Saturday, December 16, 2017
So which is better?
On one hand we have churches like the Church of England or the Anglicans, as they are wont to be called, who have more faithfully preserved the form but not so much the content. Go into any Anglican Church of any jurisdiction or theological bent and you will generally find the liturgy done well, whether high, broad, or low church. Ceremonies matter, if at least in form if not content, and, like the royal weddings and funerals and coronations, the Anglicans have fully mastered the art of the form. Yet we often complain that the form is just form. That these same Anglicans seem intent upon doing things in conflict with how they pray. Having preserved a catholic liturgical tradition and having bishops seems not to have slowed their detour into heresy and apostasy. It is downright painful to see them unable to condemn, much less discipline, those who stick it in the eye of Christian orthodoxy.
On the other hand, Lutherans of the Missouri stripe love to talk about how they are free to craft forms however they choose for Sunday morning while claiming to maintain a higher loyalty to content. In Missouri there are those who act, speak, and sing like evangelicals and the big box non-denominational churches on Sunday morning and yet who claim with equal vigor to believe, confess, and teach as real Lutherans. Part of this real Lutheranism is the refusal to be told what they must do and with it is the false etymology of adiaphora which has come to mean "anything goes." Officially and unofficially we are told that Missourians retain a higher degree of doctrinal homogeneity than nearly any other branch of Lutheranism and the key to this is knowing how to walk the narrow line between form and content, evangelical style and Lutheran substance. Of course, we know that this is hardly the case. The harsh reality is that Missouri has virtual fellowships within the fellowship -- people who would not think of going to one of those anything goes congregations and those who would die rather than open a hymnal in one of the other kind of congregations. Yet on paper we are all happily loving each other while each is doing what seems right in his or her own eyes.
A few months ago I was at a wedding reception gabbing with my favorite curmudgeon (the Rev. Dr.
I suppose it is better from the leaders point of view to have the pastors and those who lead Sunday morning fully invested in what they are doing, believing and practicing consistently. But I am not at all sure this is the best for the people in the pew or for the children growing up in our churches. In fact, I am more and more of the opinion that our indifference to form and our slavish investment in content (more theory than practice) has left us a church confused, divided, and suspicious. You can go nearly everywhere you want and an Anglican congregation will worship like an Anglican church (even though the sermon may very well make you wince). Yet the people in the pews have the faith preserved in the rite if not in the mind of the priest leading it and that is not a bad thing. The faith is always there in the hymnal or prayerbook and does not need to reinvented. It just needs to be used.
In contrast, go into a Lutheran congregation which has had a praise band, screens, contemporary Christian music, and not used the hymnal or the historic liturgy for some time and it means reinventing that parish to return to sacred hymnody, the liturgy, and the book. Changing them back means starting over, literally. And so most parishes never go back. They end up having too much invested in what they are doing now. To tell you the truth, I am about sick and tired of hearing pastors tell me that they personally are edified by the great hymns of the faith and the liturgy but they must put their personal preference on the back burner for the sake of winning the masses to Jesus with forms that are, in effect, at odds with our Confessional identity.
Dr. Scaer knows it only too well. The kinds of choices we are making are not wise and they are not without consequence. Surrendering the Divine Service and the great hymns of the faith on Sunday morning means changing what is believed in the pews. So, if you ask me, I would rather keep the faith of those in the pews consistent through our use of the catholic forms preserved in our hymnal (even with added ceremonial optional to that liturgical minimum) rather settle for a theoretical faith that has no real orthodox practice. For the sake of the people in the pew and the faith preserved to the baptized, it is better to use the right rite than it is to discard the rite for our right to do what we deem preferable or effective. It is easier to reclaim a lost Lutheranism by reminding them of what we have said and sung on Sunday morning for as long as anyone can remember than it is to take down the screens, ditch the pop Gospel music, put on vestments, and haul out the hymnals and then say, "Hey folks, this is really who we were all the time."