Sunday, December 3, 2017

Leading Worship Is No big deal. . . I was in seminary, shortly after the death of Luther (laugh here), issues of worship were not considered all that important.  Maybe that is not quite right.  They were not consider difficult issues requiring much education.  So everything that might fall under the heading of worship was wrapped up into one class.  The Divine Service (history and conduct of), the Occasional Services (from baptism to funeral to suffrages to confirmation etc...), the daily offices, rubrics, the Church Year (history and practice of), hymnody (history, theology, and music), vestments (history and practice), role of the choir, choral music, Lutheran liturgical theology, and everything else was lumped together in a single class.  To be fair, it was assumed (and we all know what happens when you assume) that you would learn the practice also through field work and on vicarage (internship) from your supervising pastor (oft called your bishop) and from your own experience as a Lutheran in the pews growing up.

The reality was that little was learned except just enough not to be automatically seen as a fool and a clod who had never been in the chancel before.  All of this was, of course, in the midst of a worship upheaval never before seen in the life of Christians (Roman Catholics and Lutherans especially).  The mass in the vernacular had just been introduced, the three-year lectionary just produced, and the work was getting serious on a common hymnal for all Lutherans in America (the dream, anyway).  The LCMS was on the verge of ditching its The Lutheran Hymnal which was nearly universally used since 1941 in the Synod and the precursor bodies of the ELCA were ready to ditch their Service Book and Hymnal which they had produced in 1958 in part to hasten mergers.  At the time Lutherans were actually pretty much on the same page liturgically, all using the Common Service of 1888 with relatively small differences (save for the Eucharistic Prayer option of SBH).  Yet this was not seen as a time to add any more instruction or time for seminarians to learn how to lead God's people in worship and prayer.

But that is how it has generally been in Lutheranism.  We have assumed more about worship than we have taught.  Worship was not even a subject in my catechesis as a youth preparing for confirmation more than 50 years ago.  Why have we been so reticent to give worship place in the catechesis of youth and adults in the parish and seminarians being trained for the pastoral ministry?  I wonder. . .

Could it be that we really did consciously assume that people got this by being on one side or the other of the altar rail for a time?  Or is there a more pernicious and dangerous assumption behind our lack of training to lay and clergy?  Could it be that have assumed this is no big deal?  I fear that this is the real skeleton in our closet.  We Lutherans have assumed that worship is not rocket science and anybody with half a wit can figure out how to plan and lead it.  We insist that doctrine and Biblical theology must be carefully taught but worship can be easily learned and homiletics is largely learning by experience.  This is perhaps the reason why we really do not understand what adiaphora means even though we banter about the word all the time.  And we really do not get the consequences of our Confessional hesitance to be too specific about what ceremonies, rituals, church usages, or rites must be kept.  The false assumption that has and still haunts us is the unmistakable presumption that this is not difficult, not something requiring too much of our attention, and, therefore, not all that important.

I am convinced that our Lutheran fathers would not approve of our assumptions or our failure to be deliberate in teaching liturgical theology, history, practice, etc...  Luther's own reticence to make too many changes was a conservative approach.  Nothing needed to be changed unless it must be changed.  The Gospel was not a liberation from history or liturgy but a restoration of the core and center of what the liturgical service was.  In fact, I am convinced that much of the confusion and carelessness in our churches today is born of our failure to attend worship and to give it its rightful place both in catechesis and the training of pastors.  It is no coincidence that when I remind us of our liturgical history of form and practice I receive a barrage of complaints against sacerdotalism, Romanism, chancel prancing, chanting, vestments, and the like as if these were foreign to our Lutheran identity and alien to the mission of the Kingdom preached and taught.  Too many of us, whether evangelical in style or traditional, prefer no rules, rubrics, or rights and wrongs than to standards of practice and a uniformity of theology of the Divine Service.  Until we resolve this and become at ease with who we are liturgically, doctrinal unity will not bind us together either.  Until we begin talking about this in catechesis and training our pastors to be as well equipped in the chancel as they are in other places, we will remain a church divided and worship wars will continue to be fought among us.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

Very insightful but troubling article. I suppose the best solution for us is to find our roots again, The progressives have had a hand in neutralizing the Lutheran body and reconstituting it into something else. I have no answers. Perhaps, the cultural shifts are too overwhelming and the LCMS is caught in the tsunami of social disorder and spiritual chaos. I think a major problem is that many LCMS churches do not focus enough on solid preaching these days. The congregations are also lazy and disengaged too often. All is not lost, however, and we must keep talking about it. We need not accept defeat.

Anonymous said...

"It is no coincidence that when I remind us of our liturgical history of form and practice I receive a barrage of complaints."

Here's why the complaints: LCMS Lutherans already had a historic form and practice. It was called The Lutheran Hymnal. It was boringly monotonous Sunday after Sunday, but it was ours.

That Lutheran worship tradition was summarily discarded.

The problem is that we who grew up on the tradition of TLH are still out here in the pews.
We get to hear a stream of unending commentary that the American tradition of worship and practice was/is not good enough, wrongheaded, even un-Lutheran. We hear that we need to embrace practices and traditions that are not our own and which consequently have no meaning for us. Seriously. This is our debate. And you wonder why this position is ridiculed. It's the same as if someone demand that their Minnesota rural Lutheran family speak French and wear powdered wigs, because they read about it somewhere in a book and it seemed like a noble tradition...

Anonymous said...

A humble and reverent pastor can lead the liturgical worship service.
His dignified presence is more important that making all the correct
U-turns and bows toward the altar. The high-church folks have made the
leader of worship into a robot who makes all the correct moves. Take
away the genuflecting, the incense, the chasuble. the chanting and give
me a pastor who loves the Lord and loves his parish members.

David Gray said...

This rural Minnesota LCMS church still uses the TLH. Anyone who finds it boringly monotonous really doesn't understand worship.

Anonymous said...

"Until we begin talking about this in catechesis and training our pastors to be as well equipped in the chancel as they are in other places, we will remain a church divided and worship wars will continue to be fought among us."

I understand that we are supposed to gather for an hour every Sunday morning to listen to the sermon and to take communion, but what is "worship." What is its purpose. Why is there an organ. Why is there a guitar. Why sing songs at all? Following the same service format every week eventually leads Lutherans to believe that traditional worship is rigid, boring, dated, monotonous, and stuffy. Lutherans are not trained in the "why" of worship; they blindly go through the motions without understanding what they are doing.

I am tired of watching the LCMS tear itself apart. I wish President Harrison would use the bully pulpit and get Synod to make the changes suggested in your concluding sentence.

Anonymous said...

Following the same CoWo service format every week eventually leads Lutherans to believe that contemporary worship services are indistinguishable from the non-denominational church across town. If worship does not matter and if the small group curricula is the same, then why remain a Lutheran. As a bonus, the coffee is better and the praise bands are superior at the big box church.

Ted Badje said...

Could someone explain to me how far off theologically LW or LBW are compared to TLH? I believe the former contain as much liturgy as TLH. LW has four settings, which shouldn't make it monotonous. Maybe I am missing some nuances here.

Anonymous said...

Recommend using "Didache" instruction book by Prof. John Pless for catechesis. It is the only book available for instruction that incorporates Scripture, Book of Concord, and Lutheran Service Book. It is vital that catechesis include our liturgy and hymnody as resources that are vital for teaching the faith.

Anonymous said...

Sin and rebellion play a huge part in rejecting liturgical worship. Having said that, liturgical worship can be made multi-facetted and you don't always have to use pages 5 or 15 every time you meet for the Divine Service. The biggest complaint people have is they are unfamiliar with the liturgy and hymnody. The sin and rebellion part of rejecting liturgical worship is bound up in covetousness and ingratitude for the gifts given therein. Who said worship had to be like a ride in an amusement park, entertaining and unpredictable, dynamic with foot stomping music? Repetition in worship is for our remembrance, to memorize Scripture and to be catechized:

"Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit..."
"Let the vineyards be fruitful, Lord, and fill to the brim our cup of blessing..."
"Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
"In peace let us pray to the Lord. Lord have mercy."
"I, a poor miserable sinner..."

I could go on but you get my drift.

The ordinaries don't change but the propers do, not to mention the sermon. But think of it this way, what does CoWo lead to? It leads to disparaging church history which leads to disparaging the church calendar which leads to disparaging church art and architecture which leads to disparaging our Lutheran heritage which becomes disposable and the church catholic is no longer needed in our midst, it is no longer relevant to our real enjoyment of Sunday mornings. All the old or formal stuff is put on a shelf because we got bored out of our heads. We couldn't take it anymore! We want to feel like we do when we emerge from a Michael W. Smith concert. We want mountain top experiences every Sunday morning, not just the same ole, same ole.

Padre Dave Poedel said...

As one who, in my 30 years of pastoral ministry, have heard every argument why we should not be liturgical in the catholic sense, and as one who has tried to be the “emcee” of a contemporary worship service with band in the chancel and the altar moved to the side....kyrie eleison. When I was blessed to be the pastor of a small inner-city parish I was determined to go back to the Mass every week. I was privileged to serve another inner-city church in a larger city and was blessed with a pipe organ and excellent organist. Again, the Divine Service from LW and then LSB, with Eucharistic Prayers added from a very reliable Lutheran source, the Mass was celebrated and the community catechized.

Upon my retirement, my successor reversed everything I had done and made it all about being relevant and more approachable. Truth be told, I was so approachable with my “liturgical with a smile”. Now I serve as interim or vacancy Pastor in Arizona, I am blessed to be serving a parish that values traditional worship and values catechesis. They are calling a Pastor who also values traditional worship. While simplified from my usual practice, I am still called to be reverent, to proclaim Law and Gospel, and to bring Holy Communion to the people each and every service. That is all that I can do.....