Sunday, September 26, 2021

You have no style. . .

I overheard a conversation in which one pastor said to another with reference to vestments, "That's not my style."  I get it.  He had not grown up with a pastor vested for the Divine Service and he was uncomfortable about it for himself.  Maybe it is not his style, or the style he grew up with.  We have all been there.  I grew up a pastor in black academic dress and was the one who came home wide eyed after seeing my first surplice and stole.  But is style the primary reason for vestments or liturgical practice?

Some would say that a pastor ought to do what is natural to him because it is not good for him to be uncomfortable with vestments or liturgical practice that is foreign to him.  Some would insist that the pastor needs to be free to wear and do what is authentic to him -- that it is never good for a pastor to have to preside or preach in a way that is not authentic or natural or comfortable to him.  Actually, every pastor ought to be uncomfortable leading the Divine Service -- at the very least early on in their ministry.  That discomfort is a salutary thing because it reminds the pastor it is not about him but about the Word and Sacraments of the Lord.  We are on holy ground here and what we do and how we do it is not simply directed to the people who are being served but to the God who works through these means of grace.  The pastor's primary concern ought not to be what is natural or authentic to him or his style but what serves the means of grace and reflects our confession.  Comfort at the altar and in the pulpit come not from being who you are but from practice -- from doing what God has called you to do through His Church.  You do not bring authenticity or naturalness or comfort to the altar or pulpit, the altar and pulpit are what is most authentic and natural to the Lord and our comfort and peace.

It is a very different perspective from the pulpit and altar than it is from the pews.  You face a role and a responsibility that you only realize as you are placed in the position of leading God's people in prayer and praise and serving them with His gifts.  But the idea that things are not your style is not a good one.  When you lead the Divine Service, you have no style.  Let me say that again.  Pastors have NO personal style.  It is the liturgy that has style -- not the pastor.  That said, I am not saying that everyone has to look like me on Sunday morning but there is no room for what is done or how it is done to be determined by preference or comfort level or what feels natural.  We owe it to God and to the people of God NOT to act according to our style when leading them in worship.  It is not natural to be in the presence of God but gift and blessing -- we are always standing on the holy ground and reminded that this is not our natural place but a place of alien grace and extraordinary blessing.  It is called reverence.

It is the liturgy that has the style.  It is our Confession that informs that.  Adiaphora was never meant to reflect the personal taste of the pastor or localized custom of the individual congregation.  It simply meant that custom, ceremony, and ritual could not bind the conscience with a Word of God that God had not spoken.  It did not mean that what was called adiaphora was unimportant.  In fact our Confessions say repeatedly that we value, preserve, and encourage ceremony, ritual, church usages, and tradition and will not abandon these for any reason less than doctrine but neither will we require them as condition of unity.  In fact, at the time of these words liturgical uniformity was a given within a jursidiction and did not differ by congregation but only between jurisdictions.  It was not then nor was it ever intended to be as local as an individual pastor or congregation.  Lutheranism did not see itself as congregational in that sense.  But that is what we have come to define adiaphora as and now we find ourselves at a point where the decision of what to do and how to do it upon the shallow and flimsy rationale of style or preference -- either the pastor or the people.

Pastors have no style in worship.  They lead God's people with a focus not on them or their own preference or style but upon the Lord, His Word, His sacramental gifts, and the reverence due being in the presence of the Most High God.  For a pastor to suggest that he does this or does not do that because that is not who he is would be the height of arrogance.  Pastors wear vestments to dilute their personal identity and focus the people on their offices and the gifts and graces God bestows upon the people of God through those good offices.  There had better be a more important reason than personal style or preference for the choices any pastor makes on what is done and how it is done on Sunday morning.  Either we as pastors reflect the fullness of the liturgical tradition that Confessions presume, or we need to have a better reason than "that's just not my style."  If that is our reason for the vestments we wear or do not, the liturgical practices we follow or do not, and the reverence we show or do not, then we are subjecting our people at the tyranny of our own preferences and justifying their own use of preference over doctrine and truth to determine what church fits them.

For people in the pew, the goal is not to find a church that fits them but a congregation where the Word of God is preached and taught purely and faithfully and where the Sacraments of Christ are administered faithfully and rightly.  Choosing a church home is not shopping for lounge wear or a comfortable pair of knock around shoes.  Pastors have the same duty and obligation not to bow to preference or comfort -- even their own.  Christ is the guarantor of authenticity and not our style.  The pastor models the fullness of the rite so that people see the riches of the liturgical and ceremonial tradition that is our heritage and confession.  The Augsburg Confession clearly preserves both rite and ritual in the face of those who would have ditched both.  What could not be done then to preserve our confessional identity dare not become our excuse or justification today.  We had better be on more solid ground than comfort, style, authenticity, or preference in deciding what to wear or what to do in the Divine Service (and this includes those who have decided to abandon the liturgy altogether!).  

Pastor, you do not have a style that needs or should be reflected in your preaching or presiding.  You are a servant of the Word and Sacrament and an instrument of God within the Divine Service (itself mostly Scripture said and sung).  People, you do not seek out a church that is a good fit for you but one where the Gospel is rightly preached, where the Scriptures are the norm of is believed and confessed, and where the Sacraments are rightly administered according to Christ's own institution.  Lutherans do not disdain tradition or the liturgical heritage before us or the reverence due the honor of His name -- quite the opposite.  Scripture and liturgy are our style on both sides of the altar rail.  Ceremonies teach and confess.  What we do, as well as what we say, teaches and confesses.  Whether within the Divine Service to those assembled or before the watching world, we owe the Lord more than to raise up preference, style, comfort, or personal authenticity as that which defines who we are and what we do on Sunday morning. 


1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

A mind willing and open to learning can, in my experience receive far more of the things of God through liturgy. There is more of Holy Scripture, more of God’s presence, and less of men’s influence there. There are many distractions in non-liturgical, non-sacramental churches. In sacramental churches, there is a lot going on, a lot of action and response in the Divine Service, culminating in the Eucharist. It concentrates the mind. C.S. Lewis was right about non-liturgical services; one is constantly wondering, “what’s that fellow going to do or say next?” With liturgy, there are no surprises other than the amazement that comes knowing God is present, and is giving Himself to undeserving sinners.