Gottesdienst or Geldings in the Real World?
One of the things that I like about the Gottesdienst Crowd is that we are not advocates for the liturgy because of personal taste or effete sensibilities, or an intellectual devotion to historical marginalia. Pastors and laypeople involved in the life of the church understand that as the blood of Christ is the lifeblood of the Church, Sunday morning Divine Services are the vessels that carry the blood of the Lamb to us.
Hence our name Gottesdienst.
Worship is firmly within the realm of practical theology, and this is attested to by Christians from every walk of life. In our neo-Gnostic entertainment-driven culture, it is little wonder that there is an almost irresistible pull towards abandoning our liturgical worship for something more worldly - and to justify it in many ways. But the bottom line is that Sunday worship is pastoral care, for it is how Christ comes to us in Word and Sacrament, delivering forgiveness, life, and salvation. And what we do in the chancel matters to the lives of the men and women and children that we serve as they live out the Christian life in the real world.
And this is confessed by people in many and various walks of life within the Church.
On May 22, church musician Jonathan A. Aigner wrote a piece on Patheos called “I’m Through Using the Contemporary and Traditional Worship Labels.” I don’t believe that Mr. Aigner is a Lutheran, but his critique of what has come to be known as “contemporary” worship - and even the use of the labels “contemporary” and “traditional” to describe this divide - is well-articulated, and he concludes with a Gottesdienst-worthy crescendo:
“Worship is not about taste. It’s not about preference. It’s not about finding a place that fits just right. And it’s not about creating a perceived emotional connection with God through music. Liturgy is the way the church worships. Pop music, created for solo performances or recordings, has no legitimate place in liturgy, so let’s stop using nomenclature that legitimizes it. While we’re at it, let’s get rid of the worship smorgasbord completely. Let’s say goodbye to traditional and contemporary worship. Let’s go back to liturgy.”
On the same day (May 22 4:03pm), the author posted a link to his article on an active (and open) Facebook group called “I’m Fed Up With Bad Church Music,” where vigorous discussion ensued.
Also on the “Bad Church Music” group, and in fact just a couple days (May 19, 7:46 pm) before Jonathan Aigner’s post, another group member, a layman (I don’t believe that he is a Lutheran either) named Philip Harrison, had written the following gut-wrenching words:
“At church today every single song the “praise band” performed was a dreamy, effeminate, Jesus-is-my-boyfriend song. With very few word changes each one could have been written by a teenage girl to her sweetheart (some with no changes at all). And full-grown men singing this crap. Not one song that extolled God’s glory and majesty and power in any kind of biblical fashion. Sorry, just venting...”
When I shared these on my own personal Facebook page, a Lutheran layman named Douglas Skinner explained eloquently why worship style is more than just a matter of taste, but rather how it is intrinsically tied to our Lutheran confession and to how Jesus comes to us in the real world. He says this from the point of view of a layman and a convert:
“I'm a convert to Christianity who came to the church for sanctuary--sanctuary from the world. So sanctity and reverence is what I want to experience in the sanctuary. I want solemnity. I want peace. I don't want gyrations, shouting, hips swagging to and fro. I want to be humble and see humility in those around me. Saint Paul said he was slave to Christ so I want to see obeisance. I want to experience the presence of God. I want the imagery to remind me of Christ's sacrifice on the cross and the seminal events in the bible. I don't want stage plays on the alter. I want to hear Christ's speak to me. I want the smells to be different than those on the outside. I want to be fed the body of Christ. Right now almost none of these things are ‘contemporary’ in our adolescent, exhibitionist culture which scoffs at and even seeks to erase the past from memory. Some might even call them atavistic. Maybe ‘traditional’ is a word with many construances but, whatever the term, I don't want a ‘liturgy’ that doesn't embody the things I mentioned above. For me, that liturgy is embodied in the ancient Lutheran Masses that themselves resembled the Roman Masses they were taken from.”
Our forbears in the Lutheran tradition - and their forbears in the western tradition - understood the value of reverent, consistent, liturgical worship. Every generation has had its entertainment - be it sitting around with the elders listening to stories and family lore, reading novels and poetry, watching plays, and later movies, or even the development of modern popular music.
Entertainment certainly existed in the sixteenth century, and as other reforming groups moved from a sacramental type of worship to an informational context, our Lutheran forbears (who were being lumped in with other reform movements) were forced to confess what kind of worship is compatible with the Lutheran confession being put forward. And in fact, the confessors vigorously and persistently included worship style within the Lutheran confessions themselves - most explicitly in Article 24 of both the Augsburg Confession and the Apology - which ought to be enough to quash the oft-repeated canard that as long as we hold the same intellectual doctrine, it’s anything-goes on Sunday morning in the real world.
In the spirit of economist Murray Rothbard’s provocative assertion that egalitarianism is a “revolt against nature,” this worship-style egalitarianism is a revolt against our nature as Lutherans as articulated in our confessions. And this should be of concern, as our confessions, our symbols, are not mere window dressing, but rather a correct exposition of the very word of God to which we all are committed by voluntary vow (as pastors, lay church workers, and congregations) to be the "normed norm” of our preaching, teaching, and confession of Jesus Christ.
The wisdom of our fathers in the faith, Christian intellectuals - like Luther and Melanchthon - who actually lived in the real world instead of the ivory tower - speaks clearly to the non-negotiability of worship style and practice. Turning Sunday morning into a circus or re-enactment of a romantic comedy in deference to our insatiable desire to be entertained is a non-starter to the Lutheran - not out of legalism, personal preference, or theological wonkery, but rather because the Mass, the Gottesdienst, celebrated with reverence, is part and parcel of the Christian life.
One of the benefits of social media is the ability for others to in turn add to the dialogue.
In response, The Rev. Stephen Brummet (LCMS pastor) weighed in with a video (that I don’t know how I missed), a presentation by the Rev. Jeff Hemmer, LCMS pastor and author of Man Up!: The Quest for Masculinity (CPH), entitled: “The New Castrati: Contemporary Worship & the Triumph of Effeminacy.” This presentation is not to be missed. Here is the link:
Our congregations, pastors, district presidents, synod president and candidates for synod president, our Concordia campus pastors and presidents and professors, our high school and grade school teachers, and indeed every institution within our synod - should be encouraged to move toward the abolition of trendy, entertainment-based worship, and intentionally and deliberately (albeit lovingly and with due catechetical diligence) move back toward the authenticity and wisdom, the reverence and potency, of our confession and of our fathers in the faith by restoring proper, authentic, and reverent liturgical forms.
People are starving for it!
The spiritual lives of our parishioners - especially our fathers who are crucial for the generational survival of the faith - are at stake. Our pastors are themselves men, and should understand very well the effect that this this emasculating and effeminate disfiguration of the Christian faith and life that is so-called “contemporary worship” has on our families.
And especially those leaders in our church body who claim to be missional and concerned with numerical declines - if you keep leading your worship services like a castrato so that Sunday morning sounds like a lurid Harlequin Romance novel or a pop concert for teenage girls - don’t be surprised when the dads check out, followed by their sons and daughters who will leave as well. This is a trend that is already well underway.
Why don’t we trust our confessions instead of the popular culture?
For just as day follows night, castrati cannot “be fruitful and multiply.”
Once again we would be wise to heed the advice of the Rev. Dr. Kenneth Korby: “God ordains men. Be one.”