Monday, November 30, 2009

Gottesdienst for Christmas

Count me as one who is not so quick to pile on the merchants for 'commercializing' Christmas and ruining the holy season for the rest of us. Listen, they're just doing their best to make an honest living, and everyone knows December can be make it or break it for some. So they advertise at the time of season when we are most likely to go out and buy stuff to put under the tree. Nothing wrong with that. And if the stores pipe in Christmas music, who am I to complain about occasionally hearing the blessed name of Jesus in the marketplace?

In fact, we at Gottesdienst are ourselves merchants, as it turns out. So herewith, we unabashedly advertise to all you Gottesdiensters out shopping about for gifts in Christmasland, saying:

Hark! Behold! Gottesdienst for Christmas!

Here's a great Christmas gift you don't even have to wrap: a two-year gift subscription to Gottesdienst. Just click here, scroll down and fill in the info we'll need (there's a place to fill in gift subscription information), and we'll send your recipient a letter advising of the great gift you're sending.

Do it now, and check another name off your shopping list!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Indelible Character?

In the Roman Catholic world, character indelibilis is the special grace which attaches itself to the ordination of a priest which is irrevocable. This does not mean that an ordained priest cannot be removed from office for cause; what it does mean is that such a man can never again be considered a layman. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

"The sacrament of Holy Orders . . . confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily.

"It is true that someone validly ordained can, for grave reasons, be discharged from the obligations and functions linked to ordination, or can be forbidden to exercise them; but he cannot become a layman again in the strict sense, because the character imprinted by ordination is for ever. The vocation and mission received on the day of his ordination mark him permanently.

"Since it is ultimately Christ who acts and effects salvation through the ordained minister, the unworthiness of the latter does not prevent Christ from acting. St. Augustine states this forcefully:

"As for the proud minister, he is to be ranked with the devil. Christ's gift is not thereby profaned: what flows through him keeps its purity, and what passes through him remains dear and reaches the fertile earth. . . . The spiritual power of the sacrament is indeed comparable to light: those to be enlightened receive it in its purity, and if it should pass through defiled beings, it is not itself defiled." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, s.v. The Sacrament of Holy Orders, Par. 182-4)

The Lutheran (especially Luther's own) response to this was to point out that the ministry is a ministry of the word and Sacraments, which themselves confer grace for salvation, to be received through faith. Moreover the 'grace' of ordination cannot be allowed to obscure or supplant the grace of salvation. So Luther disagreed with the indelible character, at least as it was being bandied about in his day, and could say that a deposed priest was no priest at all(WA 6, 408, 22ff.; 567, 18-19).

Wolfhart Pannenberg has pointed out that if the idea is understood somewhat differently, we do not need to reject it altogether. If we see it "in terms of the thought of promise and sending that constantly govern the ordained and claim them for Christ's service, we no longer need to oppose [indelible character] on the Lutheran side, since this point of view finds expression in the Lutheran churches, too. Here there is no repetition of ordination." (Systematic Theology [Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998], 398.

I think Pannenberg's sentiments are right, although perhaps it isn't that we "no longer" need to oppose it, but simply that there is a proper way to understand it. After all, St. Paul tells Timothy not to neglect the gift that is in him by the laying on of hands (I Timothy 4:14), and the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29).

So, acknowledging Luther's concern that ordination cannot be allowed to supplant the grace of God given to an individual for salvation, we ought not be too quick to scuttle the permanence of ordination. Set aside for a moment the negatives (e.g. what about the rogue or wicked priest?), the positive truth is that someone who is ordained into service as a minister of the Gospel is indeed supposed to see himself as ordained for life. He may not view this calling as an ordinary job.

If you want to be, say, a schoolteacher or pharmacist, and after a number of years shrug and say you'd like to embark on a different career, that's entirely up to you. We cannot quite say the same for a clergyman. And in fact the shepherd who knows this will be less inclined to turn tail and run when he sees the wolf; especially if he remembers the attendant promises given to him for perseverance.

While it is true that there remain valid reasons for removing a man from the office, or even that the man himself might rightly see fit to step down, on the other hand there are many reasons that are not valid. Fear of persecution is not a valid reason.

Nor, for that matter, is the attainment of the age of 65. It is true that the 'retired' minister sometimes does plenty of preaching, and there is a place for retired preachers in the economy of the churches, so I do think that there's a salutary way to take 'retirement' in the church; but I don't think one can simply look at that magical age as an opportunity to go find a Florida beach and take in the rays for the rest of your life, just because you want to.

Seminarians ought to think twice before receiving their Holy Orders, because in a way it's rather like getting married. After all, you do take a vow to preach. And the Apostle says "woe unto me if I preach not the Gospel." Presumably his saying of this was not in any way related to his age.

So, then, is there a proper way to understand the indelible character? I think so.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Stained Glass Voice

You can't fake a great voice - you can, I suppose, try to find an old fashioned elocution teacher and work on the one you've got. But in general, you've got it or you don't.

So why do so many pastors, of every persuasion, attempt the Stained Glass Voice? In the handshake line they sound just fine - but once that invocation hits it's all Gaaawwwd and jee-ZUHS, etc.

I think the problem is that they know they should be chanting the liturgy - at least I notice this problem more among those who eschew chant. The words of Christian worship are special words. They call for a special presentation. Just talking in your normal voice for these words just seems...too plain. But those who miss out on the Church's method for meeting this need for reverence are left with the Preacher's Voice Syndrome to fill the gap. Seems to me that most guys who chant are then more free to just use their normal voices in sermons - and it comes off better.

The American Evangelicals (including those in Lutheranism) have their own version of the Stained Glass Voice - but it's not the old school Billy Graham-D. James Kennedy vibe - nor the David-Niven-in-The-Bishop's-Wife thing (which is what I wish I had been born with) - but something much more terrible: Rob Bell.

Does anyone else find that sort of elocution....phony? repulsive? slimy? used car salesman? insurance agent cold call?

When I start to feel myself slipping into fakey-preacher voice I remember Rob Bell and try to repent.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Online Church

It was bound to happen - online churches. If your church devalues the sacrament (either in theology or frequency), eliminates liturgical response, and imitates pop culture music forms designed to entertain: why go to a "brick and mortar" church at all?

We've had this around for a while with the televangelists - but the interaction that the internet allows goes a long way in responding to the only set of objections available to American Evangelicals to counter the phenomenon.

How long before a Lutheran congregation heavily influenced by American Evangelicalism goes this route to reach the lost? There are already "satellite" sites that broadcast a sermon from one location to another....


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nothing says: "We really don't believe this stuff" better than...

...carving a gargoyle of "Darth Vader" on the side of your "cathedral."

by Larry Beane

If the ones who claim to be Christians don't take their sacred spaces and their faith seriously, why should anyone else? Is it any wonder our churches are emptying in the west?

Of course, the way the North American Lutherans communicate their own unbelief in the sacred and transcendent is to butcher the divine worship service of the church from the reverence of the historic sacramental liturgy and turn it into vapid entertainment with rock music, clowns, dancing girls, skits, and other nonsense. And I think such frivolity equally communicates unbelief as the "National Cathedral's" display above.

Can you just imagine the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier wearing a Darth Vader mask while he marches back and forth? Are we likely to find a Mosque being decorated with Obi Wan and Chewbacca among the minarets? How about the Holocaust Museum having "Use the Force, Luke" carved in Hebrew letters on a memorial plaque? You know, just for laughs.

Well, I know one fictional character who is laughing at us right now. C.S. Lewis called him "Screwtape." And his real counterpart is mocking us for making his job easier.

The Gottesdienst Liturgical Calendar

The Gottesdienst liturgical calendar for 2010 has been posted at the Gottesdienst web site, and will also be an insert in the upcoming Christmas issue.

Check it out, and while you're at it, be sure you have a subscription, or at least toss us a donation to help keep the flame, er, ablaze . . .

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gracious Movement

I recently read the following description of military decorum from a widely syndicated columnist:

"Think about this for a moment. Suppose that your boss at the lab or law firm or newsroom demanded that, when he entered the room, you leapt spasmodically to your feet, stood rigidly erect with your feet at a forty-five degree angle like a congenitally deformed duck, and stared straight ahead until he gave you permission to relax."

I'll leave criticism of military ceremony to those better versed - but this much is certain: the ceremony of the Church is not supposed to be like this. The movements of the celebrant in the liturgy are not supposed to communicate discipline, rigor, and obedience. Rather, they are to communicate a loving respect, awe, and joy.

Military and liturgical movement are sometimes confused because of certain characteristics they share: uniforms, reverence toward physical objects (ever seen a flag folded?) and men of rank, and artificiality. But these similarities should be generalizations forced upon us - they should not obviously come to mind when someone watches us celebrate.

What I mean is this - liturgical movement should be gracious, rounded, full (but not fulsome), and natural - not mechanical, robotic, rote, angular, sharp, and arbitrary. There is no longer any practical reason for the military to practice parade march with weapons - the tactic is dead and the practice is retained merely for show and the discipline it teaches. Genuflecting, though, is not arbitrary. It is natural. It flows from the nature of what is going on in the service. Therefore the action should be carried out in a natural, not a robotic way.

Liturgical movement is not from the parade ground but from the bedouin tent - the host and guest have roles to play, movements to make, statements that have to be said: and it's all as natural as can be even though it is scripted. The scripted nature of the encounter is the space in which true intimacy can thrive.

How to learn this gracious movement? About the only way is to be privileged to see someone do it right. You'll know it when you see it. The Rev. Dr. James Brauer at St. Louis' chapel always seemed a good example to me. The Rev. Fr. David Fielding of Granite City, IL is another man whose celebration of the Sacrament is a joy to experience.

Seminarians and pastors who wish to improve the felicity of their service at the Lord's Table need more than rubrical guides - they need living examples, they need to find a seasoned "natural" and learn by imitation.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Liturgical Etymology I

Ed. note: Along the lines of Fr. Eckardt's Why? booklet explaining the parts of the liturgy, the Gottesdienst Online editors will be posting, in serialized fashion, explanations of words related to Christian worship - especially those of obscure derivation.


Once the wafer or loaf has been consecrated in a celebration of the Lord's Supper it is referred to as the host (beforehand it is altar bread, or simply bread). This term can be confusing to modern ears - perhaps calling to mind the relationship between parasite and host: as if the bread "plays host" to the Body of Christ; as if it were infected with the Body of our Lord. Mh; gevnoito! Although Lutherans have historically dabbled in such crass and clumsy "consubstantiationism," surely we are better off to leave theorizing about how the Lord does his miracles to the angels (or to the man from Aquino).

In reality the latter usage (about host and parasite) derives from Latin hospes (guest-friend; Greek xevnoV), while the Ecclesiastical term derives from the Latin hostia, meaning victim or sacrifice.

Obviously, the development of host from hostia in the Latin speaking West is entangled with Medieval theories of the Mass as a sacrifice offered up by the priest. Nevertheless, the term has widespread use in Lutheran liturgical books down to the present day. Therefore, an evangelical understanding should be given to the term: what was once and for all sacrificed at Calvary is in reality upon the paten and in the mouths of all who receive this host. Indeed, an even stronger usage displayed in many Lutheran liturgical books (E.g. LSB p. 199) follows the example of the Small Catechism in simply referring to the host solely as the body of Christ.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Heart of the Matter

It seems simple enough in retrospect, but it was one of those light-bulb moments this past week, which has made something rather obvious to me now.

I had the opportunity to share a pleasant and productive conversation with an older colleague for a couple hours, which dealt generally with worship matters and managed to meander here and there. Personal conversations that actually take place in person have a way of doing that, and it's great. It means that one has the chance to discover things he wasn't even looking for. That was sure enough the case for me on this recent occasion.

I've insisted for years now that the so-called "worship wars" are missing the mark in the way they usually focus on differences in style or form. That misses the mark, not because style and form are unimportant or inconsequential, but because those outward practices express and embody something deeper and more fundamental. The differences in worship practice, including notable differences in style and form, derive from a different impetus and spirit; they are driven by a different engine, running on a different sort of fuel. So I'm always attempting to begin the conversation at that underlying point, in the hopes of running from the heart of the matter to the life of the body.

So, then, in trying to distinguish what I understand by the adjective, "liturgical," I had in mind two primary examples: Liturgical "worship" is founded and formed, structured and styled, guided and governed by (a) the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, to and from Holy Baptism, to and from the Holy Communion; and (b) the centrality of the Holy Communion as the beating heart of the Church's life. These two key poles are not simply checkpoints to be included in the course of what otherwise goes on, but they are actually the definitive givens of Christ, upon which everything else depends and hinges. Preaching may be biblically conservative, but if it isn't preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins, to and from the font, to and from the altar, then it isn't "liturgical." And that, I warrant, is unfortunate. Likewise, talking about the "Word and Sacrament," and referencing "Word and Sacrament ministry and missions," without the regular celebration of the Lord's Supper as the norm, is a slogan and a cliché, but it is not yet liturgical.

Anyway, those are the two points that I was aiming at in the course of conversation, when a slightly different (though related) second point emerged; which then proved quite enlightening.

My colleague mentioned such practices as the elevation of the Sacrament, and genuflecting, and in particular the use of a tabernacle, as examples of question and concern. I'm not a big fan of tabernacles, with due respect for my friend and colleague, Father Eckardt, but I do genuflect and elevate the Sacrament. I've had discussions of these several ceremonies often enough, and I would not have expected to plow any new ground on these points. But I wonder if those frequent conversations haven't been missing the real point at hand; a point which Father Eckardt has noted in the past.

Here is what made the discussion so significant: My colleague noted that these practices imply or suggest that the Body and Blood of Christ are actually present prior to and apart from the eating and drinking of the Sacrament. Yes, I know, the Gottesdienst Editors have had this discussion before. But this observation brought things precisely to a head. When I affirmed that, indeed, it is my belief, my teaching, and my confession that the Body and Blood of Christ are present with the speaking of the Verba Domini, there was then a clarity to our conversation that was both refreshing and helpful. I believe that was the case for both of us.

It seems to me that, when it comes right down to it, everything the Gottesdienst Editors contend for, and all of our objections to other sorts of practice, are aimed at reverence and respect for the Body and Blood of Christ. If "the Word comes to the element, and it is a Sacrament," and if the Sacrament "is the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ," then that is going to affect the way we act, the way we conduct ourselves, the way that we handle such sacred elements, before, during and after the distribution of the Holy Communion.

If that true heart of the matter is not realized or comprehended, then it is finally not possible to understand Gottesdienst; and by that I mean, not only the editors and their enterprises, but, more importantly, the Liturgy of the Divine Service. The Sacrament is the beating heart and center that unites us in our common confession and fellowship, and the very thing in which we are agreed even where and when we sometimes disagree amongst ourselves when it comes to the particulars of practice. We are bound together in the Body of Christ, by the Body of Christ; that is what enlivens us, nourishes us, and moves us to contend for whatever serves the worship of Christ in both soul and body.

Christ is not present in the Sacrament to be served by us, but to serve us Christians with His Body and His Blood. Nevertheless, wherever Christ is present, the Christian longs to serve Him in love, to wash His feet and dry them, to worship Him who is the Glory of God enfleshed and in Person. Our Lord would have His disciples eat His Body and drink His Blood, and the Ministry of the Gospel serves that holy purpose. But, again, the conduct of that Service cannot help but be affected by the very fact of the matter, that it is the Body and Blood of Christ that are being handled, given, received and consumed. When we object to irreverence and a lack of decorum, it is not because we are prudes, but because we fear, love and trust in Christ our God. When we contend for ceremonies that may seem extravagant, it is not ostentation, but for the worship of Christ in His Body with our bodies; not out of necessity, but out of fear, love and trust in Him.

It has probably been obvious to my fellow editors all along, but this observation has given me a clarity of understanding that I did not previously have. It gets to the heart of the matter, and, in doing so, it gets to the heart of the so-called "worship wars." There may be skirmishes over style, and battles over form, but the war is about the Body of Christ. Call it consecrationism vs. receptionism, but don't let any labels distract from what is really under discussion. Were we able to reach agreement in our confession of the Body of Christ, at His Word, than I believe that many of our differences in practice would be readily resolved in one way or another. But apart from that conversation and confession, no amount of uniformity in outward practice will yet amount to the inner unity of genuine fellowship.