Thursday, February 2, 2017

It all works together or nothing really works. . .

The then Cardinal Josef Ratzinger once wrote: “How we attend to liturgy determines the fate of the faith and the Church.” At first it seems an audacious statement of exaggeration. It might seem that the liturgy is but a small piece of the larger puzzle of orthodoxy, evangelization, and catechesis.  But seemingly little things often have profound consequences.

How can the Church teach rightly when she cannot pray rightly?  How can the Church evangelize rightly when she cannot teach rightly?  How can the Church pray rightly when she cannot believe rightly?  These are fully connected and integrated and when one suffers, like Paul's analogy of the body, all suffer.

What are we bringing people to if we have no clear identity, confession, and practice of the means of grace where Christ is present with the fullness of His death won gifts?  What are we doing but going through the motions if ceremonies are not born of faith confessed and doctrine believed?  What are we teaching if we have no confidence in the truth of what is believed and why are we teaching if we do not believe the Spirit acts through the Word to accomplish His saving purpose?  Why do we live with a schizophrenia of attention and concern for right doctrine and then act as if anything goes (as long as we are sincere) on Sunday morning.

But the center of it all is the liturgy, what happens on the Lord's day, in the Lord's house, around the Lord's Word and the Lord's Table.  The liturgy is font and source and it is also the goal and summit.  Everything we do flows from this gathering of the faith at the Lord's bidding and anything worthy that we do returns right from whence it has come.

Ratzinger got it right as Cardinal and as Pope.  We Lutherans have been saying this for nearly 500 years.  The liturgical identity of the Church is not a burden or command laid upon people as condition of their salvation but it is the means by which they are assured that this faith is true, this faith is catholic, and this faith is apostolic.  The problem in Rome is that it only found out what harm undoing a worship tradition can do when it was already done.  The problem in Lutheranism is that we toy with the worship tradition of our Confessions as if it were not serious business and we have inadvertently (or perhaps deliberately) adopted a stance toward Sunday morning that has allowed us to hide behind the face of Protestantism or evangelicalism (what we think works or people want) that has effectively communicated to our people that the what of worship is personal preference and that doctrine can be kept in theory but practice may vary.  No matter who you think said it, we Lutherans are living proof of it.  In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not. Or, to use the idiom of the marketplace, your mileage may vary depending upon actual conditions.

Until we learn that protecting dogma is not enough if we keep it to ourselves and forget who we are on Sunday morning, pure doctrine is worthless.  Until we learn that we have nothing to tell others unless we have doctrinal integrity and worship integrity consistent with that doctrine, we have nothing to say to them.  Until we learn that the liturgy may be perfect but unless we believe what it says and meet Christ with faith where He has promised to be, we are doing nothing.  It all works together or nothing really works.  That is what lex orandi lex credendi means.

1 comment:

chaplain7904 said...

Pastor, you're almost on the right track here. Good instincts. But you're still not exactly hitting the nail on the head. With much respect let me say that we should not talk about "the" liturgy, but only about liturgy. Liturgy is worship, is communion with the holy, is (to satisfy Lutheran tastes) the practice of doctrine.

Liturgy is not abstract, or something external to us. It's purpose is not to catechize, though there is no better catechism. It's purpose is not to educate, though there is no greater teacher. Liturgy is worship in Spirit and Truth. Jesus is the church's liturgist (Heb 8:2). The greatest act of liturgy is Jesus on the cross crying: Father forgive them for they know not what they do. Promising the thief (and thieves are we all) that: this Day you will be with me in paradise.

But Jesus never liturgizes the Father alone; but always and only in holy communion with his Bride, who we are.

And so it's not merely a matter of finding the right, true, oldest, best or most historic liturgy; and combining it with good doctrine. When we gather on the Lord's (Christ's) Day, this is not an educational event, but Holy Worship! Divine Liturgy, that flows from, and leads the baptized back to the Eucharist. This is the prize. This is the Holy Grail. This is Holy Communion. Or to state the obvious: communion with The Holy. So that in and through Christ we might live the life that God lives, in uninterrupted splendor. A fortaste of which we obtain each Lord's (Christ's) Day. The Day that Christ intervenes in the affairs of men, to condemn sin and death, and to give life, peace, glory, gladness and salvation to all who believe and are baptized.

The LCMS is starting to wake up to this, in part due to your meanderings. May God once again bless his church with love of worship.