Sunday, September 27, 2009

Football is Football, and the Divine Service is the Divine Service

I'm watching the Minnesota Vikings play football against the San Francisco 49ers right now. I would be watching the Lions-Redskins game, but it's blacked out, due to the fact that the Lions are at home and failed to sell out. But, that's besides the point.  The point is that I'm watching a football game.  I know it's a football game.  There are football players.  There is a football.  There are referees and coaches.  There is a play-by-play announcer and color commentator calling the game.  It's a football game, no doubt about it.

But, what if the refs, or the coaches, or the players, or the announcers declared that what I am witnessing is not a football game at all?  What if they told me that I am watching a baseball game?  That would be ridiculous, wouldn't it?  I mean, I know a football game when I see one.  So do you.  Football is football.  If the refs, coaches, players, and announcers claim that they're participating in a baseball game, they would simply be wrong.  They're participating in football, not baseball, as everyone can see.

Of course, I doubt very seriously that the refs, coaches, players, and announcers would claim to be participating in a baseball game.  They know it's football every bit as much as I do, and you do.  To claim otherwise would be utterly absurd.

It would be like those Lutherans who claim that their "contemporary praise worship" is equivalent to the Lutheran Divine Service.  No, it's not.  It is something completely different, as different as football is from baseball.  I know the Divine Service when I see it.  It is not that the Divine Service looks exactly the same everywhere.  There are differences here and there, minor variations in rubrics and ceremonies, but it's the same Divine Service.  The sport of football has many different teams, who wear different uniforms, and call different plays, etc., but they're all playing the same game.  They use the same equipment.  Likewise, the Lutheran Divine Service.  Some congregations chant, others speak; some pastors elevate and genuflect, others bow or don't do any action in those places; some pastors wear chasubles, others wear alb and stole; some congregations use incense, others don't; some congregations employ large choirs to lead the singing, others have small choirs or no choir at all, and so on.  But, they're all playing the same game (I know how bad that sounds, since the Divine Service is certainly no game, but you get my point). 

The common thread among those Lutherans who celebrate the Divine Service is the liturgy.  Following the football analogy, the liturgy is like the rule book.  We may "play the game" a little differently, but the liturgy keeps us playing the same "game."  And, just like with the rules of football, which have changed slightly from time to time, there have been alterations made to the liturgy from time to time.  But, the basic structure remains the same, and has been in place for a very long time.  In the same way that the changes to the NFL rule book have not altered the game in any significant way, so the changes in the liturgy have not altered the structure in any significant way.  In other words, if you watch ESPN Classic and see an NFL game from the 1960s, you'll recognize that it's the game of football being played, just like if you attended the Divine Service at any time throughout history, you would know what you're attending.  

Another common thread among those Lutherans who celebrate the Divine Service is a common confession of the faith and a shared theology of worship.  The Lutheran Divine Service is Christ-centered and Cross-focused.  It is reverent.  It is holy.  It is other-worldly.  It doesn't look like the world.  It looks like the Church.  It has no interest in relevance (as that term is often used in describing "worship" today) or political correctness.  It is focused on the Lord and His Gifts.  It is built upon the belief and confession that Christ is there present with those gathered around Word and Sacrament; that Christ is REALLY there.  In the Lutheran Divine Service, we are in the Lord's House, not our house.  We are the guests, He is the host.  We come to receive that which He desires to give.  In response to the Gifts we receive, we offer Him our thanks and praise.  The movement in the Lutheran Divine Service is from our Lord to us, not the other way around. 

All of this is vividly clear.  The Lutheran Divine Service is recognizable.  It can't be confused with other "styles" of "worship."  There is no debating this.   

And yet, amazingly, there are many so-called Lutherans who do wish to debate this.  They follow the "methods" and "styles" of other Christians, creating a "worship experience" that is decidedly un-Lutheran, and absurdly make the claim that it's the Divine Service they're celebrating.  Where they get their ideas for "worship" is no secret.  Visit your local Christian bookstore, watch Christian television (not EWTN, of course!), and listen to Christian radio (steer clear of the likes of "Issues, Etc.", of course!), and you will witness what is driving their "worship."  They use the "methods," "styles," and "songs" of non-Lutherans, who do not share a common confession of the faith or theology of worship with Lutherans.  "Worship" for these other Christians is something they do.  Jesus is not there in their "worship."  He is "up there" in heaven and "worship" for them is an exercise of "giving their all" for Jesus, the idea being that the louder they are, the more fervent they are, the more emotional they are, the better chance their "worship" has of reaching Jesus "up there."  The Lord and His Gifts are not their focus, which is why they have no problem pushing the altar to the side, or removing it altogether, to make room for the "praise band."  They turn the Lord's House into a house of entertainment.  And, they don't apologize for doing so.  They believe differently than we do.  Their theology is not our theology; it is as different as football is from baseball.  They are most certainly not playing the same "game" as we Lutherans are playing!

Thus, it is not only wrong for those who claim to be Lutheran to mimic the practices of those who do not believe as we Lutherans believe and then claim to be celebrating the Divine Service, it is, to put it bluntly, absurd - just as absurd as trying to convince me that I'm watching a baseball game when the TV is tuned to a football game.  I know football when I see it.  And, I know the Lutheran Divine Service when I see it.  Would that those who play a different "game" just be honest and admit it.  That would be oh so refreshing.  As it is, we'll have to continue to endure the absurdity of listening to those who play a different "game" trying to convince us that it's the same "game" we're playing.

In sum (for those of you who are visual learners), this:

is not the same as this:

or this:

That really should go without saying, shouldn't it? 


Jon Bakker said...

Great post! We were watching the same football game, but my thoughts were nowhere near as profound as yours. :-)

It is a great comparison, though - 'style' and substance are wed together in worship, and the music is just as much the message as is the Word of God.

You can call an Indycar a bicycle, but nobody is going to fill up the gas tank and ride it in the tour de France. These are totally different things with different purposes. Sure, both have wheels, both race on the circuit, and both get you from point A to point B, but that doesn't mean they're interchangeable. Trying to equate the Lutheran Divine Service with anything else is like trying to win the Indy 500 on a ten-speed.

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

Thanks, Jon.

meggers said...

Thanks for visual aids for comparison purposes. I like pictures when I read. :)