A Circuit Meeting Taught Me Again the Importance of the Liturgy

 

“If the Divine Service is viewed primarily as our praising God, then you can do that just as well from home. In fact, once we have looked at the topic of vocation, you will see that we can serve God better in the world than in the church building. But if the service is understood as God giving us the forgiveness of sins, then you’ve got to be there. It is very possible that the low attendance at Sunday services seen in so many churches today is a reflection of how we define the service. If I am acting, then I can do it another time. If God is acting, I better be there.”  Pastor Klemet Preus, The Fire and the Staff, Kindle ed. loc 2871

“If the Divine Service is viewed primarily as our praising God, then you can do that just as well from home. In fact, once we have looked at the topic of vocation, you will see that we can serve God better in the world than in the church building. But if the service is understood as God giving us the forgiveness of sins, then you’ve got to be there. It is very possible that the low attendance at Sunday services seen in so many churches today is a reflection of how we define the service. If I am acting, then I can do it another time. If God is acting, I better be there.”
Pastor Klemet Preus, The Fire and the Staff, Kindle ed. loc 2871

Before our circuit meetings, the pastors come together for the Divine Service.  In a recent meeting, a retired pastor was the preacher.  He wore a sports jacket and tie.  He did not preach from the pulpit. He prefaced the sermon by telling us that he did not write out the sermon and further he did not really use “Law and Gospel” in preparing for it. The sermon was about praising God.

His sermon was a series of the preacher’s comments on various Bible quotes relating to his theme, the praise of God. Most of said passages were from the encouragement portions of  St. Paul’s Epistles. One Scripture was the Apostle Paul describing that we are “earthen vessels”, or as the preacher interpreted the text: “ We are all cracked pots”.  The preacher’s refrain throughout the sermon, in which he encouraged the Congregation to participate, was to the best of my recollection this:  “We are cracked pots, God wants us to praise, so let’s praise God.”  He lamented the lack of members in many a congregation, our sense of doubt and loss in life, etc.  He got the symptoms right but since there was no diagnosis of God’s Law (since the preacher did not prepare a Law/Gospel sermon)  of the root cause we only heard the symptoms. It would be like going to the doctor with physical complaints and the doctor saying, Yup, those symptoms are bad, hope you get better.

Now the preacher’s solution was his theme sentence: “The praise of God produces faith”. As he preached, I ruminated on the meaning of the theme sentence. What is the result of such a doctrinally faulty sentence?  I had better praise God, so that my praise enlivens my faith.  I thought of another Scripture passage:    “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).The word of Christ makes faith and praise is the result and not the cause.  Even Jehovah Witnesses praise God but it does not result in saving faith in Jesus Christ! In the preacher’s fifteen-twenty minute ‘sermon’, I heard not one “word of Christ”. I do not think he preached once the “Name above all names” (cf. Philippians 2: 10).  He did not mention Jesus nor Christ and His work, such as, His Incarnation, the Cross, His sufferings, death, the Resurrection (during the Easter season!) the work of the Holy Spirit, Holy Baptism, Holy Communion etc.  When in the ELCA, at a meeting of pastors in an urban coalition of congregations, the director led a cheerless discussion about preaching sermons not using the Name of God as a good thing.  In both instances of the circuit and coalition gatherings, results in other claimant agendas usurping the Word in preaching…actually not preaching but a religious address.  The world, the flesh and the devil love those ‘sermons’.

The circuit meeting convenes at the same congregation.  I count the pastor as a friend.  Every time we use an order of service from the Lutheran Service Book.  At the circuit meeting under observation, it was setting one, following the rubrics.  We heard once again,

“Blessed are You, Lord of heaven and earth, for You have had mercy on those whom You created and sent your only-begotten Son into our flesh to bear our sin and be our Savior.  We repentant joy we receive the salvation…”

We heard again the Words of Institution and Christ Jesus’ clear statement of His Body and Blood FOR YOU.  As the beloved Reformer taught:

Here stand the gracious and lovely words, “This is my body, given for you,” “This is my blood, poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” These words, I have said, are not preached to wood or stone but to you and me; otherwise Christ might just as well have kept quiet and not instituted a sacrament. Ponder, then, and include yourself personally in the “you” so that he may not speak to you in vain. (BOC LC V 64-65) [1]

The Pastor followed the script, that is, he followed the Scripture, which is clearly the basis of the Divine Service. As the pastor so followed, so did we.  Even though the sermon was arid, the Divine Service was there so that a baptized sinner could repent and receive forgiveness.  Many times I have heard myself and others say, especially after visiting a congregation, “At least there was the liturgy…”  Even in a high papal Mass, the believer will hear Christ was crucified and rose for us so that faith may seize the promise as the Holy Spirit works through the Word of Christ.

Just before Luther’s quote above, he has a germane comment for this article:  “…for we have this obstacle and hindrance to contend with, that we concentrate more upon ourselves than upon the words that proceed from Christ’s lips”[2].  I think the crisis in the Synod is about not only the Liturgy but also the preaching and pastors not concentrating upon the words proceeding from Christ’s lips.     With all the rightly critical articles about contemporary worship, “5/2”, etc. here on BJS, and many other sources, what can be missed in this crucial discussion is the effect of such worship on the pastor and the preaching, and vice versa. Lex orandi, lex credendi, that is the rule of praying is the rule of believing, and so the way of worshiping is the way of preaching and the other way around.    In a sermon, we poor sheep need to hear, literally dying to hear the “for you” of preaching the Word of Christ, but if the service was a concocted one, woven out of ourselves and our felt needs, we would not have heard the FOR YOU at that Divine Service before  the circuit meeting.   I learned again at that circuit meeting the importance of the Liturgy and preaching as integral in the Divine Service.

 

 

 

[1] The Book of Concord (Tappert Edition), The Large Catechism, page 454:  64-65

[2] Ibid, page 454:  63

About Pastor Mark Schroeder

I am currently the Pastor at Concordia Lutheran Mission, authorized by Good Shepherd Lutheran, Roanoke, Virginia. I have been an AELC then an ELCA pastor since my Ordination April 24, 1983 until leaving the ELCA and being accepted by Colloquy, June 1, 2010. My wife is Natalie and we have three children, Luke, Talitha and Abraham.


Comments

A Circuit Meeting Taught Me Again the Importance of the Liturgy — 11 Comments

  1. An insightful observation, Pr. Schroeder, and one I have noticed as well. Even when the sermons are empty, boring, and meaningless, the liturgy pours the Scriptures over us in a way that provides what the sermon did not.

    Add to that some good hymns and the proper reading of the full lectionary texts appointed for the day, and I’m convinced that the service is far richer without the vapid preaching of pastors who have abandoned the proper distinction of Law & Gospel, or the centrality of Christ and His Vicarious Atonement from the Scriptures.

    Perhaps to turn a phrase from my youth; instead of the injunction to say nothing if you have nothing good to say, a pastor who has not Christ to preach nor His mandated repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His Name, for the love of God and neighbor– BE SILENT!

  2. Brother,
    Here are some thoughts:
    01) Cool, you guys really meet, good; keep it up!
    02) Why at the same place? Every month, go to each others place. That way you get to lead the service, “your way.”
    03) I ponder about having a “Divine Service” as you say. It is good, stick to the basics. But also, how about Matins, Morning Prayer, etc.? That is why we have the Offices.
    04) After all, you lead the Divine Service weekly, do you not? If you are looking for a Divine Service, then “take a field trip” to a brothers Church. I do that on occasion. Yes, I am blessed with a great assistant pastor, many are not.
    05) If you want that Father / Confessor, in reality, we don’t do a good job at that.

    Some thoughts.

  3. @Pastor Prentice #2

    2) We’ve tried rotating congregations but the distance make this difficult and the congregation in which we meet is centrally located.

    3) I agree. In regard to the daily offices, I have had years of experience of participating and leading 24 hour overnight retreats during which the daily prayer offices are prayed when I was an active member of the Society of the Holy Trinity. This past February our circuit went to a great retreat center and did a 24 hour retreat which was well received.

    4) Yes, we have the Divine Service weekly and ‘field trips’ is a good idea.

    Thanks for your input!

  4. Pastor Schroeder,

    You heard the Words of Christ, you were fed the Eucharist, you heard the Word spoken, you received Absolution after Confession…and yes, a “poor sermon”.

    Brother, what more do you want??????

    Some of your comments my brother cheapen the setting. When you use the word “followed the script”. “At least we had the liturgy???”

    You had an older fellow pastor stand in for Christ, offer you all that day, and perhaps did lament and give as you say an “arid” sermon.

    Give brotherly slack. I have a hunch this warrior for Christ gave plenty of good Gospel (and Law) filled sermons over the years.

    And you know what, if that day he chose a sermon to “praise God”. OK, we don’t do enough of that perhaps, at least the way he saw it.

    And yes, we praise God by “going out” and being righteous in His sight after we are made low in worship, then raised high by His Grace in that same worship setting.

  5. @Pr. Mark Schroeder #5
    And I sent my reply after yours was seen. No hard feeling I hope, none meant.
    I envy what you guys do. I am trying to get the Circuit just to meet on a goofy / semi regular basis.
    Love you brother…keep up the good fight. And enjoy the company of brothers.
    It is lonely in Chicago.

  6. @Pr. Mark Schroeder #4

    I have to admit, when I hear things like this coming out of Lutheranism, I’m really tempted to say things like “So why don’t you just leave and join an American evangelical denomination?”

    It amazes me that so many people, pastors and laymen, try to affirm an identifying name while denying in belief and practice the things that establish that name. As I mentioned before, it’s like calling yourself happily married while flagrantly defying your wedding vows.

  7. @J. Dean #8

    I also think at times as well why don’t these folks who want evangelicalism just leave and join an evangelical denom. fwiw:

    first, the preacher in my article knows the real stuff of the Confessions and he may hear again what he was first taught. Like Pr. Prentice wrote,”I have a hunch this warrior for Christ gave plenty of good Gospel (and Law) filled sermons over the years”.
    After all, after 30 years in the ELCA, my LCMS/Confessional upbringing did not leave me and I could repent!

    Second, the big difference between the ELCA and the LCMS is that the Scriptures and Confessions have not been so mutilated in the LCMS and so we still have the common Biblical language of justification and faith to continue the conversation.

    Third, there has been a perennial temptation amongst all Lutherans to sell out the confessions to American evangelicalism. In the 19th century it was Pr. Samuel Schmucker, who in order to acccomodate Lutheranism to American Protestantism, even published a severely edited Lutheran Confessions without the doctrine of the real presence. Charles Porterfield Krauth, in Philadelphia, responded with his book, The Conservative Reformation (reprinted by CPH). Point is that we still must fight the good fight.

    Peace in our Lord,
    Mark Schroeder

  8. I wholeheartedly agree. Even if the sermon stinks, or the kids act up, or someone falls asleep during the sermon, the liturgy is there to preach Law and Gospel and proclaim the salvation that is ours in our Savior.

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