Saturday, April 23, 2011

Power of the Word:Defending the Liturgy

A verse in Romans comes to mind when I think of how a person comes to the knowledge of Christ.

Romans 10:17
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

All people are dead in their sins and transgressions and have no opportunity to be cleansed and brought to faith in Christ except through the Word. There is where the Holy Spirit is present to create the faith which clings to the cross and justifies us before God. I want to address the issue of pushing the liturgy out of the Church. The same liturgy that contains the very Words to bring the dead in sin to life in Christ. It seems that a figurative towel is being thrown in, concerning the liturgy, because of a decline in the Church.

This begs the question, what is a better option? Seemingly for certain LCMS churches it is to do away with the organ, the hymns, the rites throughout the liturgy, and the reverence necessary to focus on Christ and Him crucified. We envision it being a problem that our service, in all its richness, doesn't appeal to the ever popular “secular Christianity” which demands a band on the stage in all THEIR glory. What can be more attractive to the flesh than focusing our attention off of the cross and onto the keyboard, guitar, drums, and vocalist who are supposedly leading worship when in actuality this “worship service” appears to be more of a concert than a place to confess our failings before the Lord. And through this confession the glory of the true passover Lamb is brought in its fullness.

Why do we want to replace the liturgy with a contemporary service? What are the reasons for this quick abandonment of something that has been in place for more than a thousand years? With reckless abandon we choose to “liven” up the service. And in my own mind I've discovered the answer to why we are choosing to throw the liturgy out. Sin. I'm not saying that contemporary churches are sinners. That isn't the issue here, what I am saying is the folks who propose heading in the direction of contemporary Christianity are afraid that if the LCMS doesn't change her ways than the attraction to such a traditional church would be slim to none by our upcoming youth. We've begun to notice that the youth are more interested in the secular world rather then the church and this, without surprise, forces us to make these drastic decisions. If a band brings kids in the church then lets do it! But there is a problem. We are bringing kids into the church by using something that wasn't designed for conversion or the creation of faith. And its obvious that a quick rebuttal is at hand, namely: “If we can get youth in the church with music then they will be exposed to God's Word.” But I say you're fishing without a hook. In the hopes for our youth to become and maintain their pilgrimage on Earth we turn to a desperate attempt to get them in the Church using something other then God's Word! If this is the direction we are headed, which I'm convinced it is, then we have a problem on our hands. There is nothing special about the liturgy, in the sense of excitement but there is something unique about it which is God's Word. From confession and absolution all the way to the end of the Service of the Sacrament God's word is infused everywhere! The last thing we hear in the service before the last hymn is the benediction that goes:

The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you
The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.

This benediction comes from Numbers 6:24-26

In the verses that come before and after this blessing God says to Moses:

“The Lord said to Moses, 'Tell Aaron and his sons, this is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

This blessing is thousands of years old and it is still used today in the LCMS. God says His name is being put on the Israelites and so they will be blessed and I believe the same can be said today. But would you find such richness when you ditch the liturgy? Certainly not, in fact the non denominational Churches don't even say the Lord's Prayer which strikes me because Christ said “when you pray, pray like this” and he gave us this prayer. In the two accounts where the Lord's Prayer was recorded, one in Matthew chapter 6 and the other in Luke chapter 11, Christ talks about forgiveness (Matthew account) and the receiving of the Holy Spirit (Luke account) so through this prayer we are receiving again the Holy Spirit and forgiveness from God. So why isn't it being prayed?

As another example of the infusion of God's Word in the service, before the Gospel reading of the day is read the congregation rises and sings together:

Alleluia. Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia, alleluia.

This comes from John 6:68 and the context is many of Christ's disciples deserted him and he says to the twelve:

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Appropriately this is placed before the Gospel reading because here we are hearing what Christ has to teach to us and we know that he is the Holy One of God. These are just a few examples of how the liturgy is rich in God's Word. I want it to be clear that I am not speaking down on contemporary worship for no reason, as I believe others would speak down the liturgy because its “Catholic” or whatever other erroneous thought they can conjure about it. I've been in both places, contemporary and Lutheran alike that is so my opinions and thoughts aren't stemming from being raised in a traditional Lutheran Church. Nor was I lead to believe that the liturgy is rich and awesome but I realized it through experiencing it and being taught about it.

Further more the Lutheran understanding of worship is being dumbed down to a loud projection to a God that is evidently so far away. This is wrong! We believe, teach, and confess that where Christ is present he is there with both his divine and human nature. To divide the person of Christ is to make him something that he is not. When first studying the issue of the Person of Christ I thought it insignificant but by the end I truly appreciated this article of faith because it shapes the way we worship. If Christ is truly present with us in the service we are not going to be singing loud praises to him as if he is way up in the sky seated at God's right hand (he is seated there but its a position of power not a fixed box that he can't leave). Worship isn't about us doing things for God, it is about God coming to us with mercy and grace in hand to strengthen us. But the contemporary worship style forces our understanding to shift. It fools us into believing that the Service is our work for God, which in fact even in its name, Divine Service, we see that this isn't true. And then begins the trickle affect. If the Service is our work for God then so is everything else. Baptism is now our work of confessing publicly our decision for Christ, communion becomes our work of remembering Christ, sharing Christ is now our work instead of it being the work of the Spirit through us. And the preaching we receive is no longer an explanation of God's Word, which reveals his work of redemption through Christ but its about crushing the parishioners with the third use of the law. The third use of the law is as a guide. So while the Pastor should be preaching Christ and Him crucified he is spending more time telling his parishioners how they should live to be better Christians. I already do a good enough job beating myself up with the third use of the law so I don't need to hear it preached from the pulpit. I need grace, mercy, forgiveness, absolution, and Christ. I believe the style in which we worship ultimately dictates how we understand everything else. Don't believe me? You don't have to throw a stone very far to find a contemporary church preaching the “good Christian life” and creating the works righteousness mindset. The Roman Catholic church explicitly says we need good works to be saved, the evangelicals don't come right out and say it but its strongly suggested and this puts an overwhelming amount of weight on the congregation. Now of course there are exceptions to every rule and I'm not suggesting that where the liturgy is present problems don't exist, I'm just conveying what I've seen and the reasonable thought process of both sides.

I want to reiterate the point that I am not approaching this from ignorance. I have shared the experience of contemporary Christianity. I may offend some who read this but ultimately that is not my goal. My goal is to show that God's word and the glorification of the risen Christ is greatest through the liturgy. If we think about God's name being hallowed among us, which just means to be regarded as holy or sacred, then what better way can there be then to have the Word infused into every part of the service. And again I say if true conversion takes place where God's Word is being heard by the people then why should we remove something that is busting at the seams with God's Word. As I said before I believe the negativity against such a liturgical service is attributed to modern day Christianity's fear of appearing Roman Catholic. My thoughts on this is that the modern Christian world believes if they strip the Church of candles, hymnals, an organ, the liturgy, and the overall reverence that seems to them as being Roman Catholic and overload the Church with projection screens, lights, a band and whatever else the modern world can conjure up for the Church, then things will be better. If we can just be to the world a hip church that presents itself as laid back and cool, non judgemental and fun then we as Christians will be perceived better. I believe the desire to form the Church to fit the age that we're in is ultimately screaming disaster. We shouldn't be afraid to be traditional and “boring” to the world and if a Christian proposes that a traditional Church is boring then they are not looking at the liturgy, they are not paying attention to all aspects of God's Word that are right there in plain view. They are wanting something more, something that I don't believe God intends for us. They are searching for a way to make Church more fun and limiting the sufficiency of God's Word and Jesus Christ, this might be a drastic thing to say but I can think of no other explanation. We don't go to Church to be entertained, we are not there to hear the latest in rock n roll Christian music we are there to confess that we are sinners and in turn receive the absolution from God that we crave. Sure an upbeat song warms us for the time being but it ultimately holds no light to the forgiveness God gives to us through the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus didn't come to this world in a flashy fun and hip way and I don't believe the the Church needs to present herself to the world in this way. But unfortunately this is what the world demands, they've had enough of that boring service that contains God's Word and gives Him the highest praise so we've said to the world “If these aspects of the service aren't bringing you in the doors then we will change for you to make you feel more comfortable and “free” as a Christian.” This is where I take my stand, I cannot believe that the liturgy is insignificant and should be replaced with a contemporary style of Christianity.

This last paragraph is for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and her Pastors, district Presidents, and Matthew Harrison. We need to teach the liturgy! I'm sure that Pastors coming out of the Seminary know the liturgy well and it has to be their duty, if we are to show the richness of the liturgy, to teach it so the congregations will understand it. It comes as no surprise to me that people don't care for the liturgy when they are not understanding it. This was my problem with attending a Lutheran Church growing up. I had no idea what this repetitive script could possibly be doing for me so I ran away from it only to be brought back and taught the meaning of it all by my Pastor which opened my eyes to the strength of God's Word through the liturgy. How can we expect people to not ditch the liturgy if we aren't explaining why we should keep it? To all interested in learning about the liturgy I encourage you to ask a Lutheran Pastor instead of raising your nose at such a “Catholic” practice. This is exactly what I did and I'm sad to say I missed it in my life for eighteen years.

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