Friday, June 20, 2014

Is Worship Trash or Treasure?

By Larry Beane

Here is a timely piece about a Lutheran church that is promising a 30-minute service by cutting out the ceremonies.

According to the article, this service "appeals to people who don’t want to sit in church all day on Sunday."
“The whole idea is to get people who are outside of the institutional church, who want something more relational, the opportunity to have that,” [Pastor] Boshoven said. “That it’s half an hour makes it less of a burden in terms of time commitment. The half-hour is fulfilling. It’s something meaningful that brings some joy.” 
At the 30-minute service, there is one song  and an opening prayer. Then instead of a sermon, the pastor reads a story from the Bible and the group talks about it. They end with a prayer, careful not to go over the time limit.
“In my pocket, I keep my cell phone which vibrates and warns me it’s time to wrap it up,” Boshoven said.
This kind of thing is a capitulation to our facebook-twitter immediate-gratification drive-thru-window entertain-me-and-quick-or-I-will-be-bored culture.  Worship is seen as, at best, a duty, something to be endured.  It's funny how other things in modern life are seen in a radically different light, and if they go longer than usual, it is considered a blessing and a joy, a thing to be treasured: such as when the football game goes into overtime, the baseball game goes into extra innings, the band comes out for an additional encore, or the vacation gets extended by a few days.

But when it comes to the once-a-week Divine Service - in which your Lord comes to you in Word and Sacrament, forgiving your sins, sharing with you the good news, and giving to you everlasting life as a free and full gift - it is something to be dreaded and gotten over with as quickly as possible, like a root canal or a colonoscopy.  And if it goes on longer than usual, it is abominable, execrable, if not downright unthinkable: the source of grumbling and shifting in the pews and huffing-and-puffing - in the same category as extended rush hour traffic due to construction or waiting in an interminable line at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

And so pastors and congregations are now apparently willing to accommodate the culture by cutting and slashing worship so as to deliver their members, the very people for whom Christ died, from the "burden in terms of time commitment" (Oh horror!) and instead delivering unto them additional Sunday minutes to spend elsewhere, unsullied by signs-of-the-cross, bowing and praying and standing and kneeling, and singing canticles from the Bible and hymns from the service book.  Hooray!

One of the great blessings of a recent retreat that I attended was precisely the opposite of the above.  The contrast was stark and palpable.

Worship was not hurried, not rushed, not concerned about keeping everything as abbreviated and chip-chop as possible so that nobody would (God forbid!) miss a kickoff.  It was reverent and yet relaxed, focused on Christ and the Gospel, unconcerned with the TV schedule or getting little Johnny to his soccer match. We lingered in our Blessed Lord's presence.  We drank in His Holy Word without hustle or bustle, able to contemplate the One Thing Needful that truly matters in this mortal life.  The body and blood were not administered in such a way as to "get-em-in-and-get-em-out."  And in addition to our daily Masses, we gathered for extra time in worship through some of the traditional prayer hours (Matins, Sext, and Vespers).

That is how our Sundays in the parish ought to be.  Each Lord's Day should be a mini-retreat, a time of contemplation and of receiving the Lord's gifts with the eyes of faith and not with one eye on the wristwatch.  Dear people of God, don't exchange your priceless birthright for a bowl of here-today-gone-tomorrow pottage!

I pray that our congregations regain their countercultural commitment to share with their members the authentic delights and joys of casting aside the pleasures of this world - at least for an hour or two on the Lord's Day - and receive the gift of the Divine Service for what it is: treasure to be savored and not simply trash to be endured. 


  1. I suppose I'm still a bit naive, but it surprised me that that's an LCMS congregation.

  2. I just received the following email:

    Pastor Beane,

    Making my blogging rounds I can across your latest entry on Gottesdienst. I decided to investigate and found this:

    I figure if you are going to discuss it, it might be fair to at least link his own explanation rather than from a secular outlet. My gmail account doesn't allow comments on the blog, otherwise I'd just comment.

    Pastor-Elect Peter Ahlersmeyer
    (not one of the 32)

    Dear Peter:

    Thanks for the link. I had hoped he was misquoted or that there was something erroneous about the news report. Alas, there isn't. The pastor's explanation doesn't change my opinion of what he is doing with this innovative form of worship.

    The fact that this is in addition to the normal service is no different than the defense that a congregation that has a "contemporary" service hasn't gotten rid of the "traditional" service. It still reflects a contrasting view of worship and the role of ceremony as "needed to this end alone that the unlearned be taught [what they need to know of Christ]" (AC 24:3-4).

    The pastor, who I'm certain is well-intentioned, speaks a lot about how people feel. He never mentions Jesus, the cross, or the forgiveness of sins in the link you provided.

    I find this "30-minute-worship" to be in great contrast to what I experienced in retreat and unfortunately what most of us often experience in our own parochial service. Pastors and laypeople alike are guilty of this contemporary push to hurry.

    I don't doubt the pastor's sincerity, but I disagree with him and I disagree with many of our synod's pastors and congregations that believe the liturgy is somehow a stumbling-block for the "unchurched" and that we should look to generic protestant worship forms, secular culture, or a denuded life of worship as an alternative to the liturgy.

    I do appreciate the link, and I find it helpful to the discussion!

    Peace in Christ!

    Rev. Larry Beane

  3. The message is pretty clear: "We understand that your time is precious and God's Word is worth only a half hour of of it."

  4. Based on Rev. Boshoven's words, I too would say that I do not doubt his sincerity. The problem is that he is sincere about this, and not pulling a prank on us.

    He says, "We're able to do church within 30 minutes and no one feels cheated." Contrast that attitude with that of a master of prayer like Thomas a Kempis, who in his Imitation of Christ, confesses & laments his inability to spend even half an hour in devotion as he should. But now, in modern America, we got this. We got it down to a science. Boshoven should write a handy paperback, and show us how it's done.

    The pastor says a number of noteworthy things in his online newsletter. Take, eg., this: "We have not replaced traditional worship." First, I want to see what his "traditional worship" looks like. Second, the claim that traditional worship is not replaced needs to be challenged. For when he is engaged in the 30 minute "church," traditional worship is, during that time, replaced with a different species. The liturgical witness of his parish is at best schizophrenic, thus contributing to the overall schizophrenia of the Missouri Synod. (That is, what happens there is not only his problem, but also yours and mine.)

    Or this: "We were very intentional when we created 30 minute 'church' that it would NOT be called 30 minute 'worship'." This semantic trick is not his invention. It is not employed merely at an isolated congregation here or there, but has become all too common and commonly accepted in the LCMS. It is, eg., the stated rationale at Concordia University Wisconsin for why it is perfectly fine for faculty who are not ordained ministers to preach in chapel. The amazing thing is not the genius of the trick, but that its practitioners are able to get away with it so freely in a church that claims to prize fidelity to the ministry of the Word.

    To be sure, I see and admire Boshoven's desire to meet people with the Word. However, I respectfully challenge the view, expressed in his newsletter, that before God's Word can transform its hearers, it must first reach them in a "relational way." There is a subtle neodonatism involved with efforts to help God's Word, make it more palatable, more relatable, relational, etc. The tradition of the Church's holy liturgy, epitomized by the Holy Mass, with all the ceremony with which a local church is able to adorn it, this is what we should present to the world. This is the ultimate proclaiming of Christ's death until He comes. This is the counter culture which the world desperately needs.

  5. Deacon,

    Agreed. The divorce of "church" from "worship" is nonsensical.


  6. Consider what is happening at this Baptist church in D.C. Hardly the minimalist, non-ritual approach.

  7. The problem with this is not simply that they want to have a very short service. It is that they are ignoring the traditional and orthodox pattern of the Church's worship, and substituting for it something of their own devising.

    When I was growing up as an Episcopalian (a very long time ago, when the Episcopal Church was still an orthodox Church body), a parish typically had two services: a spoken service at 8:00 and a sung service at 10:00 or 11:00 (we Anglo-Catholics called them "low Mass" and "high Mass"). The early service was much shorter than the late service, but still had all of the essential elements of the Mass: confession and absolution, Epistle and Gospel, a short sermon, the Creed, prayer of the Church, and the celebration of the Eucharist. I suppose it usually exceeded Pr Boshoven's arbitrary 30-minute limit, but not by much. But for all its brevity, it was the worship of the Church, not some modern pastor's invention.

    "30-minute Church" is anything but the worship of the Church. Reading a Bible story and chatting about it is a very different thing from the formal, public proclamation of the Word of God, the preaching of the Gospel in the liturgical homily, and the celebration of the Lord's Supper. Those things -- and not the informal chat -- are the means of grace through which the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith.

  8. "We're able to do church within 30 minutes and no one feels cheated."

    But there's a problem here. Based on the Lord's behavior in the Garden, where He sought us rascals out, I dare say that the Three-in-One might well feel so.

    He, the bearer of all holy and sustaining gifts, Who miraculously deigns to visit us even in this most wicked and cynical and accelerated of ages, might even be driven to enquire of the Rev. Boshoven's flock, "Where art Thou?" (Gen 3:9)"

    Well, Lord, there is that Bar-B-Q in the back ...

    If the Lutheran people are antsy about one little (0.5) hr on earth, we are likely to have an unbearable time with an eternity, inside the new paradigm to come. The Scriptures do not guarantee that the "pure river of the Water of Life" (Rev. 22:1; AV) comes laced with methylphenidate.

    Your (unworthy) servant,
    Herr Doktor SSP


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