Wednesday, September 7, 2016

High Church or not?

When we built our new addition, the question of installing kneelers came up.  Some were adamant.  No, we must not install kneelers.  They will not kneel (or cannot) and it would unnecessarily divide up the congregation into those on bended knee and those not.  It was an interesting debate.  What finally won the day was the reminder that no one was being required to kneel but by refusing to install kneelers everyone was being kept from kneeling (save the few who might go down all the way to the tile floor on their knees).

It is a good principle.  By refusing to allow something, we are doing what we deplore -- mandating that everyone do what we do.  This is a principle in conflict with Lutheran liturgical theology and practice from the get go.  We refuse to bind men's conscience in what must be done or what cannot be done (except where such practice conflicts with Scripture).  Kneeling, clearly does not.  Whether on one knee or both knees, kneeling is all over the Bible and, if you look, all over Lutheran practice.

It has become fashionable in Lutheran circles to label extra things "high church".  Lutherans are, as Garrison Keillor famously noted, instinctive minimalists -- at least in culture.  So we would rather do less than more.  What he noted as a joke, has become dictum for many in our church body and this has given birth to a new intolerance for things one step beyond the minimum.  That means everything from vestments to chanting to kneeling (one knee or two) to choirs to pipe organs and a host of other things.  If they are not usual, they are "high church" and "high church" is always bad.  Hence a complaint from a District President about the worship of the LCMS Convention:


Finally, a word about my worship experience at the convention.  Worship was definitely of high church style, complete with liturgies “out of the book” and chanting throughout on top of full liturgical garb, chasubles and the like.  This is my second convention which was run and organized by our current administration.  The same style at this convention held true at our last convention, which is also true when I attend chapel at the International Center in St. Louis.  The message to me is plain.  High church is the preferred worship style given to the churches of the LC--MS.  I get it, I can even do high church liturgy if I wish but which I don’t.  But what is completely foreign to me and a bit unsettling, being a life-long LC—MS Lutheran, is what appears to be genuflecting going on in the chancel.  This is something I hope will not continue (if genuflecting is what indeed is taking place)which in some strange way is reverencing the host as if the pastor, because he is a pastor, has some magical power and has instantly before our eyes magically changed the substance of the bread into the body of Christ.  Really?

So it has become usual to complain about the the convention worship of the last few years that it is not mainstream or minimal or even diverse but "high church" and therefore unusual.  What is so strange in all of this is that nearly everything came right from the hymnal!  Since when did the hymnal become "high church?"  If that is the case, then Lutheranism is in more trouble than any of us care to admit.  When the worship of the book becomes the strange or unusual ("high church"), then we no longer have a common language or identity when it comes to people at worship around the Word and Table of the Lord.

What is also interesting is that the complaint against "high church" worship is not ordinarily matched by a complaint against "minimalistic" worship from the other side (whoever they are but I am sure most would include me in "them").  If no vestments had been worn, no recognizable order of service used, no ritual gestures included, would there have been an outcry?  Probably not.  A few folks might have complained but most folks have learned well that minimalism is just as good, perhaps even better, than anything more ("high church").  How far we have come since our Confessions once insisted. . .

Augsburg Confession Article XV: Of Ecclesiastical Usages.

1] Of Usages in the Church they teach that those ought to be observed which may be observed without sin, and which are profitable unto tranquillity and good order in the Church, as particular holy days, festivals, and the like.
2] Nevertheless, concerning such things men are admonished that consciences are not to be burdened, as though such observance was necessary to salvation.
3] They are admonished also that human traditions instituted to propitiate God, to merit grace, and to make satisfaction for sins, are opposed to the Gospel and the doctrine of faith. Wherefore vows and traditions concerning meats and 4] days, etc., instituted to merit grace and to make satisfaction for sins, are useless and contrary to the Gospel.

Article XXIV: Of the Mass.

1] Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among 2] us, and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved, save that the parts sung in Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns, which have been added 3] to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned 4] be taught [what they need to know of Christ]. And not only has Paul commanded to use in the church a language understood by the people 1 Cor. 14:2-9, but it has also been so ordained by man's law. 5] The people are accustomed to partake of the Sacrament together, if any be fit for it, and this also increases the reverence and devotion of public 6] worship. For none are admitted 7] except they be first examined. The people are also advised concerning the dignity and use of the Sacrament, how great consolation it brings anxious consciences, that they may learn to believe God, and to expect and ask of Him all that is good. 8] [In this connection they are also instructed regarding other and false teachings on the Sacrament.] This worship pleases God; such use of the Sacrament nourishes true devotion 9] toward God. It does not, therefore, appear that the Mass is more devoutly celebrated among our adversaries than among us.

Conclusion to the Augsburg Confession.

Only those things have been recounted whereof we thought that it was necessary to speak, in order that it might be understood that in doctrine and ceremonies nothing has been received on our part against Scripture or the Church Catholic. For it is manifest that we have taken most diligent care that no new and ungodly doctrine should creep into our churches. 


Kirk Skeptic said...

Pr P, I don't think you get the happy-clappy cabal at all - they are distinctly maximalists who, when in the process of taking over either an entire congregation or just their favorite service time, start with wanting only a "blended (and what sort of dung would you like your bread baked with, Mr Ezekiel?) service and then proceed to push out historical churchly traditions for their own historical revivalist traditions. The end result is a service with all the trappings of worship-under-the-big-top and nothing remotely historical; ie maximally contemporary. Been through it more times than I care to recollect.

PS; when was the last time you heard of a P&W leader doing his thing from the loft or the back of the sanctuary? So much for soli Deo gloria.

Chris said...

The district president you quote is, I hope, a member of a dying breed in the LCMS.