This Week’s Liturgy Notes: Comments on Worship at Messiah, Seattle, by Pr. Rossow

As mentioned on other posts, my wife and I received the ministrations of the Lord from the mouth of Pastor  Ernie Lassman, Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle on Thanksgiving Day. In place of our usual weekly liturgy notes let me share a few thoughts on the liturgical practice of Matins at Messiah in hopes of  exemplifying for the Brothers  good  liturgical practice. Indeed, there were many good things practiced at Messiah.

Since it was not a church festival or ordinary Sunday but  the day of national thanksgiving, there was no sacrament and  we sang the daily office of Matins. I discovered after the service that Messiah has a new organist and it was his first public playing of Matins. There were a few rough spots but it was done  well enough to lead the congregation in their praise of God. Young and old alike sang the liturgy effectively. The congregation recently changed from TLH to LSB.

One of the great things about the liturgy is that it spans the ages. Since the older members remember Matins from TLH and since the editors of LSB changed little about the service, everyone was able to sing it well. The liturgy also spans the miles. Here we were  2,000 miles away from our home in Chicago and yet we were able to sing the liturgy without having to struggle with the local “contemporary” praise and worship tunes and a praise band trying to mimic the difficult trills and slurs of the latest Christian pop singers.

Have you ever noticed that most  contemporary church combos just aren’t that good? Contemporary Christian music is not  a genre  that is  made for duplication by amateurs nor to be sung  by groups and yet congregation after congregation thinks that they must have the same kind of music the local megachurch has. I have been to countless contemporary church services and have seen plenty of local cable access worship services and let me tell you honestly folks, because your pastor or volunteer music director won’t. You’re bad. You’re not that good. In the shower you may sound like Michael W. Smith or Amy Grant (or whoever the latest, greatest Christian pop icon is – you can tell what era I stopped listening to the stuff) but in the chancel with a second rate amplification system and with a bunch of  amateur musicians, you don’t sound that good. Traditional church music accompanied by even an amateur organist works because it is music that was written for the folk to sing and the organ is a great instrument to lead group singing.

Getting back to Messiah, the service was done exactly as  it is written in the hymnal.  This is so important. We do not need to be slaves of the liturgy but keeping its basic form and keeping local changes to a minimum is what gives the liturgy its main strengths: 1) keeping the focus on God serving us his word and sacraments, 2) the ability to assist the church in keeping doctrine consistently pure through the ages, 3) ease of worship by people across the ages and the miles.

There was nothing snazzy, outstanding, or creative about the presentation of the liturgy at Messiah and that is the point. The liturgy is simple, straightforward and consistent. That is what allows it to be such a source of strength for the church. My wife and I are fortunate to be at a church with one of the finest cantors around (Phillip Magness). He is quite creative and so our music program is quite rich and we have a higher number of local customs than the average church, but week in and week out our goal is  to do the liturgy in its purest and simplest sense in order to accomplish the purposes listed above.

The first line printed in the special Thanksgiving Day bulletin instructed the congregants where to make the sign of the cross during the service.  The congregation is well trained beacuse there were numerous peopel who followed that rubric. The effective training of the congregaton was also evident in the full manner in which they spoke and sang the liturgy.

The vicar chanted some of the liturgical parts and Pastor Lassman spoke some of it. All the congregation parts were sung. It was a little awkward to have some parts spoken by the pastor and responses sung by the congregation but better to have some chanting than none at all.

The sermon was preached by the vicar. It was a good liturgical sermon. It fit the propers of the day, was textual and properly distinguished God’s two words of law and gospel.

One down side was that no one greeted us. Personally I do not need that and would rather introduce myself to others on my own terms but most  conservative congregations could benefit from being more welcoming.

God’s word came to us in this service and it created in us new hearts which allowed us to return back to God in praise, the very word that He delivered to us in the liturgy of Matins. We encourage the congregations of the Northwest district to go to Messiah, Seattle and see how they are doing the historic liturgy the way it was intended. Thank you Pastor Lessman for the ministrations of God spoken through your mouth in the form of the historic liturgy.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


This Week’s Liturgy Notes: Comments on Worship at Messiah, Seattle, by Pr. Rossow — 2 Comments

  1. Please forgive my comments and blather for I am not as wise or obviously as God inspired as you.

    By way of introduction, I am the original Tim poster on the SW District youth gathering article. I am a 47 year Lutheran and 10 year Christian.

    The entire debate of form versus substance and form over substance is absurd from any logical standpoint. That statement should evoke some hackles from the form crowd.

    Imagine for a moment that I teach a college class (I do) on statistics. The class, Linear Regression and Correlation has been suffering from lower enrollments over the past five years. To jumpt start enrollments, I change the title of the program to LRC-Powerful Future Predicting Tools and Models for Success. At the same time, I add some multi-media content and a little flash. At no time do I ever compromise the course’s core learning objectives or key content.

    Behold! Enrollment increases. Students tell other students. Enrollment continues to increase. More people are embracing the true concepts of statistical modeling because I repackaged it slightly. The core learning remains and I did not compromise any values (i.e. faith alone, grace alone, word alone) but more people were brought to the altar of learning (i.e. Ablaze).

    To continue in analogy format but this time with an element of Socrates; would Jesus have used PowerPoint if it were made available to him? Would Martin Luther have embraced music for the electric guitar if it were available to him? What was more important, the adherence to form or the substance of the message?

    One other consideration for you tradional formists. The reason the casulty and resulting death rate in the American Civil war was so high is mostly attributed to the use of 19th century technology (rifled bore rifles, repeating rifles, conical bullets) with 17th century tactics (5 row deep, lined charge). In many respects, you Luteran (sic on purpose) traditionalists are in the same boat. This explains the loss of membership and active membership rates in most of your churches compared to those who have embraced an adaptive and more modern approach.

    Two final ponders. Does God hear perfectly executed Divine worship any differently than he hears pentecostals, non-denominationals, methodists or even more progressive Lutherans? Were there worship differences between elements of the early church?

    Mr. Webmaster: On a case by case basis, you can release my contact information but please do not publish it wholesale because I fear someone would be sent to report on me.


  2. Prof. Tim,
    Re #1
    Two items, one small and one not so small.
    I do believe you “pun” Luteran (sic on purpose) was intended to be “Luderan”, with the pun being us Confessional Lutherans being Luddites. (not necessarily so, dear professor)
    I question your statement that “I am a 47 year Lutheran and 10 year Christian”. If this means that you were baptized and raised in a Lutheran parish then you were a Christian from that Baptism. As many of us have “experienced”, we did not always understand or appreciate what the Holy Spirit had worked and was working and has continued to work in us since our Baptism and the hearing of God’s Word in the Divine Service.
    I am certain that others can more adequately complete the thought that I have begun so I will pass to any other of the Brothers who would please complete my thought. (sometimes I get too exhausted to continue)

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