Sunday, May 26, 2019

More words do not improve. . .

Remember the giant stack of pages that introduced and defined the Affordable Care Act?  Ever look at the mass of paper that is the federal budget each year?  More words and numbers do not bring clarity.  In fact they often contribute to more confusion and confound more than they instruct.

I remember when the Living Bible came out and a comparison was done of the number of words in that paraphrase versus the number of words in a typical translation and it did not take long to discover that Taylor's explanation (paraphrase) took far more words than the Holy Spirit spoke through the mouths and pens of Scripture's writers.  In many cases, perhaps even most, the words added to explain and clarify what the Lord said did just the opposite.  In some cases, the words actually contradicted and took away from what the Lord had said.

So, you may be wondering, where is this going. . .  Liturgical language is an economy of words, words well chosen not for their abundance but for their conciseness.  When you look at the Divine Service, you see few words that speak well.  But too often that is not enough for those who lead the Divine Service.  Ad lib has come to mean add words.  And that is the danger.  More words do not make for clarity but confuse and obfuscate the poetic language of liturgy and hymns.

My point to those leading worship is to stop improvising, stop ad libbing, stop trying to improve upon the language of the liturgy, and stop trying to act as a comic, commentator, or master of ceremonies for God.  You are adding words but not helping the cause.  In fact, your words make the service longer and people blame the liturgy for what you add.  You may think that you are improving upon the Divine Service but you are taking away from it and from the people's focus on the Lord's Word and Sacraments.

Don't try to make the liturgy more personal.  It is personal not because you make it so but because the Lord deals with us personally, encountering us through His Word and Sacraments with His gifts and grace.  It is personal because the Lord has become incarnate, lived among us as one of us (without sin) and suffered for us and in our place upon the cross.  The focus of the liturgy is Christ and not us.  We are not the center of it all, Christ is.  It is fake personalization when we try to make the liturgy more homey or personal.  This is Christ's job.  Preach the Word.  Administer the Sacraments.  God will do the rest.

This wisdom goes for directions within the liturgy.  If you have a worship folder, hymn boards, and a hymnal, you do not need to constantly tell the people what is going on before they do it.  They are not stupid.  They can read.  You only encourage them to be lazy and offend them as you presume they must be led like children through the liturgy.  Stop it and they will pick it up and go with it.  You are only demeaning them by presuming that they can neither read nor understand the words on the page.  Give it a rest.  If you must make a change to the order, do so at the beginning of the Divine Service so that you do not end up distracting God's people from what is happening within that Divine Service..

And one more thing.  If you are leading the service, your parts are well marked and so are the parts of the people.  Let them do their part.  It does no one any good when the leader presumes that the people will not respond either quickly enough or loud enough and so you must be both leader and respondent.  It only encourages people in the pew to be lazy and it suggests to them that they are not needed since the one presiding is doing all the parts himself.

Okay, do you feel better?  I do. 


Anonymous said...

Venacular language changes over time. I find myself hard-pressed to read ‘The Great Gatsby’ because of all the colloquialisms from the 1920’s. Scholars must put what Scriptures convey from the original languages into the present venacular, without interjecting personal feelings, politics, or any zeitgeist. Ted Badje

Anonymous said...

There is something worth pondering in the fact that the Pharisees loved wordiness and gabbing on incessantly.

My personal pet peeve is how some pastors feel this need constantly to be providing a running "color commentary" while they do the liturgy, or give the congregation "stage directions" and so forth.

Eschew chattiness in the chancel