Friday, September 9, 2011

Just who are we Lutherans on Sunday morning?

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.
• Justin Martyr, First Apology c. 150 AD
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42, ESV)

To be honest, I do not get those who insist that the liturgy is a man-made patchwork of stuff hobbled together as needed or desired and therefore is nothing special, is open to ad hoc change, or may be omitted if desired or deemed necessary.  I look back and see the liturgy implicit in the words of Acts 2, the writings of St. Paul (among them First Corinthians), Hebrews 10 and its lament of those who neglect the weekly gathering, and the pattern and shape of Revelation's heavenly worship.  This past Sunday Jesus promises that where two or three gather in His name, He is there in their midst.  How?  Jesus own intention answers the question.  His name is where His Word is, His Water, and His Table.  Again, liturgy is implicit.

Now there are those who get all hot and bothered about page numbers -- as if that were the major battle before us as Lutheran Christians.  I don't.  The page number of the Divine Service you use is secondary.  Lutherans have always understood themselves to be heirs of Justin Martyr and the great liturgical tradition of the West.  It is a mark of our catholicity and our very identity as Christians of the Augsburg Confession (and the rest of those confessional documents that give us our shape and form.

Every once in a while I just have to sigh that we spend so much time and energy having to re-argue ourselves back into the liturgical tradition from which we were born, to which we confessed our identity, and for which we endeavored to begin the Great Reform.  The Lutheran Reformation was not primarily an academic movement or a theoretical debate.  It was a practical reformation born of a leader who was and still is known theologically as much by his preaching as by his teaching, whose major legacy to the movement he assisted came in the form of catechisms to teach the young and the teachers of the young, whose gift was music and hymnody as well as language and translation, who hoped for a revival of confession and absolution out of pastoral concern for his people, and who was at home at the altar as in the classroom.

I had one more conversation only a few days ago and it has left my nerves raw.  Why is it that we must spend so much time arguing about that which the Confessions assumed?  "Lutherans do not have to use any liturgy and it is like a tool that has broken and no longer works.  So lets just find another tool...."  That was the line that began it all...  and it went downhill thereafter....  So I post this...


BrotherBoris said...

The depth and the profundity of your posts on the liturgy always inspire me. This is just classic! I too, do not get people that simply dismiss the liturgy with a wave of the hand. It is as if the Holy Sacraments have no context for them. The Liturgy gives them CONTEXT and confesses what they are. Remove that, and well, it seems one's whole theology is being reinvented.

It does sadden me that Lutherans have the one of the richest liturgical traditions in the Christian world and yet so few even respect it or even appreciate it anymore. Just what is to be gained by rejecting the Liturgy and making Lutheranism into a kind of Germanic version of Methodism with Sacraments tacked on at the end?

If you want to see what will happen to a Lutheranism that rejects the Liturgy and just becomes another generic Protestant denomination, take a look at the UCC (United Church of Christ). That is where the LCMS and WELS are headed if they don't turn this anti-Liturgy attitude around.

Paul said...

The question seems to be this: do we really believe or do we just honor with our lips, "in one holy, catholic and apostolic church"? If we truly believe, then we must come to terms with the reality of the Holy Spirit who Jesus promised would lead us into all truth. The third article suffers from a lack of attention in my estimation.

Anonymous said...

The liturgy on Sunday morning is not
the issue. The concern is how it is
presented. At one end is the high-
church approach which seems to make
chancel prancing an art form. At the
other end are those who eliminate
parts to "speed up" the worship time.

What we need is a middle ground
approach which respects the entire
liturgy and offers it in humility
and dignity without the smells/bells.

Terry Maher said...

Gott hilf mir seitlich, what a fine mess -- Lutherans on the one hand trying to insert the miserable and rightly excised canon back in, and on the other trying to excise liturgy altogether! Traditionalists, and supposed traditionalists who offer only the "tradition" of the recent liturgical movement and its pastiche services, and supposed peacemakers who put both on an equal footing, thereby leaving open the question Hey, why not this too?

Lutherans do not have to use any liturgy -- which is not at all to say therefore we ought not use any liturgy. It's in the "have to". The fifference between us and Rome is sometimes in what we do, but more often NOT in what we do but why we do it. We do not have liturgy because we have to, by order of Rome or even Christ, but because we want to. Divine command in Scripture is not the only good reason for doing something, it is the only good reason for doing something with a Divine command, but there are other good reasons too about which the Confessions are utterly explicit, and wrt to liturgy we retain the ceremonies previously in use, except where usages that contradict the Gospel have crept in, and the addition of hymns to teach the people.

Anonymous said...

Its not just hymns to teach the people, but the rites in ceremonies as well are kept for peace, unity, and above to teach the people!

Chris Jones said...

Amen, Father Peters.

I agree with all you have written, but as is my custom, I will go further, in two respects.

First, it is not only that the liturgy is implicit in the Scriptures, but that the liturgy itself is the context in which the Scriptures are to be used and understood. The Scriptures speak to us not primarily in the classroom nor in our private reading of them, but in the liturgical assembly, when they are used by the Church to proclaim the Gospel. It is significant that when the canon of Scripture was being recognized and formed, the question before the Church was not, what writings can we use to prove our doctrine, but what writings can be publicly read in the Church's worship. Books that were worthy to be read liturgically were canonical, and books which were not worthy to be read liturgically were not deemed canonical.

The second respect in which I should go further is about your admirable list of Scriptural texts in which you find the liturgy implicit. I should add what I regard as the most important adumbration of the liturgy in the New Testament: Luke 24. When our Lord encountered Luke and Cleopas on the road to Emmaus, He first opened their hearts to the Scriptures, showing them how the Law and the Prophets proclaim Him and His Gospel. Then He gave Himself to them in the breaking of the bread. In the same way, in the Church's liturgy Christ first reveals Himself in the Scriptures (in the liturgy of the catechumens) and then unites us to Himself in the sacrament of the altar (in the liturgy of the faithful). The "shape of the liturgy" comes from the words and the actions of the Saviour.

Sage said...

Chris, YES, YES, YES!!!!! It was when I read that passage with understanding I ceased my running from liturgy and came to understand its importance.