A letter that needs writing….

This is a letter that many pastors need to write to their congregations as we slip down the slope……

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ;

As you all are aware there is currently a push by some progressive members of the congregation to replace the liturgy used in our Sunday services. It appears that there are two views of how this replacing of the liturgy should happen. One approach is that the liturgy be entirely replaced with what is called a ‘contemporary praise and worship’ service. The second approach is that we continue to have two services keeping the liturgy in the early service and changing the second service to this ‘contemporary praise and worship’ style. I would like to point out that there is, in fact, another way to approach the question of how our services are ordered.

Mission San Juan, San Antonio, Texas

Recalling that the Church[1] is the bride of Christ. The primary function for the Church is for God’s people to worship Him. The fact that we can gather is a divine miracle. That is why in our Small Catechism we confess that it is the Holy Ghost that ‘… calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith…‘[2]

I view the Church as God’s garden. Through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord, God creates his garden, the Church. Through care and nurturing the Church began to bloom and blossom in worship. Over the ages this mutual nurturing of God and organic response of the Church has resulted in the liturgy we use today.

In His mercy and through baptism in Jesus, God plants you and me in the Church. In the Church, Jesus promises that each of us will receive the nurturing of God’s holy Word and the Church responds in liturgy. Even as we worship, our bound wills seek to delude us into believing that we are pious, righteous and devout toward God. We turn our backs on God and begin to think that worship is our doing something for God.

With this pride, come our most precious religious, political, economic, and patriotic dreams. Myths we tell ourselves and one another; and to which we retreat so that we do not have to take care of our fellows and the good earth.[3] Once we are snared by these myths, we begin to see our personal wants, needs and desires as being the measure of all things. This leads us to think that praise and worship are things we do once a week in church for God.

This brings us to the day and the evil therein. There are three groups of stewards in the garden of the Church. In our congregation all three are present, that is not unusual. Each steward has a different idea of how to care for the garden and as such a dispute has arose as to which is the better steward.[4]

One group of stewards would like to have the liturgy be entirely replaced with what is called a ‘contemporary praise and worship’ service. They are the radical progressives. Radical in that they want to strike the root.[5] They would have the congregation tear out and burn out the existing garden, up root the young and the mature blooms and blossoms and start over with a fallow garden.

These radical progressives are not without seed for the fallow garden. They bring with them the seeds of ‘what everyone else is doing,’ ‘what is popular,’ and will ‘make the church grow.’ These seeds are ‘new’ in that they would introduce to our services songs that we hear on the radio, except with CINO[6] words in place of the original verses. They would bring in ‘new’ readings from the latest top sellers at the local CINO book store. They would replace the existing congregation with ‘new’ people from the un-churched and those that ‘do not have a personal relationship with Jesus.’

A second group of progressives would continue to have two services keeping the liturgy in the early service and changing the second service to this ‘contemporary praise and worship’ style. These liberal progressives want to keep the liturgy for themselves, but are willing to give liberty to another group who wish to have a ‘modern’ service. They wish to only fallow part of the garden in order to experiment with the seeds of ‘what everyone else is doing,’ ‘what is popular,’ and will ‘make the church grow.’

The liberal progressives do not have new seed for the garden. Rather they view the matter of worship as pure contingency. Through their view of Christian freedom, they are willing to let the radicals have a ‘go at it’ not realizing that the seeds of radicals will soon over grow the liberals part of the garden. They turn their backs on the other side and wish them good luck, only to be surprised with how the liturgy will change over time.

These ‘new’ seeds grow well in fallow ground and slowly expand to other parts of the garden until the entire garden has changed. The hymns will be replaced with ‘cover songs.’ The organ will grow dusty as guitars, tambourines, drums and other bar-band instruments become the standard. The symbols of the Church will be replaced with symbols of the people: butterflies and modern art wall hangings, blue jeans and flowered shirts, ‘come to Jesus’ expressions and Hallmark card sentimentality. The processionals will be replaced with ‘liturgical dance’ and children’s performances.

The great travesty of this move is that eventually even the sacraments of the Church will be changed to reflect the progressive vision. The divine gifts of baptism and the Lord’s Supper will become symbolic and reenactments of the life of Jesus. Baptism will be a ‘cleaning up’ of the people who have chosen to be better. The Lord’s Supper will become a drive-trough with the bread served as you pass by the pastor and the wine, now grape juice, will be served in plastic ‘Jesus jiggers.’

As you can tell by now, I count myself out of either of these two groups. However, before you discount me a some stick-in-the-mud old fogy, hear me out. As a fallen and sinful man, I recognize the need for the church to all ways be reforming. I stand by organic reformation rather than quick or slow revolution. Our existing fellowship hall has a stage for songs, ‘praise band’ music, a more relaxed setting for ‘wall art’ and ‘dressing down;’ and a perfect place for dancing and performing by young and old.

This is what we should do after services on Sunday morning. Enjoy each other and the gifts that God has given us. The ‘pot-luck’ meal where we share the life abundant with one another. Yes, we should let ourselves relax and bask in the glow of what our God has done for us each day, but especially on the Lord’s day.

As for the liturgy, it is constantly reforming with ever the eyes toward keeping it God-centered and Christ-centered. All changes to the liturgy are slow, deliberate and ordered as to not introduce chaos into the church or congregation. Concerning the sacraments, it would be a violation of my vows to allow changes in our ancient practices. There are certainly new hymns to be considered, new prayers to be written and new ways of preaching and teaching the Law and Gospel.

So it is, that, the historic and mature liturgy that has flourished in the Church for two-thousand years, will continue to be the standard for our church and congregation. In recognition that this may not be what some want to hear and that some will decide to leave our congregation, I realize this to be real possibility. To those for whom this continuation is uncomfortable, I remain open for conversation. To those for whom this continuation is unacceptable, it is more Christian that we part company than to become bitter attempting to abide one another. I will continue to pray for you and wish you well, should you decided to leave.

Yours in Christ,

SDG


 

[1] The capitalization of the word Church indicates the mystical body of the Communion of the Saints, both the Church Triumphant and the Church Militant. The lower case word ‘church’ indicates the bricks and mortar building in which we gather. Additionally, I use the word ‘congregation’ to mean the people who gather in a ‘church.’

[2] Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church: German-Latin-English. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921). SC.

[3] after Gerhard O. Forde. Where God Meets Man: Luther’s Down-To-Earth Approach to the Gospel. (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1972). p. 107.

[4] after Luke 22:24.

[5] The etymology of the word radical from Latin radix (genitive radicis) meaning “root.”

[6] Acronym for Christian In Name Only – CINO.

Leave a reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>