I couldn’t help but follow the discussion on BJS concerning the topic of worship wars titled “Every Sunday Pro-Choice Sunday?” (Who cares that it’s March Madness!—I’m becoming a BJS addict and I admit it.) This topic captivated me because of its relation to campus ministry! Campus ministry, in my own experience, is where we really see the benefit of a common order of service.
Having a common order, with less variety would be most beneficial for the sake of unity and edification of our people—especially college students. Luther agrees with me, or vice versa. He exhorted the Livonians, “Therefore, when you hold mass, sing and read uniformly, according to a common order—the same in one place as in another—because you see that the people want and need it and you wish to edify rather than confuse them” (LW, Vol. 53; 48).
Over and over again I hear appreciation for the comforting familiarity of the liturgy in the hymnal from college students and their families. One father brought this to my attention when he was visiting his daughter for the weekend. He noted that in the midst of all the change (new scenery, new home, new friends, new school, new worldviews, etc.), the liturgy was the same. It was familiar. It was like home.
Likewise, a few weeks ago, one of our guests at College Hill Lutheran Church, in Cedar Falls, Iowa expressed his appreciation that the liturgy was identical to that which his home congregation used in California!
At the very least, LCMS congregations should be using the hymnals and agendas that are authorized by the LCMS. Paul Lang makes this fine point in his Ceremony and Celebration: “It is only proper… that all congregations belonging to a church denomination should adhere to the orders of service given in their church’s official or authorized and approved service books.” And later he adds, “Such conformity is desirable according to the law of love and the spirit of loyalty and fellowship” (17).
Outside of the campus ministry circle, I heard the comment that a common order of service is boring! Slightly taken aback by the comment, I recalled how I at times used to think the same way because of my own ignorance. I, too, thought the same old repetition and ritual was not good. But my appreciation grew for the liturgy the more I learned about it. The professors at the seminary taught it. They didn’t impose it. And that which I thought was boring became my most highly prized treasure. The repetition and ritual of the liturgy was my longed for nourishment that I needed most. It became a comfort knowing what I would receive each week. The liturgy gives us Christ—His Word, His body and blood, His righteousness, forgiveness, and life.
Luther again writes, “For even though from the viewpoint of faith, the external orders are free and can without scruples be changed by anyone at any time, yet from the viewpoint of love, you are not free to use this liberty, but bound to consider the edification of the common people” (LW, Vol. 53; 47).
Therefore, campus ministry is not the place for innovation. Away from home, these students expect that attending an LCMS campus ministry might be the one familiar thing amid their world of change. (They wonder: “Why did my church seemingly do everything around the altar when this church seemingly does everything around a stage and drum set? Why did my pastor wear vestments when this one wears jeans? Why did my congregation sing hymns with an organ when this one sings praise songs with a band? Why does my church use hymnals when this one uses a big screen?)
Neither is it helpful for “home” congregations to deviate from a common order. The youth in our congregations need to be taught the liturgy. (They are sinners too!) Do you want your Lutheran youth to remain Lutheran when they go to college? Then worship like a Lutheran. Use the hymnal. In this way, the Lutheran youth will not be confused when they come to a campus ministry that also uses the hymnal and confesses Lutheran theology. In fact, seeing other Lutheran youth who are of the same mind and confess the same wonderful truth in the Divine Service is by far one of the greatest joys of campus ministry.