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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Kurt Marquart's "Liturgical Commonplaces"

by Larry Beane

Lutheran Blogger Wild Boar of the Forest has posted a link to this prescient October 1978 article (CTQ 42:4) by the sainted Rev. Prof. Kurt Marquart called "Liturgical Commonplaces."

The article is worth a fresh read, especially now that 31 years have passed, and we have been through two new hymnals since the article was written. It is classic Marquart: scholarly without being pedantic, deep without being ponderous, witty without being flippant.

On a personal level, Prof. Marquart was one of my favorite professors during my sojourn as a seminarian at Concordia Theological Seminary (2000-2004). It was a privilege to study the whole of the Book of Concord with him. I also took other classes with Prof. Marquart, including an elective on Lutheran Worship, and another on Apologetics. I found every moment in Prof. Marquart's classroom to be edifying.

He is also the first Lutheran pastor that I ever saw genuflect at an altar (which was his own parish church, Redeemer - Fort Wayne). He was a tireless defender of the traditional liturgy, and was fond of relating the account of how Russia became a Christian nation, with the Grand Duke's envoys being so impressed by the Greek liturgy that they could no longer tell whether they were in heaven or on earth. Prof. Marquart often mused about what their reaction would be today in many LCMS churches.

But what stood out most was Prof. Marquart's kindness, gentility, and compassion, his never being too busy or proud to chat with lowly students (in a half-dozen different languages). He was the type of Christian who would be completely and equally at ease in a palace, a parliament, or a Pizza Hut.

Anyway, we Lutherans don't believe in eulogies, and Prof. Marquart would likely tell me to stop singing his praises at this point and focus on the Lord, the Gospel, and the Holy Word and Sacraments, so I will.

Here are a few salient quotes from the article "Liturgical Commonplaces":
"'Hearing the Word of God' was once a weighty phrase, corresponding to an awesome reality. Today, in the thinking of many, the whole thing can be taken care of without inconvenience or loss of time, if need be, by tuning in to the 'Lutheran Hour' while devoutly chewing Kentucky Fried Chicken on the way to Six Flags!"

"The notion of 'worship' in popular Protestanism does not seem to suggest anything so formal as a church service. It is more likely to be associated with rousing choruses of 'How Great Thou Art,' either at a Billy Graham rally or in a rugged setting out of doors, preferably round a campfire, holding hands. Mawkish gimmickry of various kinds is marketed as making for "effective" worship. Church services themselves, however, are seen as rather drab and dreary on the whole . They tend to be viewed not as banquets, but as menu-reading sessions."

"Repelled by this bloodless, Law-oriented, moralizing religiousity, multitudes seek solace in the murkiest, mumbo-jumbo and readily fall prey even to celluloid absurdities."

"Lutheran understanding of worship can still be aborted by means of a facile doctrinaire schematism which thinks rather abstractly of 'Means of Grace' or 'Word and Sacraments,' rather than concretely of Baptism, preaching, absolution, and Eucharist."

"If the Lutheran Church is serious about representing, not sectarian whims, but the pure Gospel of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ, then she cannot in principle wish to squeeze the devotion of Zulus and Spaniards, Chinese and Americans, Brazilians and New Zealanders, all into one narrow sixteenth century Saxon groove.... Here and now we must concentrate not on liturgies in general, or on some pseudo-cosmopolitan hotchpotch, but on a form or forms suitable to an English-speaking, specifically North American, environment."

"Granted the substance, then, form is relatively indifferent. But only relatively. 'Surely,' asks C.S. Lewis, 'the more fully one believes that a strictly supernatural event takes place, the less one can attach any great importance to the dress, gestures, and position of the priest?'. The argument holds only for a choice among equally acceptable alternatives. For surely nobody would care to complete C.S. Lewis' sentence like this: 'The more one fully believes that a strictly supernatural event takes place, the less one can attach any great importance to whether the celebrant is dressed in jeans or smokes cigarettes at the altar.'"

"It is indeed, an adiaphoron whther the Introit is spoken or chanted. It does not follow, however, that the Introit may, therefore, be spoken or chanted indifferently, negligently, or perfuntorily. That can never be an adiaphoron."

"A traditionalist Roman Catholic observed very perceptively of the post-Vatican II liturgical changes that a doctrine like the Real Presence can be materially altered and even surrendered without any explicit pronouncement, simply by a more permissive ceremonial (e.g. heedlessly dropping particles of consecrated bread to the ground)."

"To plead for mercy before a human court, for instance, while remaining seated, hands in pockets, and chewing gum, would be insufferable. It seems even more incongruous for a clergyman to sit down comfortably during the Kyrie or the Gloria in Excelsis, legs crossed so as to give maximum exposure to canary-colored socks, and gaze into the congregation to see who is there."

"The idea, for instance, that the Service should be 'meaningful,' that is, clear and obvious to any casual visitor who might pop in from the street, is short-sightedly pragmatic. A 'service' tailored to such a misguided ideal would comprise a melange of threadbare banalities, which even the casual visitor is likely to find unbearable after the third time - not to speak of the faithful who attend regularly for threescore years and ten."

"[Preachers ] must constantly build and reinforce a soundly, uncompromisingly Christian perspective. Preaching is this sort of spiritual battle for men's minds and souls. It is not an anemic recitation of pat formulas and cliches. That is merely sermonizing. Preaching is the ever-fresh exposition and application of God's living Word for today."

"If the liturgy is boring to children it is usually because the parents do not find it very interesting either. If children saw adults treating the Sunday Service as the most important activity of their lives, they would respect it too, and would never dream of treating it as a pop-event, to be tinkered with by every Tom, Dick, and Harry. A church which has won the conscientious loyalty of parents - particularly fathers (Eph. 3:15; 6:4)! - will have the devotion of their children too. But a church which abjectly capitulates to the whims and tastes of adolescents will have, and deserve, neither."
These are just a few gems plucked from their setting. I would urge all to read the piece in its entirety.

The article is chock full of Scriptural references, citations from the Lutheran confessions, and narrations of historical precedent in the Church - presented in a scholarly, yet almost conversational delivery that is anything but dry. It is as relevant today as it was three decades ago. Prof. Marquart will often challenge you to dig deeper theologically, will always make you think, and will occasionally make you chuckle out loud.

Once again, the link is right here for download. Coffee not included.