This past Sunday I spent a little time watching religion on cable TV. Of course there's the packages of the mega-churches -- Joel Osteen, EWTN and the like. But also there were three services from local churches, one Congregational, one Baptist, and one ELCA.
The sermon from the Congregational church was interesting. It was on the "new wine, old skins" passage. The pastor mentioned that once we saw that as saying Christianity was the fulfillment of Judaism, but now under the transforming power of Jesus and the newness he offers we now understand not to find one religion better than another. And further, just as we no longer cite Scripture to uphold slavery, we now know better how to read Scripture so we no longer use passages of Scripture to bar women from any role of service in the church, or find homosexual behaviour wrong or against God.
Over at the ELCA service, the female pastor presided at a baptism and preached on the God and Mammon passage from the three year Vatican II lectionary now the common property, with minor revisions, of all heterodox liturgical churches.
Both services were thoroughly traditional in their respective contexts -- the "Lutheran" one straight from the LBW with vestments, choir and organ, the Congregational one with a robed pastor and robed choir, neither with a guitar, praise band or CCM anywhere to be found.
The Baptist one was by a preacher in an open collar casual shirt, and slacks. Since I was flipping channels I didn't hear any of the music, but the sermon had to do with Jesus dying for our sins so that we could be saved by faith in that -- concluding with a call to make a decision for this Jesus and accept him as one's personal Saviour.
Now I'll leave treatment of the subjects of womens ordination, ministry to homosexuals and decision theology to the blogs on the sidebar, many of which have taken up these subjects.
Here's an additional thought that hit me, watching all three of these. All three of course present a different message about Christ and Christianity than confessional Lutheranism, not to sweep that aside. That said, the two that were the farthest from it were also the two that in terms of order of service were the most traditional, both in terms of the "historic liturgy" we speak of and each denomination's own history, whereas the one closest to us, at least in that it gave the message that Jesus died for our sins and we are saved from them by faith in him, was the farthest from any historic liturgy, being not liturgical at all!
The point being, fidelity to the historical liturgy of the church guarantees nothing in itself, and it is possible to use the historic liturgy in a thoroughly heterodox effort. Therefore, the real enemy, if that is the best word, is not non-liturgical services or non-traditional church music, it is doctrine. Teaching.
This is not at all to say therefore liturgy and fidelity to it don't matter. They do. And the liturgy itself came about over the centuries as the expression of orthodox Christian teaching, doctrine in motion, so to speak, therefore it is the best vehicle for orthodox Christian teaching rather than service orders which originate in a denial of some of what we hold as confessional Lutherans. And therefore the one which in Christian Freedom we should choose.
That said, unless that choice springs from doctrinal agreement on our confession of faith, it is meaningless. Just as a non-liturgical type of service that springs from a non-sacramental understanding of the means of grace can on the one hand preserve some of the essentials of Christian doctrine, as we believe revealed in Scripture and correctly stated in the Book of Concord, yet on the other obviously not be the best choice, so also can a liturgical type of service that does spring from a sacramental understanding of the means of grace, and for that matter a traditional service after its own lights, thoroughly re-invent those essentials into something else.
If it is not the best choice to try to wrestle a manner of worship that arose from a denial of parts of essential doctrine to fit it, neither is it the best choice to simply champion liturgical worship and oppose other types of worship alone.
Our concern for correct doctrine is not misplaced. Without it, any kind of worship can serve heterodoxy. The ultimate danger is not from praise bands and CCM. An equal danger exists from liturgical and/or traditional services. Without clarity on and concord in sound doctrine, neither kind of worship itself will guard against heterodoxy, and either can be bent to serve heterodoxy, the one derived from it as well as the one not derived from it.
Therefore, simply crusading for liturgical fidelity is not enough -- not only can it not prevent heterodoxy, it will be seen as simply a stylistic preference.
Now, I am soundly and unequivocally for liturgical fidelity. What I am saying is, our case for it must be grounded not in liturgical fidelity per se but in the sound doctrine that the liturgy came about to serve. With this clarity and concord in sound doctrine, the "worship wars" and much else will take care of itself.
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