Posted on April 11th, 2014
In Washington, D.C., a new church held its first service on March 30. Called Roots DC, they meet in a bar and appear, from their website, very post-modern. Among other things, they present themselves as a church for those who are “looking for a way of life instead of a system of doctrine.” That’s nothing new on the American church scene.
On April 4, a former Missouri Synod clergyman, Joshua Genig, wrote about his departure to Eastern Orthodoxy, after just a few years of service as a pastor. Genig has a reason for not wanting to discuss his conversion with detractors: “I have embraced a way of life, not a set of dogmatic presuppositions.”
Thus you have a modern convert to an Eastern church, and a post-modern church plant, professing the same core value: Christianity as a “way of life,” not doctrine (teaching). This is a false dichotomy, an attempt to put asunder what God has joined together.
The heart of the apostolic church is found in Acts 2, in the life that flowed from the pouring out of the Spirit on Pentecost and the gift of Holy Baptism with its gift of the Spirit and the forgiveness of sins. First in the list of things the new believers dedicated themselves to was the “apostles’ doctrine (τῇ διδαχῇ τῶν ἀποστόλων, Acts 2:42).” Without the doctrine, there is no basis for the communion (τῇ κοινωνίᾳ τῇ κλάσει τοῦ ἄρτου) and the liturgy (“the prayers,” ταῖς προσευχαῖς).
The heart of Christianity is the Word of Jesus.
For Genig, the liturgy is the organizing principle of the Church. “The liturgy is the very hermeneutic of continuity and principle of unity.” I do not believe Christianity can be centered on rituals apart from doctrine, or a “way of life instead of a system of doctrine.” The heart of Christianity is the Word of Jesus. “Thy Word is truth,” and the Church prays with Jesus, “Sanctify us in that truth,” a Wordy, verbal, doctrinal truth. Doctrine is teaching, and it is how disciples (pupils) are made: “Make disciples … baptizing … and teaching them…” (Mt. 28).
My parish is devoted to a rich practice of the liturgy; we have not abandoned the Lutheran Confession that “we celebrate the Mass with [great] reverence and devotion” (See AC and Ap XXIV). But that liturgy is not our hermeneutic; rather, Christ Jesus and Him crucified is the hermeneutic. Without the correct doctrine, the liturgy is not beautiful, but an abomination. This is true whether the liturgy is adorned with richly-colored pictures and pleasant smells, or performed in a tavern with a guitar. The Gospel drives the liturgy.
Without the correct doctrine, the liturgy is not beautiful, but an abomination.
This was the message the sainted Professor Kurt Marquart articulated in his incredibly important “Liturgy and Dogmatics” (click here for the PDF). Like Genig, I learned to love the liturgy at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. But there are grave dangers in misunderstanding liturgy’s role in the church, promoted by such influential writers as Alexander Schmemann and Aidan Kavanagh. The exaltation of “richly ambiguous corporate actions” causes Marquart to ask, “Why the flight from doctrinal clarity?” This common flight from doctrinal clarity makes the modern convert to the Eastern church and the post-modern pub theologian sound so very similar. ∗