- Many of us see our common enemy, the devil, threatening our unity as a synod, mainly through the backdoor of our practice. We sing and preach about unity, but it is becoming increasingly clear that there lurks among us a spirit of disunity. It is certainly not everywhere; but it is there. Let us acknowledge where the devil is mounting his assault so that, by God’s power and might, we may defeat him: worship practices that are inconsistent with confessional Lutheran theology; Church Growth theology and methodology; paying lip service to the Means of Grace while mimicking the practices of the churches that deny the efficacy of the Means of Grace; forfeiting our confessional Lutheran identity, either by neglect or by choice.
- Many would like to simply agree to disagree on these matters rather than disturb the Church over them. That would be understandable if the issues revolved around personal preference. But the issues are theological, not personal. True spiritual unity is not preserved by ignoring theology. What we are advocating is an open theological discussion with solid theological conclusions. If we are misunderstanding one another, let us make things clear. If arguments have been built upon logical fallacies, let them be exposed. If any have strayed from confessional Lutheran doctrine or practice, let them take note and return. For our part, we have made a small beginning at such a discussion by creating this blog where we will be posting articles that promote and encourage confessional Lutheranism... Contribute what you can to the discussion... What we ask you not to do, dear brother, is absent yourself from the discussion as if there were nothing to discuss, as if it didn’t apply to you, as if you could close your eyes and shut your ears and pretend you have no responsibility to defend the synod you call your home from the devil’s divisive schemes. This is only a beginning, a first step (not to imply that we are the first or the best to speak about these issues). What we seek is unity – true confessional Lutheran unity within the WELS, a goal that only the Holy Spirit can bring about.
One of the predecessor forums to Intrepid Lutherans, run by WELS members, which treated of issues in WELS, was aptly named “Issues in WELS.” Now defunct, many laymen discovered through this organization that WELS wasn’t the paradise they were led to believe it was – not that they were especially successful at broadcasting their existence and distributing their materials; but a simple Google search with the words “issue” and “Lutheran” seemed to do the trick for many WELS Lutherans. For others, they either already knew, or figured out for themselves that something was amiss. Most, it would seem, are still oblivious – for better or worse. Another forum, run by WELS members, which also treated of issues in WELS, was the blog Bailing Water. Now relatively dormant, the blog owner continues to maintain it as a Confessional and historical resource. The reader, if he is unfamiliar with it, is encouraged to peruse that “resource,” to get an idea of the nature of discussion up to the time Bailing Water wound down its active life. In many ways, the nature of discussion on Intrepid Lutherans is made dramatically different by the requirement that commenters post under their real names. Thus, in commenting on Intrepid Lutherans, one puts his good name and reputation on the line, not only for his peers to evaluate, but their posterity. One result has been that commenters seem to more carefully measure their words when they post. Another has been that many simply will not allow their opinions, concerns or positions on certain matters to become publicly known.
Congregate before Entertainers
or shall we more charitably say,
“congregate before other worshipers.”
|(top) Lakewood Megachuch, Houston, TX|
(bottom) Hillsong Megachurch, Sydney, AU
- Here’s another aspect of the discussion that I rarely see raised. When people talk about how contemporary services are more “engaging” than liturgical ones, I would argue that the problem is not the liturgy, but the liturgy done poorly. I have been in many WELS churches where the pastor mumbles through it as though what were going on were NOT special... was NOT opening the gates of heaven. I’ve been in churches where the Gloria, a joyful hymn given to us by the angels, was sung at the tempo of a funeral dirge.
To say that because the Western Rite shares the Word of God, then whether or not it is done well makes no difference, is to overstate the Scripture. Yes, the Word is how the Spirit works. But if I am a pastor (or a congregation) and my efforts to use the Word are so half-hearted, then I’m not sure why I would expect the Spirit to bless my efforts. To state it more succinctly, if the Western Rite is done badly, when it could be done well, why WOULD God bless it? The pastor and congregation’s half-hearted worship means they are luke-warm towards the Gospel that worship proclaims. Therefore, while confessional, their worship is an affront to him, as Jesus’ words to to the church at Laodicea makes clear.
Therefore, I’d like to see more WELS congregations doing what I know some are - looking at how they utilize the Western Rite. Where does the chant from TLH come from? It’s like 18th century Scotland? I honestly don’t know. But I can’t imagine that 18th century Scotland was a bastion of confessional Lutheranism. Therefore, let’s not be too emotionally attached to the chant. Perhaps there’s a better musical vehicle in which to couch the Gloria, Agnus Dei, Sanctus, etc. That’s VERY Lutheran - keeping the text, but updating the melody - as the vast number of hymns in the “Hymns of the Liturgy” section demonstrate.
To sum up, what I’d like to see is the Gloria sung in all our churches, but a version which might be a better vehicle than page 15 of TLH or page 16 in CW. Same with all five canticles of the Western Rite. I’d like to see them done in a style that - yes - enthuses people. No, I am not an enthusiast. I’m a musician, who finds bad, tired singing a stumbling block when trying to worship.
Maybe, if the Western Rite were done well, there wouldn’t be such a rush to contemporary services.
- You state on 1/16, “I would argue that the problem is not the liturgy, but the liturgy done poorly. ...Maybe, if the Western Rite were done well, there wouldn’t be such a rush to contemporary services.”
Speaking purely in human terms, I agree that there seems to be a superabundance of, well, mediocrity in our worship. I see it when I travel, and it distresses me, as well. However, having spent nearly thirty years as a pop-church Evangelical and about three years as a praise-band guitarist, I can tell you for a fact that Contemporary Worship is no panacea – they struggle with the same problem. And what is that problem? Our own sin and weakness of faith.
Many Lutheran congregations in the 70's and 80's left behind their catholic and confessional heritage, thinking that the “more engaging” music and worship forms of the sectarians would better serve the interests of faith, by removing the “stumbling block” of forms that “fail to enthuse” (as you seem to put it). A disturbing percentage of these congregations (by my estimation) eventually left behind the Lutheran Confession entirely, failing to cure their sin and faith problems with the sectarian worship forms they imported from the heterodox, but having been taught by these forms, and the passions they engender, to trust their own acts of worship as Means through which with Holy Spirit works to strengthen faith. This is lex orandi, lex credendi in action. Under the guidance of then popular Lutheran leaders, like Rev. Larry Christiansen (a household name as I was growing up), the teaching of the Means of Grace was mutilated, most notably forcing a distinction between water Baptism and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, in order to justify Worship as a Means of Grace, or specifically, a Means through which the Holy Spirit works to strengthen faith. I know the process...
Congregate before the Means of Grace
|(top) St. Matthew Ev. Lutheran Church (ELCA), Wauwatosa, WI|
(bottom) Grace Ev. Lutheran Church (ELCC), Oakville, ON
So, assuming that proper Gospel motivation is behind a desire to pursue excellence in worship, rather than remain content with mediocrity, are there practical things that a congregation can do to “do the liturgy and traditional hymnody richly” rather than “poorly?” I think that there are.
Whenever instrumentation in the Divine Service draws attention to itself, it distracts the worshiper from his confession and from focus on Christ. Worship accompaniment is nothing other than a companion to the worship of Christians in the assembly. It melts in with the voices of the congregation, and serves only to assist in guiding the melody – much like the individual two pews over who sings a little louder than everyone else. Worship accompanists are nothing other than co-worshipers. That is what makes the organ so perfect as a worship instrument. Despite its kingly size and wide range, it is almost invisible to the worshiper – it fills the chamber so completely that it has no location, and coexists in unity with the single voice of the congregation. Rock 'n Roll “praise bands,” with their stage antics and entertainment presence, by their nature draw attention to themselves. Likewise do self-absorbed vocalists (men or women designated as so-called “Worship Ministers”), who launch into their own impromptu monologues and prayers in Representational capacity during the worship they are designated to “lead” (and, yes, I know for a fact that this happens in WELS congregations – I’ve seen it on St. Mark Depere’s website, and my own Pastor has indicated to me how upset he has been with a local WELS congregation which has embraced Contemporary Worship, where he has witnessed one of the female “worship ministers” preach her own exhortational mini-sermon, in front of the congregation, during the course of worship!). As distracting as this is, a poorly maintained organ, wheezing, anemic, and out of tune, is offensive to the ears. A poorly trained organist is worse. They draw attention to themselves and away from focus on Christ for negative reasons, and create aversion for the Divine Service itself. Organs, as a simple matter of stewardship, need to be maintained, and ought to be replaced when their service life is ended. Organists ought to be encouraged to continue their training, and I would think that continuing lessons ought to gladly be sponsored by the congregation.
Pastor’s Role as Liturgist
Pastors, one would think, would be so full of faith that, in their role as liturgists, they couldn’t fail to make obvious the significance of their Representation, and of the congregation’s corporate confession, through appropriate presence and tonal inflection. Sadly, I’ve heard far too many drones to make this assumption, [and worse, I’ve heard far to many clumsy lovers romance their congregations from the pulpit, “mouthing their verse and moaning their tragedy” – DL]. Pastors ought to make it a practice to examine how they express themselves in public, and make conscious effort to complement their words with congruent inflection, and to speak with the authority one would expect of a man who stands by the command and in the stead of Jesus Christ.
Catechesis of the Worshiper
Among the chiefest of Liturgical Devices
|(top) A 19th Century color plate showing the “city scape” of Strasbourg, France. On the left is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-Strasbourg, on the right, is Église Saint-Thomas (at that time referred to as “the Lutheran Cathedral,” as by then the Cathédrale, which lies to the northeast of Église Saint-Thomas, had returned to the control of the Roman Catholics.) Prior to the 20th Century, Christian church buildings were the most prominent man-made feature of European and American city-scapes and country-sides. Much more than four walls and a roof, these liturgical devices are full of meaning in their appearance, preaching Law and Gospel by their mere presence just as much as the liturgy itself – and broadcasting that message to everyone within view of them.|
(bottom) Considered one the of the most beautiful churches in Latvia, Velēna Ev.Lutheran Church is, at 115 years of age, a very young neo-gothic structure. It is pictured above in a photo by Gatis Pāvils linked from his website, Ambermarks.com
I mentioned in a previous entry, above, that worshipers ought to be taught to think the words they recite and sing, to take ownership of those words as their own thoughts, and give them their due expression. They need to come to understand the gravity of the words they use, and the reason they are recited together with others.
Worshipers also need to be taught the meaning of what they are doing, and what the pastor is doing, as they are carried together by the liturgy through the Divine Service. Which parts of the service are Sacramental? Which parts are Sacrificial? When do the Sacramental and Sacrificial parts of the service take place, and where do they take place? When and how is the Pastor acting Representationally, and who is he representing at various points in the service? When is the Pastor to be absent from the Chancel and why?
Worshipers need to be taught the meaning of what they see. The appointments in the Nave and Chancel are liturgical devices, which communicate in the symbolical language of ecclesiastical art. For those blessed with stained glass, these works of art often speak for themselves. But what of altars, triptychs, lecterns and pulpits, fonts, vestments in their variety, paraments, crosses and crucifixes, candelabras, and various vessels of the Eucharist? What do they mean and why are they placed where they are? Why is the pulpit and lectern positioned off to the side? Baptist and Evangelical churches have a single “lectern/pulpit” mounted in the center. Baptist churches generally don’t have an altar. Why the difference? The language of these symbols needs to be taught if they are to be used beneficially.
Of course, the most prominent of liturgical devices is the architecture of the church building itself! The neo-gothic architecture is the product of centuries of experimentation, to perfect the functioning of the building with respect the Western Rite. Why is there a bell tower? Why is there a cross mounted on top? Baptist churches don’t have crosses, they have spires. Why the difference? Why is the Nave and the Chancel separated? Why are the Sacristies located where they are? Why is the organ and choir located in the rear? Baptist and Reformed churches have the organ and choir mounted in the front? Why the difference? (Related to these questions, unfortunately, is the painful topic of the utter tragedy of contemporary church architecture...).
The answer to all of these questions is, doctrine – which emphasizes the importance of teaching pure doctrine through our practice (lex orandi, lex credendi). [Indeed, Professor John Schaller himself notoriously emphasized the need to emphasize doctrine in relation to what Lutherans uniquely DO, especially compared to what sectarians DO! – DL]. One of the best books I have ever read on these topics is an old book, by Dr. P.E. Kretzmann, Christian Art, In the Place and in the Form of Lutheran Worship. In addition to these questions, it also covers the history of the liturgy, hymnology, heartology, and the content of Lutheran liturgy. Published in 1921, it is also available used, and via "print on demand" from CPH...
Conference of Intrepid Lutherans: Church and Continuity ~ June 1-2, 2012
Bethlehem Lutheran Church ~ Oshkosh, WI
The Beauty of the Western Rite, Part 1
The Beauty of the Western Rite, Part 2
by Rev. Michael Berg (WELS)