Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Nice Quote Concerning Contemporary vs. Traditional Worship

Every now and then one finds a succinct statement about worship worth repeating.  This one was found on the website of the Anglican Catholic Church:
While contemporary worship may entertain, it also tends to isolate us from the historic and universal Church by reflecting back to us our own culture and tastes.  The Anglican tradition emphasizes the timeless nature of Christian worship.  Our liturgy (literally "work of the people") encourages us not only to know the Jesus of the Bible, but to experience Him through the sacramental life, drawing us out of our narrow and self-contained existence and into the loving presence of God.

My summary:
  • Contemporary worship reflects us back to our own culture and tastes.  It is therefore bound to a small range of experiences and personal desires and not reflective of the communion of saints throughout time. 
  • Traditional, thus liturgical worship, emphasizes the timeless nature of Christian worship.  It never becomes 'dated' but transcends trends. 
  • Traditional worship allows us to experience Christ through the sacramental life of the church.
  • This sacramental life draws us out of our narrow and self-contained existence, for it includes us in the communion of the one, holy, and catholic church.  

Preaching the Kingdom of God

Preaching the Kingdom of God presents a unique challenge to the preacher.  This challenge arises not because the concept lacks clear and sufficient reference in Holy Scripture, but rather due to its understanding in the mind of the modern hearer, especially the American hearer who has no connection with a functioning royalty or monarchial rule.  Instead, the modern hearer may encounter the word “king” more in connection with its secondary definition, namely “one that holds a preeminent position; especially : a chief among competitors.”[1]  Thus, in hearing the word “king” the hearer might associate the word with an eating establishment (e.g.: Burger King) or a famous singer (e.g.: Elvis Presley, king of Rock of Roll; Michael Jackson, king of Pop), or the famous late 20th century civil right leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Then again, a younger hearer familiar with the film trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings, where they encounter kings in a surreal quasi-medieval setting similar to other fantasy literature, may have yet another concept quite different still.   All said the preacher is faced with a variety of potential perceptions in the minds of his hearers.  Older members will hold one image, younger another.  The challenge comes in finding a way to convey the biblical image accurately and in a way the hearer can understand and apply. This Lent I will be putting together a series of sermons entitled "Thy Kingdom Come," which will examine the variety of references to Jesus as king and his proclamation of the Kingdom of God/Heaven.  My interest in doing this comes partially from the fact that the Kingdom of God features so prominently in Holy Scripture. The Kingdom of God forms a central theme of Holy Scripture, especially in the gospels. “Everywhere the Kingdom of God is on [Jesus’] lips,” John Bright notes. Indeed, the “burden of Jesus’ preaching was to announce the Kingdom of God; that was the central thing with which he was concerned.[2]  Thus, it is not surprising that a preacher encounters this theme frequently in the appointed lections from Advent through Easter, and certainly elsewhere.  

So, how does the preacher most effectively proclaim Jesus as king and the arrival of the Kingdom of God in a culture that has such a different conception of these themes?  That will be a question I will wrestle with his Lent.... 

[2] John Bright, The Kingdom of God: The Biblical Concept and Its Meaning For the Church (New York: Abingdon Press, 1953), 17.

[1] Miriam-Webster online dictionary:

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Challenges of Rural and Small Town Ministry

My district president recently invited me to take part in the recent leadership meetings held throughout the area.  As one of the participants from the district to attend the first national convention of the Rural and Small Town Mission of the LCMS held in Storm Lake, IA at the beginning of November, I addressed concerns and resources concerning the unique challenges facing this demographic.  For 12 years now I have served a parish in a decidedly rural setting, and therefore I was able to bring a personal perspective to the discussions.  The groups that joined me for the three mini-workshops ranged from 4-10 or more, not a huge crowd, but an interesting mix.  We discussed the various challenges facing rural and small town settings and found common ground, despite our varying situations.  Although far from an expert on this subject, I am beginning to get a better 'feel' for what faces us.  Some of the ideas I am accumulating along the way....
  • The need to overcome territorialism and combine resources for programs we cannot do on our own.  E.g.: VBS. 
  • The need to prepare the next generation of pastors to be open and better equipped for bi-vocational ministry.  We will be increasingly unable to support full-time clergy in many of these smaller churches.
  • The willingness to recognize the changing demographic and how we can reach out to it.  E.g.: the rise of Hispanic populations in rural settings. 
  • The need to adjust to an increasingly aging population at large as well as in our smaller parishes.  We have know for some time that the 'baby boomers' would create quite the impact on our country and its structure.  Are we prepared to care for this aging demographic?
  • The willingness to make the hard decisions about the viability of smaller parishes that are in irreversible decline.  Dual and tri-point arrangements will become increasingly common.  Should some parishes become "preaching stations"?  And then the big question: when do we close a church and share the remaining resources with others in the area?
  • How will the changes in the agricultural community ultimately impact our rural congregations originally founded to serve this group?  Can they adapt?  And are we aware that even as this group declines there is growth in other areas?  Small towns and rural communities are not dying.  They are changing.  
Well, that's just a few thoughts in the morning as I prepare to go to the office. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Was Our Worship Formal From the Beginning? A Quote from Massey Shepherd

Some would like to believe that in the beginning the church worshiped with minimal structure and form.  Today's churches that utilize casual formats for worship no doubt think that they are attempting to reach the world in a way no so different than the Early Church.  An insightful quote from the liturgical scholar Dr. Massey Shepherd offers a corrective:

The customs of worship among the Jews in the days of our Lord were very formal and liturgical, whether in the temple sacrifices, the Sabbath services of the synagogue, or even in the domestic rites of the home about the family table.  It is only natural that the forms and ideas of these Jewish liturgies, which nourished and blessed our Lord and His first disciples, should have been carried over into the worship of the Church. The Old Testament and its Psalms, the festivals of Passover and Pentecost, sacred meals, initiatory baptisms, confessions of faith in one God, forms of thanksgiving and of benediction, and, above all, the conception of true sacrifice as a humble and humble and contrite heart - all these things passed over from Judaism into Christian worship. --The Worship of the Church (The Seabury Press, 1952), 69.

On Flags in Churches

An interesting and informative article regarding the use of flags in the church sanctuary can be found over on the Gottesdienst site.  I would venture to guess that a majority of LCMS parishes have an American flag in the church, along with the so-called Christian flag.  The argument that the church ought not have this in a place that should point only to Jesus has warrant.  A while back our flags were moved from the inner chancel area, where they had been for years, to a different location at the front of the nave to accommodate the newer banners which looked better in the chancel area.  Admittedly I was concerned about the fallout.  Surprisingly no cry of foul occurred.  That said, I struggle with just how a pastor should handle this delicate situation.  Anyone who knows me realizes that I have been willing to suffer controversy for a worthy cause, so not taking on the flag issue cannot be attributed to cowardice.  The moving of my flags actually helped in reducing their prominence in connection with the holy things of God, and it wasn't even my original idea.  Still, should pastors take on the presence of flags in the sanctuary as their 'line in the sand' cause?  One pastor who commented on the above article resigned over a controversy connected with the display of a flag.  Personally, with all the other issues facing the modern church, flags and their removal are not high on my list.  It is certainly not the 'hill to die on,' as another overused phase notes.  Now if I was planting a new church and starting from scratch, that would be another situation.  Then, I would simply suggest the flags be omitted.  In this case there is no sacred tradition to fight.  Your thoughts?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Books I Have Recently Read, Would Like to Read, Should Read....

I always try to keep at least one book within arm's reach at all times. Sometimes I will even read that book.  At in blessed moments I even occasionally finish them.  During deer hunting this year I worked my way through most of a fascinating book by Stephen Prothero entitled Religious Literacy: What Ever American Needs to Know - And Doesn't (HarperColins, 2007).  At present I am working through an extensive glossary at the end of the book, but for all practical purposes I have finished it.  Although I initially checked it out of the local public library on a whim, my wife ended up purchasing a copy for me later.  It is one of those books I plan to reread and review.  The book description from Amazon reads as follows:
The United States is one of the most religious places on earth, but it is also a nation of shocking religious illiteracy.
  • Only 10 percent of American teenagers can name all five major world religions and 15 percent cannot name any.
  • Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that the Bible holds the answers to all or most of life's basic questions, yet only half of American adults can name even one of the four gospels and most Americans cannot name the first book of the Bible.
Despite this lack of basic knowledge, politicians and pundits continue to root public policy arguments in religious rhetoric whose meanings are missed—or misinterpreted—by the vast majority of Americans.
"We have a major civic problem on our hands," says religion scholar Stephen Prothero. He makes the provocative case that to remedy this problem, we should return to teaching religion in the public schools. Alongside "reading, writing, and arithmetic," religion ought to become the "Fourth R" of American education.
Many believe that America's descent into religious illiteracy was the doing of activist judges and secularists hell-bent on banishing religion from the public square. Prothero reveals that this is a profound misunderstanding. "In one of the great ironies of American religious history," Prothero writes, "it was the nation's most fervent people of faith who steered us down the road to religious illiteracy. Just how that happened is one of the stories this book has to tell."  

The second book I am currently working through is one I purchased for my Nook with a gift card from my daughter.  It is a classic I should have read years ago.  Written by Alexander Schmemann the title is For the Life of the World.  I believe this was first recommended to me by an orthodox priest I met several years ago on a Greyhound bus on my way back to the sem.  I was reading a copy of Athanasius' On the Incarnation, and seeing the title initiated a discussion with me.  So, if you are out there dear father, I finally go around to your recommendation!

As an addendum, I also purchased another book for my Nook that I would like to pass along to the readers.  It is actually a reference work, but one I know I will use.  This is a diglot New Testament of the Nestle-Aland 27 with the ESV.  I am aware that they have now released the 28th edition, but that was not included in the available Nook book.  You can purchase the same work through Amazon and also directly through the publisher Crossway.  It is cheaper than the one I purchased for the Nook, and seems adaptable to all e-readers.  Go here for more information. P.S. A "diglot" is a bilingual book, which in this case alternates the ESV with the Greek, verse-by-verse. 

Finally, on the list of "I need to read," I include a book that is on the bibliography of my thesis proposal (still in process, more later), that my dear wife gave to me as a birthday gift this year.  Written by Dr. Frank C. Senn (see previous blog post for additional information on the author) it is entitled Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical (Fortress Press, 1997).  This tome is nearly 750 pages, so I don't think I'll have it finished anytime soon for review. 

Well, that's it for my reading list going into the new year.....