There are a number of things I remember about the ELCA church I was a member of during my childhood. Some memories are good and some are bad. I remember the candlelight service every Christmas Eve. I remember being an acolyte. I remember always sitting next to my dad and being offered some of his breath mints. I remember being dropped off for Sunday school. In my teenage years I remember attending dances and other social gatherings that had nothing to do with strengthening my faith. My memories come to an end after I was confirmed and stopped attending church services. Sifting through the good and bad memories of my mind the most powerful memory are certain parts of the liturgy. While I don’t remember everything I can easily be transported back to my childhood whenever we sing “This is the feast”. I can still hear the men in the senior choir belting that out at the top of their lungs. I remember using The Lutheran Book of Worship back in those days and the service itself was similarly structured and reverent as my current churches services are today. Although I may not remember every Bible story I learned growing up I do remember many parts of the liturgy.
After being away from the church during my high school and college years I started to slowly make my way back to the church. First, by attending some local ELCA churches mainly because that’s what I grew up in and seemed like a logical place to start. I remember attending 3 or 4 local ELCA churches and came away with the impression that they weren’t like the church I remember growing up in. Even during their “traditional” service the liturgy was scaled down, reworded and it just rubbed me the wrong way. Add to that the fact that they all had female pastors, something I didn’t have in my church growing up. Church didn’t seem like the church I remembered. Where was I to turn? I finally ended up attending my wife’s grandparents’ church which was LCMS. At this point I didn’t know the differences in doctrine between the LCMS and ELCA, all I knew was that the LCMS was more “conservative” in the spectrum of Lutheranism. One thing I did know is that the LCMS had the liturgy. Little did I know that this was one of the few LCMS churches in my area that exclusively used the liturgy and the hymnal. To my disappointment I found out much later about the differences in my local area LCMS churches. That’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the differences in practice and doctrine between my home church and the other LCMS churches in my area.
I consider myself pretty lucky that I am member of an LCMS church that uses the liturgy. When I first set out to find a church all those years ago I was looking for a church to get my daughter baptized and also to join and hopefully regularly attend. And while I remembered many things from the liturgy growing up it didn’t dawn on me until a few years into my membership in that LCMS church how much of the Word of God is used in the liturgy and the hymns. The Holy Spirit was at work in the liturgy when I was a kid and is at work every Sunday at my church. At my liturgical church our service is jam packed full of Jesus and the Word of God. God wants us to hear the Word and about what Jesus did for us. Nowhere else will you find more of God’s Word and Jesus then in the liturgy.
In my humble opinion any church that isn’t using the liturgy is at risk pushing Jesus and the Word of God out of their service. Why wouldn’t you want more Jesus? Maybe you’d rather be moved by music that connects with you more? God wants you to hear the Word and receive His gifts – that is more important than feeling all warm and emotional (thought that too can happen, its just not the goal or focus). All the praise band music that is meant to connect with you and bring about some special feeling is only confessing self and experience. Compare that to having an elderly member standing next to you singing “Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us”. While that may cause an emotional reaction in me (again not a bad thing, unless I use it as my focus), it is also confessing Jesus Christ thus pointing us all back to the center of our faith and not our personal experiences. I’ve also had older members kneeling next to me at the altar receiving the body and blood of Christ and singing along with a hymn by memory. That’s better than some hipster rocking out with a guitar and singing some lyrically inept song with no scriptural basis. A church service is meant to deliver the Word of God and the sacraments to struggling sinners which is faithfully done using the liturgy. Instead we have churches whose worship style removes Jesus’ life, death and resurrection from its center and replaces it with self-worship, big screens and poor music that slowly kills their doctrine.
I genuinely feel bad for churches and people who don’t use the liturgy as it supplies so much of what God wants us to have and knows we need. The liturgy is a constant flow of God Word’s into our ears and Holy Spirit is free to work to strengthen our faith. I am especially sad when it’s a Lutheran church that has the gift of the liturgy so rooted in its history and doctrine. The liturgy that elderly Lutherans will remember even in their old age and the liturgy my 6 year old daughter will hum without even knowing it. I’m just a humble layman and I will continue to pray for churches and the fellow members of the LCMS in the hopes that they will realize the great gift of God we have in the liturgy. I will not however, act like all LCMS churches worship the same or even confess the same things. I consider myself at best in kwazi-fellowship with those Lutheran churches that refuse to use the liturgy which so greatly confesses the Christian faith. They think the liturgy is old…weird…or even too Roman Catholic. I consider their worship as ripping the Word of God out of the hands, ears, hearts and souls of sinners who so need as much grace as they can get. The liturgy is Lutheran through and through; abandon it and your Lutheran confession won’t be far behind.