ACELC Conference Reflection — Pr. Rick Stuckwisch — Hungry for Liturgical Worship

Posted by Rev. Rick Stuckwisch on sword-in-hat:

In his preaching this past Sunday, Pr. Seyboldt described the hunger of the sheep for the food their Shepherd gives to them.  According to our fallen nature, we all tend to hunger for the wrong sorts of food, including that which God has forbidden, instead of hungering for His Kingdom and His Righteousness.  But our Lord not only feeds us generously with His Gospel, with His preaching and His Sacraments; He also instills in us a hunger for His good gifts, that we might long for them, and seek them out where His Voice declares them to be for us: To quench our thirst in His quiet waters, to graze upon the lush green pastures of His Word, and to feast upon the choicest of Meats and the finest of Wines at the banqueting Table of His House.

At the ACELC free conference this past week, I was asked to represent a “High Church” attitude and approach to the Liturgy and worship.  Another pastor, Rev. Philip Hale (Nebraska), was asked to represent a “Traditional” approach; and Rev. David Langewisch (Colorado) was asked to represent a “Contemporary” approach.  Each of us presented a position paper, and then we all took part in a couple of panel discussions, along with Rev. Rick Sawyer (Mississippi) and Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller (Colorado).

In the second panel discussion, Rev. Langewisch was responding at one point to a question concerning those people who switch congregations, in preference for one “style” of worship over another.  Among his different points, I was especially struck by this observation, which he offered in passing: Those who have grown up without a good teaching and practice of the Sacraments, once they have discovered the Sacraments, are attracted to liturgical worship and gravitate to congregations with liturgical worship, because they are so hungry for the Sacraments and want as much of them as they can get. (I’m working from memory, here, so this shouldn’t be regarded as a “quote,” but I believe it is a fair and accurate paraphrase of Rev. Langewisch’s comment.)

When I pointed out the significance of what Rev. Langewisch had noted, namely, that those who hunger for the Sacraments are inclined toward liturgical worship, both he and Rev. Hale objected that people are also attracted to liturgical worship for various other reasons, not all of them so pious or salutary.  I concede that argument; and yet, it does not change at all the point at hand.  No, whatever other reasons people may have for preferring liturgical worship (good, bad, or otherwise), the fact remains that, those who are hungry for the Sacraments will usually tend to seek out a liturgical congregation.

Why?  Because, not only are the Sacraments at the center, definitive and decisive for liturgical worship, but the Liturgy itself is sacramental in its character, content, and quality.  Certainly that is so, in the sense that the Liturgy comprises proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the Holy Communion.  But it is also the case that liturgical worship provides the external context, structure, and vehicle by which the Word and the Word-made-Flesh are conveyed and delivered to the people of God.  The means of grace do not exist in a vacuum, but the external Word is given and received within the external setting of the Liturgy.

When worship is shaped by the Liturgy, taking its cues from Holy Baptism as the foundation and the front door of the Lord’s House; from Holy Preaching as the lungs of the Body; and from the Holy Communion as the heart and center of the Church’s faith and life in Christ Jesus; well, then it is the Gospel-Word and Sacraments that stand out and pour forth, like a beacon in the night and a fountain in the desert.

By the same token, when worship is shaped by personal or popular preferences, by aesthetic sensibilities or musical tastes, or by cultural icons and theoretical totems, well, then it will be “anthropology” and “sociology” that stand out and pour forth.  (That is true, I might add, whether the “culture” is high, low, or middle-brow.)

Which is not to say that liturgical worship pays no attention to aesthetics or to the people; nor to suggest that other approaches to worship pay no regard to Word and Sacrament.  (I made a case in my paper for the appropriateness and benefits of aesthetics and beauty, and for the intersection of the Gospel with human life; and all of the presenters were united in their commitments to the Word and Sacraments as means of grace.)  But the very differences of which we are trying to speak, when we fumble about with such terminology as “High Church,” “Traditional,” and “Contemporary” worship, are differences of precedence and priority, and of the “engine” that guides and governs the entire enterprise.

In “High Church” liturgical worship, the Sacraments are “calling the shots” and “steering the boat” in a way they simply do not in “Contemporary” or “Traditional” LCMS worship.  (As for the LCMS “tradition,” prior to the 1960s, on average, the typical communicant was receiving the Sacramentless than twice a year.)  And in “Contemporary” worship, by definition, community culture and popular preferences are charting the course and navigating the waters in a way they simply do not in liturgical worship.

So, I believe that Rev. Langewisch’s comment and observation were exactly right, and for good reason: Those who hunger for the Sacraments will gravitate toward liturgical worship and liturgical congregations.  And, I would suggest, the sheep of the Good Shepherd ought to be taught such hunger for His Sacraments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.