Thursday, October 22, 2009

TOWARD A Theology of Worship

This afternoon, I received President Kieschnick's monthly letter to all LCMS pastors via email.  There is much to discuss in his letter, but the thing that caught my eye most was this section:
Model theological conference on worship

The 2007 Synod convention resolved "that the Commission on Worship and the Commission on Theology and Church Relations organize a model theological conference ... in order to 'build greater understanding of our theology of worship and foster further discussion of worship practices that are consistent with that theology'" (2007 Resolution 2-01). Such a conference is now set for Jan. 11-13 at Concordia Lutheran Church in Kirkwood, Mo. It will meet around the theme, "Toward a Theology of Worship."

Rev. David Johnson and Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, the executives of the two commissions organizing the conference, say that since the subject is worship, "we thought it necessary to hold it in a church rather than a hotel. Concordia has both a beautiful, traditional sanctuary with pipe organ, conducive to a traditional worship, and a separate [worship] center, accommodating to either 'traditional' or 'contemporary' worship, with projection screens and ample space for musicians."

The conference is being funded by a generous grant from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, and we thank them for it.
So, let me get this straight:  The Synod in Convention resolved to have the COW and the CTCR organize a model theological conference on worship, in order to build greater understanding of our theology of worship and foster further discussion of worship practices that are consistent with that theology, and the fulfillment of this resolution is to meet around the theme, "Toward a Theology of Worship"? 

This stuff just writes itself.  Newsflash to the COW and CTCR:

WE LUTHERANS ALREADY HAVE A THEOLOGY OF WORSHIP!   

Our Synod did not resolve to have you call a conference to move us toward a theology of worship, but to build greater understanding of the theology of worship we already believe, teach, and confess.  You can learn about that theology of worship by reading Holy Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions.  They're pretty clear on this subject.  Of course, you'll have to put all those books written by "evangelicals" and "emergents" down if you are going to come to a proper understanding of our Lutheran theology of worship.  Stop listening to non-Lutheran "consultants" and "experts" and start listening to our Lord and to our Lutheran forefathers who listened to our Lord.  We do not need to work toward a theology of worship; we already have one!   

Now, I will be accused of not giving things a chance, of being uncharitable, and stubbornly pessimistic.  I readily admit beforehand that I am guilty of those accusations.  I do not give this theological conference in January any chance of building a greater understanding of our Lutheran theology of worship.  The deck is already stacked against that happening, since, well, those attending will be working toward a theology of worship, not our theology of worship.  And, they're making it clear what kind of a theology of worship they're going to be working toward, namely a theology of worship that is "accommodating."  Concordia Kirkwood is the perfect host site for this, since it is well equipped to provide an atmosphere for this "accommodating" theology of worship to be developed.  After all, they have themselves there a beautiful sanctuary which is "conducive to a traditional worship" and also "a separate [worship] center, accommodating to either 'traditional' or 'contemporary' worship, with projection screens and ample space for the praise band musicians."

So, there you go.  There's the theology of worship those who gather in January will be working toward, one which allows for two completely different theologies of worship to meld together into a new "accommodating" theology of worship.  I guess OUR theology of worship simply doesn't cut it anymore.  We need A NEW theology of worship.  We need a theology of worship that is broad enough to allow Lutherans to worship like Lutherans and like methobapticostals and like anyone else they might want to mimic.  Never mind the fact that we Lutherans confess that "we do not abolish the Mass (Divine Service), but celebrate it with the highest reverence and religiously keep and defend it, observing the usual public ceremonies, and retaining the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other such things" (cf. AC XXIV; AP XXIV).  That's so 16th century!  We need to get with the times.  We live in an age of "blessed diversity," after all.  If we don't change our ways, we'll die.  There are people dying without Jesus out there and we had better make our worship more palatable to their "tastes," more appealing to their wants and desires, or they will never get themselves saved.  We need to adopt the theology of worship of Concordia, Kirkwood, the conference host:
Concordia Lutheran Church is a congregation that values the heritage of Christian worship received through the centuries without sacrificing the joy of our particular 21st century time and place in worship form and song. We are neither traditional nor contemporary. Instead, we use the words "celebrative and imaginative" to mark our worship life.
This is the "have your cake and eat it, too" theology of worship sweeping across our Synod today.  If you throw in a few old-timey, liturgical elements here and there, and maybe a few actual hymns, you get to do whatever else you want and still call yourselves Lutheran.  Well, isn't that special?  Lutherans have historically referred to their theology of worship as "reverent and holy," since they have historically believed (and true Lutherans still do believe) that our Holy Lord is present among us in the Divine Service.  That's still okay with this new "accommodating" theology of worship, so long as it allows for others to describe their worship as "celebrative and imaginative" or "fresh and exciting" or "powerful and dynamic" or "fun and uplifting" or "relevant and intoxicating."

Call me crazy, but this Lutheran happens to think that Lutherans should adhere to the theology of worship revealed in Holy Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions.  I am all for a theological conference that would seek to build a greater understanding of that theology of worship.  Actually, we need such conferences, since we have obviously forgotten that we already have a theology of worship and seem to think we need to develop one.  Kyrie, eleison!

4 comments:

Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

I will be among the Ohio delegation to this conference. Should be interesting.

Christopher Esget said...

I don't get those emails. I must be on a special "do-not-send" list. Fine with me - better for my blood pressure this way.

Rev. Thomas C. Messer said...

Dan,

I look forward to hearing your thoughts after the conference. Hey, maybe I'm all wet and I hope I am. I do know that there will be a lot of solid Lutherans there, so maybe the fact that we already have a theology of worship will be brought up. :)

Blessings!

Chris,

Yes, much better for your blood pressure, my friend. :)

Robert Summers Potterton, III said...

I also will be attending this conference, and anticipate these very concerns being raised as well.