Home > Uncategorized > Why I am not “with the times” part one

Why I am not “with the times” part one

Note:  This post is the first in what I hope to be a clarifying of my understanding of how I approach the work I have been given to do as an undershepherd in the Lord’s Church. I’m looking at this as at the very least my thinking out loud about what it means for me to be a Lutheran Pastor in the cultural context of the early 21st century, southeastern US. I invite questions and comments and especially encouragement.


If congregations are truly serious about our Lord’s command to make disciples, so it goes, they will have a contemporary service in order to reach people for whom traditional church just did not speak to them, meet their needs, whatever it takes.

I have read C.S. Lewis describe his entry/return to the faith.  I have heard and read others’ descriptions.  There seems to be something of a nice blend of people who had Damascus Road-like experiences, which I do not pooh-pooh, and those who seemed to have reached the logical end of their nihilism and realized there can be no other answer something a little closer to my own experience.  These people tend to be ardent believers and faithful supporters of the work of the Church no matter their vocation.  Never once have I heard someone say, “I was sitting in a seeker service one night and the praise band was jammin’ I just knew that Jesus wanted me.”  Now that probably owes more to the circles I run in, but it still begs the question about several issues concerning contemporary worship and me and ultimately what church should look like.

I want to go on the record to say contemporary worship is not wrong; it’s not evil.  I can see why some folks like it.

Truth be told, I went through a phase where I did like contemporary worship.  But then, and I say this in all sincerity and with no malice toward those who do still prefer it, that was in college and I’m no longer in college.  Like a lot of other things I did in college, I just can’t do it now.  I find contemporary worship rather undeveloped.  In my mind, contemporary worship is the Ramen noodle of worship, the garage band of worship, the second hand futon or worship, the wine cooler of worship.  After I grew up and began to understand the traditional liturgy, I couldn’t see myself going back to it.

Is it just my perception or is contemporary worship most popular among the “Baby Boom” Generation?  As I observe it in my church body, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, that there are no stronger proponents for such worship practices than the aging Boomers.  As a generation, there has never been such a monolithically narcissistic, anti-authoritarian, morally permissive, and disconnected from anything that came before it.  Why would I want to adopt the worship practices of such a generation?  Forget all the failed logic that would say if I wanted to appeal to twenty somethings and thirty somethings I should tap into the worship practices of their parents, the pressure I have had to adopt such practices has all come, not from my colleagues and peers, but from the Boomer higher-ups in the organization.  I have some more thoughts about the Boomers as a generation and why the Church in the US is in the crisis it is but I’ll save those for another post.

If I’m supposed to be generationally aware, I read that the Gen Xer’s and the Millennials, (I am a Gen Xer), seek authenticity above all else.  So my question is, if I led contemporary worship, wouldn’t I be found out pretty quickly?  And if I was seen as willing to sell myself out like that wouldn’t that call into question the authenticity of my preaching and of my witness?  It wouldn’t be too hard to hang the charge on me, “You’ll just say anything to get people in the door.”

I will grant that the traditional liturgy can be daunting to a newcomer.  It can look stogy and stagey and formalist.  It can be done that way too which doesn’t help the cause.  The liturgy can be seen as snobbery.  I think there maybe some egalitarian anti-liturgy current in the US, at least, like there is for so much.  The Boomers being the source of most of those currents, or if not the source, the generation in which these waves have certainly crested.  But the liturgy of the Church isn’t any of those things.  It is the voice of the faith of our mothers and fathers.  Just as we learned to speak from them, we learn how to pray from them so that we might pray with them.  The liturgy can seem like a foreign movie that has already been playing for some time before we get to the movie theater.  We don’t know the plot or the characters.  The language makes no sense even with subtitles, “Kyrie eleison!”  “Sanctus!”  “Pax!”  “Nunc Dimittus”  “Benedicamus!”  “Shalom!”  It feels foreign because it is.

I would have stuck out like a sore thumb at the royal wedding in London last summer even though I can speak the language and presumably fit in.  Notwithstanding the Euro/Germanic (although they are arguably not so) cultural dissimilarities, the liturgy proclaims a courtly routine from another kingdom, the kingdom of God, one in which we who were formerly enemies are declared citizens only by naturalization on behalf of our gracious king.  In this kingdom there is a different worldview, a different history of origins, a different sense of what’s truly important, a difference not just in kind but category.

The easily-accessed worship of American Protestantism comes from a theology of easy access to the kingdom of God.  “All ya gotta do is give your life to Gawd!”  That is a far cry from “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Ac 2:38)  No really, I’ve seen the difference up close; it is very different.  So please, for the love of all that’s holy, will someone please tell me why is there such an expectation that we should expect to feel perfectly at home the minute we walk in the door?  I can’t understand it.

Discipleship is a lifelong way.  It seems to be Acts 2:42 that is the clearest, most succinct, example of what this like of discipleship, denying oneself, picking up one’s cross and following Jesus looks like.  We need to do a far better job teaching people the Apostles’ doctrine.  It is the rare Christian who seems to be able to clearly articulate all Ten Commandments much less the two natures of Christ.

We need to do a far better job of including into the fellowship those who confess with us the Apostles’ teaching.  It is even rarer to find a Christ who can clearly articulate the need to be a part of the fellowship.  The idea of “All ya gotta do is believe” and the preaching of the revivalist preachers who condemned “church-going people” as “not true Christians” have made church attendance optional.  This needs to be reversed ASAP.  Church members who are otherwise able to attend church and don’t for a period as little as one month ought to be kindly and pastorally rebuked, longer than one month should be disciplined, and longer than one year should be excommunicated. It is simply inconceivable that the church should live with such flagrant breaking of the third commandment any more than the flap we are in today over the sixth. (For any Protestants reading this, the Lutheran Church follows the traditional numbering of the commandments; I am referring to what you number as the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.”)

Actions speak louder than words.  We must do a better job clearly articulating the benefits of the Lord’s Supper and tying the reception of those benefits to the receiving of the Supper.  A church that does not commune weekly is communing weakly–paying mere lip-service to our teaching that in this body and blood of Jesus we receive life, salvation and the forgiveness of sins.  I’m not arguing for ex opere operato, but we could stand quite a bite more operato.  The vast majority of Lutherans are functional Protestants: they may confess the Real Presence on paper but they only want him present on the first and third Sundays.

We need to teach people to pray “the prayers.”  This is the liturgy, plain and simple. Already in the earliest days of the Church, praying “the prayers,” the Psalms, the prayers, “Blessed are you Lord of heaven and earth…”  lift up your hearts!  Kyrie eleison! the Lord’s Prayer, were part of what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus.  These are “the prayers.”  They need to be taught so that they can be learned and taught again.  Replacing any of them with the ditty of the moment, seems like replacing our fire departments with issuing everyone a “Super-Soaker” squirt gun.

I plan to develop more about a process to do what I have outlined above in a section about restoring the catechumenate among us.

If I’m wrong, and I could be, and in twenty years the Church is still singing, “I can Only Imagine” well, then, Kyrie eleison.  Maranatha.

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