Sunday, March 29, 2020

Not the new normal. . . I pray

In our effort to do something for our people when worship services are either limited or curtailed, we have established patterns and expectations that may come back to haunt us.  I am not faulting the intent but worried about the consequences of making worship without the gathering of the faithful a normal idea in the minds and hearts of our people.

Let me suggest the obvious -- that there is nothing catholic or Lutheran about sidestepping the norms of our practice and make it possible for people to commune in their homes with bread and wine (or grape juice) while listening to or watching the Divine Service being broadcast by the pastor from an empty church building.  It pains me to see and hear that some are doing exactly this in an effort to bring comfort and consolation to their people.  But that is exactly the point.  There is no comfort and consolation where confidence does not exist.  Such home communions with technology providing a live or recorded broadcast of the service and the Words of Institution put a question mark precisely where an explanation point is needed.  What are they receiving?  If we cannot answer that question with confidence from Scripture, tradition, and our Confessions, then we are mistaken in our well intended efforts to serve the people of God.  For in time of fear, panic, and anxiety, it is precisely confidence that is needed.

Adding to this is the constant assault of email, print, audio, and video to our people.  I have refrained from posting much precisely because Facebook and other platforms and overflowing with pastors broadcasting on a daily basis.  It has been our practice too direct people to the Chapel at Concordia Theological Seminary, the Word Endures Forever by Pastor Weedon, and the daily devotions of our Synod President.  There are more than enough faithful offerings for our people.  We supplement this with a liturgy or two recorded from our live services (we are holding 18 Divine Services per week with ample capacity for more than 150 to attend and still meet the recommended limit of 10!).  We send out one email a week WHEN there are changes to be noted.  I am not saying you have to do what we do here but to consider the overload of offerings being given to the faithful -- unprecedented (even though that is an overused word).  Can we keep this up after the viral threat is over?  Should we?  Will our people expect it?  Will this replace face to face contacts?  For some?  For many?

I also have a word of concern is how the recorded or live Divine Services are being received.  If our people are sitting at home with a cup of coffee in their pajamas watching the Divine Service as they would any other Facebook offering or YouTube video, we may have taught them something that we did not intend.  If you watch the Divine Service at home, dress up, put aside distractions, and give your full attention to the liturgy of  Lord's House.  If our people are subjected to weeks, perhaps months, of watching at home with a casual attitude toward their outward and inward preparation to hear the Word of God, we have not helped them mature in their life of faith and prayer.  In essence, we will have taught them that what happens in worship is no different that the cute meme on Facebook or the funny YouTube video and that worship itself is basically a spectator sport.  Is that what we intend to do?  Then it would help our people if we encouraged them to watch with the same attitude and posture they would if they were in the Lord's House.

So perhaps you will fault me for raising these concerns but I know from experience what it takes to unteach something you did not mean to teach.  Extraordinary times require extraordinary courage, strength, and faithfulness on the part of both pastor and people.  What they do not require is the kind of innovation which may suggest that live streaming is an apt substitute for being together in the Lord's House or holding up your bread and wine to the screen at home is the same as Holy Communion or that the constant stream of communications will continue when the day comes and the doors to the churches will open again and life will, hopefully, continue as it was -- at least with respect to our lives of faith and worship!  My appeal, therefore, is to make sure that what we are doing in time of pandemic does not become another problem we must deal with when the pandemic and panic ends.  Faithfulness is still the primary expectation of those who lead the churches and of those who sat in the pews -- especially when times preclude our weekly meeting together in the Lord's House (as Hebrews reminds).


John Joseph Flanagan said...

I don't think many of us view video worship and sermons casually, even if we are home in our pajamas. I have sometimes gone to a live LCMS service where the pastor himself was too casual, in my opinion, delivering jokes and monologues about his personal life instead of trying to focus seriously on the word of God. I have seen a certain casual attitude during live services and wondered if I was in church at all, or is the new era we live in becoming a time to discard formality as a horrible form of antiquity. While receiving communion one Sunday, the young lady dispensing the host was wearing "daisy duke" short shorts at the altar, and although it was a warm day, it seemed too casual for me. Watching a serious sermon on video can be a good experience so long as we do not treat it casually. There are many teaching resources for Christians, and they are available. We also have our Bibles, which we should read daily, and our prayers should be unceasing during our short (relatively soeaking) lives on earth. We have the hymns and songs of faith on CD's, streaming, and YouTube. Our spiritual lives in the Lord can still be as vigirous as we make it. But we do need to assemble and receive the sacraments, and by the grace of God, this dark time will pass eventually, and we will be back in our churches again. Soli Deo Gloria.

Norb Huber said...

I totally agreed. Sitting in my living room does not replace the gathering of fellow believers for worship. Not attending worship services these past two Sundays has been the biggest challenge me and my family has faced in our Christian faith here in America. Watching worship on a screen is like watching a football game.
Thanks for putting into words my very thoughts.

Blessings, Norb Huber.
Rocklin, CA

Carl Vehse said...

Tele-Communion, LCMS Texas District style - In a March 26thFacebook video, Rev. Bill Tucker, pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church (LCMS), San Antonio, is telling his (church member or any other) viewers how they can prepare for communion by setting up some bread and wine or grape juice and then at the video service, they can watch and hear him over the internet give the words of institution, which they can repeat, and they can take communion right there in their own homes.

On March 28th some woman posted to Concordia's Facebook page a photo, with the caption, "Ready for communion," showing with two half-filled goblets and three home-made crackers.

And Concordia-San Antonio responded, "Awesome! Thank you for sharing with us. God bless you."

Carl Vehse said...

Tele-Communion, LCMS Northwest District style - To keep up with the growing (and apparently ecclesiastically non-supervised) LCMS trend for internet-remote communion, Rev. Tim Bayer of Our Savior Lutheran Church (LCMS), Tacoma, WA, in his Communion video, is telling (church member or any other) viewers that in his internet church service he will be tele-consecrating the elements for communion by those watching the internet service at home.

Martin R. Noland said...

Dear Pastor Peters,

Thanks for your excellent, carefully reasoned thoughts on this problem. You may not have seen this recent CTCR document that I thought also handled the problem well:

Another resource, though not easily available, is the Th.D. dissertation of Edward F. Peters "The Origin and Meaning of the Axion 'Nothing has the Character of a Sacrament Outside of the Use' in Sixteenth Century and Seventeenth Century Lutheran Theology" (1968, Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis), which includes analysis of Luther, Confessions, Melanchthon, and Chemnitz.

The basic rule is stated in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, VII, section 73 "there is no sacrament apart from the instituted use." In other words, you may have some pious ritual, but no sacrament, if your practice is "apart from the instituted use."

Lutherans have never questioned whether the communion of the individual sick in person by their pastor is "instituted use." All have accepted that practice. All have accepted certain cases of "necessity," where a layman may be invited by a congregation to celebrate and serve when no other pastor may be found. All other divergences from the celebration of the Lord's Supper by the pastor with his congregation present have been questioned, even condemned.

"Tele-communion" in time of a temporary quarantine is not "instituted use" and is not a "necessity" according to Lutheran theology. Therefore it is not a sacrament.

Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

Cliff said...

While I don't disagree with the sentiments/concerns expressed, there is a positive side to all this as well. At our local church service this morning there were a couple of congregants who haven't darkened the church doors for years, and including some shutins. While the Eucharist was not distributed, the Word of the Lord was proclaimed, including an excellent uplifting sermon.

We tend to put God in a box at times, and limit His ability to reach His people and spread that love that Jesus gave on the cross. Remember, He is an omnipotent omnipresent God. "His word will endure forever"!

Anonymous said...

The Powers That Be have learned that they can shut down religious gatherings under the guise of protecting the public health.

The annual Right to Life march in Washington occurs in January, which is in the middle of flu season. Anyone on this board want to speculate on the likelihood that the left-wing mayor of Washington, DC will deny a permit for the march (or require that it be scaled down drastically) on the ground of "protecting public health" ?

As for me, I'm sure that after the Supreme Court reviews the hundreds of lawsuits filed by churches across the nation arguing that a limitation on religious gatherings is a violation of the First Amendment and declares such limitations to be unconstitutional, that no governmental body will attempt to limit religious gatherings.

What's that? You say that no churches have filed lawsuits contesting the ban on religious gatherings as a violation of their constitutional rights?

Never mind.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters,


The sentiment is nice, but this is quite impractical:

I've tried this now and I'm not going to become the enforcer commanding my family to sing and stand during the service when that is something they have hitherto always been happy to do.

The lack of embodiment here is a real problem. Television is a passive medium that more or less commands passive activity.

Hebrews 10:24-25 is some essential stuff.


Janis Williams said...

The Sacrament is not if it is not received from the hand of Christ’s minister. “Take, eat/Take, drink.” Don’t happen with someone at their kitchen table with a piece of bread and a sip of wine.

How strange is it that the Church is now in exile not because of Babylon, but because of a virus called “COVID?”