Monday, February 8, 2010

What Drives Us?

I have long and deep friendships with some folks in the Anglican Communion. When I have a question about ritual or liturgy, I often turn to them. They know it better that anyone I know. I have on my computer an abundant set of links to the BBC and other sites where Evening Prayer, English hymnody, and Lessons and Carols provide me with the best in English and Anglican choral and liturgical tradition.

Sadly, some of those who have a distinctly high liturgical practice have a very low view of the Christian faith, Scripture, and the truthfulness of God's Word. Their Christianity has devolved into a moralism and conscience that is divorced from the God-man Jesus Christ and the historical events of His life, death, and resurrection. So what drives them? They delight in things liturgical done well -- make that perfectly. When I watch a thurifer swing that thurible completely around in the so-called St. Anne swing -- without spilling an ash or coal and while keeping the smoke pouring out and without losing a step... well, practice obviously makes perfect. They do it well -- even though for some of them what they do is a long way off from what they believe. They are sophisticated, intellectual, rational Christians who love liturgy more than they are concerned about doctrine or truth.

I know people who love music in the same way. They are consummate musicians and their music is perfection. I listened to them sing my favorite anthem ("E'en So Lord Jesus Quickly Come") and even though there were only 8 voices -- it was heavenly. But they care little for the preaching of the Divine Service or even the Divine Service itself. Apart from the music within the liturgy, they are tone deaf to everything else that goes on. The Divine Service and the sermon is for them backdrop to the music. What drives them? They love the music... the music done well. It is performance that drives them. They perform the music of the Divine Service and music within the Divine Service. They do it so well that I can almost ignore or forgive their inattentiveness to the rest of the Divine Service.

I know people who are doctrinal purists. They see the Church as a sieve through which we sift everyone. There is not a church statement or prayer or sermon that passes through their microscope of orthodoxy without finding some way to improve upon it. I say tongue-in-cheek that they have words for Jesus about how the Our Father might be rendered more doctrinally pure. They can defend inerrancy better than the author of Scriptures and they can argue better than a set of Jewish parents and their children. But because they are so busy finding fault (or searching for ways to improve, as they would say it), they find little satisfaction in or during the Divine Service. They have little taste for music but have much to say about the texts set to music. What drives them? They live in fear of and to escape theological error. These are the people to have on your side when you are attacked for your theology but they have little personal loyalty that endures.

I know people who are committed to sharing the Gospel. They strike up conversations with every stranger and will not let them go until they have lit the full explosion of the evangelistic bomb. They are very concerned that everyone whose life crosses their own meets Jesus but they seldom stick around long enough to connect that person to a church where their faith and questions can receive catechesis. They love to tell the story but do not stay around long enough to see how it turns out -- there are so many out there they have not yet told. They have to keep moving. What drives them? They are out to hasten the end of the world by making sure that everyone hears the Gospel as quickly as possible. I admire their evangelistic zeal even though I find myself often picking up the pieces they leave behind.

I know people who are passionate teachers. They teach and teach. Their Bible study offerings read like a course description for a community college. They have Bible Basics 101, 102, and 103, and prerequisites for all the upper level classes. Their sermons are more like academic lectures than preaching and they fumble in the chancel as people are ill at ease without a whiteboard, PowerPoint, or lectern in front of them. They answer nearly every question with the question, "Did you take my class on.......?" What drives them? The pursuit of knowledge and the imparting of that knowledge to others. For them confirmation is like graduation day and they think we all should spend our day learning. When I have questions I cannot answer, I turn to them and they seldom let me down yet I am not so sure that I would want them to be the Pastor of my parents.

I know people who are number crunchers. They chart attendance and offerings like stock brokers watch the Dow Jones. They are deeply disappointed when attendance is not higher than the week or month or year before. They are willing to do just about anything make the church grow (at least in nickels and noses). They spend money on technology and have the best equipment for sound, video, computer editing, etc... They read everything to give them a clue to what is going in the culture around them in order to use this information to keep their churches relevant, current, and an easy fit for the people outside the church. They tweet and social network all day long. What drives them? They want the church to grow in the tangible and countable ways of attendance and offerings. They want the church to connect with the culture around the church. If I need help with my tech problems, I turn to them (but I might have to endure a lecture about my ancient equipment and perspective...).

What drives me? I love music but I believe the music that succeeds is that which marries text and tune in such a way that they become one medium -- message and melody. I love the liturgy but I am no slave to gesture and ritual. I believe that the liturgy must be authentic to the place and the leader must be comfortable in the chancel -- I would choose this over liturgical fussiness. I believe that truth and doctrine must be carefully maintained or we have an exterior without foundation or substance (a church like an old Hollywood set where the buildings are merely facades). But I do not believe that the Truth is given us to defend, rather it is given to us to proclaim. I believe that it is our baptismal vocation to be witnesses to the Gospel in daily life but I do not believe that I or anyone can make a Christian -- all we can do is speak the Gospel in words and actions (and this is enough, as God sees it). I like teaching and think I do a credible job as a teacher but my desire is less to impart information than it is to build understanding, to equip God's people for their priestly service as His instruments and witnesses in the world. I am in favor of church growth -- we do take attendance and count the money in my parish -- but not at the expense of who we are, what we confess, and what Scripture says. Growth is the fruit of faithfulness (though it surely does not hinder faithfulness if we have a winsome way about us).

I am a Lutheran Pastor -- all of these things fall somewhere in my daily schedule and job description yet I must be careful about choosing one of them as that which drives me. It is my calling to preach and teach the Word of God, to prepare the candidate and baptize, to catechize and teach the youth and new to the faith, to plan and prepare for the Divine Service using the best musical resources that give song to the Word and use the liturgical options of the propers and church year to their fullest, to see that we do not put artificial barriers before those who would walk through our doors for the first time, to see that we have the resources necessary to carry out Christ's mandate for His Church in the world, and to celebrate the growth that God brings forth in both faith and numbers. What drives me? To faithfully shepherd the flock committed to my care... as I was charged to do when about 17 years and 1 month ago I became Pastor of this congregation... Although I am daily concerned about how well I am doing what God has bidden me to do among and for His people here, I leave it to others to judge me -- including those in the pews every Sunday morning.

1 comment:

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

It is the goal of Satan to twist any gift, talent, strength, or love that we are given by God into our greatest weakness, vice, or vanity with his temptations.