Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"Changes in the liturgy take on a momentous significance for the believer, for they are changes in his experience of God – changes, if you wish to be Feurbachian, in God himself..."  (Fuerbach was a19th century student of Hegel, noted for his attack on orthodox Christianity, The Essence of Christianity,  where he surmised "in the consciousness of the infinite, the conscious subject has for his object the infinity of his own nature.")

 Do you ever read something you wish you would have written or said?  Here we have a single sentence written by someone well known but whose words say exactly what needs to be said about the changes we make in the liturgy.  Though the writer was not Luther, Luther understood this implicitly.  That is why Luther was so hesitant to change what the people heard and saw in the liturgy.  He knew that these were not merely outward changes  but changes in the way we know God.  By extension we might also say that these liturgical changes are also then a change in the God whom we know -- not by the change of His essence but by the change of our perception of that essence which the liturgy is there to convey.

The writer, lest any of you be shocked, is none other than Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, writing the Preface to A. Reid’s The Organic Development of Liturgy (whom we now call Benedict XVI).

The reason that folks like me get so upset when the liturgy is radically altered or ditched in favor of something different, is not that we are purists or traditionalists (though some of us might be).  The reason we are up in arms is that this represents a change to the faith and experience of God for the believer himself.  When we change the liturgy where God is known to us in the Word and Sacraments and witnessed in the historic words that address Him in prayer and prayer, we change the faith, we change the experience of God, and ultimately, we change the God whom we perceive through the liturgy.  That is not to say that God changes.  He does not.  But is it the same God who is worshiped in the Divine Service with its appointed propers and vibrant sacramental identity and the one who is worshiped by contemporary song (that speaks feeling instead of truth) and whose Word is used to elevate the present, pursue happiness, and obtain pleasure?

When we change what happens on Sunday morning, we change the faith, we change the way we experience God, and we, ultimately, change our very perception of who this God is...  That is why we are so concerned!


X said...

Well said!

Janis Williams said...

Fr. Peters,

And what of the heterodox protestants who "dumped" the Liturgy centuries ago?

May I suggest it's not purity or traditionalism as the issue. It is the Word. I'm not saying modern music (aka CCM) can't convey the Word, and that sermons outside Lutheranism are devoid of Gospel. I'd like to see a tally, though.

When I hear "conservative" (?) Lutherans hold forth for the Liturgy as received from the past, I don't hear purism, or traditionalism. I hear instead the desire for true worship. That especially inludes God coming down to His people. Most open windows let the odor of the World in, but they also stir up the putrefaction that clings to our sinful flesh. For some reason, we prefer this to the sweet odor of the sacrifice of Christ.

Chris Jones said...

... Luther understood this implicitly. That is why Luther was so hesitant to change what the people heard and saw in the liturgy.

This certainly made my jaw drop. Are we talking about the same Luther who excised the Roman canon, thus cutting the heart out of the Mass? That is not what "hesitant" means to me.

As you say, Luther certainly understood that "changes in the liturgy take on a momentous significance for the believer," but that did not make him hesitant; it emboldened him to make a radical change to the liturgy, precisely in order to make a radical change in the teaching of the Church.

I am not sure why he thought he had the authority to do such a thing. I must confess that it is the single most problematic thing for me in being a Lutheran.

Pastor Peters said...

At the time of Luther, the canon was a quiet prayer prayed at the altar and therefore not a very obvious change to the people in the pew -- he kept the elevation, for example, which would have been an obvious change... Remember that Luther was heavily criticized by the more radical reformers both in Germany and throughout Europe for being so conservative.

Boaz said...

I haven't read anything that suggests Luther was that concerned with changing the liturgy. He had no problem keeping anything in tradition that didn't contradict true doctrine, but he didn't require keeping tradition unless it would needlessly cause scandal. I think he left it in the hands of the local bishops.


For a lot of Lutheran churches, they've been doing contemporary worship for 30 years, and requiring change would cause scandal. Requiring a particular liturgical form in addition to the scriptural requirements of Word and Sacrament requires resort either to authority or tradition, Rome or the East.

Which is why I disagree with liturgical pietists, Lutheran, Orthodox, or Catholic. I love the traditional Lutheran services, but to talk about them like they are the only proper form of worship is un-Lutheran.

Instead of criticizing not using historical liturgical forms, confessionals should focus on seeking changes of the un-Lutheran doctrine often accompanying contemporary worship (Arminian songs, focus on our works and emotions, lack of Christ-centered preaching, open communion, etc.) and adopted by the Synod (non-Lutheran advisers, programs focused on entertaining kids and converts rather than teaching, mindlessly promoting non-Lutheran programs).


Chris, why does the church need permission to change something that isn't required by Scripture? Scripture doesn't require it so we have freedom to change. We are told how communion should take place ("do this") and how to baptize ("in the name of ..") and how to preach ("Christ crucified") and what to teach ("everything [Christ] commanded") but there is no further instruction on liturgy and worship other than it be orderly.

Where did the early church get permission to worship on Sunday? Or start using a silver chalice? These are matters the church has freedom to change, though only insofar as the changes are intended and actually do promote true Word and Sacrament without needlessly causing scandal.

Pastor Peters said...

I find it interesting the comparison of a silver chalice with liturgical practices that actually do speak and reflect doctrinal content. It is frustrating to be called a liturgical pietist by someone who has never worshiped in our parish. It might surprise you to note that we have a much richer liturgical and musical variety that most doing CCW. This is not about some incidental change or practice but about the very basis of Lutheran character and identity. Further we are not bound to the thoughts of Luther in this but have specific Confessional statements that place us within the evangelical and catholic tradition of the Western mass form. This is both our starting point and that which flows from our identity and confession. Finally, if you want to be in a church body where the Confessions do not norm the church's faith and practice, then the Lutheran Church is not that place. We are not the radical reformers who discarded 1500 years of tradition. It was a reform and not a restart. This is especially true when it comes to matters of worship.

Loneviking said...

But is it the same God who is worshiped in the Divine Service with its appointed propers and vibrant sacramental identity and the one who is worshiped by contemporary song....

Pastor, this argument has a problem as at one time there were no appointed propers; there was no vibrant sacramental identity and the Christian church was carefully developing its own identity seperate from the Jewish culture and practices. So, reliance on age as the imprimatur of correctness seems to me to be a dead end.

The focus in this fight should be on the effect of changing the liturgy and what that in turn says about Lutherans and what we believe worship is. By focusing on principles and not on the specifics, we can avoid 'majoring in the minors'.

For example, is it really necessary to confine our services to just what is within the covers of the LSW? Why not bring in other prayers; chants and hymns that are in keeping with Lutheran thought? Going farther, why not use a screen (off to the side) and projector which is much easier on aging eyes than squinting at a bulletin or the LSW? Yes, there needs to be discernement, but older is not always 'best' nor 'right' as at one time what is now old was new itself.

Anonymous said...

Style is not neutral.

Chris Jones said...

Chris, why does the church need permission to change something that isn't required by Scripture?

I did not say that the Church cannot change some things when change is warranted. But Dr Luther was not "the Church" and he did not have the authority that the Church has to order her life. He was one individual, a monk and priest who recognized that the Church of his day had gone wrong and needed to be reformed. That recognition did not give him the right to make fundamental changes in the structure of the Mass.

Remember, too, that the principle of the Lutheran Reformation is neither that we reconstruct the faith "from scratch" on the basis of Scripture, nor that we "do as we please" so long as Scripture permits it. Rather, the principle of the Lutheran Reformation is that we follow the tradition that we have received unless it is specifically contrary to Scripture. It is right there in the Augsburg Confession.

So yes, "the Church" has the authority to change things, within the bounds set by Scripture. But no single teacher -- even one as august and venerable as Dr Luther -- is to be equated with "the Church" so as to exercise, all on his own, the authority to change the Church's liturgy in fundamental ways. And alongside the Church's authority to change things is her duty to be faithful to the tradition she has received (stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. (2 Th 2.15)).

Anonymous said...

Prayers, chants, and hymns are not in keeping with Lutheran THOUGHT, they are cultural. In my congregation, we celebrated its 50th anniversary with a service in our original sanctuary, using the 1950s worship hymnal. It's not the same as the service we're using today. We have a "contemporary" service, but its appeal is to baby boomers. But it is liturgical and Lutheran in theology.
What makes that different from a more modern adaptation with different music, video, and less emphasis on vestments and dare I say the residual ornaments of the courts and affectations of the clergy of the middle ages.
Martin Luther took a fresh look and it's time to do it again. I don't mean we should do away with the traditional service or the 80's contemporary services that are so popular. But it's time to look at the means of group communications and dynamics of youth and young families today ...and offer services that would appeal to them.
Jesus reached out with the means of communications he had available to him in the language and customs of his day. Martin Luther offered services in the language of his day with the popular music style of his day. Shouldn't we be doing the same?
Posted by Mike R (Sarasota)

Anonymous said...

Unless I am mistaken, Jesus did not change or suggest any change to the services of the Synagogue or Temple. These services were generations removed from His contemporary culture and language but I do not find any reproach against them coming from His lips. I do hear Him reject the empty way the people were carrying out the ancient services and the way the "business" of the temple had pushed aside the worship, but that is far different than a rejection of the worship life of the Synagogue or Temple.

The music of worship is not the satellite radio with a different channel for every taste and era of life. The music of worship is the vehicle for the Word. Each age adds its best but not to suit the trend or taste of the moment. It is what best supports the Word (and does not get in the way of it either).

Furthermore, no one is saying we speak to the world and those not yet among the household of believers in the same language we speak within the walls of God's house. Worship is not evangelism. God may open the hearts of those present working through His Word and Spirit but the assembly gathered for worship is by definition the baptized company of believers.

We are not speaking the heart language or the language of the heart to people. We speak the Word of God and it is this Word that convicts the heart with regards to sin and enlivens the heart to faith by the Spirit.

Anonymous said...

Is it not true that one BIG item is missing that might alter people's attitude toward change? Teaching. Catechesis. Call it what you will. The higher-ups are influenced by consultants, and the inculcated desire to be "change agents." The person in the pew might not be so willing to go with the flow if they were taught the why and wherefore of the Divine Service.