Monday, March 12, 2012

An Example of Reverent Worship and Why It Matters

By Larry Beane

Sometimes there is a tendency for people to miss the point about Gottesdienst.  Some people attack a strawman that Gottesdienst is only about "high" worship practices and that we somehow look down upon those who do not practice "high enough" worship.  This false stereotype was recognized by the Rev. Paul Beisel in his comment in a previous post:
I have never, in all my years as a follower of Gottesdiest, ever heard or read any criticism of a pastor or congregation that does not make full use of the broad array of ceremonial that is at our disposal from historic Lutheranism. I have read a lot of critique of pastors who (1) put forth no effort to model reverence in their conduct of the liturgy and (2) make no effort to learn the whats and the whys of Lutheran ceremonial. I am frankly quite irritated with the caricature that is being put forth of these guys as being obsessed with rubrics for the sake of rubrics, or that they are looking down on their brothers that do not have the same amount of ceremonial as they use.
In fact, Gottesdienst is not about "high church."  Rather it is about "reverence."

One can worship casually, and even disrespectfully, with a full measure of incense and bells and vestments and artwork.  And conversely one can worship reverently in a mud hut or prison cell.  Ceremonies, when done properly and in a dignified manner, are of great help to proclaiming the Gospel that we confess as well as establishing a tone of reverence.  And if a congregation can afford nice things, such as well-made altar linens, beautiful chasubles, a pipe organ, refined acoustics, inspiring artwork, dignified bells, aromatic incense, elegant candlesticks, aesthetically-pleasing altars and fonts and pulpits, etc., these things may well help to foster reverence and a sense of the "otherworldliness" that is the Divine Service of the Church.  The Lord Himself expressed His preference for beauty and dignity in worship (e.g. in the Book of Leviticus).

But even lacking these material things, a pastor can still conduct worship in a reverent manner.  He can still "take pains" to show fear, love, and trust in the Lord by conducting himself liturgically with unapologetic and humble respect for that which is holy.  He can still bow and chant and make the sign of the cross and carry himself with dignity.  The congregation likewise can recognize the miraculous and the supernatural, the real presence of Jesus, in their midst.  And this reverence can even be expressed in a beauty parlor without an organ, with the bare minimum of vestments, and a simple covered table to act as an altar.

The above footage includes parts of the Divine Service as celebrated by Father Vladislav Ivanov and Deacon Victor Shtraube of Holy Spirit congregation (SELC) in Chelyabinsk, Russia.  Holy Spirit rents a hall for services, and on this date, July 18, 2011, they only had access to a beauty parlor.  This was recorded on a pocket video camera by me (my apologies for the quality of the footage).

In order to point the congregation to Christ, the pastor and deacon reverently put a crucifix on the wall, hid the towels that were hung out to dry, carefully set the table with linens, candles, and a cross, placed the sacramental elements on the altar, and the congregation sang the Mass (including the hymns) a cappella. 

The clergy are not eschewing chasuble and dalmatic because they are "too catholic" or to accommodate "the youth" or out of fear of being labeled "high church."  They simply cannot afford them.  They have no objection to "smells and bells" (which are used in other Russian churches) - they simply don't have these things.  But what they do have is faith, and the celebrant and his assistant communicate that faith in their heartfelt reverence, in the way they carry themselves, in their attention to ceremony.

Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Chelyabinsk is a sister congregation to my own.  It was a great joy and privilege to take the holy body and blood of our Lord from the hands of Fr. Vlad and Dcn. Victor, and to participate with Fr. Sergei Glushkov (parish priest of Sts. Peter and Paul in Yekaterinburg, who is the equivalent of our "circuit counselor") and the laity of the congregation in this reverent Divine Service.  Though it was foreign to me linguistically, it was also familiar liturgically.  For Christ was present in Word and Sacrament, and the fact that we were in a beauty salon without icons, without stained glass, and without an organ - did not detract from the reverence of the service.  And there is no requirement that every rubric must be the same the world over.  Though I may conduct certain ceremonies a little differently, the liturgy was clearly Lutheran and clearly focused on Christ.

Reverence is not necessarily "high church."  But by the same token, what does it say about our culture in the LCMS when we have the money and the means to create beautiful sanctuaries but often deliberately choose to worship in spartan surroundings that do not make use of art and beauty to point us to the incarnate Christ?  The saints of Holy Spirit in Chelyabinsk "take pains" to show reverence.  Many of our pastors often do not seem to care about conducting worship reverently.  Or perhaps they honestly don't know how to behave reverently in the chancel.

This, to me, is something that Gottesdienst can help with here in our own country, where we are not impoverished by material want so much as by a kind of self-imposed poverty of not recognizing the treasure we have within our own Lutheran tradition.  Those who take the time to read Gottesdienst and/or Gottesdienst Online will learn that the all-too common descriptions on the internet about us are nothing more than what Pastor Beisel said they are: one-dimensional "caricatures."

The liturgy should be conducted in as rich and full and dignified manner as circumstances allow - at least if we truly believe what we say we believe.  Wherever Christians worship, we should strive to make our liturgy as fitting and as dignified as we can, as means and circumstances permit.  Whenever Christians worship, we should strive to be as reverent as we  can.  For we are talking about the presence of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life - whether in a finely-proportioned cathedral or in a cramped beauty parlor.  I'm grateful that for twenty years, Gottesdienst has been stressing to pastors and laymen the importance of dignity and reverence in our traditional liturgical ceremonies for the sake of our confession of Christ.


  1. Amen! Men who wear chasubles, who walk and conduct themselves reverently around the altar, who "hold their hands a certain way" do so from a completely different motivation than those who completely ditch the liturgy, who wear Khakis and polo shirts to conduct the service, etc. I don't think that this is a fair comparison by the German pastor that was referenced on

  2. This video and post are a joy to see and read. Fr. Vladislav was a student of mine in Novosibirsk.

    My question is this: how could any Christian, not to mention Lutheran, nor to mention Lutheran pastor, nor to say anything of confessional Lutheran pastor, find cause to object to this kind of devotion and reverence?

  3. I think it is rebellion - plain and simple. If such ceremonies as elevating and/or genuflecting (and other traditions such as the covering of the head by ladies) are truly adiaphora, they should really not even be noticed - let alone commented on anbd objected to.

    Lutherans have learned very well how to play the "conscience card."

    But when people object and start complaining about their consciences, maybe there is more to it than that. Maybe it is the ancient desire for control (libido dominandi) or it could simply be a desire not to submit to God, to the Church, to the pastor, to our fathers in the faith, or whatever.

    Either way, it sure looks like original sin.

    Otherwise, how indeed could anyone object to reverence or how another person expresses his piety?

    There is a passage of The Screwtape Letters that deals with the "worship wars" in the church of England. It is Satan that makes people sneak a peek to see who is crossing himself. The same goes for other ceremonies.

    People who have a problem with such ceremonies have the option not to do them themselves.

    Unless, of course, the goal is to dominate and bully another person (lay or clergy) to compel them to "be more like me."

    No matter how you slice it - the answer is sin.

  4. Gents, you do not understand me if you believe I'm personally opposed to reverent practice at the Lord's altar. It is my personal practice, whenever it is possible, both to elevate and genuflect, etc. I have nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to demonstrating my bona fides in such matters. I however think that is more than quite irrelevant to the point I'm trying to make.

    I am opposed to "do it my way" in any direction in which it is expressed. I would prefer we all strive toward, and for, the greatest uniformity possible in all such matters, as per Luther's sage advice, quoted many times before. The "well the hymnal and agenda is ok, as far as it goes" mentality is something I see on both sides of the liturgical coin in our Synod these days.

    I am opposed to any suggestion, whether direct or indirect, actual or implied, knowingly or unknowingly, that Lutheran pastors and Lutheran congregations that choose not to elevate or genuflect or wear chasables or...whatever might be the preference of Gottesdienst editors, are in any way, shape or form doing something that is "less" or "not as good as" or "not quite authentically Lutheran" or "not fully Lutheran" or not [fill in the blank]. And if you would suggest that unless people practice the same kind of and number of ceremonies you prefer, they are not being reverent is also of grave concern to me.

    1. "And if you would suggest that unless people practice the same kind of and number of ceremonies you prefer, they are not being reverent is also of grave concern to me."

      I think the whole point of Fr. Beane's post was that he was specifically saying the opposite of this: it's not about the number of ceremonies or the beauty of the space, it's about reverence.

      If someone does not, for example, genuflect - I'd ask him why. It's not the non-genuflecting, it's the why. Maybe he doesn't genuflect because he's got bad knees. Or maybe he doesn't genuflect because he is a Receptionist.

      If he doesn't genuflect b/c he has bad knees, I'd encourage him to deeply bow. Because this ceremony teaches and I think it's worth teaching. If he refuses, fine. But this is the point of adiaphora - that we can argue about what is best. I think genuflecting/bowing deeply is better than not doing so. You can think otherwise. That's the point of adiaphora: we try to determine what is best.


    2. Heath--the only thing I would say about that statement is that it does suggest that not genuflecting makes one's faith suspect. It seems to imply that once someone has heard/learned about a custom like genuflecting, choosing not to do it for any other reason than he has bad knees or because he is a receptionist is inadequate. I don't genuflect, for one reason because it would send my congregation through the roof, but even if it wouldn't, let's say that I just don't want to. Is that a good enough reason?

    3. Paul,

      Of course that's a good reason. I'd advise you the same as the guy with bad knees: deeply bow. Why? Well, to teach. Why would your people go through the roof? Some of it, I'm sure, is knee-jerk "too Catholic" stuff. In that case, it's weaker brother stuff: don't push it. But might this reverence to the Present Christ also be exposing a weakness in the people's belief? That is, once they actually see a ceremony that teaches just what we believe in the Supper - is it exposing a weakness in their faith?

      Those are the questions we encourage people to think through when we encourage certain ceremonies.

      Again: it's not the lack of genuflecting or deeply bowing: it's the why.

      And we should challenge each other without fear and admitting our own weaknesses. Ben Ball will hop in here soon to chide me for girl acolytes. And I chide myself every time I see the battle flag of the republic in the Prince of Peace's chapel.

      But like you on this point, I too have to decide how far and how fast.

      This is what Gottesdienst has always been about: arguing for and holding out the ideal so we can all move toward it. If we are all content with where we are and do nothing but pat each other on the back...well, that's the Elk's club not the Church.


    4. Dear Paul (McCain):

      You write:

      "I am opposed to any suggestion, whether direct or indirect, actual or implied, knowingly or unknowingly, that Lutheran pastors and Lutheran congregations that choose not to elevate or genuflect or wear chasables or...whatever might be the preference of Gottesdienst editors, are in any way, shape or form doing something that is "less" or "not as good as" or "not quite authentically Lutheran" or "not fully Lutheran" or not [fill in the blank]. And if you would suggest that unless people practice the same kind of and number of ceremonies you prefer, they are not being reverent is also of grave concern to me."

      Okay. I guess the "best construction" is that you didn't read a word that I wrote.

      The way you have turned Gottesdienst into a straw-man makes me want to respond to you like this:

      "No, Paul, I most certainly do not beat my wife. But if I were to do so, I would (in Christian love) follow the standard LCMS practice according to LSB rubrics (and other CPH-approved materials) for doing so."

      (That sound you hear in the background is Mrs. Hollywood giggling).


      Well, congratulations, Paul, I guess we know who can take over Christian News when Herman Otten dies running a marathon at the age of 150...

      "Life in the LCMS: goofy as all get-out, but seldom boring."(tm)

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  6. In order to have a conversation with a bona fide interlocutor, that interlocutor must agree to listen and respond to what you are saying. Otherwise the exchange is fruitless.

  7. My question is this -- if in an effort toward uniformity it means that those places accustomed to a fuller ceremonial would by this be asked to reduce the ceremonial of the Divine Service for the sake of unity and uniformity, I would say respectfully "no." There is inherently a minimum ceremonial which accompanies the Divine Service and reflects the unspoken assumption of the Lutheran Confessions. What this is, is , by nature, up for dispute. That I believe might be the point of reverence -- there is a minimum that is required of us Lutherans within the Divine Service -- again not out of ceremony but of confession since ceremonies are visible confession. Now where we draw the line and suggest this is the minimum, I think we can discuss but if that striving for uniformity would ask those with fuller ceremonial than this minimum to cut back, I, again, would respectfully say "no."

    1. For someone to demand (based on their allegedly scarred conscience) that I not take a second and a half to drop down on one knee to confess that Jesus is the King of the Universe is no different than someone telling me to put my cross inside my shirt because they are offended at seeing it.

      It's funny how Tim Tebow catches flack from the unbelievers for genuflecting in the end zone, whereas some Lutheran pastors catch you-know-what for doing so at the altar - but from Christians!

      Come, Lord Jesus!

  8. My suggestion--don't feed the animals. I appreciate your good work, you "Gottesdienst people" as do many.


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