Sunday, April 23, 2017

Lutheran Worship: another view. . .

The March 2017 Forum Letter (why don't you subscribe?) features 8 pages from an old voice complaining about the more liturgical face of Lutheranism.  In it, David S. Luecke provides a predictable review of his previously published critiques of liturgical renewal along with some interesting tidbits sure to evoke the ire of many in the LCMS and encourage others.

His first point is that the liturgical movement was a fringe movement that became dominant in Missouri (something he finds incredulous).  Although he claims to have done extensive research to bolster his position, Luecke apparently has not delved back much into Lutheran history and worship or he would recognize that what he calls liturgical renewal is in reality a restoration of what was normal and normative Lutheran worship practice from the earliest days until the end of the 18th century.  His complaint that liturgical renewal substituted for the needed spiritual renewal seems to distance the Spirit and God's work from the Word and Sacraments from which spiritual renewal proceeds (perhaps he should read Bo Giertz on the topic of Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening).

His personal view is, of course, that Lutherans took a wrong term.  He blames the precipitous decline of Lutheranism in America on liturgical renewal and claims it violates the Pauline dictum of all things to all people.  He quotes Epitome, Formula of Concord X to claim that every church in every locality has the authority to change ceremonies (but fails to note that this does not, in context, mean individual congregation but refers instead to church in the larger sense of jurisdiction).  No one has ever claimed otherwise.  Yet he fails to note the manifold other places in which those same Confessions insist that worship is not a thing indifferent and ceremonies teach and confess in themselves.
We on our part also retain many ceremonies and traditions (such as the liturgy of the Mass and various canticles, festivals, and the like) which serve to preserve order in the church. (Augsburg Confession XXVI:40 [German])

We are unjustly accused of having abolished the Mass. Without boasting, it is manifest that the Mass is observed among us with greater devotion and more earnestness than among our opponents. (Augsburg Confession XXIV:9 [German])

We are perfectly willing for the Mass to be understood as a daily sacrifice, provided this means the whole Mass, the ceremony and also the proclamation of the Gospel, faith, prayer, and thanksgiving. Taken together, these are the daily sacrifice of the New Testament; the ceremony was instituted because of them and ought not be separated from them. Therefore Paul says (I Cor. 11:26), “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death.” (Apology XXIV:35)
From this description of the state of our churches it is evident that we diligently maintain church discipline, pious ceremonies, and the good customs of the church. (Apology XV:4)

We gladly keep the old traditions set up in the church because they are useful and promote tranquillity, and we interpret them in an evangelical way, excluding the opinion that they justify. Our enemies falsely accuse us of abolishing good ordinances and church discipline. We can truthfully claim that in our churches the public liturgy is more decent than in theirs, and if you look at it correctly we are more faithful to the canons than our opponents are. (Apology XV:38-39)

On holy days, and at other times when communicants are present, Mass is held and those who desire it are communicated. Thus the Mass is preserved among us in its proper use, the use which was formerly observed in the church and which can be proved by St. Paul’s statement in I Cor. 11:20 ff. and by many statements of the Fathers. (Augsburg Confession XXIV:34-35 [German]) Since, therefore, the Mass among us is supported by the example of the church as seen from the Scriptures and the Fathers, we are confident that it cannot be disapproved, especially since the customary public ceremonies are for the most part retained. (Augsburg Confession XXIV:40 [Latin])
He also has a big thing against the word "liturgy" and says that the Lutheran term is "mass" (which he defines as something other than "liturgy" and certainly not Introit, Gloria, Creed, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and Dismissal -- which begs me to ask if that is not "mass" what is)?  He presumes to know the mind of Luther and insist that Luther preferred a simple preaching service but was reined in by the ignorance of the peasant folk and, well, had bigger fish to fry anyway.  Curious, indeed!  Even more curious since the kind of service Luecke prefers has a praise band, a host of sound engineers and lighting specialists, performers to entertain, and everything from parking lot attendants to coffee baristas to serve up the sacred brew!

His claim that in Saxony there were 75 different church orders presumes that any difference, however slight, constitutes a "different order" when the reality is that they, while different in nuance, were remarkably consistent -- not only in Saxony but throughout Lutheranism.

Of course, it did not take long for vestments to enter his discussion.  He longs for the Geneva gown (black in winter and white in summer, fall and spring depend upon the weather, I guess).  Never mind that art shows us Luther in eucharistic vestments and the early Lutherans retaining such vestments.  The truth is that eucharistic vestments never disappeared from Lutheranism even though they may have disappeared from specific places.

Luecke does not care much for the early church, specifically the time of the church following the legalization of Christianity.  Strangely, his description of words used for worship in the New Testament involves posture -- bowing and kneeling -- something he thought Article X of the Epitome declared unimportant.

But the last part of his article is the most interesting.  Bowing down is for Luecke a euphemism for contemporary worship and music -- singing the Word in "rhythms and tunes heard on the radio, often now in Country and Western style... [and] singing a love relationship with God" with a "spirit" bowed down before His majesty.  This is meaningful to him but not so much the rites and rituals of the mass.  The pathways that should define worship, he suggests, are best described by Gary Thomas in Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul's Path to God.  He believes these God-given temperaments to be equally valid and that the job of the Lutheran service is to appeal to those temperaments.  Hmmmm.  That is something out of left field for a church that insists God comes to us not where and how we desire but where He has promised (Word and Sacrament).   According to Luecke, we need to open ourselves up to the Spirit (closer to what the first Christians did) and live more in the spirit world between God in heaven.

It is a good thing to read Luecke's words because so often it is easy to think that the worship wars were and are merely arguments over taste and preference.  Clearly they are about much more.  What is at stake in these disputes is not merely what appeals to whom but how God works, the mark of faithfulness through the ages, and the worship consistent with and flowing form our confession of faith.  I have heard David Luecke speak and read his books.  It is hard to reconcile his perspective to the Lutheran Confessions or to history of how Lutherans have worshiped in the Divine Service from Luther's day to the present moment.  If anything, Luecke's point of view represents the fringe of Lutheran identity and practice.  I only wish it were a smaller fringe.  Lutheran angst and insecurity have left us vulnerable to the next wind blowing through the Christian landscape and too many Lutherans have found the breeze hard to resist.  If Lutherans are all over the page on Sunday morning, it is not a good thing.  In fact, it is one of the things that we will someday soon have to resolve if being Lutheran is to mean more than theory.


Chris said...

Call Luecke out for what he is: a liturgical anarchist. Everything is OK as long as it is sentimental and has regard for one's feelings. Purge him from the synod. Someone who has such antipathy and hostility towards the liturgy is probably also suspect in terms of doctrine. If he wants his sentimental, happy-clappy "worship" the synod should tell him to go be a Methodist.

What's more troubling is that the Synod allowed this to be published in a major publication. How can the Missouri Synod possibly survive if such heterodox people and positions are put on equal footing with the confessionals? It can't.

Also, if you want to win this war, it helps that you insist on a change in the vocabulary. Rather than call things liturgical renewal, which is a misnomer (to make something new again, which is not what you're doing), call it liturgical restoration because that is what the LCMS is doing (to an extent, however. 5 different divine services are not necessarily especially as at least three of them are hodge-podge, cut-and-paste jobs).

Luecke is starting to find himself in the minority so articles like this should be no surprise. Under Pope Kieschnick, Luecke and his ilk flourished and now they're starting to feel the wind of change.

Chris Jones said...

What's more troubling is that the Synod allowed this to be published in a major publication.

The Forum Letter may or may not be a major publication, but it is not under the jurisdiction of the Missouri Synod. The American Lutheran Publicity Bureau (ALPB), the publisher of Forum Letter, is an independent, pan-Lutheran organization whose members and contributors come from various Lutheran denominations including LCMS, ELCA, NALC, and others. So the Synod has no means of exercising any control over what is published in Forum Letter, Lutheran Forum, or any other ALPB publication.

Nor does the LCMS, as such, have any effective jurisdiction over Pr Luecke as an individual, even though as a member of the Synod Pr Luecke is, in principle, bound by the LCMS's doctrinal standards. Given the LCMS's congregational polity, the available mechanisms for holding him (or any pastor) to account for violating those standards are few and weak. And those mechanisms emphatically do not include the ability to forbid him to publish his heterodox teachings in Forum Letter or anywhere else.

So yes, it's "troubling" that the Synod has allowed Pr Luecke to publish these views, but it is more troubling that the Synod has no practical way to do anything else. Although I would add that one ought to be careful what one wishes for: if the Synod had more robust means for disciplining those on its clergy roster, those means might more often be used against those whose faithfulness to the orthodox liturgical faith and practice that is handed down to us in the Apostolic Tradition, and reflected in our Confessions, puts them out of the mainstream of the contemporary Missouri Synod.

Anonymous said...

For the record, Luecke's original book, Evangelical Style Lutheran Substance, WAS published by CPH in 1988 and thus does have some imprimatur of the Synod on its viewpoint (at least then).

Anonymous said...

I don't think I pray to bend God to my will but that my prayer, shaped by the Lord's Prayer, the catechism is shaped to align to God's will. I think the liturgy works in the same way. Through it, God shapes me.
This is not entirely well thought out, I am sure, but I wonder has God promised to work through these modern liturgical movements? I really wonder. He has promised to work through Word and Sacrament. I believe he works through doctrinaly sound hymns (because, I believe, they proclaim the Gospel). I just wonder if there is any promise attached to contemporary worship, I really wonder if it is anything more than us talking to us. Doesn't seem to be anything more than that to me.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of Neil Postman's statement about Christianity being a serious religion. Why is it people think this serious religion - actually the ONLY TRUE one - must draw into itself everything from the culture. Christianity certainly has it's own culture, but it is NOT American (or ay other) culture.

Janis Williams said...

One good thing is the Liturgy is part of the culture of the Church. If you think of it, the liturgy of the Jewish churches (synagogues, Temple) was thousands of years old. Our Church's liturgy today is founded on the Jewish liturgy. Ancient, all. If liturgy needed changing to follow contemporary thought and culture, why didn't Jesus "reform" it? Why didn't he introuduce or command changes then and on into the future? The good thing about the agitators for change (and the stodgy traditionalists)is they are human. We will die, and what we thought was so important will no longer be important to us, or to our progeny (who will have their own agendas).

For my part, I seriously doubt today's love songs to Jesus will be heard in Heaven, or the New Earth.

chaplain7904 said...

Strong objection to David Luecke is in order, and always commendable. That said neither this earnest article, nor the above comments, exactly get to the heart of the matter. I would use Janis Williams' response as a starting point. Christian worship does not sprout from Jewish worship. It was a shadow of things to come, but Christian worship is New. The New Testament. In a word: THIS CUP ... IS the New Testament in my blood."

Not to dwell on the matter: Christian worship is not a "christianization" of Jewish worship. It is New. And it is also the answer that silences the David Luecke's of the world.

Neither liturgical renewal, nor liturgical "restoration" (as one of the above comments nicely pointed out) will help us until we comprehend Eucharistic restoration. Until Lutherans understand that the Eucharist IS Christian worship, and not optional, abstract, or something external to us, we will keep missing the point.

If we really had the will and determination to "tame the Wild West" the place to start would be to make Sunday Eucharist a requirement for all LCMS parishes. That would end most of the worship wars over night. But until her pastors understand WHY we do this ("this do"), we will continue battering each other with little result. It would also be beneficial if we understood that Liturgy and Eucharist are synonymous terms. As Eucharist is not something external to us, but constitutive and definitional of who we are; even so Liturgy.

Thanks to Pastor Peters for providing this forum; and to all of the above for their comments. Peace to you in Christ. Rev. Dean Kavouras

chaplain7904 said...

Addendum to above comment. Liturgy is not a collection of "liturgical elements." There are some definite formats of Christian liturgy. The two great categories are the Western Rite and the Eastern Rite; and within those there is variation throughout time and place. There are different elements, and different order of the elements within those. But yet it is also consensus created by the Holy Spirit through the Church, and it is rather narrow. Thus liturgical anarchists (as someone so nicely stated above) are in error with their anarchy.

Yet, the "restoration of order" for lack or a better term, will not occur by imposing uniformity upon the church. Nor is it, strictly speaking, necessary. Our hippie scholar is right about the variety of church orders that existed in Germany, and throughout church history over time and place. The unifying factor of Christian worship, faith, life and existence is Baptism, and the Eucharist; keeping in mind as stated above that Eucharist is liturgy, and liturgy is Eucharist.

It further helps our understanding if we speak of liturgy without the definite article. Liturgy instead of "the liturgy." Further we advance in our understanding if we can comprehend the fact that liturgy is worship is Eucharist. It also helps to use the verbal form. Christians liturgize their God in, through and with Christ who is the church's true Liturgist (Hebrews 8:2).

Thanks for reading. Rev. Dean Kavouras Christ Lutheran Church Cleveland, Ohio

Chris said...

To the above, a clarification: There is no Western Rite and no Eastern Rite. There are Western Rites (e.g. Gallican, Sarum, Mozaarabic, Ambrosian, Cistercian, Beneventan, Roman, Old Roman, etc.) and there are Eastern Rites (e.g. St. John Chyrsostom, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Great, St. James, St. Mark, East Syrian Rite, Persian Rite, Assyrian-Chaldean Rite, etc.)