Does your worship prepare you for death?
I had the opportunity to hear an excellent presentation this afternoon from a neighboring pastor (Rev. Shawn Kumm of Zion, Laramie) on Lutheran worship. One of the best points that he made was related to how worship is meant to prepare the Christian for death.
I have often found that all theology finds its best expression on the deathbed. It is there that Lutheran teachings become so distinct from others that one can really see the pure Gospel versus impure ones. What struck me about this worship leading to death thing is the difference between liturgical and “contemporary” services.
Liturgical worship seeks through repetition to not only give the gifts of God to the believer, sustaining his faith in the here and now and into the hereafter. It has an eternal perspective on things, which is reflected in its rich heritage. It is fitting for those at the beginning of life who cannot read and yet through the constant repetition can still learn, all those in between, and even those at the end of life who have lost their minds in relation to most things but still remember the things which they repeated each week in Church. Opposite to that, and lacking eternal focus, CoWo tends to feed an always changing “milk” at best (avoiding deeper concepts/teachings which may drive people away), with the goal of making all people feel comfortable and excited about what is going on (certainly striving so that they may never feel bored [where does boredom with God's Word reside, in a worship form or in an undisciplined, Old Adam loving heart?]. CoWo does not teach the children, it does not help those who have lost their reason or senses. It is exclusive. There is not the repetition of the Scriptures as you find it in the liturgy, but instead a constant changing in order to keep relevant to the individual and the whims of the visitor (because if the visitor or age determines the worship, it will have to change). I often wonder if underlying these two very different things in worship isn’t the focus of God vs. man, the changeless from the always changing, the trustworthy and reliable vs. the unreliable.
There is another key – relevance. CoWo is meant to be relevant to the here and now, with forms that change and messages that pertain to “real life” here and now. Liturgical worship is meant to be relevant to the then, here, now, and even times to come. It prepares a soul to have a full library of texts, tunes, and prayers housed inside of it to be recalled at later times. These later times could include the deathbed, but also all those steps that we must take in this vale of tears to that point. One thing the pastor noted today was the question: “how many praise bands have you seen at the nursing home?”
Liturgical worship allows the Christian to be prepared to make his confession. The Words are familiar, ones which he has been taught and confessed before. CoWo forces the Christian to say words that he may not believe (or make the spot discernment to not confess something). Pastors who like to “tinker” with the liturgy, you may want to consider how your tinkering forces your sheep to confess things which they have had no prior warning that they would be confessing. Does such constant changing instill anything of value to your people? (other than catechizing them to grab onto the new, follow their emotions, and don’t dare to learn anything deeper or ancient)
Pastors who use CoWo, what is your pastoral care at the nursing home look like? Do you sing them the most popular and relevant songs of the day, or do you then and there return to the solid pattern of words that was taught by the hymnals which these saints have used for years? What will you do for those young ones now feeding off of constant change when they are experiencing your visit while they await death? What well can you possibly draw from when all you dug were puddles that changed as the seasons went by? What does your message sound like when talking to one undergoing great trial and tribulation? Is it there that you put aside the theology of glory and go back to the cross? In the end (of life that is) it seems that CoWo falls flat and actually shows a good amount of spiritual neglect in the scope of preparing souls to go to their Maker.
A passage comes to mind in this: 2 Timothy 3:1-7
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.
I think many of those things in that passage could do with CoWo theology, but the one that I have really started to key into is the “always learning and never able to arrive at the knowledge of truth”. With all of the constant changes, there is always learning going on, but no one ever gets something solidly sunk in, so that when they approach death they can have such a vast deposit of knowledge to draw upon.
If you are a layperson under the influence of CoWo teachings, consider what will happen when your reason and senses start to go (after all you are dying too). What will remain of all the varied and many things that you have experienced? What will have been engrained into your mind as to remain when various ailments take the things which did not get reinforced in this life?