Two things I miss from my Anglican days: the King James Version, and the Book of Common Prayer. My friends who remained Anglican also miss them, for both have been removed from church services by the Anglican bureaucracy. As the priest who received me into the Roman Church said, Anglicans make ideal converts. We already know at first hand what happens when liturgical, scriptural, and other received norms are “progressively” abandoned: the church itself disintegrates.The sad truth is that he is correct. Those who head to other churches swimming one river or another are often those who have watched as their own churches abandoned their liturgical identity, treated the creeds and confessions as descriptive and not prescriptive, and were embarrassed by the Word of God, or at least those who take it seriously.
The liturgical changes that have touched all liturgical churches have left us detached from our own history. Indeed, the Lutheran Service Book is distinctive for retaining nearly everything of the chief service of its most popular predecessor hymnal, The Lutheran Hymnal, after the intermediate book had almost rendered that service unrecognizable. In that same vein, the LSB also retained the one year historic lectionary.
This was not the case for the ELCA, whose predecessor bodies had a worthy hymnal in the Service Book and Hymnal whose liturgical legacy was forgotten when Lutheran Book of Worship was published in 1978. The Anglicans also did their worst to the 1928 Prayer Book and others have also followed. It took Benedict XVI to intervene and restore the Latin Mass to more universal accessibility -- though this is not without its powerful detractors.
My point in all of this is simply to say that we too easily forget that when we abandon our liturgical history and form on Sunday morning, it has profound consequences for the faith itself. When we stop worshiping like Lutherans, it is a short jaunt to believing like those whose worship identity we have borrowed. None of the progressive attempts to remake our liturgical identity have helped stem the tide of membership losses. I am not sure if they are causal or coincidental but the wholesale transformation of many liturgical churches on Sunday morning has left us with more empty pews than ever. Name me one church in which the abandonment of historic liturgical forms and texts has helped that church grow?
There are many things for which we ought to be grateful as we survey the liturgical movement. For Lutherans, this means the restoration to a more frequent Communion, even weekly (as our Confessions presume). I am more than happy about this. Yet at the same time, the numbers of folks gathered in the pews for those more frequent celebrations of the Lord's Supper is undeniably less than it was before the liturgical movement. Surely some of this is due to flawed and failed catechesis, pressures and influences from society at large, and a host of other changes in the fabric of our everyday lives but it is foolish not to admit that ditching our history and identity on Sunday morning has not also contributed to our decline.