Sunday, October 7, 2018

The problem of proof. . .

In the worship wars the ammunition is largely anecdotal.  One side inside this kind of worship works and the other side insist that kind of worship works.  The problem is one of evidence.  Few if any studies of the relationship between worship format and church growth have large enough samples to support any real generalized conclusions.  In fact, we have hardly any studies on the matter at all.  What we do have are polls that ask people what they think (at that moment and according to how the question may have been asked) and we have stories (this is what worked for me).  I have read these stories until I am sick of reading any more of them as one side or the other pits their truth against someone else's truth (meaning mostly anecdotal truth).

This war cannot be won on the basis of what works because not only do we have scant evidence to support broad and generalized conclusions, we cannot even agree on what it means that it works or it doesn't work.  Furthermore, geography, culture, race, and age are all factors that affect not only the evidence but the conclusions.  It is time we stop listening to polls and stop giving weight to one experience and stop trusting anecdotal evidence and stories as gospel truth.  It is time we talked about this strictly in terms of theology.  We ought to be especially adept at this as Lutherans since we are always about the big question:  what does this mean?

The truth is that I do not have much hope that we can set aside personal preference, personal experience, and personal history long enough to thoughtfully consider the theology of worship but it will not stop me from pleading for an end to the disastrous dead end plaguing us about what happens on Sunday morning.  We have listened too long to the social scientists (who have their own problems of evidence, replication of results, and truth).  We have listened too long to the wants and desires of those in the pews (a group divided about what they want and like and who find it difficult to even define it).  We have listened too long to the mega churches and those without a formal confession who view worship as a program to be judged by the pews filled and the money flowing in.  We have listened too long to those who insist that we live in a new and different world in which the old ways will not work (even when they are the ways of God that endure forever).

We need to pay attention to Scripture.  Saying back to God what He has said to us is the most sure and certain thing we can say and do in worship.  I think I read that somewhere.  We need to pay attention to history.  Every age and generation is not given a blank slate to create worship but they are heirs of an astonishingly rich tradition.  We need to pay attention to creed and confession.  What we do on Sunday morning must be more than consistent with what we say we believe -- it must be an accurate reflection of what we say we believe -- prayed dogma!  We need to pay attention to what is new not as determinative but as a contribution to a catholic past and a catholic future.  Not everything new is evil but we must carefully discern what is good, right, true, beautiful, faithful, and worthy from our own age and generation.  We need to pay attention to language.  Words flow in and out of our vocabularies and they change in meaning but this must be held in tension with the vocabulary of Scripture and tradition and words that mean what God says they mean.  We need to pay attention to excellence.  Having a script on Sunday morning (either in pulpit or at the altar) does not relieve us of the call to do well what we do -- to do our best, our utmost for His highest (read that somewhere, too).  Finally, we need to pay attention to priority.  They say you can tell what is important to people by what they spend their money on and the sad reality is that if you look at many of our churches we spend next to nothing on Sunday morning -- not preparation, not effort, and not money.  We cheap out on instruments to support singing and expect talented musicians to work for little or nothing and act like the only thing important is the sermon.  And it shows.

There.  I feel better.  Do you?


Cliff said...

Pr. Peters, your comment about "paying attention to language " was bang on. My comment a few posts back about readers in the Lutheran church who hurriedly go through the readings rather quickly bears this out. We need to carefully and prayerfully listen to God's word. Our entire liturgy is rich, deep and powerful. If we only heard those words with an open heart and applied them in our everyday life? There are so many words of comfort in the hymns as well, especially when one reaches the twilight of ones life.

I've often said our beautiful liturgy is wasted on Lutherans.

Anonymous said...

If you look at nearly every so-called "mega church" in The LCMS and take a look at the only statistic that actually counts: average Sunday worship attendance, there is little evidence to support the assertion that offering a "menu" of worship service styles serves to increase average Sunday morning worship attendance.

There are a lot of "flat lines" out there among the mega-churches who are going out of their way to imitate the Evangelicals and offering "relevant" and "contemporary" worship.

Anonymous said...

"readers in the Lutheran church who hurriedly go through the readings"

Again, another accusation made with zero proof or evidence. Another fantasy from old Cliff.

Anonymous said...

The Worship Wars of the LCMS peaked in the 1990's.
Today, we have some parishes who offer a traditional
service and a blended service on Sunday morning.

Both of these worship services offer the confession
and absolution of sins as well as the invocation,
the creed, the three Scripture readings, the Lord's
Prayer, Holy Communion and the benediction. Obviously
the weekly sermon is delivered with both law and gospel.

ErnestO said...

You said "We need to pay attention to Scripture. Saying back to God what He has said to us is the most sure and certain thing we can say and do in worship."

I would reply teach me the happy art of attending to things temporal with a mind intent on things eternal (read that somewhere)

Anonymous said...

If an LCMS congregation were to offer a CoWo service as a second service while preserving the traditional divine service, then I am "ok" with that. I and many other "traditionally-minded" LCMS laymen can tolerate a few generic protestant songs during a one hour church service. However, we get very upset when the more "mission-minded" laymen and pastors want to replace the traditional service with the CoWo service.

Granted, it is unrealistic to assume that CoWo and small groups will go away. On the contrary, I will concede that once introduced into an LCMS congregation, they are here to stay. The question is can they be used effectively in a confessional Lutheran context.

My original comment below was recently on Facebook. I am reposting it here.

If Pastor Maier becomes LCMS president and if his "vision" comes true, then all LCMS congregations will have the same worship and study materials as a big box non-denominational church.

All organs and hymnals would be completely replaced by CoWo bands. Altars would be replaced by stages. Catechesis would disappear. All CPH books in the church library would be replaced by books recommended by Fuller, Willow Creek, and Saddleback (Rick Warren). Small groups would study those books and DVDs instead of Lutheran ones. Whole church studies and pastors sermons would be based on the latest pop-Evangelical book.

But, but....the LCMS pastor will insist "I am confessional. I attended an LCMS seminary." What difference does it make if the laymen are not learning anything Lutheran? If the theology is now the same as a non-denominational church, what difference would it make if the laymen decide to leave for the non-denominational church across town.

"Missional" LCMS pastors: Spend a month listening to Chris Rosebrough's Fighting for the Faith podcasts and see for yourself the direction you are trying to take the LCMS. These are the same worship and study materials you are trying to push on your congregations. Stop ignoring the testimonies of ex-Evangelical LCMS laymen. Your "missional" innovations are the reasons why they left Evangelicalism in the first place.

Joseph Bragg said...

Once you concede the argument of worship to what works or what doesn't work, and to this or that opinion, or preference or study, the battle has been lost. Without the Church and the unchanging voice of the Holy Spirit in the worship of the Church, all things are permissible - except, of course, for unchanging truth.

Anonymous said...

I liked this quote from the imaginelcms website:

"We repent of the elevation of our Lutheran confessional documents and convention resolutions to an authority equal to that of Holy Scripture. While we subscribe wholeheartedly to the Confessions as a true exhibition of Scriptural truth, we are alarmed at the neglect of Biblical study. In a time of growing Biblical illiteracy, many of our churches have no youth or adult Bible study. An emphasis on Lutheran identity coupled with a relentless quoting of Luther and Walther have left many of us hungry for a dynamic teaching of the inspired Scriptures. We pray for our church’s return to its commitment to “Scripture alone."

Let's see...the Book of Concord and Synodical resolutions are not above the Bible, but we like them as true.
Somehow this relates to churches having no Sunday school.
Apparently biblical illiteracy is rampant, which is balanced by the unfortunate relentless literacy of the laity quoting Luther and Walther nonstop.
Let's return to Scripture alone, since Luther and Walther somehow are pitted against that.

Sounds very Schmuckerite.