Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Frivolous, Disorderly, and Indecorous

The Church has her own culture and language – even call it a style if you wish. It is a culture and language informed by the Word of God and blessed and handed down to us by generations of the faithful. That culture and language will find slightly different expression across time and place – but it will always be recognizable as the Church's own. Ceremonies and orders will differ across time and place – but they will always comport with the Church's culture and language. If it were possible, you could pick up King David and drop into St. Chrysostom's sanctuary in the fifth century AD and he would know what was going on. Likewise, you could take John the Golden-Mouthed and plop him into a Lutheran sanctuary during Divine Service and he would know what was going on.

That's pretty amazing when you think about it. There are plenty of differences in the earthly culture and language of David, Chrysostom, and Grandma Schickelgrüber. But despite their different earthly tongues, cultural expectations, incidental ceremonies, etc., their worship is all of a piece. Well, of course it is: the Church is the Church.

This is nothing other than our dear Fathers and Confessors said when they wrote,

Therefore, we believe, teach, and confess that the community of God in every time and place has the right, power, and authority to change, reduce, or expand such practices according to circumstances in an orderly and appropriate manner, without frivolity or offense, as seems most useful, beneficial, and best for good order, Christian discipline, evangelical decorum, and the building up of the church. (FC SD X.9)

The Church in every time and place will give expression to who she is as the Church. The Church is the Bride of Christ. She is not frivolous. She does not seek to give needless offense, for she is a kind Mother. She seeks for her children's benefit, discipline, decorum, and edification.

Those principles are at the foundation of the outlook of the “traditional” camp in the Worship Wars – otherwise summed up as the Reverent Worship Movement. The principles and outlook of those pushing for the radical, abrupt, and overt departure from the Church's culture and language – otherwise known as the Contemporary/Relevant/Emerging Worship Movement – are quite different. They would tend to stress only the first part of that quotation from the Formula: the Church in each time and place has the right to change ceremonies. The Church has a doctrine – not a culture or language – which must be brought to each earthly culture in relevant and meaningful ways. Furthermore, the second part of the Formula's quotation is too subjective to be worthy of comment. Who says what's frivolous or good for decorum? Surely the only judge must be the Church in each time and place: quidquid it, bonum est.

I am not persuaded that they are right. I think a person steeped in the the Scriptural description of the worship of Israel, the Book of Acts, and St. Paul's epistles can know what is frivolous and what is good for evangelical decorum. And there is that helpful mental experiment: if King David, or St. Peter, or Bl. Dr. Luther were transported into your worship service – what would he think? Would he know what's going on?

All that went through my mind again as I watched a video of the ELCA Youth Gathering's Divine Service – specifically the Sanctus – able to be seen by clicking here and then clicking on Part 7 once you arrive at the page. Go watch it. Go ahead....


Augustinus interrogat: Quid est? Rex Davidus respondet: Nescio. Lutherus: Crepitus ventris.

Exeunt Omnes.

Friends, that was frivolous. David, St. Augustine, and Luther would have no idea what that Sanctus was. The actions of the folks jumping around did not match their words – at least if the Seraphim in Isaiah 6 know what they are doing. What they were doing was in no sense Scriptural – for just saying Scripture's words doesn't make it Scriptural, see Matt. 4 if you've forgotten that lesson. That “Sanctus” was not indicative of evangelical decorum – even the Gentiles tip their hats to the Dali Lama and reverently ask Bono for an autograph.

And I most certainly do not mean this as a kick to the ELCA when she's down. A similar example could easily be found at a score of LCMS parishes and district or Synod events. There are sincere believers in the tenants of the Contemporary/Relevant/Emerging Worship Movement in every Lutheran body. Just look at the Celebrant in that video. He obviously thinks this is good stuff – though it is equally obvious that he is not the “target audience” of this display. But he thinks it's what those other folks need, so he's going to go along with it.

And that, of course, is why the Contemporary folks think the Gottesdienst Crowd to be worse than a bunch of young fogey sourpusses. It's not just that we are square: we are narrow minded and tryannical, desirous to force all people to go along with our style when acquiescing to a different style would bring more people into the Church. No wonder they have an S.O.B. award.

But that is not so. What we are saying is something much more strident. We are accusing the Contemporary Worship Movement of being frivolous, divisive, destructive to evangelical decorum and good order, and offensive. And that is not a matter of style. It is a matter of being soaked in the language, practices, and culture of Scripture and then asking: “Does this ceremony, this order, this song, fit that? And among those that do fit, which is most beneficial to unity in the Church?” It is about looking around at the Church after 40 years of this Movement and asking, “Is the Church more united today than she was back before this started? How many parishes have been divided and relationships broken because of this Movement? Have our Lutheran churches become more or less Lutheran in their language, doctrine, and outlook after this movement?”

Those should be the questions the proponents of each side should be asking each other. We should be able to have a conversation about any given ceremony, order of worship, or song along the lines laid down for us in FC SD X.9.

So let's start with this Sanctus: does anyone want to provide an opposing view? For those who find this particular Sanctus offensive but who love their own congregation's praise band modeled on soft rock rather than rap, why? Does anyone think that this Sanctus promotes unity and harmony and evangelical decorum? Did the standard five piece, suburban, middle class, white folks praise band from your parish support those ideals when it started in your parish? Does it support them today?



  1. It goes to show that we don't even know the meaning of the word "holy" any more.

    The Church, east and west, has prayed/sung: "Holy, holy, holy..." in praise of God in the celebration of the Eucharist for centuries. In this video, the Sanctus ("Holy") is being sung while a kid in a ballcap is dancing around and the congregation is clapping and dancing. In other words, they are doing just what they would do outside of church, outside of the divine service, say at a party or a concert - there is no distinction between church and world here.

    But the word "holy" itself means, distinct, segregated, "other." Holiness is defined by a wall of separation and a difference - especially a difference from the world.

    One could watch the video and, until one saw the bishop dressed like a wizard or a clown, clapping his hands as though he really drives hom from church and turns on his car radio to rap music - one would have no idea this was a "service" - let alone an alleged Mass, a supposed Eucharistic service.

    There is a word for when that which is holy is profaned: "blasphemy."

    And I agree that this is not just an ELCA thing. LCMS youth gatherings have had their share of blasphemy as well. The LCMS version of this event is also coming to New Orleans next year. I wonder if it will be videotaped and placed on our synod's website.

    Part of me hopes it will not be videotaped.

  2. Don't worry, Fr. Beane. Back in 2007 when the Synod Youth folks were feeling the pressure from Higher Things they issued a flyer that noted that the Synod National Youth Gathering is the only such national gathering whose liturgies were approved by the Commission on Worship.


  3. How comforting.

    It's good to know we have synodical rubrics and careful oversight governing the liturgical throwing of toilet paper rolls during the distribution of the Most Holy Sacrament. Otherwise, stuff like that might not be appropriate.

    Thank God for the COW - which is the same prayer I offer up before lunch at Hardee's.

  4. I note with particular attention and assent one aspect of this article and comments: what we Gottesdiensters mean to say to those who engage in such things is not merely that we would prefer they refrained from them for the sake of good order, etc., but that they are actually guilty of something much worse: profanity, frivolity, and even blasphemy.

    They may indeed call us fogeys for saying these things, but it's my guess that's pretty much what the Israelites were thinking of Moses while they frolicked around the golden calf. And weren't they wearing baseball caps too, and singing rap ditties? Yes, if memory serves . . .

  5. I'll get the "opposing view" started:

    1) FC SD X:9 is not *doctrinal,* therefore it is not binding (and obviously, is subject to differing interpretations). Bonus argument: The ELCA is bigger than we are, and they have lots of *seminary professors* who approve of this. So there. Na na na na na na.

    2) "According to circumstances" - this is a youth gathering, not a teeny-weeny little "Gottesdienst crowd" chancel-prancing parish - Christian liberty and all that.

    3) "Order" and "decorum" are subjective, and in some communities, wearing a cap and strutting around waving one's arms to lead the Sanctus is an act of reverence. What is reverent to a bunch of fogey blackshirt hobbyists and liturgical pietists is not what is reverent to a vibrant youth gathering on fire for the Lord.

    4) "Will somebody think of the children?"

    5) Snap. Every five seconds. Snap. Someone dies without Jesus. Snap. And goes to hell. Snap. This kind of "off the chain" worship. Snap. Reaches the "unchurched." Snap.

    6) You do not love the Lord, let alone Eminem, Marty Haugen, Amy Grant, the St. Louis Jesuits, and Lost and Found.

    That should get the pump primed...

  6. I understand that it is a part of hip-hop culture to choose a one-wordish name for oneself which is catchy and serves as a tradmark. Fiftycent, Snoopdog, etc. Be that as it may, naming oneself "Agape" in the great tradition of self-agrandizement has some tremendously tragic irony in it.

  7. Pr. Curtis,

    I really appreciate your clear statement of the opposing view here, that the Church has nothing other than a doctrine (and a doctrine which is hyper-verbal to the exclusion of any other form of human communication or even human existence), and that the Church is therefore free to claim to communicate its "doctrine" using any forms whatsoever (carried to its logical conclusion, the Church is authorized to use the word "black" to talk about something that's white). If I may attempt to summarize your point about King David and St. Chrysostom, it is often the nonverbal "language" of the Church that is the most universal.

    It seems to me that God revealed Himself through many means, culminating in the ultimate revelation of God in Christ, and God did in fact made use of specific languages in specific cultures, in light of which we can't say that language is inherently incapable of bearing Divine truth. However, He also made use of symbols and actions which weren't bound to a culture whatsoever in any intrinsic sense, and in light of which we can't say that symbols or actions are somehow meaningless empty vessels into which we can pour any form we would like:

    Is there such a thing as a French rainbow?
    Was the bush burning in Latin?
    The act of healing the hemmorrhaging woman--was that healing act done in English or German?

    There are certainly Divine words in specific languages connected to each of these actions (God's promise concerning the rainbow), but none of the actions or objects themselves are words if they are part of real historical events. The rainbow itself is not a word in the strict sense but a meterological phenomenon made into a sign by God, and a rainbow itself does not become something other than a rainbow in different cultures, even though cultural groups will attempt to attach different meanings to it.

    Ultimately, Jesus was a Jew in the early first century. Is it the church's responsibility to reincarnate and redefine who Jesus is in each and every age and culture? This would seem to undermine the idea of the "fulness of time" and allow the church to redefine anything and everything about the content of what God was revealing in Christ.

  8. It's too bad the video was only 18 min. long. It didn't give us a chance to see them wheel in the golden calf.

    But seriously....

    With a liturgy like this (extremely agitating music), how is the worshipper to be prepared to receive the gifts of God (Word and Sacrament)? Shouldn't the liturgy have the gospel in it? This was all social justice, etc.

    But perhaps I've missed something.

  9. I am a pastor in the ELCA, and my 14 year old son was at the youth gathering. He called me after that worship service and was appalled. He said he had never wanted to just get up and walk out before.

  10. I'm not sure if Contemporary/Relevant/Emerging is a good lumping together. Boomer (contemporary... I really don't like using "contemporary" to describe it) services are about as irrelevant as one can get. The Emerging/Emergent movement was in part a reaction to the former. Then that movement itself has splintered... primarily not around worship, but around doctrine. There are some in the *ent group that are highly liturgical, using vestments, inscense, confessing creeds... oh and worshiping a tree along with the Triune God. Others that saw this divergence from "orthodox" (reformed) doctrine distanced themselves and formed the *ing group. Their worship can look just like the mega-church down the street or like a Taize service. Then others started questioning the reformed position on the Sacraments, Limited Atonement, etc... and are starting to sound somewhat Lutheran (some Lutherans in turn have been listening to them and are sounding Reformed... but that's another post) but still have a mix of worship practices. So this is a bit of a long way to say the distinction you drew was a bit of a straw man... or at least an oversimplification. Nonetheless, the simplification does point to the necessary discussion on the practice that flows from ones doctrine.

  11. Dear Mlorfeld:

    I think you make a great point about how each deviation from traditional doctrine and practice brings its own specific can of worms.

    I don't think Fr. Curtis was engaging a "straw man" (which is a form of intellectual dishonesty) but was rather looking at the big picture through the lens of "traditional vs. nontraditional" - perhaps for lack of a better word.

    The Baby Boomers and their Maranatha Music, the Emergent movement and their power points of icons on the big screen, and the Emerging faction with the Christian Death Metal band on stage, all share a sense that they know better than our ancestors, and that there is something deficient, if not outright wrong, with churches that maintain traditional doctrine and practice.

    Their deviations all have unintended consequences, and there is a slippery slope that takes us all places we don't want to go.

  12. Again, be it out of ignorance or intentionally, I still would say a straw man has been made. Here's the thing, I don't have as *much* of a problem with the whole Emerging church movement... especially those who have questioned their sacramentarian/anabaptist roots and are finding that this liturgy thing isn't leading people straight to Rome (and subsequently hell). Furthermore, the death metal characterization is about as far from the Emerging scene as one could get.

    I've spent more hours than I'd care to reading their books (some as required text for classes but others just to try to understand this whole "movement" in their terms). I find most Lutherans critiques are like attacking an asparagus because they think it is a fruit. It is true Dan Kimball is basically doing the same thing Warren and company have been doing... but despite the fact that he writes on the matter, he's not as emerging as he thinks he is... in other words, he's a fruit like Warren. In fact, what I have seen is a return to the liturgy, a return to listening to the Church Fathers, a return to in depth "traditional" Biblical and Doctrinal theology within this "movement." Certainly there are some that the critique fits, but supposedly one of the most important values of the emerging church movement is that it has a new found respect for what our ancestors (unfortunately this includes Zwingli, Calvin, the Waldensians, etc, along with Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Chrysostom, etc.) believed and how the practiced. So yes what I am asking for is a bit more intellectual honesty.

  13. Dear Mlorfeld:

    Part of the problem with discussing the Emergent/Emerging movement is that it is all over the place. It's like the proverbial nailing jello to the wall. They can't even agree with themselves what the differences and similarities of the -ent and -ing are. You can find pretty much anything in such churches - including heavy metal and Gregorian chant - sometimes at the same time. What seems to bind them all together (whatever label they claim) is a kind of postmodernism and subjectivity that seeks tradition on its own terms, not a humble "received" tradition, but rather a rather arrogant tinkered-with "tradition" that in the end, is an ecclesiastical version of Disney - a convenient illusion. They want tradition on their own terms, not a tradition that we submit to.

    The idea of being a confessional church is 180 degrees from the emergent/ing model.

    That's my observation, anyway, based on my own readings and wanderings around the plethora of "Lutheran" (and non-Lutheran) churches I've had to suffer through that have gone after one fad after another. This too shall pass.

    I completely disagree with your charge of intellectual dishonesty leveled at Pastor Curtis. It is possible to disagree without someone being "intellectually dishonest."

    For every definition you can find of "Emergent" and/or "Emerging," you can find another one that is completely different.

    But I cannot think of even one of these congregations where I would be comfortable communing - even if they had the letters LCMS on the door. And when the current fad runs its course, they will need a new gimmick.

  14. Frs. Lorfeld and Beane,

    I'm happy to plead ignorance on the details of what makes for the Emerging Church - I was operating from my acquaintance with two congregations who consider themselves part of that movement. I'll happily concede that Fr. Lorfeld has a deeper acquaintance with the movement and strive to utilize the terminology more accurately.

    But I'll also second what Fr. Beane said. The one congregation I know of that self-describes as Emerging is a hodge podge of "whatever works:" a folksy, boomer-like service, Taize prayer circles, and one of the pastors getting a doctorate in Patristics. There is much talk about "ancient-future" and much interest in what the Fathers said and more interest in what the Fathers did.

    And for some, I don't doubt that that interest blosoms into a love and desire for the living tradition of the Church. But for this church, it appears to be another source from which to grab techniques.

    So...perhaps I am the blind man grasping but one part of the elephant and not realizing how much more there is - fair enough. But I think it is fair to say that there is a non-unsizeable group of folks who call themselves Emerging and share at least this much with the Boomer-Contemporary clan: the Church needs to find new (which can be new/old, ancient/future) techniques that "speak to the heart of this generation." I think that sort of technique-driven, audience-oriented approach is likely to lead to the same sort of problems as the Boomers have created.


  15. It's not just that we are square: we are narrow minded and tryannical, desirous to force all people to go along with our style when acquiescing to a different style would bring more people into the Church. No wonder they have an S.O.B. award.

    But that is not so.


    What--you don't have an SOB award? ;)

    So...are you serious about the response here? I mean, Larry and I have sorta gone around on that.

    We can't actually have a conversation on the issue. I mean, you can't be a Lutheran and do anything other than the Western Mass. End of story. Finishing of discussion. Doesn't matter what the profs at Sem think or what Mark's mom thinks. (She thinks I'm Lutheran). Not. Lutheran.

    No offense, but do you really care what I think? I mean, is anything I say going to be able to convince you that maybe I have a point, that maybe I have a position?

    Not that I'm right. Just that I deserve to be at the adult table.

    In over to have a conversation, you need to have sides that are willing to talk and listen. I mean, are you seriously interested in what guys like me (PLI, CoWo, SOB's, not S.O.B.'s) think?

    There is not much on the site that suggests that. I mean, open comments, yes, and I always appreciate that.

    I mean, do you get like private responses for your posts maybe?

    But...what do you want exactly? You know the arguments: contextual worship brings the Gospel. Luther, John, and David would all hear the Gospel proclaimed. That is the unity they need.

    Churches are divided because people would rather be comfortable than pick up a cross and change; or worse, because people don't really care about the lost. As long as they are happy, who cares? After all, God saves who He saves right? Pass the hymnal.

    I mean, you know these arguments. Nothing new.

    Here is the question that I would like to have a discussion on: Our church body is declining. There is either something that human beings can do to change the decline, or there is absolutely nothing we can do to change the decline.

    Which is it?

  16. I'm sorry, but as I was cleaning my office I realized how I had phrased the question and I didn't want there to be distraction over what I was asking:

    Our church body--the visible church on earth-- is declining in numbers here in America.

    There is either something that human beings can do to change the decline, or there is absolutely nothing we can do to change the decline.

    Either God wants us to do things to change the decline in order to bring salvation to people or it does not matter to God what we do, since the saved are saved.

    That is the issue.

    Even now, I can quibble with my own wording. But the point is the same: does it matter what we do?

  17. The statment that "there is either something that human beings can do to change the decline, or there is absolutely nothing we can do to change the decline" is not capable of being known true or false.

    God commands us to tell others about Jesus, and that the Spirit works through the Word, so we know that the church grows by our telling of the Gospel. But God does not promise that our teaching will ultimately be successful in growing the church. So we have no idea if what we do is a cause for anything that happens in the church, we only know that God has given us a role to play.

    That's why it is folly to worry about numbers, fundraising, how our doctrine is viewed by culture, or anything other than doing God's will.

  18. Right now, there are 2 billion Christians on the planet. Christianity, at least in the west, is in decline. Our Lord promises that at His return, there will only be a remnant. It is inevitable that the numbers will shrink - our wishes, techniques, fads, and using expressions like "off the chain, man" notwithstanding. It is beyond our power or our paygrade to "grow the church." We can preach Christ and confess the truth, but the rest is in thr Lord's hands.

    We need to toss the seeds as in the parable of the sower. The sower's method is pretty primitive: no agribusiness, no genetic engineering of the seed, no hybrids and cross-breeding, no chemical profiles of the soil or massive doses of chemicals the authorities all assure us are safe.

    I believe the Spirit blows where He wills. We are called to be faithful and toss the seed recklessly - not in the fashion of the church-growther, $ingling out wealthy white $uburb$ looking for certain demographic$ promi$ing church growth.

    In times when reason expected the church to shrink, it grew exponentially. In times when one would think it would be growing, it shrinks. To think this is something under human control, that can be planned like a Soviet economy, and cultivated with psychology (such as repetitious and heart-rending music designed to make people make emotional decisions and other forms of mental manipulation) sells the Holy Spirit short. This is just the "anxious bench" warmed over.

    Joel Osteen can pack the house. But anything resembling Christianity in that "church" is purely coincidental.

    And this is the naked emperor of the CGM - it is driven by numbers. It sees people as numbers.

    A lot of CG-oriented churches have such a high rate of turnover that they *have* to recruit a huge number of new "seekers" just to avoid falling in numbers - hence the infrequent communion, the removal of "embarrassments" like the sign of the cross, vestments, and confessions and absolution, etc.

    And didn't someone in the OT get in hot water for all of the headcounts? ;-)

  19. Fr. Louderback,

    First - the SOB award was an inside joke - the "inside" being the Gottesdienst Journal readers. The journal gives out such an award, the Sabre of Boldness, each year. Sorry if that was confusing.

    Second - yes, I was serious about wanting to hear the answers to the questions I raised. Specifically, I see a difference in degree, not in kind, between the standard, suburban praise band and the rap Sanctus above. I was wondering if folks on the "other side" thought the same? Or do you find the rap Sanctus offensive and frivolous as I do? But if so, why so? Etc. I would honestly like to hear your thoughts on the video.

    I'm not looking to convert you specifically to my opinion - I understand that you have a viewpoint that is probably as strongly held as my own. But I a interested in convincing others with views similar to yours. I can't do that unless I understand your position fully. So, that's why I want to hear what you have to say. No hidden traps. No one will come to your door and berate you for not being Lutheran. I'd just like to know for my own reasons, as just stated.

    Third - no, there is nothing men can do to stop a decline in the true, invisible Church. If I sit on my tail and don't preach the Gospel, God will still find a way to get all his elect into heaven. And if I work my tail off preaching the Gospel, the number of folks in heaven at the Last Day will be exactly the number who would have been had I done nothing. Otherwise - salvation would be by works. That's my understanding of the doctrine of election - and I'd be willing to back it up from Scripture and the Confessions.

    As Fr. Beane already stated - that doctrine of election is no reason for me or anyone else to be lazy. Quite the contrary. . .

    But you asked something else, too: can we do anything to reverse the downward trend of our *visible* church organization. Well, of course we can. Any number of things will get folks into our churches. But who cares? I'm not in this game to grow a visible church, which by definition contains many false brethren. I'm in this gig to preach the Word of God and follow my Lord according to my calling.

    So - there's my best shot at anwering your questions. I hope they help you understand a little more where I'm coming from. I would honestly like to hear what you have to say to my questions.

    All the best,

  20. @mqll

    I suggest a close re-reading of Luther's explanation of the 3rd article of the Apostles' Creed in the Large Catechism. It answers your question. If you are a pastor, preach the Word and administer the sacraments and the Spirit will call, gather, and illuminate sinners and keep them in the true faith. As a layman and baptized priest I have the responsibility to support my pastor with prayer and temporal goods, share that Word in my various vocations, and confess the faith when the opportunity arises.

    Congregations and individual Christians may participate in various charitable acts or have fun activities outside of the divine service, but it's the Word and Spirit that will call, gather, and keep us in the faith and in the Christian church.

  21. He's not worshiping. He's entertaining. You can see in one moment when all the kids are bouncing around, there's this one kid in a striped shirt just standing there, looking away...that reminds me of me at youth conferences back in the day.

    I became Lutheran to get away from this crap.


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