Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ceremonies DO teach!

I received an email yesterday from an anonymous person who challenged the assertion I made in an earlier post that "ceremonies teach; practice informs."  Part of that email read:
The problem with you guys who continually bash contemporary worship forms is that you wrongly place your prefferred [sic] style of worship on a pedistal [sic] instead of the Word of God.  It is not ceremonies or practices which teach, but the Word.  You would think that Lutherans would know that!!!! . . . It does not matter HOW we worship, so long as we know WHO we're worshipping [sic]!!!  Jesus could not give a care less whether we use contemporary praise worship styles or old-fashion liturgys [sic].  He is not up there in heaven keeping a list to make sure that we get all of the proper liturgy elements in during our worship!!!  Maybe you guys should spend more time teaching people about Jesus than protecting your beliefs about worship styles and such things!  Maybe you should read the bible a little more so that you could realize the truth that it doesn't matter how we worship as long as we present the same Gospel to the Christ-followers who come!!!  We TEACH by THAT GOSPEL not by our ceremonies and practices!!!
I was recently similarly challenged in an online forum and much of the response I include below is based on my response to that earlier challenge: 

Ceremonies do teach.  Practice does inform.  That's why we Lutherans confess:  "For ceremonies are needed for this reason alone, that the uneducated be taught what they need to know about Christ" (AC XXIV:3).  That ceremonies and practices teach is a fact that can be illustrated with a plethora of examples.  The idea that the same teaching will be conveyed if we use the same texts but different ceremonies is simply wrong.  I think what you are trying to say is that the Word alone creates, and sustains, faith.  On that we would agree.  But, that such is true does not mean that ceremonies are neutral.  How the Service is conducted plays a vital role in the deliverance of the saving Word.  The ceremonies we employ are interpretive of that saving Word.  What we believe about that Word is revealed by how we deliver that Word.  That does not mean that we must follow some specific list of liturgical elements in order for that Word to be effective, as if we have to find the "magic formula" to allow the Word to do its work.  It just means that the ceremonies with which we surround and deliver that Word speak volumes about what we believe about that Word.  

Methobapticosals do not worship like we do, because they do not believe what we believe.  The ceremonies with which they surround and deliver the Word differ greatly from our ceremonies for that reason.  They use different words and actions to deliver that Word.  Those words and actions are interpretive of the Word and do teach the people, whether you want to believe it or not, what is to be believed about that Word.  Their ceremonies teach; their practice informs.

What I have been arguing, and will continue to argue, is that Lutherans who employ methobapticostal ceremonies (practices), or Americanized Evangelical or Emergent, "styles of worship" are teaching people to believe something contrary to what we Lutherans believe, teach, and confess about the Word.  This doesn't mean that they're going to Hell because they refuse to follow the correct list of liturgical elements.  It just means that they're not being faithful to what we Lutherans believe, teach, and confess, and the people they serve are most definitely being taught to believe contrary to what we Lutherans believe.

Furthermore, none of us "guys" who defend the historic liturgy do so because we desire to put the liturgy on a pedestal above the Word, but rather because we recognize that the historic liturgy and its ceremonies best confess what we believe about the Word, and provide a time-tested, Christ-centered, Cross-focused vehicle by which that Word is delivered to the faithful.  The historic liturgy and its ceremonies are centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, dripping with His Holy and Precious Blood which atoned for the sin of the world.  To contend that we must distinguish the Word from the historic liturgy is to misunderstand what the historic liturgy is, for what is it if not the very Word of God?

In addition, none of us "guys" who defend the historic liturgy contend that every "i" must be dotted and every "t" must be crossed in the exact same manner in the Divine Service.  This is a false charge which is unfortunately, and all too often, hurled against us, and has no basis in reality.  There is great freedom within our ceremonies.  But, that freedom is not limitless.  The Lutheran definition of adiaphora is neither "indifferent matters" nor "anything goes."  When we replace our ceremonies with the ceremonies of those who do not believe, teach, and confess as we do, we have gone beyond the limits our freedom in ceremonies allows us to go. 

Ceremonies do teach; practice does inform.  It doesn't matter whether you believe this or not; it is most certainly true.  And, because it is true, Jesus does care HOW we worship.  He wants our focus on Him, not on ourselves, for He comes into our midst during the Divine Service to serve us with His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation through His Holy Word and Sacraments.  Ceremonies and practices that teach people to focus on anything other than the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world are simply not in line with the confession of the faith and theology of worship of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, to which we Lutherans adhere.


William Weedon said...

What a fine rejoinder! Very helpful. Thank you.

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

Thanks, Pr. Weedon.

my3sons said...

Awesome post, Pastor Messer! Thank you!