The Church that Walther, Chemnitz, Luther, Paul, Moses and Elijah would Attend, A Discussion Between Phillip Magness and George in Wheaton

Last week’s post about  a Matt Harrison presidency and what that would mean for the local parish has led to a helpful exchange between Cantor Phillip Magness of Bethany – Naperville, Illinois and BJS regular “George of Wheaton.” The exchange  resulted in Magness describing how a “non-traditional Lutheran church” can be slowly and deliberately re-made into a church that practices historic Lutheranism.

The exchange began with this assertion from Magness:

December 18th, 2009 at 11:32 | #21
…So “traditional” worship is not necessarily the answer. The answer is simply…..Lutheran worship. Not high church, not low church, not organ church, not radio-music church. Just Lutheran worship. The attendant details (ceremonies, music, art, vestments) may be simple or elaborate, but the piety is unmistakable. It may or may not be your actual grandfather’s church.

But, whatever your instruments and however you may follow the rubrics, it is the church that Walther and Chemnitz and Luther and Paul and Moses and Elijah would attend.

How do we “get there” as the LCMS? First, realize that, by the grace of God, we are already there – in Christ. But the inauguration is incomplete, and so we need church leaders who will uphold the Divine Service, patiently and lovingly catechize the church in all sound doctrine, and produce good resources for promoting and providing good worship.

No, a Synod President is not, can not, nor should not come in and “change things” according to his rule. That path just leads to further change when a new Synod President comes in. Such is the path of structure, organization, and authority that is laid before us in Blue Ribbon proposals and the current Presidium’s approach to “leadership”. Rev. Harrison has outlined instead a churchly path, the path of our fathers. This takes time, but, through the Gospel, wins over hearts and minds so that many more may follow and cherish that which is to be upheld: the Gospel taught in its truth and purity, and the Sacraments rightly administered.

May our Synod uphold this as the model, just as Moses lifted up a snake in the wilderness!

Then “George in Wheaton” asked for clarification.

December 18th, 2009 at 12:23 | #24
#21 – Phil, I’m not sure I understand your point. This Summer I attended a service in a small LCMS church building that was apparently only recently constructed by a congregation that had begun as a mission plant some 12-15 years ago. The “sanctuary” area consisted of a modest size area with folding chairs and a platformed area at the front. There was no cross, no pulpit, and only three strange-looking plant stand-like objects that had been clustered together with a couple of candles on top which I guess was supposed to pass for an altar. Next to those was an electronic keyboard, a “rhythm section,” and three “praise team” worship leaders. Behind the “altar” was a recessed area that I assumed could be used to house a baptistry (perhaps they used a church building contractor who sold them a cookie cutter architecture that would work just as well in any run-of-the-mill evangelical congregation). Perhaps one day they even envision furnishing it with a dunk tank – who knows.

The pastor wore a regular business suit; no surplice or stole of any kind. And, of course, the little musical group played, sang, and led the congregation in the popular P&W music selections of the day. As you might guess, there was no formal liturgy, the congregation owned no hymnals – everything they needed to read or sing was projected on a screen up-front, and the sermon, of course, revolved largely around what it takes for all of us to get along with each other in keeping with gospel-reduction vogue.

How would a congregation like that ever make the quantum leap back to the Divine Service? I could have been in attendance at any Baptist church service! To steal some of the thunder from another recent thread, this is mission reductionism heaped upon gospel reductionism to the hilt. A return to churchly discipline, as that blog poster also points out, is the only way out of it and I would venture to guess that they would leave the synod if it ever came to that.

That led to Cantor Magness describing the slow, deliberate path back to Lutheran normalcy. Cantor Magness has experience with this. He has served in several different congregations where he has refined the worship to better reflect authentic  Lutheranism. Here is his response to George which we offer as a primer for pastors, musicians and laity everywhere who are faced with the daunting task of reforming a parish that has lost its Lutheran soul.

December 20th, 2009 at 16:45 | #41
Hi George,

My point is that we need to focus on Lutheran piety, uphold the best expressions as models, but not diminish other expressions of it in the process.

Now the congregation you described was obviously not worshipping as Lutherans. And you ask a good question: How would such a congregation make the “quantum leap” to the Divine Service? I wouldn’t characterize the jump as that extreme, but it would be a challnege. Here’s the path:

1 – The pastors & the elders need to agree to a vision as to how the congregation should worship and then uphold that ideal as they move toward that goal, teaching and encouraging all the way.

2 – Over the course of about three years, the following changes would be made:

a. put up a cross as a focal point for worship. (“Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’ve come”.)

b. move the altar to a more clear & central location, add a pulpit, and a font. These are the three basic pieces of furniture found throughout Christian history around the world.

c. have the pastor at least wear a collar. Garments evoking Revelation can come later when the congregation is more catechized.

d. using the existing musicians, introduce more Lutheran hymnody to the congregation via the LSB Guitar Edition; CPH’s Hymns for the Contemporary Ensemble; and other resources.

e. teach the congregation that because they are in Christ, their song is the song of Christ, and so we heed what Paul teaches us in two of the few specific instructions about worship we receive in the NT: “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”. Follow this by introducing Psalm singing in styles that are consistent with the existing way the congregation sings and with the musical vocabulary of the P&W band. These are available from many resources, including, GIA, OCP, and Liturgy Solutions.

f. teach the congregation about the Spiritual songs. what is ‘spiritual’? “Of the Holy Spirit” (according to Norman Nagel). What songs are “of the Holy Spirit”? Easy – the songs elsewhere in the Bible: the Canticles. The Magnificat, for example is a “Spiritual Song”. The liturgy is full of Spiritual songs, and so introduce them to the congregation. Perhaps one a season until they have learned enough Canticles do do a complete Divine Service.

At this point, this congregaiton might still sing their praise songs as an Entrance Hymn and for an Offertory or as a closing song, but with this patience pace they will within two years be singing a Kyrie, a Gloria, various Psalms, a Sanctus, and an Agnus Dei, along with good hymns for the Hymn of the Day and communion distribution.

Finally, by this point they should be getting so much that is based in our hymnals that they can move from projecting LSB resources onto a screen toward getting actual hymnals.

Perhaps as this three-year plan winds down this congregation might want to do other things, such as learn to chant Introits or Psalms, have choirs sing the Verse of the Day, etc. Or they might not. As much as I like having a corpus on the cross, processions, a pipe organ, chanting, full vestments, and other rich trappings of liturgical worship, such is not necessary.

If the congregation in question simply did the things I outlined above, they would be recognizingly Lutheran in 1-2 years and will have become habituated in a Lutheran piety within 3. They would follow the rubrics of the Divine Service, and the focus of the people would be on where Christ gives us His cross-born gifts through the Office of the Holy Ministry: the font, the altar, and the pulpit.

That wouldn’t be “high church” or “low church”. It’d just be Lutheran church. In a way that would be appropriate to their sanctuary and their people. It would be a church none of us would mind visiting, even as we appreciate the different customs of our home congregations.

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