Wednesday, October 23, 2019
The great temptation of choice. . .
Somehow or another this truth has been lost to churches. Flexibility and options predominate and, frankly, you never know what to expect when you go to any church anymore. I had once thought this primarily a Protestant phenomenon but it seems to be universal. We had a man in church, from England, who had lived in the US for about 10 years. He was Roman Catholic but found American Roman Catholic Churches a hollow shell of pop Gospel music and irreverent production style liturgy and was amazed to come to Grace Lutheran Church and hear a choir sing Psalm 113 in Latin and a full sung Divine Service. He was looking for a brand and was disappointed at the confusing array of choices that left so much to local identity. The same is true of Lutherans who have come to appreciate the reverent liturgy, majestic music, and Biblical preaching of this congregation only to to move and find the local LCMS congregation with praise band, pastor in polos and khakis, and sermon series on improving your lives. Where is my Lutheran Church? they complain.
Some would say it is about “LCD,” the lowest common denominator, but I would add to the "L" local. It would seem that not only do congregations do whatever feels good locally but they often struggle to aspire to any standards of excellence that might stretch the pocketbook or require any heavy lifting -- especially when it comes to worship. Now we all know what the normal course of man’s fallen nature does. We know that without hearts and minds being in the Word and the Spirit prodding us, we will revert to that sinful nature that has become the default because of sin. Furthermore, in a world in which preference is king, there is immense pressure on every pastor and parish to conform to the local LCD. That will end up being what is least confrontational with the folks in the pews, whatever fits the mindset and culture of the moment, and what requires the least amount of preparation and effort. It takes no crystal ball to see where this will lead and what it will do to the Church.
Instead of resisting what is common to us all and what should be ordinary in the extraordinary Divine Service, we should embrace it with enthusiasm. I am not talking about a rigid uniformity of rules but of the common concern for the well being of the Church, the well being of the people of God, and the ability of the Church to pass on the sacred deposit to those who come after (without diluting or degrading that tradition). This is important not simply for brand loyalty (though we should not dismiss this) but for our clear confession before the world and the clear identity of the sacred place where God has marked out His Church and His people around His Word and Table. Nobody in their right mind is talking about putting little marks in the chancel so that everyone stands in exactly the same place at the same time and holds their hands in exactly the same way. What I am commending is unseating the rule of me from the throne of local determination and the lowest common denominator and adding in our concern to preserve the inward unity by our outward unity. You begin at least with the hymnal. You can add to it ceremonies and such but to detract from it or depart from it represents a clear departure also from the confession and identity we have as a Church and a people united not simply in theory but in life.
Should we not all desire to celebrate in harmony with those who have gone before and to commend faithfully to those yet to come the rich and faithful experience the fullness of great treasure that we have? In case there are those who might wonder if this will turn people away, the people attracted by conformity with culture, modern morality, and a gospel of self-interest are not the unchurched but the restless Christians whose itchy ears refuse to be satisfied with the Word of the Lord and His sacramental gifts and graces. Instead of playing musical chairs with the people who come and go as they move to whatever is new, we ought to be establishing an outpost of the sacred in this world which identifies us as the Church of the saints of old anticipating the promised future God has given in Christ through the means of grace.