Monday, August 13, 2012

Good words....

A few weeks before his unexpected death, at a meeting of the General Synod of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (VELKD), Werner Elert participated in a discussion which preceded the adoption of the first part of a new liturgy for that church. His extempore remarks on this occasion are here translated from the Informationsdienst der VELKD (January, 1955) both in memory of this distinguished theologian and churchman and also on account of their significance for American as well as European Lutheranism.. . Pr. Matthew Harrison from Mercy Journeys (blog).

". . . .  I have a different understanding of preaching from that [set forth in Leiturgia]. The preaching of the ancient church . . . was doctrinal preaching. It was an expression of the orthodox faith of the church at that time. Accordingly it is subject to the prejudiced charge which is leveled against all forms of orthodoxy, including the orthodoxy of our time, that the preaching was dry and irrelevant and of interest only to learned theologians. I wish that you could see some of the few extant fragments of paper on which stenographers recorded sermons. Perhaps you are aware that the extant sermons of the great Church Fathers, including those of Augustine, were not written by themselves but were recorded by stenographers. When one sees and deciphers the hastily written shorthand notes of the stenographers, one can get an impression of what preaching was like at that time. Sermons were not dull doctrinal addresses in our sense of the term. Congregations were attentive. Records reveal the tremendous, dramatic emotion which the sermons evoked, even the cries with which the auditors interrupted the preacher. The stenographic reports give us all sorts of information, even that Augustine had a bad cough on one occasion. This is alluded to in a passing remark, ‘Pardon me, I could not help coughing, for I have been preaching a great deal the last few days.’

"If one reads the great sermons on the dogma of the ancient church which Gregory Nazianzen preached in Constantinople before he was elevated to the patriarchate—the entire dogma of the ancient church is contained in four sermons which have been published on

the basis of stenographic reports— one must be astonished at the intellectual and spiritual power of the preacher, who was able to communicate the teaching of the church to his hearers in such a compact, vivid, and existential manner, for what he treated concerned life and death. This is what services were like in the ancient church. Our honored liturgiologists . . . will say that all of this is well known. But there is still danger that we misinterpret the ancient church when we see it only in the light of the Benedictine investigations and inquire only about the origin of the Kyrie and ask when the Hallelujah was first employed. . . ."

My comments...

Some have tried to make Elert's comments into a rebuke to the liturgiologists of the day and to the liturgy itself.  In reality, Elert is not so much condemning those liturgical scholars or choosing preaching over the liturgy as he is calling for the catholic liturgy in which preaching is neither an option nor an extra.  Rather, it is integral to the liturgy itself -- the authentic liturgy of evangelical catholicism.  In addition, he is insisting that this preaching is not just proclamation but doctrinal preaching which not only taught the hearers the faith but called them forth in faith, engaging them in what has been belieeved, taught, and confessed in the orthodox Christianity from the beginning. His is not a choice between them but a call to faithful liturgy which includes faithful, doctrinal, orthodox preaching.  I am reminded here in the way that Bishop Bo Giertz took what others had pitted against each other and placed them together within the creative tension of the Spirit (in his great booklet Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening -- still a good read!).

The scandal of modern worship is not merely the vapid character of contemporary music and its texts but the abuse of the sermon so that the Word does not preach and teach but informs and entertains.  In the same way, the scandal of worship among some Lutherans today is that the form is revered (liturgy) but its content forgotten (doctrinal preaching as part of faithful liturgy as well as what the liturgical texts confess).  On the one hand, we have on both sides of the debate those who would insist that the sermon saves the mistakes of the worship service (and makes it "Lutheran") and those who insist that the liturgy does not much need preaching.  Lutheran liturgiologists insist that both are equally wrong.  What happens in worship is not inherently neutral but itself confession ("As often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes...") and yet that liturgy (faithful confession that it is) presumes and expects faithful, passionate, doctrinal, orthodox proclamation.  The altar and pulpit point to the same things or one of them has it wrong.

An Orthodox priest friend once told me that the main vehicle of catechesis in Orthodoxy is the Divine Liturgy and the preaching that takes place within it.  As Lutherans we should not disagree.  When President Harrison laments the state of preaching he is not talking about delivery so much as what is preached.  If it is to belong to faithful catholic liturgy, the sermon must be faithful and doctrinal and preach that catholic faith.  Where this happens the Church is vibrant with the work of God and steadfast and immovable before the changing faces of the world.  Where this does not happen, it does not matter how aesthetically beautiful the liturgy or dynamic the preacher, the people of God are left hungry, wanting, and distracted from the faith that gives them and sustains them in God's life.


Anonymous said...

When President Harrison laments the
current state of preaching in the
LCMS, he is talking about CONTENT.
To have good content requires some
preparation and study of the text.
So our present preachers in the LCMS
need to put in more time as they
prepare their sermons. Evidently,
there are preachers just trying to
get by with the minimum of time in
their study.

Anonymous said...

It is equally true that parishioners need to give more time and attention to their worship habits: preparations for Mass, attentiveness during it, and forsaking their self-centered focus on their "busy" schedules, brunch plans, and play dates, etc. during Mass.

Anonymous said...

Pres. Harrison and the LCMS should also lament the state of liturgy in the Missouri Synod. It's all over the map and in a sad state. Time to deal with it also and get back to basics. Pastors have become sloppy, careless, and purposely ruining the liturgical life of our people. Time to repent.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is possible not to see the elephant in the room! If we are not alarmed by the fact that a commentary about preaching does not contain the word “Gospel”, then we are indeed blind to the elephant. It is not in this blog, nor in President Harrison’s.

“An Orthodox priest friend once told me that the main vehicle of catechesis in Orthodoxy is the Divine Liturgy and the preaching that takes place within it.” I will never forget when, with a group of Americans, I visited Sergiev Posad (known as Zagorsk in Soviet times), the citadel of Orthodoxy just east of Moscow. Our guide, a monk, brought us into one of the churches while the service was going on. The priest was giving his sermon. Our guide asked a member of the choir how long he had been preaching. He was told, “he has just started.” “Oh damn,” the monk responded (in all fairness, he said, “Ekh nakazanie” which means “Oh, punishment”, but the meaning is better translated by “oh damn”). This is what happens when the liturgy is elevated over preaching.

It took Walther a while, but in the last of his Theses he said, “The Word of God is not rightly divided when the person teaching it does not allow the Gospel to have a general predominance in his teaching.”

Of course the preaching in the ancient Church was doctrinal! But do you suppose that “the tremendous, dramatic emotion which the sermons evoked, even the cries with which the auditors interrupted the preacher,” were about anything but the joy of the Gospel?

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Pastor Peters said...

George, the point of the article was not an overall discussion of preaching but the contention of some liturgiologists that the sermon was not an essential part of the liturgy (which Elert refuted) and that the content of the sermon was not doctrinal (which Elert, again, refuted).

If I had been addressing the whole issue of preaching in the Church, it would have been a far more complete post. I was contending that Elert was neither discounting liturgy (in which the sermon is integral) nor making preaching and liturgy compete. They work together. Authentic liturgy always includes a vibrant and faithful preaching of the Gospel (orthodox, rightly distinguishing Law and Gospel, and passionate).

In this way the liturgy with its vibrant preaching of the Gospel (cross and resurrection) is catechetical. Unfortunaately, we find today good liturgy absent of a sermon that preaches Christ and Him crucified and preaching that is completely disconnected with the liturgy (and church year). In other words, we have preachers preaching anything and everything but the Gospel and we have liturgy that presumes the sermon is unimportant. Both are equally egregious errors that need to be addressed.

Janis Williams said...

Br. Marquhart,

I am only a layperson, so please forgive my ignorance.

Having come from an evangelical world which has no true liturgy, and very little if any Gospel, I was under a different impression.

I have been told the Liturgy (done well) protects us from the pastor, i.e. the preacing. The liturgy is the Gospel presented to us every Sunday.

I was also under the impression that doctrine was what St. Paul instructed Timothy to preach. Therefore, my understanding of doctrine is that it is the explanation of the Gospel.

Forgive me if I'm wrong, and would some of you instruct me?

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Williams:

Thank you for your comment.

I am also a layperson. If I know anything, it is because, just as with every other child of God, it has been given to me by the Holy Spirit through God’s word. God says, through the Prophet Jeremiah, in part (Jeremiah 31: 34), “…No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” So don’t let your status as a layperson make you feel inferior: the knowledge of the mysteries of God is given to all of us in the same way. It is just that some have spent more time on the subject and have read the fine print.

The Liturgy is the order of public worship. Some would argue that it always includes the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, but others accept that you may also call “The Service of the Word” liturgy. Here are a couple of web sites, which, in my opinion, give a good, basic background to the subject:

I would not like to think that the Liturgy is intended to protect us from the Pastor and his preaching. It is intended to worship God in spoken words and song, to praise and give thanks, to hear and meditate on God’s word (Law and Gospel), and to celebrate the Sacraments, Baptism and the Eucharist. Certainly the Gospel of the New Covenant should predominate in the Liturgy, inasmuch as our Lord said, Luke 16: 16, “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.”

My concern is that when the Liturgy becomes a “rite”, as it has in many parts of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the laity can begin to see attendance as an obligatory function, without immersing themselves in the profound experience of the Gospel in word and Sacrament. My personal experience (and I admit that may not be the highest standard of truth) is that many Eastern Orthodox Christians, who attend services regularly, think that to be certain of one’s salvation is a supreme form of pride. Most priests I have talked to on the subject, with some very notable exceptions, agree with this view. Thus they somehow miss the Gospel which surrounds them at every service.

The word “doctrine” is a Latin translation of a Greek word which occurs 21 times in the New Testament, of which 11 are in the two Letters to Timothy. Basically it means “teaching.” Inasmuch as the “teaching” of the New Covenant is the Gospel, no doubt this is what St. Paul intended for Timothy to preach. But inasmuch as the St. Paul’s teaching also involved the Law, by which people are brought to the knowledge of their sinful condition, this teaching also included Law. Nevertheless, we should never forget that ultimately, St. Paul proclaims, (Romans 3:19) “Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For "no human being will be justified in his sight" by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

I hope this helps. I hope others will contribute where I may have fallen short.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Janis Williams said...

Thank you, Br. Marquart!