Sunday, October 4, 2015

Guinea pigs. . .

For too long Sunday morning has been seen as a setting to try new things.  I am not here speaking of the restoration of old things long forgotten or those things set aside in fear of being who we are.  Rather, I am addressing the kind of liturgical experimentation in which we try out new things to see how people like them.  The age of liturgical experimentation began in the 1960s and proceeded full steam through the 1970s.  At some point folks might have expected that the publication of new hymnals might have slowed the pace of change but they appear to have been wrong.

Lutherans in particular are guilty of carrying a certain amount of angst or insecurity about how we appear on Sunday morning.  Lutheran pastors are often apologetic about the liturgy as if it were some weird uncle in the family that new people must be warned about.  We are self-conscious about ceremonial as if the worst possible thing on earth would be to be judged Catholic (in the Roman sense of that term) and so we gladly forego the catholic (whole, complete, universal sense of that term) that our Confessions claim just so people won't get the wrong impression.  But I have complained about this here too many times.

My point is that there is something wrong when we treat the baptized people of God like guinea pigs or lab rats upon whom we are free to experiment.  Again, this is NOT the same thing as restoring Lutheran liturgy to those among whom it has been lost.  What I am speaking about is the practice of borrowing from Evangelicalism the latest and greatest trends and fads and then trying them out on our unsuspecting people to see if things improve, change, etc...

Lutherans seem intent upon shopping in the aisles of the big box Evangelical establishments for books, songs, worship forms, and preaching techniques.  Even those of us who condemn it are subtly influenced by such.  We have lost confidence not only in ourselves but in the means of grace and seem to think that if we tinker with the mix of songs and actions and sermon styles we will find the formula for growth and we will be able to raise our heads high once again.  Meanwhile there are Lutheran people who come to church on Sunday morning not knowing what they will encounter.  Some come with a certain sense of fear and foreboding but others come because they are delightfully curious about what the pastor or worship diva will do today.

Why do we think it is okay to inflict our own angst as leaders upon the assembled people of God?  Okay, some of us as pastors and worship leaders may have preferences or suspicions against the shape of Lutheran piety on Sunday morning.  I get that.  But why do we think we have the right to inflict them upon the people of God?  Such honesty with the flock is inherently dishonest and disingenuous. 

I have heard Lutheran pastors joke about wearing robes (which we do not; we wear vestments) or snicker about how old fashioned they think the liturgy is or who lead worship as if the liturgy were a straight jacket upon their wonderful creativity and sparkling personality.  It grows wearisome for me, the occasional visitor, but what does it do to the people who hear it or see it week after week?

Pastors -- do not treat your people like guinea pigs or lab rats.  Do not experiment on them.  Restore the Divine Service if it is missing and teach people why.  Re-introduce them to the shape of Lutheran piety with its source and summit in the Sacrament of Christ's body and blood.  Preach the Word faithfully.  Refrain from inflicting your preferences or your doubts about it all to those who have come not for these but for the Christ who comes to us where and when He has promised.  Do not preach your doubts but proclaim the Gospel so that the people may confidently look to and receive from the Word of the Lord what He has promised. 

The people God has placed in our care are worth more than our whims or our uncertainties.  They are worth nothing less than the means of grace, in full and without apology.  You undermine their faith when you do anything less.

1 comment:

Jim Davis said...

“3.
an official or ceremonial robe.
4.
Ecclesiastical.
a. one of the garments worn by the clergy and their assistants,choristers, etc., during divine service and on other occasions.
b. one of the garments worn by the celebrant, deacon, and subdeaconduring the celebration of the Eucharist.
Origin of vestment
1250-1300; syncopated variant of Middle English vestiment < MedievalLatin vestīmentum priestly robe, Latin: garment, equivalent to vestī (re) todress (see vest ) + -mentum -ment”

Based on dictionary.com, it seems that “vestment” is a subset of “robes”; so your comment about “robes” vs “vestments” is inaccurate.