Guest article by Pastor Bruce Timm
It’s a fair and common question for which I should have an answer (and I do.) The question has obvious grounds for being asked. Not every congregation in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod uses a liturgy. Not everyone uses an organ. Not everyone has confession of sins. Some congregations do not use the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed.
I believe the liturgy is the very best way to serve God’s gifts to the congregation I serve. Not everyone would agree with me. It has been said that the LCMS is engaged in “worship wars.” Those who use the liturgy are attacked as old fashioned, traditional, and out of touch with people’s real needs. Those who do not use the liturgy are accused of compromising the truth to please people and catering to the culture instead of Christ. What follows is a somewhat autobiographical and practical essay answering the question “Why do I use the liturgy?”
I must admit that none of these reasons are really my own. I have stolen many of these thoughts from others, been taught them by fathers in the faith, and stumbled upon them in the school of experience. (Consider that my documentation of sources.) However, in that confession is also a truth confessed by every pastor who advocates exclusive, reverent, and full use of the liturgy. The church is not mine, the liturgy is not mine, the sheep are not mine. I am but one small and troublesome member in the body of Christ given my place to serve what the Lord has given me to serve.
I have 10 reasons for using the liturgy because 10 is a good number. The first of my articles will cover the first three reasons since they hang together. After that I’ll give you one reason at a time so you don’t have to read too long a post.
- The liturgy rescues from the tyranny of the old Adam.
- The liturgy rescues from the tyranny of individualism.
- The liturgy rescues from the tyranny of contemporary culture.
These three reasons go together like Lutheran pastors and beer (or since I’m maturing a bit – scotch).
The old Adam in me always wants life “my” way – whatever pleases me and makes me happy. If things don’t go my way, I am free to declare them unfair, and demand a change. Our society lives by the credo “I can have it my way.” Some of our most common words are “I don’t like that” and our most common conversations are filled with complaints. Such sentiments indicate who we really worship – me, myself, and I. We know well where the first Adam led us when he decided to stand on his own. When I am the judge of good and bad, right and wrong, when I begin to determine what is best for me, then I stand exactly where Adam stood when he wanted a taste of good and evil for himself. He stood alone with his sin – dead because of it. I believe contemporary society preaches the sermon of individualism and liturgy of choice. Because that is our culture’s religion I rejoice to use the liturgy.
The liturgy is not mine. It is not Redeemer’s (my current congregation). It is not the Missouri Synod’s. It belongs to the church. It is not crafted week to week according to my pastoral pet peeves or my sins. It isn’t customized to Redeemer’s problems or those members who have my ear. “It is built like a great corral reef” as the sainted Professor Marquart has said. The liturgy has been built up slowly by the whole church on earth. Over time components were added and portions were taken away. I truly believe the Holy Spirit crafted the liturgy through His church, God’s “society” (if you will.) This society lives and prays outside of itself. The church lives in faith toward God and love toward neighbor. This culture of the church has crafted something for us in the liturgy that beckons us toward God’s way, a way outside of self, a way that totally opposes our self-driven and self-destructive culture.
As many others have noted contemporary culture drives us to fads and gimmicks. Examine your family’s Christmas pictures. The clothes styles change year to year (until your reach a certain age and then you don’t care.) The “must have” toy/phone/gadget of 2013 is out of the picture by 2014. Also, our culture loves a crisis because a good crisis feeds old Adam’s desire to do something to justify himself. Our cultural fixes flow from our institutions (government, bureaucracy) and distract from our vocations (husband/wife, father/mother). For example it is far easier to blame the police or school teachers for the problems of society and school, than to examine our own role as mothers and fathers. It seems to me that those who advocate abandoning the liturgy mimic the culture. They preach a crisis that demands a change and then begin to advocate the work of more people at the institution of the church (worship, small groups, activities, etc.,) instead of in the vocations God has given them.
The liturgy spares me and my members from fads, gimmicks, and crises that demand change. The liturgy focuses us on the real crises of sin, self-justification, abandoning of vocation, that are evident in our congregation and community. Then the liturgy delivers us the gifts of Jesus so that we might be freed of sin, justified by His grace, and sent back into our vocations with a good conscience to do what the Lord has given us to do.
Thousands of saints before us, great doctors of the faith and pious laypeople, have sung, prayed, and sifted the liturgy. They rejected those additions which did not serve the Gospel and welcomed those which pointed to Christ. The liturgy directs us not to live in faith toward me, but in faith toward Christ as He is given to us in His Word and Sacrament. The liturgy directs us to live in love toward our neighbors as we are called to pray for the world, the church, and all who are in need. The liturgy rescues me from myself by directing me to believe in Christ and live for my neighbor.
Pastor Bruce Timm
Redeemer Evangelical Church
Saint Cloud, Minnesota
(Next week’s reason for using the liturgy – Reason #4: They used the liturgy in the Garden of Eden)