27 August 2008

What if. . .

The post just below on Liturgical Order gets me thinking. . .

Especially with the great changes being pushed by the Purple Palace for our structure and whatnot, I wonder if the following will ever shake out:

A group of pastors and parishes seek to leave the jurisdiction of the LCMS but not its fellowship. What I mean is, we all feel a great deal of love for the confession, history, and (many) institutions of the LCMS. We don't want to sever fellowship with our brothers and sisters here.

What many of us are actually frustrated with is the bureaucracy, by-laws (the real canon law around here!), and the scandal-causing lack of uniform practice in worship, closed communion, etc.

So what if a group of pastors and congregations that desire such things as compliance with AC XIV and an evangelical but binding canon law on the liturgy were to separate from the LCMS' bureaucracy and form a jurisdiction of its own, but remain in fellowship with MO.

The LCMS is now once again in fellowship with another jurisdiction in the US - the AALC. Perhaps in the decades to come a devolution of the bureaucracy can take place wherein one or several other jurisdictions will spin off of the LCMS leading to a resurrection of something like the Synodical Conference: a group of jurisdictions in fellowship with each other, critiquing each other fraternally, and providing a living and visible picture of what differing visions for the practice of our shared doctrine look like. Perhaps the recent heavy-handed proposals from the current bureaucracy will make something like this more attractive to some of our parishes.

One benefit of this would, I think, be a general calming of the nerves and thus an improvement in our discourse. In other words, I think a separate jurisdiction in fellowship with MO might prove a better leaven for MO than the current disjointed scattering of traditionalist minded pastors and congregations.


26 August 2008

Maintaining Liturgical Order and Decency in a (Canon) Law-less Church Body

Proponents of contemporary worship and even those who generally use the traditional liturgical forms but substitute 'praise songs' or other 'contemporary' songs for parts of the liturgy always fall back on the argument that neither Christ nor the Apostles laid down any specific laws or instructions for how our worship is to be conducted. The only commands were to preach the Word and administer the Sacraments. The rest, so they say, is up to the individual congregation or pastor, "as long as it brings glory to God and focuses on Christ." And they point inevitably to the section of the Confessions that gives the "congregation of God" in "every time and place" the power to change or alter the ceremonies and worship forms as they see fit. Of course, it always comes down then to how broadly or narrowly we define that Confessional "freedom."

Bottom line is that confessional pastors who oppose such "experimentation" with the liturgy have a difficult time arguing against these folks. We can speak about the positive theological and practical virtues of the traditional liturgy, even show how the spirit behind the traditional ceremonies and rubrics is Biblically based (thanks Paul H. D. Lang for teaching us the four Biblical precepts behind these: Reverence, humility, order, and love). But when it comes down to it, we really can't tell our brother pastor down the street that he *may not* substitute contemporary songs for hymns and use "creative worship" in place of the rites found in the hymnal. We have to admit that in our Synod, which has no Liturgical Canon Law, we are pretty much on our own when it comes to the conduct of the service and the rites and ceremonies we use. You and I might be committed to using the orders of worship found in the hymnal and the Altar Book but that doesn't mean that Pastor Joe down the street has to follow suit, since the Synod does not legislate or make anything except the Word of God binding on the congregation (and some of us wonder if it is even doing that anymore).

Certainly we can agree that the New Testament lays down no specific "laws" for how the Divine Service is to be conducted, and that the Confessions do give to the churches the freedom to change or alter the ceremonies that are used in the Divine Service. But isn't it equally true that the New Testament does not forbid the Church to agree upon certain forms and agree to use them. In fact, I think one could argue on the basis of certain texts in the Epistles of St. Paul that this is actually desirable. I think this is what the Church Orders of the 16th & 17th centuries set out to do. They were not just "friendly suggestions" from a non-legislative church body, but instructions on how services and other rites would be conducted in a certain territory. In evangelical freedom, these theologians and churches agreed to use a uniform service, for the sake of good order, so that there weren't 10 different orders of service being used at 10 different churches.

The closest thing that we LC-MS pastors have to such a Church Order or "Canon Law" is our Agenda and Altar Book (and one could possibly argue, the hymnal itself). But even these have no binding force on the pastors and congregations of the Synod. And even if they did, would it even matter? I guess my point in this post is simply that as long as we abide in a Synod that has no liturgical Canon Law or Church Orders that require the congregations of a particular district or region to use certain rubrics or ceremonies, we may simply have to accept the reality that there will be wild and crazy stuff going on, liturgically speaking, and we are pretty much powerless to do anything about it, except try to help individual people see the value of using the historic liturgy. And to a large extent, this may be happening through the services of Higher Things.

We cannot rely on the Synod to say, "You may or may not do this or that." All we can say is: "We beseech you by the mercies of God not to do so and so." So says Lang. I'm not saying we should all just keep our mouths shut and not protest the silliness that passes for Lutheran worship in our Synod. I'm simply making the point that there is nothing inherent in our Synod that forbids it. To a large extent, the way our Synod is set up, or at least the way our by-laws are written, each individual congregation really does have the freedom to "do what is right in its own eyes." Am I off base here?

24 August 2008

St. Bartholomew

We observed the day of St. Bartholomew today, and I mentioned in the sermon how he is not a very popular apostle. No words of his in the synopics. Of course there is the faithful declaration after Jesus told him He saw him (Bartholomew/Nathaniel) under the fig tree. Not too many people name their kids Bartholomew like John, James, Matthew, Peter, Paul and Thomas.

At our church above the altar and around the crucifix are the symbols of the blessed apostles. If you haven't been you can see a pic on the website http://www.stpaulsbrookfield.com/ but...

St. Bartholomew isn't up there. St. Paul got his spot, being our patron I guess he needed a place. I suppose it would have been quite uneven to have 13 up there, so Bartholomew was chosen somehow to be the one left out. Even, St. Matthias, the replacement, got his shield up there before Bartholomew, one of the first to be chosen.

Now I think I kind of like this actually. His absence on the altar goes very nicely with the Gospel for his day, Luke 22:24-30. Our Lord saying "not so among you"; greatness found in being last, in service, with our Lord being the One who serves. So I've been pondering the Ministry today.

It is OK for us preachers not to be known, to hide ourselves in vestments now and to be hidden in the earth when we die, forgotten. Most of us will not be fondly remembered, and if we are remembered it might be as "oh pastor X, he was strict." We should not wish to be remembered at all I don't think, trying to make a name for ourselves, but rather our office is to serve Christ and have Christ serve those He redeemed through us in the preaching and the ministrations.
Most of us preachers will be lost to history; sure we'll have a little obit in the Lutheran Witness, if there will still be such a thing when we die, and that will be that. Our families might remember us, but after a while they'll die too. We'll be the great-great grandpa who was a preacher. Maybe our name will be in a history book of the parishes we served, but if our parishes endure there will be a time when no one we baptized will be around, no one we preached to will be able to say, "I heard him." And this is all just fine, because it is not we who are to endure, or our memory, but Christ, His Word, His Work, those things will endure and the fruit of all that will be revealed when the Blessed Twelve, Bartholomew included, will be on their thrones in the Kingdom and we'll see them and all those who heard and believed the Apostolic preaching that came out of our own mouths will be there too. And our Lord Jesus Christ will remember us; He has promised that.

For now we should take comfort in being least, in being left out, being derided and rejected by men for such happened to the prophets who were before us, and the apostles too, and much worse. Remember, St. Bartholomew got skinned alive, but he will receive a throne, Jesus promised that. And Jesus promises a place for us too, and He's seen to it that we'll get it.
So as men redeemed to live eternally we can bear this office, knowing that like Bartholomew we might be lost to men, living as servants, maybe dying as the least, maybe with service not remembered, but in this is the greatness of Christ. And this is just fine.

15 August 2008

Female Acolytes and Issues of Adiaphora

Rev. Bill Weedon had a post on female acolytes over at his blog and I wanted to piggy-back on it a little bit here. I had originally posted this on my blog but thought it would be a better discussion on this list. In one of my posts on my other blog I discussed the slippery slope of the argument that says: "Scripture is silent, therefore go ahead and do it." Scripture is also silent with regards to female acolytes, or any acolytes for that matter. In other words, much like the issue of preaching from pulpits, the Bible nowhere says: "Thou shalt not use female acolytes." Does this mean that we ought to use them for this service? Does the silence of Scripture give the Church free reign to do things as she sees fit? Is tradition the only ally of those who do not think using female acolytes is such a good idea?

There may be no clear passage in the Bible forbidding the use of female acolytes, but you have to admit that women and girls seem to be largely absent whenever there is any kind of altar service being carried out. Is that merely coincidence? Can the example of Scripture prove anything? Would our pastors and congregations listen to such an example, or would they demand a clear passage of Scripture? Probably the latter.

I wonder who lit the candles for the service in the early church. Has anyone ever seen a historic study on this? It would be interesting to know how it was done before the different grades of the ministry came into vogue. As far as I know, only ordained clergy carried out this service. Perhaps we shouldn't have anyone serving the altar who is not ordained into the Office of the Ministry. Perhaps we should not even have young boys doing it. I'm really just thinking out loud here.

This is often a thorny issue in congregations. Our Synod allows it. Pastors who oppose it as a practice or who do not prefer it are not likely to receive calls even to otherwise conservative parishes. It would be different if it were a thing like closed communion which our Synod officially endorses (even if a majority of congregations and pastors do not uphold it or practice it). But it is something to which the Synod has given its blessing, so unless someone can produce Biblical support for opposition to the practice, it is likely to remain a matter of adiaphora. What say you?

10 August 2008

Evaluating the Lutheran Service Book

My son-in-law recently brought to my attention a critical review of the Lutheran Service Book; not the first I've seen, but from a somewhat different angle. There have been positive reviews, as well, and the overall assessment and reception of the book by the Church at large has frankly been impressive. The reasons for its acceptance vary, rather widely I suspect, as do the criteria by which it has been criticized.

I have my own thoughts and opinions concerning the Lutheran Service Book; not unbiased, given my extensive participation in the project that produced it and the adoption of the book by my congregation. Here, though, I am first of all raising the questions for others: What are your assessment and evaluation of LSB? What are its strengths, and what are its weaknesses? Has your congregation adopted it? Why, or why not? What unanswered questions do you still have? What do you most regret? What's missing, and what should not have been included?

I'm asking because I honestly want to know what others think, and because I also intend to share my own perspectives in turn, but I'd like to initiate a conversation. We're coming up on two years of using LSB at Emmaus (since the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels in 2006). That seems an appropriate juncture at which to step back and take stock of things. So, what say you?

01 August 2008

The Prayer of Thanksgiving

I was talking to a friend recently about the seemingly new Lutheran practice of inserting a "prayer of thanksgiving" between the Sanctus and the Our Father (or between the Sanctus and the Words of Institution), as can be seen, for example, in Lutheran Worship (LCMS, 1982), Lutheran Service Book (LCMS, 2006), and the brand new Christian Worship Supplement (WELS, 2008). My friend expressed his objections to this, seeing it as an ill-advised modern ecumenical concession to those who insist that a prayer at this point in the Liturgy is a necessity. I pointed out in response that the liturgical tradition of American Lutheranism included such a usage long before the advent of the modern "Liturgical Movement" with its various Dixian demands, and that another way of interpreting the appearance of such prayers in modern hymnals is to see it as a restoration of something that was previously used by American Lutherans within the memory of many who are alive today.

The Evangelical Lutheran Hymnal was published in 1908 by the Lutheran Book Concern (Columbus, Ohio), by order of the First English District of the Joint Synod of Ohio and Other States. The second part of "The Order of Morning Service," entitled The Holy Communion, includes the Preface, the Proper Preface, the Sanctus, the Exhortation, the Consecration, the Agnus Dei, the Pax, the Distribution, the Nunc Dimittis, the Thanksgiving, the Post-Communion Collect, the Benedicamus, and the Benediction.

Below you'll find the texts that appear under the heading "The Consecration," from pp. 21-22 of the 1908 Evangelical Lutheran Hymnal. You'll notice, by the way, that there is also a prayer following the Words of Institution. But the Words of Institution themselves are not embedded within a prayer. Luther D. Reed, on p. 351 of The Lutheran Liturgy (1947 revised edition), says that these Ohio Synod sacramental prayers were taken from the 1879 Liturgy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria. This 1908 hymnal, with this order of service, was not supplanted in the Ohio Synod until its 1930 merger with the Iowa and Buffalo Synods, at which time the new American Lutheran Hymnal - which removed such prayers from the Liturgy - was published. It is very likely, however, that many former Ohio Synod congregations in the new American Lutheran Church continued to use the 1908 hymnal well into the middle part of the twentieth century.

My friend was unaware of all of this. With the thought that there may be others who have a similar liturgical interest, but who likewise are unfamiliar with this tradition, I am sharing the pertinent section from the Ohio Synod liturgy here.


GLORY be to Thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, Thou almighty and everlasting Son of the Father, that by the sacrifice of Thyself upon the cross, offered up once for all, Thou didst perfect them that are sanctified, and ordain, as a memorial and seal thereof, Thy Holy Supper, in which Thou givest us Thy body to eat, and Thy blood to drink, that being in Thee, even as Thou art in us, we may have eternal life, and be raised up at the last day. Most merciful and exalted Redeemer, we humbly confess that we are not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast shown unto us, and that, by reason of our sins, we are too impure and weak worthily to receive Thy saving gifts. Sanctify us, therefore, we beseech Thee, in our bodies and souls, by Thy Holy Spirit, and thus fit and prepare us to come to Thy Supper, to the glory of Thy grace, and to our own eternal good. And in whatsoever, through weakness, we do fail and come short, in true repentance and sorrow on account of our sins, in living faith and trust in Thy merits, and in an earnest purpose to amend our sinful lives, do Thou graciously supply and grant, out of the fulness of the merits of Thy bitter sufferings and death; to the end that we, who even in this present world desire to enjoy Thee, our only comfort and, Savior, in the Holy Sacrament, may at last see Thee face to face in Thy heavenly kingdom, and dwell with Thee, and with all Thy saints, for ever and ever. Amen.

OUR FATHER, Who art in heaven; Hallowed be Thy Name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven; Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil; For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and over. Amen.

OUR LORD Jesus Christ, in the night in which He was betrayed, took bread; and when He had given thanks, He brake and gave it to His disciples, saying, Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you; this do in remembrance of Me.

AFTER the same manner, also, He took the cup, when He had supped, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you, and for many, for the remission of sins; this do, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.

PRAISE, and honor, and glory, be unto Thee, O Christ! The bread which we bless is the communion of Thy holy body, and the cup which we bless is the communion of Thy holy blood. O Thou everlasting Son of the Father, sanctify us by Thy Holy Spirit, and make us worthy partakers of Thy sacred body and blood, that we may be cleansed from sin and made one with all the members of Thy Church in heaven and on earth. Lord Jesus! Thou hast bought us: to Thee will we live, to Thee will we die, and Thine will we be forever. Amen.