A gazillion years ago, an older pastor sat in the pews of a very young pastor in his first parish and observed that I had an Episcopal style. I was not sure what he meant. He said he did not mean it in a derogatory fashion but neither did he say it was a positive statement. Since Episcopal style was not defined either, I was left to ponder what, if anything, this meant. Perhaps a little background. My first parish had been divided by the Charismatic Movement. When I got there, the congregation numbered hundreds on paper but a mere 50-60 were gathered on Sunday morning. On one side the Bronze Age Missourians sat and on the other the Charismatics. Both believed that if they called from the seminary, God would ensure they would get somebody like them. Both of them were disappointed when I showed up. Neither had foreseen a pastor with Eucharistic vestments chanting the Divine Service (then The Lutheran Hymnal). Unwittingly I had united them in opposition to me. Although I did not change what I did (following the rubrics and Arthur Carl Piepkorn and Paul H. D. Lang and the like), I did begin teaching why this was not my preference but the consistent application to the liturgy of what we as Lutherans said we believed in our Confession. It literally took years. Even through the introduction of a new hymnal (Lutheran Worship). Finally at some point it began to click with people. I was not promoting a personal style that would be replaced by another but leading them as the evangelical catholic our Confessions said we were. After I left they continued in the same vein. Even when some suggested that these things might be set aside in favor of making the congregation more church friendly to Protestants or evangelicals, they continued as they had been catechized.
From the time I began as pastor of the parish I have now served almost 30 years, I did the same. There have been a few changes in the Divine Service but not that many and we have a fuller liturgical and ceremonial Eucharist than many, if not most in Missouri. But everything we do is born from our tradition and consistent with it. I am not naive enough to believe that things will go on as they have or that the nearer or late successors to me will not change what happens on Sunday morning. I hope and pray it is not to reflect their own personal style or comfort level with things liturgical. I hope and pray that they do not portray what I have done as my own personal style. I hope and pray that things will continue and a slow but deliberate evolution that befits both the liturgy itself and concern for those in the pew. I hope and pray that the direction of the evolution is toward the fuller vision of Augustana for catholic doctrine and practice and not a leaner one.
Personally, my style is dark. I would prefer a dark and musty medieval setting with solemnity that borders on the somber or dour. I would prefer a whole lot more silence and much fewer words and small talk. I would prefer people dressed in their Sunday best instead of what was comfortable. But our building is not dark or damp or medieval. Our solemnity is much more relaxed dignity or reverence than it is rigid. It is, for me, sometimes way too casual in attitude and dress. Our building is bright and cheery -- perhaps much more bright and more cheery than I am. But then it is not about me. It should not be about any pastor. We would do well to offer our people more rather than less of the rich liturgical heritage we claim. We should model the fuller ceremonial rather than a slimmed down version of what it means to be an evangelical catholic on Sunday morning. Not because taste matters but because, whether our people cross themselves or kneel or hold their hands a certain way or bow or genuflect or anything else, we need to model these because these are ever bit as much and, I would say, more Lutheran than simplified liturgy and reduced ceremonial. Nothing in our Confessions suggest that we should remove anything except that which the Gospel cannot allow -- despite our refusal to legislated these practices and that strange word adiaphora (that has come to mean que sera sera).
If you are a pastor and you say that something is or is not your style, you are not being helpful for your people and are passing on the lie that what we do on Sunday morning is personal preference. Stop it. Ceremonies confess and teach -- at least that is what we claim in our Confessions. You better have a better reason for doing what you do or not doing something than it is not me. Our job as pastors is not to impose our preferences or prejudice upon our people. We ought to be modeling the fullest rather than retreating to the least. What the hymnal offers us is at minimum what ought to be happening on Sunday morning but it is by no means the maximum. Lutheran liturgical history is fuller rather than leaner and our uniformity ought to be that we eschew personal preference rather than idolize it.
I disagree with those who say that adding things into the hymnal is the same as taking things away. Of course it is not. Lutherans elevated, rang sanctus bells, genuflected, chanted, and did so many other vaunted and faithful catholic practices over the years that to judge any moment in time as what Lutherans ought to be is disingenuous. Including the 1941 hymnal or the Common Service! Even C. F. W. Walther worried about the state of Lutheran liturgy when he looked out over the Lutherans already here. He was and is no fan of liturgical downsizing anymore than he is in favor of liturgical rule making. There ought to be a solid reason why we do or do not do what is part of that fuller liturgical history -- not simply that we like or don't. Even more foolish are those who look at Lutheran liturgical practices of the past and treat them as Roman holdovers or Romanizing tendencies. If you think the Reformation was fought over the elevation or incense, you do not have a clue what was at stake or still is. My point is this. What we do on Sunday morning should not be governed by personal preference on either side of the altar rail and should not be shaped by minimalism. Unless you are Reformed. Which Lutherans are not. If we look less like our earlier forbearers and more like Methodists or evangelicals on Sunday morning, maybe there is a problem.
Of course there were many Lutheran territories, especially in the north, who maintained most if not all traditional ceremonial forms of worship, and you are correct to note that the Augsburg Confession is at pains to stress areas of agreement between the churches, including traditional ceremonies. It is, after all, an irenic document intended to defend the Evangelicals from the charge of heresy. However, the common perception of Lutherans was not that of loyalist slightly reforming Catholics, as we can see from Luther’s preface to the Smalcald Articles, where he states, “I must tell a story. There was a doctor sent here to Wittenberg from France, who said publicly before us that his king was sure and more than sure, that among us there is no church, no magistrate, no married life, but all live promiscuously as cattle, and each one does as he pleases…”
Part of the reason for this popular perception was that Lutherans did reform both doctrine and, to varying degrees, practice in the churches. Lutheran Hesse whitewashed all churches, against Luther’s wishes. Baltic Lutherans vested only in the black “Luther robe.” Yes, the Reformation was not about incense, hats, or chanting, but please remember that no less a theologian than Martin Chemnitz would have nothing to do with the elevation. Luther wanted reform to concentrate on the pure gospel, right use of the sacraments, good works, and rectifying “disagreement between the princes and the states; usury and avarice [which] have burst in like a flood, and have become lawful, wantonness, lewdness, extravagance in dress, gluttony, gambling, idle display, with all kinds of bad habits and wickedness, insubordination of subjects, of domestics and laborers, of every trade, also the exactions [and most exorbitant selling prices] of the peasants (and who can enumerate all?) have so increased that they cannot be rectified by ten Councils and twenty Diets.”
Luther laments however that the people ignore these topics of genuine reform and focus instead on trivial adiaphora: “If such chief matters of the spiritual and worldly estates as are contrary to God would be considered in the Council, they would have all hands so full that the child’s play and absurdity of long gowns, large tonsures, broad cinctures, bishops’ or cardinals’ hats or maces, and like jugglery would in the mean time be forgotten. If we first had performed God’s command and order in the spiritual and secular estate, we would find time enough to reform food, clothing, tonsures, and surplices.”
So why not instruct our pastors in conducting the liturgy this way instead of teaching them the bare bones approach at the seminary. I know at Fort Wayne, at least, there was always a run on being the fieldworkers at Zion and Redeemer, but only a couple men a year would be assigned to either. I attended both during my fourth year off and on but other than observing the conduct of the service and celebrant I never had time to ask those pastors about the Divine Service.
But why not have them read Piepkorn, Lang, and others in class? Don't just hope that they will pick up a copy or two after seminary. I had Prof. Pless for Worship class and other than snippets of Piepkorn and Lang in our class notes we never read them. Or better yet call Petersen or one of the Gottesdienst writers to serve on the seminaries faculties?
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