Sunday, September 10, 2006


[Note: I apologize in advance for the length of this piece. I know it could probably be more concise, but I believe there is simply a lot to say, so I'm just going to say it. Much of my thinking on this is still a work in progress. Thanks in advance for your patience! - Fr. H.]

I know you are, but what am I?

I'm not a big fan of labels. Too often they get in the way of real dialogue. Person A says: "I believe such and such." Person B says: "Oh, so you're a [fill in the blank]." Meaningful discussion ends, either in silence, or in a fight peppered with namecalling and ad hominem attacks.

American Lutheranism is awash with factions that rally around labels, complete with political lobbying organizations, websites, e-mail lists, newsletters, and lists of candidates to vote for in church conventions.

On the one hand, I'd like to trash all the labels. However, there can be a salutary use of labels - so long as they are truly used to describe beliefs and not simply as short-cuts around deep thought and engagement of ideas.

Many of us Lutherans who see ourselves as defined by our sixteenth century confessions, as in submission to the inerrant Holy Bible, as wedded to the traditional liturgy (conducted with reverence and dignity), as a catholic continuity from the ancient and medieval Church, focused on God's monergistic justifying grace that works through specific humble means (the Word of God and the holy sacraments) to deliver Jesus Christ crucified to us physically and bodily - are described by certain terminology.

We are labelled by our detractors with such epithets as: liturgical nazis, blackshirts, stuffed-shirt Lutherans, Romanizers, Orthophiles, dead-orthodox, speed bumps, etc. We are accused of being unloving, legalistic, not mission-minded, lacking a heart for Jesus and the lost, and being a cult of purity. On the other hand, the labels we typically use to describe ourselves and our understanding of the faith include "conservative" and "confessional."

Both of these are, in and of themselves, fine terms. I would (and sometimes do) label myself as both. I'm a theological conservative, as I don't believe in change for change' s sake. Change must be truly warranted, and then must move at a glacial pace, and always consider the catholicity of the Church. Theological conservatism stands up for a view of Scriptural inerrancy over and against liberal methods of reading the Bible (such as higher criticism). Conservatism is opposed to left-wing and anti-biblical trends such as feminism and the homosexual agenda. I'm all for this kind of conservatism.

I can identify with the "conservative" label, but I think it hardly tells the whole story. For there are very conservative churches (who don't ordain women and uphold biblical inerrancy) whose worship practices include walkabout wise-cracking pastors with metal studs and bawbles in their faces, big screens, guitars, drums, and people waving their arms about in a rock-concert frenzy. There are also liturgical conservatives who piously limit their communion services (never using the term "Mass" of course) to once or twice a month (I suppose whether they need it or not...). I don't identify with these kinds of conservatism.

Then there is the label "confessional." This one is more sticky. For technically speaking, all Lutherans are by definition confessional (binding themselves to the Lutheran confessions in the Book of Concord of 1580). Therefore, when a faction of Lutherans describes itself as being "confessional Lutheran," the other side takes umbrage, perceiving an insult (which in fact, it may be). Some district presidents have banned the term's use in their districts, threatening groups that identify themselves using the adjective "confessional" with expulsion from synod.

Confessional refers to restoring the Book of Concord to its normative position in our churches' doctrine and practice, blowing off the dust, and actually reading and studying the confessions. And I'm all for that. Hence I can identify with the label "confessional" as well. But once again, there are difficulties with this word too. Many "confessional" Lutherans (self-described) embrace practices I disagree with, like teaching receptionism (the belief that the communion elements only become the body and blood of Jesus when they hit the believers' tongues). Some confessional Lutherans also pitch the leftover blood of Jesus into the garbage (especially if they use the disposable jiggers). There are confessional churches who only define themselves over and against Roman Catholicism, who believe that ordination is only a quaint ritual that does nothing, who are content with Puritanical sanctuaries and Methodist vestments. I find myself alienated from many confessional Lutherans as well - whose interpretation of those confessions is done in a historical vacuum.

Some other term is needed.

Losing My Tradition

A few weeks ago, my wife and I spent some time in Columbia, SC visiting friends. We stayed with a continuing Anglican friend who is studying for holy orders, and met a couple of clergymen from his diocese - true gentlemen and churchmen in the finest sense of those words. We also had a nice visit with one of our friends who is a political science professor at the University of South Carolina. He and his family are delightful people who have turned their suburban yard into a functioning vegetable garden. They are proponents of the Catholic Land Movement (as espoused by Chesterton and Belloc), valuing independence, modest living, stay at home mothering, limiting consumption, etc. In visiting with my two sets of friends (who don't know one another), the same terms came up again and again in conversation: tradition, traditional, traditionalism, and traditionalist.

Yes, they would all consider themselves conservative (although that term has largely become synonymous with a narrow political agenda that not all true conservatives support in its entirety), as well as "confessional" in the sense of being guided by a specific confession, historic writings that serve as a basis of their beliefs. But such terminology doesn't go far enough to describe what they believe. I realized that while I could describe myself as a conservative, confessional, Lutheran, the term that more accurately describes the "movement" within Lutheranism that I find myself and my colleagues involved in is "Traditionalism."

"Tradition" is a Latin translation of the Greek term "paradidomi" - which means "handing over." St. Paul uses this word in two different ways in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 when he writes:

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered ["handed over"] to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed ["handed over"] took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."

Thus Jesus was "handed over" ("traditioned") to his enemies, and the Words of Jesus were "handed over" ("traditioned") to the apostles, and through them, to the Church. These words were "traditioned" by word of mouth even before they had been "scriptured" (committed to writing).

Thus the Church lives and breathes through tradition, through the eucharistic Supper, through God's Word that has been "traditioned" to us from ancient times, through the proclamation of the Gospel that has been "traditioned" to us from a chain of pastors reaching back to the apostles.

Many Lutherans have a bad taste in their mouths regarding tradition, which dates back to the Reformation's insistence that God's Word in Scripture trumps doctrine that can only be found in oral narratives under the rubric "tradition." Fair enough. There were plenty of superstitions and fairy tales that masqueraded as tradition, and they needed to be excised (just as Jesus criticized false Scripture-usurping tradition in His preaching). And yet, is it necessary to throw the baby out with the bathwater as many of our Protestant (and conservative Lutheran) brethren contend?

Furthermore, culturally speaking, since the 1960s, the generation of Americans known as "baby-boomers" have sought to make tradition extinct. The past was seen as crippling, stifling, and worst of all "boring." Change became a mantra, ancient ways were discarded, and untried and experiental arrangements were being tried in every area of culture: music, literary symbolism, politics, family life, sexual mores, and of course, religious belief. This jettison of tradition promised great things: a new age of freedom, happiness, as well as personal fulfillment and empowerment (of course, instead it has left a swath of divorce, abortion, disease, dysfunction, and a sense of disconnect and ennui that has created unprecedented demands for psychotropic drugs in order to "cope" with the "fruits" of this new culture).

Different churches took different approaches to the Age of Aquarius onslaught. Some stanchly defended tradition and the "old ways," others quickly capitulated and embraced rapid change, still others simply made incremental changes over many years until now, some forty years later, they have largely implemented the 1960s purge of tradition without noticing it. The "conservative" and "confessional" Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod has taken the latter path.

Dragging its feet against these radical cultural trends, the LCMS has slowly and grudgingly traded its traditions for modernity. Bit by bit, she has capitulated to the Woodstock philosophy. She gradually extended the role of women to the point now where she, like most Protestant "denominations" and Vatican II Roman Catholics, endorse women's suffrage, representation in synods, chairing of boards, serving as "elders" and presidents of congregations, readers, acolytes, and communion assistants. Women serve in various roles as "commisioned ministers" and chaplains, and may now even teach seminary classes. After much wrangling, the LCMS has given the green light to participation in public services with Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and Sikhs (such "ecumenism" is not at all uncommon among American Roman Catholics). Much of the literature coming out of St. Louis pushes for further modernization and change in the LCMS culture so as to address changing demographics in the U.S. and abroad.

And yet, in the face of this constant push for change, the LCMS maintains an image of staunch conservatism!

Running many years behind the trendsetters, the LCMS has taken on the worst of both worlds, creating an ugly hybrid between a purely traditional and a purely modern approach, creating a Frankenstein monster hacked together with many different corpses - while trying to appeal to both traditionalists and those who reject tradition.

This is best illustrated by our worship practices.

How many of our churches offer "contemporary" worship, "traditional" worship, and "blended" worship"? Unlike Jesus who was observed to do all things well, we seem to do all things poorly. Our synod's "contemporary" worship tries to wed traditional substance and anti-traditional style - creating a trainwreck of hypocrisy and the attempt to send two antithetical messages at the same time. It has degenerated into a doctrinal muddle that emphasizes entertainment at the expense of the Gospel. Our "traditional" worship (which has largely been marginalized into the ghetto of the earliest possible hour for worship) is typically butchered and conducted so poorly that one wonders if the pastors have ever learned the rubrics for the conduct of the service, read any books at all about the theology and practice of worship, or if they have a clue what all of the symbolism in the liturgy means. And our "blended" services are, in my opinion, really nothing more than a "hegelian dialectic" designed to abolish the so-called traditional service all together - for if we blend "contemporary" and "traditional" enough, a new third option will eventually replace the other two entirely, and what little liturgical tradition we have will be lost.

And when the salt has lost its savor...

While many of the younger generation of pastors are better versed in the church's traditions and there is a budding trend among the laity for a return to reverence and a connection to the past, more than half of our congregations now have some kind of "contemporary" worship. Even among our liturgical congregations very little is left of tradition. How many LCMS congregations make use of full eucharistic vestments, incense, and bells at Divine Service? How many LCMS congregations have regular times for private confession, and how many of our members regularly take advantage of this sacrament? How many of our pastors and laity make use of traditional prayer offices during the week? How many of our bible classes bring the rich history of the church into discussion? How many of our churches are comfortable with traditional terminology such as "Mass" and "Catholic"? How many of our churches serve the blood of Christ in a respectful, traditional common chalice as opposed to Protestant, individualistic "shooters" (some of which are designed to go into the trash when done)? How many of our pastors are willing to genuflect at the high altar, or elevate the holy elements for adoration?

In fact, I know of pastors who are inhibited from even pronouncing absolution ("too Catholic" - read: "too traditional")! Many of our churches are scandalized when the pastor attempts to give the holy body and blood of the Lord every Sunday ("too Catholic") - as our confesions clearly state that we are bound to do. And you can just imagine the outcry if the typical LCMS pastor were to lobby to restore the traditional chalice and replace the shot-glasses, or to (re)introduce incense. Even the vast majority of the most staunch conservative, confessional churches would certainly form a lynch mob to remove the pastor for such actions.

In fairness, they would see these as "changes" instead of a healthy return to tradition, actually a rejection of modernist changes largely from the 20th century. Many are so severed from tradition themselves that they think of traditional Lutheran hymns as "new" while embracing the maudlin (and in some cases heretical) "old favorites" from the 19th century. Obviously, a wise pastor will procede slowly catechize his flock before restoring traditions, and will procede in love, charity, and a concern for fragile souls. A faithful traditionalist pastor may toil for decades and never live to see the Mass restored to every Sunday in his "conservative" and "confessional" parish.

But in the LCMS' untraditional congregational/democratic polity, the shepherd had better not try to lead his flock, lest the flock treat him as a hireling and dictate the "policy" to him, or even fire him. The conversion of the sheep into bishops and the bureaucratic definition of the pastor as a "professional church worker" is yet another downside of casting off tradition (democracy is part of the anti-traditional movement, it is not for nothing that the dollar bill contains the Roman numeral XDCCLXXVI and the Latin term: "novus ordo seclorum" - let the reader understand). This is less likely to occur in traditional churches that maintain traditional polity and use the traditional appellation "Father" to address the pastor.

The Baby Boomers' Worst Nightmare: Back to the Future

There is a phenomenon that is frighteneing to the aging wearers of tie-dye who now hold the reins of power in church and state. There is a move back toward tradition, a backlash against the libertine 1960s culture that left a generation of people bereft of the comforts of the past.

Look around! You see it in both church and secular society, across denominational and philosophical lines. Young Roman Catholic priests (as well as some Lutherans) have rejected the casual "golf shirt and khakis" look that sought to blend in, and are returning to the traditional black cassock. There are nuns who are restoring the traditional habit (over and against the aging hippy nuns who wear T-shirts and jeans). There are even some Baptist and non-denominational clergy who are wearing clerical collars, and in some cases, cassocks! And let's not fail to consider the Roman Church's recently-elected pontiff!

As Bob Dylan sang back in the early 60s, "the times they are a-changin'."

There is the home-school movement, the stay-at-home mothering (and antifeminist)movement, the Catholic Land Movement, and the growth in popularity of Higher Things magazine and its more traditional youth conferences (a truly Lutheran alternative to the disturbing LCMS youth gatherings). There is a traditionalist movement within American Lutheranism manifested by publications like Gottesdienst and Bride of Christ, as well as religious societies such as the Society of the Holy Trinity (which is very traditional with the tragic exception of its embrace of female "pastors") and its all-male counterpart, the Society of St. Polycarp.

Though still a tiny minority within the LCMS, one is more likely to find a "high church" congregation, to hear traditional terminology in the congregation, and to find pastors teaching the Lutheran confessions alongside the early church fathers now than at any time in recent history. It is not uncommon to hear the officially sanctioned prayers that are published by the LCMS Commission on Worship use the term "catholic." There are more Lutheran schools moving toward a classical model and incorporating traditional rhetoric and Latin back into their curricula.

Quo Vadis?

It will be interesting to see what happens as baby-boomers become less of a factor in the LCMS. The aging Charismatic group "RIM" has already had to disband, citing a lack of younger leadership. Both seminaries continue to turn out younger pastors who are not merely "conservative" or "confessional" - but also "traditional." It seems that more district presidents have been recently elected who are (hopefully) at least more tolerant of traditionalism than the "old guard."

On the other hand, the Viagra- and Botox-fueled baby-boomers as a rule have proven tenacious and most unwilling to yield power to their younger counterparts who, unlike them, do not see the 1960s as a "golden age," whose traditionalist ways are considered a scandalous "turning back of the clock." I don't believe we have seen the last of traditionalist pastors being shafted by the hierarchy, nor can we expect non-traditional congregations to welcome traditionalist pastors with open arms. There is still plenty of struggle ahead, and traditionalist pastors must be patient, pastoral, and loving with their congregants even as they must be firm with meddling bureaucrats, steadfast in the holy faith, and submissive to our Lord Jesus Christ.

Hopefully, we will not see a continued loss of traditionalist pastors to the Eastern Orthodox and/or Roman Catholic churches. It has been heartbreaking to see some of our brightest and best theologians, some of our most pastoral servants of the Church, flee to other communions. Make no mistake, they are being driven away by Ablaze!, Jesus First, synodical shenanigans, feminism, lay ministers, DELTO, irreverent worship, defining the ministry as a "profession," low-church "conservatism," and democratic polity - in short, by the LCMS's anti-traditionalism. Though I suspect most LCMS lay people are unaware, there has been a bloodletting of traditionalist pastors and laymen who have either been run off, or who have given up on the LCMS and left. It is my prayer that this hemorrhage is at an end, that the trend toward traditionalism (along with institutions like the Society of St. Polycarp, Gottesdienst, and various blogsites that promote and espouse traditionalism) will bolster weary pastors who are fed up with gimmicks and corporate cheerleading masqerading as church, who seek a church that looks and acts like a Church rather than a "branch office" of a "corporation."

Will the LCMS continue to be tossed about by the waves of fads, thrown hither and yon by the whims of modernism and postmodernism? Or will the boomer culture shrivel and die, and yield to a return to tradition and a rejection of the experimentation and hubris of the bell-bottomed generation? Will we find ourselves hopelessly lost, mired in postmodernism and liberalism like the Episcopalian Church, or will we, like the continuing Anglicans, heirs of the traditionalist Oxford Movement, rediscover the facets of our own catholicity and tradition that allow the Gospel's light to reflect from our Church, the dazzling light that finds its source in Jesus, the Light of the World, Himself?

Only time will tell. Meanwhile, traditionalist pastors and laymen (of both sexes), take heart! Be loving but bold. Be patient, but firm. Pray fervently for a restoration of traditional piety in our synod, and if it is not to be in our synod, in American Lutheranism whatever shape it may take in the future. Pray also for non-Lutherans who are likewise struggling to uphold traditional Christianity in the face of feminism, the homosexual agenda, indifference toward the sacraments, and a postmodern worldview that denies the divinity (or the humanity) of Jesus. Support traditional pastors and congregations, as well as journals like Gottesdienst and Bride of Christ.

Don't expect the solution to lie in politics, but rather in repentence, humility, prayer, the grace given to us at Baptism, and a faith found and nourished at the confessional and the communion rail. Remember, we dare not fall into the anti-traditionalist and modernist trap that this is all about us. It isn't. As G.K. Chesterton wrote: “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.”



Steven said...


Michael said...

A well-argued plea.
Jaroslav Pelikan's epigram ("Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living"), however, made me wonder why you chose the word traditionalism where he and others speak of tradition.

Best regards,
Michaelk Borussia

Father Hollywood said...

Hi Michael:

I had not heard Pelikan's quip, but I think he is using the word in a much different way (obviously, in such a way as to talk of a faithless traditionalism, a kind of James 2 approach to a dead faith).

Certainly, I'm not advocating a "dead faith" kind of traditionalism - but the opposite. Today's anti-traditionalism is what has become faithless, not rooted in the terra firma of the ancient faith, but rather tossed about by fickle winds of change.

I believe we need tradition to anchor us, and those who advocate tradition, I'm calling "traditionalists."

I'm using "traditionalism" as a grammatical form of the word. "Tradition" is what is upheld by a person called a "traditionalist," and the belief system would be called "traditionalism" - just as the adjectival form of the word would be "traditional" and the adverb would be "traditionally."

There are a lot of Roman Catholics who likewise reject modernism and postmodernism, and they are often called "traditionalists."

I really think this is a more helpful label than "conservative" and "confessional," since we are trying to recapture and entire tradition - not merely a political stance or only limited to those things specifically stated in the Book of Concord.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify!

FatherDMJ said...

Traditionalism (or Traditionalist) is much better than "Observant", whatever that means.

Your words need further pondering.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Beane,

This is a very challenging post, which raises all sorts of issues that I'd like to comment about. But let me start with a question. You write:

... we are trying to recapture an entire tradition - not merely a political stance or only limited to those things specifically stated in the Book of Concord.

This presupposes that the "entire tradition" needs to be recaptured -- that something has happened to the tradition so that it has been, if not entirely lost, at least seriously damaged in transmission. How, then, can we recover it? How can we "hand over" (how can we "tradition") something that we have not got?

It seems to me that a living tradition, once broken, cannot be repaired or recovered. If it is no longer a living tradition -- if it has not, in fact, been handed over to us whole and entire -- then the best that we can do is a job of historical reconstruction. And that is not the same thing as a living, unbroken tradition.

In sum, my question is this: how can we be "traditionalists" if we have, in fact, no authentic tradition? or, contrary to appearances, do we in fact have it?

Father Hollywood said...


I hear what you're saying, and I agree with the sentiment. Tradition is by definition a "handing over," but if something is not handed over, but has to be regained through research and repristination, is it still tradition? Can a lost tradition be recovered, or does that fly in the face of tradition itself?

Before I went to seminary, my wife and I visited Fort Wayne. We attended Mass at Redeemer, after which, a group of excited seminarians commented on the liturgy, pointing out various research that had been done, and all sorts of ancient practices that had been restored at Redeemer. At the time, I knew nothing about what "tradition" really meant, but I remember commenting to my wife what a tragedy that something that should have been simply passed on from one generation to the next now has to be researched and re-learned by scholars.

So, your point is well taken.

However, it is a fallen world. I doubt that tradition has been perfectly transmitted anywhere on the planet, at any time. There are always lapses and corrections that have to be made along the way.

We see it in Scripture, when King Josiah rediscovered the Torah that had been lost.

We see it in the New Testament Church where large numbers of congregations were led astray by Arius, and the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople most certainly brought some of these churches back from their erring path.

We see it in the Reformation, where Luther and the reformers sought to restore the largely-lost tradition of the preaching of the Gospel by grace, the vernacular Mass, the married clergy, the relationship of the Bishop of Rome to the rest of the bishops of the Church, the chalice being given to the laity, etc.

We see it in the Oxford Movement, where many of the Church's catholic traditions had been mothballed by generations of anti-traditionism.

We see it in various Lutheran countries that had lost the tradition of apostolic succession, but have since restored it to their polity.

And we've seen it in our own churches, many of which have restored lapsed traditions like weekly Eucharist, private confession, eucharistic vestments, a rediscovery of the Lutheran confessions, etc.

I don't think our tradition has been entirely lost, but I think the candle is barely smoldering. But we can take comfort that the Lord will not extinguish a smoldering candle nor break a bruised reed.

In short, the entire history of God's people has been one of wandering away from tradition, being called to repentence, and being brought back to the path once more.

What we need is a movement of repentence. We've sinned by making an idol of change, of modernism, of personal preference, of indifference - and we need to repent and be restored to the Gospel - so that we may in turn hand over, tradition, it over the next generation of Christians.

Latif Haki Gaba said...

Fr. David,
Perhaps there is some particular use of the term "observant" to which you are reacting, but in itself, historically, it means basically what we are getting at with our term "traditionalist." The Observant movement of the high middle ages, for example, was a great reform movement in monasteries throughout the Christian world, an effort to faithfuly live the Rule and constitutions of one's order, and to avoid worldly corruption and compromise. The Augustinian community in which Blessed Martin Luther lived, for example, was Observant. However, I do agree that, over all, the term "traditionalist" is better suited for the movement of which Fr. Larry writes, and of which you and I count ourselves as part. Latif

Jared Melius said...

I am having a hard time distinguishing between a "conservative" and a "traditionalist." In principle, linguistically, they are nearly the same thing. As such, the primary difficulty attending the one label, will also attend the other. What traditions are we keeping/conserving? Which do we drop as unhelpful or even sinful?

True enough, in our circles, they are used differently. In fact, I think it is really astute that you've noticed this. Why is that hardly anybody, from high church black shirt to low church charismatic, is willing to surrender the label "conservative" while many, many would happily despise being called a traditionalist? But are they not really the same thing essentially?

I submit that even the traditionalist must have some criteria by which they sift through the various traditions to observe. Certainly you, Fr. Beane, do not accept all traditions simply for the sake of their age. Rather you employ a criteria. The criteria is the Gospel, which we have expressed in the Confessions. "We should observe those ecclesiastical rites which can be observed without sin and which are conducive to tranquility and good order in the church." Ap.XV, 1. And "the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ." AC XXIV,3.

Thus, while either conservative or tradionalist are fine, they ought to remain subservient to the label "confessional." When Luther determined his adjustments to the historic liturgy, he employed the doctrine of Justification as the chief criteria. Confession shaped and informed tradition.

Both labels "conservative" and "traditionalist" are liquid and imprecise. But "confessional" is solid. It anchors us to the Creeds and the Augsburg Confession with its derivative documents. That some have managed to squeak receptionism out of them proves that they are not "confessional." One only needs to look it up.

Labels are important. You point out that some have left for Rome or the East. How can that be?! What would posess a person to exchange obvious obscurations of the Book of Concord (namely, Justification) for more traditional ceremonies? Perhaps, those who have elevated traditionalism above confessionalism. I say that change, of itself, is not wrong, but, in our circumstances, change is harmful because it almost always obscures our confession.

Thank you for your work on this post,

stagiare said...

So many truths, but so much rambling. It was hard to follow but your voice echoes what many feel.

By the way, how does DELTO fit/not fit the tradilionalist perspective? I thought that program had a worthy purpose for the rural and PT ministries of our synod? Not so?

Chris Jones said...


The meaning of "conservative" depends on exactly what it is that one wishes to conserve. That is why it is such a fluid term. A "conservative" can be someone who is loyal to social convention disguised as "morality"; or loyal to a free-market economic order; or loyal to a particular theological system, be it Roman, Reformed, or Lutheran.

To be sure, "traditionalist" can have a similar range of meaning, because its meaning depends on what "tradition" one claims to be following. "Tradition" can be simply whatever one's parents or immediate predecessors have thought and done (even if it was new with them).

But in a Christian context, "tradition" presupposes that there is a tradition which is specific, concrete, and recognizable; and that this tradition is in fact the means by which the Gospel is communicated from one generation to another. What Father Hollywood is talking about is not just any tradition, but the Christian Tradition, which comes to us through many fathers from the Apostles themselves. Understood in this way, "traditionalist" is far more specific than "conservative".

Confession shaped and informed tradition.

In fact, I think you have this backwards. A confession is an expression of, and an articulation of, the authentic Tradition. There are many "confessions", any of which may claim the right to "shape and inform tradition". And we allow the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed to be normative within the Tradition; but other confessions must be rejected (the Blasphemy of Sirmium; the Henoticon of Zeno; the Robber Council of Ephesus; the canons of Dordt; the Westminster Confession) -- because they are inconsistent with the Tradition that we have received.

The Lutheran Confessions are to be received and believed because they are accurate expressions of the Tradition, as they themselves claim. They exclude false teachings that fall short of the Tradition; but they themselves must be seen as part of the Tradition, and understood in that context.

Latif Haki Gaba said...

One must, I think, analyze at more than merely the linguistic level to contrast terms like "traditionalist" & "conservative," especially in the context of the Church. "Conservative" is not an inherently bad term. I like, eg., the way C.P. Krauth uses it. One of the dangers is its political connotations. Frankly, another danger is just the fact that it is embraced by so many who are eager to condemn the "high church" or "Romanists." It really does seem that "Conservative" and "traditionalist" are terms that represent two distinct brands or stripes of churchmen.

Latif Haki Gaba said...

What is the PT ministry. Perhaps this is something I should know, but sometimes abreviations lose me. Then perhaps you could explain the worthy purpose of Delto. Do you think that both the means and the purpose of Delto fit traditionalist Lutheranism? I cannot say if they do or not. I ask you, because you come across like you might have some insight in the matter.

Chris Jones said...

PT = part-time?

Father Hollywood said...

Howdy Jared!

Hope you and the family are well (Jared was a classmate of mine at CTS, and we even took Greek together). Thanks for dropping by my blog. I was able to make Ross Johnson's odination a few weeks back.

You make some excellent points. I think strictly speaking, confessional and traditional ought to be the same thing (as is conservative). If we retain tradition (traditionalism), retain the confessions (confessionalism), that is to say, we aren't changing things (which is conservatism), then we are certainly all three: conservative, confessional, and traditional.

As you point out, traditional and conservative are very close linguistically.

However, the real world isn't so tidy.

The approach of the *Lutheran confessions* to tradition is often different than the approach of the *confessional Lutherans* to tradition.

By this, I mean the Book of Concord takes the approach that traditions are retained unless they conflict with Scripture. Barring that, we don't get rid of them (like the Reformed and Anabaptists do). We don't (as the Reformed and Anabaptists) require a "proof text" from Scripture in order to retain a tradition (doctrinal and/or liturgical).

For example, the Apology affirms that the angels and the Blessed Virgin Mary pray for us in heaven (Ap XXI). There is no proof text to back this up, but it is a truth we have received, and as it does not conflict with Scripture, we retain it.

Other examples are: Luther's defense of infant baptism not by Scripture, but by an appeal to tradition (see the LC section on Baptism covering infant baptism). Also, the canon of Scripture. This is a tradition we have received that is nowhere revealed in Scripture. We have received the Church's consensus as authoritative.

I agree with you that we Lutherans don't retain all traditions based on their age. No matter how old a tradition is, if it conflicts with Scripture, we reject it. Of course, traditions that are contrary to Scripture have actually worked their way in over many centuries - which is exactly the claim of the Augsburg Confession (see the conclusion after article XXI).

My only difficulty with the term "confessional Lutheran" lies not with the confessions themselves (indeed, they are a major component in our tradition), but with their interpretation by so-called "confessional Lutherans." There are some who wield the term confessional who act in direct opposition to the confessions. Our synod's embrace with lay preaching and lay communion is an example. This is done by interpreting the confessions apart from tradition.

As I pointed out, we have many "confessional" parishes that do not celebrate the Mass every Sunday. In the same way that a higher critic can make the Bible say about anything, some "confessional Lutherans" can make just about any false doctrine or untraditional practice "conform" to the Symbols.

The confessions themselves are tradition. They have been "handed over" to us from our ancestors. They themselves appeal again and again to the fathers (i.e. tradition). In fact, I remember a day when Scaer gave us a quote from the Catalogue of Testimonies from St. Augustine (without identifying the source), asked the class to write what they thought about it, and hand their papers in. Most of the class felt the passage was heretical, and angrily denounced it! Those men are nearly all LCMS pastors today.

I had a DP tell me he doesn't "read Article XIV the same way" that I do. But, of course, he is without doubt a confessional Lutheran. He has taken oaths to the confessions, and belongs to a synod that is bound by the confessions. But the nomenclature "confessional" isn't enough. Why? Because the "interpretation" of the confessions have to also be according to tradition.

When I use the word "traditional," I am using it in a way that presumes the other two labels. As a Traditional Lutheran, I am also by definition a conservative and a confessional. However, I believe "traditionalism" as applied to Lutheranism means that we read the inerrant Scripture through the lens of the Church, through the lens of our Symbols. We likewise read our Symbols not as detached conservative Americans, but through the lens of tradition.

Obviously, there are non-Lutheran traditionalists - and while we don't share the Book of Concord with them, we do share a rejection of modernity, of feminism, of materialism, of liturgical monkeying, of liberalism, of postmodernism, etc. with them. I see this as a good thing. We certainly ought to be able to be traditionalists who incorporate the Lutheran confessions into our traditionalism.

Tradition is what is the missing element in modern American Lutheranism. We may follow the Book of Condord to the letter, but our wives are out there hitting the bricks so we can have a bigger house (thus we violate the tradition we have received concerning the order of creation because we practice our faith with a certain degree of modern feminism coloring it). There are conservative ELCA members who likewise follow the Symbols - but they have no problem with "ordained" women. Well, the Symbols don't address women's ordination. So these gusy are certainlky confessional. What they lack is the tradition, the interpretation that we have received of the Scriptures through the Church that does not allow women to be ordained.

Tradition is more than only those controverted points that the Book of Concord addresses. Homosexual unions are nowhere mentioned in the Book of Concord. And yet, this prohibition is part of our tradition. We have no right to change what the Church teaches based on modernism.

I would define tradition as anything we have received from our ancestors in the faith. That certainly includes the Holy Scriptures (they were "handed over" to us), the Sacraments (neither did they just fall out of the sky), the Holy Ministry (we don't ordain ourselves), the liturgy (we shouldn't be making it up as we go), the Book of Concord (a true exposition of Holy Scripture), faithful hymnody, as well as anything else in the faith that is true that we have received.

There are things to which we cling that are not mentioned in either the Book of Concord or Scripture. We sing "A Mighty Fortress" on October 31. That's neither in Scripture nor the Book of Concord. Yet it is a tradition. It's not necessary for salvation, and yet to abolish this tradition may well be okay by conservatives, and technically acceptable to confessionals (as this custom has nothing to do with justification and salvation), but such a suggestion would be "off the table" for a traditionalist who sees no reason to change a practice that is proper.

A confessional Lutheran may well see no reason why clergy should wear clericals. In fact, many conservative, confessional Lutherans are suit-and-tie guys. But a traditionalist sees the longstanding custom handed over (traditioned) to us of distinct clerical garb to be part and parcel of his pastoral practice. Not merely for pragmatic reasons, not having anything to do with justification, but because it is simply done this way. It's ecclesiastical tradition. It doesn't conflict with Scripture. It's what we do. That's reason enough.

And history bears us out. For when pastors began to exercise their Christian liberty to dress like bankers, they moved in the direction of conformity to culture and comfort. Now, it is not uncommon to see pastors ditch vestments all together at the altar, as well as conservative and confessional guys who don't even own a collar. And this has fit in well with the contemporary worship culture and paradigm.

Had pastors remained traditional in matters of dress, it would have been very difficult to fall into happy-clappy worship. I mean, how often are you going to see a guy in a cassock singing "Shine Jesus Shine"? And likewise, how many people are going to walk up to a guy on the street in a golf shirt that says Ablaze!(tm) and ask him about Jesus or seek prayer or a blessing?

Traditions are worth keeping - even if the Book of Concord is silent on the matter. Tradition informs our interpretation of both the confessions and the Bible. Without tradition, there would be no eucharist - for the Lord's Supper was "handed over" to the church for decades before the Gospels were written.

In fact, while the Church existed for many years without the New Testament, it could not exist without tradition (hence the adjective "apostolic" in our creeds).

I know this is a long and rambling answer, and I apologize for it. Commenting in the little blogger box is quite different than musing over a Word document in the easy chair with a cigar and a mojito. ;-)

The peace of the Lord be with you Jared!

Father Hollywood said...

One more thought about confession and tradition. Tradition must come first, for confession means to repeat. You can't repeat something that wasn't said to you first.

The process of something being said to another person, from the past toward the future, is the definition of tradition.

Confession is repeating what has been "traditioned" to you in the first place.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Stagiare:

I apologize for rambling. That is one of the strengths and weaknesses of blogs. It's a place where thoughts can be somewhat liquid - for good and bad.

Anyway, my issue with DELTO isn't with part-time pastors (we traditionalists call them "worker priests"), nor with rural pastors (my pal Rev. Dave Juhl is a perfect example of a rural pastor who actually went to seminary).

My main objection with DELTO is the situation of unordained men preaching and/or claiming to exercise a sacramental ministry without being "rite vocatus" per our tradition in Augusburg 14.

My secondary objection is the racist notion that ethnic minorities don't need fully-trained pastors, or that ethnic minorities lack the skills and/or dedication to study to become pastors in the traditional way.

A third objection is the idea that becoming a pastor is simply a matter of taking courses - classes that can be done by e-mail. Pastoral formation is not traditionally done alone, but in a community of men who study and worship and pray together.

DELTO is not only non-traditional, it is antithetical to tradition, it is anti-tradition. It's a radical departure from the way we have called and ordained men for service in the church in the past. It's a change in theology for the sake of accomodation to changing social conditions.

One of my classmates, Rev. Brett Cornelius, left the DELTO program to come to seminary in the traditional way. I really respect him for that.

I believe the LCMS needs to ditch DELTO and put more resources into a proper, traditional seminary setting for training men for the ministry.

Thanks for posting!

Jared Melius said...


Thank you for your response. I cannot compete with your ability to produce intelligent, convincing words on a paper in such a short sitting. You already had that in Greek, as I recall.

But consider this short response: it appears from your blog that you are making use of the historic one year lectionary. I have also started using it at my church. While I think that neither of us would disagree with the other's rationale for using this historic series, my chief rationale might be different than your chief rationale. I sold the historic series for its practical teaching value, its unified themes, and its regular and frequent return to the chief pericopes in the Bible (sometimes less is more). I don't like some of the Vatican II presuppositions of the Three Year Series. Thus, it serves my people better by teaching the Gospel more clearly.

I may be wrong, but I suspect that you agree, but are more compelled by the "historic" part of the historic lectionary. That is your main rationale. Its what the church has done. I am also compelled by that as well, but only secondarily. Primarily, I am compelled by the Gospel. Does that make sense?

For instance, I think that the church uses clericals for pragmatic reasons that benefit the Gospel. That is, after all, the reason clerical garb has become tradition. If it does not serve the Gospel, what reason do we have to even suggest its use. But, as you have argued, it is pragmatic. It adorns the office of the ministry, which itself is instituted for the sake of the Gospel. If its good for the ministry, its good for the Gospel. If we can't make that claim, then why waste the necessary air to argue for its retention?

You've got a good looking son, Larry.

Yours in Christ Jesus,


Jared Melius said...


I agree. "Conservative" and "Traditional" are not the same in the Missouri Synod, nor, for that matter, in American Christianity in general. I credit Fr. Beane for pointing this out. However, linguistics is important, and, I believe, owing to both terms' intrinsic fluidity, "traditional" may just as easily degenerate as an appropriate descriptor much as "conservative" has. Then what? I am simply arguing that "confessional" is not fluid. It is anchored. If some want to call themselves "confessional" and at the same time deny the simple sense of the Book of Concord, then they can be called on the carpet. They are wrong. Is there any such recourse with alternate designations? What do you do when two parties argue about which tradition is THE tradition?

Best regards in Christ,


stagiare said...

Fthr Hlywd,

Thank you for your reply which helps me to understand the perspective you alluded to in your original post.

First of all I am not thoroughly informed of all the nuances that pertain to the DELTO program but what I do know of it makes me believe it is a vital and important ministry formation tool for the Kingdom.
My reasons follow;
It is designed for rural/dwindling/failing congregations that have in their stead an individual that is God's chosen instrument to procalim Christ crucified. He is called by that congregation to lead them as a shepherd. To ignore this charge would be be heretical AC IV, 25-26.
By reasons that are out of the control of the called individual he cannot attend one of our esteemed seminaries, so he must take the distance education to gain knowledge (but not spiritual growth perhaps). He is also to be under the guidance of a spiritual mentor; an ordained LCMS pastor. The area pastors must also play a role in welomimg him in a manner that is helpful to his growth. Disdain at his inclusion as a pastor is antithetical to the tradition of our brotherhood.

I recognize that these are unusual and extraordinary circumstances. I have been told the qualifying, the education and the growth process has in some cases fallen short of the stated ideal. But how many outposts of the Gospel message have been maintained and nurtured to reap a harvest that you and I will never know? I am confident, in so far as I know, that in this particular case the intention is far more honorable than the abuses.

Alarming to some is the notion that we cannot be financially dependent upon "Daddy BigBucks" to fund our smaller , rural congregations. I realize this is hard to stomach when we have a bureaucracy that stumbles over the money. Certainly, all is not perfect in the body we embrace as "our church".

I believe, in the context I have described, this ministry has a part in our efforts to advance the Kingdom. But it will take leaders such as yourself to see the value and embrace it.

I cannot address the 'racist' perspective you related. If it is true that our trusted leaders have such a perspective then we are lost for our association with them.

I look to the ancients for understanding in this issue as well. For certainly not all the presbyters were men from an esteemed instituion but followed the leadership of others to grow in the faith and be discipled as a shepherd.

I challenge you, my brother in the faith, to reconsider your thoughts regarding this ministry effort. We can't lose the outposts that are on the fringes of geography and economic stability. That while this system of nurturing shepherds is far from perfect it is one we need to support and help grow in the true, right and saving faith.

May God bless your ministry and your family AND may He put in your life a DELTO candidate.

Latif Haki Gaba said...

In the case of competing "traditions," I would define genuine tradition the same way the Augustana does. In this light, I don't see Tradition as being fluid. (To be sure, it does grow, though in its own way.) The Confessions are not fluid. Yet "Confessional," unfortunately, has become quite fluid. You say the anchor is the Confessions. That's theoretically the case, yes. But as you know, Lutherans don't agree at all on how to read the Confessions. Not even "quia subscription" means the same thing to all who profess it.

Father Hollywood said...

Another example of the difference between a purely "confessional" view and a "traditional" view is in polity.

The Lutheran Confessions express a preference for the then-existing polity - i.e. bishops in apostolic succession ordaining and overseeing priests. This was not doable for the reformers in Germany, but was in Scandinavia.

So, an American confessional Lutheran will likely argue that since polity is an adiaphoron, it is purely optional. Hence, the LCMS polity (which is recent, and quite different than the traditional polity preferred by the confessions) of democracy, autonomy, and no episcopal oversight, the system of conventions and district presidents (nowhere mentioned in Scripture or Confessions) is of no more or less value than the traditional polity (which is, by the way, the norm in most Lutheran jurisdictions around the world).

In other words, the "confessional" position is that polity doesn't matter. You say "toMAHto," and I say "toMAYto." But here in America, our system is probably better.

As a "traditionalist," I agree that the matter is an adiaphoron - not explicitly specified in Scripture. I agree with the Confessions' preference for traditional polity.

But I argue that all polities are not created equal. If we have a choice of both, a traditionalist will stick with tradition.

While neither system is perfect, and while both can be corrupted, I believe episcopal polity (the norm in world Lutheranism) is superior. Some confessional Lutherans would argue that congregational polity is better (its opposition to tradition notwithstanding).

It's easier to depose a bad bishop than to depose a bad mob. It should give us pause that no other historic body that sees itself in continuity with the ancient church has ever tried our kind of polity. I think the experiment has largely proven itself doomed to failure.

When a simple show of hands can introduce lay ministers and rewrite our theology, there is something wrong. We live in a secular culture of "vox populi, vox Dei," and this is now the worldview in our church body.

I don't afgue that our polity makes us "not church" or invalidates our sacraments. Not at all. But it has created unintended consequences - which always happens when we think our modern revolutionary ways are superior to what the Bride of Christ has done for nearly 2000 years.

If the LCMS implodes and another structure must replace it, I hope there is room somewhere in America for traditionalist Lutherans who want to go back to the traditional ways as opposed to trying to fit in with American democracy and Protestantism.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Stagiare:

I appreciate your comments and the gentle way you articulate your opinions, but I can't agree with them.

I do agree that there may be extraordinary circumstances in which men may not be able to attend seminary, but those cases would be extremely rare in the U.S. We are the wealthiest country in the world, and even our poor are rich compared to others around the globe. Lutherans in Madagascar have a seminary. They don't have DELTO. Their standard of living is a pittance compared to ours.

I know of cases where the DELTO student just doesn't want to uproot and go to seminary. Sometimes the wife has a really high-powered job. Maybe he doesn't want his children to have to go through a move. It's not a metter of necessity for many of these guys, but rather of convenience.

Seminarians hit the plow and don't look back every day. They sacrifice in obedience to the Lord. It's inconvenient. A lot of people don't realize what a burden it is - moving to sem, moving to vicarage, moving back to sem, then moving to your call - 4 moves in 4 years. Guys do it with families in tow. It is a huge burden. Guys give up lucrative careers. That's just what we have to do.

You don't get to eat the cake and keep it too.

I know of a DELTO student who took one quarter's worth of classes. He was an arrogant know-it-all who was preaching and saying "Mass" while he was still a student. He went home during Christmas break to do a baptism. When asked why this was happening, he explained it was a "mission situation." Uh, his "mission" was in an American metropolis of 14 million people, a world-class city that hosted the Olympics. This was not the Australian Outback.

When our synod was founded, almost all of America was rural, and there were no cars and no super-highways. And even in those days, they didn't have the DELTO program. Ordained pastors traveled to preach and say Mass, and it never dawned on the laypeople to take matters into their own hands. They supported their seminaries and prospective pastors went there to study.

There are two issues with DELTO: 1) unordained men functioning (while students) as pastors (which is contrary to our confessions), and 2) the inferior training a man will get in forgoing physical proximity to his brothers under formation.

I also believe DELTO is racist, for it is often excused as something needed for black and hispanic ministries - as though minorities don't need pastors who are trained as extensively as whites, or that black or hispanic seminarians won't be able to handle the workload. Both of these premises are false.

Finally, if there is a congregation, rural or otherwise, that will shrivel up and die if "Joe" isn't there, they are bordering on being a cult. A congregation should love its pastor, to be sure. But pastors die, and new pastors take their place. Otherwise, the Church itself would have died with the apostles.

If Keith Brda and I were hit by a bus tomorrow morning, our parishioners would mourn, but guess what? They'd have some other guy put on the vestments next Sunday and preach and say Mass. No one person is irreplacable. But we're saying the opposite with DELTO.

Once again, I think we should err on the side of tradition. The apostles were physically with Jesus as "discipuli" (students) for three years. The seminary system has served the Church well for centuries upon centuries.

I also believe there are a lot of rural parishes that need to combine instead of selfishly demanding to have a pastor they can't afford. DELTO is a stop-gap "solution" to a much deeper problem.