Why the McDonald’s Bathroom Isn’t as Holy as the Divine Service

This is the sixth and what will likely be the final chapter of the recent discussion on praise bands between Pr. Reeder and myself, as he has indicated that he will not be making any further response. For my part, I will continue to do everything I can (and use every means possible) to give instruction in sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict it.

If this were simply an argument over preferences, I would have bowed out long ago. This isn’t about preference. There are even some praise songs I like (but keep in mind you’re talking to a guy who likes T-Swizzle, so what do I know?). It really doesn’t work to argue that worship style is a matter of preference with a guy who enjoyed leading a praise band. Praise music is often aesthetically pleasing. In fact, I have argued elsewhere that popularity of the praise music is due to its aesthetics; it’s certainly not due to its profound theology. My problem is with the theology and use of this music in the Divine Service. Nothing less than the purity of the Gospel is at stake.

Much good has resulted from this conversation. This discussion has given me the chance to re-examine my own doctrine and practice and see how it stacks up against the alternatives. I have grown in my appreciation for the treasure we have in the liturgy and am able to see more clearly the false theology that is inherent in the so-called “contemporary” worship that flows from American Evangelicalism. Many others have told me the same. 

Differences remain, but Pastor Reeder and I have much in common. We are both Christians who love the Gospel and pastors who are dedicated to carrying out our vocations faithfully and to the very best of our abilities. He has, by his words and online conduct, set a stellar example of churchmanship. He has far exceeded me in this regard and made an impression that won’t soon be lost. All too often discussions like this are filled with malice, but he and I have been able to talk about our differences while maintaining a high level of respect and admiration for one another. For this, I give thanks to God.

If you aren’t up to speed on the conversation thus far, here are links to part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.

If you really want me to read my post to you, send me $5 and your email address. For $10, I’ll even read it in a Scottish accent.

McDonald's, Johnstown CO: The scene of the crime

McDonald’s, Johnstown CO: The scene of the crime

I’ve had some pretty holy experiences in a McDonald’s bathroom. Specifically, the one on County Road 17 & Parish in Johnstown, Colorado. When I was serving as pastor at Faith Lutheran Church, I used to run from my house down CR-17 through downtown Johnstown and up Parish Avenue before turning around and going home. That was a 7 mile route, and the McDonald’s was at just about the halfway point. I love running long distances, but it does have its disadvantages, the prime one (in my book, at least) being runner’s trots (yes, that’s a real thing). On more than one occasion I found salvation in that bathroom at McDonald’s. I’m talking real, authentic, holy relief. Blest is the man whose bowels move, indeed! And, more to the point of this post, God was even present with me in that bathroom.

Despite God’s presence with me in that McDonald’s bathroom, it is not as holy as the Divine Service. Pastor Reeder, on the other hand, has argued that wherever God is present is equally holy. This is the mindset that drives all contemporary worship, whether it is acknowledged or not. Church is great, but there’s nothing particularly special or different about how God meets us there. As Pastor Reeder says:

As a result [of the tearing of the temple curtain/death of Jesus], Christians aren’t required to go anywhere specific to be in the presence of a holy God… Wherever God is, and wherever he meets his people, that is holy ground. When you have a devotion at your child’s bedside, when you bow your head in a restaurant, when you offer forgiveness to a Christian who wronged you, when you apply God’s guiding principles to your decisions about what to do next – and all the times in between when you as a holy temple of the Holy Spirit work your God-given vocation for Christ’s glory, you are on holy ground.

It is worth noting that this is the very same logic that is used by many non-churchgoers. “Why do I need to go to church when I can just pray and read the Bible at home?” It is true that you can pray and read the Bible at home. And if that’s all Christianity were about, you’d be all set. But this is a highly individualistic mentality which disregards the importance of our life together in the Body of Christ (cf. 1 John 1:3). If you reject the church, you deprive both yourself and others of the privilege of gathering together as the Body of Christ (1 Cor 10:17; 12:27), nor will you have preaching or the Sacraments. You need to go to Church because Jesus is present there in a unique way to serveTS-Shake it Off His saints in Word and Sacrament. The Divine Service is where heaven and earth meet, making it the holiest place on earth. Jesus is not present with you in the same way when you’re at home binging on Sons of Anarchy (even if you’ve determined to watch that show after applying “God’s guiding principles about what to do next”) or in the car rocking out to “Shake it Off” (even though Taylor Swift is a goddess) as He is in the Divine Service.

As Pr. Todd Wilken has so helpfully put it in his essay, Lord’s Day, Lord’s House, Lord’s Supper:

God’s omnipresence isn’t enough. Sinners need a God who isn’t just everywhere in general. That is only a God who sees everything you do and can find you and punish you for your sins. Sinners need a God who is somewhere in particular to forgive sins.

According to Pastor Reeder, however, there is nothing particularly special about the presence of Jesus with us in the Divine Service.

The blood of Christ doesn’t even have to be present in the Lord’s supper (it is, but I mean to say that the Lord’s Supper doesn’t need to be in the process of being celebrated) for Jesus to be present with us.

The lack of regard for the unique presence of Christ with us in the Divine Service is the mentality that drives all contemporary worship.

American Evangelicals could never use the liturgy with all its emphasis on Christ’s presence. They needed a way of worshiping which is compatible with their doctrine, especially their explicit rejection of the Real Presence. For them, worship is not about what Jesus does for us; it is all about what we do for Him. As Pr. Jim Schulz helpfully pointed out in comment #1 on my second article, “it’s the difference between the Gospel and the Law.”

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. Apology, III:189

Evangelical worship is the worship of the Law. The “real absence” is the doctrine that gave birth to this form of worship, with its fundamentally Christ-less theology. For those Lutherans who fail to discern the unique presence of Christ with us in the Divine Service, adopting such forms of worship is easy. Others may adopt contemporary worship without realizing the high cost of doing so. But one thing is certain: wherever you find contemporary worship, there the presence of Christ is either minimized or denied.

So you see, this conversation has never been an argument about preferences. It’s about ensuring that our practices are informed by and reflective of pure doctrine. After all, lex orandi, lex credendi.

I would like to thank Pastor Reeder for his excellent churchmanship, theological conviction, and willingness to dialogue about this topic over the past few days. Despite our differences, he is a friend and dear brother in Christ. In closing, I would like to share with you the words the celebrant prays prior to communing himself, as they are fitting way to end this conversation:

Lord Jesus Christ, who said to Your apostles, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you;” regard not my sins but Your promised mercy; and grant to Your Church that peace and unity which is according to Your will, for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


Why the McDonald’s Bathroom Isn’t as Holy as the Divine Service — 14 Comments

  1. But one thing is certain: wherever you find contemporary worship, there the presence of Christ is either minimized or denied.

    Indeed! And those who presume to do “Contemporary Worship” right are subjected to little, if any, checks and balances or theological reviews with respect to their practice. Accountability for what they do is relegated to “good intentions” at best.

  2. But one thing is certain: wherever you find contemporary worship, there the presence of Christ is either minimized or denied.

    Hogwash 🙂

    Again maybe we need a careful definition of contemporary worship.  The LCMS contemporary services I’ve attended are basically the same as the traditional – exact same sermon but different instruments and synod approved contemporary songs and liturgy.

  3. “It is worth noting that this is the very same logic that is used by many non-churchgoers. “Why do I need to go to church when I can just pray and read the Bible at home?” It is true that you can pray and read the Bible at home. And if that’s all Christianity were about, you’d be all set.”
    We both know, however, that few and far between will be the occasions when “many non-churchgoers” “pray and read the Bible at home.” The people that tend to do those spiritual disciplines at home ALSO tend to go to church for corporate worship. In short, this is a conversation that “non-churchgoers” have “no dog in the hunt,” and would probably use it as more evidence in support of why they don’t even bother with church, since it’s just a place where Christians get together to congratulate themselves on how much better they are than the people with whom they disagree, who ALSO call THEMSELVES Christians.
    I’m happy that, in this case, the two of you managed to keep a civil tongue in your heads, but that only accounts for your voices, not for those of the people who follow you.
    In the end, nothing will have changed changed for either of you. You will do what you do, and he will do what he does. In like manner, when I accept a call, I will do what I do, t reach the people with the Gospel in the community where I will serve. IF it happens to be, as I hope, in an inner city, I WILL have a choir that sings Gospel Choir songs, because I want people to come, and the church that I am thinking about has already had a long time of experiencing how much of a draw trying to be like your church has been. Unfortunately, the interim pastor has no incentive, and apparently, those in lay leadership, don;t care that their church is a dead man walking, because they WON’T engage the community where they live, instead of trying to please a constituency that does not live there, will never come there, and does nothing to help them there. If I have a personal agenda – THAT is what it is, that the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ would be known by those whose only current connection to Dr. Martin Luther is a Baptist preacher with the last name of “King.”

  4. Dear Reverend Andersen,
    Be careful, God is present where He wills, and He IS present we know in His Word and Sacraments. It does not have to be in the Divine Service; and I say that because it can be absent in any form of service.

    Even the most traditional worship can become pompous and wrong, when we forget what worship really is, bowing down to the Lord and being served by His Word and Sacraments.

    The Word was with the eunuch, and was delivered and explained by Philip. The Word was on the mountain, where many stopped to listen, both YHWH and Jesus as they did that.

    Stop with the instruments already.

    Worship stops being worship where we want to reverse the arrow, which should always be from cross, from my God, from Body and Blood to us.

    You know what, I may reverse course, do this:
    01) Have a worship service (yes, in a high Church, liturgical setting, Holy Communion every week, always Confession and Absolution, Psalms and Word proclaimed, and with feeling as God intended). That is what I and my people like.
    02) Then more worship in solid Bible Study after.
    03) And then, let’s call it what it is, have a good half hour of praise to our Lord as David did, blow the horn, dance and give thanks.

    Yes, praise is NOT worship, call it what it is.

    Of course, not sure anyone would come to my almost three hour time slice of being with God.

    And then, as Luther (and others) would say, we “go out” to love our neighbor as God has loved us.

  5. Pastor Anderson I was just visiting your churches website. The last sermon I see posted was from 2013. You are obviously tec savvy and like to share your thoughts. I am surprised your churches website is not current.

  6. To drill down further: It’s not just about Christ being present in Word and Sacrament. It’s about Christ being present in Word and Sacrament to deliver forgiveness, life, and salvation through Word and Sacrament. Nondenominationals focus on an abstract forgiveness that is available at an “old rugged cross” because to them it is not available through Word and Sacrament right here and right now. Therefore nondenominational-style worship forms and music rely on emotional formats, texts and tunes to make the worshiper feel assured of Christ’s forgiveness at a cross “on a hill far away” rather than on the objective promises of Christ’s forgiveness located in the tangible means of grace right in front of them in the church heard from the pulpit and distributed from the font and altar.

  7. Perhaps that is why so many of them reach for the sky because they really need actual Word & Sacrament? Not denial of it. I am not meaning to deride anyone saying this.

  8. @Pastor Prentice #5

    Word & Sacrament is the Divine Service. If you have those two things, you have the Divine Service. If either are missing, you don’t. A Wordless Sacrament is mysticism; a Sacramentless Word is rationalism.

    @elke #6

    I don’t administer the church’s website; other than serving as an archive for historical purposes, it’s basically non-functional. It is not updated regularly for content. I put sermons and other content on Zion’s facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/zionlcms) and Immanuel’s Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/ImmanuelEvLCMS/), and also my personal blog (https://seelsorge40.wordpress.com/).

  9. I am a recent convert from the Roman Catholic Church. I think being catholic gave a love for the western liturgy that a lot of Lutherans I have met do not have. As a catholic I could go to a very modern liturgy with modern music and the new mass. It would be a horrible experience. The Catholic church does Protestantism really bad. Where I would go to mass we would it in the Latin form from Trent. Everything was beautiful, everything pointed away from us to the cross.
    When you start changing the liturgy to make man happy or to attract people you have failed at the basic point. When a Pastor faces the congratulation over a crammer/ butcher block table it changes the theology. It turns worship into a performance. It focuses worship on man. When we take the Eucharist standing or using a couple dozen Jiggers for the most precious blood what does that say about are belief that this truly is the body, the blood who bought us on the cross. Liturgy reflects are beliefs.
    Liturgy in the west we inherited like the whole church from the Jews and the earliest Christians. The western liturgy shaped the earliest Christians and there utter faith in Jesus. The blood of the Martyrs that flowed so that the church could spread springs from the Liturgy. No one would of gone to the lions if there liturgy was a rock concert. They would not have suffered on wheels, crosses and the flame if worship was just like the outside world.
    Religion was serious business back than. If the Christians where just practicing a causal worship life that mirrored the roman world no would of converted. If the Western liturgy did not show clearly what Christ has done, what Christ is doing in the life of the covert than no one would of converted. Liturgy touched souls, it drew people away from the powerful and emotional worship of the pagan gods, to the True God that bleed and died for them.
    The Western liturgy should not be cheapened or tossed aside. If viewed in the light if 2000 years of christian history, it is clear we should be using tell Christ comes. The liturgy will instruct generations to come about what the faith is and will attract many to it’s timeless natures.
    The church is shrinking. Mega church rock shows attract huge crowds, but few stay. It is a constant churn. The churches that are stable and growing are the Traditional, the timeless. The eastern orthodox is booming, mostly from converts. The only Catholic churches growing are the one’s that practice the latin rite, the newest parishes celebrate the latin rite, and most young priests are dedicated to the latin rite in one away or another. The traditional catholic anglican parishes are thriving while there homosexual loving Episcopalian churches shrink. Lutheranism is struggling. From what I can tell church numbers are down and there no clear change in sight. So I would suggest embrace the traditional. Embrace the timeless.
    Be faithful in Word and Sacraments tell Christ comes in Glory.

    I am not a good writer and I have a migraine right now. I apologize if this sounds rambling. Just my 2 cents.

  10. From the main post: “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.” Apology, III:189

    “Evangelical worship is the worship of the Law.”

    Let’s be clear: Both Law and Gospel are holy. The passage from the Apology, examined in context, is not setting these two aspects of worship against each other. Rather, the passage is emphasizing that it is God’s grace that allows and motivates us to bring gifts that please Him.

    As to the characterization of “evangelical worship,” I can only draw on my experience visiting a variety of evangelical churches. Some demonstrate quite clearly that their worship is all about remembering and responding to God’s grace in Christ, and not only in regular worship services. Most recently, I was both astonished and uplifted to hear a truly excellent and appealing Christ-centered message an evangelical wedding ceremony.

    Now then, if as my pastor you were to insist that “worship of the Law” has no place in the Divine Service, I would be glad to leave my offering at home.

  11. @Carl H #11

    I would agree that there is a place for “worship of the Law” in public worship, namely, that we offer our praise and thanks to God in response to him giving us his gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation.

    The problem with Evangelical/Nondenominational worship is that “worship of the Law” predominates. When the main goal is to “feel” the presence of God through music, the main focus is going to be on what man is doing for God.

    We don’t just “remember…God’s grace in Christ” in public worship. Believers receive God’s tangible grace in Christ through Word and Sacrament. And because public worship is primarily about receiving forgiveness, life, and salvation, therefore, “worship of the gospel” should predominate. Accordingly, as Walther once said:

    “God’s Word is not rightly divided when the preacher does not, in general, let the Gospel predominate.” – Law and Gospel

    In Nondenominational/Evangelical worship, God’s Word is not rightly divided. “Worship of the Law” predominates.

  12. Whoa #11
    Whoa #11
    I give my offerings in the spirit of the gospel, not under tithe of the law, tho there is nothing wrong with that… “Burnt offerings I do not desire, but [love]” – God

    Lutherans are not anti nomian
    Just Christ fulfilled nomians at the end of the day.

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