Holiness vs. Casualness II
On Reformation Day, I posted a piece called Holiness vs. Casualness. It was shared on Facebook 894 times. I got a lot of feedback on it, mostly positive. But I also got a few brickbats and raspberries as well. One commentator, eschewing his real name and using an alias (“Digitalblacksmith”) wrote:
I feel low context worship is poorly represented as a strawman in this article.
As a Concordia educated, LCMS convert I want to add some light here.
Context: Romans 5, Rev 4, Matthew 28.
I can do nothing to be prepared for the Holiness of Christ our Lord. There is no ritual, no service, no work that I can do to even approach the throne in anything other than an unworthy manner.
High Context worship is works centric. It says that if you do all the right things, God will be pleased and accept you.
Low Context on the other hand says: “Come as you are, you are loved”
I mention this because articles like the above seem to be thematic in the
LCMS. Change is hard, we have to meet people where they are, it is what Christ did. The old divine service did this. People were illiterate and needed a way to worship and be fed. Liturgical service did this well, it helped the illiterate to memorize important items and take them home.
We are in a different culture now, we need to blend (I know bad word) the solid theology of the LCMS into a worship style that the unchurched can approach. The newer contemporary services are just that...NEW...they havent stood the test of time, it will take a while to hone them. But we need to be supportive, unified, and willing to being the gospel and Christs teachings to the unchurched where they are.
Only in this way can we complete the commission.
About 15 years ago I went to see my friend get ordained. I was new to the lutheran Church (non denom background) but being just out of Concordia University I was pretty theologically sound. I wanted to know what to expect from the service as it was my first ordination. So I asked some people I was waiting with. “Oh it is just vespers”...I had no clue what this meant so I asked for them to explain. They looked at me like I had just grown horns and could not explain it.
I have never felt so unwelcome in my life at a church. I wish this was an isolated incident but it is the way I feel at almost every liturgical service and today I can actually explain in detail each section of the service, its historical significance and purpose.
Look around your church, if new unchurched people arent coming weekly....you are failing as a church. Understand your culture, adapt your context, sometimes low is needed sometimes high...but witness to your culture. Christ is Holy and he still came down to us while we were unprepared. Are we better than He? Should we expect more than He demanded?
Where to begin!
Well, first of all, Mr. Smith opens with “I feel…” I’m going to interrupt right here and say that this is a bad habit, like nose-picking or not using your turn signal. A lot of young people begin their arguments with “I feel…” or “I feel like…” - which betrays the idea of argument, of presenting a case. Feelings are not premises or conclusions. Feelings cannot be debated. Our Lutheran confessions often use terms like “We believe, teach, and confess.” Our Creeds begin with “Credo” - “I believe.” Arguments can begin with “I think,” or “I surmise,” or “I believe” or “I think that…” or something like that. “I feel"…” is, by contrast, emotive. It is weak. I think we need to be willing to plant our feet firmly on the ground and make our arguments, and to use reason and principles of debate - not our “feelz” (as the kids say).
Okay, now that that’s out of the way…
Mr. Smith next cites only chapters of Scripture (no verses), without making any argument or supplying any context.
He then goes on to accuse me of using “low context worship” (sic) as a “strawman.” As Wikipedia might say, “citation needed.”
He then goes on to mischaracteristize my argument as being something along these lines: ritual and formal worship gin up one’s holiness and make one worthy to encounter Christ. Again, “citation needed.” There is nothing in my article that hints at any such thing. In fact, I pointed out that “In Holy Scripture, whenever anyone has a physical encounter with God (e.g. Adam, Moses, Job, Isaiah), the reaction to this proximity is never casualness” (emphasis added).
The way we worship is a response to God’s holiness, not the cause of our own holiness. When one is in the presence of a loud noise, one plugs one’s ears. When one is blasted by bright light, one averts one’s eyes. And in Scripture, those who are brought into the physical proximity of the living God have a physical reaction: one of recoiling from the power and righteousness, and one of gratitude for the holiness and righteousness of God that is a gift. It is the classic Law/Gospel divide. But their reaction is never tepid or ordinary.
The magi came to see the baby Jesus. They “fell down and worshiped” our blessed Lord. The word translated “worship” doesn’t imply anything casual. It has nothing to do with making unbelievers comfortable. The word προσκυνὲω (proskuneo) is a bodily reaction of physical humility and submission to one’s Lord. Etymologically, it seems to be related to the term used for a dog licking his master’s hand. It means to prostrate oneself. The act of worship did not earn favor for the magi. Rather, it was a reaction to the holiness of God, a natural bodily response to proximity to Christ. To not bow before the physical body and blood of Christ would be an act of contempt, of hubris, a shocking confession of egalitarianism with God (which our Lord Jesus Christ did not even consider “a thing to be grasped”!
Another example of proskuneo is the response of the Tenth Leper. Jesus first heals him. Only after his salvation does he then return to worship the Lord. And what does he do in response to this received holiness, this free redemption, this gift offered by the very Word of Jesus spoken in His flesh-and-blood presence? Does he ask Jesus to now entertain him with some cool guitar licks, or some wiggly dancing girls? Does he expect Jesus to put on a funny skit or somehow validate Leper Culture? What he does is proskuneo: “he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks.”
Anyone who claims that I believe, teach, or confess that God rewards liturgical practice with holiness (“High Context worship [sic] is works centric. It says that if you do all the right things, God will be pleased and accept you”) is, at best, gravely mistaken. I don’t see how any reading of what I wrote can lead any reasonable person to such a conclusion.
Maybe Mr. Smith didn’t actually read the article.
His statement that liturgy was fine in the old days, because “people were illiterate and needed a way to worship and be fed. Liturgical service did this well, it helped the illiterate to memorize important items and take them home.We are in a different culture now” is a classic example of what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery.” Liturgy was fine for the illiterates of old. It was great for thousands of years, but now, in 2018, [here blast the trumpets!] we are different! We are special! We are the most smartest and mostest highestly evolved of all humanity! So we need something different. You know, entertainment and stuff. Cuz we’re bored!
There are still illiterates in our churches today: they are called infants. And yes, they benefit from the liturgical forms and the non-verbal cues of the liturgy. And so do the professors and Ph.D.s and other highly literate people who receive the Word of God and the gifts of eternal life through this means of worship that even our Lord Jesus Christ participated in in the synagogue. Ritual action is not just for the ignorant. We still fold the flag at military funerals. We still sing “Happy Birthday” at parties. We still throw the bouquet at weddings. We still have the Seventh Inning Stretch.
But it seems that it’s only when we worship the living God when we need to abolish the liturgy or die.
Mr. Smith argues that we need to ditch the liturgy and adopt “contemporary worship” for the sake of the “unchurched” - since the liturgy is a turnoff for him and presumably for unbelievers. However, the fastest growing religion in Europe is not Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, or Protestantism. It is not Pentecostalism or Non-Denominationalism with dancing girls and rock music. Rather it is Islam.
Muslims have no “contemporary worship.” They do not see themselves as too good to engage in proskuneo and bodily worship of their false god. You see, they actually believe in their religion - even though it is untrue. They believe that there is a deity that is above them. They don’t care what the “unmosqued” think. They don’t come to the mosque to be entertained.
I think Mr. Smith makes a common mistake among moderns - especially younger folks. If the baby-boomers were the “me generation,” our millennials are the “Me! Me! Me!” generation. Contemporary worship (so-called) is really me-ocentrism, me-ology, and really, me-olatry.
If the primary purpose of Christian worship is to get “butts in the pews,” then I would agree with Mr. Smith. In fact, I have a great idea for a new and improved “contemporary” worship that will bring in the “unchurched” like there’s no tomorrow (which according to Christian eschatology, there may not be).
We should serve beer. I know that some churches have Starbucks with cup-holders in the pews, but that’s so 1998. We need beer. On tap. Good variety. We need screens. Big screens. And football. And we need girls in tee shirts and orange shorts. And wings. People love chicken wings with hot sauce. “Change is hard, we have to meet people where they are, it is what Christ did” after all. And a lot of them are, in fact, at Hooters.
Or we can be humble, acknowledge that we aren’t special, we aren’t God’s equals, and we ought not try to give him a high five.
The sin of our age is the egalitarian rebellion. This is what youth culture is. This is what feminism is. This is what the gender-movement is. It is a revolt against God’s created order, against hierarchy. It is a failure to bow before God, and instead demand that God bow before us. It is a rejection of the Lord’s chosen instruments of water and word, of wafer and wine, and instead the constant seeking of self-praise and entertainment.
Are you uncomfortable in parts of the divine service? Maybe that’s because you’re supposed to be. Atheists have told me over the years that the most repugnant thing in the liturgy is the part when everyone kneels and refers to themselves as “poor, miserable sinners.” The former LCMS Christian turned apostate Joyce Meyer mocked that part of our liturgy when she said, “All I was ever taught to say was ‘I, a poor, miserable sinner.’ I am not poor, I am not miserable and I am not a sinner. That is a lie from the pit of hell.” (Joyce Meyer, From the Cross to the Throne).
Joyce doesn’t like our liturgy either. And she has the crowds to back her up. She has indeed moved with the times and teaches in such a way to appeal to our “different culture.”
As far as anecdotes go, they go both ways: people who leave Lutheranism (like Joyce Mayer) to seek greener pastures of non-liturgical forms, but also people like me, who as a 17-year old kid, a long-haired motorcycle-riding metal-head, who came to Lutheran worship resonating with that authenticity which transcended our vacuous pop-culture and even transcends the limitations of space and time itself, bringing us to heaven and filling us with the desire to bow low in gratitude for what Jesus continues to do for us.