Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I hear ya! I'm with ya!

Gene Edward Veith describes himself as a humble layman.  He is humble but hardly simple.  He has blessed us with good books, good commentary, and good leadership within the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.  In his column about the Internet Monk's sojourn into ELCA, Veith has posited some words worth pondering for Missouri types.  I have copied some of them:

Say you are a disaffected “post-evangelical” who hears about Lutheranism.  It sounds like the kind of Christianity you are yearning for.  You are especially fed up with what passes for worship where you are now, and the sacramental spirituality that you are reading about in Lutheranism is more than compelling.  So you visit the local Missouri Synod congregation.   Isn’t it true that it is extremely likely that you will walk into a contemporary worship service with a pastor that is trying to out-evangelical the evangelicals?  You will go into an LCMS congregation looking for Lutheranism, but it may well be that you won’t find it!

I don’t know how many times I have heard about this happening, including from people who read my book Spirituality of the Cross:  The Way of the First Evangelicals.  (In fact, I know that this happened with some of you regular readers and commenters on this blog.)  So if someone finds Lutheranism in another synod–WELS, ELS, even ELCA–do we have the standing to complain?

What percentage of LCMS congregations do you think follow the historical Lutheran liturgy?  Half?  Less than half?  In some areas of the country, far less than that?   I have been in lots of Lutheran services and heard lots of sermons, not all of which distinguished Law & Gospel or even preached the Gospel.  Some of them were as therapeutic and as “theology of glory” and as “power of positive thinking” oriented as Joel Osteen.

I know these congregations all pledge allegiance to the same doctrinal standards, to the Scriptures and the Lutheran confessions.   But do they really hold them in actuality?  Perhaps someone could explain to me, humble layman that I am, why, if we demand doctrinal agreement for pulpit and altar fellowship, we can commune with a congregation that exhibits no visible Lutheranism in its public teaching but simply is on the same LCMS roster.

My own personal complaint has been that experience shows me that the more liberal ELCA is more likely to worship by the book (LBW or ELW) and use the liturgy as written than the more conservative LCMS.  I am not talking here about little deviations (such as my own shift of the sharing of the peace to right after the absolution or the use of one of Missouri's published Eucharistic prayers instead of the canon(s) in LSB).  I am talking about the contemporary worship craze that has and continues to rob our Lutheran Church of its face and identity on Sunday morning.  This same anomaly is true on college campuses.  My daughter graduated from Gustavus Adolphus and chapel there pretty much follows the book (Morning Prayer, daily office, etc.) while I know from her friends and from children of my friends that Missouri campuses are generally no book (hymn, reading, sermon, prayer) or fully contemporary (praise band with non-hymnal music).  It is a weirdness that I have trouble understanding (with Veith) that the conservatives do their own thing and the liberals follow the book.

In addition, President Harrison's complaints about the preaching he has heard are well taken.  I have sat through theological lectures without application of God's Word (correct but pointless), moralisms about love or evangelism or the like (not incorrect but not the Gospel), mandates about what we should be doing (law parading as Gospel), happy talk (Gospel without the law that ends up being pointless), and boring, boring, boring sermons.... I am not holding up myself as a perfect example of what others ought to do but clearly the preaching in our churches has devolved from the once high standard and notoriety that marked the Lutheran in the pulpit (or roaming around if you cannot stay still).

If you go into an LCMS congregation will you find Lutheranism?  Good question, Dr. Veith.  I wish the answer was not in doubt.


Anonymous said...

Preaching in LCMS pulpits suffers
from lack of any meaningful Law/
Gospel presentation in too many
parishes. There is an obvious lack
of preparation from pastors who are
not devoted to their homiletical
craft. The fad of preaching without
a manuscript has led many pastors
to simply wing it, yet they are not
fooling anyone. Today, in cities
with several LCMS parishes, the one
with the best preaching will survive.

Anonymous said...

It is too bad that your daughter did not travel a little farther and attend Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato. Lutheran worship and theology are alive and well there.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

As usual, an excellent point made by Dr.Vieth but unfortunately articulating a thoroughly belabored subject. I often wonder what it must be like to leave evangelicalism, or a liberal church for a liturgical confessional Lutheran congregation only to have it all thrown out and changed to what you left behind by a simple majority in a voter’s assembly? There are a lot of brothers who have swallowed the Willow Creek/Mega church model feathers and all; how do we walk all of that back to the hymnal and the historic liturgy? How do we change the thinking that whatever a Lutheran does is Lutheranism? A year ago we had an excellent presentation on worship at our Pastor’s conference, making a great case for the historic liturgy and why we do what we do or at least should do, from the confessions. But did anyone go home and change their ways (including the representatives from the Seminaries)? No, we’ve been able to do as we please for a very long time, who’s going to stop us now? There is a worship war in Missouri but it is a cold war, the lines have been drawn dividing circuits and districts. Pastors are convinced that their way is the better way, or the only way and often won’t even go to a Winkel with anyone who is not like minded (conservatives and moderates alike do this). So long as we’re still sitting in our trenches sniping at one another across cyber space nothing will change. This is why the Synod needs the Koinonia project, or something like it, if we ever walked together we’re certainly not doing it today.

Terry Maher said...

In my own experience the most by the book Lutheran worship I have seen in town is the Sunday cable TV local ELCA service, not a praise band, screen in sight, vestments on everything that moves, choir, organ, hymns, no ad-libbing, etc -- presided over by the pastoress.

It's entirely understandable why theological liberals worship by the book. The reason is, there is no connect whatever between the moaned and pined for reverent and/or historic liturgies and theological orthodoxy.

Anybody can put on a show, anybody can dress up and play church, and nobody has a more vested (so zu sagen) interest in doing so than those who adhere to positions not historically associated with the church.

Not to mention, that when one does find liturgy, there is often nothing historic about it; the historic liturgy has been left behind by those offering liturgical pastiches and Lutheran versions of Rome's new novus ordo just as surely as by those offering CoWo and Lutheraned over Willow Creek.

boaz said...

The worship wars continue because neither side has scripture to support their claims. Conservatives demand tradition and authority to force unity down the throats of the unwilling. Liberals demand unChristian freedom to innovate without concern for unity or the weak who will take offense. So, everybody starts believing worship practice is more important than doctrine. conservatives would rather join orthodox or Rome than a contemporary lcms church that teaches justification through faith and properly administers the sacraments, and liberals would rather join efree or Baptist churches than a traditional lcms church that teaches justification through faith alone and properly administers the sacraments. how tragically stupid.

Both sides need to focus less on worship styles than on ensuring justification and the sacraments are properly taught.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Boaz, I would agree with you that I have seen a great deal of authoritarianism vs. elitism in my time in the ministry; which are two sides of the same coin. However I disagree that the worship wars continue because neither side has scripture to support their claims. Au contraire mon frere, the reason why the war goes on is that both sides do have scripture to support their positions or at any rate use and abuse scripture to support their position. One side uses scripture to support the position that worship is the most important thing a Christian does, the other uses scripture to support the position that mission, evangelism and outreach, i.e., 'growing the church' is the most important thing.

Anonymous said...

The purpose of the Church is not
exclusively one of worship. There
is the need to witness to the lost
souls of the world and serve with
acts of love and mercy to our
fellow human beings. There is the
need to teach the Scriptures to
the believers and to live in
fellowship with our brothers and
sisters in Christ. The purpose of
the Church is to WORSHIP, WITNESS,

Pastor Peters said...

And can any of those other things happen without worship being the fountain and source of our life with God? So maybe worship IS the most important thing...

Janis Williams said...

Rev. Bergstrazer,

You have no idea how the thought of losing a "by the book" pastor for a "happy clappy" one strikes fear in a former evangelical's heart.

You are right. How much worse is it for those of us who converted to Lutheranism because of the inch deep-mile wide Evangelical church? Fr Peters is my pastor. If he's ever replaced by one of these LutheranChurchMinistersof Silliness, he better hope I'm not packing a weapon.

Disturbed Lute said...

I attend church for the purpose of RECEIVING the gifts God provides through His Service. When this is not properly administered through the proper preaching of the Word, confession and Absolution and the correct use of the Sacraments, I will seek Lutheran Churches that do it properly and attend them whenever I can. Two or three hours is not too far to travel to receive His gifts and offer thanks and praise to God for these gifts.

"The purpose of
the Church is to WORSHIP, WITNESS,

We are not saved by any of these things with the possible exception of "teach" in that We learn of the saving grace of God through this teaching. In reality, these things are a natural by-product from us to our fellow Christians and our neighbor because of His Gift to us which is Christ.

Anonymous said...

How effective is the Willow Creek program in attracting Evangelicals into the LCMS. Janis: Based on your testimony, I would argue that it has been an expensive and embarrassing waste of time. Do you know anyone who joined the LCMS because of the Church Growth programs?

Anonymous said...

It has been my experience coming from the ELCA to the LC-MS that the ELCA pastors are well vested and do the liturgy. It took awhile to find a LC-MS church that did not have a praise band and large screens.

Pastor Peters said...

Terry, I have no doubt that you would be a good drinking partner but I am not so sure about after that. You seem intent upon finding something negative in every post and comment. Even when you agreed with me that the ELCAite pastoress presides over a more straight forward liturgy than you probably find in a Missouri church (complete with praise band and no recognizable liturgy) you have to make a dig at the liturgy she uses (not the Common Service). I don't mind all your digs but it would really surprise me if you posted a few positive comments. Inroads against our common enemies of an anti-liturgical Lutheranism in which doctrine and practice end up whatever seems right in the eyes of the Pastor and his people will come by saying more than "no."

Most folks consider me rather curmudgeonly but, Terry, I am a pure amateur compared to you.

Terry Maher said...

Since it applies here too, I'm posting a different version of my comment on the prior thread.

I am not about whether something is "positive" or "negative". In the example you mention, the comment about the LBW liturgy she used is not about being negative, it's part of the point, which was, of course some of the liberals look more straightforwardly liturgical than we do, but it's a look only -- the novus ordo style, Lutheran version, liturgy she uses is no more traditional than putting vestments on a woman and calling her pastor.

I am neither for nor against liturgy per se. The lines aren't drawn between liturgical and non-liturgical, and that's what we miss all the time. Fact is liturgical Lutheranism can be as heterodox as anti-liturgical Lutheranism, and liturgy per se doesn't mean bupkis.

Who cares if it's liturgy out of "the book". Which book? There's lots of them out there. Where I came from they got them up the yingyang, with a new one last Sunday. The ELCA, ECUSA, EO and others do a great job of going by the book too, but I don't go there, I don't believe all of what they officially confess, even if they put on a better liturgical show and have weekly Communion.

There's a little more to this traditionalism thing than having a book and going by it. What's in the book? When we adapt our book to resemble in manner and form the new books of the liturgical heterodox churches, we are no less engaging in "new measures" to "grow the church" than those who dump books to resemble the manner and form of the non-liturgical heterodox churches.

FrZeile@Juno.com said...

25 years ago, my uncle and aunt moved to Florida and called me to ask about the LCMS church they visited which did "crazy things in worship." I tried to explain as best I could. Later, they told me they had found an LCA (now ELCA) church that followed the liturgy. I thought those days were gone, but my son who attends Arizona State University has had the same experience. He has attended the LCMS chapel ministry for communion, but is turned off by the touchy-feely approach, and usually attends the ELCA chapel which follows the historic forms of worship. I asked about the messages (preaching). He said that as often as not, the LCMS chapel had a lay leader give a "testimony" while the ELCA pastor usually took some text from the Bible and applied its message to everyday life. Last year, at the semester, the LCMS chapel ministry changed its name from Alleluia Lutheran to Sonrise Ministries, giving my son the impression it was no longer Lutheran (he did not go inside to check this impression out). Turns out it went from district-sponsored to local congregation sponsored.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

BTW, Pastor Peters, I am also one of those curmudgeons who believes that worship is the most important thing that Christians do. That has caused more than a few raised eyebrows over the years- so be it. The knee-jerk reaction is always the conclusion that I'm anti-evangelism, I am not, far from it. I very much appreciate President Harrison's emphasis of witness, mercy life together as intertwined circles with Christ and his cross in the center.
Fear over the numerical decline of the church has turned evangelism into the ecclesiastical trump card. If you want money for anything (and I do mean anything), tie it into mission or evangelism. If you want to clear the way to turn your church upside down and inside out and make it so touchy feely it would make Bob Schuller blush, do it in the name of evangelism. If you want your campus chapel services to look like a cross between a Luau and a Tony Robbins seminar, say its to reach out to the all the young poeple who don't like church. "If you build it, they will come' seems to be how Matthew 28:19-20 is now translated. Never mind if you have nothing to offer once they do come.

There now, done with my rant for the day.

BrotherBoris said...

A word to Terry and others: I am old enough to remember when liturgical conformity and predictability were a given in the Lutheran churches in the USA, regardless of synodical affiliation. Growing up I attended LCA, LCMS, WELS, and ELS services. All of them went straight by the book, no more, no less. There were very small variation in how the liturgy was served, wherever you went. In the ELS, the pastors had a preference for chanting everything, including the prayers and the Words of Institution. The WELS had a preference for not chanting the pastor's parts. The LCMS varied. Some pastors chanted, some did not. If I congregation had kneelers, they would kneel for the Confession of Sins. If they didn't, they would remain standing. In those bygone days, there were two ways to tell the difference between Lutheran denominations on Sunday morning, and how they did the liturgy was not the way to do it. The liturgy, more or less, was pretty much the same everywhere. And no one that I remember ever complained about that. Some of us even liked it and rejoiced in it. The real differences back then were in the content of the sermon, which it it were LCMS, WELS or ELS would have some strong doctrinal content to it and have that Law/Gospel distinction so vital to real Lutheran theology. The other Lutheran groups were more bland and watered down in their sermons. Not a whole lot of content there. The other area where you could tell a difference was Close Communion. All the conservative Lutheran churches used to practice that and they took it quite seriously. The liberal Lutherans back then allowed almost anyone to commune.

What we did NOT have back then was this strange idea now developing that the "real" conservative Lutherans don't "need" the liturgy and can just wing it. We did not allow the liberals alone to lay claim to the liturgy. It was our inheritance too, as article XXIV of the Augsburg Confession states.

I think it is TRAGIC to pit the Liturgy against traditional, conservative Lutheranism. A tragedy and a folly. What do people think attracts new members to the Lutheran Church? The reverent, structured worship, the noble hymns, the careful Law/Gospel preaching and close communion all used to form a beautiful, seamless whole.

Thank God there are still some pastors and congregations in the LCMS (and a few other places) that want to preserve this jewel of the Lutheran heritage.

If Lutherans don't preserve this, who will?

Terry Maher said...

Brother Boris, I don't know who are these Lutherans who think real conservative Lutherans don't need the liturgy and can just wing it are. Haven't met any, and don't hold that belief myself.

The difference between then and now is, that there is no "the liturgy". "The liturgy is pretty much the same everywhere" is not going to happen when there are many books, each with four to ten "settings" of a, not the, liturgy, and each of them with A or B options along the way, something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, put into a new pastiches of choice.

In this way one does not have tradition at all, but contemporary forms of worship only distinguished from the other forms in a preference for smells, bells, set orders of stuff, vestments, etc.