Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Goldilocks, George Carlin, and the Middle of the Road

By Larry Beane

"This one is just right!"
~ Goldilocks

“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”
~ George Carlin

In some ways, the liturgy is like a baseball glove or a favorite pair of jeans.  Pastors and laymen become comfortable with a certain (for lack of better terminology) "height."  That is to say, a certain level of ceremony during worship.

There are indeed very "low church" Lutheran congregations and pastors - those who eschew such vestments as chasuble and alb in favor of cassock and surplice, or in some cases, a choir gown over a shirt and tie.  They prefer to either speak the liturgy, or at least have the pastor speak his parts of the liturgical dialogue while the people sing their responses.  Genuflecting and elevating at the altar are out of the question.  Some may frown upon the sign of the cross and the use of a chalice.  Some such congregations de-emphasize the sacramental element of the liturgy so as to celebrate the Eucharist with less frequency than the "every Sunday and every feast day" description in the Augsburg Confession.

I do think the number of such congregations has grown smaller in recent years.

If a new pastor were to come along in one of them and sing his parts of the service, cross himself, put a chalice on the altar, and start preaching about having communion every Sunday - some people would (naturally) get uncomfortable.  There may even be suspicions and whispered accusations of "Romanism."  For in the mind of someone used to such a low level of ceremony, anything "higher" is somehow "too catholic."

There are also very "high church" Lutheran congregations and pastors - those who make full use the the traditional vestments, such as chasubles, and in such services as ordinations, perhaps even a cope.  Some LCMS district presidents carry bishop's crosiers, and one even wears a miter on occasion.

What was once considered "high church" has become normalized.  It is more common nowadays for pastors to chant, genuflect, elevate, and it is hardly uncommon for pastors and laymen to cross themselves.  Incense is not common, but nor is it unheard of in many of our churches.  Most congregations these days offer both the chalice and some form of individual cup, and celebrate the Lord's Supper every Sunday.

And while not all of these practices are the norm in all places, they are certainly not uncommon - especially chanting, crossing, and chasubles - which are all now quite mainstream.  A few decades ago, these might have been considered "extreme" or "high church" or "too catholic" by many.

There has indeed been a movement back toward our Lutheran roots - including our ceremonies - much of which were lost over the last hundred years as German immigrants adopted the language and customs of their non-Lutheran American neighbors.  The blessings of ceremony - as articulated in our Book of Concord - have been rediscovered and re-implemented in churches across the country.  I can't cite any studies, but I don't know that I would get much argument if I were to assert that the average "height" of the typical LCMS congregation - averaged overall - has increased consistently over the last few decades.  And this trend has continued even in the time-frame since the death (nearly four decades ago) of Dr. Herman Sasse, who is often cited for his distrust of the Liturgical Movement.  What he viewed askance in his day has actually become rather ordinary among mainstream LCMS Lutherans.  His warning against widespread defections to Rome have proven (by hindsight) to be unfounded.

For every Lutheran pastor who becomes a Roman Catholic, there are probably a hundred who now wear a chasuble with no thought of leaving our confession.  What should concern us far more is the large numbers of pastors who leave the ministry burned out, those abused by congregations and/or district presidents, as well as those who linger in CRM status year after year - not to mention candidates who may never get a call.  These are much more realistic (and common) problems facing us than the occasional defection of a pastor to Rome.

Can you just imagine what Dr. Sasse would have thought about a mitered bishop preaching at the installation of a synodical president in the chapel of one of our seminaries?

But the Carlin Observation is alive and well among those who warn against "extremism" in matters of ceremony and liturgy.  Playing the role of a liturgical Goldilocks ("not too high... not too low... just right!"), some will offer opposite-and-equal criticisms against both non-liturgical "praise" services (Carlin's "idiots") and the "Gottesdienst Crowd" (Carlin's "maniacs") - as though these are two equally un-Lutheran choices.  Some may argue for a certain level of ceremony, and not anything more - as if there is some kind of Golden Mean, a "just right" for everyone.  It calls to mind a joke by Dr. Norman Nagel (as recounted by one of his former students, now a professor) who advised pastors (with tongue in cheek) to wear their stoles a little crooked so as not to be thought of as "high church."

In many areas of life, moderation is certainly wise: beer, fried chicken, cigars, etc.  But sometimes moderation is not such a good thing: teaching correct doctrine, being true to one's vows (ordination, wedding, promise to tell the truth in court, etc.), preaching the law in its severity, preaching the gospel in its sweetness, being well-groomed and hygienic, being deferential to ladies and to children, politeness, genuineness, a commitment to excellence in one's various vocations, taking pains to communicate through ceremony what we confess, etc.

I don't think anyone would want to go the Goldilocks route in such matters, seeing a Happy Medium between the "extremes" of, say "Gentleman" and "Philistine."  What would such moderation look like?  A guy who only belches and wipes his nose on his sleeve occasionally at the dinner table?

Moreover, the argument that "smells and bells" and "happy clappy" are two sides of the same coin is a false analogy, and nowhere near a valid approach to liturgy.  It is a convenient way to appeal to the center, to the majority that are somewhere in the middle, to those who (for whatever reason) are not interested in pursuing a richer ceremonial and liturgical life in the parish as has been the trend among our synod as a whole for decades.  Liturgy is normative in our Lutheran confessions.  Going without the liturgy is un-Lutheran and antithetical to our confession.  On the other hand, being "high church" is consistent within our tradition as articulated in the Book of Concord.  To lump the two together in a box and label them both un-Lutheran is just plain wrong.

Higher is not necessarily better.  But we have been on a trajectory for decades to elevate the ceremonial in our churches - for these ceremonies "teach the people" and confess (to ourselves and to the outside world) what we believe is really happening on our altars.  Reverence can be shown (and indeed ought to be shown) even when Masses are said in muddy ditches with soldiers, even when said on food trays in a hospital, even when such niceties as altar cloths and candles and chasubles and an organ are not present.  And even when parochial considerations make it premature or ill-advised for a pastor to introduce something like a chasuble, he can (and should) still carry himself with dignity, not flippantly, not casually, not in some kind of affected slovenliness so as to avoid the accusation of being too "high church" in some Quixotic Goldilocks extremism of moderation.

Indeed, there are pitfalls of extreme moderation.  There are faithful people who are forced to commune without a chalice because of the pastor's timidity.  There are faithful people who go week in and week out without every Sunday communion because the pastor is trying to avoid extremes.  There are faithful people who continue to believe that the sign of the cross and the crucifix are things that are for other Christians, not for Lutherans - and thus do not benefit from such expressions of the incarnational and cruciform faith as an aid to prayer and devotional life.  Being a moderate extremist is also a fast path to Phariseeism, as one gets to be the liturgical Goldilocks, a self-appointed policeman who gets to chide both "high" and "low" alike - in fact, anyone who doesn't do it just the way he does, anyone who dares to deviate from his own personal norm.

It is George Carlin's observation about driving speed applied to liturgical ceremony.

I don't claim to speak for anyone else at Gottesdienst, but our motto is most certainly not "higher is better" and "a thurible in every chancel."

What is important is faith in Christ the Crucified One who died for the forgiveness of sins and to give us eternal life - working through the means of preaching and sacraments.  We do believe that as Lutherans, we ought not not practice moderation in communicating God's grace in Word and sacrament, in what we say and in what we do - including how we do it.  Often what we say can be undone (or enhanced) by how we say it.  And so, we emphasize ceremonies as tools of communication - even as ceremonies were nearly all retained by our Lutheran forefathers.  We are pleased to see ceremonies returning to our liturgical life in North American Lutheranism.  But if you are going to make use of traditional ceremonies as teachers and communicators of God's grace and Christ's presence (and we do think you should - exercising proper pastoral care and wisdom, of course), then everyone - pastors and laymen - ought to know how to do them properly, what the etiquette is, how to communicate the gospel in a nonverbal way - both within the church and to those outside the church - so that we might confess with clarity.  Anyone who would mock a careful emphasis on propriety and "taking pains" in matters of worship, even in matters that might appear to be petty details, might want to restudy Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.  If we are serious about the real presence of Christ on our altars, we ought to be serious about our conduct in that real presence.

Ceremonies are not about looking pretty, but rather about communicating well and with excellence.  Ultimately, it's all about charity, humility, and love.  A man who loves his wife will "take pains" in the way he acts around her, treats her, and speaks to her.  Christ took great pains for us on the cross.  And we "take pains" to confess this truth with clarity and in love.

In the final analysis, it is all about God's grace.

And when it comes to God's grace, I think "moderation" falls into the category of what you often find in the middle of the road, the ultimate symbol of the "extreme moderate"...


  1. Out of the "bloomin'" ball-park!!!
    We (again) owe you a debt of graditude Father Hollywood!
    Your essay needs to be published in the hard-copy edition of Gottesdienst and given out to every child with milk and cookies (along with every other member of synod)
    Thank You!

  2. I just had to point folks to this from my own blog... very powerful!

  3. Thank you Fr. Beane,
    I wish this could be put into the worship folder of every LCMS church. This document makes points that would be hard to counter if the dissenter was actually honest about his theological starting point.

    Brother Steve SSP

  4. BTW, even though he doesn't claim to speak for us at Gottesdienst, I will claim it for him. Beane speaks for me.

  5. Having received my first call 3 1/2 years ago, I was confronted with a congregation exactly as you describe above: no chalice (for 30 years!), no chanting, communion every other Sunday, no familiarity whatsoever with the BOC, no one crossing themselves, etc. We now have communion every Sunday, I have reintroduced the chalice with about 1/3 of the communicants using it, several people now feel free to make the sign of the cross, and we regularly use the BOC in Bible class. Oh yeah...and just last week I heard through the grapevine from a parishioner that I'm too catholic! No one ever said it would be easy. When they said at the seminary that we would need a lot of patience and we all laughed...that was an understatement! Pr. Beane, thank you very much for your post. It was very encouraging.

  6. Dear Fr. Schultz:

    Your experience is one shared by many of your brethren. Most people in your parish will likely resonate and grow as you teach and preach and conduct the service with reverence. There will be some who will oppose you - some passively, some aggressively. There may be some who will even employ "dirty tricks" or try to get the district involved. I found the book Antagonist in The Church (Kenneth Haugk)to be very helpful. Every pastor must (must!) have this little book! I gave copies to all of the lay leadership in the congregation. If you have antagonists in your parish (and most congregations are not exempt), the liturgy is one of those things that will stir them up. Some of them will simmer down, some may even change their minds. Others may plot and spread rumors. Just be prepared for it. If it does appear, it tends to do so suddenly and from places you least expect it. The book can really help you see red flags before you have an outbreak, and help you create a parochial atmosphere that is not conducive to antagonism.

    Hang in there!

    It sounds like you've come a long way, and are striving to be a faithful pastor. We can't ask any more or any less of ourselves!

  7. "We do believe that as Lutherans, we ought not not practice moderation in communicating God's grace in Word and sacrament, in what we say and in what we do - including how we do it. Often what we say can be undone (or enhanced) by how we say it."

    I recall this sentence for an observation. This issue has dived into a wholehearted philosophical discussion only nominally theological, which is why this issue generates more dissension than peace.

    On the scale of the infinite, there is always more; if you contribute something by your efforts, then more is demanded and you must be judged for your decrepitude. Your efforts on behalf of the Word are always imperfect with respect to that which you claim to aid in spreading. If you were spreading a virus, then it would be tolerable to have shortcomings, but since you are spreading what is perfect and divine, your shortcomings are not tolerable. You therefore are obligated to do more; this is not a peaceful message. But, when you put yourself on the side of right, and claim that others need to do more and you are ahead of the curve, then that brings a kind of satisfaction in itself. I am not wholly rejecting this as the whip of the law on a lazy person, but I don't think it is wholly helpful as a movement either.

    If it is not enough that the Word of God is sure and trustworthy, but we must also add to our efforts, then there is no end to the scruples that must manifest in defense of what is absolutely true. If man's wisdom and philosophy must augment the Word, then we adore our own philosophy and idolatry. There is an obvious philosophical problem with the rejection of the middle, just as one can, through a less patent but certainly philosophically viable path, reject the middle. (And among Lutherans, there is an obvious theological problem with relying on philosophy.) On the one hand, you can never find a mean between two extremes; but on the other hand, you can never find an extreme that is sufficiently non-moderate and not between two other describable extremes. (Choose x and I can choose x + 1 and x - 1 that x lies exactly between.) Since all practice is being defined as the choice of how moderate or immoderate to be, you cannot escape these paradoxes without losing the philosophical high ground (I think, unless I am just irrational).

    This is what I would like to find in the Lutheran worship, which I say not to deflect from these very weighty and valuable considerations in defense of ceremonies: "the peace of God that transcends all understanding." The ceremonies ought (at least) to be tempered by an accent on that peace, which will guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus far more than plethora and plenty of ceremonial or ministerial "pains" could. So I think the ceremonies must be moderated by peace, but I realize this is not wholly fleshed out simply by my saying it, nor does it detract from what you have pointed out as the significance of doing ceremonies excellently -- that helps to bring peace too. The Gospel is a message of peace. If we are not satisfied by the Gospel's peace, how will be satisfied with ceremonial rigors? Everything that happens in the unity of the Spirit begins at the point of that peace, which was won for us on the cross in the satisfactory atonement, once for all. If the ceremonies will peacefully reflect these: amen -- not to the ceremony itself but to the peace of God reflected therein and visually expressed in the ceremony. Thus, to the Gospel. The freedom exists to show this God of peace, and I think it is definitely such that ceremonies ought to be accented, just not to the detriment of our confidence and peace. We need not fully fathom or probe this peace, else St. Paul was wrong to call it a peace that passes all understanding.

    1. JFP,

      I commend to your reading this post and the article contained linked therein: http://gottesdienstonline.blogspot.com/2012/03/on-being-witting-or-unwitting.html.

      Augustine found in the Word what all the philosophers could not offer, namely, that the Word became flesh. The Word of God is not an idea. The Word is a person: Jesus Christ our Lord. And He comes personally and tangibly and concretely. He comes through means, and thus the Word is enacted upon us. This entails ceremony and rite. The question is not whether you will have ceremony and ritual in the distribution of the Word, but what will that ceremony and ritual confess and teach and give? Will it be of the church? This is the pastors task even as it was Aaron's task in the OT: to distinguish between what is holy and common, and to distinguish between what is clean and unclean.

      Do we get it right 100 percent of the time? No. And thanks be to God we are not Aaron because we would all be dead. But that doesn't mean these ceremonies and rituals are unimportant. It simply means that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, His bodily death and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins against body and soul, is sufficient to cover even these sins. Chyrsostom didn't say "The road to hell is paved with the skulls of priests" for no reason. Nor did he say it in jest.

    2. Dear jfp:

      We do not, nor can not, add anything to God's grace. The best we can do is to get out of the way. This is where ceremonies come in.

      I recall reading somewhere where Dr. Kenneth Korby commented on a priest saying Mass at Notre Dame in Paris, saying that he conducted the liturgy very well by being almost invisible. In other words, his reverence and humility put the focus on Christ and not on himself.

      This is what it means to celebrate with excellence. It means doing one's best to not call attention to oneself by looking like a slob, not distracting people with bad habits, not calling attention to oneself by wearing nontraditional vestments (or, as Prof. Marquart said, wearing canary socks and crossing one's legs in the chancel), not waving ones arms around while walking near the altar, nor slurping water from a mug proclaiming your favorite football team or college.

      It does mean focusing on the cross, leading by example to be reverent, making use of things like kneeling, bowing, and making the sign of the cross to communicate elements of the liturgy that proclaim Christ. It means a humble confidence and a confident humility. It means drawing people to their Savior. He chose to work through such humble means.

      And a good study of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers shows us what God's preferences for worship are (we usually argue about what *we* like and how we *get something out of it*). God expects His ministers to take great pains to be reverent in worship. He expects a striving for beauty and dignity in His house. That's what *He* likes. He also likes ceremony and orderly worship. He likes fine vestments. He likes bells. He likes incense. And we are worshiping Him after all, not the other way around.

      And for the one leading the service, it is work.

      It is not work that earns salvation. But it is the work of our (pastors') vocation. Jesus Himself calls us "laborers" and St. Paul calls us "stewards." If we expect good service from the waitress at Applebee's or the guy working the counter at McDonald's (and we especially notice bad service, don't we?), then we ought to do our best in Divine Service to strive for excellence.

      This is where ceremonies come in.

      A discussed in a subsequent post by Dr. Stuckwisch, chanting is an example. If you can sing, then you should do it. Do it to the best of your ability. We expect our children to study hard. We expect our favorite quarterbacks to try to complete passes rather than throw interceptions. We don't like it when we attend a concert and the singer is too drunk to perform.

      So celebrants should strive for excellence. Sadly, a lot of us came out of seminary not really knowing how to conduct worship with excellence. Nobody wants to say "A is better than B" or "It would be wrong to do C." Instead, we're told to "say the black and do the red" - even when the red doesn't give is much direction at all!

      I think we owe it to Christ and to the people we lead in divine worship to celebrate with excellence insofar as we are able, and with reverence (which all of us are able) - not because it saves us, but rather because this (worship) is how Christ Himself chose to make Himself present in our midst in order to save sinners.

      And how can we be anything but reverent and focused on Christ when we keep this Gospel first and foremost?

      I hope this helps clarify my thoughts.

    3. I agree that excellent ceremonies is huge. I think that it's great you're working so hard for that goal.

      My main concern was strictly with the seeming implications of the doctrine.

      I am also eager to put into practice "let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful."

      I am grateful for the site bringing my attention somewhat onto my desire to offer adoration to God.

      In some ways, I wanted to retain the emphasis that I do not think that God cares for our adoration or needs it, but that propter Christum he accepts it in the Gospel.

      If I lost sight of that in your writing, perhaps I was just confused.

  8. Jason, thanks for the article suggestion.

    I conceive of the primary and proper use of ceremonies to be aiding in the human need for adoration (towards the Creator).

    I don't think I am in disagreement with the end goal of having good ceremonies.

    I hope some caution will be received for the purpose of maintaining an evangelical approach to ceremonies. By "evangelical" I mean that our ceremonies are acceptable to God because we are peace with him in Christ and he graciously accepts our faithful praise. As I said, I think these ceremonies satisfy a creature's need to adore his creator.

    Whether I am wrong or right, I am afraid I have spent all the time I can spend for a while thinking on this.

  9. Dear jfp:

    You write:

    "In some ways, I wanted to retain the emphasis that I do not think that God cares for our adoration or needs it, but that propter Christum he accepts it in the Gospel."

    I agree that God doesn't "need" our praise, for to "need" is to "lack" - which would hardly be divine. But when you say that He doesn't "care for" it, it sounds like He is either indifferent, or really doesn't want it (in the same way that I "don't care for" olives or modern art or Star Trek).

    I don't think this is your intent, but that is a slope to slip on with such an understanding about our need to adore God.

    I have heard people say similar things in the past, such as "God doesn't want our praise" (which is a very convenient excuse for our sinful flesh to comply with such "wishes" that we don't praise Him).

    But to the contrary, God does care for our adoration, since He actually *commands* us to praise Him!

    Our Book of Concord includes a few citations to this effect:

    "He commands them to offer praises, that is, prayer, thanksgiving, confession, and the like" (Ap 24:26).

    "...but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks" (SC 2nd commandment).

    "For all of this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him" (SC Creed 1st article).

    "We keep holy days so that people may have time and opportunity, which otherwise would not be available, to participate in public worship, that is, that they may assemble to hear and discuss God's Word and then praise God with song and prayer" (LC 1:84 (3rd commandment)).

    "We are in duty bound to love, praise, and thank him without ceasing, and, in short, to devote all these things to his service as he has required and enjoined in the Ten Commandments (LC 2:19 (Creed 1st article)).

    "Thereby we are required to praise the holy name" (LC 3:5 (Lord's Prayer)).

    "'To hallow' means the same in our idioms 'to praise, extol, and honor' in word and deed" (LC 3:46 (Lord's Prayer, 1st petition).

    "For there is nothing he would rather hear than to have his glory and praise exalted above everything else and his Word taught in its purity and cherished and treasured" (LC 3:48).

    Of course, every instance in Scripture of Hallelujah, Alleluia, and "praise the Lord" all speak to how important it is to God that we praise Him.

    I think we need to be careful how we word this. It does matter to God whether or not we praise Him. Not because He is a giant egotist, but rather because He is Creator and we are creature. He loves us. If we are not praising Him, we are not in communion with Him. And He desires all men to be saved. Therefore, He desires that all men receive the gift of salvation and praise Him in return.

    Only a truly monstrous God would be omnipotent and yet indifferent as to whether or not His creatures adore Him. Christ died for all men. But those who refuse to adore and praise God are condemning themselves by their lack of faith. And lacking this faith, they lack salvation.

    And God most certainly cares about that.

    Thank you for this most interesting discussion!

  10. Here's the thing: God DOES command things in worship - such as "Clap your hands, all you peoples. Shout unto God with a voice of triumph!"
    Here's another one" "Praise the Lord in the dance."
    And another:
    Psalm 150:3–6 (NKJV)
    3 Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet;
    Praise Him with the lute and harp!
    4 Praise Him with the timbrel and dance;
    Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!
    5 Praise Him with loud cymbals;
    Praise Him with clashing cymbals!

    6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.

    Praise the LORD!
    Each of these things have been an organic part of worship in the African and African American communities for centuries. They have not been a part of worship in the European communities. I am more than happy to incorporate the elements that you mentioned, the chasuble, the chalice, and the chant, although I cannot, at present, afford more than the stoles, alb, and surplice that I currently own. So, are you prepared to help me get to where you want me to be, and support me as I speak in the language of the community where I may be called to serve, a community that includes Ps 150 in its understanding of worship?

  11. God commands joyful worship. But joy expressed in the Temple, in the physical majestic presence of God (such as Isaiah 6) is different than, for example, a military victory parade, such as when David danced.

    Sadly, some black Christoans and denominations have turned their own race into a pseudo-religion, and seek to differentiate themselves from the Catholic tradition of the church, sometimes by blending pagan and Christian elements of worship, perhaps as a holdover from animism (as we had among some black Christians not all that long ago in New Orleans, who incorporated elements of voodoo).

    The magi "rejoiced exceedingly with great joy" upon being in the presence of the flesh and blood of Christ. Scripture tells us that they "fell down and worshiped Him" - saying nothing about clapping, jerking, blurting out random words, or waving their arms around like when Skynyrd sings "Free Bird."

    Of course, most of what is considered distinctive black American worship comes out of denominations that do not confess that Christ is present - and this makes all the difference in the world. Rosa Young, in her autobiography "Light In The Dark Belt" was highly critical of stereotypical emotional black American worship styles, and considered them unlutheran, urging black Lutheran congregations to stick with the traditional liturgy and chorale-based traditional hymns without waving the hands around. She was pretty politically incorrect, but spot on as a confessing Lutheran.

  12. Self-hatred is a sad burden. I appreciate the work that Mother Young did, but she didn't walk on water. Your closing remarks encompass everything about why the LCMS will never have much of a presence in the inner city. If to be Lutheran means to be German, we will never fit in.

    1. The Christian Faith transcends all racial, ethnic, and linguistic barriers. It's not all about inner city American black folks. There are Lutherans all over the globe, and they use the traditional liturgical forms that were already centuries old before there was such a thing as Germany. It unites us and makes us feel at home in Siberia, Kenya, Hong Kong, Spain, Brazil, or Chicago.

      It's a sad thing when people get so wrapped up in ethnic matters - you really see this among some Orthodox groups - that they lose sight of our catholicity, the fact that we Christians are all brothers and sisters no matter what color we are.

      There should be no more color blind organization on the planet than the church.

  13. Brother preacher,

    God MADE us with these various colors and features. to be "color-blind," as noble as that might sound to you, is to say that what God did was "not good."
    Worse, that phrase is often used, and I don't know that this is your intent, to compel the other person to submit to the culture of the dominant party. To put it in layman's terms, Caucasians speak of color-blindness when blacks speak of justice. You will never be "blind to how I look, nor would I expect you to. I expect you, however, to respect me, to acknowledge that I am, like you, made in the image and likeness of God, and that I am also "fearfully and wonderfully made." That also means that the culture that is a part of me is also a part of that creation, and insofar as it does not declare things which are contrary to God's revelation of Himself and His will in Christ Jesus.
    Luther changed the Divine service from what had been established Catholic practice when it obscured the truth of the Gospel. How does obedience to the call to "clap your hands, all you people. Shout unto God with the voice of triumph" obscure the Gospel? How does fulfilling the Scripture, "make a joyful noise unto the Lord" obscure the Gospel, other than when it is done in front of those who would prefer to "mutter and peep?"
    Consider your ways....
    "God be with you until we meet again."

    1. Father Delwyn:

      Since you are accusing me of accusing God of doing that which was "not good" because I used the word "color blind," how about allowing me a rebuttal?

      I like people who are different than I am. I like to speak their languages and eat their food. God made us with differing degrees of melanin and different eye color, different shapes and sizes. And as a result of Babel, we speak different languages.

      But when it comes to being Christian brothers and sisters, yes, I am color-blind as confessed in Gal 3:28. A man is my brother and a woman is my sister not because they match my melanin count, but because we are brethren in Christ through baptism. I could care less what color they are when I offer them the Lord's body and blood.

      Don't you agree?

      I see a lot of racism in our society and churches. I see blacks refer to each other as brother and sister not because of baptism but because of skin color. I see race consciousness among white supremacists. Even in the LCMS we have a holdover of segregation with special race-based events and ministries. It ought not be so among brothers and sisters in Christ any more than such segregation exist in our water fountains. The time is long overdue to abolish racial exclusion in our churches and institutions. We are all of one race: the human race; we are all of one tribe: Christians.

      And so there is no "dominant culture" in the church. There is rather a catholic culture that transcends race and ethnicity and language and nation. Bowing and making the sign of the cross, the vestments of the church, the liturgy, the architecture of the sanctuary, all of these things are shared by all within the Lutheran confession of the Church Catholic.

      I am rightfully honored to be a descendant of Scottish people, but it has never dawned on me to wear a stole after the pattern of my family tartan. In fact, I would consider that offensive and unchristian. I am not a Scottish pastor, but a Christian pastor. To be proud of my heritage and to portray it on vestments would be to make an idol of my family or ethnicity. Similarly, I could not even imagine using some kind of racial insignia on my vestments. I am not promoting whiteness, but the Gospel.

      As for Luther's changes of the Divine Service, I hope you'll consider coming to Hickory, North Carolina in November. I'll be speaking to that idea: Reformation vs. Revolution. (continued...)

  14. (continued...)

    Luther's reforms were very slight and conservative. Only the canon itself was excised from the Mass, and the use of German became optional along with the Latin. If you look in your Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord, there is a chart (see Article XXIV in the AC) that compares the Roman Catholic and Lutheran Divine Services. You can see that they are virtually identical. We Lutherans even retained Latin Masses well into the 1700s. Sadly, 21st century Americans often seem to think that they are so special that they need to violate the Book of Concord and turn services into spectacles and entertainment. How profoundly sad to lack faith in the Word and the means of grace!

    I think many of the radical changes in Lutheran worship came much later, under the un-Lutheran influence of Pietism and Methodism - a huge problem in America for the early LCMS Lutherans. President Walther had to scold the LCMS for using Methodist hymns.

    Of course, for Methodists and Baptists - and later Pentecostals - who lack a doctrine of the Real Presence - emotion is a kind-of sacrament, and must be ginned up deliberately in their services - especially in order to bring someone to a "decision for Christ" (Arminianism). This is simply not compatible with Lutheran Christianity. Our worship isn't about emotion nor manipulating people to "accept Jesus," but is rather a confession that the Lord is present in Word and Sacrament quite independent of my emotions about it. There is great comfort in that.

    I don't know what "mutter and peep" is. But I do know what Lutheran worship is, and it is reverent. It isn't entertainment. I have seen far too much entertainment in churches that bear the name Lutheran, and not enough reverence. How we conduct ourselves is a confession of what is going on at the Divine Service. It is not a sporting event, concert, burlesque show, or comedy club. It is always a joy to worship with brothers and sisters of any color, of any language, of any nationality - who confess in word and in deed the Gospel of our Lord and the miracle that He is physically present with us in the Divine Service.

    Pax tecum, mi frater!


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