Monday, July 27, 2020

Exception or the rule. . .

No one, including me, would dispute the fact that most Lutheran congregations are but moderately liturgical.  Most of the large congregations are barely liturgical and some intentionally anti-liturgical.  Even the ordinary and typical congregation that uses the hymnal and follows the liturgy (mostly) is not necessarily liturgical in that the liturgy is not the beating heart and lively soul of the parish or its people.  I will freely admit that the parish I serve is more than rare.  Ask any member who moves away and they will tell you the difficulty they have in finding something even close.

So does that mean that the rule of Lutheranism is to tolerate the liturgy without being shaped by it?  Does it mean that the norm of Lutheranism is a liturgical minimalism to varying degree and those who follow the book and the rubrics and the historical ceremonial are the oddities of our Lutheran identity?

Well, that depends.  It depends on whether you would read the modern ambivalence to things liturgical into the texts of our Lutheran Symbols or whether you read the Lutheran Symbols from within the liturgical life from which they were born.  It depends on whether or not you view the Liturgy of the Word as normative with the Liturgy of the Sacrament as an occasional add on or whether or not you understand the Divine Service to be ONLY Word AND Sacrament.  It depends on whether you think that only those things explicitly approved and commanded in the documents of our Lutheran identity need to be taken seriously or that the Confessions merely describe current practices without attaching any expectation that these continue in the life of those who subscribe to those Confessions.

The arguments will continue but it is my belief that Lutheranism which is lived out in the fullest liturgical and ceremonial life that can be used without compromising the Gospel IS the rule, the norm, the expectation of the documents that confess who we are.  Lutheranism never viewed any aspect of the faith confessed or lived out liturgically as matters indifferent or preferences to be determined by the congregation.  Lutheranism never viewed a lite version of the doctrine or life of the Church to be a legitimate or authentic expression of its own self-understanding and identity.

Funny, however, how quickly we Lutherans sit in judgment over others based on what happens on Sunday morning but we somehow presume that style (Sunday morning) can be separated from substance (Confessions) and that neither presumes the other.  So liberals can be as liturgical as possible and creedal without expecting that they should or need to believe the words they say or ritual and piety they live out within the liturgical life of the parish.  They can love carrying a Gospel Book around without believing what the words literally say.  In the same way, conservatives can fight like cats and dogs over every word on the page of Scripture but turn up their nose to the idea of carrying a Gospel Book in procession or bowing the head to it as it passes by.  That is sheer goofiness and we deserve to be called out for it whether it happens among the high church liberals who shrink from the reality of the words they speak or the low church conservatives who believe all that fuss is not only unnecessary but unhelpful to the true worship of faith.

Lest we think we are alone, Rome is in the same conundrum.  The solemnity of the Extraordinary Form stands in stark contrast to the out of tune praise bands and Marty Haugen tunes of the typical parish.  Apparently the folks in Novus Ordo have read the rubrics of EF because they do not speak the responses, chant the ordinary, or sing the hymns and, in too many parishes, they talk through the Mass as if nothing important were happening before them.  I could go on but I think you get my drift.

So what are we to do?  Shall we normalize the median or average parish?  Or should we work within our ability to bring every place up to the high goals of the full Divine Service?  Do we expect folks within even liturgical communions to choose a parish on the basis of personal preference or do we work to make personal preference as absent as possible from the liturgical life of all churches of the same confession?  Is the fuller liturgical life the exception or the rule?  Is the minimal liturgical life or none at all the exception or the rule?  Do our Confessions expect something on Sunday morning or do they inform little of what we do or how we do it in the Sunday service?


Janis Williams said...

I vote for being fully liturgical. I have been a Lutheran now for 11 years. I did not grow up in formal liturgy (though by the simple definition of the word, even Baptists have a liturgy). I can say now that I NEVER grow tired of learning new things about the whys and wherefores of the Liturgy. I hear the words of the Collects (and pray my, “amen” with them), I NEVER want to skim over the words of the Creeds or the Our Father. There are so many rich gifts in the Liturgy (drawn from the Word), I never will fully know all I am receiving there. Why, why, WHY do some Lutherans want to impersonate Baptists? Why do they want to leave behind God’s gifts to us for the things that many contemporary churches are abandoning?’

The inheritance is huge, the fortune beyond measure.

Janis Williams said...

An additional thought. Liturgy is not just weekly on Sundays. It is a daily possibility, with good resources like The Treasure of Prayer from Concordia Publishing. They even have a personal-sized copy (if you can read the print!), and an app,: Pray Now. Shameless plug for our church bookstore, and for Concordia Publishing House.