The March 2017 Forum Letter (why don't you subscribe?) features 8 pages from an old voice complaining about the more liturgical face of Lutheranism. In it, David S. Luecke provides a predictable review of his previously published critiques of liturgical renewal along with some interesting tidbits sure to evoke the ire of many in the LCMS and encourage others.
His first point is that the liturgical movement was a fringe movement that became dominant in Missouri (something he finds incredulous). Although he claims to have done extensive research to bolster his position, Luecke apparently has not delved back much into Lutheran history and worship or he would recognize that what he calls liturgical renewal is in reality a restoration of what was normal and normative Lutheran worship practice from the earliest days until the end of the 18th century. His complaint that liturgical renewal substituted for the needed spiritual renewal seems to distance the Spirit and God's work from the Word and Sacraments from which spiritual renewal proceeds (perhaps he should read Bo Giertz on the topic of Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening).
His personal view is, of course, that Lutherans took a wrong term. He blames the precipitous decline of Lutheranism in America on liturgical renewal and claims it violates the Pauline dictum of all things to all people. He quotes Epitome, Formula of Concord X to claim that every church in every locality has the authority to change ceremonies (but fails to note that this does not, in context, mean individual congregation but refers instead to church in the larger sense of jurisdiction). No one has ever claimed otherwise. Yet he fails to note the manifold other places in which those same Confessions insist that worship is not a thing indifferent and ceremonies teach and confess in themselves.
We on our part also retain many ceremonies and traditions (such as the liturgy of the Mass and various canticles, festivals, and the like) which serve to preserve order in the church. (Augsburg Confession XXVI:40 [German])
We are unjustly accused of having abolished the Mass. Without boasting, it is manifest that the Mass is observed among us with greater devotion and more earnestness than among our opponents. (Augsburg Confession XXIV:9 [German])
We are perfectly willing for the Mass to be understood as a daily sacrifice, provided this means the whole Mass, the ceremony and also the proclamation of the Gospel, faith, prayer, and thanksgiving. Taken together, these are the daily sacrifice of the New Testament; the ceremony was instituted because of them and ought not be separated from them. Therefore Paul says (I Cor. 11:26), “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death.” (Apology XXIV:35)
From this description of the state of our churches it is evident that we diligently maintain church discipline, pious ceremonies, and the good customs of the church. (Apology XV:4)He also has a big thing against the word "liturgy" and says that the Lutheran term is "mass" (which he defines as something other than "liturgy" and certainly not Introit, Gloria, Creed, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and Dismissal -- which begs me to ask if that is not "mass" what is)? He presumes to know the mind of Luther and insist that Luther preferred a simple preaching service but was reined in by the ignorance of the peasant folk and, well, had bigger fish to fry anyway. Curious, indeed! Even more curious since the kind of service Luecke prefers has a praise band, a host of sound engineers and lighting specialists, performers to entertain, and everything from parking lot attendants to coffee baristas to serve up the sacred brew!
We gladly keep the old traditions set up in the church because they are useful and promote tranquillity, and we interpret them in an evangelical way, excluding the opinion that they justify. Our enemies falsely accuse us of abolishing good ordinances and church discipline. We can truthfully claim that in our churches the public liturgy is more decent than in theirs, and if you look at it correctly we are more faithful to the canons than our opponents are. (Apology XV:38-39)
On holy days, and at other times when communicants are present, Mass is held and those who desire it are communicated. Thus the Mass is preserved among us in its proper use, the use which was formerly observed in the church and which can be proved by St. Paul’s statement in I Cor. 11:20 ff. and by many statements of the Fathers. (Augsburg Confession XXIV:34-35 [German]) Since, therefore, the Mass among us is supported by the example of the church as seen from the Scriptures and the Fathers, we are confident that it cannot be disapproved, especially since the customary public ceremonies are for the most part retained. (Augsburg Confession XXIV:40 [Latin])
His claim that in Saxony there were 75 different church orders presumes that any difference, however slight, constitutes a "different order" when the reality is that they, while different in nuance, were remarkably consistent -- not only in Saxony but throughout Lutheranism.
Of course, it did not take long for vestments to enter his discussion. He longs for the Geneva gown (black in winter and white in summer, fall and spring depend upon the weather, I guess). Never mind that art shows us Luther in eucharistic vestments and the early Lutherans retaining such vestments. The truth is that eucharistic vestments never disappeared from Lutheranism even though they may have disappeared from specific places.
Luecke does not care much for the early church, specifically the time of the church following the legalization of Christianity. Strangely, his description of words used for worship in the New Testament involves posture -- bowing and kneeling -- something he thought Article X of the Epitome declared unimportant.
But the last part of his article is the most interesting. Bowing down is for Luecke a euphemism for contemporary worship and music -- singing the Word in "rhythms and tunes heard on the radio, often now in Country and Western style... [and] singing a love relationship with God" with a "spirit" bowed down before His majesty. This is meaningful to him but not so much the rites and rituals of the mass. The pathways that should define worship, he suggests, are best described by Gary Thomas in Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul's Path to God. He believes these God-given temperaments to be equally valid and that the job of the Lutheran service is to appeal to those temperaments. Hmmmm. That is something out of left field for a church that insists God comes to us not where and how we desire but where He has promised (Word and Sacrament). According to Luecke, we need to open ourselves up to the Spirit (closer to what the first Christians did) and live more in the spirit world between God in heaven.
It is a good thing to read Luecke's words because so often it is easy to think that the worship wars were and are merely arguments over taste and preference. Clearly they are about much more. What is at stake in these disputes is not merely what appeals to whom but how God works, the mark of faithfulness through the ages, and the worship consistent with and flowing form our confession of faith. I have heard David Luecke speak and read his books. It is hard to reconcile his perspective to the Lutheran Confessions or to history of how Lutherans have worshiped in the Divine Service from Luther's day to the present moment. If anything, Luecke's point of view represents the fringe of Lutheran identity and practice. I only wish it were a smaller fringe. Lutheran angst and insecurity have left us vulnerable to the next wind blowing through the Christian landscape and too many Lutherans have found the breeze hard to resist. If Lutherans are all over the page on Sunday morning, it is not a good thing. In fact, it is one of the things that we will someday soon have to resolve if being Lutheran is to mean more than theory.