Sunday, January 23, 2022

Rigid uniformity. . .

Often it is presumed that those who advocate for the liturgy are in reality advocating for a rigid uniformity that turns adiaphora things into law.  The Spirit's fruit is diversity in which the local defines and delineates for the moment and in the moment.  Everything else is legalistic and dead.  Strangely enough, the same battles that characterize the Lutheran worship wars are playing out right now in Rome.  Vatican II, which agreed with Luther, said: “Even in the liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not implicate the faith or the good of the whole community” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, §37).  But neither adiaphora nor Rome's indulgence of the parish priest's whims could have envisioned the day when worship would become the free for all it has.  Yet that is where we are.  Lutherans are all over the page and Rome is right there with us.  The genie is out of the bottle and nobody knows how to put it back.  Diversity has become the goal and not the glory of the Lord or the fruits of His redeeming work distributed to His people through Word and Sacrament.  It is as if Christ is spectator along with those in the audience who think that participation means enjoyment and not faith.

Rome has complicated the whole thing with its turn against the Extraordinary Form.  They have established a tradition of preference and narrowed their uniformity to a particular expression of their tradition.  They have advocates of the oldest form who disdain the legacy of Vatican II as promulgated by Bugnini and Paul VI.  There is one tradition that is sanctioned and that is it.  So Rome has an internal battle going on.  Lutherans are also in danger of it.  Some among us have decided that the 1941 hymnal represents the gold standard and that the order which owes its roots to the modern liturgical movement is suspect.  Worship wars have fought over the forms for too long.  This long ago ceased to be a skirmish over forms and is instead a battle for the heart and soul of Christianity. 

There is a greater enemy.  The enemy is not uniformity but diversity -- a diversity in which a confession no longer has any integrity or power over what happens on Sunday morning.  Whether or not you are sympathetic for diversity or uniformity, you must admit that Christianity cannot have multiple faces on Sunday morning.  There is a place for adjustment to local circumstance, to be sure.  No particular place or time is the pristine moment or golden era to be repristinated upon one congregation or another.  But there must be enough uniformity so that the family identity shines through.  Whether you call it the ordo or any other term, the reality is that there is a basic shape and form, a pattern of words, and an identity that connects through time.  What is done locally is not simply a matter of not departing from this ordo but also not conflicting with it.  This means not only the integrity of form but also the music and ceremonial cannot compete with the form.  It needs to work together like a seamless garment -- the readings appointed, the preaching, the hymns, the Eucharist.  So often these things betray themselves and the whole, acting as disjointed preferences.

Rigid uniformity is the straw man laid up against those who hold to the liturgy.  In reality it is the diverse who are rigid in their uniformity that in worship nothing really matters because nothing is really happening at all.  It is merely the moment, merely the preference, merely the pleasure, merely the entertainment.  It is as if we were entertaining ourselves to death -- oh, wait, somebody else beat me to that phrase.  That is what Rome missed and what we Lutherans have overlooked. The screen can only replace in person if nothing is real and nothing is really there to receive -- if it lives only in the imagination or in the feelings of the heart.  That is what threatens us.  This is the most rigid uniformity of all.  It is all about me.


Anonymous said...

Pastor, can you elaborate your thoughts on how the move towards introducing an extraordinary form of Lutheran liturgical practice that is unrecognizable from the pews as the Lutheran tradition, as promoted in videos such as “The Form of the Divine Service,” contributes to a lack of uniformity in LCMS liturgical worship.

“I've grown concerned, once more, that we have at work in our Synod an overreaction to how some have moved away, in some cases nearly completely, from the the historic form of Lutheran worship. I've posted several times on the problems in moving away from historic Lutheran worship and practices. But I also see a problem with what I regard as a rigidity that has set in, in some circles, when it comes to what I'll call a "hyper-ritualization" of the Lutheran Liturgy. It is happening because of a well-intentioned desire to resist the movement to abandon the historic liturgy altogether, but it is not a measured reaction. It is over-reaction.

I think some are are getting too concerned about Medieval-era Roman Catholic rubrics calling, for example, for a pastor to hold his fingers in a certain position, in a certain way, "just so" when performing the liturgy. It is this kind of hyper-ritualization of all things having to do with worship and liturgy that is about the best formula I can imagine for turning people away from the liturgy. The better way is to "say the black, do the red" as contained in the hymnals and its companion volumes, not trying to "one up" the church's accepted worship resources.

Excerpted from the June 19, 2008, Cyberbrethren article, "The Dangers of Hyper-Ritualizing Lutheran Worship Or: Why 'Say the black, do the red' is the wisest course."

Pastor Peters said...

I think my old and now sainted friend Paul McCain was simply mistaken in his fear. The rigid are those who insist that everything we do on Sunday morning must fit a program or paradigm. The steady drumbeat in our Synod is not for a fuller liturgical expression but for the abandonment of the liturgy in favor of seek worship. You know that. Everyone in Synod knows that. No liturgical congregations had online communion or Jesus through the mail or drive through Sacrament. Steve, be real. Contemporary non-liturgical worship is largely the domain of larger congregations and is found especially in some larger districts of the Synod. Liturgical folks like me are not the ones who try to button down everything to a lock step uniformity but the anti-liturgical crowd -- be they contemporary or minimalistic hymnal folks -- constantly agitate against the Lutheran-ness of the more liturgical strain. History consistently proves that a more liturgical Lutheran expression of the Divine Service is fully Lutheran in history and heritage. Lets face it. Most liturgical folks like me would be giddy if the evangelicals would even follow and minimalistic outline of the Divine Service in LSB. We are not rigid about how somebody holds hands or chants like you think but are confident that where the liturgy is the norm, reverence and appreciation for a fuller ceremonial will be the natural result. And that is probably why so many get so agitated against people like me.

Anonymous said...

I hear you, but you’re making the leap from the traditional liturgicalness of Lutheran worship to an appreciation for the fuller ceremonialism of hyper-ritualized worship. The two are not the same, nor does one lead to the other. One flows from the liturgical traditions of the Lutheran Church which are grounded in doctrine, while the other flows from a desire to emulate the church catholic while fudging an uncomfortable alliance between liturgy and doctrine that privileges liturgy when the two come into conflict. Sasse pointed out this weakness (he would have hyperbolically called it a “danger”) when warning Lutherans who championed the liturgical movement of allowing the liturgy to lead doctrine, rather than doctrine defining the liturgy.

To use McCain’s example of holding the fingers together just so during communion, this is a practice that stems from the doctrine of transubstantiation. Confessional Lutherans reject transubstantiation. So a Lutheran pastor that “appreciates the fuller ceremonial” of holding the fingers just so during communion is actually following a practice that the Lutheran Church rejected precisely because the doctrine behind it is not Lutheran.