Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Basic Differences

At some point in time among Protestants, the worship service began to be seen as a vehicle for evangelism and outreach. In fact, some have said that the chief place where outreach takes place is on Sunday morning. With such a view of worship, what happens on Sunday morning must be made more than intelligible to those not yet believers -- it must be engaging, it must be welcoming, it must be familiar, it must be non-threatening, it must be accessible. Therefore, the mission principle is the justification for what is done on Sunday morning.

As one such minister put it to me, if your target for outreach consists of German folks whose taste in music is classical, who are formal by nature, who like singing hymns with difficult melodies, and who like to be passive instead of involved, then by all means do liturgy. But if your target people are different than this group, then you cannot use the liturgy (hymns, pipe organs, etc.) and be successful in outreach. The culture of Sunday morning must match the culture of the people you are appealing to...

There is only one basic problem with this thesis -- those who are not yet believers cannot worship God. Period. This is not Larry Peters conclusion. This is God speaking through Scripture. Only those who know Him (by baptism and faith) can worship Him in spirit and truth, as He desires, requires, and inspires.

I do not dispute the fact that every Sunday morning has "not yet believers" sitting in the pews with believers. I do not challenge the idea that people walk through the doors on Sunday morning without a clue to what the Christian faith is and that they gauge their impression of what the faith is from what they see and hear. BUT that these people are present does not mean that what is done on Sunday morning is for them or that it must intelligible to them -- much less tailored to those not yet believers (pagan, unbelievers, or even unchurched sounds so judgmental... worse it sounds defeatist... I prefer to call them the not yet believers... the not yet baptized... the not yet part of the community of faith...).

A comment on another post on this blog disparaged my disparagement of worship that mirrors our culture and defended: those who are using Lutheran praise worship as a vehicle for communicating Law/Gospel to the lost and bringing them to the cross of Jesus Christ. There is a problem here. First of all I am not even sure what "Lutheran praise worship" is but worship is NOT a vehicle for communicating Law/Gospel to the lost and bringing them to the cross of Jesus Christ. They may hear the Law and Gospel in worship, the Spirit may work through this Word to open their hearts to faith, but only the Body of Christ can worship Christ the head of that Body and the Trinity whom He reveals. Yes, we welcome those who do not yet belong but to suggest that worship is primarily or even secondarily a vehicle for communicating to the lost is just plain wrong. Have we forgotten the old distinction between the Mass of the Catechumens and the Mass of the Faithful?

This remains the biggest chasm between those who advocate a service that appeals to people's wants, needs, and culture, and those who insist that worship must conform the historic pattern of Word and Meal (within the framework of the mass form, with is Service of the Word and Service of the Sacrament). The debate is not about the age or youth of the hymns (read that songs). It is not about whether the confession can be here or somewhere else in the order. It is not about the words being "King James" or twitter speak. It is not about the use or lack of technology. It is not about vestments or lack of vestments. It is first and foremost about the basic question: Who can worship?

My own parish has tripled in size over the years, built a new facility, expanded mission support, established a preschool, multiplied our ministry, and created a very welcoming community (with all kinds of greeters, we care people, etc.). I am for growth. I am for outreach. I believe that we need to reach out to those not yet believers with the Law and Gospel. But worship is not evangelistic outreach. Only those who are already a part of the church by baptism and faith CAN worship. Those "not yet" can appreciate what they see and hear, learn from it, and even be drawn into it's mystery (that is how many of my newest members describe being in the liturgy) -- but worship belongs to those who belong to the community of faith.

Once I went to a worship conference where one contemporary worship person and one traditional worship person both had to address the question "Who is worship for -- those inside the church or those outside the church?" The "traditional" guy said he was at a loss to know what to do because neither of the choices were exactly correct. Worship is for God -- from God, yes, but also for God. The Divine Service with all of its gifts is for those whom He has called His own, washed in the living waters of baptism, and respond with faith under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Evangelism, outreach, catechesis, instruction, and assimilation need to be connected to the liturgy and flow from the Church assembled around the Word and Sacraments. The Church's witness begins within the context of what the Church does on Sunday morning but Sunday morning is not our outreach program.

When good people and good Pastors say "we say we will do whatever it takes on Sunday morning to bring the Law and Gospel to the lost so that they may be brought to the cross of Christ" I understand what they mean, what they hope to accomplish, and what is moving them... But is it correct? Is worship a tool of outreach? Is worship a program to be used for evangelism (or even education, for that matter)?

I believe Sunday morning should be welcoming and winsome -- here we print out the service because we are in the South, we have so many people from non-liturgical backgrounds, we have 3-8 new families who show up for the first time on a Sunday morning. I am not in favor of barriers or making people feel uncomfortable. But if a person off the street walks into the Church and does not feel at least a little uncomfortable, something is wrong. The Gospel is a jarring message that cuts across the reality of what the world outside of Christ believes. The efficacious Word is a strange concept to people who live in the culture of feelings, wants, and desires. The mysterion of the Sacraments is foreign to those outside the community of faith. We cannot bridge the gap to those outside by diminishing what happens on the inside. We are doing them a disservice. We are also doing the greatest disservice to the 95% of the people there who belong there by baptism and faith, catechesis and confession.

I believe in outreach, mission, evangelism, and witness. I believe in using tools that are authentic to our identity as Lutheran Christians. I believe in using the tools of technology in that outreach. I believe that the first priority of the church budget is mission. I believe that need to look at the building, the parking lot, the Sanctuary from the eyes of the new person to make sure we have not placed hidden barriers there. But I believe that what happens on Sunday morning must be dictated NOT by outreach concerns but by the Word, by the context of the community of the baptized believers who gather around that Word and Meal, and by the Church that is this assembly of those whom God has called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified.


12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Amen, pastor!

christl242 said...

Pastor Peters,

If I'm guessing correctly that that is Archbishop Wilton Gregory in the photo, I'm a bit confused as to how that relates to what you have stated.

Christine

Rev. Ray Salemink said...

I'm wrestling with your statement that worship is "NOT a vehicle for communicating Law/Gospel to the lost and bringing them to the cross of Jesus Christ." It's not that I disagree, exactly, but that we who do the historic liturgy do so because it is the Word of God and the Word of God will accomplish what God sends it to do. I understand that worship is primarily for the believer, i.e., God bringing his gifts to his people. I understand that it will be foreign and at times, offensive to the unbeliever. My struggle is that if it is not a vehicle for communicating Law/Gospel, then it might be said that worship is NO place for unbelievers and we should not let them in ??

Pastor Peters said...

To Ray... as I look at this post I saw one word which I had left out -- before NOT should be the word primarily...

I did not ever say or mean to say that communicating the Law/Gospel to whomever sits in the pews does not happen in worship -- I am reacting to those who believe that worship is the primary or most appropriate place for this to happen to the lost...

That said, did not the early church send the deacons to the doors and remove people not yet baptized and catechized from the Liturgy of the Sacrament? I would not remove them today but neither would I structure worship to appeal to those "net yet" believers.

To Christine... I pulled a picture from the internet and the small size precluded me from seeing who it was... I am not sure it was Archbishop Gregory - I was looking for a photo of a pastor at the altar and he is one... even if not a Lutheran...

The impetus of this post was from a comment on another post on this blog...

Past Elder said...

I think you have it exactly, we have completely forgotten the difference between the two major parts of the Divine Service, most church bodies not even thinking there is such a thing as we understand by the "Mass of the Faithful" or Service of the Sacrament, and consequently all that is left is the Mass of the Catechumens, which is taken for all there is, and there you have it, worship as evangelism and outreach.

Anonymous said...

Rev. Peters,

I am a layman in the ELS, and I want to thank you for your clear and concise writing on the basic differences.

I wonder what a pastor and congregation are ashamed of when they alter church services to appeal to those outside the faith.

I wonder if a pastor doubts the efficacy of the Word when he encourages the congregation he serves to alter services to appeal to those outside the faith. What I mean is: The historic liturgies are the Word, beginning to end. Removing the liturgies = removing the Word which = removing the Means of Grace.

Let's not have pastors and congregations removing any of the Means of Grace from our services for ANY reason.

Thank you again for BASIC DIFFERENCES.

christl242 said...

To Christine... I pulled a picture from the internet and the small size precluded me from seeing who it was... I am not sure it was Archbishop Gregory - I was looking for a photo of a pastor at the altar and he is one... even if not a Lutheran...

Thanks, Pastor Peters and thanks also for your excellent observations on the Basic Differences.

Rev. Ray Salemink said...

Thanks, Pastor, for your response. I kind of suspected that was your take and what you meant. I agree totally with your "modified" statement.
Doing what the early church did, shutting the doors for the service of the Sacrament, would surely alleviate a pastor's pained difficulties with split-second decisions as to whether to commune someone who has appeared at the rail and is not a member and the pastor did not have time to talk with the person beforehand. I for one do not think the rail is the place for confrontations and making a scene. Thanks as well for helping me to clarify some thinking about worship. I have always thought that worship is primarily for beleivers.

jim said...

wow - awesome post. We have several members who want to use the Divine Service as our primary outreach effort. I've tried to put into words what you did here, but haven't done it nearly as well.

thanks

Pastor Peters said...

Shutting the doors might assist the Pastor when facing folks at the rail but if people do not understand close communion, they will certainly not understand being asked to leave. However, that just might indicate to the world something so special and so precious that in order to be in on it you must be in on it...

janie said...

Pastor,
Oh how many years I have sought such views from a pastor.
I am resting in you insight and care handling of our Lord's "things".

Keep going and keep up the meanderings.

Anonymous said...

Loved the post, only change other than the one you added,I would change the phrase "Lutheran, Christian" to "Christian, Lutheran."