Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Crisis of Confidence...

A while ago I was asked by someone skeptical of the liturgy, "Why would you keeping on doing what you have always done knowing that it was not working?" Ignore every other aspect of what this person was saying and concentrate only on that last point -- "knowing that it was not working?" He brings up a legitimate point -- how do we know if it is working or not?

Many years ago, a parishioner who now rests from her labors came to me upset about something. I not only noticed that she was agitated but that her face was well beyond red and veins were bulging. Knowing that she had chronic high blood pressure problems, I asked her about her blood pressure. She informed me that she no longer was taking her medication because she did not feel any different when she was on it as when she wasn't. So she reckoned she would take it again when she felt the need. We took one moment to deal with whatever it was that had her upset and then I turned to the issue of her blood pressure. Since my wife is a CCRN and has educated me a bit on matters medical, I counseled her to speak with her doctor and to go back on her blood pressure medication right away. I suggested to her that she may not feel the medicine working but that, indeed, it was and that by the time she felt she needed the medication damage may already have been done (even catastrophic damage like stroke).

The Church may not feel the liturgy working or see signs of it working but the surest way to find out what it was accomplishing is to take it away. For nearly all of church history the liturgy has been an anchor of orthodoxy, a beacon of the Gospel, and the powerful rudder steering the Church to the solid path of Word, Sacrament, Law and Gospel. During all that time there have been heresies, false teachers and false teachings, distortions of the truth, and innovations that cast a dark shadow over the faith. These were not only the distinctions of academics but things that touched the very heart and soul of the lives of the individual Christians within the Church. Yet through it wall, the liturgy was there. When the pulpit was captive to false truth or no truth, the liturgy spoke clearly and powerfully. When pulpit and altar were together on the same plain, the life of the Church was richly fed.

It occurs to me that numbers are not the best way to gauge of things within the Church are working or not. Sports events garner huge crowds yet the combined total of all the attendance at all the events would not equal the number of Christians who sit in the pew on any given Sunday. So first we might be honest about the numbers...

It also occurs to me that gathering people in and keeping them there, keeping them growing and maturing in faith and life in Christ, may be at cross purposes. When the liturgy is there, when the lectionary drives the lessons, hymns and sermon, when the focus is on the Word and Sacrament, the stuff that Christians need is there. When creed and confession inform worship and piety and when worship and piety reflect creed and confession, the Church is anchored fairly securely in the means of grace.

I for one do not want to find out what happens when generations of people grow up in the faith without the liturgy, without the twin foci of Word and Table, without the rhythm of the Church Year lived out in pericope and hymnody, without the Law and Gospel voices so clearly planted in these ancient patters and faithful words... I don't want to find out what the Church will be like without these anchors of orthodoxy in confession and life. It is bad enough with all these things in place -- what will happen when worship becomes a program, when outcomes drive the content, and when relevance is more important than faithfulness?

Is it working? If the Church is still here, if people are still being fed the Word and Supper of the Lord, if sins are still being forgiven, if creed still invites confession of faith before the world, if sermon still conveys the whole truth of God's Word (the double edged sword of Law and Gospel), and if music still speaks the story of Jesus (and not our own personal stories), then it IS working -- better than we know -- to keep us on that narrow path that leads us to life everlasting in Jesus' name.

13 comments:

Chris said...

Excellent post. Fr. Peters. Glad Fr. Weedon directed me towards it.

Father Robert Lyons said...

Love the post! Thanks for your wonderful look at Liturgy and the insightful considerations of how to approach what we might often consider its drugery!

chaplain7904 said...

Great, thanks for this. Will direct my members to it.

Robbie F. said...

Well said!!!

Kevin said...

Wonderful post and a most convincing argument for the preservation of liturgical worship.

There has been some recent news stories that a basic liturgical style is being adopted by some evangelical non-denominational Churches.

http://www.usnews.com/articles/news/national/2007/12/13/a-return-to-tradition_print.htm

We may be seeing a swing back to classic orthodox liturgical Christianity, let us hope and pray.

Maria said...

Keeping the practice of a liturgy which is repeated every Sunday but changing the words to make it fit false teaching, which I see around me, is just as bad as skipping it all together!

Myrtle said...

Having only been in liturgical services since the mid-spring, perhaps I am not one to comment, but I will.

For nearly three decades, I have left church hungry. Sometimes more, sometimes less. For much of the last two decades, I have vacillated between despair and disgust that the most common comment about scripture I heard was a plea to "bear with me" for the "long passage worth reading," long being anything over two or three verses, comments that were essentially apologizing for reading the Living Word in church! I have been treated as strange, even labeled a "bible freak" and "Jesus freak" because I memorize scripture and like to talk about what I have read or ask what you have been reading and, gasp, actually read ahead for Sunday School lessons or bible studies--this, for the most part, in evangelical, bible churches. This even on the mission field.

In liturgical services at the confessional Lutheran Church I have now joined, I am bathed in the sweet, sweet Gospel from the first word spoken to the last. The time I spend in God's house is filled with the Living Word, falling from my lips and those around me, filling my ears from the pulpit to the pew. In the liturgy and in the sermon, in the mercy and grace of God, I am given a right division of Law and Gospel so that I might learn of the fullness of His plan for His people and understand better the completeness of the gifts of faith and forgiveness He has for me. It is a works-free zone! No popular trend or Christian literature in sight!

I know that it has just been a few months, but, honestly, I cannot imagine how liturgy could ever be considered drudgery--a comment I have seen in many blogs, not just here.

Such puzzles me.

I have had the gift of faith for 31 years. In that time, I have struggled mightily, but I have always clung to the Word of God. I am constantly amazed that God would gift me, a wretched, oft weak sinner, with a book so profound, so powerful, and so very personal as the bible.

For me, it is an honor and a privilege, a blessing beyond compare, to sit within God's House where a liturgical service is taking place, even though I sometimes feel the interloper because I cannot follow the Divine Service as easily as those around me and I do not know almost all of the hymns that have been sung to date. It is an honor and a privilege and a blessing because the precedence the Living Word has in liturgy. Although our service goes well past the "traditional" hour, I am always a bit sad at its end, not ready to go, wanting more. On the Sundays I have not been there, I ache for what I have missed.

Even though it has been mere months for me, I cannot imagine, even once, considering liturgy as anywhere near drudgery. Nay, I cannot imagine it being anything less than precious to me. And it is my fervent hope that it will always be valued in the confessional Lutheran church no matter what new trend may come next.

Pastor Peters said...

The bane of that which is familiar afflicts many Lutherans and they do not realize what they had until it is gone. Once the newness of the latest Christian trend in entertainment worship grows stale -- then and only then do they appreciate its gift. Myrtle, your fresh take on the liturgy is what keeps old liturgical curmudgeons like me going...

Anonymous said...

Dear Pr. Peters,
"The bane of that which is familiar" has been effectively dispelled by a new hymnal which couldn't leave anything quite as it was... even when that was promised (e.g., DS III).
If it isn't a tweaking of words, it's a change (not necessarily for the better) of melody.
Those of us who were brought up to memorize the service and many of the hymns are leveled; a "6 month newbie" need not apologize for unfamiliarity. We're worse off; we think we know something and suddenly we're out of step.
I'm too old to appreciate it!

But, like the 'entertainment' service, this isn't being done for me and the sooner I move on the better, I suppose. (When folks half my age who read music make my complaint, though, I do wonder who it was done for!)

--helen

Pastor Peters said...

Helen, I spent half my life with TLH and most of the other half with LW and now 3 years with LSB... every book has strengths and weaknesses. What is interesting to read are the complaints about the '41 Hymnal -- people wrote the nastiest of letters saying how unsingable the melodies, how badly the words were tinkered with, how American style Gospel hymns replaced Lutheran ones, etc...

In my parish we use DS Setting 1, 2, 3, & 4 regularly. Every week somebody tells me how unsingable the liturgy is but the one they consider unsingable varies with the individual. Maybe we stuck too long with TLH and it became entirely too familiar -- I could not say...

But I can say that the hymns in all 3 are solid, the melodies workable (especially given our great organist), and the liturgy faithful (different but faithful)...

I participated in the introduction of LBW, LW, HS98, and LSB and introduced each of these to a congregation. So I have favorite things from each of them and I would have produced a very different hymnal to meet my own tastes (I loved the gregorian chant setting of SBH, too)... but since this was not produced for me but for the Church, I have to give them credit -- a daunting task, frought with potential complaint and disappointment, but a very credible job... I hope it grows on you...

Chris said...

The TLH had unsingable melodies? Who could possibly say that? The TLH was designed specifically for congregational participation and I thought it was pretty easy to follow. But, as I am a musician, maybe I'm just biased.

I hated the LW though. The alto, tenor and bass parts didn't allow for four part singing (which was really needed to make those chorales work) and the melodies for graduals, psalms and other propers was so po-mo that I think Luther, having heard this, would have recanted his statement that music was second only to theology.

Just mho.

Paul said...

Agreed -- let's not find out what happens when the liturgy is abandoned. However, let's keep the music fresh and alive. J.S. Bach has much to teach us in this matter.

J.G.F. said...

Thank you so much for this, Larry.

I'm linking it to my blog, too :-)

John