Tuesday, November 22, 2011
What is the business of the Church?
Funny. You could spend your whole life traversing the landscape of Lutheran blogs (official or not) and you would find few visual images of the Mass (okay, Divine Service). Hardly any of them show the bishops (okay District Presidents) saying Mass (something that is slightly changed by our Synod President and Bishop (he is a practicing parish pastor) Matt Harrison. Even so, Harrison has barely dented the pervasive image of national clergy in business suits or polo/khaki Friday casuals.
It seems that in Rome the Mass IS the business of the Church -- at least that from which all the other business flows. Not so for us Lutherans. We tend to see devotions as perfunctory things that we need to get out of the way as quickly as possible so that we can talk finances or declining numbers or prospective programs to revitalize the church body or how to deal with this issue or that problem. The average Pastors meeting or District confab or Synod convention or church council or voters meeting offers a perfunctory prayer and a few spontaneous words with perhaps a verse or two from the Bible before we get on to the BIG agenda. Even when Pastors or the Districts or Synod gathers in larger groups, worship is one small part of what we do (one Eucharist out of a three day or week long gathering). I wonder if we have it wrong.
Perhaps one of the reasons why worship in our church body is so contentious and the situation in such disarray is that we have come to believe that the business of the Church is something other than worship. At least that is what our practice says. We worship because we are supposed to but our hearts are in such things as convention resolutions or PowerPoint presentations or Q & A sessions, etc. We see the business of the Church as business and worship as, well, the prelude to the real business.
So our DPs tend to be even more uncomfortable at the altar as they are in the pulpit. Our agendas are filled with the busy-ness of business stuff. Our hearts are just not in it -- worship, that is. God forbid that when we gather as Synod in convention each day might begin with Matins and lead into the Divine Service just before lunch and end in Evening Prayer (full liturgies with the full resources of the book, choir, and good pastoral leadership). Lord help us for the sorry soul who suggests to the District that each day of the confab have time for Word AND Sacrament that the assembly may not merely give lip service to the praise of God which is primarily focused in the faithful reception of His gifts. Keep the stares from those who might suggest that at least 20 minutes of the parish meetings (council, voters, committee, board, etc.) be given to one of the Daily Offices.
No, you would not get it from the pictures or commentary of our official blogs that the primary business of the Church is worship (the Mass).... because, in spite of what the Confessions say and early Lutheran practice reveals, we just don't believe it....
My recommendation for a Synod in trouble, a District seeking unity of parish and Pastors, a congregation expressing in local site the evangelical catholicity of the Church -- the Mass, the daily offices, and sacramental and Biblical preaching! Think how much money we might save on all those parachurch groups peddling the latest and greatest revitalization programs... and how trivial so much of the crap we do as a church and church body might seem in comparison to the Lord who comes to us through the means of grace....