Friday, January 24, 2014

The Culture of Creed and Confession

For years I have been arguing that culture and personal preference have no place in the liturgical shape of what happens on Sunday morning, in the practices of the liturgy, and in the music of the liturgy.  In essence I have been saying that style is not a criteria of worship.  Perhaps I have been wrong in the way I have been addressing this issue.  Let me redress this topic once again but from another tack.

Culture and style do have a place in the church's liturgy and the music of worship.  It is not, however, the culture and style of the people (pew or pulpit) but the culture and style of the confession.  What I am saying is this.  Our Lutheran Confessions do have a culture and a style.  Culture and style do have a rightful place in shaping what happens on Sunday morning -- but not the culture and style of the people involved on either side of the altar rail.

The Lutheran Confessions insist that church usages (another term for rituals), ceremonies, and liturgical practices flow from the faith itself.  These are not the domain of the individual or the individual clergy or even the individual congregation.  They are inherently the domain of what is believed, confessed, and taught.  Personal preference is not a viable or legitimate criteria for determining what is done.  They flow from creed and confession and so they are catholic -- they transcend culture and preference because they have their own culture and style.

Honestly, I am somewhat sick of the arguments back and forth in the culture and liturgical wars that have dominated the conversation in my own church body for more than a generation.  We throw the same old tired arguments, Scripture passages, and theological quotes at each other with little movement on either side.  Instead we have become more and more entrenched and the gulf between us wider and wider.  It has become less a war of words and more a jockeying for control and influence.

Let me direct the conversation to a different point.  Do our creed and confession have a culture or style?  If they do have a style and a culture, as I insist, then our faithfulness to creed and confession does have a shape on Sunday morning (liturgy) and the music of the liturgy is not a question of personal preference but a vehicle of that shape.

From the earliest of days, the liturgical shape of the faith has been pretty consistent (in both West and East).  Liturgical historians have argued that the liturgy grew, and I suppose it did in the sense of becoming more elaborate, but the shape did not grow.  It was.  It was born of the Jewish patterns of worship inherited by Christians and of the Upper Room.  It was not the product of any culture or of the personal preferences of any individuals.  It became its own culture and that happened pretty quickly.  Like the canon of Scripture, it was not voted upon or defined by individual or council but was affirmed as if it had always been.  The Church discerned the liturgy even as she discerned the canon of Scripture until they both became so obvious it was unmistakable.

It has been a relatively modern invention to shift away from the culture and style of creed and confession and move to the preference of individuals (on either side of the rail).  Certainly it was one of the poisoned fruits of the radical reformation.  Sadly, Lutherans ate some of this poisoned fruit because of their own failure to take their Confessions seriously and their lack of confidence and appreciation in what they had. The liturgy became perfunctory, the devotional center moved from the Word and the Table to the feelings of the heart and personal preference, and things catholic became foreign to the very church that claimed most of all to be catholic and evangelical..  In our lost self-confidence, we began borrowing little things from others and we told ourselves it was about style and not substance.  In our radical pursuit of the Great Commission and our slice of the success pie, we made it a choice between liturgy and evangelism.  Who would not choose more Christians over chanting, vestments, the liturgy, hymnody that confesses, or even a weekly Eucharist?  Now we find ourselves battling over which culture, what style, and whose preference wins out.  All the while we have lost sight of the fact that yes, there is a culture, style, and preference that does bear upon Sunday morning -- the style and culture of creed and confession.

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

The culture of that Jewish worship which was inherited by Christians was designed and commanded by God. That culture and liturgy grew as well. In some ways, it was a good thing, becoming more elaborate (from tent to temple). Yet in others, it went terribly wrong. From Golden Calf to Asherah and Baal to dishonest priests greedy for gain, it looked and looks a lot like today.

Maybe if we paid attention to history, both Jewish and Christian, we would learn, and not be doomed to repeat it.