Friday, September 25, 2009

A Slow Drift Is the Change that Is Hardest to Stop

Change in the Church is often slow in coming. In college we would snidely sing "Like a herd of turtles moves the Church of God..." We were full of it -- mostly ourselves -- and believed it was time to make change felt in the Church. Funny. The change we were fomenting for was a return to things that had been but had been changed -- like the weekly Eucharist... like historic vestments... like historic liturgy... We were bold and brash but we were up front about the change we thought needed to happen.

When we approach change directly and when we consider all the consequences about that change, we make informed decisions. They may still be wrong decisions but at least we making decisions and introducing change face to face.

The slow drift toward things new and different is generally the harder change to deal with and the most dangerous of all changes. This slow drift is generally not faced directly, often it is met with a shrug of the shoulders, and no one considers the implications of such drift until the damage is done.

The ELCA is a good example. The change in the ELCA has come in small steps, generally not faced directly, and mostly as a slow drift away from what was toward a goal never formally identified. The decisions at the recent CWA are the most dramatic marks of the long drift away from historic and confessional Lutheranism. Even then this decision by our Lutheran cousins was hardly faced head on. No, the church is not changing, they were told, just allowing some congregations and some synods to change -- and not doctrine... just practice. All of this bound conscience talk was designed to avoid facing up to the dramatic shift that was underneath the words in the reports and resolutions. The ELCA had been drifting this way for years. All the CWA did was legitimize this drift in a way that tried not to offend the silent majority.

Missouri has its own example. The move toward contemporary worship has been going on at the same time the Commission on Worship was developing a new hymnal supplement and hymnal, at the same time convention after convention affirmed the cause of the liturgy. We have been drifting this way for years and years without formally addressing it or facing up to it. The consequences of this drift have been felt as the rift has grown deeper and deeper but the silent majority has been assured that styles change but not substance, that practices can change but not doctrine.

If either Missouri or the ELCA faced up to these as a whole body confronting the change, considering the implications, and making a formal decision, things might have gone differently for both. If congregations in the ELCA had to vote on the CWA actions or if Missouri faced up to some of the abominations that go on in the name of "contemporary worship" then the outcome might have been different for both.

The change I fear most for Lutheranism and for Christianity in general is the slow drift kind of change... Like a boat without an anchor, the drift seems innocuous until you begin to realize that this slow movement has sent you far out to sea with land no more in sight, so does this drift threaten doctrine, orthodoxy, and the voice of Scripture.

Some folks fear church conflict and fights. I fear this slow drift toward change that will leave us completely unsecured from the anchor of Scripture, the living tradition of the Church, and, eventually, from the Gospel and the means of grace. God help us from the things we choose not to face head on...


Anonymous said...


You are right on when you state that this issue must be dealt with head on.

Do you see support for such in circuits, districts and synod headquarters in the LCMS?

WELS President Schroeder addressed this issue in his report to the synod at its last convention. It most certainly will be an uphill battle, but it's begun at the top.

The ELS just ignores the issue, altogether as if it doesn't exist in that synod.

May the LCMS seminaries continue to graduate pastors such as yourself to go into the field and teach their congregations Lutheran worship.

I don't understand why pastors and congregations want to look like today's culture, when today's culture doesn't look too good.

Myrtle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Myrtle said...

In the non-profit world, this is called mission creep. Organizations find themselves starting programs that may very well be legitimately beneficial, but are not completely aligned with their mission. Before long, the work which they do has little connection with their mission and their strategic plan. This often is a result of trying to remain competitive in the market place, of following popular trends in grant dollars and trying to align with them instead of the mission of the organization.

I am a firm believer that if you do a program well, focusing on the true needs of the participants and include rigorous assessment measures that will provide genuine outcomes, grant dollars will follow. Transparency and alignment to mission is a powerful message. Step away from that and mission creep is the inexorable result.

As I have written before, I find the liturgy an absolute blessing, having long eschewed the trend toward using pop culture and popular Christian literature as text and sermon in church. For years, I have found it truly unbelievable that churches have decided that they needed to sell Jesus to essentially remain competitive in the marketplace.

Truth is the most compelling thing in all of creation. Preach it, teach it in its purity, and churches will be successful in the only way that matters. In my personal opinion, the use of liturgy, which bathes parishioners in the sweet, sweet Gospel, is the best way to do this, to ensure that the Living Word is the form and standard for all that happens in God's house.

Think of it this way: I have been taught that the Divine Service is called that because it is the Divine who is doing the service; it is God who is pouring out His gifts upon His children. The way I see it, contemporary worship is more about man seeking to serve fellow man, based on his own creativity, more than anything else.