Sunday, October 4, 2020

If you don't know Scripture, the liturgy is a foreign language

Part of the reason that the liturgy has fallen into disfavor among some who, by their tradition, should be liturgical, is that ignorance of the Scripture has grown.  Where ignorance of the Scripture grow, the liturgy becomes strange and alien.  Indeed, if you do not know the Scriptures, the liturgy is like a foreign language to you.  I wish I could claim credit for this astute observation but it goes back at least to St. Jerome who claimed that ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of the liturgy.  Yet that is exactly the situation we face -- not among the many outside the Church for whom ignorance of Scripture might be expected but from those who sit in the pews!

This is true not because of the obvious.  Of course, Scripture is read and preached every Sunday in the pericopes for the day.  This is not the whole of Scripture in the liturgy.  In fact, the liturgy is, in truth, prayed Scripture.  From the invocation to the benediction, one is immersed in Scripture through the words, chants, and songs of the liturgy.  From the ordinary and its weekly rhythm to the pericopes and their weekly (even daily) focus, to be in the liturgy is to be almost drowned in Scripture.  For so many Christians, accustomed to a snippet of Scripture that forms the basis for the sermon, this is often overwhelming.  For too many Christians, even the sermon is shrouded in mystery because it echoes the Scriptures.  The greatest of sermons are those in which the words of the Lord and the words of the preacher are seamless but known to the hearer because they know God's Word.

It is the same for the collects and prayers of the Church.  These are not simply wonderful creations of skilled wordsmiths but the voices of people whose prayers are drawn from the very Word of God.  It amazes me how many times I hear the echo of the readings in the collect and the prayers present me with the Scriptural word that becomes the ground of my praying and the fruitful soil that grows the petitions of my heart.  I expect that this is true for more than me.  And this is, as well, part of the reason why knowing the Word of God means knowing the liturgy and knowing how to pray and for what to pray.

The first job of the parent is to initiate the child into the language of the Scriptures so that the child hears the liturgy as the voice of God to him or her and learns to speak back to God what God has first spoken along with the Amen of faith.  From this the child learns to pray and how to pray and for what to pray.  When Jesus is asked to teach His disciples to pray, He does not respond with a formula or method but with specific words and a specific prayer.  This prayer is the heart and soul of all our prayers.  As Jesus prays, we learn to pray from Him and with Him and in His name.

It is strange that we live at a time when we could encounter Scripture more than ever and yet there is an abysmal ignorance of God's Word.  It allows for the plethora of non-denominational churches without any real confession and without a people grounded enough in God's Word to know when they are being fed food without substance.  It is not merely a matter of lies that parade as God's Word to people who don't know the difference but gobbledygook that passes for wisdom and words of substance.  Some say God laughs.  I fear He weeps at what fools we have become.  Even in confessional churches, ignorance of their own symbols and creeds along with their Scriptural illiteracy has left them a shell and a sham of their former selves.  We wear our labels as external clothing but they no longer are borne of knowledge, understanding, and conviction.  As true as this is of the Protestant and evangelical side of Christianity, it is also what makes sacramental and liturgical Christians sitting ducks for every kind of foolishness and heresy.

When people come into a liturgical church and are bidden by the words of the Divine Service to pray, praise, and give thanks, it is not simply that they have never encountered the liturgy before.  They are estranged from Scripture and its vocabulary and truth and so the liturgy becomes a new world to them -- strange to some and strangely enticing to others.  If you know Scripture, you will be liturgical.  If you do not know Scripture, the liturgy will be like a foreign language to you.  If this was true in the past, it is even more true today for the urgent issue before us is our ignorance of God's Word and our callous indifference to the cost of such ignorance.  It is not knowledge for knowledge sake but knowledge that teaches us how to worship, how to pray, and how to live as the children of God we are by baptism and faith.  There will be only a bumpy road ahead for Christianity until we learn this truth and learn again to recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd speaking to His sheep and to respond as He has spoken with faith in His words.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

I agree. Generally, some of the same professing Christians who disparage liturgical churches also dislike the Creeds. Yet, both have deep roots to scripture.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters:

Do you know of anyone who has compiled a list of the 100 greatest hymns. Not the most popular.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

my criteria for a great hymn is:

3. Dr. Richard Stuckwisch. Core Group of Congregational Hymns.
a. Good Hymns sing me to Heaven
i. Confession
ii. Properly divide Law & Gospel. Gospel predominates
iii. Christological
iv. Trinitarian
b. Bad Hymns Don’t sing you to heaven
i. Do not strengthen and preserve you to eternal life.

Anonymous said...

I have 20 like this. I need eighty more.

Paul Gerhardt

1 A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth. The guilt of sinners bearing And, laden with the sins of earth, None else the burden sharing; Goes patient on, grows weak and faint, To slaughter led without complaint, That spotless life to offer, He bears the stripes, the wounds, the lies, The mockery, and yet replies, “All this I gladly suffer.”

4. Stanza 1. Jesus does what He does because His will is aligned with that of His Father. He finds in that submission to the will of the Father complete freedom. It is the exact opposite to us when we have something we have to do. This is not to deny the struggle He had in Gethsemane. As a true human, facing the prospect of crucifixion and the terrors of death, Thy will be done. ‘Laden with the Sins of earth,’ the whole mess is on Jesus. ‘None other this burden bearing.’ He stumbled under the load. Someone else had to help God carry the cross. Sins are all on Jesus, every last one of them. If they are on him, then they are not on you. Martin Luther. Stop trying to take them back. Leave them where God put them. He puts them on the Lamb of God. He bears sin’s guilt and their shame. He bears them to set you free from them. ‘Without complaint.’ I delight to do your will, O God. (Psalm 40:6) Not like us, our doing is forced or halfhearted. The mockery, the lies. Soldiers, religious leadership. He is killed for speaking the truth. He is carrying our guilt because he is the only one who can. Sinless life. Passive and active obedience. He lived an unbroken yes to his father’s will. Martin Franzmann. Importance of active and passive obedience. Our sin has been answered for. We have a righteousness that has no flaw. No chink. (See last stanza.)

Pastor Will Weedon. Encore: The Holy Week Hymn “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth. Issues, Etc. (April 14, 2019)