Sunday, October 7, 2018
The problem of proof. . .
This war cannot be won on the basis of what works because not only do we have scant evidence to support broad and generalized conclusions, we cannot even agree on what it means that it works or it doesn't work. Furthermore, geography, culture, race, and age are all factors that affect not only the evidence but the conclusions. It is time we stop listening to polls and stop giving weight to one experience and stop trusting anecdotal evidence and stories as gospel truth. It is time we talked about this strictly in terms of theology. We ought to be especially adept at this as Lutherans since we are always about the big question: what does this mean?
The truth is that I do not have much hope that we can set aside personal preference, personal experience, and personal history long enough to thoughtfully consider the theology of worship but it will not stop me from pleading for an end to the disastrous dead end plaguing us about what happens on Sunday morning. We have listened too long to the social scientists (who have their own problems of evidence, replication of results, and truth). We have listened too long to the wants and desires of those in the pews (a group divided about what they want and like and who find it difficult to even define it). We have listened too long to the mega churches and those without a formal confession who view worship as a program to be judged by the pews filled and the money flowing in. We have listened too long to those who insist that we live in a new and different world in which the old ways will not work (even when they are the ways of God that endure forever).
We need to pay attention to Scripture. Saying back to God what He has said to us is the most sure and certain thing we can say and do in worship. I think I read that somewhere. We need to pay attention to history. Every age and generation is not given a blank slate to create worship but they are heirs of an astonishingly rich tradition. We need to pay attention to creed and confession. What we do on Sunday morning must be more than consistent with what we say we believe -- it must be an accurate reflection of what we say we believe -- prayed dogma! We need to pay attention to what is new not as determinative but as a contribution to a catholic past and a catholic future. Not everything new is evil but we must carefully discern what is good, right, true, beautiful, faithful, and worthy from our own age and generation. We need to pay attention to language. Words flow in and out of our vocabularies and they change in meaning but this must be held in tension with the vocabulary of Scripture and tradition and words that mean what God says they mean. We need to pay attention to excellence. Having a script on Sunday morning (either in pulpit or at the altar) does not relieve us of the call to do well what we do -- to do our best, our utmost for His highest (read that somewhere, too). Finally, we need to pay attention to priority. They say you can tell what is important to people by what they spend their money on and the sad reality is that if you look at many of our churches we spend next to nothing on Sunday morning -- not preparation, not effort, and not money. We cheap out on instruments to support singing and expect talented musicians to work for little or nothing and act like the only thing important is the sermon. And it shows.
There. I feel better. Do you?