Sunday, May 27, 2018

Liturgy and Mission


http://www.omcparish.com/uploads/5/8/0/4/58041427/____355082_orig.jpgTo the typical Lutheran, even to some on the liturgical side of the aisle, liturgy is basically insider stuff and the rubrics but the polite etiquette of those who gather for the liturgy.  All of this is in stark contrast to the world outside and the mission to those in the world unconnected to what takes place inside.  This is all very neat and tidy.  It relieves those who want to be set apart from having to deal with the world – at least during the liturgy.  It also relieves those who do not want to be set apart from having to act holy within the liturgy.  It works for all of us. . . except the Lord.

The grand presumption is that those who care about liturgy do not care about missions and the equally grand presumption is that those who care about mission care nothing at all about liturgy.  At least that is our story and most of the people would prefer to stick with it than to disrupt stereotypes with the truth.  In reality, the distinctions are more artificial than substantive.  We have made them up to justify ourselves.  It is quite convenient to write off people according to our stereotypes and that is exactly what has been done for some time. 

There are those who have disputed this characterization.  I think of Bo Giertz and his masterful pamphlet Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening.  But we seldom listen.  So instead of paying attention and admitting the fallacy, we have fostered it.  The liturgical types snicker at the way the missionals play church like a religious entertainment and variety show.  The missionals snicker at the costumes and rituals of the liturgical.  It works for all of us.  It certainly worked for David Luecke when he tried to put distance between evangelical style and Lutheran substance.  And it has worked for those who insist that the liturgy is only for those who are already the people of God by baptism and faith.  But both sides have missed something.

The liturgy is not some peculiar language and etiquette of a people who meet behind closed doors.  No indeed.  The liturgy is the means by which God posits His Church in the world and the means by which the Church addresses the world with God’s presence and His saving acts.  The liturgy is not self-referential but neither is the mission to the world.  The Church does not exists for itself nor does it exist even exclusively for God.  God has made His Church to be the means of His presence and the voice of His Word to those who do not know His presence and who have not heard His voice.  The neat and tidy divorce between liturgy and kerygma is a modern invention.  Think of the age old story of the representatives of the Christianization of Russia.

    Vladimir summoned together his vassals and the city elders, and said to them: "Behold, the Bulgars came before me urging me to accept their religion. Then came the Germans and praised their own faith; and after them came the Jews. Finally the Greeks appeared, criticising all other faiths but commanding their own, and they spoke at length, telling the history of the whole world from its beginning. Their words were artful, and it was wondrous to listen and pleasant to hear them. They preach the existence of another world. 'Whoever adopts our religion and then dies shall arise and live forever. But whosoever embraces another faith, shall be consumed with fire in the next world.' What is your opinion on this subject, and what do you answer?"
   
    The emissaries went their way, and when they arrived at their destination they beheld the disgraceful actions of the Bulgars and their worship in the mosque; then they returned to their own country. Vladimir then instructed them to go likewise among the Germans, and examine their faith, and finally to visit the Greeks. They thus went into Germany, and after viewing the German ceremonial, they proceeded to Constantinople where they appeared before the emperor. He inquired on what mission they had come, and they reported to him all that had occurred.. When the emperor heard their words, he rejoiced, and did them great honour on that very day.

    [Then] the emperor sent a message to the patriarch to inform him that a Russian delegation had arrived to examine the Greek faith, and directed him to prepare the church and the clergy, and to array himself in his sacerdotal robes, so that the Russians might behold the glory of the God of the Greeks. When the patriarch received these commands, he bade the clergy assemble, and they performed the customary rites. They burned incense, and the choirs sang hymns. The emperor accompanied the Russians to the church, and placed them in a wide space, calling their attention to the beauty of the edifice, the chanting, and the offices of the archpriest and the ministry of the deacons, while he explained to them the worship of his God. The Russians were astonished, and in their wonder praised the Greek ceremonial.
   
    [When the emissaries reported on] the Greeks, ‘they led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendour or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty. Every man, after tasting something sweet, is afterward unwilling to accept that which is bitter, and therefore we cannot dwell longer here."
The liturgy does not only matter to those who already belong to the Jesus Club.  It is not about temple behavior or proper etiquette but about preserving the Gospel and manifesting to the world the Kingdom not of the world but certainly in it.  Theology must sing, according to Martin Franzmann.  All theology is doxology.  This is not true simply of theology in the abstract but about the most practical of theology, the theology that sings.  Schmemann aptly named his own liturgical theology For the Life of the World.  It is not incidental.  Liturgy cannot be left tot he professionals because it is the life of the people of God planted here in the world.  It is here that the people of God are directed toward their holy vocation of being the people of God in the world.  It is here the world encounters the wholly other of the God who is love.  The Word is the living voice of God through whom He works just as He did in bringing all things into being.  The Sacraments are the miracles through which He manifests His gracious presence to bring the people of the world into His life and worship. 

This does not mean that the liturgy is a tool anymore than Scripture itself is a tool.  What it does mean is that the liturgy is not self-serving and not antithetical to the mission at all but that which shapes, informs, accomplishes the mission.  The liturgy is both the place where God gives Himself to us and it is where the work of the few happens on behalf of the many.  Theology and mission all intersect in the liturgy.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

That looks like a Roman Missal. Is it or is it a Lutheran Altar book?

Unknown said...

Dear Pastor Peters: Right after telling the story of Grand Prince Vladimir’s emissaries to Constantinople, you wrote this, “The liturgy does not only matter to those who already belong to the Jesus Club. It is not about temple behavior or proper etiquette but about preserving the Gospel and manifesting to the world the Kingdom not of the world but certainly in it.” I could not agree with you more. Unfortunately, in the case of the Russian Orthodox church, shortly after the death of Vladimir, the preservation of the Gospel was never of concern to the church. Gleb and Boris, two of his sons, were the first Russian martyrs, slain by their “brother” (Sviatopolk’s paternity is apparently in question). Not a good start for the Gospel.
Over the next 1,000 years, the liturgy became one of the most beautiful in the world. Russian liturgical music rates at the top of the music I enjoy. At the same time, I know from history, and from having grown up in a large Russian family, that the liturgy had become an obligatory rite. By and large, its influence had hardly any effect on the population. This was because the people knew that the church was more interested in power and wealth than in their welfare. Most of the “white” clergy, those who served as parish priests and performed the liturgy, were uneducated and living in extreme poverty. To feed themselves, they sold the sacraments (primarily Baptism and Extreme Unction) at prices which the populace resented (Nikolai Leskov’s books are available in English; they tell the full horror of the Russian church). As a result, after the Soviet revolution, many priests were killed, not because of the urging of Lenin and his thugs, but because of extreme hatred for the clergy.
Today, the Moscow Patriarchy cannot be characterized as anything but “the synagogue” of Satan. Certainly, you will not find the pure Gospel there. I had a Russian Orthodox priest tell me, “to have certainty of one’s salvation is spiritual rapture and arrogance.”
Therefore, I have to conclude, and I think I am with Luther there, that what serves the preservation of the Gospel best is the preaching of the pure Gospel.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart