Category Archives: Liturgy/Worship

Ceremonial: Real Growth Comes Only By Inches

Concerning ceremony in the service—the sign of the cross, kneeling, censing, and the like—how does one keep these things from calling attention to one’s self rather than to the gospel? When the servants of the liturgy come out into the chancel, they kneel at the prayer desk. With that they are drawing people into what they’re to be there for. If they came out and prostrated themselves in front of the altar, that would say something good and true and honoring God, but the rest of us would have forgotten what we were there for and would say “Well, why on earth is he doing that?” or “That’s a bit much, isn’t it?”

Growth comes by inches. You need to recognize that we are within “the mutual conversation of the brethren” [SA III, IV]. We live within this tradition, and with its treasures we are then equipped for helping one another to recognize what is growing and what is in the way of the gospel. So, when we go into chapel and there are some who recall their baptisms with the sign of the cross as the Small Catechism bids us to, and some don’t, and some sit and pray and some kneel and pray—that’s something to be rejoicing about!

That’s the extraordinary thing about the way the apostle deals with those who are so hip off into tongues. He doesn’t stand at the door and frisk the tongues out of them. He sort of lets them go on having tongues in the liturgy. He doesn’t knock tongues. He just feeds them more Jesus. The more Jesus goes in, the more the tongues get pushed to the fringe. And he indicates that priority by putting tongues at the bottom of the list [1 Cor 12:20]. He doesn’t slice them off, but there is a direction there.

And so, when you come to a congregation whose liturgical life—that is, the way in which they have been given the gifts of our Lord and the means of grace—has been pretty impoverished, you don’t come out and say, “Hey, we got to do something about this liturgy!” You first of all preach a few years of Jesus into them, and then they come to know what they’re there for and that he always has more to be giving them.

The legalism which I spoke of is our greatest danger. It is indicated when people “come on strong” with doing this or that as a great, big liturgical advance. But the gospel works by way of drawing people into the liturgy so that they say, “Wow, isn’t this great! More than I ever suspected!” Real growth comes only by inches.

And so when we go into chapel, and there’s a great hubbub of chatter, I have sometimes felt like arising and saying, “Shut up, you lot! Don’t you know what we’re here for?” We may serve our brethren better if we are at our prayers, and by them, invite and draw and pull others into the quietness coram Deo. That is the appropriate way of being before the Lord and his having his say.

Dr. Norman Nagel, “Whose Liturgy Is It?” Logia, April, 1993


She Remains Queen in The Guise of A Beggar

The Lutheran Reformation, by distinguishing between Law and Gospel, has rediscovered with the freedom of a Christian man also the freedom of the church with respect to liturgy and constitution. It is one of the great dangers of the modern liturgical movement which goes through the whole of Christendom that we forget the liturgical freedom of a Christian church, as established by 1 Corinthians 14, and be “again entangled in the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1). The author of these pages remembers the shock he got when an outstanding young theologian of a “Lutheran” church in Germany who had discovered the beauty of Gregorian chant explained to a meeting of theologians that there was a liturgy that belonged to the very essence of the church. The church from which he hailed was so unliturgical that in its official liturgy it had no consecration of the Lord’s Supper, but used the Words of Institution only as a form of distribution in order to avoid any appearance of “catholicism.” Thus a wrong law on the one side produces a wrong law on the other side. It is time to remember that the church of the Lutheran Reformation was able to combine the freedom from liturgical laws with the freedom to retain whatever could be retained of the old liturgy without endangering the Gospel. We have to learn again from a great liturgiologist like Wilhelm Löhe who restored the old liturgy as far as possible that the church remains what she is even without the beauty of a great liturgy. “Sie bleibt Königin auch im Bettlergewande” [She remains queen in the guise of a beggar] (Drei Bücher von der Kirche, III, 9, Stuttgart, 1845), 130. Even the present pope [Pius XII] has told his clergy that the greatest services held today are perhaps the services in the countries beyond the Iron Curtain where neither liturgical vestments, nor a proper altar, nor Gregorian chant are available.

– Hermann Sasse, “Consecration and Real Presence”, written in 1957

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An Announcement of Moveable Feasts for 2015

Dearly beloved brethren, as we have rejoiced in the Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, there is announced to you by the mercy of God the joyous observance of the Resurrection of our Savior:

February 1st is Septuagesima Sunday.

On February 18th Ash Wednesday begins the most holy season of Lent.

On April 5th we will celebrate with great rejoicing the holy Easter Festival of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

May 14th is the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

May 24th is the Feast of Pentecost.

November 29th is the First Sunday in the Advent of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.


Pre-Lent. NOT AGAIN!

I keep a file for every Sunday in the Church Year. My sermons and bulletins go there, as do my catena of quotes taken from various sources about the text for that day. Sometimes I put pertinent emails from the heady days of email groups (everything seems to have migrated to Facebook these days). At any rate, my brother-in-office Robert Schaibley once posted these words in an email group about the season of Pre-Lent, aka Gesimatide, aka “those Gesimas”.

I’ve stopped trying to evangelize for the historic One-Year Lectionary, because I figure those who evangelize end up defending, and that’s the one-down position, which I do not like to take. “Itching ears” is discussed by St. Paul, and I’ll just let his testimony stand.

But, I will try to clear up a misconception, perhaps even a “misunderestimating” (as my favorite U.S. President, after Lincoln and right next to Reagan, puts it) of Pre-Lent. Pre-Lent is exactly “a time of preparation for a time of preparation.” Exactly! But certainly not redundantly — and those who mock this double preparation either haven’t given their charge serious thought, or they have a unlutheran bias against preparation/penitence/penance over against Luther’s observation in the first of his 95 Theses — “The entire Christian life is a life of penance!”


So, in what does this preparation consist? It consists in a three-week regime of the reason for, and assurance concerning, the preparitory (sic) season of Lent: this regime is a short-course on what makes contrition and repentance a compelling time for Christians: Grace Alone! (Septuagesima), the Word Alone! (Sexagesima), and Christ Alone! (Quinquagesima).

But of course, only Lutherans appreciate this, by virtue of the difference between our theology and that of the other options. Rome and Constantinople will get you to the cross, but they then keep moving ahead of you, leading you on to beatification or deification. Protestantism gets you to the cross, but as a grusome (sic) event to be noted, given thanks for, and then moved beyond, toward the upward call of sanctification and the glory of God. Lutherans camp out at the cross, for the entirety of this poor, sinful life, to view Jesus as Savior and, yes, as king — but with a kingship that shapes us for the cross in this present life. But, heck, there’s a new wind blowing in this present generation, even among Lutherans, and it needs no lifetime of kneeling beneath the cross of Jesus. So, it certainly doesn’t need an extra three weeks of penitence — ask your Protestant neighbor!

So I don’t defend Pre-Lent. I preach the texts and let the season defend itself. If you are a pastor, and you preach the Three-Year series, good on ya (as they say in Australia). As for me and my house, I’ll stay with the One-Year texts for the very reason Brother Schaibley gives. Oh, and if my One-Year brethren get all high and mighty about the One-Year series being the only right series, then I’ll migrate to the Eisenach series just to spite ’em.


Liturgy: Lighten Up/Tighten Up

In the context of the Lutheran “worship wars” the word [liturgy] has positive and negative associations with it. Some esteem it and some despise it, pastors and parishoners alike.

Further, each person may have a different connotation of what the word “liturgy” actually means, particularly as it pertains to Lutheran liturgy. To be sure, Word and sacrament need to be at the center, but what each person specifically understands “liturgy” to imply can vary unless specified….

[T]he specific contents and order may not be common reference points with a generalized use of the word “liturgy.” The word can be used to refer to a general framework, but also to a specific prescribed order. As such, given our “worship wars” context, care should be taken when speaking about liturgy, so that our assumptions do not make out of us, what we tell our children they will….

[B]oth the “Liturgical-Repristination” and the church growth imperatives on the worship service of the church are objectively evaluated [by James Alan Waddell] in light of the Lutheran confessions. He considers them both illegitimate based upon the scriptural and confessional standards adhered to by our church body.

Summing it up, there is flexibility, within limits, where uniformity cannot be legislatively imposed, but where there are indeed non-negotiables (both theological and structural) to Lutheran liturgy. In short, Waddell puts it this way, “Lutheran theology is for Lutheran Worship.” It is specific to my tradition, but it’s helpful to our greater dialogue because of the emphasis on the theological thoughtfulness that is significant for the church and her worship to consider.

Thus, the liturgy, regardless of the variable forms it takes, it’s still the story of the church. As the third article reminds us, it’s about the “community of saints” gathered around the Gospel of Jesus Christ for “the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” It’s the same story that the first disciples gathered around, the same message they taught, and the same Gospel they proclaimed.

– Rev. Lucas Woodford, “Great Commission, Great Confusion, or Great Confession?”, pages 180-183

As a pastor who uses the liturgy exclusively in a parish setting, I am willing to allow my more “contemporary” brethren some flexibility within limits. It would be pleasing to have my brothers using a service book of our synod on an exclusive basis, but barring such desire I would like to see Lutheran theology in Lutheran Worship among all my brother pastors in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

I am willing to lighten up. Are others willing to lighten up with me? Are other brothers willing to tighten up their practice in kind?