Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Paradox to Ponder

The truth is that congregations of the ELCA tend to be liturgically more solid than congregations of the LCMS.  What this means is simple.  Congregations of the ELCA tend to use their worship book pretty much as it is written – LBW or ELW – for the Eucharist and the rites of the Church (baptism, for example).  Congregations of the LCMS are more likely to use non-hymnal orders for the Eucharist and the various rites (pieces of the liturgy may come from the hymnal – TLH, LW, or LSB – but the order is often constructed with bits and pieces from various sources).  Now I am not suggesting that this is ordinary for the LCMS but a very significant portion of the congregations of this body – much higher than the ELCA – do change the rite (and I am not speaking of music here but of text as well as tune).

This is also true of college campuses.  It is somewhat more likely that a student on an ELCA college campus will find Morning Prayer (or another of the hymnal rites) as the order for that day’s chapel while it is somewhat more likely that a student at an LCMS college will find either no order or a variation on the CoWo (contemporary worship for you non-bloggers).  I have this from a number of students on campuses of both church bodies and from the personal experience of my family and the reports of many others.

I might also suggest that the faith of these congregations is directly opposite.  The ELCA congregations tend to have very open communion, to presume no one believes in the six day creation, never to use a work like inerrant, and to speak of the Gospel in terms that include such things as advocacy, ecology, justice, and social work (either in addition to or in place of sin and forgiveness, law and grace, etc.).  The ELCA congregation uses the creeds as they are written but tends to believe the words are not necessarily literally true while the Missouri congregation might use a homemade creed but believe every word of the ecumenical creeds.

The ELCA congregation is more likely to emphasize the welcome of all people (without respect to creed, race, sexual identity, etc.) while the Missouri congregation is more likely not to speak of such diversity at all – much less make it part of their welcome.  The ELCA congregation is more likely to have a “green” committee to deal with such things as their carbon imprint and a diversity committee to help them make sure no barriers are encountered by anyone who might visit (and no offense given) while the Missouri congregation is more likely to have an “evangelism” committee and to deal with questions of eternal salvation and insist upon doctrinal agreement and a common faith before the welcome mat includes too many privileges.

What a strange paradox?  The one which is admittedly more broad in its understanding of the faith is more narrow in its liturgical application while the one that is admittedly more narrow in its faith definition is more broad in its liturgical application.

It reminds me of the fact that when I began in Synodical education, those who were interested in or cared about what happened in worship were considered “liberal” while those who spoke of doctrine were more likely to use the hymnal but not know why or even care – just that it was the official book.  Now some 38 years later, those who care about worship are considered “conservative” doctrinally and those who believe in things indifferent when it comes to Sunday morning are considered “moderate” (the Missouri equivalent of liberal).  I do not think I have changed all that much but the meaning of the categories has and with it my place in the Church has moved... even though I am standing in the same place...  What a paradox?


Dr.D said...

When I joined the Lutheran Church as an adult convert in 1965, every LCMS parish that I encountered used strictly TLH, and every ALC and LCA parish I visited used the SBH without exception. All of these parishes used the services as they were given in the hymnals, without modifications, abridgments, etc. Some had better music than others as you might expect, but the service was entirely predictable.

I am a strong believer in the old Latin saying, "Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi." The Law of Praying is the Law of Belief. When you start changing the way you worship, you are in fact changing what you believe, whether it is done consciously or not. I was unwilling to change what I believed, and that was what eventually forced me out of the Lutheran Church, because I would not continue to change what I believed as the service was continually modified.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters,

I have sojourned in the ELCA and the LCMS.

Your assessment is right on the mark.


Past Elder said...

Entirely predictable, purely a phenomenon of projection and denial.

The liberal hides his heterodoxy from himself and projects it on to others by appropriating the externals of orthodoxy.

That is how modern churches, such as the ELCA, the ECUSA and postconciliar RCC, maintain the veneer of connexion, tradition and mainstream while in fact they preach something quite other than their predecessors.

The fact is, they worship differently too, with a new, shared lectionary to break the continuity with the preaching tradition of the past, and new services that maintain the general form of the mass but express a modern sentiment derived from phenomenology and existentialism, not the Gospel.

What remains is only a surface, a facade, an appearance, itself changed because it no longer is the surface of what was once its depth.

You have in this "contemporary worship" no less what is generally meant by that term, and preserving vestments, organs, liturgical orders etc only makes it more dangerous to faith because the superficial resemblance is so convincing yet deceptive.

On the Sunday morning fare on our cable TV, there is no more superficially traditional service with all the trappings than that from our longtime big, now ELCA, Lutheran church -- presided over by its female pastor.

I'll take Jimmy Swaggart any day over that posturing and deception.

I have been Lutheran since 1996, and if that time were all in LCMS I would have yet to be in a Common Service, now icognito as DSIII, and have yet to go through the church year with readings and preaching from the truly historic, not new but looks historic, lectionary.

Anonymous said...

Well, sadly, the LCMS worship I have encountered in my neck of the woods is very much a cut and paste of TLH, LSB, CW and others. The continuing push of the "traditional" service to the early morning hours and the "contemporary" one to the later ones (which always seem to have a larger number of worshippers) are doing their job in recreating historic Lutheran worship along the evangelical mode.

I will be the first to admit that the powers that be in Chicago have pulled the ELCA off the rails but that was not yet the case when I was still there. The liturgy at my parish was beautifully celebrated in all its catholicity in keeping with the rubrics of LBW and I was greatly edified by the liturgical sensibilities of Pastors Frank Senn and Phillip Pfatteicher.

At my sister's ELCA church on Easter Sunday there were bells, incense, and all the elements of catholic worship one could wish for.

I can also appreciate the comments of Dr. D, having experienced just such a Lutheran environment growing up.

I hope I am wrong but I don't think the LCMS will ever return to that kind of worship in toto.


Tim said...

Dr. D.-

I am sorry that the stupidity of some Lutherans forced you out. Please forgive us.

If I may be so bold as to ask, where did you find safe harbor?

Dr.D said...

Tim, I joined the Continuing Anglican Church, the traditional continuation of what the Episcopal Church once was. I found the liturgy to be very familiar, and for me in particular, even more comfortable.

I had grown up in the Methodist Church of long ago. One of the things that I had remembered from the (infrequent) Communion Service of the Methodist Church was the Prayer of Humble Access. When I first heard an Anglican Mass, there it was, and I knew that I had come home.

I had not known the Book of Common Prayer previously, but I have become very familiar with it. The BCP 1928, which was the last true BCP before ECUSA came out with the heretical 1979 book, is a real treasure. I use it daily for Morning and Evening Prayer.

The Episcopal Hymnal 1940 is comparable to TLH or the SBH, although the selection of hymns is by no means identical. All are very fine hymnals in the style of tradition Christian worship.

I made this change a little over 20 years ago, and I have never looked back. It was the best decision I have ever made, even though at times it has been difficult to find a parish in my location.

Tim said...

While I am sorry that you were forced out of the Lutheran tradition, I rejoice at the fact that you have a home- and more importantly, that you didn't abandon the Faith. And I'm glad we're still brothers in Christ.

Peace be upon you, Dr. D. He is Risen!

P.S.- "Dr. D" wouldn't happen to stand for Dr. Dolittle, would it? ;)

Dr.D said...

Tim, while I don't ever seem to get enough done, I don't think it is just "dolittle."

After I retired from my primary career, I became a priest in the United Episcopal Church of North America (UECNA) which is a part of the Continuing Anglican movement. This keeps me pretty busy. This was in response to a call that I became aware of many years earlier while in the Lutheran Church but could never see my way clear to realize it.

Tim said...

Dr. D.-

I am sorry if I came across as being rude. My apologies. With the whole "Dr. Dolittle" thing, I was making reference to the movie. My pop culture reference= fail. LOL.

That is exciting that you are a priest. I am sure you are a blessing to your congregation. I too have a desire to become a priest. I mean, pastor- Lutherans don't have priests ;)

I pray that God keep you and your flock in His loving and gracious hands.

Anonymous said...

Lutherans DO have priests -- in Scandinavia, and I'm still a Lutheran priest after taking a call to America.

Dr.D said...

Anonymous 9:38, thank you for bringing that point up. Would you tell us, please, what part of the Lutheran Church you are in now that you have taken a call in America? How does your standing as a priest put you with respect to the other pastors? Does it make any difference? Are you still canonically under your bishop back in Scandinavia?

Tim said...

Mr. Anonymous-

thank you for the correction. I do know that Lutherans have priests. It was more a jab at American Lutheranism being uncomfortable with using the term "priest", for fear of being Catholic.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Thank you brother for this excellent "paradox to ponder." You have explained the key reason why I no longer use Prosper's axiom (Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi) as a equation for the truthfulness or purity of worship. I have known Episcopal Priests who denied the Trinity, inspiration of scripture and the diety of Christ, yet they also followed their orders of worship and prayer dutifully and beautifully.
I have also witnessed on far too many occasions faithful Lutherans having to endure having words that they do not believe, or are unsure of put in their mouths via homemade creeds, or praise songs whose only purpose seems to be to make money for the author. It is indeed a paradox, and a shameful one at that. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi was a noble defense of St. Augustine, but we need a better measure, and I think the old word 'Gottesdeinst' is a far better standard.

Dr.D said...

Rev. Bergstrazer, could you perhaps elaborate on just what you mean when you say that you think the better standard is Gottesdienst? Does this word carry some more specific meaning than simply worship? It seems rather circular to make worship the standard for worship.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Yes it does carry a more specific meaning; like many German words Gottesdeinst is rather difficult to render into English. Most commonly it is translated 'Divine Service.' The implications of that phrase are significant. "Worship" can describe many things, but mostly in general it speaks of our actions toward God. Divine Service implies that God is doing something, not us. And so, God's Word is more than just being a standard for worship, (i.e., a measure of what we do) it is bestowing God's gifts. God is doing, not us. As Dr. Norman Nagle wrote; "Our Lord Speaks and we listen. His word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowleges the gifts recieved with eager thanfulness and praise... Saying back to him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most sure and true. Most sure and true is his name, which he has put upon us with the water of our Baptism... The rhythm of our worship is from him to us, and then from us back to him. He gives us his gifts, and together we recieve and extol them. We build one another up as we speak to one another in psalms hymns and spirital songs. Our Lord gives us his body to eat and his blood to drink. Finally his blessing moves out into our calling, where his gifts have their fruition." (Ref; Lutheran Worship, pg 6.)
The difficulty I have encountered with Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, is that you can have a very orthodox liturgy and follow it fastidiously yet practice open communion, and ordaining Homosexual priests. The rules that one can follow in their prayers may not in the least reflect what they believe. And who decides on the rule of prayer? A Mormon may follow his doctrine very well but that does not mean he is worshipping the Triune God.
I'm willing to yield to the fact that Gottesdienst may not be the true measure of what our practices should be, but I think it gives us a better understanding of why we gather together as Christians. We gather to hear his word, to recieve his absolution, his body and blood. And we are priviledged to respond to what he does.

Dr.D said...

It is pretty unclear to me, based on what you have said, Rev. Bergstrazer, just how Gottesdeinst is applicable as a standard to be applied by people. It seems that you are talking about the actions of the Holy Ghost, something that is rather out of our hands, although we seek to have the Holy Ghost present in our worship.

As Rev. Bergstrazer has pointed out, it is entirely possible to keep every liturgical detail of worship intact and yet introduce other heresies into the faith that are utter abominations. It was certainly not my intention to imply that Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi alone was sufficient, only that it is entirely necessary. The faith is expressed in what we teach outside of the worship service as well as during the Mass.

Because it is necessary, it is not possible to be changing the structure of the worship service without changing the faith expressed in that service. Sometimes this is done unconsciously, other times this is done quite deliberately and with malice of forethought. Either way, the faith expressed is changed when the form of the worship is changed.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

^ Fair enough. I will consider how I may clarify my thoughts. I reserve the right to be wrong. :) Thanks for your comments as well Dr.D
Peace to you.