Tuesday, April 20, 2010
A Paradox to Ponder
The truth is that congregations of the ELCA tend to be liturgically more solid than congregations of the LCMS. What this means is simple. Congregations of the ELCA tend to use their worship book pretty much as it is written – LBW or ELW – for the Eucharist and the rites of the Church (baptism, for example). Congregations of the LCMS are more likely to use non-hymnal orders for the Eucharist and the various rites (pieces of the liturgy may come from the hymnal – TLH, LW, or LSB – but the order is often constructed with bits and pieces from various sources). Now I am not suggesting that this is ordinary for the LCMS but a very significant portion of the congregations of this body – much higher than the ELCA – do change the rite (and I am not speaking of music here but of text as well as tune).
This is also true of college campuses. It is somewhat more likely that a student on an ELCA college campus will find Morning Prayer (or another of the hymnal rites) as the order for that day’s chapel while it is somewhat more likely that a student at an LCMS college will find either no order or a variation on the CoWo (contemporary worship for you non-bloggers). I have this from a number of students on campuses of both church bodies and from the personal experience of my family and the reports of many others.
I might also suggest that the faith of these congregations is directly opposite. The ELCA congregations tend to have very open communion, to presume no one believes in the six day creation, never to use a work like inerrant, and to speak of the Gospel in terms that include such things as advocacy, ecology, justice, and social work (either in addition to or in place of sin and forgiveness, law and grace, etc.). The ELCA congregation uses the creeds as they are written but tends to believe the words are not necessarily literally true while the Missouri congregation might use a homemade creed but believe every word of the ecumenical creeds.
The ELCA congregation is more likely to emphasize the welcome of all people (without respect to creed, race, sexual identity, etc.) while the Missouri congregation is more likely not to speak of such diversity at all – much less make it part of their welcome. The ELCA congregation is more likely to have a “green” committee to deal with such things as their carbon imprint and a diversity committee to help them make sure no barriers are encountered by anyone who might visit (and no offense given) while the Missouri congregation is more likely to have an “evangelism” committee and to deal with questions of eternal salvation and insist upon doctrinal agreement and a common faith before the welcome mat includes too many privileges.
What a strange paradox? The one which is admittedly more broad in its understanding of the faith is more narrow in its liturgical application while the one that is admittedly more narrow in its faith definition is more broad in its liturgical application.
It reminds me of the fact that when I began in Synodical education, those who were interested in or cared about what happened in worship were considered “liberal” while those who spoke of doctrine were more likely to use the hymnal but not know why or even care – just that it was the official book. Now some 38 years later, those who care about worship are considered “conservative” doctrinally and those who believe in things indifferent when it comes to Sunday morning are considered “moderate” (the Missouri equivalent of liberal). I do not think I have changed all that much but the meaning of the categories has and with it my place in the Church has moved... even though I am standing in the same place... What a paradox?