Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Kinda Catholic, Dontcha Think...

By accident I heard back from a family that visited our church while visiting relatives in town.  The relatives are not Lutheran but the visitors were.  Anyway, the report they gave to their local connection which eventually got back to us was that they loved the preaching but thought the service was "kinda catholic dontcha think..."

What were they reacting to?  Perhaps the chanting, the most obvious culprit when people make such a statement.  Perhaps the genuflecting during the Creed and consecration though this was not something they did.  Perhaps the kneelers in the pews though kneeling was and is optional.  Everything else was pretty, well, from the book (not that the other stuff was not "from the book").

My point.  How sad it is when Lutherans are so unfamiliar with their own tradition and with the things directly mentioned in their own worship book that they find it "kinda catholic."  Now, to be honest, I do not know to what they were accustomed -- low church by the book, semi-book blended, or full blown contemporary.  But the point is this -- strong, Biblical preaching used to be a hallmark of Lutheran worship and should still be.  How sad it is when they like the sermon but seem kinda iffy on the liturgy.  It is not my problem or the problem of this congregation but a problem of Lutheran catechesis and identity.  Truth is, like or not, that we are often more semi-liturgical Presbyterians or Methodists in the minds of our people than we are evangelical catholics (like our Confessions claim). 

This is not simply about a preferred worship style (as some like to call it).  This is also about how we see ourselves, the source and summit of our faith and piety, and how think our Lutheran skin.  This is not a practice issue only but a doctrine issue as well.

Ahhhhh, sigh, well, at least it is job security for an evangelical catholic Lutheran like myself....


Janis Williams said...

Baptist, Nazarene, Pentecostal, etc. only THINK they have no liturgy. All churches have a form or ritual (if you think ritual is a bad word, think about the ritual attached to baseball or football games). We sinners fall naturally into ritual. Could it be a failed attempt to right the twisted image of God in ourselves? Do we fool ourselves thinking any other ritual will do to serve God?

We came from the Baptist 'ritual' of: Song, prayer, joke, song, 3 point sermon, prayer, song (invitation), prayer. If we got much more than one verse from Holy Scripture read and preached, it was unusual.

When we first attended Grace Lutheran church, we encountered large portions of Scripture read, formal prayer that was much more God centered (not help uncle Richard's sore toe, in the name of Jesus, Amen). There was chanting whose content honored Christ more than any joke ever could, and hymns which actually taught good doctrine, and were not focused on 'me.'

If that is "kind of catholic," then I thank our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ (not a phrase you'd hear in a Baptist church) it is.

BTW: when we walked out of our first service there at Grace, my husband said, "I think we're home." He'd never been exposed to the Liturgy before. No mention of 'catholic' from him, either.

Please excuse the run-on sentences; at least it is time-honored, as St. Paul did it.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Janis, thanks for the best laugh I've had this week, 'song, prayer, joke.' You've hit upon what I think most who are unaccustomed to the historic liturgy find odd, unusual or 'catholic' for lack of a better word is that none of it is for anyone's entertainment or amusement. I grew up with the pastor stepping into the chancel from the vestry, the bell rang and we sang the first hymn. We were a full 15 minutes in to the Divine service before the pastor adressed the congregation directly. Insert your average non-denom church goer who is accustomed to being pandered to into this sort of service and they will undoubtedly walk away wondering what happened struggling to define it. It is strange for us who have grown up in this blessed truth to see people struggling with the idea that worship is for us not about us but about the Triune God serving us. The sacaraments are for us not about indugling our personal preferences. Confession and absolution are for us not about us putting our piety on parade.

Anonymous said...

The Holy Spirit works through the
Word of God (Sermon) to reach the
hearts of people. Pastor Peters
should be thankful the visitors
heard the Word. The gymnastics of
genuflecting and the cadence of
chanting are not the means of grace.
The focus is on God's Word as people
hear the Law and Gospel and apply it
to their life under the power of the
Holy Spirit.

J Curtis said...

The gymnastics of genuflecting and the cadence of chanting are not the means of grace. The focus is on God's Word as people hear the Law and Gospel and apply it to their life under the power of the Holy Spirit.

Sure, but for traditionalists, it makes for a great worship service.

On a side note, I am (PCA) Presbyterian and my wife is Roman Catholic and we often attend each other's church. She told me she wouldn't care to attend a Baptist service but I'd hate to tell her that the two (traditional, Baptist and Presbyterian) worship services are highly similar as to almost be indistinguishable from one another.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Anon, I do not believe Pastor Peters said or implied that the cadence of chanting or genuflecting were a means of grace. He only mused on the lack of familiarity with what is our not so distant and far from defunct heritage as Lutherans. Conversely, I have witnessed many times the 'cadence' of the pulpit prince with his stained glass voice, and frankly I think chanting ameliorates this self agrandizing phenomena. I have witnessed many times what could be more accurately called gymnastics on what was formerly a chancel, now turned stage equal to an off broadway theatre. I've seen everything from hand stands to juggling in church, a leisurly search of YouTube will reap many examples of pastoral folly. In this case I would choose genuflecting in reverence to God, over debasing onself in search of the congregation's approbation.

Anonymous said...

Hey Anon,

Liturgy must be taught. Worshippers learn to appreciate it and understand it after attending traditional services at an LCMS church for several months. Of course, some variation in the content (example: Pick your divine service) is a great way to keep it all from getting stale (repetitive) week after week after week. The alternative to the historic liturgy is.......

"Gymnastics of genuflecting" indeed!


By the way, anyone who is not Lutheran or Catholic is a "Protestant." I was taught this in 8th grade confirmation class at my old LCMS church. I fail to see any differences between the various "Protestant" denominations.

Janis Williams said...

Rev. Bergstrazer, I am glad to have made you laugh. It is quite funny in retrospect. The "gymnastics" whether physical or vocal are all very much like the worshippers of Baal with Elijah on Mt. Carmel. It was God's great Grace to bring us to the LCMS, the Divine Service, and the truth that God comes to serve us with His Means of Grace.

Anon., I do understand the moniker Protestant and it's application to any not Lutheran or Catholic. I was taught in the Baptist Sunday School early on that Lutherans were Catholic (upper case C), and that the Liturgy was a bunch of empty, vain repetition. How sad. Such a lie.

Seems the Protestants are still Enthusiasts, and wholly deceived.

Terry Maher said...

We are catholic. We are not Catholic. The Catholics are Catholic. They are not catholic.

I was taught in RC schools (not in the following words, I'm summarising) that Lutherans are just trying to be Catholic without being Catholic, and since they are not Catholic, their services no matter how outwardly similar are empty and vain. Flip side of the same coin.

Forget all this Catholic crap. We are not Catholic. And praise God for THAT!!!

Anonymous said...

Luther came to reform, but the Catholics rejected him.

I have heard of Lutherans being labeled by Evangelicals as "Catholic-Lite." Non-denominational church members also like to lump Lutherans in with the Catholics. For example, imagine having to explain to a non-denominational that Lutherans do not have priests!

The liturgy is empty, vain repetition? And yet, the lyrics for contemporary praise songs such as "Amazing Love" are not repetitive? Hmmmmm.... I am hoping that people will begin to see Rick Warren and his Church Growth Movement as a fraud and will yearn for theology with meat.

Janis: I am intrigued by your testimony, and I am very happy for you as well. Are there a lot of Baptists dissatisfied with the Baptist church? If so, we rarely ever read about this in the media.

Sarah said...

I think this is so sad. I feel like there is nothing to be done but to try to go to church each Sunday so that our church doesn't give up on the beauty of traditional worship. If there is one thing that makes me want to take the kids to church, keep them out of the nursery and let them tourture me for an hour (they are 3 and 4) it's to let the other members know that I appriciate what I have at St. Luke's. And that I want my kids to grow up loving the literagy and ritual...sermons won't mean much to them for quite a while, I'm sure.
I hate that it's too late for the Lutheran churches in this area. I attend an Episcopal church because I couldn't find a Lutheran church that I felt showed respect for our traditions.
A friend of mine who is a multi-generational Episcopalian just left our church to join a contemporary Lutheran church in town because her kids liked it better. She said she had a hard time liking it at first but now it's not so bad and she's getting use to it...makes me so sad for so many reasons.

Rev. Gerald Heinecke said...

Good post! I will ask the stupid question though. As a relatively new pastor, I seem to be banging my head against the wall. You would think I know better since I'm pretty fresh out of the semineary, but how do you catechize people to be Lutheran when many just don't want to be taught and would rather stick their heads in the sand of protestantism!

Matt said...

This is such a great post as it is something that I have been dealing with since leaving home in 2000. As a 29 y/o male who is quite liberal, I have found that I am quite conservative when it comes to liturgy. As such, I have struggled over the last 7 years to find a home church here in SE Minnesota. I grew up in a small ELCA church in central Kansas where the practice of traditional liturgy AND preaching were exceptional. I did not realize this however, until it came time to leave. I feel like every church I visit I have to sacrifice either liturgy or preaching. My wife and I recently had our first child and this has forced me to be more willing to compromise as I feel that taking our child to church and having her grow up in the church community is vital. I feel that what so many people fail to understand is that during worship, we are praising God with everyone, not only here and now, but also with those who have gone before us! This is why traditional liturgy is so important to me. I feel that by doing so I honor and worship God with my predecessors! Truly a communion of saints! I guess for now, I'll just have to grin and bear it as I don't see our point of view gaining momentum any time soon.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

sr walther, believe me, I feel your pain (the beating your head against the wall type pain that is) remember that God calls us to be faithful. Preach the word, teach our doctrine and make it a part of who you are and what you do. Be patient, all of this as Pastor Peters can tell you takes time. Our confessions are anchored in and are clear expressions of scripture, you will always find a connection to them and an application for them. And if you ever want to talk, you can contact me through the LCMS roster on Peace and God's blessings to you.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Matt, though your plight is growing more and more common, it is also a bright spot for those of us who continue in the liturgy. Unfortunately simply pointing you to a congregation in the LCMS might not solve your dilemma, you could try the "Issues Etc." website which has a find a church link: which has a list of congregations that practice the liturgy. It's been a while since I've been to MN but there's also the CLC, and they might also have a congregation near you. Don't give up, the search is worth the effort, and I pray you and your family will find a church to be your home.