Thursday, July 29, 2010

"The Western Rite" - Deutschlander - Part 10

(This is the final installment from Prof. Em. Daniel M. Deutschlander’s essay, “The Western Rite: Its Development and Rich History and Its Relevance for Our Worship Life Today.”)


What is there left now but to give thanks? We sing the Nunc Dimittis, following the usage of some of the earliest Reformation liturgies — though not Luther’s Deutsche Messe. It is a most fitting thanksgiving, uniting as it does the Incarnation with our Lord’s gift of himself for us and our joyful acknowledgement that we have received him and his peace. The Post Communion liturgy again is very brief and to the point. There is just this one hymn of thanksgiving, as there was hymn at the close of the first communion service in the Upper Room and then a brief prayer. The first of the post-Communion prayers in our hymnal was written by Luther, or is, at least, his re-working of an older prayer.

Our Liturgy omits the closing Salutation and the Benedicamus and goes straight to the Benediction. Personally I would have preferred keeping the two preparation lines before the Benediction. But, be that as it may, the important thing to keep in mind here is that the Benediction is not just a churchy Goodbye! Y’all have a nice day! No, it is the one blessing that God commanded in the Bible (Numbers 6:22-27). The pastor in his final priestly act raises his hands and communicates from the God who sent him the blessing that the whole service has intended to give to his people. How does it work, that this simple act blesses people, makes a difference? I don’t know the answer to that any more than I can fathom how God’s gospel otherwise blesses us. Again, I know the what; the how is God’s concern. And so we close as we began, with a threefold blessing, with the Trinity. And so we close as we began, with the sign of the cross by which every blessing is ours. And so we close as we began, with knees trembling just a bit at the awesome work which the Lord our God has entrusted to us and which he now has brought to conclusion. Was kann man ja weiter sagen: Gott sei Lob und Dank in aller Ewigkeit für seine unaussprechliche Gnade! — und dass solch ein Werk mir, einem armen Sünder, von Gott anvertraut ist!


How could anyone think of this worship as boring or tedious or irrelevant? If people find it thus, perhaps that’s in part the pastor’s own fault when he offers the Liturgy as though he found it boring and tedious. Perhaps it is our fault in general that we so rarely explain its beauty and its historic function in the preservation of orthodoxy over the centuries. After all, in the darkest days of the Arian heresy, to mention but one example, it was the Christo-centric hymns and liturgy that proclaimed the gospel and kept faith alive. To this very day in many a liturgical church where heresy and rank unbelief rule in the pulpit, it is the Western Rite alone that still proclaims law and gospel. To get people used to a new form of worship every ten minutes or so is to make it all the easier for some Ketzer to introduce new doctrines with ever new and changing forms.

Is the Liturgy of the Western Rite written in stone or divinely inspired? Obviously not; it has undergone change throughout its history. Is it a foregone conclusion that anyone who tampers with the Western Rite is a heretic or at least the way-preparer for a heretic? No, that too is not inevitable.

Aber doch ... The changes that we make in forms of worship should reflect fidelity to the purposes of worship mentioned at the beginning of this paper. Changes should be chaste and slow. Changes should be more than the whims of the moment and the preferences of the individual. And certainly changes should not be designed to pander to the popular lust for diversion and entertainment. Let me say it one more time: Wir besuchen den Gottesdienst. We visit God in his house at his invitation to receive the banquet he has prepared for us there. We behold his glory in the lowliness of the font, of the table, of the Tabernaculum of his Word in the pulpit. Whatever we do then, let it be done with that in mind, and we will probably not go far wrong. Yes, and we probably will not go all that far away from the Liturgy of the Western Rite either. Permit me to close with the ancient prayer that I use at the close of every liturgy, whether celebrated at church or at home:

Adoramus Te, Christe, et benedicimus Tibi,
quia per sanctam crucem Tuam redemisti mundum et me.
Adoramus Te, Christe, et benedicimus Tibi! Amen.

D. Deutschlander
The Feast of the Annunciation
March 25, 2008

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"The Western Rite" - Deutschlander - Part 9

(from Prof. Em. Daniel M. Deutschlander’s essay, “The Western Rite: Its Development and Rich History and Its Relevance for Our Worship Life Today.”)


No section of the liturgy has undergone more tinkering and tampering than this section. Our hymnal’s presentation of the Sacrament appears to climb mountains of controversy in order to get to the essentials clean and pure. It concentrates, as do a number of Lutheran liturgies going back to the Reformation and before, on the basics of what God is doing in the Sacrament. It lets God speak and God act with as little interference from his minister as possible.

And so this most ancient section of the Liturgy begins with that customary greeting in the Preface which signals that something awesome is about to take place. For the miracle about to happen we ask God’s blessing on all present, pastor and congregation. The special nature of this miracle is that God through the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament will make personal what up until now has been general and universal. That’s the special role of the sacraments. Now especially the one hiding behind the pillar in the temple and still smiting his breast in despair because of his guilt should come out from behind the pillar and look into the face of God with rejoicing. If he had to struggle with unbelief when God through the pastor spoke a general absolution, perhaps the miracle of Christ’s presence will win him. For if Jesus feeds us with himself, with the very price of our salvation, then when God looks at us, he sees — Jesus! How can God then still be angry? The Sacrament is a banquet of forgiveness and salvation, yes, even for the one who struggled to believe the Word of Absolution, and who, even if just for the moment, lost in that dread battle.

Lift up your hearts! We lift them up to the Lord. Yes, we should indeed lift up our hearts to the Lord. That is such a full and beautiful expression. We lift up the heart in confession; let God see it, every bit of it, all that no one else will ever see or know. We lift it up in joyful expectation and adoration before the mystery that so soon Jesus will come to us with the very price of our salvation. Having no gold or goods on the night in which he was betrayed, he nevertheless wrote a will. In it he left us a bequest: Himself! And how much is packed into that! He gives himself to us as individuals, but in fellowship with and not apart from one another, in the fellowship of the church.

Then we sing one of those wonderful biblical expressions of understatement: Let us give thanks to the Lord. It is good and right so to do! The Sacrament is called the Eucharist from this line of the liturgy.

The Proper Preface follows and then the exultant Sanctus. The Sanctus is one of those great masterpieces of solemn simplicity. Heaven and earth are joined as we intone the chant of the angels in Isaiah 6. The Old and New Testament are joined as we pass from the song of the angels to the Old Testament hymn sung by the disciples on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. It is the song of the church in this place and of the church for over a thousand years, biding welcome to him who comes to us so completely in his Sacrament.

The Words of Institution follow. This is the part that, oddly enough, gets most argued about. Luther took a meat cleaver to the formula of the Mass that, upon close examination, exalts not Christ but the priest and the pope who sent him. For all the church in heaven and earth joins, as already noted, to pray that the priest’s sacrifice may be acceptable. After Luther’s meat cleaver hacked away all of that abomination, others sought to expand the Words of Institution with an assortment of prayers that were often more didactic than prayerful or that emphasize our sacrifice of thanksgiving more than Christ’s gift to us in the Sacrament. Luther wanted God’s Word to say it all. Personally, I’m satisfied with that. Given that people these days have the attention span of gerbil, some might want to argue that a little more should be said by way of the real nature and blessing of the Sacrament. And it is certainly true that also in our circles there are a lot of silly notions that persist: Dear, should we go to Communion this Sunday? Ans.: I don’t know. Did we go last time? That all-too-common approach betrays the notion that in the Sacrament we are obeying a law or doing God some sort of favor. That our people need to be reminded more than just in Confirmation Class or on Maundy Thursday of the nature and blessing of the Sacrament cannot be argued. Whether the sacramental liturgy is the best time to do that reminding or not is worth thinking about. But if one decided to do it there, he will do it best if he is very brief and to the point. Again, Luther’s emphasis here is worth remembering: It’s not about you; it’s about him and his gift of himself for you.

The Pax follows the Words of Institution. Luther often praised this little sentence in the Liturgy (though he did not include this line in the Deutsche Messe). Like all of the other blessings of the Liturgy, this too is an application of the doctrine of the means of grace. For the Pax gives what it says, and it is thus the best preparation for the reception of the Sacrament. It emphasizes the fruit of absolution and the blessing about to be imparted in yet another wondrous way in the Sacrament. The Amen of God’s people declares their faith in what is offered in absolution, in the Pax itself, and in the Sacrament about to be received. Jesus spoke of this Pax, this peace, so fulsomely just before he went to gain it for us (John 14:25-27) and it was the first blessing that he gave his disciples when he came to them after his Resurrection (John 20:19-21) — and he said it twice in less than a minute. Could he have been more in earnest or emphatic in the way that he gave this gift of peace?

The Words of Institution follow. In them we set aside earthly elements for a sacred use. The Verba do not change the elements. There is no magic involved in their recitation. Arguments about the moment of the Sacrament, frankly, have always seemed a little silly to me: The Sacrament is whole cloth; no Word of God, no Sacrament; no use, i.e. reception, no Sacrament either. The rule still applies: Extra usum, nullum sacramentum! I’ve always thought it interesting that the very order of Christ’s words suggests that. He doesn’t say: This is my body; take eat. He says: Take eat; this is my body. In it all it’s the what that matters, not the when. Arguments about when tend not only to distract from the what; they tend to shift the emphasis away from Christ and his gift on to the pastor and his acts — the opposite of the intent of the Lutheran reform of the communion liturgy.

Then comes the beautiful Agnus Dei, an addition to the communion liturgy from about the year 700. It again gets our priorities right. All that we need comes from the Lamb who was slain. All that we claim is his mercy, not our merit, our excuses, our good intentions. And now we are about to receive the evidence of his mercy and the peace which is its fruit in the banquet spread before us. And that’s what the Sacrament is all about: His giving what he won on the cross, our receiving thereby all that he is and all that he has.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"The Western Rite" - Deutschlander - Part 8

(from Prof. Em. Daniel M. Deutschlander’s essay, “The Western Rite: Its Development and Rich History and Its Relevance for Our Worship Life Today.”)


Most I suppose think of the Offertory as a response of the congregation to the sermon. Actually and historically this whole next part of the service is really a preparation for the Communion Liturgy. But I see no crime if we think of it as pointing in both directions at the same time.

If we think of the Offertory as a response to the sermon, then it is the prayer of the faithful that after they have been washed with the gospel, they may have cleansed hearts to live what they have heard. If we think of it as pointing ahead, then it is a renewed and solemn prayer to God that he may give us proper and pure attention and devotion to the next miracle that he is about to perform in our presence and for our growth in grace.

In the ancient church, up until about the end of the Middle Ages, the Offering was done in procession by the faithful to the altar. There they would lay their gifts which were to be used for the support of the church and especially for the poor, for orphans and widows. From those gifts would be taken the bread and the wine which would be used in the Sacrament.

The prayers that follow the Offering reflect the unity of God and his people and the unity of his people with one another. We were passive suppliants at Confession. But now we have been cleansed. We have been renewed. We have been fed and strengthened by the Word. And so we respond with thanks to our Host in the offerings that we bring for the benefit of the church and for those in need. It’s the liturgical equivalent of a guest bringing some small token of appreciation when invited to dine at the home of another. We join to those offerings our prayers for the church and the state and all sorts and conditions of men. In those prayers we again have another reality check: All that is good comes from God, and it comes from him so that we may give it back to him again in our hearing, in our devotion, in our prayers, in our lives with one another. I’ve always especially liked the way that the prophet Joel puts it when he prays for deliverance from pestilence and famine; he doesn’t ask for rescue so that he and his people will again have enough to eat and be saved from starvation. No; rather he prays that God will restore the harvest so that they will have something to bring to the Temple, something to give back to him (Joel 2:14).

It is this section of the Liturgy that underwent the most dramatic reformation during the Reformation. In the Roman liturgy the prayers are chuck full of so much false doctrine that this part of the liturgy all by itself make the Roman Mass what our Confessions call it: an abomination. For here the priest calls on the people and all the saints to pray for him that the sacrifice that the priest is about to make may be acceptable to God in reparation for the sins of the living and the dead. Can you even count how many abominable heresies there are there? During the Lutheran Reformation the General Prayer which had existed in a rudimentary form generations earlier was reintroduced. Initially it appears as a series of petitions or litanies based on the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. Later the Lord’s Prayer became the conclusion of the General Prayer and the intercessory prayers. These prayers were more and more clearly separated from the Liturgy of the Sacrament. It is that separation which makes us think of these prayers as a response to the Word proclaimed rather than a preparation for the Sacrament. We used to have more of a connection between these prayers and the Sacrament when the last of them began with the invitation: Let us pray for our Communicants.

The prayers here offered are not supposed to be a rerun of the sermon, just in case people didn’t get it the first time. While its opening lines may well reflect the theme of the day and of the sermon itself, the prayers then move on as expressions of our Christian love and concern for our lives in the church and in the world. They go from the universal to the particular, from the world and the church at large to the parochial and the individual needs of brothers and sisters in Christ. They are prayers in which the pastor and the congregation are united with Christ in prayer; for they all end with an invoking of his name as the reason why we dare to pray and expect to be heard. In the Old Testament the high priest spoke to God wearing a breastplate with stones that bore the names of the children of Israel. With no breastplate visible we nevertheless approach with the names and cares of our people inscribed on our hearts. Christ ornaments our prayers with his blood and adds to them his merit; he carries them behind the veil into the heart of the Father in the heavenly temple not made with hands. It is a holy time indeed!

Our hymnal has placed the Lord’s Prayer at the end of the general and intercessory prayers. Formerly it was part of the Communion Liturgy. The move to my mind is a good one. The Lord’s Prayer is such a perfect summation of all that we have to say to God. We pray it with total confidence that it is a prayer pleasing to him, since his Son has taught us to pray it. It presents us with yet another reality check: It is a prayer in which we express our complete dependence on God for all good things spiritual and temporal. And who could fail to notice it: Spiritual needs dominate. Other needs are important too and they find their place in the fourth petition. But the most important thing in our life is not health and wealth; it is that God’s name be holy among us. This is the prayer of those who remain children to their dying day and are happy that that is so. Clearly we could spend a day on the prayer and its beauty and still only scratch the surface of all that is in it. Permit me to encourage you to read Luther’s comments on this prayer in his Large Catechism. For the present, allow me just two observations:

1) Notice the arrangement of the petitions. We do not ask for forgiveness until we have asked for every possible spiritual and temporal blessing. Since Jesus has taught us to pray this way, we have every confidence that these petitions are granted generously and in abundance by God in his Word and in his providence. Now then, if God has given us everything that we need for the support of body and soul in the first four petitions, what possible excuse could we have for sin in the future? Absolutely no excuse at all! All our needs have been provided for. Thus fear, doubt, greed and lust should reasonably have no place in our lives. Nevertheless Jesus knows us so well and loves us still. And so he bids us still pray for forgiveness and deliverance from the evil one. He knows that having everything, we will forget, and through our fault, our own fault, our own most grievous fault we will not only sin but at times even run headlong into the arms of the Tempter. What an amazing thing, just the placing of the fifth and sixth petitions!

2) Whether the doxology at the end of the prayer is canonical or not, we will leave for others to argue. To my mind it is a perfect ending to the prayer: So great are the blessings we seek in it, they could be granted only by him who has all power, the whole kingdom, and all of the glory in his keep. And therefore with confidence we lay these petitions at the feet of our Father and confidently say: Amen!

Monday, July 26, 2010

"The Western Rite" - Deutschlander - Part 7

(from Prof. Em. Daniel M. Deutschlander’s essay, “The Western Rite: Its Development and Rich History and Its Relevance for Our Worship Life Today.”)


The Confession of Faith is followed by the sermon hymn and the sermon. Again, because these are Propers, we will just make a couple of observations about them. The sermon hymn is such a Lutheran thing: We want to prepare and be prepared for the Word of God that we are about to hear. We want to remember and to remind the pastor before he ever gets into the pulpit that what is coming is not about him but about the One who sent him. How jarring to the senses and offensive to the souls of the faithful if, after a hymn that focuses our attention on Christ, the pastor should mount the pulpit to talk about himself or to imagine that he is there to entertain! The ambassador comes with the message of his masters; the pastor comes from the palace and shrine of the living God – from his Word; he comes with a message from the heart of God for his blood bought children and heirs. For the preacher to imagine that stories from his own life are worthy metaphors for all things sacred and profane is to betray an arrogance unworthy of the servant of the servants of God.

Having sung the hymn we enter the pulpit for the most awesome work that God has given us to do. Now in such a special sense we get to be pastor, i.e. the shepherd of God’s blood bought flock, as we lead his sheep to and through the pure waters and nourishing pastures of his Word. Personally I always found that to be an awesome thing, so awesome that my joy at the opportunity and the honor was mixed with no small amount of dread in the face of my own ignorance and limitations. The pastor needs to hold fast to the promises of God to speak through the mouths of his servants who are faithful to his Word. He needs to cling to the promise so often given that the Word faithfully proclaimed will accomplish God’s good pleasure. Luther was so fixated on that truth that he once remarked that there are many times when the pastor can confess his sins; when he leaves the pulpit should not be one of them. For the work was God’s work and so too will be its fruit.

And so we prepare for the one time in the week when we will have the greatest number of God’s people listening to us. We have before us the simple and the learned, those who listen to God’s Word every day and those who think of it rarely. We have those who have come with aching hearts and those who have become very comfortable with their sins. It is all too awesome; God should have sent angels to do it, or at least someone better than I am. But he didn’t. Through the foolishness of preaching he is pleased to accomplish his good and gracious will. And he chose me to do it here, at this time, in this place. Therefore I bow my head and beg for his mercy while I prepare. On entering the pulpit I bow it again and ask him to bless what he has given me to do and to say. My own prayer in the pulpit since my seminary days has been an ancient sacristy prayer: Veni Creator Spiritus! Pasce pastorem / duc ducem / da daturo / aperi aperturo / emittis spiritum tuum et creabuntur et renovabis faciem terrae.

Just a word about the Apostolic Greeting from Ephesians 1:2 at the beginning of the sermon and Votum from Philippians 4:7 at its conclusion: These beautifully focus attention on Christ and the grace he extends to us in his Word preached and proclaimed. Their use at the beginning and the end of the sermon is something uniquely Lutheran, again with that unique Lutheran focus on the doctrine of the means of grace as the causa efficiens of our salvation. The words themselves are means of grace, not just churchy mood creating salutations; that is, they convey what they say, God’s grace, mercy and peace. And that is what the sermon is intended to do as well. They are a fitting way to begin and end words that are intended to expound in greater detail what the whole of the service seeks to do: Show us that God who calls us to account that he may forgive, who shows us his Son that we may all the more love and trust in him, who gives us his Spirit that we may the more nearly live in him who died and rose again for us and for our salvation.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"The Western Rite" - Deutschlander - Part 6

(from Prof. Em. Daniel M. Deutschlander’s essay, “The Western Rite: Its Development and Rich History and Its Relevance for Our Worship Life Today.”)


In some services the Creed follows the readings for the day and in others it follows the sermon. It doesn’t really matter much whether it comes in the one place or the other. In which ever place we use it the point will remain that the Creed is a reflection again of the doctrine of the means of grace. The Word of God has created the Creed as the response of God’s people to his Word. Its recitation is a delightful and an exciting confession of faith.

Experts argue about whether the Creed is a prayer or a proclamation, whether it is a sacrificial or a sacramental element of the worship service. Why can’t it be both? It is our response to God, a response of faith in his Word, a faith formed and fashioned by that Word. But at the same time with the Creed we say to one another: No, you’re not crazy and you’re not alone! This is what I believe too, and that in union not only with you but with the church universal for the past 2000 years!

Traditionally the Apostles’ Creed is used to remind us of our Baptism. After all, the Apostles’ Creed owes its origins to the baptismal formula. Its use was intended to remind us of what God has done for us in Baptism and our consequent pledges of faithfulness to him and to his Word. While it is a confession of the faith of the universal church, it is an especially personal confession too: The church is not baptized collectively but individuals are baptized one at a time. Hence the pronoun: I is the operative pronoun in this confession of faith. The Apostles’ Creed is most commonly used in services without Communion.

The Nicene Creed is the confession of the church collectively, of the church militant in her battles for the truth and against heresy. Its use in the Liturgy of the Western Church was considered of special importance as a counter to the Arian heresy that for so long persisted in parts of Spain, France and Germany. At the words For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven ... there was traditionally a pause in the service to give people time to kneel in awe before the great mystery of the Incarnation. At the very least they bowed their heads when reciting the words and he became man. St. Bernard comments that there are three great miracles; the first is that God could and would become man; the second is that he did it in the womb of the Virgin; the third is that we actually believe it. Our use of the Nicene Creed acknowledges all three of these great miracles. When the Liturgy was sung, the pastor sang the first line by himself. I am assuming that that is where the practice comes from that in sung Masses, including Bach’s great B Minor Mass, the singular is used: Credo. We, in keeping with the emphasis on the truth that this is the confession of the church, we use We believe instead of I believe.

Whichever Creed is used, whether the more irenic Apostles’ or the more polemical Nicene, the Creed, too, presents us with a reality check. Not all religions are just subjective opinion, one as good as another, or at least all of them possessing part of the same truth. NO! We are not relativists or existentialists. We confess a faith whose content is absolute truth, saving truth, historical truth. That’s what makes Christianity unique. That’s what makes membership in most lodges and in the Scouts impossible for us - - such memberships would flatly contradict the confession of this faith on Sunday morning. Indeed we so joyfully confess the one, true, catholic and apostolic faith precisely because of what God has given us in his Son and through his saving Word and Sacraments. It would be insulting to him and utter folly for us, and that in the extreme, were we to come to his house, eat his blessings in Word and Sacraments and then not even confess our faith and trust in him. What would people think? Have we just come to a museum, perhaps a musical? No, not that, never that! Our faith matters and so too does our confession of it! Each of the Lutheran Confessions begins with a pledge of loyalty to the historic Creeds. We join in their insistence that we are members of the church universal when share in that pledge of loyalty in response to the Word in the Haupt Gottesdienst.

Luther beautifully expressed his love and appreciation for the Creed, especially in his comments at the conclusion of the Third Article in The Large Catechism. In the interest of “useful brevity” (— a phrase much loved by the Fathers who were about to spend another 10 pages on some point!), permit me to cite some of his last few lines on the subject:
... the Creed brings pure grace and makes us righteous and acceptable to God. Through this knowledge we come to love and delight in all the commandments of God because we see here in the Creed how God gives himself completely to us, with all his gifts and power, to help us keep the Ten Commandments: the Father gives us all creation, Christ all his works, the Holy Spirit all his gifts. (LC, Third Article, par. 69 [Kolb, p. 440]

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"The Western Rite" - Deutschlander - Part 5

(from Prof. Em. Daniel M. Deutschlander’s essay, “The Western Rite: Its Development and Rich History and Its Relevance for Our Worship Life Today.”)


Since this section of the Liturgy belongs almost entirely to the Propers, we will be brief. It is perhaps enough to emphasize that the readings for the day are not just warm up exercises for what I am going to say in the pulpit. I remember how annoying it was when one of our vicars regularly stumbled through the reading of the lessons for the day. It seemed that he had not even looked at them before the service. The pastor will certainly remember that the readings are the words of the living God to his people, worthy therefore of careful attention from both the ones who speak them and those who hear them. They express the thought summed up in the Prayer of the Day and they have (or should have) a close connection to the text and content of the sermon. All of the Propers have a common emphasis; they are not grab bags of disconnected thoughts. To the extent that the pastor gives some expression of their coherence, to that extent it will be easier for God’s people to remember both the readings and the sermon. And to that extent there will be less of God’s Word that falls as seed on the path way or in the underbrush of the easily distracted mind, making no impression and bringing forth no fruit.

The practice of multiple readings is as old as Christian worship. It is a continuation of the synagogue practice of readings from the Law and the Prophets. Already in the days of the Apostolic Fathers readings were arranged from the writings of the apostles and from the gospels. Readings from the Old Testament were sometimes added, sometimes not. The Epistle lesson was often thought of as an extension of the work of St. John the Baptist, as preparation for the hearing of the Gospel. Accordingly the reading of the Gospel was surrounded with much ceremony, with candles and incense. We still have the echoes of that ceremony and emphasis when we rise for the reading of the Gospel and attend to it with chants of thanksgiving and praise. Again, it’s not just busy work designed to put people into a listening frame of mind. The readings are God’s descent from his throne on high to the hearts and minds of his people. By his Word he wants to strengthen and cheer, to warn and console, to bind them to himself and then in service to one another.

The responses of Glory be to you, O Lord! and Thanks be to you, O Christ! reflect well the thought that God is the one speaking to us, that Christ is truly and actually present with us in his house and in those readings. How could we not respond thus when we are thus honored by our God and Savior who has again shown himself to us in the might and majesty of his Word for us, his guests? How could we respond other than with praise and thanksgiving that he has done it in the lowliness and humility of words, not in the terrifying thunder and lightening of Sinai?

Some argue about introductions to the readings. Those who dislike the practice of introducing them maintain that anything that the pastor says will be a distraction from the important matter of God’s own speaking. Frankly, I don’t quite follow that argument. Were it valid, then one might just read the sermon text too, and leave it to the Holy Spirit to unfold it for the people of God. Nevertheless the point is well taken, if introductions to the readings become mini sermons. Introductions should be short and to the point; and the point should be to help people see the main point of the reading and how it sets or furthers the theme of the season/day. Sometimes a commentary in the bulletin can be useful in this respect. Given all the space taken up with commercials for this and that in bulletins these days, a short commentary on the theme of the day and a few lines on how each of the readings shows or explains or deepens our appreciation for that theme shouldn’t be considered too much for people to bear. If they can endure a page on the upcoming bowling tournament of the men’s club, another on the impending outing of the Ladies Aid to the candy factory, and yet another on the school’s order sheet for pizza, the proceeds of which will fund new basketballs, a page that sums up the gifts of God in his Word for that day shouldn’t be thought of as a bother.

Monday, July 19, 2010

"The Western Rite" - Deutschlander - Part 4

(from Prof. Em. Daniel M. Deutschlander’s essay, “The Western Rite: Its Development and Rich History and Its Relevance for Our Worship Life Today.”)


There follows the call to respond with more than just Amen. If the angels rejoice over one sinner who repents, how can we who are forgiven fail to join in their hymn of praise. Traditionally the pastor intoned the first line of the Gloria in Excelsis, speaking for the angels. Then the people of God joined in with this exuberant cry of praise and thanksgiving for all that God is and for all that he is for us. It used to follow the Kyrie and was seen as a thanksgiving hymn of adoration not only for Absolution but also for God’s expected answer to the Kyrie and the litanies that attended it. In many of the German liturgies, the pastor sang the opening line in Latin and the congregation responded with the rest in German. The Gloria as part of a number of liturgies is so old that no one knows exactly when it first was written. St. Athanasius makes mention of it, and it was in common use in the Western Church by the end of the 5th century. It runs along lines similar to those used in the great Te Deum (whose author is arguably St. Ambrose). The Gloria was usually omitted during Advent and Lent. It was thought to be a bit too exuberant for the Penitential Seasons; either a seasonal hymn or the Benedictus was sung in its place.

What a hymn this Gloria is! Can you count all of the doctrines contained in it? Is it not a wonderful application of that beloved dogmatic principle: Theologia est habitus practicus! In a train that runs on steam of its own it races forward:

God is on high – So high is he that he is separated from all that is created and cannot in way be confused with it. Creation is not part of him nor he of it. He is the totally other.

And on earth peace, good will toward men – But he whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain draws near to us with gifts. His gift is his peace, a peace which comes only in the forgiveness of sin which we have just received. His gift is his own good will for creatures fallen so far that they could not rise from death and hell, nor could they assist in their rising. No, it all has come from Christ; for this is the hymn of the angels announcing his Incarnation to the lowly shepherds and now to us as well. That’s why he has come, to win God’s peace and impart his gracious good will in the accomplishment of our redemption. And the objective justification won by all that he has done has become ours, become subjective, in the proclamation of Absolution.

Therefore we worship and adore. Not to us, never to us, but to you be all glory and praise and thanksgiving. Do you see again a reality check? What is human life apart from the message already heard and that will be heard yet again but vanity, boasting, lies and deceit and all to the praise and glory of man who is but dust and ashes. But here is reality: To him who wins our peace and gives us his good will be all glory and adoration!

The middle section of the Gloria appears to be its oldest part. How completely the hymn is a confession of the doctrine of the Trinity. How altogether Christo-centric it is. How beautifully again it gives us a reality check: All that we seek from God and all that we receive from him comes by virtue of the sacrifice of the Lamb. He is and ever remains Christus pro nobis. He will receive our prayers for all that is needful in this life and the next. For he has taken away our sin and now sits exalted at the right hand of the Father. He has full power. He has complete authority. He has loved us to the end and loves us still. With full voice we worship him in union with the Father who has now become our Father, and the Holy Spirit who makes us holy by his effective presence in the Word.


Too often the Salutation is treated as a throw-away line that just marks a shift to the next part of the Liturgy. But it really is more than that. The Salutation, to be sure, marks this and other major shifts in the Liturgy. But as well it beautifully acknowledges the union of God’s spokesman and God’s people, a union found in God’s house and formed by his Word. The pastor is about to do something that is awesome. With God’s people he is about to speak to God. That’s not a small thing. He is about to ask God to accomplish his good and gracious will in his people through the Word which God will shortly address to them through the mouth of his pastor. Therefore in anticipation of God’s favorable disposition and answer he says –

The Lord be with you – as I pray for you and you pray with me. Since he has already forgiven us, we can be sure that this greeting is not merely a pious wish or an empty hope. It rests on the assurance that the Word of God is effective, that it is indeed a means of grace.

And God’s people respond: And also with you. For without God’s gracious presence with you, your person and your prayer, dear pastor, will be an abomination, presumptuous, and of no avail. Ah, but God is with you and your spirit as you enter into his holy presence to ask a blessing on his Word which he has already promised to give. And so we give our attention to the brief sentences of the prayer and happily add at its conclusion our Amen. God will not cast us off in our prayer. He will not strike down either us or his pastor for daring to say it.

The Prayer of the Day usually sums up the blessing we seek from God through his Word. (Admittedly the connection is sometimes difficult to see.) It therefore anticipates what is coming in the Word we are about to hear. If we paid better attention to that prayer, it would help us focus more clearly on the coming readings and on the sermon itself during which God will pour forth the blessings sought in the Prayer of the Day.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"The Western Rite" - Deutschlander - Part 3

(from Prof. Em. Daniel M. Deutschlander’s essay, “The Western Rite: Its Development and Rich History and Its Relevance for Our Worship Life Today.”)

CONFESSION - (cont.)

I have spent so great a part of the time allotted me on the Confession because it is so pivotal to everything that follows. The Confession is generally missing altogether in sectarian worship. It is missing because the Arminians deny original sin. It is missing in much of Calvinist worship because, while acknowledging the total depravity of man, the need to lament it is obviated by once saved, always saved, or perhaps by the so-called double predestination which leaves God responsible for the damnation of the lost. But for us Confession is crucial because of the seriousness of sin. It is crucial because of our innate resistance to admitting our own desperate and constant, our total and absolute need of grace. It is crucial because without it there will be no real appreciation of the gospel whose promise lured us into making confession and whose absolution will relieve us of the dread burden born by Christ for us on the cross. If you are not convinced of the pivotal nature of confession, read Romans 7 and Ephesians 2. Find yourself in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, in the prayer of the publican in the Temple. Consider again Luther’s description of our need in his explanation to the Second and Third Articles of the Creed in his Small Catechism, in which he piles up terms that describe us in the totality of our need, so that we may see the more joyfully Christ, the answer to our need, our sin, our despair. Read his Heidelberg Disputations, and then read it a second time — in all likelihood you will not be able to wrap your mind around the weighty points he makes there in one reading. Read Art. I and II of the Formula of Concord. The very first thing that is wrong with much that passes for modern worship is the lack of Confession. To omit Confession is to pander to the Methodist in all of us. To omit Confession is to diminish and trivialize not only Law but ultimately and much more importantly the Gospel. For if I have no need, the solution to my need will seem unimportant. Jesus said the same thing to the Pharisees who objected to the time he spent with sinners: Those who do not know that they are sick have little use or appreciation for the physician (Matt. 9:12-13). In place of both Law and Gospel will come usually a trite presentation of the Third Use of the Law, moralizing, legalism.

While minor liturgies of Matins and Vespers do not contain a formal confession of sins, they do to some extent assume its part in the Haupt Gottesdienst by their opening responses: O Lord, open my lips. And my mouth shall declare your praise. Especially in the second set of responses they proclaim in prayer our desperate need: Hasten to save me, O God. O Lord, come quickly to help me.

Historically this vital part of the Lutheran worship service is of late origin. In the liturgy of the Roman Mass the confession really is supposed to be the priest’s own private prayer before the actual liturgy begins. As the Mass is today and as the Anglican Communion observes the Western Rite, neither have the crucial lines by nature sinful and unclean. For reasons already noted, this entire introduction to the worship service is missing altogether in most, if not in all, sectarian services. But during the Reformation Luther and Melanchthon and even more the second generation of Lutherans had to consider that private confession was no longer mandatory and with the passing of time less and less used — and that in spite of Luther’s frequent and fulsome praise of private absolution.

In German Lutheran worship services the Confession became standard by the end of the 16th century. The Confession was spoken in front of the steps of the altar, and the pastor did not go up to the altar until the Confession and Absolution were completed, in order to emphasize that worship needed cleansed souls as a prerequisite of acceptable worship. So important was the Confession that in many places also in this country there was a special Beicht Gottesdienst either the night before a Communion Service or earlier in the morning before the Haupt Gottesdienst, if that was to be a service with the Sacrament.

In our current hymnal there follows the Kyrie. One can argue about the placing of the Kyrie here as the concluding part of Confession. It has moved around over the centuries. In our former hymnal it was not part of Confession but came after Absolution and marked the formal beginning of the Ordinary. It was not a cry for forgiveness. Rather it was an acknowledgment of our total need of and dependence on God’s mercy and grace for all the sorts and conditions of men, for all of our other spiritual and temporal needs.

Its place in other settings of the Liturgy, however, did consider the Kyrie a cry for pardon. Bach seems to see that as its role in his great B Minor Mass. It fits in either place. My own thinking about it has changed over the years. If one leaves prayers for spiritual and temporal blessings to the end of the service in the muted litanies of the General Prayer, then I suppose it is best to leave the Kyrie where we have it now. When it was after the Absolution in the former hymnal, most people thought it redundant to Confession. We didn’t explain it to them. And besides that, the Kyrie in earlier years was really the congregational response to a longer litany for all the sorts and conditions of church and state, house and field.

Now comes the part of the service where, if the holy angels were capable of envy, they would envy us pastors for what we have drawn God’s people to do and for what we are about to say to them in answer to their confession. But the holy angels are not capable of envy. Instead what a racket they must make of praise to God and loud hallelujahs. For they have been watching. They have been listening with greatest intent and interest. And now, if there is joy in the presence of the angels at one sinner who repents, how great must their joy be at all the people of God assembled in this place pouring out their confession to God and trusting in the merit of his Son for their forgiveness! For now we shall see fulfilled the promise of Jesus that “he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).

The lines are so clean and clear, so simple. A mere man, yes himself a sinner, hiding under a robe rises to stand in the place of God and to declare with God’s full authority behind him, the cross towering above him, As a called servant of Christ and by his authority, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. There it is! The whole definition of the holy office of the ministry: The servant of Christ in the midst of the people of God. He has been sent by Christ through those he serves to do this one great thing: To forgive, forgive, forgive the sins of the penitent. In spirit they are on their knees or prostrate before the altar. And now, now with simple words spoken by a sinful man, they are raised up to the heights of heaven. For Christ has won their pardon! See, here I declare it to you, not by virtue of my merit or yours, but by virtue of my office backed up by Christ’s promise and by his all sufficient merit. See, here I proclaim it to you as the one sent from the heart of God to you; I proclaim it in the name of him whose house you are visiting; I proclaim it in the name of him who has become your Savior-brother; I proclaim it in the name of him who breathes the words that I am speaking! The whole of the undivided, eternal, holy Trinity agrees with himself in the matter. Fully, freely, eagerly, willingly he forgives. See, his Word declares it; his cross has won it; and God is not a man that he should lie or his Word deceive!

I’ve often thought that a great sigh of relief goes up from the hearts of many among those confessing; it goes up to the throne of God at those words of Absolution. My own thought and prayer every time I hear those words is: Can it really be so? You have not yet become bored with my confession or disgusted by it and me? Yes, it is true! You have put the words on the lips of your pastor. He said it because you have said it.

So the redeemed people of God respond with Amen! That’s a confession of faith and a prayer at the same time. It is addressed to God who is speaking behind the pastor and through his words. Amen — It is true, O God, what your pastor has said, and I believe it because your Word has the power not only to wash away and wipe out my sin so great and deep; it has even the power to bring me to trust that you do truly forgive, forgive, forgive. And so I say, Amen!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"The Western Rite" - Deutschlander - Part 2

(from Prof. Em. Daniel M. Deutschlander’s essay, “The Western Rite: Its Development and Rich History and Its Relevance for Our Worship Life Today.”)

Let’s see. Now that God has invited us into his house and come down to meet with us, what should we talk about? Would this be a good time to pick a bone with him, to let him know how unhappy we are with the way that he has run the world or treated us? That might be a bit presumptuous. Well then, maybe we could start with a cry for help, for the rescue of our pension fund, for some magic potion that will cure our pain wracked bodies, for a miracle cure to solve the problem of living in a family, for rescue from a tyrannical employer and disagreeable neighbors and co-workers. What should we start with?

And here comes a jolting reality check, something that brings us up short and puts everything back into proper perspective: What we start with is the only thing that really matters in time and in eternity. All things else are important in their place, but they all fade into insignificance until we encounter God on this one all important matter:


Our sin is the one great thing that matters. Luther said it in the very first of the 95 Theses: When our Lord Jesus Christ says ‘Repent!’ he means that the entire life of the Christian should be one of repentance!

But I don’t want to repent! I certainly don’t want to confess! After all, compared to so many that I know, I’m not really all that bad. And considering the kind of parents I had, the sorts of horrible temptations to which I am subject in the world, the marvel is that I am as good as I am. Where I have gone astray, it either really wasn’t all that bad, or it wasn’t all my fault.

One of the hardest things in all the world to say is, I’m sorry. The only thing harder is to really mean it. The whole of our nature, the opinio legis, resists confession. The world laughs at it and the devil throws every possible obstacle in the way to prevent our repentance and our meaning it when we say the words.

And so what does the Liturgy do? Does it soften the blow and make it easy? Well, yes, in one way it does. For it begins with words of seduction. It lures us. It entices us. Consider carefully each line, each phrase:

Beloved in the Lord: Didn’t you see the cross when you came into his house? The cross tells you both how terrible sin is — your sin especially; but it also and even more importantly declares how eager God is to resolve the problem of your sin, the sin that separates you from him. You are his beloved; you can confess anything to the Lord who knows it all already and better than you do, and who nevertheless calls you his beloved!

Let us draw near to God our Father: No need to hold back, to cower and cringe. He isn’t going to hit you or strike you down. He isn’t going to say: You did what?! And that after all the good I’ve done for you and all the times I’ve forgiven you in the past. No, not that! For he is the God who knew us before we were born, knew us in eternity. And knowing us he has chosen to become our Father. Such a God invites us to come and to come again to his house and deal with the one thing that gets in the way of that relationship.

Let us draw near with a true heart and confess our sins. Before all the world we wear a mask. No one really knows us or perfectly understands us. Nor, truth to tell, do we want anyone to know us perfectly. We all have secrets that we share with no one. We all wonder what people, what our spouse or our children, would think of us if they really knew it all. But before God there is no point in hiding behind a mask. More than that, there is every reason to be completely honest with him, to strip away the mask, to tell it all, yes, to come to him with a true heart.

Asking him in the name our Lord Jesus Christ to grant us forgiveness. We may well beg. In our minds eye we may see ourselves prostrate on the floor before his cross. Disgust and self loathing may fill us and that with good reason. But we have not come to this loving Father alone. Oh no, never that! We come in the name of our dear Lord Jesus Christ. He is our Savior. He is the Anointed One. He is the sin-bearer. He is the Atonement. He is the Sacrifice for sinners slain. Yes, he has already won the forgiveness for which we plead. The Father will not refuse that Son. The Father will not turn aside his sacrifice, his full payment.

Therefore, do not be afraid. Run as the prodigal son to confession, to the open arms of the Father, holding fast the cross of his beloved Son. Triumph over the stubborn flesh and the laughing world and the arrogant devil and confess it all.

And so we do it; lured, enticed, seduced by an implicit promise, we strip away the mask behind which we hide from the world, yes and often from self as well. We pour out from the poisoned well of our soul the dreadful reality:

Holy and merciful Father – I do not expect you to change who you are as the all holy one who cannot just ignore sin or wink at it; rather I abandon myself on the equal truth that you cannot and do not want to change who you are, the merciful Father. I know that in you the attributes which we distinguish from one another are all one. I know from your invitation and from the cross above the altar that in Christ they meet and find perfect resolution and satisfaction. Therefore, holy and merciful Father –

I confess that I am by nature sinful and that I have disobeyed you in my thoughts, words, and actions. Notice Father, dear Father, I confess first what I am, and only after that what I have done. For I am rotten to the core. I have nothing in my nature that is clean. It is all leprous. It is by nature capable of nothing but sin. Nor have I been shy in proving it. See my thoughts, words and actions! There is not a one of them that is perfect, not a one done out of perfect love for you and gratitude to you for all you are to me.

I have done what is evil and failed to do what is good. There is original sin which totally corrupts my nature. I would neither know about it nor confess it, were it not for the conviction worked in me by the Holy Spirit in the law. That ignorance is doubly perverse, since I have so abundantly given evidence of my total depravity by a life full of actual sin. There are sins of commission, sins that I knew were sins, but I did them anyway. And equally beyond counting are the sins of omission, sins I most often don’t even recognize as sin. There is all the good that I could have done, the attention to your Word and to my prayers, the little acts of love to those around me, — ah, it would take me all day to recount them if I only knew them all.

For this I deserve your punishment both now and in eternity. It’s no use comparing myself to Hitler or to Stalin or to some murderer or rapist. To the extent that I was capable of evil, I have done evil. The cup of my iniquity is filled to overflowing. I have no excuse. I have no merit to offer of my own. All I can do is admit that I deserve to go to hell a thousand times over in each day of my life. Especially I call to mind how I have deserved that since I was last here in your house.

I am truly sorry for my sins — as needful as that is that I be truly sorry, I know that my sorrow atones for not one single sin; I even know that I can never be sorry enough. But still they press me sore like a weight that is too heavy for me. Beneath their dread load -

And trusting in my Savior Jesus Christ, I pray: Lord have mercy on me, a sinner. Father, dear Father, you called me beloved when you invited me to confess. And so I, a sinner, trust in my Savior, your only begotten Son, and clinging to him I pray: Take pity on me in the gutter of my guilt, covered with my shame, corrupted from top to bottom with my sin.

Monday, July 12, 2010

"The Western Rite" - Deutschlander - Part 1

A few weeks ago, we posted part of the introduction of an essay written by Prof. Em. Daniel M. Deutschlander entitled “The Western Rite: Its Development and Rich History and Its Relevance for Our Worship Life Today.” Over the next few weeks, we will be posting the remainder of that essay for those who are not minded to download it and read it all at once. It's just that good!



To a considerable extent an appreciation for the way we worship depends on the attitude that we bring to what is about to happen in the worship service. The entirety of the Liturgy — and we should be aware of it before and as we celebrate it — offers us and our people a stunning reality check. It bids us keep clear in our minds the sharp distinction between what seems to be and what really is in God, in us, in our worship itself. My own prayer before entering the chancel was that famous entry prayer from Psalm 43 with my own little addition: Enim ago ad alteram Dei; ergo miserere mihi! Jacob expressed it best when he declared after his encounter with Christ, Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it. ... How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven (Gen. 28:16-17)! It matters not whether the service is conducted in a barn or a cathedral, in a desert place or on the Mount of the Lord: We are about to enter into the presence of the living God. Wir besuchen den Gottesdienst! At his invitation we have come to visit him. We have been invited to be his guests in his house. He has hidden himself there in the shrine of the gospel, and he at the same time reveals himself through it and has promised to reveal himself in no other way . He who made all things out of nothing, he whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain will break the fundamental rule of nature and physics, Finitum non capax infiniti. He, the ineffable and incomprehensible, will give himself to us in the water of baptism, in the liturgy of the Word, in the presentation of himself in bread and wine.

And what are you, O sinful man, that you should come into his presence? At Sinai God covered himself with clouds and proclaimed the Law with thunder and lightning and a mountain shaking. At the dedication of the Tabernacle and of Solomon’s Temple, God came down in a cloud and veiled his glory, lest mortal man see him and die. In all the worship of the Old Testament only the High Priest could approach him and then only on the Great Day of Atonement and only with blood in his hands. But you draw near to him, speak to him and for him; you present him to his people and his people to him. At least your knees should shake a little! No one is worthy of so exalted an office. But he has entrusted it to you in the holy hour which is about to begin. The lowliness of your person, the lowliness of the place, the lowliness of those coming to visit him and to hear him should not obscure from the eyes of your soul the great glory of the moment.

It seems to me that even Lutheran art and architecture are uniquely suited to this attitude as we begin our celebration of the Liturgy. How different Lutheran churches are from most others. For all the beauty of the great cathedrals in Europe, what stands out in so many of them? Distractions! To be sure there is a beautiful high altar with its tabernacle, its crucifix, its statue of Christ. But all around is art and artifice that turns the eye and the soul away from him, whether it is beautiful painting or the statues of the saints and their altars. Often the altars dedicated to the Mother of God are more decorated and have more candles than his altar does, and they certainly have more visitors than his does. Nor is Roman worship lacking in ways to remove Christ from the center, even though so much of it is the historic Western Rite that we use. The priest is really the center, though of course that would be stoutly denied. He will offer sacrifice and that by virtue of the power passed on to him from Peter’s successor and his minions: All depends on him and on them if the sacrifice is to be a valid and efficacious one.

Or on the other hand, consider the sanctuaries of the sectarians. They are so barren in their appearance that the focus of attention is bound to be on the person sitting up front. There simply is nothing else to look at. And their worship so often reflects just that focus: The preacher is the star of the show, whose personality and flash are what have drawn many to the “service” in the first place. But enter a Lutheran church, and what do you see right from the start? The font where our sins are washed away, the cross or crucifix or statue of Christ from whom comes all the blessings that God has to give, the altar of the Sacrament where he feeds us with the very price of our salvation, the pulpit-shrine of his gospel where he meets us through the Word presented by his ambassador. The focus is at once on him who has invited us into is presence and who deigns to come and meet with us there, yes, who comes to give himself to us there.

Again, proper worship, proper celebration of the Liturgy begins with an attitude adjustment in the pastor, a marking of the difference in his own mind between the apparent and the real. In point of fact much of what he will do in the coming hour has been designed to accomplish just such an attitude adjustment in those who have come to visit God, to get them also to distinguish between the apparent and the real. What is apparent is weakness, meekness and lowliness in God as he appears in the Liturgy, so that we do not perish at his appearing. What is apparent is weakness, meekness and lowliness in his pastor, so that no one need fear drawing near. What is apparent is weakness, meekness and lowliness in those who have come to visit God in his house; they are a people filled with sin and need, and are so weak and lowly that they often are not even aware of their need or the depth of it at the beginning of the service. But the reality is vastly different. Here is the God who created heaven and earth out of nothing so that he could give it to us for our use; here is the Savior who became man and suffered hell in our place and rose again just for us; here and the Spirit who has come, as St. Bernard says, to kiss the soul in each portrayal of Christ and in the Word of God from the lips of his pastor. Here is the realization of the holy office of the ministry, the embodiment of the ministry of the keys to heaven. Here are the elect people God, chosen in eternity to be saints and heirs of eternal life.

And so we begin:

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Right from the first word of the Liturgy it’s clear: This isn’t about the pastor. It isn’t even about the attending crowd. It’s all about God, the one, true, only and Triune God. It is his name that stands over his house and all that is done there. He is the host. We are his guests. Historically there is disagreement over whether the Invocation is a prayer or a proclamation. It’s really both. In the mouth of the pastor God greets us with the proclamation not just of his person as three in one, but of his work for us as well. He who is our Father because of the work of his Son and the breathing of his Spirit has called us here. And so, as his doorkeeper and butler, the pastor says, In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

And the guests answer with a prayerful, Amen. They acknowledge that, yes, that is indeed the one who has drawn them here and invited them. All the things that seem important outside of this hour are as nothing in comparison to what is about to take place. Now we have come into the presence of God. We are always in his presence. But now, because of the cross, the font, the holy table and the tabernacle of the gospel in the pulpit, now we are aware of it in a special way. Let us give attention to him who descends to us and deigns to be our host in this holy hour! We will soon see and hear just how holy that hour is and how important compared to all the other hours of the week.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Praying for the LCMS in convention

This week, the LCMS will meet in convention. Although the WELS is not in fellowship with the LCMS, I know that there are still many, many confessional Lutherans within the LCMS, and I pray for them and for their synod, that it may be brought once again to true confessional Lutheran unity.

From an outsider’s perspective, it seems like there are several questions that need to be answered in the Missouri Synod. Some of them may begin to be addressed at their convention this week:

  • Will they discuss doctrine and practice openly, admit mistakes humbly, and address problems scripturally?

  • Will they make a clean break from false teachers in heterodox church bodies?

  • Will they recognize that practice cannot be divorced from doctrine?

  • Will they commit to insuring that practice coincides with doctrine in their member congregations?

  • Will they trust in the Means of Grace and be faithful in their use, leaving all the results in God’s hands?

  • Will they be fully identified with the historic, orthodox, Lutheran, catholic confession?

We would expect all these things from any confessional Lutheran church body, wouldn't we?

Are they willing to do these things in the Missouri Synod?

Are we?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Let's call it what it is - "Sectarian worship" - Part 3

So far in this series, we’ve detailed the sectarian origin of the phenomenon also known as “contemporary worship” (Part 1). We’ve also described the sectarian theology in which sectarian worship is rooted (Part 2). In the final installment of this series, we will explore the sectarian effects of sectarian worship.

Sectarian worship is incompatible with Lutheran worship because it has, both as its goal and as its outcome, to further divide God’s people into “sects.”

In our recent post entitled “Sectarian worship – in their own words,” numerous examples were given of the heretical Church Growth theology taught by sectarian Pastor Rick Warren. Church Growth theology teaches that “certain styles of music/worship” (Lutherans might try to Lutheranize that by saying “certain forms of Gospel presentation”) are necessary to reach certain kinds of people.

The practice that flows from this theology, therefore, is to provide various flavors of worship, depending on who the people are whom the worship leaders feel God is leading them to reach in their community (note the Pentecostalism inherent even in that assumption). Sectarian worship targets certain groups of people based on preference (or perceived preference).

In an interview with Mike Harland, Church Growth guru Ed Stetzer insists that a church go about deciding on its flavor(s) of worship by asking the question, “How can we create a setting (in our place and in our community) where people can worship God in spirit and in truth?” His understanding of “in spirit and in truth” revolves around the type of atmosphere that touches a person’s spirit (read “emotions”) so that the person’s worship may be “in truth” (read “sincere”). Harland answers Stetzer’s question with a typical prayer-as-a-means-of-grace response, “You have to inquire of the Lord, like David did in 1 Chronicles 14...You have to talk to God about where your church is going.”

It seems that, in sectarian thinking, God "tells" them what kind of worship to offer based largely on what kind of music the target people in the community have in their personal CD collections. For those who prefer classical music or organ music, a liturgical service is seen as a fine option – "nothing wrong with it, since it’s all a matter of personal preference." For those who prefer Pop music, there may be a Pop music option. The same is true for virtually any genre. Evangelical radio stations offer song choices to fit a broad range of personal preference – "nothing wrong with it, since music/style is all a matter of personal preference."

Likewise, if a “target audience” is perceived to prefer a more formal service, a more formal service may be offered. If a “target audience” is perceived to prefer a more casual atmosphere, a more casual atmosphere may be offered. Worship becomes like a buffet line, with a server on the other side of the table who asks, “How would you like to worship God today?”

I hope the “man-centered” nature of sectarian worship is becoming increasingly clear.

Of course, the effect of all this is that God’s people are divided into age groups, ethnic groups, and cultural groups, under the assumption that each group will have different preferences, and therefore ought to have a worship service that they can “relate to.” So instead of gathering together as the people of God, people are encouraged to split apart to find the style of worship that is “right for them.” In a single congregation, this may mean choosing which service they like better. In an area with various congregations, this may mean choosing which church offers the worship style they like better.

If we return to the Scriptures, none of these groupings based on personal preferences are honored, but rather rebuked. What are the divisions mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1 but factions formed on the basis of personal preference – in that case, a preference for one minister over another, even though the doctrine and content of their message was the same? Instead, God’s people are instructed to see themselves as a single body – the body of Christ, gathered out of the nations of this world to form a new nation, with our minds set on things above, not on earthly things. Human culture is not ignored, but it is intentionally minimized in favor of the common spiritual culture of faith. Personal preferences are not removed from an individual’s life, but are made irrelevant in the corporate gatherings of the Church. The same malady is proclaimed to all. The same promise is proclaimed to all. The same Means of Grace is administered to all. The same Biblical story is told to all, and relevant to all, and efficacious to all.

The one dividing factor among peoples found in Scripture and recognized by the Church of all ages is not musical or even cultural. It is the language factor. People are still divided, to some extent, by language. The Holy Spirit himself overcame that barrier miraculously on the Day of Pentecost. He has overcome it at various points in human history by governing the nations in such a way that there has always been a more or less commonly understood language (Aramaic, Greek, Latin, French, English). And he has overcome it by gifting his people with the ability to learn foreign languages and proclaim the gospel in other tongues.

The goal of Lutheran worship is certainly not to be unlikeable, but neither is the goal of Lutheran worship to be likeable. Historic, liturgical, Lutheran worship has always emphasized the sameness among human beings rather than their differences, and the sameness of how God deals with sinners, no matter what their culture, no matter what their background or preferences. Even when Christians have been divided by a language barrier, they have found the liturgy to be just as relevant in any language and on every continent, because the liturgy does not seek to satisfy the preference of anyone, but merely to convey the Means of Grace that transcends both culture and preference, using art forms that are intended to serve the message rather than art forms that are intended to please the people.

Sectarian worship starts with a false premise – that the presentation of the Gospel can or must be molded to personal taste in order for the Holy Spirit to attract a person or get through to a person. In effect, this divides the people of God into sects. In essence, this is nothing but the idolatry of self.

Explanation of the Common Service — Part 5

by Douglas Lindee

This is the fifth and final part in the series of blog posts covering the Explanation of the Common Service, published in 1908, by the old General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This was the organization founded by leaders of the 19th Century Confessional Lutheran movement, most notably Charles Porterfield Krauth. The Explanation was written out of loving concern for Lutheran youth, being dedicated to "young Lutherans who ask the meaning of the beautiful liturgy of the Lutheran Church," that they would come to an understanding and appreciation of the liturgy and thus preserve this beautiful gift of the Church to following generations -- that christocentric and sacramental practice would continue to accompany and reinforce our christocentric and sacramental Lutheran doctrine in a manner that is distinctively ecclesiastical. Such practice is a far cry from what some would choose to exchange it for: anthropocentric, sacrificial practice that is distinctively worldly.

Part One of this series covered the Foreword and Introduction of the Common Service. Part Two covered the Invocation through the Preparation. Part Three covered The Office of the Word, and Part Four covered The Holy Supper.

In this final post we include the sketch above -- a graphic depiction of the Lutheran Liturgy as embodied in the Common Service, the meaning of which was opened up to us in Explanation of the Common Service -- for those who appreciate visual aids to get a summary view of detailed information. In addition, we post from material toward the end of the Explanation, covering a brief history and explanation of Christian hymnody and a brief explanation of the liturgical colors that complement the liturgical Church year. Before proceeding with this latter material, however, I thought that I would post the following quotes from a vitally important Lutheran book, The Conservative Reformation and its Theology, by Charles Porterfield Krauth. Published in 1871, this work embodied his vigorous and scholarly attempt to unite the various Lutheran church bodies in America under the Lutheran Confessions. It was a time of Confessional renewal, of the sort needed in all of Lutheranism today. The Conservative Reformation is currently being reprinted by Concordia Publishing House, as is its companion works by Schmauk and Benze, The Confessional Principle and the Confessions of the Lutheran Church.

Anyway, in Ch. IV of Krauth's Conservative Reformation, he made the point that Lutheranism, having attained pre-eminence in its theological rigor, was also an educating church -- a point made very clear by the Explanation currently under study, being full of liturgical and theological terms with which it purposed to catechize Lutheran young people. Krauth goes on in this same chapter to highlight the unrivaled beauty and compelling art of Lutheran hymnody:
    [quoting Goebel] 'The Lutheran Church has a great pre-eminence of the Reformed in regard to its internal theological development. German theological science comes forth from the Lutheran Church. The theology of the Lutheran Church supported by German diligence, thoroughness, and profundity, stage by stage, amid manifold struggles and revolutions, arose to an amazing elevation, astounding and incomprehensible to the Swiss, the French, and the English.' 'The Lutheran Church,' says Lange, 'is the Church of theologians'. ...At once as a cause and a result of this greatness in the highest form of learning, may be regarded the fact that the Lutheran Church is an Educating Church from the humblest sphere of the children of the poor to the highest range of the scholar's erudition [referring to 'catechetical instruction, congregational and public schools, and universities'].

    ...Many embarrassing circumstances prevented the Lutheran Church from developing her life as perfectly in her church constitution as in her doctrines and worship... But especially in sacred song has the Lutheran Church a grand distinctive element of her worship. 'The Lutheran Church,' says Schaff, 'draws the fine arts into the service of religion, and has produced a body of hymns and chorals, which, in richness, power, and unction, surpasses the hymnology of all other churches in the world.' 'In divine worship,' says Goebel, 'we reach glorious features of pre-eminence. The hymns of the Church are the people's confession, and have wrought more than the preaching. In the Lutheran Church alone, German hymnology attained a bloom truly amazing. The words of holy song were heard everywhere, and sometimes, as with a single stroke, won whole cities for the Gospel'.

    ...[quoting Nevin, a contemporary of his in the German Reformed Church, and nemesis of Charles Hodge in Reformed circles of the time] 'We have no wish to have the Lutheran Church overwhelmed in this country by the reigning unhistorical spirit of our American Christianity – no wish to see it
    Americanized, in the sense of anything like a general rupture with its original theological life. The whole Reformed church here, whether it be perceived or not, has a vast interest at stake on the power of the Lutheran Church to remain true and faithful to her confessional mission.' ...That such a Church has a mission of extraordinary importance in this land [America] in which exist such dangerous tendencies to sectarianism and radicalism, and whose greatest need is the cultivation of historical feeling, under the restraint of a wholesome conservatism, requires no argument. ...The catholicity of the range of our Church among nations, in which she is entirely without parallel among Protestant Churches, does, indeed, make the problem of the fusion of her elements very difficult; but it is the very same problem which our nation [America] has had to solve.

    Krauth, C.P. (1871).
    The Conservative Reformation and its Theology. Philadelphia: Lippincott. (pp. 151-160).
These words supply an ample preamble to what follows, in this last post in a series covering the Explanation of the Common Service -- a work published by Krauth's own General Council in 1908.

NOTE: Previous installments in this series can be found at the following links:IN ADDITION, this entire series was republished as the single blog post,along with the following companion blog posts:

An Explanation of the Common Service (1908)
Board of Publication of the General Council of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America

To the
Young Lutheran who asks
The Meaning of the
Beautiful Liturgy of
His church


Christian Hymnody

A HYMN is a sacred song. A Christian hymn is one that embodies Christian truth, or gives expression to Christian belief and feeling. "Know ye," asks St. Augustine, "what a hymn is? It is a song with praise of God. If thou praisest God and singest not, thou utterest no hymn. If thou singest and praisest not God, thou utterest no hymn."

There are two kinds of hymns, inspired and uninspired. The inspired hymns are all found in the Holy Scriptures. These are the Psalms and all of the Canticles, except the Benedicite which is found in the Septuagint, but not in the Hebrew Bible, and the Te Deum, which is an ancient Christian hymn.

The inspired hymns are all Hebrew in form. The principal characteristic of Hebrew poetry is the parallelism or responsiveness between the two parts of each verse. For instance, in the second verse of the fifty-first Psalm, we read, "Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity: and cleanse me from my sin." Here the second clause parallels and balances the first, reproducing the same general idea, but in other words and with a slight variation in the thought. In Psalm 119:113, the two clauses are sharply antithetical. In Psalm 1:1, there is a regular progression in the thought. Again, the second clause supplies the reason for what is said in the first, as in Psalm 16:1, or it may state the results which follow, as in Psalm 23:1. On account of this parallelism, the psalms should always be rendered antiphonally, whether they be read or chanted, each verse being divided for this purpose by the colon.

With the exception of a few, which are numbered with the Canticles, the uninspired hymns of the Church have taken the form of compositions with metre and rime. In this the Church has followed "the universal promptings of human nature peculiar to no age, which in sacred compositions, as in others, looks for smoothness and ease, for the music of language, for the assistance to memory, and for something to rivet the attention; to which the music may form an harmonious accompaniment."

For a long time the preference of the Church was for the Psalms of the Bible; and it is very probable that before the hymn found its way into the Service, it was in common use among the people. Only gradually, because of its value as a means of spiritual edification, did it win for itself a place in public worship. At first, the popular use of the hymn was confined to the heretics, who employed it in the spread of their false doctrines among the people. In self-defense orthodox writers composed numerous hymns, which finally displaced the songs of the heretics. Many of these ancient compositions are still in use in the East, and some of them, in translated form, throughout the Church.

Early Christian Hymnody
Among the very first composers and users of uninspired Christian hymns were the Syrians, whose language closely resembles if it is not identical with the language which was spoken by the common people of Palestine in the time of our Lord. The Syriac hymnody was rich and full, and in general use for a thousand years and more. The main stream of Church hymnody, however, takes its rise in the Greek Church of the East. The oldest of all Christian hymns is a Greek hymn of Clement of Alexandria (170-220). The later Greek hymnody reached its zenith at the close of the eighth century.

Latin hymnody originated in, and was derived from, the Greek hymnody of the East. The earliest names which can be connected with any Latin hymns, occur at the beginning of the fourth century. But from the fourth to the sixteenth century, the Latin is the main stream of Christian hymnody. It contains the best of the Greek, and was the inspiration of the majority of the first German hymns. Hundreds of the old Latin hymns, in translated form, are in common use in the Christian Church today.

The Influence of the German Reformation
"The Church hymn, in the strict sense of the term, as a popular religious lyric in the praise of God to be sung by the congregation in public worship, was born with German Reformation." German hymnody surpasses all others in wealth. The number of German hymns cannot fall short of one hundred thousand. "To this treasury of song several hundred men and women of all ranks and conditions – theologians and pastors, princes and princesses, generals and statesmen, physicians and jurists, merchants and travelers, laborers and private persons – have made contributions, laying them on the common altar of devotion." The treasures of German hymnody have enriched churches of other tongues and passed into Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and modern English and American hymn-books. Luther was the leader in the reformation of the doctrine and the worship of the Church; he was also the first evangelical hymnist. "To Luther belongs the extraordinary merit of having given to the German people in their own tongue, the Bible, the Catechism and the hymn-book, so that God might speak directly to them in His Word, and that they might directly answer Him in their songs." Luther's example inspired many others to compose evangelical hymns, so that by the middle of the sixteenth century a large number of them were in common use. After the period of the Reformation German hymnody was constantly enriched. Where there are so many famous names which claim attention, space forbids more than the mention of the very greatest hymnist since Luther, Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676). In poetic fertility he greatly surpassed Luther, and his one hundred and twenty-three hymns "are among the noblest pearls in the treasury of sacred poetry." The several English Lutheran hymnals now in use, all contain translations from the principal German hymn-writers of the last four centuries.

In Sweden, the first evangelical hymn-writers were the two renowned brothers, Olaf and Lars Peterson, the chief assistants of Gustavus in the work of reformation. But the greatest name in Swedish Hymnody is that of Johan Olaf Wallin, who at the beginning of the nineteenth century revised the hymn-book, contributing to it about one hundred and fifty hymns of his own. This book remains in the form in which he brought it out. It is highly prized by the Swedes, and is used everywhere.

Claus Martenson Tondebinder (1500-1576) was the father of Danish hymnology. He issued what was perhaps the first complete hymnary of the whole North. "The Hymn Book for Church and Home Worship," which is in use in Denmark today, may be traced back through many revised and supplemented editions to Tondebinder's "Handbook" published in 1528.

The Norwegians have in the main followed the lead of Denmark in their hymns. Several hymn-books have been in use in Norway, but the one most generally used is "The Church Hymn-book," edited on the basis of existing books by Magnus B. Landstad (b. 1802) and authorized in 1869. A supplement was added in 1892.

In Iceland, for a long time, the hymn-book consisted of translations of the earlier hymns of the Danish hymnary. It was published under the name of Graduale which was explained to mean Messu-saungs bok (The Mass-song Book). The last edition was issued in 1773. A new hymn-book, of the first rank among modern Lutheran hymn-books, appeared in 1886. The Bible Poems of Valdimar Briem (b. 1848), have placed him in the first rank among modern hymnists.

The earlier Scandinavian hymns were doctrinal, but the later are to a great extent expressive of religious sentiments, hopes and fears. Their plaintiveness is very marked, while the strength of their writers' personal faith is undeniable. The blending of the two, as in the illustration below, often produces a most pleasing result. That English hymnody might borrow with advantage from the Scandinavian, is not to be doubted, although at present but few translations are available for use. The following is a specimen, from the Danish poet Brorson, of the style of hymn which largely prevails in the North:

"I build on one foundation,
On Christ who died for me;
Sheltered by Jesus' passion
My soul at rest shall be:
'Tis there the life of heaven
Poor worthless I obtain;
Through what my Lord has given
The Father's love I gain.

No craft or deep invention,
No princely power or might,
Nor aught that man can mention
Of mocking or despite,
Nor weak nor strong endeavor,
Nor want's or sorrow's smart,
Nor death itself, shall sever
My soul from Jesus' heart."

"The English hymn singing at the time of the Reformation was the echo of that which roused the enthusiasm of Germany under Luther. The most notable proof of this is found in Coverdale's Goostly Psalms and Spiritual Songs." Most of the book "is a more or less close rendering from the German; and some of the finest hymns are Luther's."

The three Wedderburn brothers, before 1546, published a translation of Luther's hymns into Scotch-English, with a paraphrase of Luther's Catechism. It is interesting to note that, long before Calvinistic versions of the Psalms were sung by the Scotch, they used such renderings of Luther's words as the following:

"And He, that we should not forget,
Gave us His Body for to eat
In form of bread, and gave, as sign,
His Blood to drink in form of wine;
Who will receive this sacrament
Should have true faith and sin repent;
Who uses it unworthily,
Receiveth death eternally."


"Our baptism is not done all one day,
But all our life it lasts identical;
Remission of our sins endures for aye,
For though we fall, through great fragility,
The covenant, once contracted faithfully
By our great God, shall ever remain,
As oft as we repent and sin refrain."

Very few original English hymns are of earlier date than the close of the seventeenth century, and the actual development of English hymns began among the Nonconformists, the Baptists and the Independents. Isaac Watts (1674-1748), who lifted English hymns out of obscurity into fame, may justly be called the father of English hymnody. After him, Philip Doddridge (1702-1751) may be mentioned. But the greatest English hymnist, and one of the greatest hymn-writers of all ages, was Charles Wesley (1707-1788). He is said to have written no less than sixty-five hundred hymns, and it is perfectly marvelous how many of them rise to the highest degree of excellence. It is an interesting fact that his brother John's little collection of Psalms and Hymns, which was one of the very first attempts at an English hymn-book, was published at Charlestown, while John Wesley was among the Lutherans in Georgia, in 1737.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the use of hymns was still a new departure in the order of divine worship in the Church of England. Until the middle of the century, the Dissenting element made up nearly two-thirds of the total contents of the hymn-books in use in this Church. Since then Church of England writers have greatly added to the number of English hymns, translating many of the best Latin and German hymns and producing many more of original composition.

America has already produced a large number of hymn-writers. Naturally, English Lutheran hymnody is yet in its infancy. However, the proposed "Common English Hymnal" for Lutheran congregations, contains original hymns by Joseph A. Seiss and Henry E. Jacobs, and translations by Dr. Seiss, Charles Porterfield Krauth, Charles W. Schaeffer and Harriet R. Spaeth.

Office of the Hymn
As St. Chrysostom says, "Nothing gladdens the soul like modulated verse – a divine song composed in metre." It was Luther's purpose to inculcate the word of God in the hearts of the people by the use of song. The hymn as such is not intended to be didactic, and yet it is one of the surest means of conveying sound doctrine, and perpetuating it in the Church. St. Paul himself recognized the use of Christian song in teaching (Col. 3:16). Moreover, it is chiefly by the use of the hymn that the participation of the congregation in public worship is secured. The purpose of the hymn in the Service depends upon its position, although in general it may be said that its principal object is to awaken and stimulate devotion. Doddridge's hymns were sung as the enforcement of his sermons, and were probably given out from the pulpit, line by line. Sometimes the hymn serves as a preparation for what follows, as does the principal hymn in Matins; again it is the form in which the congregation appropriates what has preceded, as in the principal hymn in Vespers. The office of each hymn used in the Common Service, and the kind of hymn to be used, have been indicated at the proper places in this Explanation.

Liturgical Colors

Chief Festivals

Minor Festivals
I Advent to Christmas Eve: Violet

Reformation Festival: Red
Christmas Eve to Octave of Epiphany (Jan. 13) included: White

General Thanksgiving Days: Red
II Epiphany to Quinquagesima, included: Green

Harvest Days: Red
Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday, included: Violet

Dedication of a Church: Red
Holy Week: Black

Days of Humiliation and Prayer: Black
Easter Sunday to Exaudi, included: White

Festivals of the Virgin which are retained: White
Pentecost and its Octave (Trinity): Red

Apostles' Days, St. Michael's Day, All Saints' Day: Red
Sundays after Trinity: Green

Commemoration of the Dead and Funerals: Black

The above is the order recommended by the General Council. Another rule of good authority prescribes Violet from Septuagesima to Maundy Thursday, included.

Significance of Liturgical Colors

Violet. – A shade of purple, the color of royalty. It symbolizes the majesty of Christ in His humility. Being a sober, earnest color, it invites to meditation, and has been adopted by the Church for the two great seasons of preparation – seasons of fasting and prayer.

White. – The color of light. Also of those who minister in God's presence – Angels, Rev. 15:6. The Elders, Rev. 4:4. The Saints in heaven, Rev. 7:9,14. Hence, those who minister in holy things in the Sanctuary may appropriately be robed in white. This color symbolizes Divinity, Dan. 7:9, Matt. 17:2; purity, Rev. 19:8; victory, Rev. 3:4,5; 6:11.

Green. – The common color of nature, in the freshness of her bloom. Restful to the eye, and widely diffused, it is used by the Church for her common seasons. It is also symbolic of the Christian life, which is the fruit of God's grace, set forth in the services of the Season when nature dons her green vesture and brings forth her best fruits.

Red. – The color of blood and fire. It is symbolical of sin and its atonement. Also of the Church, redeemed by the blood of Christ, and testified by the blood of martyrs. Her faith and zeal are enkindled and perpetuated by the fire of God's Holy Spirit.

Black. – The color of darkness, the absence of light. Symbolical of death, and the deepest sorrow and humility.

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