Sunday, March 8, 2020
The mountain on which we will live or die. . .
After the Battle for the Bible wars found in the 1970s, I have grown more and more concerned that it is thoroughly possible and perhaps even probable to win that major battle and lose the war entirely. For Missouri, the Battle for the Bible was the defining point of our existence and one for which we were willing to split in order to preserve. Yet living with this battle in the rear view mirror, the things we struggle against today are enemies just as formidable as doubt about the veracity of God's Word. We live in the arid desert of a world in which congregations do as they please and wear it as a badge of honor to do so, in which adiaphora has come to mean everyone can do what is right in their own eyes and God will still be pleased, and in which worship has become merely a neutral tool to be styled as people prefer while presuming somehow to keep the content of the faith. All of these will become our undoing every bit as much as the surrender of the historicity of God's Word in the generations past.
Every Sunday there are LCMSers who go to church and experience vastly different realities. This is not a mere matter of more or fewer ceremonies but an absence of the Ordo, an omission of any hint of our liturgical past, and a disconnect with the rest of the church around them. The lectionary is missing, the setting has more in common with malls and other secular public spaces than with the church's unique purpose, and the music has a beat but not much to say about Christ and Him crucified. The kerygma is in sync with the times but it is terribly out of step with the Scriptures. Jesus is an occasional reference to the sermon and justification and the atonement are barely mentioned but the sermon is replete with stories to entertain, inspire, and encourage people to reach their potential and their dreams. For too many congregations, Lutheran as an identifier has become excess baggage and with it their commitment to the Lutheran Confessions and to the worship life that flows from those Confessions have moved from the practical to the theoretical. Lutheranism has become a legacy term more than an apt description of the content and shape of the faith and life of the congregation and the people.
This is the mountain on which Lutheranism will live or die. Abandon the liturgy and you have nothing. In an interesting anecdote, a parent of a young adult worshiped together in a traditional liturgical (though not ceremonial) congregation. The young adult, accustomed to an evangelical style of contemporary worship, told the parent how it was all coming back. The words, the music, and the shape of the liturgy was embedded in this young adult's memory. But the small child in that young adult's arms will never know this, will not have it framed into the memory, and will not be able to return to what was. That child has nothing to fall back upon. This is what I mean when I say that worship is the mountain on which Lutheranism will live or die. Once we raise a majority generation that has not been raised with or learned the liturgy, hymns, and rhythm of the church year as a child or youth, it will be foreign turn to them and they will be a stranger to our own confessional and liturgical history. It will be like a modern generation of people looking back at Sunday mornings of the past the way we look at pictures of our ancestors and wonder about them. This is the mountain on which Lutheranism will live or die.
We may have won the battle fifty years ago, but we are losing the war every week.