Gesundheit, Bon Appetit and Kyrie Eleison, by Pr. Rossow

This past Sunday, and all during the season of Lent, we at Bethany Lutheran – Naperville, Illinois, sing the Kyrie according to Lutheran Service Book (LSB) 944, “Kyrie – II.” It is the standard Kyrie but in Greek. It is beautiful, meaningful and authentic. The congregation has learned it well enough that we were even able to sing part of it a cappella.

We English-speakers regularly use foreign phrases in our conversation like “gesundheit” and “bon appetit.” Therefore it should not be surprising when we use a little Greek and Latin in the Divine Service.

It is off-puting then that practitioners of Contemporary Worship (CoWo) often complain about the use of ancient languages in the Divine Service in keeping with their complaints that the historic liturgy is generally old-fashioned and incapable of relating to those in our current pop culture.

Singing the Kyrie in Greek seems to be working just fine in the heart of pop culture in the thriving, yuppie, baby-boom, post-modern Chicago suburb of Naperville. As a matter of fact, if I were to judge the liturgy last Sunday on an emotional scale, I would say that the Kyrie was one of the more emotionally meaningful parts of the Divine Service. It helped that at the late service our high school youth choir sang a beautiful descant. (Yes Virginia, we do have a high school youth choir that assists the congregational singing of the liturgy and they do learn Greek and sing it.)

Singing parts of the liturgy in ancient languages, in doses that allow the average person to realize in English what they are singing, is a helpful, godly and pious practice. It keeps us tethered to the 2,000 year old liturgy. It helps us realize that we are not worshipping God according to some recently devised form but according to forms that have survived for generations. It also helps us to realize that the we worship with angels, archangels and all the company of heaven. It even brings an ethereal element into worship which helps us to transcend daily life and realize that this hour or so on Sunday morning is the most unique and important hour of the week. It is the hour when the Lord comes to us in His Word and in the Supper and bathes us in his eternal mercy – Kyrie Eleison!

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.

Comments

Gesundheit, Bon Appetit and Kyrie Eleison, by Pr. Rossow — 61 Comments

  1. I think Pr Messer has some relevant points here where he discusses Polish worship in America.

    (Hope the html thingie worked.)

  2. @Norm Fisher #51
    Thanks, Norm. It took me 15 minutes to find it on my own. You’ve done us a great service.

    Opening paragraph of “In Defense of Historical Worship” by Pr. Sean L. Rippy:

    “As one who has written contemporary worship (CW) services in three different congregations, started it in one congregation, who has been raised on much of its music through radio and worship services, who sought for something in CW that he thought could not be found in LW, who actually likes much of the music of CW and who believed firmly that you could make contemporary worship, Lutheran, but has now rejected CW as profane, allow me to chime in.”

    Should be required reading.

    Johannes

  3. @ Jim. I think that CoWo can be both divine worship and an evangelistic tool. Perhaps our service is different than many that you have experienced.

    We do have appropriate music before confession and absolution (we call absolution “forgiveness” would be the difference). We have C&A every week and holy communion every other week. Many “unchurched” come to our contemporary service because it doesn’t frighten them by being very very different from what they are used to in their lives. Sweatshirts, jeans, etc are common.

    Our service is the divine service of word and sacrament, though you may disagree on my definition, but that’s ok.

    To me, the evangelism part comes through two aspects: Preaching of God’s word (Law and Gospel) and music that explains Jesus’ sacrifice and Jesus’ love, and also praises Jesus as our Lord rather than assuming that everyone present is already a Christian.

    We have had many current members begin in our contemporary worship and later choose to join new member classes where they learn more about our Lutheran doctrine rather than just experiencing it on Saturday evenings. Some begin to attend mostly traditional services; some stay with CoWo; some attend both.

    Although you may not feel this reaction, I was surprised to read that divine worship is not for evangelism, because the attitute of many traditionalists is that people should come to worship if they want to find out about Jesus (I was told that by a traditionalist pastor a few years ago). Does that not indicate that our traditional Lutheran liturgy must become what the chruch growthers would call “seeker freindly”?

    BTW: I really appreciate the general willingness of the BJS members to discuss ideas with me rather than just condemn. Thanks!!

  4. Sue Wilson :
    Although you may not feel this reaction, I was surprised to read that divine worship is not for evangelism, because the attitute of many traditionalists is that people should come to worship if they want to find out about Jesus (I was told that by a traditionalist pastor a few years ago). Does that not indicate that our traditional Lutheran liturgy must become what the chruch growthers would call “seeker freindly”?

    Sue, I don’t think we can say there is no “outreach” aspect to the Liturgy, but I do think it a grave mistake to consider it primarily such. I think it is an equally grave mistake to presume that the historic Liturgy is not “effective” as an outreach tool. It is my subjective experience, as a former Baptist turned Lutheran turned Orthodox, that what many people are starving for in American Christianity is authenticity. To that end, my wife and I were far more drawn by a Church (at the time, LCMS) that said “here is what Christian worship is — come and see,” than by a Church that said “we’re Christian, look at all the cool things we are doing to bring Jesus to the world!” The latter — and keep in mind we grew up watching it meld from “traditional” Baptist worship into entertainment-based worship — seemed to us to be akin to a sales pitch. I used to refer to it as “Amway theology.” We’re giving them what they want. Itching ears and all that. Whereas the former was authentic. It was real. They were not compromising, they were saying “this is who we are, this is what we believe, and this is why we do the things we do.”

    Teaching liturgy rather than replacing it seems to me a more “effective” means of outreach. As anecdotal proof of that I’ll note that the Orthodox Church here in the United States is growing as most mainline Protestant denominations decline. That doesn’t tell the whole story (for one, immigration and converts from other liturgical traditions account for a fair amount of that growth), but we have former Baptists, former Methodists, etc. in our parish. Our priest is a former Presbyterian. We left a liturgical tradition because the Lutheran parishes in our area were altering and minimizing the historic Liturgy, but most of our converts are from non-liturgical communions.

  5. @Sue Wilson #54

    Hi Sue,

    To add to David Garner’s good comments above and for clarification, the Scriptures tell us that when we take the Lord’s Supper we are proclaiming the Gospel (1 Corinthians 11:25). Word and Sacrament as delivered in the liturgy not only feeds us, but tells everyone present about the grace and mercy our Lord has upon us sinners. That is evangelism as given to us by the Lord. So as an example, we don’t need to take the Lord’s Supper in “new and creative ways” for it to communicate the gospel. The same can be said about preaching law and gospel, and administering baptism.

    What I am referring to in my earlier posting is the excuse used by some Lutherans to dump the traditional liturgy and replace it with a dumb downed, seeker sensitive, service which resembles the services found in most mega-churches today (Saddleback, Willow Creek, etc.). The excuse used is always “missions.” Missions is always wrongly pitted against the traditional liturgy by the proponents of CoWo. The traditional liturgy is absolutely evangelistic. The problem with CoWo is that it tries to “reinvent” the divine service with a particular bent on missions that comes straight from Church Growth methodologies which are saturated with decision theology. The liturgy doesn’t ask the question of who can we attract through the doors today? Instead, the liturgy surrounds Christ coming to us with the forgiveness of sins. See the difference? I think this issue is really pronounced when we frame the question about the divine service as Dr. Nagel did, “Who is driving the verbs?” Is the divine service about us coming to the community in new and creative ways to draw them through our doors and hope they will receive Christ? Or, is it about Christ coming to beggars and showing His grace and mercy to them and forgiving their sins? That’s the point of shifting the liturgy away from a Christ focused divine service to a missions focused service. The former is gospel, and the later is typically law driven.

    Sorry, I rambled on. 🙂 The traditional liturgy is evangelical and those who practice it walk out of the divine service, as Pr. Harrison says, with their beggar bags full of mercy only to empty them out through the week as they encounter others in the world who don’t know the Gospel. We then return to the divine service and our gracious Lord fills our bags again and we go out in the world showing the grace and mercy of our God who provides His Son to us for the forgiveness of sins.

  6. Sue Wilson :
    @ Jim. I think that CoWo can be both divine worship and an evangelistic tool. Perhaps our service is different than many that you have experienced.
    Although you may not feel this reaction, I was surprised to read that divine worship is not for evangelism, because the attitute of many traditionalists is that people should come to worship if they want to find out about Jesus (I was told that by a traditionalist pastor a few years ago). Does that not indicate that our traditional Lutheran liturgy must become what the chruch growthers would call “seeker freindly”?
    BTW: I really appreciate the general willingness of the BJS members to discuss ideas with me rather than just condemn. Thanks!!

    Maybe we first need to agree on what is and what happens in “worship”.

    I recommend reading Pr Wolfmuller’s blog entry:

    http://wolfmueller.wordpress.com/2011/02/25/worship-is-being-served-by-jesus/

    especially this snippet from the Augsburg Confession on worship/divine service:

    “Thus the worship and divine service of the Gospel is to receive from God gifts; on the contrary, the worship of the Law is to offer and present our gifts to God. We can, however, offer nothing to God unless we have first been reconciled and born again. This passage, too, brings the greatest consolation, as the chief worship of the Gospel is to wish to receive remission of sins, grace, and righteousness. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession III.189, Triglotta)”

  7. Agree that its not fair to crunch ordinaries and propers, but if liturgy isn’t taught as a unified whole, and reinforced, then they are just repetitive songs that don’t by themselves teach the Gospel. There are lots of cowo settings for ordinaries and propers and they grate on my ears as much as every other lite rock ditty. And, as can be seen by the gospelless orthodox and Catholics and anglicans and elca, liturgy alone can prosper without any Gospel. Which is another reason I think focus on liturgy is a mistake. To teach the Gospel, a praise service loaded with doctrinal readings and teaching songs can be better than unexplained liturgy, though Gospel teaching cowo is very hard to find. Aesthetically, ill take liturgy everytime, but aesthetics and tradition are secondary to whether the Gospel is being taught.

  8. Greek language et.al.? OK. Just not “Greek” theology. Beware of Trojan Horses.

  9. @Concerned Seminarian #28
    Take it from a Catholic. Even those of who didn’t take Latin in high school know what Agnus Dei means since it is normally sung in English during most of the year and in Latin at other times, especially during Lent.

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