Monday, September 8, 2014
Not my preference. . . nor yours. . .
In a conversation recently I was asked about a comment made that our congregation has a rather "pompous" or elaborate ritual and form. It must be true, I was told, because this person had been to a variety of other Lutheran congregations in which the liturgy was "simpler" or "plainer." In other words, we are the odd duck and a more basic form and ceremony is the norm for Lutheranism. Well, that depends. It may be true that we have a more elaborate form and practice of the Divine Service than some Lutherans but the real question here is not what is normal in practice as measured by statistics but what is normal in practice as defined by our Confessions.
Lutherans are not Amish catholics. We are not plain people on Sunday morning. Just the opposite. The Lutheran Confessions were written from the perspective of a rich and elaborate ceremonial, musical, and liturgical shape of the Divine Service. The foolish and quite juvenile debate over where this perspective prescribes what must be done or describes what was done has often overshadowed the reality of what Lutherans looked like on Sunday morning for the first few centuries after the Reformation. The same idea could be used of all the doctrines contained in the Book of Concord -- these do not prescribe what must be believed by those who would call themselves Lutheran but merely described what the Lutherans then believed, taught, and practiced.
We are pompous or showy or elaborate because we do what? Chant? Bow? Wear Eucharistic vestments? Have a weekly Eucharist? Use the Chalice? Have liturgical art? Have a rich musical and choral tradition? Talk about private confession? The list could go on. My point is this. When the Lutheran documents that became our Concordia or Confessions were written, they did not in any way, shape, or form imagine that the liturgy would not be sung by both pastor and people, that the Sacrament of the Altar would not be celebrated at least on Sundays, that the pastors would be vested, that the ritual of the mass kept, that good and faithful music would serve the cause of the Word, and that the people assembled would gone to confession before communing... That these are not now "normal" in the sense of universally practiced was not only not envisioned within our Confessions but marks a significant departure from the orthopraxis that is and always accompanies orthodoxy. Theology is not theoretical. Doctrine is not theoretical. Theology must sing (said Martin Franzmann) and doctrine is lived out from the altar, font, and pulpit.
This is not about high or low culture. This is not about pastoral preference or the people's preference. This is not about style divorced from substance. The practice of this parish is not elaborate at all. We use incense only rarely. We do not enforce rubrics like liturgical gestapo. We do not make people genuflect or cross themselves. We do not sing in Latin. We do not repristinate a moment in time from some golden age of liturgical life. Maybe it should be MORE elaborate. The point is that what we do is not at all on the high side of what Luther did or Bach knew. In the end, if we are out of step with the Great Reformer himself and if we are on the fringe of the greatest Lutheran musical genius, who is the odd duck? I would say it would be those who attempt to be moderately liturgical while at the same time trying to be moderately evangelical and Protestant.
My liturgical preference counts as little as the liturgical preferences of those in the pew. What counts is whether or not what we do on Sunday morning looks, acts, and sounds like what we believe, confess, and teach in our Book of Concord. I challenge anyone who thinks we are "high" to read the Book of Concord and then tell me where we exceed the liturgical shape of this confession. In fact, I would say that we are normal -- the normal that counts in terms of faithfulness to our Confessions. Any other normal (statistical, for example) does not matter in a church body which claims it is all about theology and doxology.
Now some of you are probably thinking, "My God, that guy is arrogant." You may be correct. I am a sinner and humility is not something I have in abundance. But perceptions are not the issue here. What we believe, confess, and teach -- these are the issues. So, condemn me as arrogant, a cultural snob, "high" as a kite, or a liturgical showman...whatever. Just read the Confessions and tell me where our practice deviates from the expected, anticipated, and assumed normative liturgical and devotional life of the Church of the Augsburg Confession.