Saturday, December 9, 2017

Simple liturgy. . .

There are those among Lutherans who have a definite preference for a simpler liturgy, devoid of  more elaborate and elegant ceremonial.  The richer ceremonial is often laid at the door of Rome and, to be sure, Rome may have contributed some to it.  But the reality is that the most elaborate ceremonial comes not from Rome but from Constantinople.  Both in architecture and form, the liturgical norm of the Eastern Church is on the whole much richer in ceremonial and ritual than even some of the more elaborate counterparts in the West.

As Luther himself noted from personal experience, the monastic tradition of liturgy was simpler though not simple, and provided a marked contrast to the more elaborate forms and practices of a courtly setting.  It is then somewhat surprising that the modern liturgical movement is born within the monastic tradition of Rome and spread from there to all liturgical churches.  The liturgical movement was, in effect, providing the larger church with the forms preserved within the confines of the monastic tradition.
 
While it is not entirely fair to say that monastic liturgy was simple or universally simpler, it is true to say that on the whole it was simpler than the Baroque liturgies and than the liturgical settings of courtly life.  But the liturgical movement began less with a reform to the mass than to the restoration of the daily offices typically absent from the life of most people outside the monastery or convent.  Until modern times, these monastic communities retained the richness of the daily office and, though ritually ordered, they offered a picture of consistency, tranquility, dignity, and simplicity so often lacking in the chaotic shape of modern life.  Monastic life flourished at the same time as the liturgical movement was coming into its own and the influence of liturgical scholars was being felt beyond the confines of a cloistered life, prior to 1950 or so.

Simplicity and tradition are not opposites nor do they compete.  In fact, the monastic heritage of simplicity was thoroughly traditional even as it lived side by side the more elaborate settings of cathedral and court.  Surely it is true that the aristocratic excesses of the Baroque era contributed to the grandeur and elaborate character of the mass, especially in cathedral and courtly setting and yet this seemed not at all to threaten the simpler setting of the monastic community anymore than the monastic life competed with the more elaborate settings.

In other words, it is not a choice.  And this is true for Lutheranism no less than for Rome. As Luther envisioned Latin being retained in urban settings, living side by side the German Mass in the vernacular, so must simpler forms live side by side the more elaborate settings in our own day.  Yet that is exactly the problem.  No one insists that it is a betrayal of Lutheran identity to follow the form with a simpler ceremonial in rural Nebraska, for example, yet there is no shortage of folks who insist that the settings where musical resources and a more elaborate ceremonial are employed are not fully Lutheran.  That is the problem we face today.

We live in an era of liturgical reductionism -- how little of the liturgy and how little ceremonial can we get away with and still be true to our Lutheran identity?  What a foolish place to begin.  The hymnal, to be sure, presents a starting point but surely not an ending point.  As long as the ceremonies are authentic and do not contradict the Gospel, Lutherans have always insisted the simplicity is not our primary liturgical principle but rather our reluctance, without boundaries, to choose one over the other or to pit one against the other.  This is the real meaning of adiaphora.

Our Confessions quoted approvingly both the liturgical tradition of the East and its doctrine and fathers.  They did so even knowing that the Byzantine Divine Liturgy simply overflows with rich imagery, profound gesture, and deep ceremony.  The Byzantines, it seems, did not succumb to the idea that there is a preference between the richer or simpler forms or one is more authentic than they other.  They have resisted the cultural move toward minimalism, utilitarianism, and egalitarianism that have surely had profound influence over Western society, culture, and religion.


Nevertheless, we find ourselves at a time when a liturgical folk turn up their noses at the wholesale adoption of evangelical forms for confessional reasons and those who see liturgy as better simple, plain, and basic insist that this is Lutheranism drawn to its logical conclusion.  They are not the same.  Just as monastic life preserved the tradition, so must simpler liturgy preserve the tradition today.  A more elaborate ceremonial should not threaten the places where it is not possible or authentic and neither should a simpler liturgical setting dismiss those who have retained the once common and familiar shapes of our liturgical piety.  Strangely enough, we live at a time when the hymnal is seen as the fullest liturgical expression that must adopted in small bites while the more elaborate ceremonial once normative among Lutherans is rejected out of hand as a betrayal of that hymnal and suggestive of Roman sympathy.  What fools we have become! 

A liturgical parish like mine does not threaten the parish a couple of hours down the road that has no organist, speaks most of the liturgy, sings fewer hymns, and observes the rubrics without elaboration.  Maybe I am wrong but I find few voices insisting that every Lutheran parish must employ all the ritual and ceremonial of our tradition to be authentically Lutheran.  I do find many voices in our church body insisting that the Lutheran parishes who do employ the richer liturgical and ceremonial aspects of our tradition to be less than Lutheran.  As once the simpler tradition of the monastery lived side by side the more elaborate one of cathedral and court,  so must Lutherans learn to do the same.  Note, however, that I have said nothing to encourage those who have thrown out the baby with the bath water and whose Sunday morning worship bears little or no resemblance to the forms resident in our hymnals and agendas.  That, my friends, is a different fish to fry.

15 comments:

John J. Flanagan said...

Excellent and accurate description of the issue of Liturgical preferences and the history behind it.

Ted Badje said...

I am a product of the 70's. I tend to think the low-church, rural congregations were getting sterile. I like the wearing of the albs and chasubles for pastors. For the most part I like TLH, but I don't have a problem with LW or LBW either. I don't mind smells and bells and processions once in a while, but I think they're a distraction if they used more on occasion. I try not to judge other peoples' piety if their practices are different. The operative word is try. ;-).

Anonymous said...

When we gather for Sunday worship tomorrow, the Lord looks at our
heart, not the wardrobe of the officiant.

Anonymous said...

The both/and argument is creative, yet Lutheranism never had simple worship monasteries coupled with elaborate worship baroque courts. AC VII states "Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike." Proponents of high liturgy argue instead that ceremonies are part of some necessary, hallowed Christian tradition that we Lutherans somehow lost along the way (was that when Bugenhagen and Chemnitz got rid of the elevation in their church orders so the laity would not worship the bread in the Lord's Supper?) and need to have restored. To what end? To keep up with the ELCA?

As D.H. Steffens noted, "Most of our people, we fear, would consider such an attempt a weak effort to imitate the ritualistic wing of the Anglican Church, and resent it accordingly. Gorgeous ceremonial is entirely foreign to the spirit and worship of our Church."

Is Steffens speaking simply out of low church prejudice? No, he is arguing that high church ceremonialism has traditionally had no place in the LCMS, and for the clergy class to introduce it would be viewed by the laity as an abandonment of their current Lutheran tradition for an imitation of someone else's tradition.

Luther said specifically that ceremonies do not matter, "yet pomp and excess are to be avoided.". Muhlenberg stated that American Lutheran worship should be devoid of "popery," i.e. high liturgical pomp.

So while we may not condemn the high or low liturgical crowd, it is the low, not the high, that has Lutheran history and tradition on its side. To imagine that Walther was leading divine service at Trinity Church with a corncob pipe, chasuble, incense, and mitre is just silly. More apt for LCMS worship is a large wooden crucifix on the altar (to spite the Calvinists), simple black vestment, and the Dresden melodies of the Common Service, as preserved in TLH.

Rev. Weinkauf said...

Search Peter's blog here for "I want to worship like Jesus"

It seems God likes incenses, liturgical orders and rites, chanting, vestments, expensive things, ornate design -or he wouldn't have instituted them. "Reverence and Awe" Splendor of holiness" as Scripture speaks and so many other examples of Scripture could be offered. Anything informal, irreverent, casual is foreign to the historical and true Lutheran worship. If we truly believe the Divine Service is where heaven and earth come together, why do we treat it without the highest of regard. We decorate our homes with fine materials and expense yet act frugal in God's House and say its all about my heart, my piety? We see more reverence and decorum in ceremonies of the military and courtrooms but think things should be laissez-faire in God's House?

Somehow Lutherans have forgotten their congregations have unconditionally vowed to uphold:
AC, Art. XXIV:1
AC, Art. XXIV:34
AC, Art. XXVIII:53-55
Apol.AC, Art. VII/VIII:33
Apol.AC, Art. XXIV:1
Aol.AC, Art. XV:51
FC, Art. X:9

Carl Vehse said...

But those mitres, copes and croziers look so nifty, especially when used with a title of "Bishop Doctor" based on only an honorary degree.

Anonymous said...

The Old Testament worship in the Temple became the New Testament
worship in the individual homes of the believers. (household churches)
There were no vestments mentioned in the New Testament worship services.
They sang Psalms, hymns, heard the Word of God and celebrated the
Eucharist.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, there is no mention of a women receiving Holy Communion either? Yikes! There is no mention of the laity going out to spread the word of God either. WHat gives?
And of course there are several times (1 Cor. 10, 1 Cor. 14, 1 Tim. 2, 1 Tim. 4) a women is forbidden to take a position of authority in the Service and read Scripture but we will forget those parts. The church was wrong about that for 1000's of years too.

Anonymous said...

About house churches, just an observation: Were house churches preferred over the Hagia Sophia as more conducive to worship or was it a matter of availability? Why would First Century Christians secretly meet in a rather small house or catacomb when they could gather openly for worship in a cathedral? Today, we are faced with the same question. There will come a time when house churches are the only option for Christians to gather, but for now I have a choice. And if you’re concerned about corruption and abuse, you should be in either case.

William Gleason said...

All of this puerile bickering over liturgical ceremony needs to stop. It has become more than wearisome, and it certainly cannot be pleasing to the Lord. The fact that this is described as “worship wars” ought to make us all ashamed of ourselves. The word “adiaphora” is batted back and forth like a ping pong ball, until one of the players decides his adiaphora is more important than the other’s and the debate paddle delivers a return that slams the adiaphora ball down the other’s throat. Take that!

Too many of the so-called arguments from the anti-high church side are liturgical straw men that they knock over with their anti-Romanist club. “Chasubles? Humph, no doubt you also want a mitre, crozier, ring, monstrance, and Corpus Christi procession. They all go together, you know. Next thing you’ll want is incense. That makes me sneeze.” And so goes the rant. Oh, and then come the quotes from Luther, Chemnitz and other reformers about how they abolished this ceremony and that action. No mention, of course, about the situation where they did that to rectify an abuse or false belief that needed correcting. No mention of places where ceremonies and actions were kept because they were salutary. Or where ceremonies were brought back without objection.

Yes, yes, the high-churchers can go too far, as well. The point is this: what is the standard? Are we not talking about worshiping our Lord? Are we not discussing the adoration that is due the Most High God? Should not our model be the worship that takes place eternally before His throne that Isaiah saw? Or maybe those seraphim are going too far in covering their feet and faces and “chancel flitting” around the throne? Then they start chanting their chorus antiphonally! For crying out loud. And I’m sure there’s a group of LCMS saints up there working to get rid of the smoke. Same goes for the stuff we see in the book of Revelation. I hear tell that John was partly describing in those pages how the Church ought to worship. (Please forgive my sarcasm.)

Gottesdienst, the Journal of Lutheran Liturgy, just produced a training video for seminarians and others who wish to learn about liturgical worship. The video has been maligned by a few using the some of the most asinine objections I’ve ever heard. The video simply presents a standard by which to look in planning and carrying out liturgy and worship in the Lutheran church. It never purports to be a mandate or a manifesto. The overarching theme or tone for worship that the editors of Gottesdienst point out is stated emphatically in the beginning: reverence. Whatever is done in the Lutheran sanctuary ought to be reverently, whether elaborate or simple.

That video was recorded at the church where I am associate pastor. That is how we worship. We have people that come to our church from many miles away, even from St. Louis some 30-50 miles away. One of the chief reasons that they pass so many other LCMS churches to attend St. Paul’s is because they find the liturgy and worship practices we use to be rich and reverent. What is wrong with that? I ask again, what is wrong with that? Interestingly, one of the other chief reasons they come here is that they hear orthodox Lutheran doctrine preached and taught. The Law is preached appropriately (and exercised, too, in proper church discipline), and, above all, the Gospel of grace and forgiveness for the sake of the crucified Christ is proclaimed. At St. Paul, the Gospel is preached in its purity, and the Sacraments (including the rites and liturgy that go with them) are rightly administered. And, once in a while, incense is used.

I guess the point of my lengthy post to this comment string is summed up with words from St. Paul in today’s epistle: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

Anonymous said...

We are talking about the worship tradition of the LCMS being reinvented wholesale by a small, vocal minority of self-designated confessionals.
No one has an anti-Roman club. If an LCMS church sings nothing but gospel songs, protesting the practice as un-LCMS is not using an anti-Baptist club. It's calling it what it is.
Of course The Form of the Liturgy was a manifesto. Our response is that of Lutheran Satire: If 99.999999% of LCMS Lutherans have never seen a pink chasuble, don't wear one.

Pastor Peters said...

The history of Lutheran worship sans vestments, liturgy, ceremony, lectionary, etc., is modern history. It may be what you have known and what you grew up with and even what you prefer but to say that Lutheran worship is and has always been that way is just plain foolish. Lutheran Worship well into the time of Bach was liturgical, formal, ceremonial, and mined the riches of the catholic tradition that was Lutheranism's claim. Of course some ditched things along the way but not always as a free choice and often in response to pressure from Reformed rulers and faith. All I am saying is that most of the agitation comes from those who are offended that ceremonial, liturgical, and formal worship is ALSO as Lutheran as what some here have opined as low church tradition. Again, I do not hear any of those who practice the fuller tradition insisting that everywhere people do what we do but I hear over and over again from angry people that they don't like, want, or believe it is really Lutheran to utilize the fuller tradition. It is not historical but fantasy to insist that Lutherans began and have always been low church or free church on Sunday morning. If nothing else, look at Lutheran art depicting worship services of the first several hundred years. Or could people be thinking or saying that they know better than Luther and the Lutheran fathers of the first two centuries what is really Lutheran and what is not.

Pastor Peters said...

For those who insist that God who wrote the book on vestments, incense, liturgy, the church year, and temple architecture in the Old Testament but suffered a personality schizophrenia disorder in the New Testament and changed His mind, I urge you to read Revelation and find out what the heavenly liturgy looks like, compared that to the Old Testament Temple worship, and then look at Sunday morning and think who is out of step. . .

Anonymous said...

As important as sixteenth-century institutions and individuals may have been for the church of their time, they had little or nothing to say to the church of the present. Thus he (Rev. Benjamin Kurtz, a key leader in the American Lutheran movement and editor of the Lutheran Observer) rejected appeals on the part of both German- and English-speaking Lutherans for a return to the “fathers” of the Lutheran church—or the church of any period.

The Fathers — who are the “Fathers”? They are the children; they lived in the infancy of the Church, in the early dawn of the Gospel day. John the Baptist was the greatest among the prophets, and yet he that was least in the Kingdom of God, in the Christian Church was greater than he. He probably knew less, and that little less distinctly than a Sunday school child, ten years of age, in the present day. Even the apostle Peter, after all the personal instructions of Christ, could not expand his views sufficiently to learn that the Gospel was to be preached to the Gentiles, and that the Church of Christ was to compass the whole world. A special miracle was wrought to remove his prejudices and convince him of his folly. Every well-instructed Sunday-school child understands this thing without a miracle, better than Peter did. Who, then, are the “Fathers”? They have become the Children; they were the Fathers when compared with those who lived in the infancy of the Jewish dispensation; but, compared with the present and advanced age, they are the Children, and the learned and pious of the nineteenth century are the Fathers. We are three hundred years older than Luther and his noble coadjutors, and eighteen hundred years older than the primitives; theirs was the age of infancy and adolescence, and ours that of full-grown manhood. They were the children; we are the fathers; the tables are turned. November 29, 1849.

Excerpted from “Are We Experiencing the Lutheran Reformation Eve or Twilight?” by Lawrence R. Rast, Jr.
Emmaus Conference
Parkland Lutheran Church
Tacoma, Washington
April 14, 2016
09:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. – Lecture 1

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