Why do I use the liturgy?

Guest article by Pastor Bruce Timm

 

BJS_BruceTimmIt’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.

  1. The liturgy rescues from the tyranny of the old Adam.
  2. The liturgy rescues from the tyranny of individualism.
  3. 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)

About Pastor Bruce Timm

Pastor Timm serves Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Saint Cloud, Minnesota. He is married to Valerie and they have four children – three “mostly grown” daughters and one son at home. Pastor Timm was ordained in Lutheran Church – Canada in 1988 and served in the LCC until 2001 when he began serving Redeemer. He “enjoys” maintaining the fleet of cars he owns for his children, exercising his second amendment rights, and discovering the delights of single malt beverages from Scotland. He is a Saint Louis grad, but is regularly confused with graduates of Fort Wayne. He takes that as a compliment.


Comments

Why do I use the liturgy? — 14 Comments

  1. I love the liturgy. It is Biblical, and connects us with all the saints who have prayed it for centuries. I do have a pet peeve, though. Why do we always have a handful of inserts, when the complete liturgy is in TLH or LSB? Not a complaint, just something I don’t understand.

  2. Great article.
    Just a few questions. This has more to do with my own issues of trying to be happy as a Lutheran. It seems to me that when Lutheran say Liturgy there really just taking about the order of a service. There not talking about bells, smells, vestments and candles. Those type of things. I left a traditional catholic background to go to Lutheranism and the lack of these things are something I find I struggle with. These things are historically not Lutheran right? Sorry to ask it here. I have spoken with my pastor(his friendship is the reason I am a lutheran) and thought would be nice to hear others thoughts.

  3. Great article, I appreciate you writing this. It’s great for the laity to see this laid out. I have two requests as you continue this series. First, define “liturgy”. It’s too simple to say it’s DS-I through DS-V. There are difference in them and it ought to be explain. Plus, if liturgy is limited to what is in the LSB, is the Creative Worship liturgy not liturgies?

    Second, when you done, please tie all these articles into one giant post. It’s easier to pass on that way.

    Thanks,

  4. @Keith Blankenship #1

    One of the reasons many congregations use some sort of insert is that not all the propers are in the hymnal. If you want to use the introit or gradual you need to print that somewhere for the congregation to see and sing (unless you use a choir for those parts of the liturgy).

  5. The Introits, Graduals and Collects listed in TLH are NOT available in LSB! They are only available in an insert from CPH, along with a printout of the readings for the day.

    One may purchase Lutheran Service Book: Propers of the Day in order to have these readings, but I can’t find anywhere that a layman might find The Proper Prefaces.

    I understand that to include everything might make LSB unwieldy, but I do not understand why making things unavailable to the laity is acceptable. Why not include the Proper Prefaces in Propers of the Day?

    Why is anything in the Liturgy not as accessible to the laity as it is to the clergy?

  6. @Michael Podeszwa #3

    I am tempted to use the old cliche answer that was used in some senate or congressional hearing back in the 1980s when they were trying to determine what the definition of pornography is. I believe someone said, “I know it when I see it.” I know the liturgy when I see the liturgy.

    In the broad sense the liturgy is an order of service structured in the manner of the Western Mass. It is a service structured around delivering the Word and the Supper. It includes (among other things) the five elements of the Mass – the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Creed, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei. The danger in the definition I just gave is that someone will ask, “Well, if I omit the Agnus Dei, is it still the liturgy?” It’s a bad question. It’s sort of like asking, “How much can I take away from the meal before it ceases to be nutritious?”

    My other answer is as a Missouri Synod pastor. Members of the Synod (which includes Pastors and Congregations) have voluntarily agreed to “Exclusive use of doctrinally pure agenda, hymnbooks, and catechisms in church and school.” (Constitution of the LCMS) I believe that we have voluntarily agreed to use the hymnbooks of our Synod because we believe they give a united confession and show love, respect, and humility toward each other. As I said in the article, “Who do I think I am to create my own liturgy?” Therefore I can also say (properly understood) that the liturgy is what we find in The Lutheran Hymnal, Lutheran Worship, and the Lutheran Service Book.

    Hopefully others will chime in with better and clearer answers.

  7. @Pr. Bruce Timm #7

    Pr. Timm,

    I was concerned for the laity who will read these articles and have, unfortunately, equated liturgy with nothing more than the order of service. As a relatively newly-yoked pastor, I find that is the most common mis-understanding that the flock God has given to me to serve. It is my opinion, that the Church has done a historically poor job of teaching what liturgy is and does; we lose the blessings of God in the liturgy if we don’t understand it – which is why I like articles like this. And I’m glad that BJS gives a forum for this.

    Recently I led a (too) small portion of our congregation through Dr. Just’s excellent series, Liturgy, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. It is one of those resources we need to use more often and that deepens are understanding of what God has passed down to us through the church over the years.

    As to your comment about the “nutritious meal”, one of my parishioners who was pushing for a non-liturgical service, recently commented, “I know we have a rich feast in the liturgy, but sometimes I just want bread and water.” It’s our sinful nature that causes us to turn away from God’s table and feast with the pigs in their troughs. It is our duty as pastors, even just a brothers and sisters in Christ, to call and encourage people away from the slop to the table of our King.

  8. @Michael Podeszwa #3

    All churches have “liturgies”, i.e., orders of service. [Creative “playthings” is the first of the “alternate” liturgies, (and not the real thing).] You are right in saying that the historic liturgy needs to be taught, at regular intervals and in confirmation, so that people know the “why” of it.

  9. Last time I visited a WELS congregation, John.
    (You’re welcome.)

    [Currently in TLH.] 🙂

  10. @John Rixe #9

    I cannot honestly answer that question because I don’t know the current state of Creative Worship. It was in use when I first arrived at my current parish and I would agree with the assessment of another comment. It basically “played” with the liturgy – I’m thinking that this was done in the hopes of keeping the folks’ attention by not seeing the same confession and canticles week after week.

    I have a brother in my circuit who still uses Creative Worship sparingly. He has sent me some ridiculous items that have appeared in CW. One Christmas Eve there was a paraphrase of a Psalm that asked Jesus to “caress us with his tiny hands or infant fingers” or some such nonsense. While those comments are anecdotal, they cause me to question the expense, effort, and effect of publishing a new liturgy every week.

    I also think the creation of a new order of service (here I’m talking ordinaries, not propers) does a disservice to the democracy of the dead (those who have gone before us) and puts an unnecessary test on our vows of unity in the Synod.

  11. @Pr. Bruce Timm #13

    My congregation uses Creative Worship, copyright 2014, CPH for a lot of Sundays. I tolerate it and would much prefer LSB, Divine Service I,II or III. It has very much improved since Pastor William Weedon and President Harrison has had some say over its’ content. I don’t like the ‘confession of sins’ changing from week to week. I wish the laity could get answers to questions concerning Creative Worship-like who writes it? Is it a pastor/pastors on staff at CPH? I know it undergoes doctrinal review so I’m okay with that. However, because we live in a world that is constantly changing, I prefer the consistency of the liturgies in LSB. I need the ‘routine’ of the DS in LSB to give me the gifts of God through His Word and Sacrament. I need the peace and comfort the DS gives each Sunday. I love the historic liturgy because it connects me with the saints that have gone before, the saints alive now and the saints to come and it is the best way God’s gifts of the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation are given to His people.

    In Christ,
    Diane

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