What We Are Up Against

…is American “Old Tyme” Religion. This is one of the most basic and fundamental aspects of American culture, and it is the reason why Lutherans, at least those of the Hypo-European bent like myself, will always be lonely, will always be unpopular, will always be “Roman.” I realized this as I was walking around “Old Threshers” in Hamilton, IL and seeing just how much the common people relish the “Old American Religion.” In fact, on Sundays, there is always a “Worship service” at Threshers led by one of the local Protestant clergypersons, which also draws my own members who have tents or crafts at this festival. Though I have never been to it (I have been having Mass at my own parish) I have no doubts that it is done in the style of the Old West, with the sentimental, sappy songs that unfortunately pass for Christian. “Old Tyme” Religion is why Lutheran chorales, stout Luther hymns, reverent posture and conduct of the Divine Service, weekly Communion, chanted liturgy, and any number of other “favorites” of orthodox Lutherans will always, always be looked at with disdain and suspicion. Lutheranism in other parts of the world has its challenges, but as far as I know, the American aversion to chanted services, elaborate ceremony, colorful vestments, and devotion to the Sacraments is homegrown Americanism. Correct me if I’m wrong.

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About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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6 Responses to What We Are Up Against

  1. organshoes says:

    I think you’re absolutely right.
    ‘Old-time religion’ is American at its core. It emphasizes and it serves the individual, not the faith; not the faith of the individual.
    It highlights that very American sin of not being able to get over oneself.

  2. Preachrboy says:

    Schulz calls it Fundamentalism. Adams calls it Neo-Evangelicalism. You call it Old-time reliion.

    You’re all correct in observing that our greatest challenge as Lutherans is the encroachment of these ideas. Well said, though.

  3. Father Hollywood says:

    Another home run, Fr. Beisel. American Lutheranism has caved to ecclesiastical peer pressure.

  4. Katherine says:

    Help me understand the vestment thing, in all seriousness. I agree with all my heart that the circus church of American evangelicalism is wrong, but as a LCMS Lutheran who grew up in a conservative congregation that has NOT gone headlong into the contemporary nightmare, I am equally troubled by the those who dress like regal princes and resurrect 18th century-style state Lutheranism. John Fenton, prior to his move into Eastern Orthodoxy, was conducting what amounted to Orthodox style masses long before he made his switch public. Photos of him in his elaborate, gold-threateded copes and vestments with his various phalanx of altar boys, etc. etc. or whatever they’re called, convinced me that there’s more than one kind of circus church in town. I try to picture how Jesus and the Apostles would have ministered being dressed like princes. Wouldn’t those gorgeous white linen copes and chausibles have gotten awfully dirty, touching the lepers and the sick and the poor? If the King of kings didn’t dress like that, why should a minister in service to Jesus dress that way? It seems to reek of pride. I am not saying that pastors who do this are prideful, but it seems to smack of that. I know that our church’s Pastor Bruggeman, once a Lutheran Hour speaker, dressed in a simple black robe when he preached the Gospel and administered the sacraments in the 1940’s and 50’s. You couldn’t have gotten more confessional than he was. Why do confessional pastors now want to look like Orthodox peacocks? Why and when the change? Our pastor says that the white albs came in along with the jumbo gold crosses swinging from chains around the pastors’ necks in the 1970’s. Things have gotten more elaborate since then among confessional types out of Ft. Wayne. Curious about this.

  5. Pastor Beisel says:

    Katherine,

    I respect your misgivings about the elaborate vestments. You are right, of course, that one can be a completely orthodox, faithful, confessional pastor without dressing like a peacock, as you put it. Vestments neither add nor take away from the Gospel. They are neither commanded nor forbidden by our Lord Jesus in the Scriptures. This is why the Lutheran Reformers and those who followed them retained the traditional vestments while at the same time discarding that which was contrary to Scripture. This is why they were in wide usage throughout the Lutheran Church until the age of Pietism (17th-18th centuries) when a strong anti-Roman Catholic and anti-sacramental/Office of the Ministry bias swept through Lutheranism in Europe and into the United States with those who settled here.

    I would submit that one can be just as prideful wearing a plain black geneva gown as he could wearing a Chasuble, Alb, Amice, and Stole. I imagine that the reason such elaborate vestments quickly came into style in the early Church was that early Christians (unlike many of us today) had a deep sense that the worship of the Christian Church was a reflection of the heavenly worship, where the King of Kings sits on the heavenly throne, surrounded by angels, archangels, and the whole company of heaven. If the Old Testament worship was glorious in so far as it was a reflection of the heavenly tabernacle, how much more glorious the worship of the New Testament, in which the Son of God Himself has taken on human flesh and blood for us.

    Vestments, whether a geneva gown, an alb, or a Chasuble are meant to cover the man and extol the Office of the Word. Same reason pulpits are erected higher than other parts of the Chancel. It is about extolling the Word of God. It is done in Christian freedom. I hope this was a helpful answer to your question.

  6. Lawrence says:

    katherine’s comments made me think back to my youth. (I can remember back to the late 60s). Pastor back then wore the black suite with the simple white vestment and appropriate colored (can’t find the word) scarves. And black cowboy boots. (But you have to know the region of the country to understand a cowboy boots reference).

    Every Lutheran pastor I remember (other than in pictures) have worn the same basic vestments while preaching. Except some wear regular dress shoes instead of boots.

    I rarely see the big gold crosses and Romanesque accoutrements discussed herein.

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