Monday, March 10, 2014

Beware of nice old men who talk about new kinds of worship. . .

The image of the liturgiologist has often been one of curious but benign oddity.  Indeed, among the Lutherans those interested in worship were generally seen as odd fellows at best.  Most of the time, however, they were also seen as people who posed little real threat to the church.  They were the nice old men whose interest lie in the peculiar arena of things indifferent (the Lutheran obsession with adiaphora).  So if they wanted to wear a surplice over their black gown (not realizing it was not a Geneva gown but really a cassock), they were snickered at by the true Lutherans but no one got all that excited.  It would never really catch on.  Then stoles and then albs and finally full eucharistic vestments.  The problem by then is that nearly everyone had exchanged Geneva's academic gown but a cassock, surplice, and stole.  The odd had become the normal.  Wait a few years and the same thing happened again -- alb and stole replacing the old fashioned cassock and surplice.  Interesting that the only people I know who still wear the white over the black ARE liturgical folk who know the difference between a choir office, daily office, and the Divine Service and dress accordingly.

In the same way also there were those who once thought the idea of a more frequent Eucharist to be an odd idea, promoted by the affected, but, nevertheless, one that would never catch on.  But it did.  My own home parish which had only quarterly the Order of Morning Worship with Communion went to monthly, twice monthly, and now even more frequently.  If it happens on the prairies of Nebraska, it happens everywhere.  It there a Lutheran congregation that retains a quarterly Communion?  I seriously doubt it.  What was once an odd idea promoted by nice old men who had an affectation for things ceremonial has become the norm or near norm in our church body.

I could go on but I will simply pick it up with my own story.  When I was in college, only liberal Bible doubting Lutherans were interested in worship.  So I felt it was my only choice to head to the newly formed Seminex and meet the folks who had opened a radical new door of liturgy and eucharistic piety to me.  Then I encountered some folks at Concordia Theological Seminary who had somehow mysteriously combined a high view of Scripture with a high view of the liturgy and ended up there.  We were then by no means a majority of the campus -- Springfield having only recently and under duress exchanged their address from a bastion of black gowns to the more alb adorned area of Northern Indiana.  But the nice old men with their curious and odd interest in things liturgical have ended up reshaping the face of the Church.

Rome had its nice old men who ended up undoing its own liturgical identity and, in a few years, turning the face of the church gathered for the Mass completely upside down. Who would have thought it from Paul VI and his crew?  Unlike the liturgiologists of Vatican II, those within Missouri combined a high view of Scripture with a high view of liturgy -- so high, in fact, that they refused, for the most part, the efforts of Rome to unhook the past from the present.  So, in Missouri at least, the Common Service remains a significant and potent force on Seminary campus and in parish alike.  The changes of the modern liturgical movement have not swept aside our liturgical connection to the past -- at least not in the wholesale manner that the Roman example did.

What no one could have foreseen in the 1960s and 1970s is that there would be a rise of those within decidedly liturgical traditions who have completely abandoned liturgical worship.  This is not merely a question of contemporary sounding music but of a radical redefinition of what happens on a Sunday morning.  Lutherans never saw it coming and if they did worry a bit, they did not expect the numbers to be so high.  Guess who the culprits were?  Nice old men who insisted that evangelism take place in worship, that those outside the church be as comfortable and at home on Sunday morning as those raised in the faith, and that modern music was merely a style change and not one of substance.  The radicals who promoted liturgical worship in my early years are now considered the raging conservatives.  Wow.

My point is this.  Be wary of nice old men talking about what's new in worship.  They may seem curious and benign, odd in their interest but hardly threatening, yet their interest in things worship has not been without significant effect in the churches.  From Rome to Wittenberg, we thought them nothing to worry about and we are still attempting to recover from their work.  Some began a disconnect with all that had come before in a vain attempt to remake the gathering of the baptized into something new, different, relevant, culture friendly.  For Lutherans these nice old men almost led us down the path of a ceremonial liturgy sung by ministers who believed almost none of the content (Anglicanism's end).  We won the battle for the Bible, so to speak, but lost it again when those fighting for inerrancy allied themselves with fundamentalists and evangelicals who they thought were headed in the same direction.  Now the nice old men strumming their guitars and singing yesterday's folk music have left us with a great divide between those who look like the Lutherans they claim to be on Sunday morning and those who look like Geneva or Saddleback or Lakewood or Willow Creek.  Now we find ourselves in the place of attempting to recover a liturgical identity which we thought was impenetrable but which disappeared in little more than a generation or two.

It happened without a vote in convention but quietly and quickly until some of us Lutherans feel strangers to our own liturgical identity. But the restoration will not happen quietly or quickly.  And probably not by the hands of nice old men either.  The new graduates are fighting the battles in parishes throughout the Missouri Synod to recapture what drifted away from us -- a uniform and common liturgical life shaped by the Divine Service.  That, my friends, is a good thing.

4 comments:

Jim Davis said...

" Nice old men who insisted that evangelism take place in worship, that those outside the church be as comfortable and at home on Sunday morning as those raised in the faith,"
Where should evangelism take place?
Listening to Sunday services on KFUO I would not be able to answer that question.

Anonymous said...

Witness happens implicitly in worship but it is the deliberate work of the church outside the House of the Lord as the Gospel is spoken and acted out in contact with the world and those not yet of the Kingdom.

The early church did not even allow the non-believer into the worship assembly. Now we have turned the place where we worship into a stadium designed to reach those who do not believe. We have turned the tables upside down.

The community of the baptized gathered for worship is hardly an effective place for evangelization. It is not that it could not happen there but that it is not the domain or venue where it is to happen.

If we content ourselves with making the outsiders feel at home on Sunday morning (as Pastor Peters rightfully condemns), we abdicate our role and purpose as witnesses of the Gospel Monday through Saturday.

Anonymous said...

"For Lutherans these nice old men almost led us down the path of a ceremonial liturgy sung by ministers who believed almost none of the content (Anglicanism's end)."

While there is some truth to what Pastor Peters has said here, it oversimplifies matters quite a bit. His comment is an apt description of people like bishops Pike, Spong, Righter, Bennison, etc., but it misses the issue of women's ordination which is lead to catastrophes such as Presiding Bishopess Kate Schori. That is a bullet that the LCMS has managed to dodge fortunately.

But to describe these problems as "Anglicanism's end" with a broad brush is incorrect. The traditional faith is still very much alive and vigorous in places such as Fort Worth, South Carolina, and the entire Continuing Anglican movement.

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest

Jim Davis said...

"If we content ourselves with making the outsiders feel at home on Sunday morning (as Pastor Peters rightfully condemns), we abdicate our role and purpose as witnesses of the Gospel Monday through Saturday."

This is how our congregation expresses witnessing and serving the community:


http://www.stjstl.net/about/lifejourney-and-11156/

It is not a Sunday morning only entertainment event.