Every Sunday Pro-Choice Sunday?

Rev. Paul McCain has a very good posting on the topic of “worship wars”:   The High Church Danger to the Lutheran Church-A Fraternal Warning   with a germane quote from Hermann Sasse and on the top a picture of a very high church Anglican liturgy(above) and on the bottom a photo of a Contemporary Worship service(above)  Sasse points out that the uncritical acceptance of the Liturgical Movement will lead the Lutherans toward Rome and McCain rightly points out that the other extreme, “extreme worship” is not the right way either.  One is a reaction to the other. In my own words,  he wants the LCMS to steer a course between the Scylla and Charybdis of High Church and Contemporary Worship.

Recently, here on BJS, in another go around about CoWo, one pastor (revaggie) said that not all CoWo is the same, not all are devoid of Confessional Lutheranism.  I took him to mean that there is a kind of a scale, say from 1-10, on CoWo, from ‘Lutheran, really?’ to ‘Oh,yeah, sure is Lutheran’,  and I think that is probably correct.  Just as correct to state that Liturgical Worship (LiWo:  like we need another acronym?!) also is a sliding scale from 1-10, bare bones minimum to a high Mass.

I am of the age when I remember this was simply not a question.  The liturgy was page 5 or page 15 of  The Lutheran Hymnal or Matins.  What happened? Why are we steering a course between the Scylla and Charybdis of High Church and Contemporary Worship?  How did the ship, the Church, arrive in this dangerous pass and impasse?  Why is there a sliding scale in the first place?

In the Sasse quote, he cites the Liturgical Movement and for those who do not know about it, from Wikipedia:

“The Liturgical Movement began as a movement of scholarship for the reform of worship within the Roman Catholic Church. It has grown over the last century and a half and has affected many other Christian Churches, including the Church of England and other Churches of the Anglican Communion, and some Protestant churches. A similar reform in the Church of England and Anglican Communion, known as the Oxford Movement, began to change theology and liturgy in the United Kingdom and United States in the mid-nineteenth century.”

It did produce some good fruits, such as: the free-standing Altar, greater involvement of the people of God in the Liturgy, and the re-introduction of the Easter Vigil, probably only naming a few.

I know of only one time which C. S. Lewis wrote about the Liturgy and he did so pointedly, and also pointedly about his frustration. I am guessing that he  is reflecting a  result of this movement:

“It looks as if (Anglican clergymen) believed people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service.” (Letters to Malcolm:  Chiefly on Prayer, published posthumously in 1964).

This goes in our day for both CoWo and LiWo, but I still have not answered my question:  why has this happened in the first place?

Answer: For instance,  I think there was an unintended consequence to this “movement of scholarship”, called Liturgical Movement and that was the Liturgy was studied and so examined by the academy as a thing to be studied.  At the risk of being merely provocative, the Liturgy was vivisected.  I do not think there was malicious intent on the part of these  liturgical scholars.  The result has been  that the Liturgy has become a tool, for whatever flavor of various ecclesial partisans’ efforts to do good by it. It’s become our tool rather than the Means of Grace, the Lord’s Word to, with and for us and our salvation.

I think this was stated well in the 9.5 Theses, written by a group of ELCA/ New Jersey Synod pastors, dated The Annunciation of Our Lord,March 25, 1995, as a protest regarding the “confession of faith” in the ELCA.  I am a signatory of this protest.    The 9.5  Theses  goes beyond the scope of that one denomination to the whole Christians and Apostolic and Catholic Church and  for our consideration:

5. The Holy Spirit and the Means of Grace

“So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

The Church confesses and believes in “the Holy Spirit, Advocate and Guide,” who “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church” through, and only through, God’s means of Grace, which is the preaching of the Word—i.e. through Scripture, sermon, Baptism, Absolution, and Communion (Te Deum; Small Catechism—Creed—Article III; Augsburg Confession—Articles V, IX-XIII).

We reject the false teaching that the Holy Spirit is given apart from the preached Word and sacraments, that the Holy Spirit is evidenced by human enthusiasm or activism, that the Holy Spirit is to be equated with the dynamic of social, political and spiritual movements. We reject the false teaching that the Church grows through human ingenuity and energy. We reject the false teaching that God’s liturgy is a tool for the advancement of political, cultural or therapeutic programs. We reject the elevation of organizational success, growth in numbers, and political and therapeutic activity to the status of marks of the Church.

The Word of God is silenced among  us and driven out of the Church when the true means of grace “the preaching of the Word and the sacraments” no longer defines, structures and centers the ministry and mission of the Christian congregation. (emphasis my own)

Now to  clarify:  I do not think the Liturgical Movement was the lone cause of this, but this pro-choice mentality, that the liturgy is a tool to be used by us to build the Church is simply in the air and it is the mark of the zeitgeist.  This zeitgeist has been around for a long time:  if I try to build up the Church by using the Liturgy, tooling and styling it according to my tastes, studies, surveys, etc. that can be an indication of only one thing:  rank unbelief.  We have created our Scylla and Charbydis of CoWo and LiWo.  We think we can build up the church by our using Liturgy as a “tool” for various programs,  and Scripture is simply ignored:

The Gospel for year B, 3rd Sunday in Lent, our Lord said, “”Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2: 19).  He will raise up His Temple, Himself,  for us, in us, through us and even in spite of us and our best intentions.  More pointedly, He tells Peter after his good confession:  “Upon this rock, I will build my church.”  (Matthew 16: 18) And again:  “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3: 6-9).  We have a part but it is subservient, that is to serve the Lord for He will give the growth through His Word alone.

This use of worship as our tool, “our thing”, this pro-choice mentality fits into the unregenerated flesh which in this discussion about worship degenerates into “what I like”. Just as on any computer we can click, “My Music” “My Pictures”, we should have “My Worship”.  Then flesh is against flesh and that is the spirit of the world. “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (last verse of Judges). We act as if the Church, His reign, has no king but each one of us.

  •   Now greater lights than me have known this about worship for years.  Again Lewis on the Liturgy with my own emphases:

And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar (not vicar as Lutherans understand it-Pr. Schroeder) will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain—many give up churchgoing altogether—merely endure.

Is this simply because the majority are hide-bound? I think not. They have a good reason for their conservatism. Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best—if you like, it “works” best—when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping. The important question about the Grail was “for what does it serve?” “‘Tis mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the god.”

A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question “What on earth is he up to now?” will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, “I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats,  or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.”

  • Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs Von Bathassar:

It often happens–and the danger seems greater today than in earlier times-that a liturgical community measures the achievement of a celebration against it’s own edification, according tot he measure of how much the participants take part in it and are caught up in it, instead of being captured by God and his gifts and letting him take part.  there are communities which perhaps unconsciously, celebrate themselves more than God; this is true of the liturgies of traditional as of progressively structured, of old well-established as of freely formed parishes such as the young people love…if we have become small people, we should not seek to reduce the mystery we celebrate to our dimensions.” (The von Balthassar Reader, 1982)

  • Luther knew the danger in his own time:

In the first place, I would kindly and for God’s sake request all those who see this order of service or desire to follow it: Do not make it a rigid law to bind or entangle anyone’s conscience, but use it in Christian liberty as long, when, where, and how you find it to be practical and useful. For this is being published not as though we meant to lord it over anyone else, or to legislate for him, but because of the widespread demand for German masses and services and the general dissatisfaction and offense that has been caused by the great variety of new masses, for everyone makes his own order of service. Some have the best intentions, but others have no more than an itch to produce something novel so that they might shine before men as leading lights, rather than being ordinary teachers—as is always the case with Christian liberty: very few use it for the glory of God and the good of the neighbor; most use it for their own advantage and pleasure. But while the exercise of this freedom is up to everyone’s conscience and must not be cramped or forbidden, nevertheless, we must make sure that freedom shall be and remain a servant of love and of our fellow-man.

Where the people are perplexed and offended by these differences in liturgical usage, however, we are certainly bound to forego our freedom and seek, if possible, to better rather than to offend them by what we do or leave undone. Seeing then that this external order, while it cannot affect the conscience before God, may yet serve the neighbor, we should seek to be of one mind in Christian love, as St. Paul teaches [Rom. 15:5-6; 1 Cor. 1:10; Phil. 2:2]. As far as possible we should observe the same rites and ceremonies, just as all Christians have the same baptism and the same sacrament [of the altar] and no one has received a special one of his own from God…For if I should try to make it up out of my own need (an order of service), it might turn into a sect.” (emphasis my own) (LW, Volume 53, Liturgy and Hymns, pages 61 and 64)

The LCMS, congregation by congregation, is becoming a sect, either low CoWo or  high  LiWo.  Three different Christians, an Anglican, a Roman Catholic and the first Lutheran, all counsel and caution us to direct our focus, not to what we want, our flesh, our choice a pro-choice Sunday,  but what the Lord wants,wills and has given us in His Sabbath:  His Word of Law and Promise.  It is His grace, not ours.   We are suppose to feed the sheep, not experiment on His rats!  All three point us to use what has been there for sometime.  The Lord is our worship committee.  In the LCMS, it is the Lutheran Service Book. We should be of one mind and within the wide parameters of the LSB.

After the last sentence in the Luther quote above, Fr. Luther wrote as only he could:  “For we Germans are a rough, rude, and reckless people,with whom it is hard to do anything, except in cases of dire need.” Substitute LCMS for “Germans”.  Beloved in the Lord, the need is dire!

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