Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Who is the Pharisee here?
Let me begin by saying there is a bit of truth in this. There are liturgical types who do mirror the old Pharisaic attitudes and perspective. There are Lutheran liturgical types that are caught up in a frenzy for a medieval mass with all that glitters. But they are few and they give the rest of us a bad name. We are not liturgical Nazis. We are not concerned about such things as hand or foot placement. We have bigger fish to fry. Our concern is for the means of grace and where it is that we gather our confidence and standing before God. We battle not for damask and diptychs but for the Word and Sacraments that when God's people come on Sunday morning they may know for sure where Christ and His gifts are to be found.
In fact, it appears to me that those who insist upon doing as they please on Sunday morning are more Pharisaic. They certainly do not honor the liturgical rubrics as having much value or any force but they have high regard for another law. They have turned their freedom into a new law. Forgetting Paul's salutary admonition that not everything possible is beneficial, they jealously guard their "right" to do as they please -- to do what works. Hiding behind the false cover of adiaphora (which they do not understand except as unimportant), they hold us captive to a different law. In bondage to numbers and statistics, they slovenly borrow and steal whatever they think will work to puff up the balance sheet and prove that they are successful. In this way they are as bound to the outward appearance of the law and righteousness as the Pharisee.
On the other hand, I would characterize most Lutheran liturgical types as the Publican in all of this. Their concern is not how it all looks but will it forgive sins? Will it convey Christ? Will it call forth, gather as one, nurture in hope, and sustain the faith of God's people? Our bondage to the means of grace is not a choice but our captivity to the Word and promise of our Lord who has bound Himself to the Word and Sacraments. So for us the liturgical or worship wars have nothing to do with taste or effectiveness (in human judgement) or even faithfulness in the abstract. Our stance is really about the primacy of the means of grace, which are the heart and core of the liturgy and the framework for the faithful Lutheran liturgical practice. Apart from the means of grace, we have little reason to gather and even less confidence that our gathering is legitimate or has any power to address what ails us.
No, there may be liturgical types who fit in with the Pharisees but it is more likely that the other side has tied itself to appearances, to earthly measures of success, and to illusive standards (like feelings) instead of faithfulness to the means of grace. What is at stake here in this grand discussion is nothing less than the Gospel itself. Until we recognize this, worship will continue to be a battle ground and there will be blood on the pews (or theater seating with cup holders).