Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Why It Is Important to Use the Historic Liturgy

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Sanctuaries have been replaced by worship spaces.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.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Sexuality Battle

Reading RNS this morning I noticed an article talking about how the Catholic church is trying to 'soften' its approach to gays and the gay marriage issue.  The author also talked about something we all know is here as well: a growing shift in public opinion.  Often it is the pressure from the general population that forces change more than anything else, at least in the political realm.  The president understands this well and has used the 'court of public opinion' to his advantage many times in battles with congress.

Yet the question on my mind is not whether gay marriage will be legal one day in all the states of the union.  Like many I see this as inevitable.  My question is also not how the church should respond.  Those denominations that have capitulated on this issue did so long ago.  Many conservative churches will remain opposed, although how they express that opposition may be a debated issue for the future.  An article on Richochet noted that a key issue facing the church is whether our contrary views will be afforded the equal protection of free speech, or whether the church will be legally penalized for its opposition and refusal to perform gay marriages.  I pray that this larger issue remains within the realm of the states and does not become a federal mandate.  However, tax exempt status remains an Achilles heel for the church with regard to federal law.  This, rightly observed, could disappear as a penalty for non-compliance.  Now such rhetoric may seem 'over the top' for some who feel that in the end its all about 'live and let live.'  That may be.  Yet legal rights are often seen as constitutionally defined 'inalienable rights,' like "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," rights vague enough to elude definition and allow a host of others to be included.  When the issue of collective bargaining was being debated hotly here at the Wisconsin capital, I remember well how these privileges were debated as inherent "rights" and not allowances.

The impact from today's discussions may seem years away, but as the Supreme Court now discusses it we are reminded that tomorrow is today.  Coupled with the tide of public opinion the future now presents a far different picture, one we can't entirely bring into focus, but one that is vastly different than the one our forefathers envisioned.  The Church should understand that Jesus himself reminded us that confessing the truth brings suffering and alienation.  It happened to the early Christians as they faced the twin fronts of Rome and the Jewish opposition.  Yet like our predecessors in the faith we must learn to bear our cross in love.  Hate and anger will never proclaim the Gospel.  May the Lord therefore make of his people one that embodies the care and mercy of God, while keeping us faithful to his Word.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

One Step Closer

A review of my latest thesis proposal has been made by my two advisers and with a few corrections and adjustments it is ready for submission to the committee.  I am confident that after so much review and critiquing it will pass and be approved to write.  I had no idea that there was so much involved in this.  When I finally finish it will feel as great an accomplishment as my M.Div was over 25 years ago.  Except this time the research and writing is much more demanding.  I probably included it on an early post, but the proposed title of the thesis is: "A Study of the Influence of the Church's Liturgical Forms on the Literary Structure of the Apocalypse of St. John."

By the way, for those interested in Nashotah House, there was an interesting article online from the Journal Sentinel back in 2011.   It was written around the time when they were getting ready to install a new dean.  I have only one correction to the article, though.  The author writes that the STM program was added "in recent years."  This is incorrect.  Their STM program has been around for a long time.  I think that the author, however, captures the unique personality of the seminary, especially as it sets within the broader Episcopal church culture.  I was initially hesitant about enrolling, knowing the very liberal nature of the Episcopal Church.  When I discovered that ELS seminary president Gaylin R. Schmeling had earned his STM there back in 1993 and spoke highly of the seminary, it was clear that this would be a 'Lutheran friendly' place to pursue my graduate education.  And I have not been disappointed.  The "Anglo-Catholic" nature of the institution has fit my long interest in the liturgical life of the church, and the current faculty certainly boasts a solid lineup of scholars (see link above for Nashotah's website) comparable to any other seminary.  Of course, there are differences too, but these have not detracted from my education overall.  Now, if I could just get Concordia - Ft. Wayne to relocate to northern Wisconsin..... 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Christian Unity

On another site it was recently suggested that no one appears to really be interested in Christian unity.  Obviously a bit of a hyperbole as there exist both national and international organizations for that very purpose.  However, it caused me to think about the issue.  What would constitute true Christian unity, and is it even a realistic goal? It appears to me that when such unity is attempted it brings about a semblance of that unity by using either a lowest common denominator approach, or by simply avoiding traditionally divisive issues, such as the sacraments.  Or, unity is just declared with the understanding that those so united can 'agree to disagree' on various items while retaining the right to claim unity.  So, not only is Christian unity a difficult reality to achieve, defining what that unity is presents an equally large challenge.

Personally I don't see outward visible unity as a realistic possibility this side of heaven, at least not legitimate unity.  Christians, by definition, enjoy a basic unity in their common faith in the Trinity, the deity of Christ, salvation by grace through faith, etc.  We generally understand what divides Christian from cult.  Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons are not true Christian churches by the historic understanding of that term.  Neither of these organization accept the fundamental Christian understanding of God, salvation, the person of Christ, and a whole host of other essential creedal beliefs.  

Unfortunately as the older mainline denominations age this traditional understanding of the fundamental essentials of the faith appears to be eroding.  A willingness to grant equal footing to other faiths as legitimate expressions of Truth causes denominations with historic Christian identities to shed the exclusive claims of Christ himself.  Thus, Jesus cannot be THE Way and THE Truth and THE Life if all roads ultimately lead to heaven.  Expressions of God have also warping into unrecognizable shapes.  Take the example of "herchurch," also known as the ELCA congregation Ebenezer Lutheran Church in San Francisco.  They no longer worship the revealed God of Holy Scripture, but now recognize the deity as "Goddess."  So even paganism is now placed alongside of Christianity with equal voice.  Yet that never works, for one voice always dominates.  In the case of herchurch the voice is that of paganism.  In the description of their proposed "Goddess Mural" write: "The Goddess mural will rise 64 feet high with four basic symbolic representations of the divine feminine: The Earth Mother, the Black Madonna, the Christ-Sophia, and an androgynous Kali-Kundalini figure whose chakras merge with the phases of the moon and the universe." The last figure is clearly a Hindu deity.  The "Earth Mother" reaches back into primitive mythologies and other non-Christian religions.  

So given such a diversity, where do we start?  Should we even attempt such a thing?  Would we not surrender the Faith itself in the end by compromise?