This evening one of my confirmation students gave me a bulletin from another LCMS church. In today's parlance it would probably be called a "blended" service. However, as I reviewed the order of the service I strained to find the actual order of the historic Mass, not to mention the content of that ancient service. True, one could find 'hints' of it in designated readings, in a confession (without a real absolution), and in other sections. Yet, in the end it was not the order handed down to us. It was created for one particular church in one particular place, as far as I could tell.
In the Missouri Synod today this is not uncommon at all and it is tearing at our unity. I fear that what binds us now is simply a corporate identity and some doctrinal statements. The words of our worship, the expression of our living faith, are so different from one church to the next one would be hard pressed at times to know we are from an identical church body.
A conflict has brewed for some time in our midst about these matters, and the more we discuss it the more we seem to drift apart. Someone who went traveling across the country could easily enter two different LCMS churches and find each so far from the other as to seem as if they were completely different confessions altogether.
Sanctuaries have been replaced by worship spaces. Hymnals have been pushed to the side with large screen to take their place. Robes are hung in the closet in favor of a more casual, approachable attire. The theology of our worship has transformed from one church to the next. We print and publish books on the subject in our publishing company, but the actual practiced theology in our churches lacks any consistency at all.
Which brings me now to the title of this post. Why is it important for our churches to use the historical liturgy in our hymnals? Prosper of Aquitane's famous dictum applies still: lex orandi lex credendi, or "the law of worshiping founds the law of believing." What we pray on Sunday morning will ultimately inform what the church believes and confesses. The act of crafting and creating new worship settings each week communicates to those in the pew a lack of continuity and consistency in what we confess. It betrays as well a lack of humble respect for what generations of Christians have handed down. We can do better than they did. Their faith is not relevant any longer. And given a word processor I can easily put together a setting of worship equal to anything the Church has practiced in the past.
I find it interesting that as a country we would be loathe to allow anyone to rewrite the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem. These words unify us and are part of our cultural identity. Yet when it comes to the Church even the Creed is subject to revision. Over the years I have been in the ministry I have seen everything rewritten at one time or another: the Creed, the confession of sins, the Invocation, etc. What words unify us as a Church?
Dr. Arthur Just said that two words define how we should approach worship in the Church: reverence, not relevance, fidelity, not innovation. Yet relevance and innovation do characterize much of what is done in Lutheran churches today. And what does that communicate? Worship adapts to our perceived emotional needs. Worship must always adapt to be able to communicate. There is no durability to our words. Change is the defining word of our futures. It is hard to communicate the "Jesus Christ is the same today, yesterday and forever" if the words we use to pray and praise in His name never remain the same. Where is the discernment to critique the culture rather adopting it so uncritically?
In a world that is changing so rapidly, people need some consistency, some reminder that there is something that endures. The wrapping around our fast food burgers is disposable, but should our worship be as well? I have lived long enough now to see the trends of my youth come full circle. The bell bottoms I thought died as the 80's dawned have returned along with tie-dye shirts. And yet the trends are not the same, but transformed by a new era, so they are different than what I knew decades ago. The sanctuary where I hear the familiar ancient words once repeated by my predecessors in the faith gives a stable center for this swirling pool of change that I must navigate during the rest of the week. I feel bonded to the generations that came before. There really is a sense of that vision in Revelation of the myriads upon myriads of believers from every nation and tribe and people and language. In the Divine Service they are there and they are one, for their language now is transformed into a single tongue.