Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Who is the Pharisee here?

Over the course of many discussions with folks about contemporary Christian worship and music, the charge is often leveled against the liturgical types that they are the modern day Pharisees -- concerned with forms instead of the heart and its sincere faith or preoccupied with legalistic attitudes about worship instead of the "Spirit and Truth" characterization of Jesus...

Let me begin by saying there is a bit of truth in this.  There are liturgical types who do mirror the old Pharisaic attitudes and perspective.  There are Lutheran liturgical types that are caught up in a frenzy for a medieval mass with all that glitters.  But they are few and they give the rest of us a bad name.  We are not liturgical Nazis.  We are not concerned about such things as hand or foot placement.  We have bigger fish to fry.  Our concern is for the means of grace and where it is that we gather our confidence and standing before God.  We battle not for damask and diptychs but for the Word and Sacraments that when God's people come on Sunday morning they may know for sure where Christ and His gifts are to be found.

In fact, it appears to me that those who insist upon doing as they please on Sunday morning are more Pharisaic.  They certainly do not honor the liturgical rubrics as having much value or any force but they have high regard for another law.  They have turned their freedom into a new law.  Forgetting Paul's salutary admonition that not everything possible is beneficial, they jealously guard their "right" to do as they please -- to do what works.  Hiding behind the false cover of adiaphora (which they do not understand except as unimportant), they hold us captive to a different law.  In bondage to numbers and statistics, they slovenly borrow and steal whatever they think will work to puff up the balance sheet and prove that they are successful.  In this way they are as bound to the outward appearance of the law and righteousness as the Pharisee.

On the other hand, I would characterize most Lutheran liturgical types as the Publican in all of this.  Their concern is not how it all looks but will it forgive sins?  Will it convey Christ?  Will it call forth, gather as one, nurture in hope, and sustain the faith of God's people?  Our bondage to the means of grace is not a choice but our captivity to the Word and promise of our Lord who has bound Himself to the Word and Sacraments.  So for us the liturgical or worship wars have nothing to do with taste or effectiveness (in human judgement) or even faithfulness in the abstract.  Our stance is really about the primacy of the means of grace, which are the heart and core of the liturgy and the framework for the faithful Lutheran liturgical practice.  Apart from the means of grace, we have little reason to gather and even less confidence that our gathering is legitimate or has any power to address what ails us.

No, there may be liturgical types who fit in with the Pharisees but it is more likely that the other side has tied itself to appearances, to earthly measures of success, and to illusive standards (like feelings) instead of faithfulness to the means of grace.  What is at stake here in this grand discussion is nothing less than the Gospel itself.  Until we recognize this, worship will continue to be a battle ground and there will be blood on the pews (or theater seating with cup holders).


Pastor Kelly James Leary said...

well said, brother.

boaz said...

Wow, going around claiming to be the publican in the dispute while calling the other guy a pharisee. Look at how much I love the means of grace, not like those baaad Lutherans that don't use the hymnal.

This whole post assumes anybody that doesn't use the hymnal, or the ordinaries and propers, or whatever liturgical line you arbitrarily draw, does so because of a desire to grow. It also assumes word and sacrament are only properly administered according to some human devised rubrics.

So you are the pharisee, you assume to know the heart of your counterparts, and exclude gods word from him because of his failure to meet your human standard.

Are many church growth Lutherans motivated by gross desire for success and numbers? Of course, but some are motivated to tailor the type of service most common now in this country so that it teaches fully Lutheran doctrine in a way closer to what people are used to. Luther made mass easier to understand for low classes not out of a desire to increase numbers, but to teach the Gospel. Stomping your feet and insisting their motives can't possibly be holy makes you an uncharitable ass. There are very many people who like and desire to preserve the liturgy, but this isn't how to do it.

The reason to use any order is unity and to teach the Gospel. Your law based arguments and condmenations only divide and extend conflict.

Anonymous said...

I believe the point of this was that the liturgical types are cast about as Pharisees and this was Pr Peters' response. He admits that some liturgical types are and he rejects that attitude from them. He is calling on the other "pharisees" to likewise reject it.

He did not suggest a law but pointed to the whole reason for the liturgy was grace alone. It makes me wonder if you read his words through another lens. I will admit I read this through a couple of times and I think he got it about right. Those who speak for the liturgy are not the only ones who can be pharisees in this issue. The publican's perspective is grace and mercy and this is the perspective of the liturgy. It delivers the means of grace where the mercy of God comes to us and does its thing.

Pastor Peters said...

I do not believe that I unfairly painted with the broad brush and I am not sure where you got some of the things you have accused me of...

So this "makes you[me] an uncharitable ass." If that is what you think. I just don't think you read my post very closely.

"Our concern is for the means of grace and where it is that we gather our confidence and standing before God. We battle not for damask and diptychs but for the Word and Sacraments that when God's people come on Sunday morning they may know for sure where Christ and His gifts are to be found."

The numbers will follow where the Word is preached in its truth and fullness and the Sacraments administered according to Christ's institution. This is the Lutheran confession.

Our point in the means of grace is not to make them easier to understand but to preach them faithfully and administer them rightly. God has promised to do the rest. This is the only place where forgiveness, life and salvation are accessible to us. To abandon these is to abandon the Gospel. That is what I am saying. It matters not what Larry Peters thinks but this truth does matter.

I did not start this battle. Those who claim that liturgical types like me are prissy folks concerned for form and not content, with holding hands and where you stand, hurled the first accusation. All I was saying is that the charge of Pharisee goes both ways. In fact, I acknowledged that there are those in Lutheranism who might rightly be called Pharisaical (liturgical folks here) but they are not the only ones. That is the point.