Friday, August 15, 2008

Passion and Lutheran Worship

A reader named Blake commented on my earlier post regarding the Texas youth gathering. I find his questions to be honest and helpful to discussion - since I do think his remarks capture the thoughts of a lot of people who are genuinely baffled by the controversy.

Here is what Blake wrote, followed by my own comments...

I would simply ask, what is "Lutheran Worship"? Is there one way that Lutheran's worship. The way that I know one should worship is in "spirit and truth". Outside of that, I believe there is freedom in Christ. At least that is what I have learned and been taught from my LCMS professors.

I think it would a shame if people in this church (being the LCMS) refused to learn from those who are part of the Church.

Also, it is the current practice of the LCMS to allow women to become DPM's (Director of Parish Music).

Father Hollywood, I would challenge you to attend one of these events. I have attended several different types of churches both LCMS and not and have observed in many a passion that others lack. Why is that? Just a question.

Anyhow, my prayer is that God would lead your churches into worship in spirit and truth whether led by man, woman, or child.

God's Peace,


Blake is correct about worship being a matter of "spirit and truth" (John 4:23). Both of these words are greatly misunderstood - especially in America's secular and religious context.

A couple years ago, I was having a coffee at the local cafe, a couple blocks from my church. I ran into a local pastor of a non-denominational megachurch of a Pentecostal bent. He expressed a desire to attend our Wednesday night service. He had never been to a Lutheran service before. One of his members was there with him, and she asked if we were "Spirit filled." "We sure are!" I replied. And of course we are. The first words in the liturgy invoke the Holy Spirit and the other Persons of the Trinity.

Of course, our Pentecostal brethren's understanding of "Spirit" is different than ours. As it turned out, my cafe friends were disappointed at our service, since by their definition, it wasn't "Spirit-filled" at all. There was no-one rolling around on the floor, giggling hysterically, jumping up and down, throwing their heads back in ecstasy with hands raised up like they do on TBN. Nobody received any dramatic and direct new revelations from God. There seemed to be no physical and visible manifestation of the "Spirit" - which is half of the equation Blake cites from our Lord in John 4.

In the minds of most people, being "in the Spirit" involves what Blake calls "passion." There is great irony here, since "passion" comes directly from the Latin "passio, passionis" ("suffering"). In this more ancient usage comes the context of our Lord's passion and death (e.g. the title of the Mel Gibson film The Passion of the Christ). Passion, as it has related to the Christian faith for two millennia, has referred to the road to the cross - for "by His stripes we are healed." But today, in the (post)modern American religious context, "passion" is front and center as to what constitutes appropriate worship. "Passion" is an important and commonly invoked word. And far from the context of suffering, of the cross, of the atoning work of Jesus, rather "passion" today means the opposite: pleasure, desire, even eroticism. "Passion" to most people means an emotional high, being "stoked" and excited, "pumped," or ecstatic in the Charismatic sense, in an emotional froth - which is precisely what is conveyed in most contemporary Christian music - Kari Jobe's band included.

My Pentecostal guests mistook a lack of jumpiness in our worship as a lack of the Spirit. And I do believe dignified, reverent liturgical, traditional Lutheran worship is unfairly stereotyped as joyless, dour, just going through the motions, and lacking "passion." But then again, most people never see what I see. When people are receiving the true Body and Blood of our Lord from my hands, I see their faces. When these people are kneeling before me, sometimes they show emotion and sometimes they don't. But I see the joy of the gospel in the eyes of my parishioners when I hold the host before their faces and make the sign of the cross over them, saying: "the Body of Christ, given for you!" Some are physically relieved as they quietly nod their assent, others vocalizing their "Amen." The eyes of some tear up. Others cross themselves with obvious gratitude for what the Lord has done for them, in response to the utterly majestic mystery of the miracle they have just partaken of.

Nobody leaps from the communion rail speaking gibberish. No-one rolls around on the floor or barks like a dog. Nor do any of my parishioners raise their hands up and arch their backs in "passionate" ecstasy. And yet, "the Word of the Lord endures forever." That same Word does not return to God void. There is passion there of a different sort than one sees at a rock concert.

I also visit the sick and dying, giving them the same Holy Sacrament through their tears of gratitude and bittersweet joy. I lay hands on their heads and pronounce absolution, tracing a reverent cross upon their saintly foreheads as they grab my hands and thank me like a person in a desert getting a sip of water. It might not be a "mosh pit," but it is "worship in spirit and truth" to be sure. And the "passion" is there - the crosses they bear, crosses pointing to the Passion of our Lord crucified for them in their hour of need.

Entertainment-based worship is good at whipping up emotional frenzy, but there is no "staying power" to carry a person through depression, illness, suffering, and death. That can only be accomplished through the cross and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And this is the answer to the question: "What is Lutheran worship?" It is ultimately about what God has done, and continues to do, for us (not vice versa). It is about "passion" - the suffering and death of our blessed Lord "for us men and for our salvation" - not merely a state of drum-and-guitar-powered emotion. Lutheran worship is liturgical and reverent in response to this miraculous Presence, precisely because of our freedom in the gospel - not freedom in the libertine sense of "I'm free to do what I want," but rather free in the sense of the gospel: "I'm freed from sin and death and the law, and now I am freed in order to submit to Christ, to link myself to believers of every time and place who have 'handed over' (Latin: "traditio") the treasure of the Church from the time of the apostles to the present, and in so doing, to submit to our Blessed Lord Himself - unworthy as I am."

Our Gospel freedom empowers us for reverence, not from it. It frees us to submit to the Church (which Luther and other church fathers refer to as our "mother") and to God ("our Father", as our Blessed Lord prays with us), not to rebel from them. It also binds style and substance according to the ancient dictum lex orandi, lex credendi (i.e. - we pray as we believe and we believe as we pray) instead of the modern delusion that the way one does something has no effect on what is done (a delusion even proven false even by physicists and cosmologists!).

And indeed, women contribute to worship in their holy office of the laity. They sing with soaring voices, they teach children to pray and be reverent, they play the organ, they sing in (and direct) choirs, they serve the Lord on altar guilds, and they lend their voices to the people of God in the holy dialogue of the liturgy. Is that not enough? They do not put "Pastor" after their names and stand in the front of a worship gathering with a microphone calling attention to themselves through a "performance". I don't really know what a DPM does - as we have a multiplicity of bureaucratic titles in the LCMS - but I know Pastor Jobe is not a DPM. She is considered by her church to be something entirely different, something that is not merely contrary to Lutheran sensibilities, but contrary to the Bible and the created order of God Himself.

As far as being challenged to "attend one of these events," this is nothing new. I've been to church services of every stripe, from Tridentine Masses to Charismatic tongue-speaking prayer meetings. I've been to Christian rock concerts and contemporary worship services within and without Lutheranism. I've seen chancel dramas, testimonials, spontaneous jumping up and down and "singing in tongues." I've been to worship services with drums and guitars, with jazzy lounge singers, and with scantily clad pop divas.

My own congregation swore off these "official youth gatherings" when they observed toilet paper rolls being hurled during the distribution of Holy Communion. Interestingly, the last youth conference the young people of my congregation attended was of an "unofficial" nature (Higher Things). They were not able to attend this year's, but for last year's conference, one of the area pastors asked to borrow my thurible, so the young people could partake of the Lord's Supper with incense being used. Such ceremonial reverence is indeed an expression of the freedom we have in the Gospel. These Higher Things conferences do not feature rock anthems and praise bands, but only services and hymns from our hymnal. These liturgies and hymns will serve them their whole lives long - even as their tastes in music will likely change and transform over the years. And within the reverent tradition of the Church, they worship (along with the rest of us of every age and ethnicity) in "spirit and in truth" without resorting to hiring pop singer pastorettes and non Lutheran teachers to instill a sense of "passion."

Blake sincerely prays that God will lead us to "worship in spirit and truth whether led by man, woman, or child." But to worship in "truth" means to confess and submit to the Truth - as it has been revealed by the Spirit. The truth is that God has established a holy office of men to lead such "worship in spirit and truth" - and the Holy Spirit has revealed this truth in Scripture. No matter how much "passion" a woman may have and display, it is simply a truth revealed by the Holy Spirit that she is not to serve in that capacity. Our freedom in the Gospel does not liberate us either from the Spirit or from the Truth - not even in the name of "passion."

I've seen my share of "passion" - but thanks be to God, I have also seen my share of "Passion" - quiet assurance that the Savior is miraculously present, proclaiming the forgiveness of sins, and bringing people the peace of communion with the Holy Trinity. That kind of "Passion" is not manifested in bombastic earthquakes, rushing whirlwinds, or even Red Bull-fueled and electronically amplified music, but rather in a "still small voice" (1 Kings 19:11-13).

The former "passion" is overrated. The latter is underappreciated. But it is only through the latter, the Passion of the Christ, are we miraculously recreated anew and born again. Only that Passion will abide eternally.


Rev. Paul Beisel said...

It's interesting to note, I think, that the book of the Bible that mentions the Holy Spirit the most also happens to be the most liturgically structured book: the Book of Chronicles. Prof. James Bollhagen pointed that out once in a lecture I heard. This business that form and structure restrict the Spirit's work is bunk.

Past Elder said...

I guess one of the advantages of being disconnected from the march through time (trying to avoid the passionless word history) of the People of God (trying to avoid the passionless word church) is you just don't know that all this has happened before, and before, and before, and before some more.

Pietism. Seems like all about God, is all about me.

I'm struck by some of Walther's comments about "Methodism" -- which in his day was hardly the UMC. Put in mega-church or evangelical for Methodism and it could have been written last week.

What a great post!

Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

Very nice, Pastor. Thank you.

Blake said...

Thanks for the thoughts, although I don't think my words deserve to be in "red letters" ;)

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Blake:

Ha! Well, I guess that way the Jesus Seminar will have no doubt that the quote is authentic. ;-)

Are they still doing that?