Though I would insist
- that Eucharistic vestments are part of our liturgical identity as Lutherans,
- that chanting is shape of the liturgical dialog within the mass,
- that pipe organs are not so terribly expensive that they are beyond the reach of the ordinary parish,
- that the daily offices are not only for cathedral settings in urban areas,
- that the chalice is the ordinary form of distribution, or
- that a liturgical choir can be formed with even a few vocal resources (just to name a few),
I do not look down my nose at those who do not wear Eucharistic vestments or roll my eyes when Pastors do not chant or cringe in shock when there is no pipe organ or sneak out because the sanctoral calendar and daily offices are not practiced or doubt the validity of the Sacrament when a chalice is absent or raise my hands in horror when a Lutheran choir sings "Shall We Gather at the River." I look for the good wherever I go and am pleased to see good and faithful Lutheran Pastors in parishes where some of the frills may be missing but the Divine Service is present, solid Law/Gospel preaching is heard, reverence for the Sacrament is evident, and the folks there are serious about their baptismal identity and vocation to the royal priesthood.
We must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Hear me out here. When I plead the cause of artistry or beauty, when I insist that Lutherans on Sunday morning do not look like Methodists or Presbyterians or followers of Osteen, Warren, or Hybels, and when I urge us to explore the depths of our liturgical tradition as Lutheran Christians, I am urging us toward a process and not establishing a benchmark that must be met.
Lord knows that I hold my hands wrong and sometimes forget parts of the service and occasionally speak the people's part instead of my own, and I do have off days in the pulpit (more than I care to admit). We do not do things perfectly here and it is not the perfect I insist upon in this blog. Yet at the same time, I think that we are at a crucial time in which we must either cut bait or fish when it comes to our Sunday morning practice, our Confessional identity, and the hard work to recover some of what we have lost while at the same time teaching a new generation from the mistakes of me and my generation. We have received the sacred deposit and it was given to us as a rich treasure of faithful confession, a vibrant liturgical and sacramental identity, a strong confidence of the efficacy of the means of grace, and a deep and wide mine of hymns that faithfully express the faith in different idioms, styles, eras, and cultures (to name just one part of that tradition).
If you know me, you know that my point here is not to fight for things trivial but to those essential things that flow from our wonderful Lutheran Confessions to frame out our evangelical and catholic practice in the Lord's House, on the Lord's Day, around the Word of the Lord and the Table of the Lord. We need not look to other traditions for treasure or disdain our own heritage or forget the living legacy that is ours to pass own -- unless we no longer want to be the evangelical and catholic Christians that our Lutheran Confessions insist we are...
I have experienced this good in a host of different places -- some very humble and some fairly grand. I have also been greatly disappointed in the grand and found the humble also to be an excuse for doing what is quick and easy. Not every congregation is a cathedral and not every congregation is a makeshift place (like the battlefield chaplain or the mission field open chapel). But every congregation and every Pastor who are at work building toward the piety and worship life that flows from our Confession is doing the good and essential work that equips the people for their own baptismal calling of worship, witness, prayer, mercy and service AND makes sure that those who come and see have something to come for and something to see in the Word and Sacraments of Christ.
So when I plead for beauty and artistry in the cup of the Lord, it is one way in which I plead for us not to settle for what is easy or effortless but to work with all our ability and skill as people who lead the Divine Service and those who sit in the pews, working together -- ever, only, all for Thee. The gifts of God that are the center of this liturgical gathering are nothing less than His best and they are what makes possible our own sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving in response. When I speak against those who give in to what polls well or what seems fitting and relevant within the culture in order to bring in the unchurched, it is only because if we would tell them to come and see, we must have something to offer them and not merely a rehash of what they already have. The liturgical practices I speak for are not liturgical snobbery or a battle of high culture against low culture. The liturgical shape of what happens on Sunday morning is and should ever be formed so that it reflects the full measure of our Confessional identity. The perfect is not the enemy of the good. Where this happens, whether with all the smells and bells or relative simplicity, Lutheranism is well served.