Adolescent Ecclesiology

Girl with HeadphonesIn The Contemplative Pastor, Eugene Peterson makes the observation that  our culture is “unwell in a new way.”  In contrast to previous generations, where older generations passed their values and wisdom down to younger ones, it appears that in our generation the direction of influence has been reversed.  Peterson writes,

“There was a time when idea and living styles were initiated in the adult world and filtered down to youth.  Now the movement goes the other way: lifestyles are generated at the youth level and pushed upward.  Dress fashions, hair styles, music, and moral that are adopted by youth are evangelically pushed on an adult world, which seems eager to be converted.”[1]

One of the manifestations of this adolescent culture in the church today is through the loss of the historical.  The adolescent has little sense of history beyond what is experienced in childhood.  Perspective for making judgments is lacking.  The result, Peterson observes, “is that they begin every problem from scratch.”[2]  This has given rise to what we might call an “adolescent ecclesiology.”

There was a time when I felt compelled to re-invent the liturgical wheel every week to “keep things fresh” and “help people express themselves.”  But this emphasis on self-expression is an adolescent move and is destructive to community.  It ends up being burdensome to all, resulting in a constant need to be doing church (the way of the Law) instead of being church (being nurtured by the Gospel in the Divine Service).  Rather than emphasize the means of grace, a fascination with all things juvenile drives the service.  Thankfully, younger generations have little interest in these services.  They see them for what they are: phony baloney.  The more the older generations try to make the church appear “hip”, the less interested the younger generations become. Though “contemporary worship” is supposedly targeted toward younger generations, it’s really catering to the Boomers.  The St. Louis Center for Christian Study has made the following observation:

[Under the influence of Baby Boomers], worship services became upbeat, high-energy, dynamic, contemporary and spontaneous.  At least they were carefully engineered by worship teams to look and feel spontaneous.  The engineered worship experience became a the hallmark of Boomer worship… What was once called contemporary worship is now being re-named Boomer worship.  By contrast, the fastest growing worship style among the younger generations–Generation X (20s & 30s) and the rising Generation Y  (today’s college students)–is liturgical worship [emphasis original].[3]

An adolescent ecclesiology also yields a highly individualistic approach to Christianity.  Though we believe in the “communion of saints”, the wholesale rejection of history and tradition (whether intentional or not) leaves the Church impoverished.  There is little consciousness today of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the pew right next to us, much less our connection to the saints throughout the ages.  Many see church in terms of “what’s in it for me” and generally have little concept of how their presence or absence in church, bible class, Sunday school, etc., affects the faith of their neighbor.

As our Synod has recently emphasized (following the cue of Bonhoeffer and others), Christianity is about doing life togetherWe– the una sancta, the whole Church on earth– worship together with angels, archangels, and the whole company of heaven.  As we sing in the Te Deum, “the holy Church throughout all the world” praises God right alongside “the glorious company of the apostles,” “the goodly fellowship of the prophets”, and “the noble army of martyrs.”[4]  The communion of saints extends all the way back to the Garden of Eden.  Unfortunately, the rejection of history and liturgy in the pursuit of adolescent ideals obscures any sense of communion with the saints of old.

Liturgy and history remind us that the Church is bigger than ourselves.  They guard against the perpetual adolescent desire for self expression and remind us that Christianity is about Christ and His gifts for us.  They keep the Church focused on Her Lord rather than Herself.  As St. John said, “I must decrease, but He must increase,” (John 3:30).

Additionally, those who have gone before us have struggled with many of the same problems we face today.  The mask may be new, but it’s the same old sin hiding beneath.  As Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun,” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).  If we are willing to listen to those who have gone before us, we may just learn something helpful for life today.  The liturgy and history of the Church is a treasure filled with riches of wisdom, guidance, comfort, and communion.  Those who have gone before us were sinners and erred at times, but this gives us even more reason to sit at their feet.  We can learn from what they got right (by the grace of God) and from their errors.  As the Apology to the Augsburg Confession (article XXI) teaches, we remember the saints so that we may 1) thank God for giving faithful servants to His Church; 2) have our faith strengthened as we see the mercy that God extended to His saints of old; 3) provide us with examples by which we may imitate both their faith and their holy living according to our calling in life.

[1] Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989 (121–122).

[4] cf. Lutheran Service Book (St. Louis: CPH, 2006), 223.


Adolescent Ecclesiology — 12 Comments

  1. Dear Pastor Andersen,

    Excellent article and observations! Thanks for your work on it!

    I love the phrase re. Boomer worship service: “At least they were carefully engineered by worship teams to look and feel spontaneous.” It implies that the anti-liturgical-guys are liturgical in their own way.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  2. was using the “sassy gay friend” image macro meant to be seen as ironic, unintentional, or something else?

    MODERATOR – See comment below – thanks to this commenter for the heads up.

  3. Pastor Andersen,

    Great article – very insightful! Moving away from our historic liturgy has created major issues. Among those many issues is that several generations of “Self-Licking Ice Cream Cones” have been created who run around dripping all over everyone.

  4. Given Peterson’s own felt-need “translation” Scripture (‘The Message’), this statement is incredibly ironic…but no less welcome because of it. 🙂

  5. Eugene Peterson wrote The Contemplative Pastor
    in 1980. So this book is dated in the sense that
    the Baby Boomer influence on the church is over.
    Today’s youth are hungry for Bible-based and
    Christ-centered churches. They actually like the
    formal liturgy that is in our hymnal.

  6. @Rev.Dave Likeness #6
    I agree with your comment about the youth. Having been involved in both liturgical and non-liturgical churches, it seems that the youth tend to embrace the liturgy while the boomers reject it (generally speaking). However, the boomer influence on the church in this respect is far from over. One can only hope this proves to be nothing more than a silly passing fad, but the insatiable hunger for novelty has already resulted in the loss of a common service. Uniformity should not be demanded, but it is a noble enough thing to strive for- especially given the strong emphasis that has been placed on diversity in the LCMS in recent history.

    In his essay, “Liturgical Uniformity and Church Polity” (LTJ 36/2 (2002)), President Harrison has written:

    “In its Confessions and church orders of the sixteenth century the Lutheran Church followed Luther’s earlier writings on the goal of liturgical uniformity. The church orders universally maintained the catholic sweep of the western liturgy, seeking merely to purify the old on the basis of the doctrine of justification. Like Luther, they rejected any imposition of human ceremonies intended to merit divine favour, and rejected any attempt to bind consciences with matters not bound by the word of God. Yet they explicitly followed Luther’s ethic in the realm of liturgical life. While the Christian under the gospel is perfectly free and subject to none, under the ethic of love the Christian is the perfectly dutiful servant of all and subject to all. Thus the Reformers followed Luther in asserting the need for liturgical uniformity for the sake of love, to avoid offence and false doctrine.”

  7. “With respect to the order for worship, as a whole, it appears to be as defective as it was previously. Now we obviously know–granted that only orthodox agendas are in use among us–this is not an essential ingredient, but it is still lamentable that such a motley jumble continues to predominate among us. Even though the liturgy itself is something neither commanded nor forbidden (ein Mittelding), the doctrine of Christian freedom–thanks be to God–is in practice everywhere. And this freedom remains well preserved in all congregations. So the congregations should all the more so consent to a uniform liturgy; in order to allow the unity in Spirit to be expressed externally. The tenacity with which the worst bad taste is frequently clung to in this matter is astonishing. May God improve the situation.” President Friedrich Wyneken, 1860 Synodical address, “At Home In The House Of My Fathers”

  8. Amen. And Amen. I have been saying this for some time now… that although uniformity should never be demanded, it is a laudable goal for the sake of love and unity.

    The response I get is (I believe) an American one: “Unity is found in diversity!” And they try to justify this with Paul’s analogy of a body with many parts. Or I was told recently… our various worship ideas are simply various instruments in God’s symphony orchestra. (And it would be just awful to be monotone! How boring!) Hmmm…

    But once again, Amen. I think we have too great of a love for self-expression–and for self in general–and too great of a disdain for uniformity.

  9. Good stuff, thanks.

    If I may be so bold, one bone to pick. [Surprise!]

    “Christianity is about doing life together”

    This kind of thinking is what has permeated American Evangelicalism–“doing life.”

    We don’t “do” life. We live it. It is a state of being given us by the grace of God–especially the koinonia life together.

    N’est ces pa?

    And, once again, a high five re your treatment of the not-so-great reversal in our post-modern church culture.

  10. @Pastor Peter Elliott #9
    Image a symphony orchestra where each musician is playing his own tune, and all are playing in different keys.
    Actually a lot of so-called modern classical music sounds a lot like that – and it is not pretty.

  11. @Rev. Kurt Hering #10
    Thanks Kurt- I like your choice of verb better, that’s really what I meant. It’s funny, it really annoys me when people use “do” as an all-purpose verb (let’s “do” dinner, etc.), and here I am guilty of doing the same thing! But, as Pilate once said, “What I have written, I have written.”

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