Nowadays we hear promoted the idea of “dignified informality” for the services of God’s House. This nonsensical slogan to promote a casual attitude in attending the Service of Word and Sacrament is quite disjointed from the theological reality of what is going on when God’s people are gathered to receive His gospel gifts in the liturgy.
The “worship wars” are the new Thirty Years War for Lutherans in North America. And it is on task to go beyond three decades and in the meanwhile, our walking together is being drawn and quartered far beyond what we should endure theologically and in terms of fellowship. What the founding fathers of the Missouri Synod sought to stop coming in the front door, in a hybridization of Lutheranism and Calvinist theology, we have been welcoming in many and various ways in a hybridization or worse, in the adoption of practices and implicit theology from Wesleyan, charismatic, and Arminian Christians in the name of the Great Commission, ironically, which teaches to “teach all things” that the Lord has given through the holy apostles. And under the cover of adiaphora (things neither commanded nor forbidden in Holy Writ), the claimed freedom is used not to compose new Lutheran chorales or such, but to adopt the forms and practices and implicit theology of those denominations antagonistic to our confession of Christology, sin, free will, the union of Word and Spirit, and the sacraments. Such use of freedom fails to realize how such freedom has been wrought and given and undermines it at the source. What must be said is that such divisions among us must not be tolerated because such are simply of a different spirit and theology.
The way we pray, worship, and implement liturgy influences our beliefs and theology (lex orandi, lex credendi) and vice versa. No theology will stand for long that is not manifested liturgically and reinforced catechetically to instill the “whole counsel of God,” the unchanging faith in all its articles. Microwavable catechesis (membership “information classes” sic!), hardly fits the bill to “make disciples.” As a recent collection of Robert Preus’ writings puts it aptly, “doctrine is life.” This is not to say simply a way of life, but the source and substance of our life in Christ. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Catechesis is to deliver Christ Jesus to us just as the Divine Service is this as well for the whole flock of God in a particular location.
Not only do sin and grace inspire a fear of God (reverence) because we condemned sinners live only from what we receive in the holy Word and Sacraments in utter divine mercy, but also the entrance into the presence this holy and merciful God through Christ puts us into heaven on earth, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet (see Revelation 5). Through catechesis, through the preaching of the Word, through our Baptism, we come to realize that this crucified, risen, and ascended Lord is with us in the flesh, ruling His Church in a hidden way in the here and now, with His mercy seat and throne among us wherever two or three are gathered in His name hearing His Word of grace. This is great cause for reverence which goes far beyond any mere ritualism or mere aesthetics out of some kind of overdone romanticism.
The way of our worship is received and we are joining in to something that has been going on a lot longer than we have been around or even our congregation or synod. We are heirs of a tremendous treasure that we see through a glass darkly in this life but which will be made clear to us in heaven when there will be no more evangelism or church budgets or even need for repentance. But we come to understand what is going on among us, whether in a sanctuary of great grandeur or a humble rented space, because Jesus the crucified and risen Lord is among us in the flesh coming to feed and forgive and sanctify us (Isaiah 6:1-7). This inspires tremendous joy and reverence as we have that reality shown us by what comes to our ears. And we come humbly into that assembly seen and unseen to receive the blessings of the wounded and glorified One who is there among us as the One who serves (Luke 22:27; Acts 1:1-2).
Those who have sold their birthright for the sake of outward success and “effective ministry” are losing this insight and depriving the flock of the treasures that Christ wants to give them. It is evangelism at the expense of the evangel. It also compartmentalizes them from the faithful cloud of witnesses to be spiritual lone rangers and consumers for things that are matters of grace to the spiritually dead. The loss of our Christology (read Formula of VIII!) and the downplaying of original sin (and therefore monergism of grace), and the separation of the Word and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5-7) are robbing us of the certitude of faith and the certitude of Christ’s exalted humanity with us and within us to be replaced only with engineered worship experiences, personal messages from the leader, and an a-historical and uncatholic church. Too often the time-tested meaty, cross-focused and mercy delivering chorales of our Lutheran heritage are exchanged for the shallow and anthropocentric.
Reverence or the lack thereof is simply a leading indicator of things happening below in the depths of texts and forms and the attendant music and ceremonies. As Lutherans who still subscribe to Augsburg and Apology XXIV (and which are not negated by Formula X!), we know that the early Lutherans understood that they were not a new church or and that freedom was used for the sake of justification by grace and not simply recruitment or to indulge the fallen self and its programs. The pastoral reforms of Luther, Bugenhagen, and Chemnitz of the Mass order and other related aspects of the liturgical life of the church were carefully done to let the Word of the Gospel ring clearly and to exhibit the truth that the one church does indeed continue until the end of the world under suffering and cross. This was true also for the churchly confessional renewal of Lutheranism in the 19th century where they went back to what was better before Pietism and Rational took their toll on the Church of the Augsburg Confession. Reverence for the Gospel of cross-purchased mercy, reverence for the act of reform, reverence for ecclesiology are all at work there and it is evident (see Hebrews 12:22-29). For the Church, this does impact the rite (the the words), the ceremonies (the how, the rubrics), the music, and our hearts and minds by the words of Jesus that are Spirit and Life.