Friday, December 3, 2010

Liturgical or A-liturgical

Had a conversation recently with someone about liturgical congregations and the few number that there are in the District where I am located.  The person disagreed and said most of the congregations and Pastors probably use the hymnal and the liturgy.  But, I said, they were using the hymnal and the liturgy not because they were convinced that the Divine Service and hymns were the apex of the way God delivers to us His grace in Christ and the arena in which the Holy Spirit works in us the faithful response.... rather, they were using the hymnal and the liturgy because it was what they thought they were supposed to do and because they did not know what else to do...  In other words, I would say liturgy was the default setting because they did not know what else to do -- not the choice setting because they understood the alternatives and were convinced that the liturgy and hymnal was the best for who we are as Lutheran Christians.

Where I grew up we always used the hymnal but the people in the pew were not informed as to the what or why of the liturgy -- it was simply what Lutherans did.  In several years of catechism, I did not learn -- nor was I taught -- anything about worship or liturgical worship or the Divine Service or the Church Year or hymnody.  We just did it because, well, we had the hymnals, and they were Lutheran, and we were Lutheran so... it was what we used.  I am still not sure the folks there could give you a solid answer as to why the hymnal or liturgy... They are not bad people -- but good, solid folks who want to do the right thing -- they just have not been well taught about the what or why of liturgical worship.

I do not think that there are many congregations (well, at least not enough) who know why they use what they use (liturgical or contemporary Christian worship).  We just do these things... In the case of congregations and Pastors using the liturgy and the hymnal but not sure what or why behind that choice, I would not classify them as liturgical.  They could be, but as yet, they are not.

For Lutherans to be liturgical, it means we know the Divine Service, we know the what of it and the why of it.  We have been taught it and not just in the sense of memorizing the responses and knowing what comes next in the order of things.  We know the choices (other than liturgical worship) and we are convinced that liturgical worship flows from our Lutheran identity and is the ratio that goes with our lex, the practice that flows from our Confessions.

I will admit that this is a fairly high standard to use to call a congregation and a Pastor "liturgical" but I think it is one I will stick with.  A lot of Lutheran congregations and Pastors use the liturgy but they are not liturgical (and this has nothing to do with how much or how little ceremonial or ritual is part of the liturgy).  It has to do with knowing what it is and why we use it... And this is where our catechesis has got to do a better job.  Without knowing what and why, it is almost certain that folks will end up either ditching the liturgy in favor of something else without thinking this has anything to do with a change in faith OR it will mean they will become traditionalistic (holding to a tradition which is not living at all but as dead as the light bulb of knowledge about what it is and why they use it).  Neither of those perspectives is attractive to me.  I want congregations and Pastors who are passionate and informed about the liturgy and hymnody and their value and how they flow naturally from our Confessions...

So, I guess I will put it out there... am I asking too much?


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I don't think it is asking too much - but it is simply something that perhaps we didn't have to think about in days past. The way we've always done it works until someone says, "Wouldn't it be better if we did X?" If we don't know why we acted, we have no grounds to rightly fend off suggested change.

I'd imagine most people, whether they go to the most high liturgical Mass or the most casual contemporary song experience, when asked why they went to that service instead of another, would boil down to a simple fact. They like it. Whether it's a catchy tune or nostalgic, whether it helps you to focus and meditate or some other such thing - really it ends up being, most of the time, I like it.

The same way we judge virtually everything in America. Not by whether it is good or bad, wise or foolish, profitable or unprofitable - but by whether or not we like it.

Anonymous said...

When we worship our Lord the only
important thing to HIM is our heart.
The Bible rebukes those whose heart
is far from HIM. The difference
between high-church and low-church
liturgical style is not the issue.
High-church people can sneer at those
who worship different than they do.
But thankfully our Lord looks at our
heart to see if we are in the right
relationship with HIM.

Anonymous said...

EXCELLENT! Having spent many years wandering the wilderness from Methodist to Baptist, the liturgy is something my family has come to value highly. Learning about the Liturgy (and books like Just's Heaven on Earth) have been valuable to adding substance and depth to my family's participation in the Divine Service.

Anonymous said...

Anon #2 - Frankly, if you saw my heart, or even some of the thoughts that go through my head at worship you wouldn't be too pleased. I'm a Jer 17:9 no matter how hard I try to the contrary. Thankfully, in spite of my heart, when I go to the Divine Service the Creator gives me something I can't get anywhere else(his mercy and forgiveness) because I certainly come to the altar empty handed.

Anonymous said...

In Matthew 15, Jesus quotes the
prophet Isaiah: "These people come
near to me with their mouth and honor
me with their lips, but their
HEARTS are far from me. Their worship of me is made up of rules
taught by men."

Our Lord Jesus Christ wants our
hearts to be near Him as we worship
Him as our first priority.

Janis Williams said...

As a former Baptist, Presbyterian, Reformed, Presbyterian, Reformed (you get the picture), if Fr. Peters had pulled a bait-and-switch on my husband and me, we'd have been ready to die (or kill).

Many evangelicals have gone through hell to find a church with Law and Gospel, and a Liturgy that is historical, rich, and points to Christ. Evangelicaals who have found this want it full force. After so much happy-clappy, semi-emergent junk, we can rest!

Anonymous said...


Yes, the Holy God of Israel wants our hearts to be brought close to His. But a person who thinks he can get his heart to God is fooling himself.

Thanks be to God that the focus and purpose of the Divine Service is not our worship, but God's service. Pastor Nagel asks, "Whose liturgy is it?"

Who acts in the Divine Service?

Nagel says, God speaks and we listen. Only when we have been washed of our putrid sins can we respond to God is praise and thanksgiving. Unless and until God cleanses us and brings us unto Himself, our hearts are no where near Him.

So if you want to emphasize that dimension of worship that brings us to God, remember that we do not move ourselves toward God. He comes to us.

And He does that according to His promises: Word and Sacrament. That is how He is with us, even unto the end of the age.

It is good and right to desire to be close to God. But don't imagine that you can do that alone! Be still and let God work in you, for you.

Lift up the cup of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord - but don't forget the cup! Remember your baptism, listen to the pastor proclaim Christ's forgiveness (a proclaimation that rings out in heaven!), and feast upon our Lord's precious body and blood. There God draws close to you. There you recline on the breast of our dear Lord, as John the beloved disciple did on Maundy Thursay.

Rejoice in the Gospel! Embrace the Divine Service in which God Himself serves you! It is the very vehicle of our God's most blessed means of grace!


Laura said...

Appreciate your thoughts on the importance of teaching understanding of the liturgy. Any suggestions for resources to use in teaching a congregation more about the liturgy, Pastor Peters? Thinking of all ages here. Thanks for any suggestions!