Saturday, December 10, 2022

Like a duck....

Honestly I grow weary of explaining to people it is not simply a matter of taste or preference or high culture or low and certainly not mission vs maintenance.  When we as Lutherans countenance different Sunday morning rites (by this I do NOT mean different page numbers in LSB but the difference between non or anti-liturgical worship and liturgical), we are encouraging different churches and different faiths within the same jurisdiction and even within the same congregation (when multiple styles of worship are offered).

Worship wars are not about worship.  Lex orandi lex credendi is not about which drives the other (orandi or credendi) but how they are intertwined and affect one another.  Change how we pray and you will change what we believe.  Change how we worship and you will change what we believe.  Change what we sing and you will change what we believe.  It was and has always been a concern for the faith of the faithful.  It was never about the vestments worn or not or if the pastor faces the people or the altar or pipe organ or guitar or screens or hymnals or tympani or bongos or anything like that.  Those things are themselves manifestations of a different faith.  When we decide that whether the Divine Service or not what makes it Lutheran is somebodies intention, we have turned the faith into something theoretical instead of something practical.  Nobody confuses eating prime rib at a fancy downtown restaurant with  munching down a Krystal burger while driving in the car.  Fast food is its own culture -- whether you like it or not.  The table with a linen cloth and heavy silver and fine china is its own culture -- whether you admit it or not.  Liturgical worship and evangelical style seeker service contemporary worship are different cultures and end up manifesting different churches in the end.

The problem is not primarily what is done but why and what end it manifests for those doing it.  We in the Missouri Synod have decided that non-liturgical worship and liturgical worship are both legitimate expressions of our confession.  No, we did not vote on it in Convention or legislate it into being through constitution or bylaw.  We did it by remaining silent when congregations abandoned liturgy and hymnal to invent their own form of worship (which bore little resemblance to our Lutheran liturgical tradition).  We did it by imagining that you can keep the faith as an idea while worshiping with a form that fails to express that idea or even perhaps conflicts with it.  We did it by presuming the adiaphora applied to everything and meant that anything we chose to do was just as legitimate and faithful as what had been handed down to us.  What has been missed is that we have created different churches as a result (and different congregations within the same building).  The people who do to one format will not go to another, do not know the order or liturgy or words or songs of the other.  Even more, without the liturgy, the faith itself is different -- not rooted or flowing from the means of grace but appealing to and finding its home in emotion, entertainment, and enthusiasm.  

The old expression says "if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck." Everyone knows this.  So if the way you worship has more in common with Evangelicalism or mainline Protestantism or the Baptists, the world will judge you that and they will be correct -- despite your protests.  The sermon alone does not make something Lutheran.  A fine Lutheran sermon within such a non-liturgical form of worship cannot baptize the rest of what is there to make it and the people using it formally Lutheran.  

The reason why the old church buildings were so large is not simply that they planned for the Christmas and Easter crowd.  They had only one Sunday service.  Everyone was together in the same place at the same time for the same liturgy and sermon.  It is a modern invention to have multiple services at multiple times and it is even more modern to have multiple styles of worship at those different times.  Sometimes they even occur simultaneously in different parts of the same building.  But the people are not confused.  They will not attend where there is room but only where it fits their preference.  In days of old our parishes had a different fellowship because they were together weekly as a whole and they had a different understanding of their confession and faith because they experienced it in the same liturgy and it the same place on a weekly basis.  All of that has been turned upside down.  Even when the liturgy is identical but offered at different times (as in my parish), the fellowship is divided.  When what happens at those different times is different, the faith believed and confessed becomes different.  It may not be by design but it is inevitable.

If we find it hard to manage these different churches within the same denominational structure, how can we manage these different congregations within the same building?  While I do worry about the division over preference, I am more worried that we are developing two different theological identities in our church body and in congregations that offer multiple styles of worship. Once that has happened, how do you ever get back a common sense of identity, confession, and piety?

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