Sunday, May 07, 2006

Clowns at Worship

As a sequel to my last post, concerning the visit of the Holy Madness Clown Troupe to a local ELCA "Lutheran" congregation, here is what the troupe is all about in their own words. You may especially be interested in their pictures.

And while this is primarily an ELCA group, they cater to Christians outside of their communion, including at least one LCMS congregation.

Now, think about what we Lutherans confess in the Book of Concord - to which we are bound (and just for kicks, look at the picture above before and after each quote):

"[T]he Mass is retained among us and is celebrated with the greatest reverence. Almost all the customary ceremonies are also retained." (emphasis added) AC 24:1-2 (Latin text)

"Since, therefore, no novelty has been introduced which did not exist in the church from ancient times, and since no conspicuous change has been made in the public ceremonies of the Mass except that other unnecessary Masses which were held in addition to the parochial Mass, probably through abuse, have been discontinued, this manner of holding Mass ought not in fairness be condemned as heretical or unchristian." (emphasis added) AC 24:40 (German text)

"[N]othing has been received among us , in doctrine or in ceremonies, that is contrary to Scripture or to the church catholic." (emphasis added) AC Conclusion 5 (Latin text)

"We further believe, teach, and confess that the community of God in every place and at every time has the right, authority, and power to change, to reduce, or to increase ceremonies according to its circumstances, as long as it does so without frivolity and offense, but in an orderly and appropriate way, as at any time may seem to be most profitable, beneficial, and salutary for good order, Christian discipline, evangelical decorum, and edification of the church." (emphasis added) FC SD 10:9

I'm sure there are plenty of other quotes from the Concordia Pia that I'm missing, but I think these suffice (these quotes are from the Tappert edition, since this happens to be what I have at home at this time).

This shift from traditional, ancient, christocentric, and reverent worship to experimental, novel, anthropocentric, and entertainment-based worship may well be part of what is driving some of our pastors and churches away from the LCMS. Granted, very few have left, but enough have so as to raise eyebrows. Instead of "circling the wagons" and spewing venom upon pastors, laymen, and congregations who leave our synod, and perhaps even our Lutheran confession entirely, maybe we should take a good, hard, brutally honest look at what is going on in our sanctuaries. There is a terrible discrepancy between what we confess in our confessions and what we confess with our lived-out practice. I don't believe our enemy is any other communion within the church catholic - especially those jurisdictions which are part of the ancient and historic Christian Church - rather our worst enemy is our own communion, our own failure to bring to life what we confess on paper in the actual lives of our congregations and synod.

Most of our congregations don't have clowns on Sundays, but what percentage now have "contemporary" and "blended" services? What percentage of our congregations now use some form of pop music in their services? What percentage of our churches now have at least one non-liturgical service? What percentage of our congregations would dare put the above quotes from the Book of Concord in their bulletins?

But before you get completely depressed, please have a look at this article about the Latin Mass now offered for Roman Catholics in Arlington, Virginia. There is much to be hopeful about - especially given the remarks of some of the faithful in this article.

It is sometimes said that when the pope gets a cold, the Missouri Synod sneezes. In spite of our often nasty polemics against the pope, we do tend to mimic much of modern Roman Catholic liturgy in our parishes: the three-year lectionary, lay readers, female acolytes, etc. Perhaps this trend toward renewal of Christ-centered, traditional, and reverent worship will continue in the papal nasal passages, then we will soon have a healthy sneeze in the LCMS. I, for one, would reply with a hearty "bless you!"


Whey Lay said...

Ughh, When you posted the picture in your last entry I was hoping it was an inside joke or something that I (we) just didn't understand. Thanks for the references from the Book of Concord. I really enjoy your blog.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Whey Lay:

Truth is sadder than fiction. Thanks for your kind words. Keep the faith!

Michael said...

Father, first off, your entries (and those of Father Fenton and Father Eckardt) on traditional liturgy resonate with my own sense of aesthetics and reverance.

I have two questions which have arisen in my discussions with friends here and which relate ( I think) to the points you are raising.
How does one deal with the argument that liturgical tradition itself was an innovation at one point, and hence one should not assume these traditions are immutable, or indeed sacred.
Second, in an article by a lady theologian here in Germany, a criticism was raised against Pope Benedict for refusing to ammend the policy of not sharing the Eucharist with non-Catholics. Her point was that Our Lord had communion with the men on the road to Emmaus without inquiring what their beliefs were. From this, one of my friends argued that indeed, there were neither preconditions nor any liturgical rites whatsoever associated with taking communion to be found in the Gospels. Hence, anything goes, provided it is reverent.
But what are your views?
Michaelk Borussia

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Michael:

I'm no liturgical scholar (or any kind of scholar, for that matter), but I can give you my unscholarly thoughts on these matters - for what they're worth.

Indeed, all traditions began somewhere, and they aren't immutable - but I think when it comes to liturgical practice, the mutations are (and have been) very, very slow. We (especially we Americans) don't like slow. We're "the people of the microwave oven" who patronize McDonalds and eat in our cars while rushing to and fro, always in a hurry. We think something 100 years old is "ancient" - and have very little sense of tradition. In our culture, new is always better.

Changes in the liturgy are very, very slow - almost glacial. And that's a good thing! Look at how little changed until the 1960s. Even Luther's "radical" liturgical reforms were really very conservative. He would certainly be shocked at what happens in "Lutheran" churches these days.

But in the 1960s, we began to see wholesale explosive changes, massive experimentation, and an anything-goes approach. Within a generation, this has led to chaos. Some young Lutherans have gone their whole lives never having seen a liturgy! As a pastor, this frightens me. How do I minister to such a person on his death bed?

We would have done better to stay consistent. We have a saying here: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Aside from lingustic changes (such as the gradual evolution of Latin into the Romance languages, or the slow mutation of English over the centuries, from Old to Middle, to Modern English), what was broken in our liturgy? Why did we have to monkey with it?

I think we just like to tinker, and we like change to be rapid. But I think we American Lutherans have changed too far too fast, and now we find ourselves on an unchartered path - when the old road was comfortable and got us where we needed to go.

As far as the lady theologian who advocates open communion based on the Road to Emmaus appearance of Jesus, she seems to be overlooking that these weren't random men - they were themselves disciples of Jesus!

And how does one become a disciple? According to Matt 28:19, through apostolic teaching and baptism in the name of the Triune God. So, it certainly follows that communion fellowship is limited to the baptized, as well as to those who share doctrine.

Furthermore, we have more than only the Gospels to inform our communion beliefs and practice, such as 1 Cor 11:17-34.

Again, Michael, I offer these thoughts as a parish pastor - not as a historian or scholar. Thanks for your comments, and thought-provoking questions!

Michael said...

Dear Father, thank you for your insights. I think the phenomenon of modifying the liturgy is equally common here; alas.
I'm not sure to what extent the changes here are made merely for changes sake--although the siren call of modernity is of course one intoning permanent flux. Rather, the changes are, I believe, the response stemming from our changed understanding of traditional concepts of authority and power, and from the pitiful state or our aesthetics.
Much has been lost.
Michaelk Borussia