Friday, June 23, 2006

Lex Orandi And Lex Credendi: Double or Nothing

Many of the problems confronting The Episcopal Church are by no means confined to TEC. Chief among these are a lack of a settled theology and a somewhat elastic view of permissible worship. One finds these even in putatively conservative church bodies. Fr. John Fenton, a pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, notes these maladies have broken out there -- and the two problems are related. Unless one has both a settled liturgical heritage and a defined faith, one will always be at danger of slipping into heresy. His blog offers this insightful quotation from a friend of his:

Lutheranism has a lex credendi (rule of faith) but no lex orandi (rule of
prayer). Anglicanism has a lex orandi (Book of Common Prayer), but no lex
credendi
(anything goes, doctrinally speaking). Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism have both a lex credendi (Tradition) and a lex orandi (the Liturgy).

...The liturgical and practical instability of Lutheranism flows out its reticence to define dogmatically its rule of worship in the way of a received "holy tradition." This is why Lutheran practice frequently comes unbuckled from Lutheran doctrine. It relies on paper subscription to a book without practical adherance [sic.] to any liturgical or practical norms.

As though to prove the point, our friend the Ochlophobist posted a story of High Church evangelical parish he attended. When he was there, though Protestant, the parish appreciated liturgy, especially the Book of Common Prayer; studied the Nicene Creed; celebrated weekly communion; and sang theologically meaningful hymns:

Things have changed. The praise & worship is now pop music of the sort played on "Christian" radio stations. The church has also gone charismatic. They have a woman who speaks in tongues during the service each week. If no one "interprets" this "prophecy" then the pastor provides an interpretation. Not a lot of talk about creeds anymore. The church has the same pastor and most of the core group of parishioners. They just decided to get slappy happy.

Why did this happen? Because it can. There is no tradition or authority to stop them...They are tossed about on the waves of emotional and spiritual frenzy. If it can happen, friends, sooner or later it will, no matter how good things once were.

A friend informed me of a similar situation in a TEC congregation that went charismatic by following the broad guidelines laid down by the 1979 BCP.

All one has to do to change the faith of millions is allow an innovation as a "permitted" exception. Within a few years, that exception will become the rule, and those adhering to the rule will be portrayed as retarding the church's progress. Fr. Fenton says it in another way:

Which is all a lengthy way of amending yet another lex coined by a former vicar of Zion: "Where historic liturgy is optional, historic faith will sooner or later be proscribed."
In other words Orthodoxy (right-belief) undergirds Orthodoxy (right-praise). The loveliest liturgy, drained of its theological content, will soon devolve into New Age psychoanalysis, weekly affirmations, political stump speeches, and invocations of the Mother Jesus. The most rigidly defined theology, without an equally suitable expression of faith, goes from being an intellectual exercise, to a relic, to an obstacle in short order. The faith becomes what fundies and fuddy-duddies use to prevent "the Spirit" from "doing a new act," usually one involving percussion, keyboards, and Power Point presentations.

This is a call to those who take solace in the notion, "At least my parish is on solid ground." In this environment, any such church is one new pastor, one generation away from charismania or warned-over secular humanism. The only safe ground is in a Church, built on the foundation of the Apostles, where their ancient liturgy upholds their true faith, and vice-versa. One will not long endure without the other.

(Hat tip: Fr. Fenton)

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