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Lutheran Worship: Old School … Too Roman Catholic? Thoughts on Lutheranism and Liturgy

September 24th, 2007
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The first president of the Missouri Synod worked long and
hard to restore a common historic liturgy to the church when so many churches
were following their own devices. C. F. W. Walther’s efforts received some
negative feedback. He responded in a publication that he edited for many years:
Der Lutheraner, as in this example,
translated from the July 19, 1853, issue, volume 9, number 24, page 163.

Whenever the divine service once again follows the old
Evangelical-Lutheran agendas (or church books), it seems that many raise a
great cry that it is "Roman Catholic": "Roman Catholic"
when the pastor chants "The Lord be with you" and the congregation
responds by chanting "and with thy spirit"; "Roman
Catholic" when the pastor chants the collect and the blessing and the
people respond with a chanted "Amen." Even the simplest Christian can respond to this outcry:
"Prove to me that this chanting is contrary to the Word of God, then I too
will call it `Roman Catholic’ and have nothing more to do with it. However, you
cannot prove this to me." If you insist upon calling every element in the divine
service "Romish" that has been used by the Roman Catholic Church, it
must follow that the reading of the Epistle and Gospel is also
"Romish." Indeed, it is mischief to sing or preach in church, for the
Roman Church has done this also . . .Those who cry out should remember that the Roman Catholic
Church possesses every beautiful song of the old orthodox church. The chants
and antiphons and responses were brought into the church long before the false
teachings of Rome crept in. This Christian Church since the beginning, even in
the Old Testament, has derived great joy from chanting… For more than 1700
years orthodox Christians have participated joyfully in the divine service.
Should we, today, carry on by saying that such joyful participation is
"Roman Catholic"? God forbid! Therefore, as we continue to hold and to restore our
wonderful divine services in places where they have been forgotten, let us
boldly confess that our worship forms do not tie us with the modern sects or
with the church of Rome; rather, they join us to the one, holy Christian Church
that is as old as the world and is built on the foundation of the apostles and

Here are a number of pictures of paintings of the historic Lutheran worship service, also known as the Gottesdienst, Divine Service, following the pictures are comments on Lutheranism and liturgy. Here is the page where I found them. Here are the images. Sorry for the poor quality, but it just the best I could do given the originals provided at the web site in Germany.

Lutheran Divine Service in Hamburg


Lutheran Divine Service in Muhlberg/Elbe

Lutheran Divine Service in Gorlitz


Lutheran Divine Service in Salzhemmendorf

Lutheran Divine Service. Location not known.
From the book: Historische Bilder zum Evangelisch-Lutherischen Gottensdienst


More thoughts from C.F.W. Walther:

"We know and firmly hold that the character, the soul of Lutheranism,
is not found in outward observances but in the pure doctrine. If a
congregation had the most beautiful ceremonies in the very best
order, but did not have the pure doctrine, it would be anything but
Lutheran. We have from the beginning spoken earnestly of good
ceremonies, not as though the important thing were outward forms, but
rather to make use of our liberty in these things. For true Lutherans
know that although one does not have to have these things (because
there is no divine command to have them), one may nevertheless have
them because good ceremonies are lovely and beautiful and are not
forbidden in the Word of God. Therefore the Lutheran church has not
abolished "outward ornaments, candles, altar cloths, statues and
similar ornaments," [AP XXIV] but has left them free. The sects
proceeded differently because they did not know how to distinguish
between what is commanded, forbidden, and left free in the Word of
God. We remind only of the mad actions of Carlstadt and of his
adherents and followers in Germany and in Switzerland. We on our part
have retained the ceremonies and church ornaments in order to prove
by our actions that we have a correct understanding of Christian
liberty, and know how to conduct ourselves in things which are
neither commanded nor forbidden by God.

We refuse to be guided by those who are offended by our church
customs. We adhere to them all the more firmly when someone wants to
cause us to have a guilty conscience on account of them. The Roman
antichristendom enslaves poor consciences by imposing human
ordinances on them with the command: "You must keep such and such a
thing!"; the sects enslave consciences by forbidding and branding as
sin what God has left free. Unfortunately, also many of our Lutheran
Christians are still without a true understanding of their liberty.
This is demonstrated by their aversion to ceremonies.

It is truly distressing that many of our fellow Christians find the
difference between Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism in outward
things. It is a pity and dreadful cowardice when a person sacrifices
the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American
denominations just so they won’t accuse us of being Roman Catholic!
Indeed! Am I to be afraid of a Methodist, who perverts the saving
Word, or be ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather
rejoice that they can tell by our ceremonies that I do  not belong to

  It is too bad that such entirely different ceremonies prevail in our
Synod, and that no liturgy at all has yet been introduced in many
congregations. The prejudice especially against the responsive
chanting of pastor and congregations is of course still very great
with many people — this does not, however, alter the fact that it is
very foolish. The pious church father Augustine said, "Qui cantat,
bis orat–he who sings prays twice."

This finds its application also in the matter of the liturgy. Why
should congregations or individuals in the congregation want to
retain their prejudices? How foolish that would be! For first of all
it is clear from the words of St. Paul (1 Cor. 14:16) that the
congregations of his time had a similar custom. It has been the
custom in the Lutheran Church for 250 years. It creates a solemn
impression on the Christian mind when one is reminded by the
solemnity of the divine service that one is in the house of God, in
childlike love to their heavenly Father, also give expression to
their joy in such a lovely manner.

We are not insisting that there be uniformity in perception or
feeling or taste among all believing Christians-neither dare anyone
demand that all be minded as he. Nevertheless, it remains true that
the Lutheran liturgy distinguishes Lutheran worship from the worship
of other churches to such an extent that the houses of worship of the
latter look like lecture halls in which the hearers are merely
addressed or instructed, while our churches are in truth houses of
prayer in which Christians serve the great God publicly before the

Uniformity of ceremonies (perhaps according to the Saxon Church order
published by the Synod, which is the simplest among the many Lutheran
church orders) would be highly desirable because of its usefulness. A
poor slave of the pope finds one and same form of service, no matter
where he goes, by which he at once recognizes his church.

With us it is different. Whoever comes from Germany without a true
understanding of the doctrine often has to look for his church for a
long time, and many have already been lost to our church because of
this search. How different it would be if the entire Lutheran church
had a uniform form of worship! This would, of course, first of all
yield only an external advantage, however, one which is by no means
unimportant. Has not many a Lutheran  already kept his distance from
the sects because he saw at the Lord’s Supper they broke the bread
instead of distributing wafters?

The objection:  "What would be the use of uniformity of ceremonies?"
was answered with the counter question, "What is the use of a flag on
the battlefield? Even though a soldier cannot defeat the enemy with
it, he nevertheless sees by the flag where he belongs. We ought not
to refuse to walk in the footsteps of our fathers. They were so far
removed from being ashamed of the good ceremonies that they publicly
confess in the passage quoted: "It is not true that we do away with
all such external ornaments"

(C.F.W. Walther, Explanation of Thesis XVIII, D, Adiaphora, of the book The
True Visible Church, delivered at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in
Indianapolis, Indiana, Beginning August 9, 1871, at the 16th Central
District Convention, translated by Fred Kramer, printed in Essays for
the Church [CPH: 1992], I:193-194).

And another commentary on historic Lutheran worship (source):

A notion of the extent to which the Lutheran Church retained and purified
olden ceremonies may be got from the following description of its usages
so late as the eighteenth century ([Rudolf] Rocholl, Gesch. d. ev.
Kirche in Deutschland
, 300):

According to the Brunswick Agenda of Duke Augustus,
1657, the pastors went to the altar clad in alb, chasuble, and mass
vestments. Sacristans and elders held a fair cloth before the altar
during the administration, that no particle of the consecrated Elements
should fall to the ground. The altar was adorned with costly stuffs,
with lights and fresh flowers. “I would,” cries [Christian] Scriver,
“that one could make the whole church, and especially the altar, look
like a little Heaven.” Until the nineteenth century the ministers at
St. Sebald in Nuremberg wore chasubles at the administration of the
Holy Supper. The alb was generally worn over the Talar, even in the
sermon. [Valerius] Herberger calls it his natural Säetuch [seed-cloth],
from which he scatters the seed of the Divine Word. The alb was worn
also in the Westphalian cities. At Closter-Lüne in 1608 the minister
wore a garment of yellow gauze, and over it a chasuble on which was
worked in needlework a “Passion.” The inmates and abbesses, like
Dorothea von Medine, were seen in the costume of the Benedictines. The
“Lutheran monks” of Laccuna until 1631 wore the white gown and black
scapular of the Cistercian order. Still later they sang the Latin
Hours. The beneficiaries of the Augustinian Stift at Tübingen wore the
black cowl until 1750. The churches stood open all day. When the
Nuremberg Council ordered that they should be closed except at the
hours of service, it aroused such an uproar in the city that the
council had to yield. In 1619 all the churches in the Archbishopric of
Magdeburg were strictly charged to pray the Litany. In Magdeburg itself
there were in 1692 four Readers, two for
  the Epistle, two for the Gospel. The Nicene Creed was intoned by a Deacon in Latin.
  Then the sermon and general prayer having been said, the Deacon with two
  Readers and two Vicars, clad in Mass garment and gowns, went in procession
  to the altar, bearing the Cup, the Bread, and what pertained to the preparation
  for the Holy Supper, and the Cüster [Verger] took a silver censer
  with glowing coals and incense, and incensed them, while another (the    Citharmeister?)
  clothed and arranged the altar, lit two wax candles, and placed on it two
  books bound in red velvet and silver containing the Latin Epistles and Gospels
  set to notes, and on festivals set on the altar also a silver or golden
  crucifix, according to the order of George of Anhalt in 1542. The Preface and    Sanctus were in Latin. After
  the Preface the communicants were summoned into the choir by a bell hanging
  there. The Nuremberg Officium Sacrum (1664) bids all the ministers
  be present in their stalls, in white chorrocken, standing or sitting, to
  sing after the Frühmesse [Morning Mass], “Lord, keep us steadfast.”
  The minister said his prayer kneeling with his face to the altar, with
  a deacon kneeling on either side. He arranged the wafers on the paten in
  piles of ten, like the shewbread, while the Introit and Kyrie
were sung. The responses by the choir were in Latin. Up to 1690 the
Latin service was still said at St. Sebald’s and St. Lawrence’s.
Throughout this (eighteenth) century we find daily Matins and Vespers,
with the singing of German psalms. There were sermons on weekdays.
There were no churches in which they did not kneel in confession and at
the Consecration of the Elements.

These ceremonies yielded finally to the attacks of the Reformed and the
influence of Rationalism. In our own age we feel an increased respect
for the dignified worship of the Reformers.

(Edward T. Horn, “Ceremonies in the Lutheran Church,” in The
Lutheran Cyclopedia
[Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899], p. 83.)

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  1. wcwirla
    September 23rd, 2007 at 09:16 | #1

    This is very cool! What’s with those funky vestments? And where is the praise band?

  2. William Weedon
    September 23rd, 2007 at 16:31 | #2

    What a hypoeuro Lutheran! No wonder we like you.

  3. September 23rd, 2007 at 19:48 | #3


  4. Jennifer
    September 23rd, 2007 at 20:31 | #4

    Interesting. I don’t object to liturgy because it makes me think of Rome. I personally don’t care for ritual, ceremony and tradition. (*gasp* Don’t hurt me!!) To me it all seems SO outward and stale and repitious. For a while now, I’ve been trying to make my self like and desire the high-church experience, but I just don’t. I’ve found some old-fashioned-ish LCMSs (compared to my megachurch-LCMS), and I just found out about zion detroit and I want to visit once so I can see what all the buzz is about. I know I want to find a place that gets into doctrine moreso that light-hearted life-application messages… but gawd I hate organ music. *ducks*

  5. Jeff
    September 23rd, 2007 at 21:45 | #5

    It is the Lutheran commitment to the classical expression of the faith: Word and Sacrament that drew me (along with the Confessions). Lutheran worship at its best is evangelical and catholic. I cannot see a reason to be in any other tradition. My church celebrates the reformed Mass each Sunday with orthodox preaching. I love it. Thanks be to God.

  6. Greg
    September 24th, 2007 at 09:06 | #6

    Walther’s argument for the liturgy presupposes that the use of the liturgy is a matter of Christian liberty. Some people today in arguing for the liturgy seem to be suggesting that the liturgy is not audiaphora. Does this represent a theological shift?

  7. John Frahm
    September 24th, 2007 at 17:52 | #7

    A common mistake:
    The Lutheran Confessions say some ceremonies are adiaphora (neither commanded nor forbidden – middle things).
    Therefore “liturgy” is adiaphora.
    That is an incorrect assertion.
    If one reads Augsburg and Apology Article XXIV carefully, liturgy in terms of the rite is far from a middle thing. Certain ceremonies are neither commanded nor forbidden. But that something is adiaphora does not mean that “it doesn’t matter” or “is without consequence” or that there isn’t better or worse use of freedom, when all things are equal. The lesson of Formula of Concord X is that very often what might in a vacuum be totally free adiaphora very often isn’t in the real world where we are called upon to confess our faith and stand clearly against other confessions – not just Rome, but also the Reformed, charismatics, Eastern Orthodox, etc.
    Certain ceremonies are indeed neither commanded nor forbidden, but one cannot put “liturgy” in bulk under the big blanket of adiaphora. Liturgy has a lot of aspects – Word, Sacraments, creed, preaching, lectionary, gestures, music, colors, etc.

  8. Greg
    September 24th, 2007 at 18:40 | #8

    Word,Sacrament, creed, lectionary, Sermon, etc are often found in Lutheran contemporary services. I am agreed with you that simply because something is adiaphora it does not mean that anything goes. Not everything that is lawful is expediant. What I am suggesting is that when Walther, Pieper, Sasse and Loehe argued for the liturgy there arguments were focused on why the liturgy is more expedient, that is inherently superior, to other styles of worship. Today some seem to suggest that liturgy is not adiaphora at all. This is a shift in argument that seems to reflect an underlying theological shift. In the past Lutherans subscribed to the Confessions as a correct exposition of Scripture. Today some seem to be subscribing to the Confessions as some sort of canon law for Lutherans. This appears to be the theological divide at work in our synod.
    Greg, I think you are presenting a rather one-sided and simplistic analysis. The real question to ask is why Lutherans today find it acceptable, even appealing, to mimic the worship styles of those churches that not only deny, but vehemently reject, the Real Presence of Christ in His Supper. That’s a question worth pondering, very long and very hard.

  9. Gary
    September 24th, 2007 at 21:50 | #9

    It saddens me how so many congregations “chip away” at the rich history of Lutheran liturgy and worship and conform to the ever-increasing popular “seeker services” – and this is occuring to services with traditional music. Confession and Absolution is spoken by the Pastor in a way not to “confuse” unchurched guests. The “Bible reading” takes the place of Scripture readings of Law and Gospel. The sermon is turned into how Jesus can help you. Communion is an act. This list goes on.
    It doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen through the efforts of one. It happens through Pastors that seek “better ways” to “connect with the lost” and forget the teachings that they confessed to vowed to uphold in their ordinations. It happens to through congregational members who forget or put aside the dear teachings of Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms in favor on figuring out ways to grow their church.
    It happens by forgetting that God is God and we are not. Christians are to come together on Sunday to worship God – not to attend a seminar on how to understand their life and how God can make it better. The timeless truths of Scripture and God’s plan for us is revealed but it is out of thankfulness for what He has done and humility and reverence and awe for the most powerful timeless loving being in the universe that we come together to worship Him! Liturgy – speaking, singing, chanting the words of God himself as revealed in Scripture. How can man speak more truthfully than with the word of God himself? How can man’s feeling – sinful as he is even as a new creation be more reverent than the Word – from which the universe sprang into being.
    Just the ranting of a young Elder that wants to change his church. Thanks for listening.

  10. organshoes
    September 24th, 2007 at 23:02 | #10

    Yes. Contemporary enthusiasts need to be asked to defend opting for contemporary worship in the Lutheran church, beyond the familiar refrains of ‘Christian freedom,’ as if the Church stands or falls on the issue of one’s freedom to substitute at will.
    So far, the only defenses–ever–are:
    1) it only hurts those who choose to be hurt by it; namely, traditionalists. So it is apparently the fault of the traditionalist, and not that of the contemporary enthusiast; and
    2) it’s all just a matter of tastes, and who’s to say whose is superior to whose? and
    3) rejection of it demonstrates a closed mind. Remember: all that’s old was once new. This is just new, therefore unfamiliar, therefore temporarily questioned, but just give us time (and a few extra outlets and a little extra room in the chancel area); and
    4) it can be done tastefully. Really. It can. Pay no attention to that alternative instrumentation; instruments are just different flavors of the same thing. And
    5) if you don’t accept it, your church will die. Our alternative instruments and liturgies have been in use for several years now and we haven’t lost anyone who wasn’t at risk of leaving anyways. And
    6) it doesn’t really change anything. See? Here’s confession and absolution; here’s all the usual stuff of worship. Just set to a better beat. Because, well, just because we like it. And
    7) the people like it. Positive response. More people singing, more loudly.
    It never occurs to those congregations to invest in a decent organ or organist; to maybe spend the dollars now paying the bigger electric bill to instead educate their organists (and their pastors!) at workshops, or with private lessons and better organ literature (degree of difficulty is not an issue in good liturgical organ music), or to exercise a little creativity and sweat equity in educating the congregation on the historical as well as confessional significance of Lutheran liturgy and hymnody, on its confessional and theological nature; or to remind them what they’re about to toss away, like the Prodigal Son’s inheritance, for the sake of something as familiar as their favorite TV show.
    It would be good if the practioners of contemporary worship knew a little more about what they’re deciding is no longer relevant, than that they just don’t like it anymore, and are free to do so, so there.
    It would be good if they recognized whose mind it is that is really made up–or closed–on the subject of ‘music’.
    And it would be good if they bothered to know church history, music history, composers, music itself (beyond that they’ve sung it all their lives, so believe they know it), a little music theory like how to read a key signature, what’s a chorale, where our hymns have come from…or maybe that’s an elitist point of view.
    Liturgy and hymnody have come to us from the ages, from men who suffered plagues and wars and persecutions, but through their crosses, kept their faith in the Cross. And even then, their hymns reflect the Cross, and not their own dismal times.
    What harm comfort can wreak upon a church!

  11. Doorman-Priest
    September 25th, 2007 at 10:52 | #11

    I think the art is beautiful. When it comes to modernising tendencies versus traditional worship patterns, though, surely there is room for all styles of worship.
    I am mindful of how I oscillate along that worship continuum. Sometimes I need the modern, with all tradition pared away so that I can focus on my Lord. On other occasions I need all the pomp to remind me that this symbolism is a pale shadow of His majesty.
    D.P. (4.50pm GMT)

  12. September 26th, 2007 at 04:21 | #12

    Funny, but modernism never helped me focus on my Lord in any special and distinctive way. It helped me focus on the screen, on my own coolness and tastes, and on the people up front putting on the show, but no more on my Lord than a liturgical service. Usually considerably less.

  13. organshoes
    September 26th, 2007 at 08:34 | #13

    Thanks be to God, liturgy in its traditional form does all that focusing for me.
    Before I even know it, I’ve been absolved, have praised His Name and His deeds, have heard His Word and sung it, shared His peace, received His gifts and His benediction, even while my mind was wandering over unsettled debts and hurts, or maybe lunch.
    Me, I don’t focus so well myself. I’m pretty nearsighted.

  14. organshoes
    September 26th, 2007 at 12:51 | #14

    The most repugnant aspect of the anti-liturgy crowd is their contention that they’re doing no new thing, just enhancing the old thing; beefing it up a little, for the sake of the seeker as well as of the believer.
    Which is utter nonsense.
    There’s an appetite–an inner need–that wants satisfaction, and it’s not a godly appetite. There’s a very human, earthly and earthbound need to re-do what’s been done and rewrite what’s been written–and all that done and written *for us*–and make it for ourselves.
    There’s nothing but the truth in hymns and liturgy, but we say that’s all well and good, but not good enough; not enough of ‘us’ in there. We have to say it our way, which isn’t saying ‘it’ at all, and certainly no guarantee we’ll hear ‘it’, but just ourselves. We have to turn it into our message to God–our reaching to Him–instead of His reaching us with His message.
    But try getting that through the head of any anti-liturgist. It’s nigh impossible.

  15. Greg
    September 27th, 2007 at 22:16 | #15

    MxCain writes:”The real question to ask is why Lutherans today find it acceptable, even appealing, to mimic the worship styles of those churches that not only deny, but vehemently reject, the Real Presence of Christ in His Supper. That’s a question worth pondering, very long and very hard.” I think many of us, especially out hear on the west coast, have seen many leave our churches and reject our ministries because they our rejecting our musical styles. The reason Lutherans find it appealing to use contemporary music is that we hope to stymie the losses we are having. Those Lutherans who use contemporary music believe that we can do this without giving up either our sacramental theology or our message. It is believed that more will hear our message and recieve the sacraments in a way consistant with Lutheran theology if we use different musical styles. It is believed that this can be done without sacrificing our biblical and confessional theology.

  16. organshoes
    September 28th, 2007 at 10:11 | #16

    It’s obvious that’s what is believed, or at least held, as a reason for stepping aside (but ultimately away) from the traditional, confessional liturgy.
    But pastors are not called to stymie the losses of those who would fall away from the truth, but to shepherd those gathered in dependence upon it.
    Good intentions and all that notwithstanding, the obligation of the pastor is not to be merely winsome, but also diligent and faithful.
    How has a pastor not compromised with that which he is called to despise–namely, tickling people’s ears with what they want, and appealing to an idol of ‘style’–in order to fulfill his calling? A flock’s abandonment of its shepherd, if the shepherd has been faithful in his duty, says everything about the fleeing flock; nothing about the shepherd. But, apparently, a shepherd can be convinced otherwise.
    It’s those who flee to some other sound who make music and style into an idol, though it’s often argued otherwise: namely, that we who hold to traditional forms so idolize those forms, we won’t even entertain possible alternatives.
    And, all the while, traditional confessors are not ‘being true’ or ‘doing a good or better thing,’ but simply allowing the truth do its own talking.
    Liturgy is medium *and* message. Tampering with it on the basis of ‘it’s only a medium,’ and assigning to it this other purpose of stemming a worrisome tide, has already tampered with the message.

  17. Greg
    September 28th, 2007 at 16:08 | #17

    Organshoes writes:But pastors are not called to stymie the losses of those who would fall away from the truth, but to shepherd those gathered in dependence upon it.
    On the contrary we are called to imitate our Lord in seeking the straying sheep. The congregation I serve is actually moving in a progressively more traditional direction. 20 years ago the congregation moved to a completely contemporary format. My predecessor moved the church to a blended format using new confession/absoloution, creeds, prayers from Creative Worship. I have replaced those with the confession/absolution, creeds, prayers from LSB and raised the liturgical content of the service. I think that contemporary worship is a passing fad and 50 years from now we will all be using traditional worship. I do not however think it is heretical to use contemporary worship and I respect the pastoral impulse that led my predecessors to implement this form of worship.
    McCain: I agree Greg. It is a fad that simply will not last. People are not going to be singing “Shine, Jesus Shine” three hundred years from now. To use the term “heretical” here is to introduce a red herring. The question is simply what worship style best serves the confession of the Gospel of Christ in Word and Sacrament. One that is in line with the history of the Western Church from which we come? Or a worship style which derives its features and elements from a theology that emphasizes decision theology, emotions and denies the objective means of grace?

  18. organshoes
    September 28th, 2007 at 19:22 | #18

    Christ carries His sheep back into a faithful, even a predictable, sheepfold. He doesn’t go a-wooing them.
    He doesn’t ask them what He did wrong or what He could do better. He simply takes them home, to His house.

  19. September 29th, 2007 at 10:32 | #19

    When I was an intern, I served at a hospital in the south of Chicago. It was built as a tuberculosis sanitarium, eventually becoming what it is today: a state hospital. It is all too often a depository for the refuse of society.
    The era in which it was built still respected the fact that healing the body and mind included nourishing the soul. It has three chapels, one Jewish, one Protestant, and another Roman Catholic. They are ornamented according to the distinct doctrines of each religion. The Jewish chapel is rich with menorahs in stained glass. It is rather spare. It was difficult to appreciate its beauty, for it had been largely unused for several years. Old desks and other odd bits of furniture were being stored in it. The Protestant chapel was non-descriptive. There was some stained glass and a cross on the altar. Still, its most notable feature lay in its indistinction. On the other hand, the Roman Catholic chapel was a work of art in stained glass. The Christ’s life in glass ran along the sides. The crucifixion was over the altar. Depictions of saints and notable figures were in the loft area. Every space that could hold colored glass did. The red brick supporting the walls held pictures of the Stations of the Cross. There were statues and figures along the walls. The altar was ornate with Trinitarian iconography.
    At the time of my internship the hospital director was a secularist. She wanted no indication of religion anywhere on the hospital grounds. At the residents’ Christmas party no mention of Jesus was allowed. (I was doubly certain to wear my uniform anytime I was on duty for her account. That huge deaconess insignia on the sleeve let her know what life was all about from the get-go!) Under secularism, the Jewish chapel was enjoying its proper place as a storeroom; the Protestant chapel needed transformation into an auditorium; and the RC chapel was an embarrassment.
    One evening I was leaving the hospital when I was stopped by a young woman. She was looking into the RC chapel, quite hesitantly, as if she wanted to enter, but was held back by some reason. Her dress told why. She was Muslim. I asked If I could help her. “I’d like to go in. Is it OK?”
    I escorted her inside, and she stared in wonder. The sun was hitting the glass so that the place lit up gloriously. She asked me what the pictures meant. Who was the man that was dying so horribly? Why would anyone want that in a church? The glass told the story. She listened, and nodded, asked a few questions.
    Finally she said, “Thank you for telling me about your Jesus. I shouldn’t be in here. I am Muslim, and it is wrong for me to be here. But I couldn’t resist. It looked like heaven.”
    That’s what church and the liturgy itself is: heaven coming to earth. This Muslim girl understood instantly through the iconic imagery she perceived visually. Shards of colored glass lit by the sun transported her to another place. She put aside all other cares—even the threats of her own religion—just so she could enjoy that place for awhile. That sort of respite is what the Divine Service is meant to be for hungry, wandering, bruised and beaten-up sheep (and shepherds).

  20. Greg
    September 30th, 2007 at 20:16 | #20

    McCain writes:””The question is simply what worship style best serves the confession of the Gospel of Christ in Word and Sacrament. One that is in line with the history of the Western Church from which we come? Or a worship style which derives its features and elements from a theology that emphasizes decision theology, emotions and denies the objective means of grace?” All things being equal the traditional worship service best serves the confession of the Gospel of Christ. The problem is all things are not equal and many cradel Lutherans will absent themselves from our Confession of Christ if given only the choice of traditional music. A church in my district might have a solution. It is creating new music using praise band instrumentation for the old liturgy and hymns of the church. They have created beautiful new music for Luthers catechetical hymns. This union of the traditional with the new might be a way to reach people with the Reformation Gospel who don’t like classical music,

  21. organshoes
    October 1st, 2007 at 09:22 | #21

    It’s this whole not-liking-classical-music-thing that I don’t get. Rather, the accommodation of people who simply don’t like classical music.
    First thing: ‘Classical’ doesn’t really describe liturgical music. It’s pretty much just liturgical, and, like any other form of music, you know it when you hear it, and you know why you hear it *where* you hear it.
    Which suits it for use in divine service. It’s music set apart for just that set-apart thing. Do you suppose that, in Heaven, a separate (but equal?) venue will be provided by the Heavenly Hosts for those who’d just rather not hear the usual fare? Ach! How will they handle harps and lyres, bells and angel voices? It simply *is* the music of divine service.
    Second: accommodating people who simply don’t like a form–and that being a form that’s objectively good and objectively better than other forms (else what’s objectivity for?)–and that means it’s better because of its content, mood, and because of the knowledge, the purpose, and the insight that went into creating it–means rejecting all those good, God-created things: content, knowledge, purpose, human insight.
    Third: accommodating tastes is not the purpose of divine service and the music that carries it to us. The music exists for the service, not the service for the music.
    Apparently, it makes no difference what the words are, if they’re words carried by music people choose to reject.
    Better to have no music, if people refuse liturgical music. Otherwise, it’s a service of pick-and-choose what you want. Otherwise, it’s simply personal taste–i.e., desire–dictating Sunday morning’s fare. And that alone is an abomination.
    It’s a package: words and music. Making it into a cafeteria demeans what divine service is. Opting for other ‘styles’ in the service of the Word means style has trumped Word.
    It’s like the congregation has been allowed to draw a line in the sand, and the pastor says ‘OK, but no further.’
    Really? Is it not already too far?
    Face it: the entire reason you state for going in the direction is to accommodate people who might choose to be other than Lutheran, simply because of a style of music. Well, if they are so inclined to hold that over your head, what else will they require of you to entice them to stay? And why bother, when it’s obvious they apparently don’t care about liturgy in the first place?
    To say people don’t like classical music (which liturgical music is *not*) is like saying people don’t like higher things. Are there not higher things, than simply the things we like? It’s saying people should only be required to do what they like, regardless of what they are able to do.
    How do they hear anything, if they refuse to hear something on the basis of simply not liking it? How do you know they’re not simply hearing what they want, because it seems they won’t have it any other way.
    It’s straying from the traditions, it’s straying from who we are, and it is definitely straying from what divine service is, into what divine service is not: a feast of fat and calories.
    I’d not be so quick, or even work so hard, to accommodate people who reject not only Bach and Mendelssohn and Cruger, but also Grime and Hildebrand and Gerike. Be quicker at educating them, even if you first had to educate yourself.
    Smugness in ignorance is no platform to praise.

  22. Gary
    October 1st, 2007 at 21:50 | #22

    So how does one turn things around? My congregation has a “traditional” early service, a “contemporary” mid-morning service, and a “blended” late morning service. The contemporary service has better “numbers” if attendence is your goal, but the discipleship demonstrated is the least and I am convinced it is due to the the “watering down” of the Word or its outright absence.
    How does one go about bringing change within a congregation? It has been an earnest prayer that frequents my lips. Maybe I need to wait more on God’s timing?

  23. organshoes
    October 8th, 2007 at 13:22 | #23

    What would God’s timing be, and how would you discern it? Was it God’s timing that put alternative worship forms to use in your church?
    Not being a pastor of any church, never having faced that dilemma (though aware of a growing desire within our congregation for a little release, shall we say, from the contraints of our hymnal), I’d be interested in knowing how the different services came to be in your church. Did the congregation vote for them? Did the pastor simply slip them in? Where did the idea come from? What are the sources for the alternative forms?
    Why not simply return, if that’s what you think is best? If change was brought about in the past, from purely liturgical to cafeteria-style, why can’t a reverse be accomplished the same way?
    I’m really curious as to how a return would be ‘the change’ but your current practice is not. Because, at one time, it was.

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