Saturday, May 30, 2009

On Offending the Weak

In recent days Fr. Beane has masterfully recast the issue of the weaker brother, and demonstrated that the "weaker brother" is often a bully in disguise (see here, here and here. His essays follow an argument which arose when Fr. Petersen offered advice to new pastors on how to introduce catholic ceremonies(here).

The controversy has reminded me of the origin of the "weaker brother" concept. It comes from St. Paul: "To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (I Corinthians 9:22). We Gottesdienst editors agree that St. Paul did not say, "to the strong I became as strong," and hence Fr. Beane's rejoinder is very helpful.

Not only so, but I am reminded of St. Paul's own example in a matter which in itself would have to be considered an adiaphoron, namely the question of circumcision. The Apostle circumcised Timothy "because of the Jews" who were in the place to which they were about to go, "for they knew all that his father was a Greek" (Acts 16). On the other hand Titus, who was himself a Greek, he did not compel to be circumcised (Galatians 2).

What accounts for this difference? Context: In the case of Titus, they were headed for Jerusalem, land of the Jews, and in the case of Timothy, for Derbe and Lystra, the land of the Gentiles. Thus we find that in both cases, Paul did the 'offensive' things. The uncircumcised Titus was an offense to the Jews who insisted upon circumcision, while the circumcised Timothy was an offense to the Greeks who were inclined to reject Moses altogether.

The evidence here provides a compelling case: St. Paul's counsel against offending the weak should not be interpreted as a willingness to lay off, when Christian customs came into conflict with prevailing paganism, or judaism. On the contrary, he seems to have been eager to confess the Gospel by means of laying an offense in the path of unbelief.

His attack on "circumcision" in Galatians shows a willingness to confront the unbelief of the Jews, and yet his circumcising of Timothy shows a willingness to confront the paganism of the Gentiles.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Liturgical Double Standard and the Weaker Brethren

by Larry Beane

Dcn. Muehlenbruch left a comment on the post "Ceremonies Revisited" that is so astute, that I think it bears a closer look and perhaps further discussion.

Here is his comment:

I wish respond to your remark that "a newly ordained seminary graduate could sign himself with the cross from day one" by relating what happened to me even before I became a seminary graduate.

This happened during my first year at a synodical junior college. I was home for Christmas vacation and was attending my (then) home congregation. I received Holy Communion at the altar rail when, at the dismissal, I signed myself with the cross. There was no voice from above, nor did the roof fall in; but....

The next day the vicar, when he came to visit my grandmother, cornered me and derided me "in loco pastores". I was informed that I, as a pre-ministerial student, should not cultivate habits such as crossing myself, etc. The reason being, if I should receive a call to a parish where this was not the custom, I would scandalize that congregation beyond repair. I had "no business" adopting such customs at this point in time.

I will confess that my reply was less than evangelical. I informed the vicar that if I did not adopt these customs now I would, most likely, never adopt them at all. Then, what if I were called to a congregation that practiced these same customs; would I be scandalized if I were expected to practice them? Obviously, no reply was forthcoming.

I also suggested to the vicar that, if the pastor had a problem with my making the sign of the cross when I had received Communion; it should be up to him to counsel me, and not send the vicar to do it for him.

This was the last that I heard about this. And I continued to make the sign of the cross at the rail, after receiving Communion.

Obviously, this incident did nothing to suppress my interest in, and study of, liturgical ceremony. Ceremony is nothing more than good manners.

If you never learned "please" and "thank you" as a child, you will never use them as an adult. And if you, then, end up in the midst of a "please" and "thank you" crowd; you will have not understanding of how you are expected to perform.

Thank you, Reverend Deacon!

For all of the ruckus about ceremonies and scandal, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves of Dcn. Muehlenbruch's observation that "ceremony is nothing more than good manners."

When we ask a man or boy to remove a ballcap while inside our homes or sanctuaries, we are not stomping on his "Christian liberty" - but rather we are simply asking for a display of good manners. The lowering of the level of reverence to the point where that which is holy is being treated as common is a scandal to folks who recognize our sanctuaries as holy (which is what "sanctuary" means by definition!). When we ask for reverence, we are only asking that people be polite. They may think it odd that we have such mores, but a good guest (whether in our home or in God's House) ought to be sensitive to that which causes us scandal.

The local Greek Festival, like most I would imagine, included a tour of the local church. In the case of the local festival, it was a cathedral. Since this is New Orleans, and our summer basically starts in February - folks were not exactly in their Sunday Best for the festival. The parishioners who gave the tour provided small blankets for ladies to cover themselves with, in order to take part in the tour in a state of modesty. They were not obnoxious about it, but they were firm. We were welcome in their church so long as we did not transgress their sense of holiness.

In our circles, the issue of what is appropriate in a holy place and/or a holy time is often framed within the concepts of "Christian liberty" and the "weaker brother." We Lutherans rightfully value, protect, and exercise our Christian liberty as a confession of the Gospel. And we also pay heed to St. Paul's exhortation that the exercise of our liberty not be a cause of offense to the "weaker brother" - as this does not advance the cause of our Lord and His Church. There is certainly a tension here.

But there is a disturbing double standard that seems to emerge among us Lutherans whenever liturgical ceremony comes into focus.

The future deacon's being admonished not to cross himself based on a theoretical future possibility was cast in the mold of scandal-avoidance. His rejoinder that scandals can cut both ways seems to be obvious. In all of these discussions, it is assumed that those who opt to make use of traditional ceremony in their expressions of piety are a potential cause of offense to those who refrain, but it is never considered that those who refrain may be a stumbling-block to those who make use of traditional ceremonies.

The proverbial bull in the china shop is always a smells-and-bells type who storms into rural Iowa wearing a miter. It is never a latte-swilling hipster who struts into rural Iowa installing big screens and bandstands. How many traditional Lutherans (often elderly people) have been made to feel unwelcome by a decrease in traditional ceremony and practice? We seldom hear about them, especially not in any official channels.

Though anecdotal, it seems that often those who are cast as "high church" are warned, scolded, admonished, and guilt-tripped into being casual around the holy things so as not to offend those who prefer casualness. And yet, the feelings and sensibilities of those who appreciate reverence and traditional ceremony, those who believe they are under obligation to submit to certain postures and gestures in the presence of the holy, are never taken into account. This is especially true when it comes to things like coffeehouse "churches," rock music services, dancing girls, gimmicks, wise-cracking pastors strolling around the sanctuary with a stage mike, lack of vestments, lack of reverence, lack of frequent celebration of the supper, and so on. We're expected to shut up for the sake of the "weaker brother" who wants his "church" to look like a Starbucks or a peeler bar.

One of my colleagues informed me that the recent district "pastors' conference" included a Eucharistic service that only included shot-glasses. I find it hard that the organizers and celebrant were unable to find a chalice. I can also imagine the "scandal" if the host pastor had only made a chalice available. Scandal, it seems, is a one-way street.

I'm sad to say that some of my own parishioners have been scandalized at even the "traditional" services of some of our sister LCMS congregations they have visited while on vacation - sometimes to the point of not feeling comfortable even taking communion in such a setting. What a sad state of affairs for churches that are supposed to be in fellowship with one another.

But when it comes to ceremonies, we are the "scandalizers," never the "scandalizees."

The logic behind this is interesting.

Speaking of "newly ordained seminary graduates," when I was one myself, I got a taste of this double standard - even before my installation. As a campus pastor of a high school, I was installed in the same service with several other members of our faculty. A few days before the installation, the principal was taken aback when I asked what the liturgical color for the service would be, so I could make sure my stole was proper. It just never struck me as unreasonable to be vested for my first installation as a pastor.

I wore cassock, surplice, and stole for my installation, and planned on going to lunch with my wife afterwards. As we were headed to the car, we were invited to lunch with all the other newly-installed "church workers." I was still clad in my cassock. I soon found out from a highly-placed district official that I had scandalized someone that afternoon - though the scandalized person lacked the "testicular fortitude" (thank you, Father Neuhaus) to speak to me himself. I don't know who the "scandalizee" was, but he/she did not approve of the cassock. I had become a scandalizer to a "weaker brother" on the day I was installed!

The district official went into "Dutch Uncle" mode, took me under his wing, and counseled me regarding this area of his grand expertise and vast pastoral wisdom.

He made the case that cassocks ought to be avoided by Lutheran pastors in New Orleans, as this is a heavily Roman Catholic area. He compared this situation to his own first call in another area of the Deep South dominated by Baptists. Because of his environment, he avoided wearing the clerical collar - opting for the same garb worn by Baptist pastors: a shirt and tie.

I was confused. Is the principle to blend in, or to stand out?

At that point in my ministry and life, I was too timid to ask for clarification or to point out the king's logical nakedness. Too bad. I should have called "BS" and made him explain. Mea culpa. But as I have heard more "war stories" of pastors and layfolks who appreciate traditional Lutheranism and its catholic ceremonial, it has become apparent that the principle actually works like this: if you are in a Roman Catholic area, it is important to stand out, dress like a Baptist. If you are in a heavily Baptist area, it is important to blend in, dress like a Baptist.

Translation: dress like a Baptist. And the same applies to ceremony.

I suspect this recapitulates how many of those in positions of power in our synod see ceremonial matters. It always struck me as odd when our Council of Presidents would show up to take part in call services dressed like bankers or insurance agents, in business suits and ties, while in the chancel as those who exercise episkope over the pastors and congregations of our church body. Give them plastic cups shaped like hand grenades, and many of them could pass for vacuum cleaner salesmen convention-goers strolling the French Quarter.

The official line seems to be that we should conduct ourselves with as little ceremony as possible, so as not to offend the "weaker brethren" who don't like ceremonies. And if we offend those who see ceremonies as good manners, reverence, and the proper expression of our lived-out faith according to our own Lutheran confessions, oh well. Those people are never the "weaker brethren" and they need to be content with jokes, dancers, people slurping coffee, khaki-clad pastors rushing through the Words of Institution, shallow music, puppets, skits, etc.

It is a double standard, and it is a very dangerous practice to take the Lord's Word and wield it like a club in order to get your way. The "weaker brother" can indeed be a bully. I believe the true "weaker brethren" are the silent majority of Lutheran laity and clergy who are scandalized by the creeping lack of reverence and even attack on ceremonies that is going on all around us. This double standard may well explain at least some of the defections from our communion, both pastors and laymen, who are tired of being treated as "speed bumps" and simply told to shut up by their very strong, powerful, and pushy "weaker brethren."

The way we make the sign of the cross itself began as confession against the Arians who wanted to minimize our Lord Jesus Christ and gainsay His divinity. No doubt many Arians were offended at the audacious tracing of a large cross on oneself that started happening around the time of the Nicene Creed (before that, people signed a small cross on their foreheads). The cross is a scandal. It always has been. Satan is scandalized whenever anyone confesses with his mouth or with his body that Jesus is Lord and that He is present with us and forgiving us sinners. And this is why ceremonies that confess these realities are a scandal.

If a person chooses not to cross himself or take part in other traditional liturgical ceremonies, he may well have good reason to refrain. And no-one should compel or bully compliance in such matters. But neither should the person refraining turn himself into a bully and seek to quash the piety of someone else - especially when those ceremonies are confessions of our Lord and His sacred presence among His people. It is simply ungodly to castigate a pastor for genuflecting at the altar. He does it because his conscience tells him this is the right thing to do at that place. Pastors have the privilege and the burden to be sinners in the closest proximity to holy things and holy places. It is an awe-inspiring and humbling experience to stand before the Living God. Even if people think bowing and genuflecting are silly, they need to cut their pastor some slack, and bear with him as the "weaker brother" standing like Isaiah in the holy of holies.

For in the Presence of our blessed Lord, we are all the "weaker brethren."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Too Bad

There was a time and a place wherein a Christian minister who realized that he was being oppressed by the Bishop of Rome would naturally think of the churches of the Augsburg Confession as his rightful home. After all, nothing in doctrine or ceremonies contrary to the catholic faith has been instituted among us.

I think it speaks poorly both of modern Lutheranism (which has introduced "lay ministry" and the anti-catholic ceremonies of the Tent Revival ) and of Vatican II Romanism (which has emphasized a certain narrow view of espiscopal succession as triumphant over every other doctrinal issue) that nowadays a priest who wants out of his coerced celibacy vow thinks of the Anglicans first.

O tempora, o mores!


PS: My reactionary heart is strangely warmed to see that at least some things never change: "'Father Cutie is still bound by his promise to live a celibate life, which he freely embraced at ordination," Favalora said. "Only the Holy Father can release him from that obligation.' " The autocratic panache of that statement fairly transports the mind to the 15th century. . .

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

More Questions About Ceremony

by Larry Beane

Rev. George Borghardt posed several outstanding questions as a comment on the post "How A New Pastor Should Add Ceremonies".

I think they deserve a separate post, as they are an opportunity to dispel some false information and clarify things a bit (of course, I'm speaking only for myself here, and I fully expect to have lively discussion and disagreement - which can indeed be a good and healthy thing).

So, thank you, George, and let me have a shot at your questions...

1. Why did it seem necessary to add without teaching genuflecting, chanting, elevation, and chasubles? I have no problems theologically with these four, so no 4094-character posts about how wonderful genuflecting, chanting, elevation, and chasubles are. We get it. Some of us have never found a ceremony that we didn't like. But, of all the ceremonies, why would we be tempted to add these four right away?

There is a very simple answer that I thought had been made clear: these are among those ceremonies that the pastor does himself at the altar.

Hence, they are the easiest to implement. It is much easier for a pastor to cross himself as part of his personal piety than to convince (or God forbid, try to compel) others to do so. Genuflecting, chanting, and elevation (as well as any other acts of piety, such as crossing himself or kissing the altar) are things he does unilaterally as the celebrant. A chasuble is something he wears as the celebrant.

Wearing a chasuble is far easier to implement than, say, trying to get women in the congregation to dress modestly. That requires much more hard work and tact. But again, a chasuble is part of the pastor's vesture. Everyone expects him to wear a different "uniform" than the men in the pews. It is not necessarily that big a deal - especially when the (first) chasuble is very plain.

This is not to say that restoring these ceremonies will always be easy in every time and place. Not at all. But, on the whole, I believe it is easier to implement something that is strictly within the pastor's domain (such as the celebrant genuflecting during "and was made man" versus trying to get everyone else to do it).

The pastor, as the leader of the celebration, as the shepherd and overseer, is in a position to set the tone of piety in the service. I think it would be a grave mistake, for example, to go hat in hand and ask permission to make the sign of the cross. I would say almost without exception, the Nike's Rule ("Just do it!") applies when it comes to the sign of the cross.

And as far as chanting goes, it's even in the hymnal that way. The people in the pews can see the musical notation (at least in DS3 in LSB).

It also bears repeating that refraining from all of these things is also a form of ceremony. Not chanting, not genuflecting, not elevating, and not wearing a chasuble is equally a form of ceremony - which incidentally is much more in line with the liturgy of the Lord's Supper as celebrated by Baptists, Pentecostals, and non-denominational churches. One could just as easily ask a pastor who refrains from these things why he is implementing Baptist rubrics of ceremony in a Lutheran church. For what do Baptist ceremonies "teach the people"?

2. Are those parishes and pastors who have the big four ceremonies more faithful than pastors and parishes who don't?

I think you already know the answer to this question. It is a red herring. No, no, and no. This has already been emphatically stated, and the question is itself a form of the "have you quit beating your wife" trick of rhetoric. This isn't about comparing whether my dad can beat up your dad, it is about trying to restore a sacramental piety in a church body whose practice often does not match what it confesses on paper. These particular four ceremonies (being the pastor's particular ceremonial) may well be easier to implement than others, as covered in question 1.

3. There seemed to be a bit of a tone of disdain toward the thought of teaching before doing. I know there was a bit of mocking done by Father Larry in one of his posts when it came to adding a chasuble. Did I read this wrongly? Can we be honest with ourselves that we would rather do than teach?

It would help if you were more specific about this "mocking." Since I don't know what you're talking about, I don't know if you read it wrongly. Teaching and doing go hand in hand. The Lord told us to make disciples by baptizing and teaching. And in that case, we typically*do* first (baptize) and *teach* (catechize) later. We have children memorize prayers long before they know what they actually mean. Most children have chanted "ellemenopee" before being taught that these are actually five different pictographical representations of sounds used lingusitically for the purpose of representing vocables graphically. Imagine if we taught that first, and then and only then had the kids actually sing the ABC song.

Sometimes, the teaching and the action are wrapped up together - as our confessions say, ceremonies are "to teach the people." Ceremonies *are* teaching. Our confessions don't argue that we need to separate catechesis from practice, that we need to teach and only then then implement ceremonies. Now sometimes that's the best way - indeed, it may be most often the best way. But I disagree that it is *always* the best way.

4. The plastic individual cups here are described as an "abomination." (like homosexuality?). Understood! I'm not a big fan of individual cups (even the little silver chalices at my parish), but is such inflammatory language helpful? Should we use such inflammatory words in a thread attempting to teach candidates and pastors who might be called to parishes with such things? Would it better to teach first? It is still the blood of Christ when it is in a plastic cup, correct? That's the abomination, right?

Some would argue that we should tone down our teaching on homosexuality for the very same reason (even though the practice is indeed called abominable - at least in the KJV).

I think the shotties are rightly called abonimable. Because of the shot glasses, the blood of Jesus is profaned. The practice in my congregation used to be to pitch the used cups, blood and all, in the garbage. This did not happen when we exclusively used the chalice. Furthermore, the little glasses spill on the communion rail and on the floor. It happens all the time. My wife made a horrifying discovery that there is a gummy residue, covered in crud, under our communion rail from years of our Lord's blood dripping over the communion rail - all thanks to the individualist jiggers. How can one *not* find this an abomination?

Of course it *is* the blood of Christ in the jigger. That's the whole problem! If it were only symbolic wine or a shot of tequila, who cares? You could put it in a dixie cup or a test tube. But this *is* the blood of Christ. That's why it is so horrifying. It is yet another practice we adopted from other church bodies: those who deny the Lord's presence. That's another reason why it is an abomination. Sometimes the apologists for the shooters argue "It's still the blood of Christ!" as though anyone has ever said otherwise. That's not just a red herring, but perhaps even a scarlet mackarel.

The shooters are a poor confession. If you bought your wife a diamond and set it in a plastic ring from a crackerjack box, it would confuse people (remember, ceremonies "teach the people"). Folks would, no doubt, look at it and start to wonder whether it is a real diamond or not. They might even think it is a joke rather than something of great meaning.

Furthermore, Jesus is the one who made the sudden change to the ceremony. He is the one who abolished individual cups and opted instead for the chalice. The Passover was originally celebrated with each person having his own cup of wine. But on Maundy Thursday, our Lord took *one* cup, saing "Take this (singular) all of you (plural) and drink (plural) from it (singular)." He did not leave us an explanation for the sudden change in rubrics. He only said: "Do this in memory of me." We have no evidence to suggest Pastor Jesus ran a year's worth of articles in the congregational newsletter, cleared it with His circuit counselor, or ran it by the voters assembly. He did not get CPH to publish it in the hymnal first, or vet it by the doctrinal review committee or the CTCR. Worst of all, He did not take into account the weaker brethren. He just barged in like a Gottesdienst editor in a china shop.

Nobody claims that our use of many cups nullifies the substance of the sacrament, but it is odd that we took the Lord's change in ceremony and undid it - for the reason that we just like it better our way. Think about how silly it is grammatically to consecrate using our Lord's words meant specifically for a singular chalice, and applying those words to a tray full of knock-em-backs.

So, yes, I hate the cups. I believe they are an abomination. They are a tool of Satan to mock our blessed Lord and to effect desecration of His holy blood. Screwtape cannot get rid of the Lord's blood, but he sure can do things to desecrate it all with the cooperation of the church's pastors. Under the circs, that's quite a coup for the devil.

But you will be pleased to know that my congregaton uses them. I consecrated a tray of them this evening. I do it because of the obvious reason: they have become so entrenched that it would "offend the weaker brother" to change that quickly. There needs to be an exit strategy. Whereas I never had a peep about the above-mentioned ceremonies, I know there would be a riot if I got rid of the cups. But this is not to say there aren't ways to move things in a good direction. I have gotten some individuals weaned off of the individualist cups.

But, for churches that have no chalice at all, a pastor might, say, introduce it by simply using it at the altar and only drinking out of it himself. Every pastor has to use his own judgment, but to say "never intriduce anything without a long period of teaching" is just something I'm not prepared to say. In fact, the long period of acceptance of some practices might even be interpreted as approval, and only serve to calcify a sense of irreverence. Sometimes the right thing to do is to move with haste. It is a judgment call. It worked out well for me regarding the ceremonial of the celebrant. It can be done.

In fact, some things *must* be done right away. As soon as I become sole pastor, the throwing of the Lord's blood in the garbage ceased - immediately. I did not let the altar guild continue to desecrate the Lord's blood until I could arrange a seminar about it. Rather, I implemented the change and explained it later. They were not only fine with it, but appreciated it.

Reverence is important, and pastors can indeed use ceremonies "to teach the people" - especially when those ceremonies are things that don't require the people themselves to do anything different. The pastor sets the tone. If he wants reverence, it starts with how he conducts himself at the altar.

5. Do we realize that we trouble the weaker brethren with stuff like this? Again, I'm pointing to the brother who apologized for not genuflecting. Did he sin by not genuflecting? What would you brothers have said to him? And what of our weaker brothers who are concerned that their parishes don't measure up to well... genuflecting, chanting, elevation, and chasubles?

I would tell him he's not sinning by not genuflecting. Don't we have to tell people such things from time to time: "You did nothing wrong, you are not to blame for this"? I don't think we should all say Mass like Baptists out of fear that some pastor might think he is sinning if we genuflect. And I would also tell him that if he wants to elevate the level of reverence in his celebration, I would encourage him to do that. We need to stop worrying about whether we "measure up." The focus needs to be on our Lord. And when that truly happens, the reverence will follow. Again, nobody has ever, ever, ever said that a pastor sins by not genuflecting. We will soon have enough herring to have a fish fry - and we're still quite a ways to Friday. ;-)

6. Finally, did anyone else have the desire that the people would just follow our lead as pastors rather than test us with the Word? Again, I saw evidence of this in a few of the posts (I’d rather not look over the whole thread) and so I’m going to ask in order that a proper “no” answer can be confessed. Doesn’t our authority flow from the external Word?

This sounds like more fish. It's hard to address "evidence" that isn't even sited. Again, I don't really know what you mean here. But as for our authority as pastors, of course, our authority flows from the Word (who has said otherwise?) - which He extends to us through our ordination and vocation. It flows from our Lord breathing on the disciples and granting them the Holy Spirit, giving them authority to forgive sins, to serve as overseers and elders, to be shepherds. So, we should use that authority - not in an overbearing way, but neither should we be handwringing ninnies so consumed with the fear of offending someone that we drag out bad practice (or even mediocre practice that gives the impression that we're basically Baptists) for years when it could be fixed sooner.

There is a difference between "testing us by the Word" and refusing to "obey your leaders and submit to them" (Heb 13:17). The polity in the LCMS does encourage anticlericalism. I once heard a layman bragging about how he greeted a newly elected president of the LCMS by walking up to him at the convention and saying: "You better stay in line or I will kick your butt." This kind of topsy-turvy negation of Hebrews 13:17 has resulted in faithful pastors being run off by laypeople who have been taught for generations that they hold the keys and the pastor is the guy they "hire" to do the "job" as they tell him to do it. And the pastor, the outsider, better just keep everything the same or we'll yank his health insurance, or worse.

If a pastor is not doing his work, if he is leading a manifestly immoral life, or if he is teaching demonstrably false doctrine, he can, and should be, deposed. But if he is chanting and the chairman of the board of elders doesn't like it, or if the head of the LWML doesn't like his chasuble, or if the youth leader doesn't like the traditional liturgy, or if the principal thinks the sign of the cross is "too catholic" - none of these are reasons to remove him. For crossing onself and refraining from doing so are both ceremonies. The pastor has to decide which ceremony he will do at the altar. The reality is that he may well have to submit to the Baptist rubrics if he is to stay there. But nevertheless, the fact that pastors can be forced to "bend the knee" (as it were) by being compelled to not "bend the knee" at the altar as he is celebrating is to mock the very definition of what the word "pastor" means. We opened Pandora's Box by mixing democracy into our polity. Sometimes, the term "weaker brother" is just a euphemism for "bully."

But that's certainly another discussion for another day.

I hope this clarifies at least where I stand on your questions, George (and thanks for posing these questions - again, I find them very helpful and constructive for the most part). And maybe this will spur further threads of discussion.

Pentecost Eve and the Blessing of the Baptismal Font

by Larry Beane

Click here for a beautiful and edifying liturgical analysis and recapitulation of a ceremony that was recently discussed by Dr. Eckardt. The piece was written by the Reverend Subdeacon Latif Gaba, lay brother in the Society of St. Polycarp, liturgical scholar and gifted writer whose blog is well worth subscribing to or visiting often.

Considering the rise in demonic artivity and in the general darkening of our times, I do believe we should consider making use of as many opportunities for blessing and exorcism as possible. Most of us in the American Lutheran world simply haven't been trained to make use of these rituals, nor taught the deep Christological meaning behind them.

Thank you for your fine work, Brother Latif, and for giving us an example of how gentlemen and scholars can express diagreement in a constructive way.

Introducing the Editors

Since Gottesdienst is a relatively new blog, we thought it would be a good idea to give some sort of introduction to the editors that goes beyond the brief CV's at the journal website. Armed with this information you should be able to make better sense of each editor's posts here, his articles in the print journal, and his hobby horses at Octoberfest in Kewanee.

Thus, with some help from the Editor-in-Chief, the online editors present an introduction to the Gottesdienst departmental editors in the style of The Onion. Below are the headlines. You can probably guess the names. And our readers can try their hand at beginning the actual stories in the comments if they like.

Guy from Ohio Knows Everything About Living in New Orleans

Religious Anthropologists: Not All Men With Movie Star Looks, Pink Chasubles are Anglican

How To Series for the Liturgical Do-It-Yourselfer: Make a Molehill out
of a Magpie

Bishop's Son-in-Law Calculates Political Power, Hones Winsomeness

Lutheran Priest-Wizard Defies Parody with Magic Chant

Man Bites Dog, Seminary Shrugs

Liturgical Magazine Hires Token Christian Editor

Pastor "Way Tired" of Blogging to Avoid Work, Sleeps in Chair

Lutheran Chaplain Incredibly Fit, Lifts TLHs instead of Weights

Pastor So Angry He “Could Spit and Just Might”

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Poor Woman Blessed

So I’m visiting a shut-in at the nursing home, and, as occasionally when I come I find her in the dining hall waiting for her supper, I must first wheel her back to her room, give her the Sacrament, and then wheel her back. On the way, I notice that there is another woman sitting in a wheelchair in the hallway, muttering something barely audible, but which I can determine to be a distress cry of sorts. Such cries are not uncommon in a nursing home, and usually come from people experiencing various stages of dementia. I noticed that she held a rosary in her hand, and when she caught my eye, she addressed me as “Father,” and, I was able to ascertain, was pleading with me for some kind of help. The look in her eyes was expectant, though she had never seen me before. But she knew from my attire that I was a representative of her God, and that was enough.

As an aside, I dare say that she would not have known this had I been dressed as a nursing home administrator or other suited professional.

Now, what does one do in such a case? People in such a state are, I repeat, generally victims of Alzheimer’s or at least of limited or confused mental capacity, which, it may be assumed, is a large part of the reason for their perceived distress. It is truly pitiful to see, and though I’ve seen it too many times to count, nevertheless I find myself troubled. Of course I cannot expect that this patient’s stress will be relieved by anything I can do, and for that matter I’m tending to someone else right now, but . . .

She has likely been trained to expect a blessing from her priest. She is Roman Catholic, and she likely knows that a blessing from a priest is to be desired, and comes, ultimately, from Christ. Say what you want about the salient differences we have with the Church of Rome, on this matter their methods of catechesis are superior to ours. At least their results are.

Poor woman! She is in distress, but she doesn’t understand the nature of the distress, as she is in no condition to be rational. But this much she knows: she wants a blessing from a priest, and, for all I know, perhaps that is all she wants.

Some would scoff at this, no doubt. Does she now know she can go directly to Jesus, and needs no priest? Such flippant indignation is born of hypocrisy, as far as I’m concerned, for those who express it would themselves likely be unable to ‘go directly to Jesus’ for relief, were they to be found in such a limited mental capacity.

So instinctively I paused on the way. My own parishioner, who also suffers from a bit of confusion, probably did not even notice or care that her route back to the dinner table would here be met with a four second delay. I paused in my tracks, and leaned over to the other, distressed woman, extended my hand, and quietly said to her, “The blessing of Almighty God be upon you,” as I placed my hand on her forehead and made the sign of the cross.

I thought I detected an expression of relief on her face as I turned and continued on my way. I hope so, certainly. What I know is that it is a good thing for a faithful parishioner to learn to seek a blessing from the priest, and to see it as a blessing from God.

Color Bulletin Covers for the Historic Lectionary

The esteemed Fr. Stuckwisch aside, Gottesdienst encourages the use of the historic "series of lessions" (Ap. XXIV.1) of Epistles and Gospels. It is a great blessing that LSB has produced a full range of resources for the historic Church year (even if they took some liberties in lengthening the Introits), and the LSB selections for additional readings from the OT are, in my opinion, a great improvement over previous attempts.

Alas, CPH did not see fit to support the LSB Historic Lectionary when it came to bulletin covers. Many parishes that use the Historic Lectionary have come up with other options: no cover, black and white clip art from Higher Things (which is very good, by the way - is this CD still for sale? I can't find a link...), or clip art of their own devising. But up until now, those who wanted quality, full-color bulletin art for the Historic Lectionary were out of luck.

So kudos to the good folks at Pax Domini Press for saving the day. Their CD-ROM includes ready to print pdf versions of full color bulletin covers (examples above and below) and the same bulletin covers with the introit (LSB lengthened style), gradual, verse, and collect on the back (NKJV). While you're on their website, check out Pax Domini's offerings for VBS and Sunday School - also highly recommended.

They are practically giving the bulletin cover CD away at $50. Currently my parish pays CPH $161 per quarter for Sunday bulletins. (Why do we still use them since we're on the Historic Lectionary? Long story. But now Pax Domini has saved me from images of aluminum trays with plastic cups and AARP clip art of grandpa with balloons.)

You will definitely need a color laser printer to make a go of printing these. An inkjet would be too slow and would rob you of a lot of the beauty of the art. If you are currently purchasing full color bulletins, I think you will at least break even with your printing costs. The bulletins are designed to print on 8.5 x 11" paper (landscape), but with a little finagling in Adobe or Foxit Reader you can get them to print on legal size paper as well.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ceremonies Revisited

by Larry Beane

There has recently been quite a ruckus here regarding the use of ceremonies in worship and under what circumstances a pastor should make changes.

There have also been some statements about "the Gottesdienst editors" regarding our motivations and what we consider to be the proper use of ceremonies in the Lutheran Divine Service.

Well, it should be apparent by now that "the Gottesdienst editors" are not in lockstep agreement on all matters. I don't purport to speak for anyone at Gottesdienst except myself. But given that my own contributions to the discussion seem to have been misunderstood, I'd like to throw out a few thoughts for clarification, and perhaps for further discussion.

Our confessions declare that the "chief use" of ceremony is to "teach the people" (AC 24:3). Ceremonies are a form of nonverbal communication, a way of proclaiming silently and confessing bodily. Also according to our confessions, we retain traditional ceremonies as a way of confessing that we have not introduced theological novelties, but are rather in continuity with the ancient Church (AC 24:40). They are confirmation that we do not act or teach "contrary to Scripture or to the Church catholic" (AC Conclusion 5).

It is not a coincidence that Baptists, Pentecostals, and non-denominational Christians, who believe in a purely symbolic view of the Lord's Supper, have little to no ceremony in their services and versions of the Lord's Supper. In the context of their disbelief in the Real Presence, it would be ridiculous for them to genuflect, elevate, chant, ring bells, or wear a chasuble. These ceremonies only make any sense at all in the context of the Real Presence. It also stands to reason that the use of grape juice instead of wine should pose them no real problem at all, as they hold the elements to be only ritual symbols anyway.

Reformed Christians, who deny the physical presence of Christ in the sacrament but confess a "spiritual presence," typically have more ceremony, reverence, and liturgical piety than the above group in the celebration of their version of the Lord's Supper.

Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox Christians, on the whole, have a more reverent and ceremonial celebration of the Lord's Supper than the above-mentioned Protestant groups. This is not by coincidence, but rather flows from the fact that these confessions believe that Jesus is miraculously and physically present at the altar.

It really isn't rocket science that Baptists and Roman Catholic pastors are going to dress, act, and comport themselves differently at their respective altars.

So, where does this leave us Lutherans?

We confess, with the other historic branches of Christianity, that Jesus is truly and bodily present on the altar, that the bread is the body of Christ and that the wine is the blood of Christ. It should be just as odd for us to behave as Baptists at the altar as it would be incongruous for them to genuflect and elevate.

We live in a culture that is not only heavily Protestant, but also subject to a kind of modern Gnosticism, a dualism that revels in "spirituality" at the expense of physicality of the type of the Real Presence. Sacraments are definitely not confessed in their historical context by most Christian churches in America. In that sense, we Lutherans (and all sacramental Christians) are swimming upstream. We have to find a way to confess and profess our theology that the Lord is physically and miraculously present in the Mass. Our confessions present ceremony as a means to that confession and catechesis.

The problem is that in the LCMS, we have a huge number of congregations resorting to entertainment instead of liturgy - now with the full backing and encouragement of the synodical apparatus. The seminaries themselves seem resigned to this reality. In the world of LCMS worship, you'll find everything from rock music and dancing girls to congregations trying to sell themselves as high-end coffee shops. Even in our traditional services, it is common to see pastors conduct the service with very little ceremonial, leaving hardly anything to "teach the people" and confess differently than Presbyterians or even Pentecostals. One can even find LCMS congregations shunning wine in favor of grape juice as our Baptist brethren do.

In many cases, our congregations have been in this condition for literally generations. One may find such things as infrequent communion, resistance to even such basic things as the sign of the cross, hostility against eucharistic vestments, and an expectation of ceremonial that would be right at home in Reformed churches. It should be no wonder that there are children and adults in the LCMS who are shocked to learn that our church actually teaches and confesses the Real Presence. That we do believe, teach, and confess this doctrine should be obvious in the way we conduct ourselves at the altar.

And like the authors of the Lutheran confessions, there are a lot of us LCMS pastors who believe we ought to retain the ancient ceremonies not only for their catechetical value in teaching, but also in their confession of the Lord's Presence and in their profession that we are in continuity with the ancient church, as opposed to being just another innovative sect or cult.

To this end, helpful ceremonies include such things as: genuflecting, chanting, the pastor's use of the sign of the cross, kissing the altar, and elevating the consecrated elements - all of which require no financial outlay or asking the congregation to do anything different. These are all things the pastor does in his office as celebrant, and in doing them, he is able to teach and confess without having to open his mouth. Some of these, the pastor may be able to implement quickly without a lot of teaching beforehand (as the gestures themselves are a form of teaching, just as the stained-glass windows and church architecture likewise "teach the people"), while others may require explicit catechesis and a slower pace of implementation.

It also goes without saying (or should anyway, but apparently doesn't) that these ceremonies or lack of them do not change the validity of the sacraments offered. They are not an exclusive barometer of piety or "Lutheranness" of any congregation or pastor. Ceremonies, at least under conditions of normalcy, are adiaphora. But at the same time, it would be wrong to consider adiaphora to be just a synonym for "unimportant" or liturgical license for "anything goes."

Some may argue that such ceremonies are "un-Lutheran" as they have, in many cases, long since fallen into disuse. Such a conclusion entirely misses the point about what is "Lutheran." In some matters, the liturgical reforms of the early Lutherans revived ancient evangelical practices that had been literally lost for centuries - such as the use of the vernacular in worship, and the revision of the canon to exclude innovations that had become the norm in all western churches of that time for centuries.

Even in the 1970s, the alb was considered by some in American Lutheranism to be "high church." Nowadays, it is rare to find any LCMS pastor (at least among those who preside at traditional worship services) who doesn't vest at least at this level of eucharistic dress. Even District Presidents and men who would wrinkle their noses at Gottesdienst will don an alb and cincture without batting an eye. At this point, chasubles have become so common as to routinely grace the pages of Lutheran Witness and Reporter without the hint of scandal. Similarly, half a century ago, clerical collars were hardly the norm, whereas even in congregations with very little ceremony, clerical garb doesn't even raise eyebrows today. Of course, someone had to take the first step. Someone had to endure the first round of slings and arrows for being on the leading edge of something that within a few years was destined to become quite normal. At this point, those who wear cassocks and genuflect at the altar are considered by some to be "extreme." Perhaps a decade from now, this will be as uneventful today as a pastor wearing a collar and an alb.

There is an old expression: "Those who say it can't be done are often interrupted by those who are doing it."

While it is certainly true that a pastor can act with unwise haste in such matters, he can also err on the other side. It would not only be unproductive, but also cruel and contrary to the Gospel for a pastor to attempt to compel his parishioners to cross themselves. But even understanding that there are certainly extraordinary circumstances and exceptional cases, there is nothing to prevent a pastor, even a newly-ordained seminary graduate, to cross himself at the altar from day one in the parish. If the pastor crossing himself becomes a scandal or is injurious to a person's faith, he can always stop doing it pending resolution of the problem. But simply becoming yet another pastor conducting the barest minimum of liturgical ceremony in fear of making waves can serve to further entrench a lack of ceremonies and a failure to untilize them to "teach the people." Such excessive caution can actually calcify the practice, making it yet harder for the next pastor to restore reverence at the altar. The lowest common denominator is not necessarily the best option.

Pastoral care, including ritual conduct of the Divine Service, is art, not science. It requires wisdom, sensitivity, and courage. There are no one-size-fits-all answers, nor is it automatically the loving, or even the wise thing to do, to resolve to maintain a level of ceremony that is more appropriate in a Baptist or Reformed church.

The Higher Things motto "Dare to be Lutheran" can be a helpful guide to pastors wrestling with how best to "teach the people" and confess a catholic theology of continuity that is at odds with the dominant religious tradition in our time, place, and culture.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Isaiah's Job

Albert Jay Nock: Encourager of Preachers

Read the first section of this essay for one of the best examples of explanatory hermeneutics I have ever read. The author summarizes the book of Isaiah in two paragraphs that are so engaging, lucid, and intriguing that you can't help but want to read the book again and wonder how you were ever such a dullard as to be bored with reading it. It's a great example of how we should preach on the Bible.

This entire essay is worth reading for other reasons as well. It is the single most encouraging collection of words for a pastor who seeks to be faithful that I have ever read - excluding the Scriptures, but nothing else. I'll give you just these three paragraphs from the latter part of the essay to tempt you to read the whole thing:

"But without following up this suggestion, I wish only, as I said, to remark the fact that as things now stand Isaiah's job seems rather to go begging. Everyone with a message nowadays is, like my venerable European friend, eager to take it to the masses. His first, last and only thought is of mass-acceptance and mass-approval. His great care is to put his doctrine in such shape as will capture the masses' attention and interest. This attitude towards the masses is so exclusive, so devout, that one is reminded of the troglodytic monster described by Plato, and the assiduous crowd at the entrance to its cave, trying obsequiously to placate it and win its favour, trying to interpret its inarticulate noises, trying to find out what it wants, and eagerly offering it all sorts of things that they think might strike its fancy.

"The main trouble with all this is its reaction upon the mission itself. It necessitates an opportunist sophistication of one's doctrine, which profoundly alters its character and reduces it to a mere placebo. If, say, you are a preacher, you wish to attract as large a congregation as you can, which means an appeal to the masses; and this, in turn, means adapting the terms of your message to the order of intellect and character that the masses exhibit. If you are an educator, say with a college on your hands, you wish to get as many students as possible, and you whittle down your requirements accordingly. If a writer, you aim at getting many readers; if a publisher, many purchasers; if a philosopher, many disciples; if a reformer, many converts; if a musician, many auditors; and so on. But as we see on all sides, in the realization of these several desires, the prophetic message is so heavily adulterated with trivialities, in every instance, that its effect on the masses is merely to harden them in their sins. Meanwhile, the Remnant, aware of this adulteration and of the desires that prompt it, turn their backs on the prophet and will have nothing to do with him or his message.

"Isaiah, on the other hand, worked under no such disabilities. He preached to the masses only in the sense that he preached publicly. Anyone who liked might listen; anyone who liked might pass by. He knew that the Remnant would listen; and knowing also that nothing was to be expected of the masses under any circumstances, he made no specific appeal to them, did not accommodate his message to their measure in any way, and did not care two straws whether they heeded it or not. As a modern publisher might put it, he was not worrying about circulation or about advertising. Hence, with all such obsessions quite out of the way, he was in a position to do his level best, without fear or favour, and answerable only to his august Boss."

H/T: Adler


Civic Event

Well, I've dodged the small town pastor duty of presiding over a patriotic community event for several years, but this year I got pegged: my turn to "say a few words" at the VFW Memorial Day event at the Gentile Cemetery here in town (for whatever reason, they never hold it at the Lutheran Cemetery being a couple of miles out of town).

I struggle with these sorts of things quite a bit. In small Midwestern communities the State is a favorite idol - and a most sacred one. I can't help but feel that when the clergy are invited to such events they are there for the purpose of proclaiming with their presence God's blessings on whatever the State is doing, has done, or will do.

And yet, especially Memorial Day is a day when a word of Gospel comfort is appropriately spoken to those who mourn. And the Church has a long history of praying for the State and her officials when asked.

So here's what I wrote up to be delivered Monday. Any comments and suggestions will be received with thanks.


On this day when we remember the service and sacrifice of those who have served their country, and pray for comfort for those they have left behind, let us not also forget, that as the Scripture says, “our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a Savior from there, even our Lord Jesus Christ.”

With that in mind, I want to encourage all Christians to pray first and foremost as citizens of heaven.

To pray as a citizen of heaven means to prayer for Peace, for our Savior is Christ Jesus, the Prince of Prince – who laid down his life upon the cross that peace might be made between God and man, and between all men.

To pray as a citizen of heaven means to pray for our enemies as our Lord Jesus taught us, that the Lord would bless them, for he is the Lord who causes the rains to fall on the just and the unjust, the Savior who at just the right time, while we were still the enemies of God, died for us, and who would have all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

To pray as a citizen of heaven means to pray that our own hearts would be full of humility and repentance – for we worship the One who emptied himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, the one who calls all men to repent of cruelty and hatred and take up the ways of peace and love.

So all of you who claim the name of Christian – let us pray for comfort for all the bereaved of war; let us, who began as the enemies of God and who have been made his friends and children, let us pray for our enemies; let us who live in a world that runs by cruelty and power, let us pray for the wisdom to govern our lives by the humility, peace, and love of the Crucified one.

Dear Christians, let us pray.

Heavenly Father, God of peace and harmony, you would have your children on earth live together in peace and quietness. We implore you to frustrate the plans of men who would stir up violence and strife; spoil the weapons of those who delight in war and bloodshed; and according to your will, end all wars in the world. Teach us to examine our own hearts so that we may realize their natural depravity and inclination toward envy, malice, hatred, and enmity. Lead us to confess the truth of your Word that from the lusts of our own hearts come wars and fightings among us. Help us by your Word and Spirit to crucify our flesh, and to root out the evil that would lead to strife and discord, so that, to the best of our ability, we may be at peace with all men. Comfort all who mourn the loses of the violence of war. Above all, we ask you to fill our hearts with zeal for the work of your Church and the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ which alone can give to sinful men that peace which is far beyond understanding, and which can make them love peace and harmony. Help us ever to remember the Word of our Savior: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God. Through the same Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the same Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (LW collect #229, slightly revised)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

When Is there Too Much Ceremony? and What about the Pentecost Vigil?

Too much ceremony? Can there be too much?

I believe there can be, which brings me to the subject of the Vigil of Pentecost.

The Vigil of Pentecost contains a number of rituals not normally seen in Western churches these days, to say nothing of Lutheran churches.

Is this a bit too much? Frankly, right now I think so.

The full text of this article, with some of the details of the Vigil Ceremony, is posted over at Gottesblog.


How A New Pastor Should Add Ceremonies

Some ceremonies should be added by the new pastor without asking. He should just do them. If the people fuss he then says, "Oh, I thought that was the way it was done everywhere. That is what I grew up with/had on vicarage/saw at the seminary, etc. What is wrong with it?" Depending on the ceremony there is a very good chance the parishoner who raises the concern will say, "Oh, nothing. I just hadn't seen it before." Then you can go on with it. The other advantage is that it often takes a couple of months or more before they point out that you are doing things differently. By then it is fairly established.

Two words of caution: you have to be prepared to back down on adiaphora and you can't take the people's word for what their practice was. The first, I hope, is obvious. If genuflection or some other ceremony is a scandal, the pastor bends to the weaker brother. He does not leave the brother in his weakness. He starts teaching. But he backs off the ceremony to a ceremony that the weaker brother is more comfortable with. Remember - non-action is also a ceremony. If you stand at the altar before the Body and Blood of the Lord and act like it is merely bread and wine, with your hands in your pocket, etc, that is a ceremony. In any case, you might have to back off and should be prepared to do so. But the second caution is also important. The people are often confused about what their practice has been. They all remember it differently. If you are new, they've just come through a vacancy. Vacancies are a ceremonial mess. The vacancy pastor does things differently and often has subs in to help who also do things differently. So the people get mixed up about what they've always done, etc. They also remember things differently than one another. So you can't exactly believe what somebody says. It could easily be wrong. They do this also with the hymns. They will tell you they have never sung hymns that they have.

They will also tell you they sang hymns they haven't. In the former case they simply don't like the hymn and never learned it. So it feels brand new every time. In the latter case, they sing the same hymns (all of which are now in LSB) at every funeral they go to and get confused about where they sang them. The best way to compensate for their imperfect memory is to physically go through the last 5 years or more of bulletins and collate all the hymns they have sung. That is a bit of work but well worth it. Then you should also keep track of what you're now singing and how often. Then when they complain about not singing their favorite hymn you can tell them when you last sang it.

Anyway, you should add certain ceremonies and see what happens without asking. But you should be smart about it. You have very little choice when it comes to consecration because few of the people really know how that goes or what the pastor does except that he speaks (or chants) the Verba.

The problem here, with the Consecration, is that they will know how they set up and how they set up. There is a good chance you'll want them to do it differently. I don't think you make an error in hitting this head on prior to your installation. The altar guild is usually the pastor's closest ally in the congregation. Of course, there are exceptions. But that is usually the case. There is no glory in the altar guild. It is basically dishes. They do it because they love the same things the pastor loves. They tend to be eager to do what the pastor wants and enjoy learning about things. The one possible hairy point here is if they are using plastic individual cups. That is an abomination. Very few, if any, congregations that are using plastic cups don't have a set of glass cups hidden away somewhere. Tell them your installation is special. You want to break out the china. You'd like the glass cups. Then deal with how special the Lord's Supper is and that you want glass cups all the time later. The rest of the set-up should be pretty easy, with one other exception, the thing you'll really want to add if they don't have it is a credence table. You should not try that prior to installation. Adding furniture in the Sanctuary is huge. This is usually pretty easy. It is practical and they get that. But do not do it prior to installation. You're going to need to ask permission for that. The main thing with the altar guild is to get them to set out an reasonable amount of bread and wine with some contingency plan for adding more or removing some as needed. It is common for altar guilds to simply fill the Flagon and the Ciborium with no thought at all as to how much is actually needed. They don't want to run out. You'll want to fix that so that you have the right amount for the Supper and aren't consecrating hundreds more than you need. Again, if you explain this to them, they will get it.

The other thing you will have to face immediately is assistance at distribution. You will probably inherit an elder helping. He should know what he has done in the past. He might or might not be willing to modify it. Here is my first warning: ff he normally distributes the host and the pastor distributes the Chalice - leave it alone. I know. It is not historic. It is not ideal. I don't care. Because the elder is nervous about handling the Blood of Christ and should be. It is harder to distribute the Chalice than it is the Body. You don't know anybody anyway. But when you do you can actually fence the altar from the Chalice. It is not as though we are serving in Cathedrals with thousands in attendance. You also might be able to get it changed in the future. Anyway, if that is what they've been doing, accept it for the time being. That one is going to take work. The other thing is self-communion. I think you should go for it. You have to tell him though. Tell him that it is really, really terrible for the pastor to receive last. Because it implies that he is the host, waiting to make sure everyone else is served first. The pastor is not the host. He receives the Supper as a lamb, a guest, like everyone else. If you make a big ceremony of the pastor's reception, by having him commune the elder and then the elder commune him, so that it is utterly distinct from how everyone else receives you blow it. You make the pastor special. So you want to do it the way Luther and LSB say to do it: first, during the Agnus Dei, from the pastor's hand, with the same words as everyone else. He will probably go for it. If not, then at least make it so that the pastor and the elder receive first - even if it is from each other, before they distribute to the others. And, obviously, don't bring your wife up there to commune by your side. Puke.

The rest at consecration you should just do. You should both elevate and genuflect. You might even chant the Verba. But I'll have more on that later. If they don't like what you did they will tell you. Then you can decide if you should back off or not. So also I think you can genuflect when you approach the altar at the Introit (or at the Preface or Prayers at installation) and after the Benediction without any trouble or permission. Our people are used to seeing the pastor give at least a bow at those points. and it really doesn't effect them. The sign of the cross and bowing at various points is also no problem at all. Holding your hands in the traditional prayer position might annoy them. You can do it. I think you should. But beware that you will spend some chips for it. Even if you don't, they will sense in you a seriousness and reverence, a deliberateness, in worship they are not used to. You will do this with body language and facial expressions. It is subtle and they will probably not be able to put their finger on it, but they will know. It is because you don't cross your legs, smile at them all the time, etc. You can choose to lessen this slightly, and make it harder for them to figure out what they don't like, by interlacing your fingers, but I doubt it will do much good. But be warned. If you hold your hands in the traditional way they will focus on it and tell you that is what you hate. You might then have to back off it. You have to make your own decisions, of course, and live with the consequences. If you choose to interlace your fingers, you will probably have to do that the rest of your time there.

That is about it for your installation. Later you can add some other things easily. The easiest ceremony to add is standing for doxological stanzas. People love that. I don't know why. It seems to me that is more of a change, since it requires them to do something, but they love it. They will latch right onto it. I know it is sort of counter intuitive, but I actually wish LSB didn't mark the stanzas. I think it was more "fun" for our people when they had to pay attention and figure it out.

A procession is also easy to add. I've never known of any ripples or complaints when this was added at Christmas and Easter, etc, to a congregation that had never seen it before. Gospel processions at high feasts are always pretty easy also, but will probably require some teaching and explanation. So also, while processions will probably not be resisted, the people will have to be taught to follow the cross with their bodies. That won't come naturally.

The sign of the cross is pretty easy. Not everyone will do it. Some people will simply never be comfortable with it. But I'd be very surprised if teaching about it, and the pastor doing it, along with his family, was fussed about. A few people will do it and love it.

It is a little harder to add the pastor genuflecting during the Creed. But bowing there, also by some in the congregation, is not hard. I don't think the pastor genuflecting is a huge deal here but some people are annoyed by it. Why? I don't know. Some of these things are had to explain. Somehow it is okay at the beginning and the end but they don't want too much of it. There is a certain fear that you're getting "showy."

As you may have already noticed, the easiest way and time to add new ceremonies is at "special services." The people want Easter, Reformation, Christmas, etc, to be fancy. You should take full advantage of that.

The hardest thing to add is chanting. I don't know why. It is easier now with 20+ years of LW and with LSB, but it is still hard. Here is my advice: don't try to add it unless you can do it well (that is, match pitch and stay in tune) and have the support of the organist. If you have those things start with the Verba. Chant only that. Then you don't even need a pitch. It makes sense to start with the Verba because it is the central thing. It is the best place to "dress" things up. Chant the Verba then speak the Pax and let them sing the response. If they don't hate it, work your way out from there. Add the Pax next, then the Proper Preface. I would actually add the Introit and Gradual then, not first. The problem with the Introit is that the tones are boring and its responsive character forces the people to participate with you. The advantage of the Verba and the Preface is that they are more melodic. Next the concluding liturgy and Benediction. The last thing I would add are the two Collects, again, because it is very un-musical. What about the Gospel? That is very, very last, probably never. I would only add it if you're a real musician and you've pulled off everything else. Again, do this, add these things, at special services.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Corruption of Experience and Ceremony

The Victorian idea that children were born pure or innocent is false. All persons, save Our Lord, are conceived in sin and even before they commit actual sins bear real, and damnable, guilt for the original sin they commit by way of inheritance. But the idea that experience corrupts and that children are more innocent, or at least less guilty, than adults is true. One occasionally hears Lutherans talk of original sin almost as though it were worse than actual sin, or as though children were monsters full of selfish greed. I suppose they are, to a degree, but they come off as near angels when compared to their parents or even older siblings.

This is why, I suspect, that children so love ritual and ceremony, and why adults are so often embarrassed by it. Adults are embarrassed because they have seen more of the darkness in their hearts. They are more aware of their various hypocrisies. Supposedly, they chafe under ritual and ceremony, even if it is simply the fuss of wrapping paper, because it is impractical. What does wrapping paper add to a gift? Only an adult, jaundiced by experience who has suffered a number of life's disappointments, would ask such a question. The child simply receives it as part of the joy and excitement of gifts. Wrapping paper is fun and underscore the reality that something out-of-the-ordinary is happening, that what is being received is a gift. And contrary to all protests, wrapping paper makes chocolate sweeter, a baseball glove more exciting, or even a bicycle faster.

The same is true of ceremonies in the liturgy. Only a pastor, corrupted by experience and bitter from the Ministry's frustrations, would ask : "What does kneeling add to the Sacrament?" I could make an attempt to explain what it "adds," but I suspect it is as vain as trying to explain to a skeptic why we burn candles on a birthday cake. Let the reader understand, some things we do just because they are fun, like wrapping presents. Yes, kneeling, and such, while not essential, are a form of spiritual "fun" and children are not only unashamed of these things, but they delight in them.

NKJ Luke 18:17 "Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Slide into American Evangelicalism Part CDXVII

Thanks to the Lutheran Witness, those of you outside the gravitational pull of Zion on the Mississippi have now been introduced to Crave/Christ in the City.

Sigh. Where to begin?

Gottesdienst is a journal of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy. Crave is a coffee house/worship center dedicated to the proposition that no such thing need exist, and is probably counter-productive. It's been quite controversial amongst the area clergy. Why? Well, I wasn't kidding when I called it a coffee house/worship center. Kind of like how Optimus Prime* is both a robot and a semi truck. To wit:

Crave-St. Louis: Coffee shop. But turn around 180 degrees....

....and move the tables and voila - C2 worship center.

This is the former Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Gate District neighborhood of St. Louis. The congregation was running down, so a group of local Lutherans decided to reinvigorate the parish and reach out to the community. They decided to do this by remodeling the inside of the sanctuary to serve as a coffee house, which could also serve for worship. One can clearly see the outlines of the old chancel and altar area above. If the photo above leads you to think that that is still what that area is used for, you would be wrong. Very wrong. The actual movable altar-table is set off to the Gospel side of the bandstand, as can be seen in a picture which now hangs in Wyneken Hall on CSL's campus - and which, alas, I cannot find online. But I could find their mission statement:

Don't worry, as the vision and values continue they found ways to get in all the Lutheran buzzwords.

"Fully caffeinated disciples" - get it? 'Cause it's a coffeehouse and a church.

The coffee shop/congregation advertises coffee during the weekdays, worship on Saturday at 5:30pm, and is closed on Sunday. I am not making that up. Seriously.

So....that's Crave/Christ in the City/C2. I think you can see why that might be a little controversial. But now it has the imprimatur of the Lutheran Witness, so nevermind.

And what review would be complete without a quotation from a someone who has experienced the place first hand?

"So, I don't usually get this way, but tonight's worship service was amazing. It really connected. It convicted me about a few things, the gospel was there and alive. The energy was good-- I don't know, John and Tony were perfect. Tony's class deserves a lot of credit. I was in the band, so I can't say this, but the music was top-notch. I've got afterglow from this one."

Same Synod, different worlds.


* Latin for "Mason Beecroft."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Can you identify this family?

Because, surely, they are LCMS.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Catholicity - Good and Ill

We at Gottesdienst love the Church's historic liturgy and ceremonies because they preach Christ and do so beautifully and meaningfully across time and cultures. Folks who feel this way about liturgy and decorous ceremony are used to be accused of being "too Catholic." The hurlers of what is meant to be an insult intend to paint us with the Papal brush. Yet, like Caiaphas, they say more than they intend.

Those who would live out the Church's liturgy and ceremony will indeed look Catholic - because the liturgy expresses the catholicity of the faith over time and place. The papal party also "looks Catholic" in this regard - and that should be a reason for rejoicing, not sorrow, as this well-worn quotation from Walther indicates:

It is truly distressing that many of our fellow Christians find the difference between Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism in outward things. It is a pity and dreadful cowardice when a person sacrifices the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American denominations just so they won't accuse us of being Roman Catholic! Indeed! Am I to be afraid of a Methodist, who perverts the saving Word, or be ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather rejoice that they can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them? (At the 16th General Convention, 1871)

Thus, one thing that the catholicity of the faith means is that we honestly rejoice where Christian unity is expressed and shared even across lines of division. We have something to rejoice over when the Episcopal priestess still intones the Creed. And we have something to rejoice about when the papist priest still says, "The Body of Christ, given for you."

And, as Fr. Beane so eloquently put it some time back, the catholicity of the Church also means that we all have cause to feel much sorrow as well.

All this came to mind this weekend as I read of the current pope's visit to Jordan. While we Lutherans have rightly rejected the pope's extravagent and anti-biblical claims of authority, with Melanchthon we're going to have to admit the facts on the ground: de jure humano and worldwide acclamation the pope remains, in a very real sense, the chief public voice of Christianity - like it or lump it.

And so it is to be mourned by all Christians that the pope spoke these words at a meeting with Muslim leaders at a mosque in Amman:

Muslims and Christians, precisely because of the burden of our common history so often marked by misunderstanding, must today strive to be known and recognized as worshippers of God faithful to prayer, eager to uphold and live by the Almighty’s decrees.

No cause for Schadenfreude - not unless you thought this was.

You can read everything in context here. Does any of that sound familiar? And here is the dark side of catholicity. Since we have a share in the same faith, we share the same Enemy. What the pope said in Jordan (and what his predecessor did above) flows from the same spirit of the age syncretism that has infested the statements of many modern Lutheran prelates as well - both within the LCMS' circles and without.

And so it goes. Read that Fr. Beane article again.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Oh Dear, the Money's All Gone . . .

by Burnell Eckardt

Gottesdienst Online is now, suddenly, merrily chugging along, as anyone familiar with this site can see. But trouble is lurking in the shadows. Read on, dear Gottesdienster.

In the meantime, if you haven't kept up, listen, you really ought to take some time. Five marvelous posts since the beginning of May, which is almost a post a day. Honestly, just grab a cup of coffee, and start reading: here, here, here, here, and here. And that leaves out the first posts, in late April, which are also top drawer, here and here.

Now then. Trouble in the shadows, I said. Yes, as it turns out, there is the mundane but necessary matter of funding for all this. We don't do telathons here; we aren't a TV series, after all. But in lieu of that, I have to say, we are in a spot. We just sent out the latest renewal notices, and when people renew that will help a little. But we're going to need more than that, I'm afraid to say, if we don't want to go the way of Chrysler. They, you will recall, are being bought out by Fiat. OK, how'd you like to see Gottesdienst get bought out by, say, Christian News?

I'm telling you, something needs to be done. The coffers are getting low, and I hate fund raising with a passion. But it's either that or Chapter Eleven. Heck, we can't even do Chapter Eleven, since we aren't incorporated. I think for us it'd be Chapter Eighty-Six (as in Hey, eighty-six on the cole slaw, heard emanating from the kitchen at your local greasy spoon, and nobody gets cole slaw for the rest of the day, 'cuz it's all gone).

So then, I'm going to hope and pray that there's some philanthropist among you readers who can help in a flash, with a simple couple of keystrokes. Or, perhaps you know a philanthropist that's only a cellphone call away, who can help us in the hour of need.

Just click here you'll see how easy it is to donate.

Perhaps, if we get an outpouring of love and hugs and a few bucks (rather, lots of 'em), I can report to you on the wild success of this appeal. And then we won't have to resort to selling indulgences, which would undo the Reformation, and plagues would cover the land, etc. etc.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Confessing Fashion

The Reformation can rightly be viewed as a movement to recover what had been forgotten or obscured. We often focus on Justification and the meaning of the Mass - and rightly so, for the Lutheran Reformation did indeed polish up what had become tarnished treasures of the Church.

But we would be remiss if we did not also think of the Ministry when thinking of Reformation-restored treasures. To be more exact, the unitary and indivisible nature of the Ministry was strongly asserted in contradiction to Rome's claims that only those who were designated bishops by the papal see possessed all the rights of the Office of the Ministry given by Christ to his Apostles. Read all about it in the Treatise - or better yet, read a much more detailed defense in this classic work by AC Piepkorn from the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue.

We confess this doctrine each time we have a parish pastor ordain a candidate. Yet we also view it as proper to retain, by human right, some division of the duties of the one office. Thus, by mutual agreement between all the presbyter-bishops and for good order in the Church, we agree not to use our authority to ordain without permission of the one presbyter-bishop we designate as District President.

Thus the Missouri Synod is a fellowship of congregation-sees and presbyter-bishops. The parish pastor, we confess, has all the rights of the One Office: he is a bishop. Yet, for the sake of good order, he is placed under the oversight of another holder of the One Office.

Which brings me, of course, to socks.

Apology XXIV.1 points out that we of the Augsburg Confession maintain the traditional vestments. This has implications for confessing our view of the Ministry in our liturgical dress. For example, many readers of Gottesdienst are aware that within the Western Rite, the priest wears his stole crossed beneath the chasuble while the bishop's stole is not crossed. Thus, a Lutheran presbyter-bishop may well wish to wear his stole uncrossed to confess the unitary nature of the Ministry. However, especially when celebrating a liturgy in the presence of the District President - the one to whom we have by human right given a certain amount of oversight over the other clergy - it would be appropriate to wear the stole crossed.

Socks...right. So also, traditionally the bishop's choir dress is composed of cassock and surplice - and violet socks (among a few other things).

So, before you you head out for the spring ordination season, make sure you pick up a pair. I'll try to get the R&D department at DK Brunner & Son Vestments going on it. Then, either wear them to confess your own episcopality or, more appropriately, lend them to chap who will actually be doing the ordaining. I know he'll appreciate it.

A depiction of a common medieval epithet for a less-than-faithful overseer.


PS: And one more thing, at the time of the Reformation (and until 1870, quite a bit after the Reformation) choir dress was the normal everyday wear of the bishop. So you may want to trade in your black socks for purple: what an opportunity to witness to your Roman Catholic neighbors!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Why we do what we do

Driving to a shut-in communion call today I passed a billboard for Faith Fellowship in Alton, IL. The billboard (of which, alas, I cannot find a picture online) included imagery of a five piece band done in the style of the successful iPod advertising campaign, something like this:


The text superimposed over the image was: Casual - Contemporary - Creative - Church....Faith Fellowship.

Nice alliteration - too bad they couldn't think of another relevant word that started with a C to describe what their fellowship was all about. That omission is apparently not a one-off.

And that is both a condemnation of themselves and their modus operandi and a warning to us. Why do we do what we do? How do we describe it? The liturgy and traditional ceremonies that accompany it are not ends in themselves - though their beauty might tempt one to treat them that way.

We follow the traditional Western Mass in the form handed to us by the Lutheran Reformers because it constantly preaches Christ to us. We insist that our pastors use this form of worship to ensure that they will bring Christ to us. We bow the head and knee to display honor to Christ. We are very uncasual to remind the people in the sanctuary that they are in the presence of Christ.

And so, on this shut-in call. . . said shut-in's son says, pointing to the altar ware in the Mass kit: "Is that gold, Pastor?" Darn straight: because these vessels are for the real and true Body and Blood of Christ. There is nothing casual about that - and it deserves our best: not our bankrupt culture's regurgitated leftovers, not Crocks and cargo pants, not glass held by aluminum trays: but kneeling, chanting, gold, and brocade - and all of it to confess Christ.

Hence - Gottesdienst.