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

Ep6Prolegomena:
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.

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