Monday, January 12, 2009

Taste Worship?

I recently got an invitation to a "worship event" at a local LCMS congregation in which the worship is to be "led" by a guy named Peder Eide. I don't believe he is an ordained minister. I asked him what his denominational affiliation is, and he wrote back that he is a Lutheran.

Sadly, "Lutheran" has become a word that lacks precision these days. Obviously, there are not only many synods, but many theologies covered by the term "Lutheran" even within our own synod.

According to his Taste Worship website, his next event (Jan 21, 2009) will be at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Excelsior, MN, a self-described "open and welcoming ELCA congregation" that has a woman "pastor" on staff.

His use of the term "taste worship" is interesting, if not ironic.

The word "taste" can mean different things. "Taste" can be used in a literal sense, as in physical eating - which is indeed central to worship in the Lutheran tradition - as in the Sacrament of the Altar, also known as the Mass or the Lord's Supper (e.g. AC X and AC XXIV). "Taste" also has a more figurative meaning, which conveys propriety and decorum - which is certainly also central to the Lutheran tradition of reverence in Lutheran worship - which is, in fact, clearly spelled out in our Lutheran confessions (e.g. the condemnation of "spectacles" and the requirement that worship embody "Christian discipline" and "evangelical decorum" per FC SD X:7 and the "greatest reverence" of liturgical worship, per AC XXIV:1).

Is either definition of "taste" being used here?

I would certainly describe the worship at my own congregation as tasteful. Not because of any aesthetic talents of our own. But rather only because we follow the reverential historic liturgy of the Western Mass as it has been handed over to us from our Evangelical Catholic (Lutheran) fathers. Our worship is also centered on the physical act of "taste," as every Divine Service is grounded in the miracle of the Holy Eucharist of the Lord's most holy body and blood.

And our worship services really do embody what Mr. Eide dreams about - diversity according to age. Our version "taste worship" routinely includes newborns right up to octogenarians (and occasionally, a nonagenarian) gathered in family groups from every race and socioeconomic status. That is the beauty of traditional worship - our hymns are not bound by time and style. They don't pit one group against the other. Nobody is left out just because they might not like rock music or fit in with the ever-transient youth culture.

I'm sure he means well, but if Mr. Eide truly wants to "taste worship" in New Orleans, featuring diverse trans-generationalism (even transcending the grave!), he might want to visit a traditional Lutheran church to "taste and see that the Lord is good" (Ps 34:8) through the Most Holy Sacrament, and join with young, old, living, dead, human beings, angels, and even the Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh Himself, in heavenly worship that leaves this fallen culture of death outside the doors of the Holy Ark of the Church, and likewise leaves the guitars, light-shows, and other entertainments to the real rock stars who perform at places like the House of Blues in the French Quarter, or in our many music festivals in New Orleans. If we want to rock, rap, or zydeco the day (and night) away, there are lots (and lots!) of times and places to do that - just not during the Divine Service in our church sanctuary.

Some things are sacred.

And just because I habitually wear all black, cut my musical teeth on hard rock and heavy metal, and one of my parishioners gave me the CD "Black Ice" as a Christmas present (thank you, Barbara, you rock!), doesn't mean I'll be strutting into the sanctuary any time soon to the strains of "Back in Black" or screaming lines from "Rock and Roll Damnation" to those on the "Highway to Hell." As an adult convert to Lutheranism I have to make an observation: you "cradle Lutherans" have a treasure that you too often take for granted, not only in the magnificent corpus of sacred music from 500 years of rigorous sung "theology of the cross" that is glorious, timeless and applicable to every generation, and the envy of all Christendom, but you also have the mother lode of the liturgy, the full richness of ancient words from the very Word of God that breathe life into dead bones and make them live! Please don't take these holy treasures for granted and trade them away for a pottage of mere entertainment.

And in spite of Mr. Eide's good intentions, there are always "unintended consequences" - such as the utterly unrealistic expectation among teenagers that worship (and indeed the Christian life itself) will always be fun, entertaining, pulsating, filled with adoring fist-pumping crowds, and an emotional "high." For when when his "theology of glory" rock and roll roadshow has moved on, and when those same young people find themselves back in the real world struggling with family problems, with temptation, with the culture of death, when they find themselves in hospitals, at deathbeds, and dealing with authentic life in the sin-weary flesh rather than a rock and roll fantasy - it will be us pastors who will minister, truly minister to them under the cross, with traditional hymns and liturgical worship, forged in the furnace of the centuries, which preach Christ crucified, breathe life into fallen flesh, and bequeath salvation and true comfort - not just a catchy tune or a slogan on a t-shirt.

And under the cross, God's people of every generation and demographic will truly "taste worship", drinking the sacred wine of the Lord's blood unto eternal salvation rather than simply slurping the artificial Kool-Aid of sugary pop entertainment.


empesoumetha said...

I got this same letter in the mail... and was equally puzzled by it. Hes not Missouri Synod. He spends most of his time playing at ELCA events. Hes not a pastor.

All of this would be fine, except that he is performing in place of Sunday morning Divine Service. Im really supposed to tell my congregation to go to this instead of our service??

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

When we go to worship, we are brought into something greater than just our own personal desires. Thus - no Def Leppard or Prince themed service.

Mason said...

Thanks for the post. As an adult convert who cut my teeth on classic rock, the last thing I need on Sunday is a cheesy, Ned Flanders karaoke hug-fest. How did the sublime mysteries of Christian faith devolve into such a theater of the absurd?

Anonymous said...

Great post and a hearty amen!

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Empesoumetha:

Yeah, I think that's the idea. Maybe we should just lock the doors and take the day off. I'll being my lighter so we can all yell for "Freebird" at the end of the show.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

You're preaching to the choir, bro. I'm with you.

Life is sometimes quite surreal. I was teaching Bible class one day, and I got on the topic of pop/rock music in worship. I was getting kind of shaggy at that particular time (in need of the quarterly haircut), and I got into a debate with a guy in a crewcut.

The clean-cut clean-shaven guy was arguing that Pink Floyd style guitar riffs and other genres of heavy metal, a la Led Zeppelin, were appropriate to the Divine Service. Meanwhile, my own bearded self, with my hair roughly looking like our statue of our blessed Lord, was arguing against the rock and roll stuff.

Crewcut man never came back. Maybe he's over at St. Happyclappy's "getting the Led" out" or something. Too bad.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Mason:

As usual, you said in a couple dozen words what took me a few pages. That is a truly brilliant comment. Non sum dignus...

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Jim:

Thanks for your kind words. And thanks for weighing in. It's nice to know we're not completely outnumbered by those who want to turn the Mass into a spectacle.