Saturday, January 11, 2014

Made up sacraments. . .

A church cannot exist without sacraments.  Where the church eschews the Biblical sacraments of baptism, Eucharist, confession, and, perhaps, ordination, they will make up a sacrament to replace what is lost.  In the end it is the ultimate act of idolatry to reject the means of grace God has appointed and to which He has attached His promise and, instead, to pursue other means of grace to accomplish a similar purpose but without the divinely established promise.  But when has that ever stopped us?!

I have often written of the way prayer has been turned into a sacrament and, truth to be told, Lutherans are not immune from writing about prayer in this way and elevating prayer to a place of prominence equal to the means of grace normally acknowledged by our Confessions.  But as easy as it is to attach sacramental grace to prayer and turn it into more of a transaction than conversation, prayer is not the only one of several usual suspects for replacing the Scripturally mandated sacraments.

Certainly the Charismatic Movement has declined in prominence but it is still a viable and effective movement -- especially in Africa.  Back in the ancient of days when I was ordained, district pastoral conferences sometimes pitted pro and anti speakers on just this topic within Lutheranism (I recall Howard Tepker debating Richard Jungkuntz at one such gathering).  Perhaps its greatest fruit is that it has left a lasting imprint upon the contemporary worship movement and that has fully entrenched itself in nearly every Christian tradition.

The contemporary worship movement was born of the Charismatic Movement of the 1960’s and 70’s. Evidence of this connection lies particularly in the musical style that was passed from the charismatics to the contemporary worship crowd and with it the understanding of the purpose of this music.  This connection forged a musical style that was rooted in a particular understanding of the Spirit in worship. This musical style was less about praise and worship (as it has now become identified) than about a vehicle for changing the mood and introducing the Spirit to bring the assembly to a common spiritual place. The purpose of singing and the character of the congregational song (both performed for and for participation in this song) was understood sacramentally -- though seldom was this term used. It was believed by the charismatics and now by the contemporary worship crowd that the music of worship was a means through which God was encountered in the Spirit, and almost uniquely so.
  • congregational song and the music of worship was a primary means of intimacy with Jesus
  • the music of worship was not about God but addressed to God
  • the pronouns of this song were predominantly first person
  • the song tended to include repetitive phrases more than an unfolding narrative
  • the time of singing was essential to worship and often occupied a larger segment of the worship time than even preaching
  • the tone of the music was intensely personal and sensual
When mainline and old style fundamentalist congregations began to import the songs, the sound, the style, and the textual focus of charismatic song, they inadvertently or deliberately adopted the sacramental role of music in their worship services and radically changed both the expectation of music in worship and the way music was chosen and congregational song evaluated.

Since most of these congregations thought they were adopting a form but not a new theology, many were unaware of the impact a simple decision on what music will be used would make on the very nature of their denominational identity and confessional integrity.  I would submit that it is impossible to adopt the style and exclude the theological suppositions that gave this style its birth and in which its expression flourished.  The very nature of this music has contributed to a commonality of Sunday morning experience that transcends the confessional identity of the church so that people who move are much more likely to choose a new church home which fits the worship style they had than to choose on the basis of what is believed and confessed by that church.  In the end the worship service itself was no longer the assembly of the church speaking and singing praise to the Triune God as much as it was a means of evangelism, outreach, and attraction to those not yet of the faith.  The end result is that many of these congregations have relegated the Sacrament of the Altar to a secondary service with the primary sacramental focus of Sunday morning the music that ushers in the desired atmosphere of intimacy and sets the mood for the work of the Spirit, culminating in the "sermon" and its invitation to faith.

Liturgical communions like Lutheranism find themselves with not only mini-denominations within their traditional structures but with a combative and testy atmosphere, the aptly named worship wars, that have further divided and alienated people within the same national church body from each other.  This is, at least in part, due to the significant impact of the charismatic movement upon traditionally non-charismatic churches.  Missouri's own Renewal in Missouri (RIM) may no longer be much of a factor in the church but it has left its permanent mark in the great divide between those whose worship is primarily word and contemporary song and those whose Sunday morning is marked by the full Divine Service, sacramental preaching, and the great Lutheran chorales.

For more on this topic, read here....  The result was that the songs themselves and the style itself became the focus. Particularly in mainline congregations influenced by the Church Growth Movement, “contemporary worship” was a technique for reaching out—the concept of “praise and worship” as sacramental/encounter was diluted at best.


Anonymous said...

I find it embarrassing to admit I have been thru this kind of stuff. However now being in the LCMS I finally know what the cross and forgiveness really are. And it is not hand raising, emotionalism, or being lost in music while trying to feel "close to God".

Kyle Richardson said...

I had a quick question about what you said in the initial paragraph, about prayer being a conversation and not a transaction. My question is, do we receive anything in prayer? If I understand correctly, the Holy Spirit only works faith through the means of grace, Word/Sacrament. If prayer is a meditation on God's Word, do we then receive some spiritual benefits, like greater faith and knowledge and the fruits of the Spirit? I'm going through John Kleinig's course on Christian Spirituality, and I'm trying to understanding the place of meditation on God's Word in the Christian's life.

God's Blessings in Christ Jesus

Mr. Mcgranor said...

The L.C.M.S. may have a steadfast bureaucracy of seminary grads, but the majority of the congregation like all the trappings of the Emergent 'church'.

Anonymous said...

What do you make of liturgical hymns that have been set to contemporary music?

Aidan C. said...


I definitely think that we receive benefits in prayer, because prayer is our communicating with God on the basis of His commands and promises. When we pray, we can be sure that God will answer our prayers according to His good will. Some things He will always give us because He has made unconditional promises to us - faith, the increase of love toward God and our neighbor, the ability to resist the devil and our flesh, and, above all else, the presence of the Holy Spirit. Some things He will give to us if it pleases Him and if it is best for us - healing from sickness (for ourselves or others), material blessings, and so on.

I think the main difference between prayer and the means of grace is this: in the means of grace, we find out what God thinks and feels toward us and what He has to say to us; when we pray, we give God our praises and petitions *in response to* that revelation. I think Kleinig said it best when he said that prayer is speaking God's own Word back to Him; that is, prayer is when we say to God, "Father, you have promised me this and that, please grant it to me. Likewise, you have commanded me to seek after or to do this and that, please give me the ability to follow your commands and obey your will. And I thank and praise your holy name for all the blessings you have given me in the Spirit, because of my Lord Jesus Christ."

Finally, I think you're absolutely right that the Spirit gives us faith only through the Word and Sacraments, but I also think that we can (and must!) ask Him to open our hearts and minds so that we can better understand His Word and what it means.

Andrew said...

Good article Pr. Peters, thanks. I linked to it in my last blog post where I spoke about some of the same things; such as the evangelical sacraments of the sinner's prayer and asking Jesus into your heart.