Blonde moment

And the silver spoon.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tradition! Tradition!

(All you Fiddler fans, sing it with me!)

Every Christmas Eve, my dad’s side of the family would gather at Granny’s house, some would eat lutefisk, all would eat pizza and lefse, silverware would be stolen*, the Christmas Story read out of the family Bible (Vulgate), and presents would be opened. Then, when Dad became Lutheran and the rest of us followed, we’d go to church on both Christmas Eve and Day, which made the family gathering later. Now, both my paternal grandparents are gone, so last year we celebrated at my mom’s and this year we’ll celebrate at Aunty Joy’s.

Traditions are fun. And writing about them is fun unless your daughter is trying to pull heavy books off the shelf… I need to do something about that… just a sec… I showed her the Winnie the Pooh Anthology, we’re good.

When we converted to Lutheran Theology, I honestly had no idea that Lutherans practiced liturgy, until I started reading the blogs. Rev. Russ, as I mentioned below, has a good post on the debate amongst LCMS members. (Full disclosure, my family belongs to his church.)
Though I go to a non-liturgical church, I personally prefer liturgy. And, while reading the arguments on both sides, I’d like to address some of them, and put in my revivalist background two cents. And keep in mind, I just like the discussion, have no intent on causing problems because my church doesn’t practice liturgy, and respect that people do things differently than I prefer.

Those who don’t practice liturgy often say something to the extent “Well, it gets repetitive, people become ignorant of what it means, and there comes a point when we don’t mean it when we say it.” I agree on all three points… but modern praise and worship is more repetitive and often less theological, so there is less to cling to. Do people know what all their praise and worship songs mean? Do they know why churches don’t practice liturgy? Further, how many rounds of “You are my strength when I am weak/Jesus lamb of God” can you go and still mean it? (I get bored after we’ve song all the verses once…)

I want to expand a bit more beyond my smarmy paragraph… I go to a Lutheran church to hear this: I am a dirty rotten sinner and Jesus died for my sins, I want to confess my sins, receive absolution, say the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed (every week the Creed and not just once in a while), hear scripture and sound doctrine taught.

If a Lutheran church decides not to practice liturgy, I chalk that up to congregational freedom provided this congregation doesn’t fall into the trap some liturgical churches fall into: No one knows why we do things the way they are done. Does your pastor regularly explain the worship service and why things are done? If not, the new non-liturgy becomes just as irrelevant as people claim liturgy to be. Arguably, poor catechesis exists on both sides. And the catechesis should be more complicated than “Well, this is what we prefer…” WHY do you prefer? Is it like chocolate ice cream and it tastes good or is there a real doctrinal reason? If it is like chocolate ice cream and it tastes good, perhaps one should revisit ones worship service. But, if there are sound reasons why things are done the way they are, we should be reminded. People learn by drill and repetition. There is nothing wrong with repetition. This is why Martin Luther told pastors to stick to one version of the Creed, the Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. Non liturgical congregations need to regularly hear that they are just as repetitive as liturgical ones. They just repeat different things.

Regardless of if one practices liturgy or not, the assigned scripture readings should be read. Again, I believe there should be freedom in the pastor’s sermon, but I stand firm about church calendar. Lutherans interpret scripture differently than the vast majority of American Christians. As such, reading from the church calendar teaches how to properly interpret scripture. For example, how does one accept the same Jesus who was prophesied to be despised and rejected by men? When someone asks “Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior?” how does that mesh with what Isaiah has to say about him? How does the message, “You’re just thinking too many negative thoughts” coincide with the man who was of sorrows and acquainted with grief? Oh, are those conflicting theologies? You see, often in non-liturgical churches, the Old Testament is neglected, as such bad theology creeps in.

On repetitious memory work… people abhor vacuums. So, they are going to fill their heads with something. The Apostle Paul teaches us that not everything is beneficial, though it is permissible. And here is the ultimate test: What happens when you fall into the depths of despair or your life is a graveyard of buried hopes? What happens when you are rejected and abandoned, even by God’s people who are supposed to care for you? What happens when you can’t feel the presence of God? When you walk through the shadows of death, what gives you more comfort, singing “I can sing of your love forever,” or reciting the Apostles Creed? Something of emotions that conflict with your own or something of great theological truth? It’s going to be the sound doctrine, the scripture, the words of the faith that you have learned by repetition.

Before summing up, I want to briefly talk about this, “Well, everyone else is doing it” “Seeker sensitive” stuff. It is inappropriate for revivalists to tell Lutherans how to worship. We should not be doing things just because everyone else is. We should not abandon the manner of worship that has been practiced historically just for popularity sake. Further, it is down right wrong for pagans to presume to tell Christians how to worship and preach. Enough of this “What will make our message/service/whatever more attractive to pagans” act. This line is said by people who don’t read the Old Testament as often as they should. (Again with this Isaiah thing…) Christians should continually ask, “How can I be a better communicator?” This is different than making things more attractive to non-Christians. If a Christian needs a brush up on grammar, history, the vernacular, etc., it is different than making Jesus, whom the Bible tells us is despised and rejected, more attractive. Jesus does not need us to win souls. The work is complete. He uses people as a tool in proclaiming his death for sinners and ressurection.

To sum up, liturgy should fall into the realm of Christian freedom, provided both the liturgical and the non-liturgical constantly, at all levels, remind themselves why things are done the way they are. Keep things objective, not subjective with worship. Don’t abandon the Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, Christ Centered teaching that preaches Jesus died for my sins, confession and absolution, and the reading of scriptures as assigned by the church calendar. Keep Lutheran Theology pure. And remember that worship services should also be friendly to those who contemplate such things.

*it isn’t breaking a commandment if you intend on wrapping the silverware up, placing it under the tree, and returning it to its owner, provided you blame it on someone else, of course.


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