Sunday, August 29, 2010

Leaving It All NOT to the Experts...

Some of those whom we might call experts, have an expertise which is too far removed from experience to be fruitful or useful.  I am not trashing experts but suggesting that some things are too important to be left only to the experts.  One of those things is the worship life of the parish.  While I do not presume to be an expert here, I do believe I possess a bit more knowledge than average.  The perspective of what I think I know has been shaped by more than 30 years of preaching and presiding in a Lutheran parish setting.  There some things to be learned there that cannot be taught in an academic setting or learned from books.

The Roman Catholic Church will soon begin a recovery of sorts from the direction of liturgical experts that dismantled generations of tradition in one fell swoop.  It was not only a move from Latin to the vernacular, but the disregard for the previous spirit of the liturgy and an infatuation with the moment that turned great collects into casual theme prayers, turned the liturgy into a disposable missalette printed on newsprint, and distanced the people from their centuries old musical tradition in favor of throw away songs no one bothered to memorize.  What we saw at work there is a reminder that the domain of the liturgy is not for one side alone.  Neither liturgical experts nor those who actively serve the parish can be allowed exclusive domain over what happens on Sunday morning.  It must be a collaborative effort.

We cannot afford the performance of the liturgy to become a spectator event in which the experts direct the drama.  We must be careful to make sure that every liturgy is authentic to its surroundings and does not attempt to recreate what is done somewhere else or to manufacture the liturgical action of a previous age.  The liturgy is not the work of the people to obtain God's favor or approval but as God's work's it does take place within a specific group  of people at a specific time.  It is God's work that enables the people's faithful response.  It is the careful role of the presider who knows his people and authentically leads them through the Divine Service, attuned to them, the circumstances of their lives, and the gracious gifts of God bestowed through the Word and Sacraments, that guide them in this faithful response.

In the same way, preaching is not some academic pursuit but the proclamation of the Law and Gospel to a specific people by one who knows something of them and their lives and so is able to apply the Word faithfully and locally.  It is a good thing to take courses in homiletics and to learn the craft of the preacher but this preaching is meant to take place among a people and at a place that expects and even anticipates the preacher knows his hearers just as he knows the text.

We have often said that every Pastor is a theologian by definition -- a theologian in residence among His people.  We could say that every every Pastor is a liturgiologist by definition -- a liturgical practitioner among His people.  I am constantly amazed at how the lines of theology, liturgy, counsel, teacher, preacher, presider, and Pastor crisscross across the landscape of my ministry.  Ivory towers do little good among the wounds, needs, questions, and hopeful faith of a people seeking God and His gifts where He has promised to be found.  But the opposite is equally true.  Not every decision about the liturgy or preaching is a practical one.  We have rubrics and church orders for good purpose.  We do not start every week with a blank page but with the outline delivered to us in the liturgy with its propers and ordinary and in the sermon with the lectionary and the Church Year.

It does no one any good to pit the scholar against the practitioner, the expert against the one who every week does what the experts study and write about...  This is a both/and situation that calls for scholars who know the history and can tell us what and why and the Pastors who put this to work in the parish setting week after week.


Chris said...

Pr. Peters,

Liturgy is the work of the people. That's exactly what the word means.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Actually, Chris, it can mean a work for or on behalf of the people.

Chris said...

Pr. Beisel,

Yes, liturgy CAN mean work on behalf of the people, but show me one church father or apostolic writing which actually uses the term in that particular context or definition. I guarantee you will find none. It has always meant a work of the people for the people are working. Why would you try to parse this word into what it "could" mean if only so that it would square with your innovative theology. And, just so we are clear, I'm no amateur when it comes to the Greek language so don't try to refute me with some ignorance charge.

Anonymous said...

Wow Chris, you are so brillant, far too smart for Lutherans. Maybe its the progressive sanctification to deification of the EO. You do well at self-exaltation. You are far too great for a Rev. of the LCMS to bring "ignorance charge." God must be so proud of you.

Chris said...


Sarcasm aside, why do you hide your name? Can you only debate from the shadows? Afraid, maybe?

I made a valid point and typically the retort is that my knowledge of Greek or Latin is lacking which is not the case.

Show me one church father who uses liturgy in the same manner as Pr. Beisel suggests and you will find none. It has always meant a work of the people.

Mike Baker said...


I'm no greek or patristics expert, but how about the author of Hebrews?

Hebrews 8:6 describes Christ's work on our behalf as His having obtained a more excellent liturgy. I think Pr. Beisel's definition makes sense in this context since Christ's redemptive work is decidedly for/on behalf of the people.

There is some preisthood context in the previous verses, but it seems to me that taking a strict "of the people" definition here would mean that Christ's work as heavenly mediator is a work of the church and not a work of Christ on behalf of the church.

I'm way out of my depth here so that is just a stab in the dark. Is that at least an original text use of the word as Pr. Beisel defined it? How far off am I?