making the sign of the cross? Does he think it is wise or Christian to say that he finds this sign empty or unnecessary or an inelegant accretion of human tradition—and by implication—that it should never have been ‘added’ to the necessary minimum of the Sacrament in the first place?

I’ll answer that question: it is hubris to suggest that you have a greater knowledge of aesthetics and necessity than others, especially forefathers (and mothers) in the faith.


  1. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    Or in other words, are we the masters of tradition or the recipients thereof?

    Sadly, in America we tend to believe that we are the masters of anything and everything.

    Now, on the other hand, this does apply somewhat to pastors who enter into a parish that, for whatever reason, has lost much of it's heritage, and has a less full tradition that has arisen. We can't be too gung-ho to replace what is done there - and when we do it needs to be that we are moving not to something that *I* think is better but rather that historically *the Church* has thought that this is better.