I don't know why, but I like the word "Troglodyte". I looked it up. The dictionary says it means a caveman or someone who dwells in the earth. By extension, the word means someone out of style, old fashioned, out of touch with how things are done, a person of degraded, primitive, or brutal character, or a person unacquainted with affairs of the world. It isn't the meaning that I get a kick out of, it is the word itself. According to Wikipedia, a troglodyte is a fictional person, or people.
The word came to mind when I was thinking about worship - and the controversies in our age about worship. I was planning on writing about worship and the issues swirling in the church on that topic when the sentence-fragment came to mind, "Troglodytes who cannot and will not go along with church growth, with contemporary worship, with praise services, or simply will not tolerate someone else taking their hymnal, their creeds and their worship away from them." Suddenly, I realized that I am a Troglodyte, a Lutheran Troglodyte. I am old-fashioned, out of style, and (reportedly) out of touch with how things are done today. People consider me primitive, and certainly unacquainted with the ways of the world.
I find myself unwilling to relinquish my worship. I have endured new liturgies and new hymnals, reluctantly, but as I do, I find less and less reason to do so. Why should I give up my faith, my music, my creeds, and the way in which I have worshiped for my entire life? I have argued with the "experts", and they tell me that, a) I know nothing about the topic, and, b) I am tilting at windmills. The changes in the liturgy, or in the creeds we find in the new books "make no difference at all" - or so I have been told. Of course, I keep wondering, if they make no difference at all, why did we bother to make them? And why can't we go back to the old way, seeing as how it makes no difference?
You see, it makes a difference to me. I was taught that the way we worship takes a hand in shaping the way we believe, and what we do and say as we worship both reflects and forms what it is that we believe. So, I am very suspicious of change. If it doesn't make a difference, why make the change? And if it does make some difference, I want to be really clear on what difference it makes before I settle in with the change. You see? I am a Troglodyte.
I didn't like it when the liturgy changed from one hymnal to the next. They tell me that it is just exactly the same as the old liturgy, just the language has been updated. God has lost His 'Thee's and 'Thou's, and the 'doeth's and 'seeth's have become "does" and "says". It seemed to me that by this change God was deprived of some of His majesty, but I am reliably told that such is not the case. Still, I wonder why that as we made the change to the more informal language, open-necked shirts, blue-jeans, and tennis shoes became common church attire, replacing suits, and ties, and dress shoes. I can live with it, I guess. It just seems an odd coincidence. After all, God doesn't pay any mind to how we dress for church (or so I am reliably told). He made us naked. Anything we put on, then, must be an improvement. My mirror confirms that much, at least!
The changes in the how we do the liturgy came with the new hymnals, too. We read things we used to sing, and we 'chant' stuff we used to just speak. It is just a matter of style, and not of substance. That is what they say. Being a Troglodyte, I get hung up on things that don't matter, just because they change. I know for a fact that centuries ago people did things differently. My only problem with that is that I wasn't there, doing them that way back then. I miss the doing things the way I used to do them. While the congregations of the Synod have been busy making inconsequential changes, I have heard reports that it is difficult to find churches that haven't altered their doctrine, too. I guess that once you start changing, it gets to be a challenge to manage that change.
Those of you who know me know that in my parish, we do the same old things, the same old way. I teach the same stuff I was taught as a kid. I refused to give up my hymnal because I don't want to lose the hymns that didn't make the cut for the next book, and I flatly refuse to let someone rewrite the creeds. The Creed is my confession of faith! You go right ahead and mess with yours, but leave the words I speak alone! Some of the changes seem inconsequential, but some of them say something different than I want to say. Us Troglodytes are fussy.
Most of the foregoing is sort-of tongue in cheek. I am happy that I don't have to make the changes I have seen in the last two hymn-books. I have to admit that I also dismayed at the changes that I have witnessed in the church-at-large during the changing of the hymnals. The changes were not always prompted by the changing hymnals, but the other way around. The result, however, is striking.
First, people who want the same old worship have found themselves largely ignored and "hung out to dry". Along with the change in the worship style, there has been a significant shift in public doctrine. I would guess that people changed their doctrine and so they could no longer be comfortable with the old-fashioned worship because the older liturgy constantly repeated a faith they no longer shared. The effect must have been grating. Church after church fled from the hymnal to Creative Worship, or contemporary worship to escape that stifling sense of sameness that I refer to as "faithfulness". Once freed from the constraint of traditional worship, congregations have often forced their faithful pastors to leave. They did it because they no longer shared the same faith.
Mind you, no one claims to have changed their formal confession. The public doctrine of their congregations remained, apparently, the same, except, perhaps, that new and modern "mission statements" were crafted to say what the congregation was about, rather than point to the Lutheran Confessions or to the Bible to establish that. The reality is that the old saw, "lex orandi, lex credendi", the way you pray (or worship) is the way you believe, was demonstrated to be true. Faithful worship leads to and reflects faithfulness in doctrine. Worshiping like a Protestant, neo-evangelical congregation leads to believing like one. Not only do most Lutherans no longer believe that 'Lutheran' is right and other denominations are 'wrong', but a significant percentage of them (78% -according to U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, June 2008) no longer even believe that one must be a Christian to be 'saved' (responded "yes" to this statement: "Many religions can lead to eternal life").
In today's world, Lutherans who still want to be Lutheran (Troglodytes, don't you know!) Often struggle to find sound, confessional Lutheran doctrine, or faithful Lutheran worship. Many settle for something less, but closer to what they hunger for than the run of the mill. I have heard reports from people who have searched and found no Lutheran church within eighty miles of their homes, or more, that teaches the faith and practices consistently Lutheran worship. Unfaithfulness by Lutheran pastors and Lutheran congregations is nothing new in history. Nevertheless, when you cannot find a place where you can worship with a clear conscience and unfettered enthusiasm (not the schwärmer kind), it is troubling. It is becoming all too common, too.
Being a Troglodyte is a good thing, theologically. It means that you are faithful, that you don't change just because everyone else has decided to change. It can also be painful and lonely. Being a Troglodyte requires being prepared to go it alone, and to confess Christ without the comfort of a social system wrapped around you to give you affirmations for standing faithfully. You might be required to establish your own family worship. Today there are good sermons freely available on the internet to help supply your needs. Hymnals are available to assist the lone Lutheran family in joining with the Church in faithful worship. Knowing our theology helps, because then you know that even when the congregation is small - or even when it is just one person, we never truly worship alone, for the Church is made up of all those that truly believe. If we have just two or three, Christ is with us.
All of this is to say that today one needs to search for the truth - doctrinal truth and practical (worship) truth. In many places, a faithful Lutheran church is simply not to be found. If, however, you find it, rejoice!
If you have a church that is faithful, you should cling to it as a life-raft adrift in an ocean. You will want to recognize what a treasure you have found, and thank God for it! Obviously, I believe that my congregation is just such a place, and so members of Shaped by the Cross already have such a church. But I know that others read this newsletter too, both by mail and on-line. This encouragement is for all of you. Find a faithful church, and when you do, recognize that it is nothing to be taken for granted.
The first thing to do is to establish regular attendance. Participate boldly and eagerly. Support your pastor and those who are in the leadership of your congregation and make sure that they understand that their faithfulness is deeply appreciated. We often take a faithful church for granted, but you may be certain that many who have formerly taken their church for granted are now repenting and desperately searching for some remnant of the riches which they once carelessly enjoyed. Cling to your church, fight for it, and bear witness to others of what a treasure you have found. And fight to maintain it.
One of the primary reasons churches fall apart in America is that we are seduced by our culture and the advertising we encounter into believing so many things are important, and urgently needed. A faithful church is an expensive proposition. You have to pay the bills, pay the pastor, provide for his and his family's welfare, and support the mission of the congregation both internally and externally. But, as Martha (Mary's sister) found out, there are really very few things needed, and - if we are honest about it - only one. We need the Word of God, faithfully preached, Sacraments faithfully administered according to their institution, and the fellowship of the saints. It sounds like three things, but it is really only one: a faithful Lutheran congregation. If you have that, you have a treasure that is worth more than all the trinkets of society. If you have that, maintain it and sustain it. It is worth the fight! Once it is gone, it may not be possible to raise it up again!
Members of congregations that remain steadfast need to rediscover the old-fashioned sense that their support of their congregation is their privilege and their primary responsibility, after their families. Their congregation needs them! She (for the church is the bride of Christ) needs their participation in worship. Nothing is more thrilling than the whole congregation gathered to worship and singing their confession! Few things are as disheartening as a remnant of the congregation, gathered for worship, and feeling the sense that her members don't value her or them. She needs their talents on the various boards and committees by which the congregation works among her members, and in the community surrounding her. The day is long past when anyone is expendable, when their talents are not needed, and their wisdom is not important. The church cannot afford to just leave the work to the faithful - and tired - few. Truly, if we who possess this treasure do not delight in it, and thank God with all our heart for His Word among us, we may find the candle-stick of the Word removed from among us, to our sorrow. There is a famine of the Word creeping over our land today. Let us work while it is still day!
We need to be proud of being Troglodytes. Confessing Christ is not now, nor has it ever really been, in fashion. Confessional Lutherans are out of date, old-fashioned, out of touch with the styles and values of the world around them. We have our own ideas of how things are supposed to be done. We are, in almost every sense of the word, Troglodytes. Except, we are not a fictitious people — and we need to exercise great care and energy to make sure we don't become merely a fiction of the past. Let us confess Christ boldly, pour our lives into our congregations fearlessly, and proudly bear the banner of being Troglodytes - excuse me - truly confessional Lutherans.
I like that word, "Troglodyte"!
Yours in the Lord,
These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due.
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