Leithart's future/end of Protestantism III: the place of liturgy...

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Paragraph One; "The Future-End of Protestantism":

Protestants often act as if the Reformation were the end of history, the moment when the Church reached its final condition. For these sorts of Protestants, the future of Protestantism can only be more of the same. This cannot be. God is the living Creator, still at work in his world, and that means that the Protestantism of the future will be something new, and, given the pattern of God's creativity, something better.

Although this is the third installment of our examination of Dr. Peter Leithart's call for the end of Protestantism and we've discussed his first paragraph before, there's more to say. Look at the third, fourth, and fifth words of his piece. Dr. Leithart pitches his narrative of change to those Protestants who only "act as if" the "future of Protestantism will be more of the same." He doesn't address their thoughts or convictions.

This wording could be a function of Dr. Leithart's graciousness. He's merely acknowledging that a proposition which ought to be rejected out of hand by any thoughtful man might still be able to worm its way into that man's habits until he acts as if the proposition were true. Yet I'm guessing something deeper is at work.

Postmodernism is committed to guarding the chasm it has constructed between beliefs and actions, convictions and practices. A close reading of Dr. Leithart indicates that he's less interested in changing Protestants' thoughts and doctrine than their actions and liturgies. Thus Leithart's gentle prodding of simple creatures of habit right at the beginning of his piece. To nominal Protestants caught up in acting as if the Reformation matters as much today as it did five centuries ago, Dr. Leithart issues his invitation...

There's more to see! Hop on, and off we go down the path of God's "pattern of creativity" towards "something better." Leave all the old Reformational fuddy-duddies to their doctrines. Surely you don't actually agree with them, do you? You're only "acting as if" you agree with them. So stop it! We don't need any more of the same narrow-minded tribalism. God is the God of change—the God of improvement. Off we go to "something better."

Here at the beginning, Dr. Leithart indicates he isn't interested in wasting time addressing Reformational principles, convictions, and doctrines. It takes too long. Note how little was accomplished arguing over doctrine during the Federal Vision debacle of the past decade. Let's stop wasting time systematizing our doctrine. Life is short and there's a better way. Let's move on to actions. To sacraments and liturgy. If you can get people to do the same thing in worship, who cares about their doctrinal commitments? As time goes by, the liturgy will do its job and we'll have ecumenical unity without squandering energy and years on doctrinal deliberations, synods, and presbytery trials.

Despite the stunning diversity of Liverpool football fans from every walk of life, every educational institution (and none), and every social class, when their boys take the pitch, the song is unison and the world is one:

Liverpool, Liverpool,
Liverpool, Liverpool,
Liverpool, Liverpool,
Liverpool, Liverpool,
Liverpool, Liverpool,
Liverpool, Liverpool...

What is the center of Leithart's plan for the reunification of reformed Protestants and unreformed Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox? It's the Church Visible's uniting sacraments and liturgies. Later in his piece Leithart writes:

Paragraph Ten; "The Future-End of Protestantism":

Now... there are signs that reconciliation is possible. For a century already, the ecumenical and liturgical movements have been chipping away at the old divisions in dogma and ritual. With regard to the proper role of ritual and ecumenical passion, I have often thought it my vocation to play a role in dragging conservative American Protestants, kicking and screaming, into the twentieth century....

As I've been trying to point out elsewhere, liturgy matters—a whole lot. So then, here's a modest proposal for those who remain committed to Reformed doctrine and worship:

Because this is not what we think and believe and confess, let's not give in to Dr. Leithart's pressure to get us to act as if the Reformers' reform of worship is old and in the way. Let's not act as if it's merely one more piece of detritus hanging around from the glory days of Reformed Protestant tribalism. Let's not abandon the Word-centered simplicity of New Testament worship reclaimed by our Reformed fathers, trading it in for the delicate, elegant, refined, exquisite, elaborate complexity of those liturgies Peter Leithart wants to use to unite Protestants with Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. There's a reason the idolatries of the Mass and icons remain at the center of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox worship.

We have no need to deny Dr. Leithart his pursuit of the millenium so long as he doesn't require everyone else pursuing the millenium to sign on to his means and methods. And if he tells us simplicity is synonymous with crude, hackneyed, and superficial, we'll LOL and tell him to go home and listen to Rostropovich's recordings of Bach's Cello Suites or Gould humming along with the Goldberg Variations.

He might also read through Calvin's liturgy for the Lord's Supper.

Meanwhile, we are content to continue to worship in the New Testament Apostolic simplicity that is the dwelling place of those committed to worshipping God in spirit and in truth. As Leithart puts it, we are just "that sort of Protestant."

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!