From Pr. Beecroft, one of the MTC speakers…
This question was pervasive at the LCMS Model Theological Conference, "Toward a Theology of Worship…," which was held this past week in St. Louis. As the discussion turned toward issues of style, rite, ceremony, form and liturgy appropriate to our sacramental confession, this typical response came often, "So who decides what is appropriate? Or reverent? Or sacramental?" The underlying assumption, of course, is that it is all, or largely, in the eye of the beholder. What is appropriate, reverent, and sacramental for one person, may not be appropriate, reverent, and sacramental for another. Thus, the predominant factor for making such determinations is cultural context. The most important consideration is how to communicate the idea of the Gospel to modern (post-modern) people.
I would contend this approach merely reflects the confusion of our mismanaged modern (post-modern) minds. Jonathan Robinson, author of "The Mass and Modernity," comments that our cultural climate "may be summed up in the attitude that one set of opinions is as good as any other set, and this is so because there is no objectivity to be found in human experience. The very possibility of looking for a description of 'the way things really are' is looked on as foolish. 'That's your choice, and so long as you don't try to impose it on anyone else, you are entitled to it' sums up this attitude. There are no grands-discours, or general descriptions of reality, because, to put it bluntly, there is no reality to be described" (23). As such, there is no objective form, rite, or ceremony to be imposed on Christians (or Lutherans?) because who is to decide what is really best or appropriate? It is really up to each person, pastor, or congregation to decide what is best for their own particular needs.
I firmly believe that such rampant individualistic subjectivism works against our objective, sacramental confession of faith. The Book of Concord, the theological confession of Lutherans, clearly states that we "do not abolish the Mass." Rather, we retain the Mass and observe it with greater piety and devotion than our opponents. Now our modern (post-modern) Lutherans will say that such language is historically and contextually bound, only descriptive of their particular time and not to be imposed on modern, enlightened Lutherans. Little surprise, I disagree. The historic liturgies (masses or divine services) of Christendom embody the sacramental confession of our Lutheran faith, proclaiming our belief in the presence of the living, risen and ascended Christ through the words of the proclaimed Gospel and the in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, His very Body and Blood. The Great Tradition of sacramental Christianity (Lutheran, RC, Orthodox, Anglican[?]) has reflected these truths in varying degrees by their deep ritual, ceremonial, liturgical conduct. If people believe God Himself is present, then worship is marked by reverence, mystery, formality, repetition, obedience, and humility. Only a confused, disordered modern (post-modern) person will not be able to recognize the great transcendentals of truth, beauty, and goodness in sacramental Christian worship, and they will fail to conduct themselves appropriately in the presence of the Most Holy Trinity. They will not act like Moses, Isaiah, or St. John, choosing instead the irreverent path of the American religious consumer who locates God in a distant, far off Protestant heaven.
So who decides? The question itself reflects an unholy amnesia, a loss of identity. Certainly each pastor and each congregation should not be making those decisions. The liturgy is too important to be left in the hands of a pastor whose seminary training in liturgical and sacramental theology is shamefully lacking. It is too important to be decided upon by our congregations in some democratic form, especially when so few of them have been formed or catechized by the historic liturgies of the church. Certainly, the needs of the American consumer should not decide what is appropriate. Robinson states, "The result of trying to adapt the liturgy to meet the perceived needs of the world from the perspective of modernity weakens, not strengthens, the Church." Amen.
So who decides? Well, perhaps the decision has already been made. Maybe, just maybe, we have had the answer to the question of our theology of worship all along. Remember, we have received the Mass. We have retained the Mass. We do not abolish the Mass. Our fathers in the faith have decided for us. It is a good thing. It is meet, right and salutary. So we worship with the angels. Christ speaks. We listen. Christ feeds us His body and blood. We eat and drink. We kneel. We make the sign of the cross. We sing. We confess sins. We confess faith. God puts His name on us and we go into the world, bearing witness to His love made known in Christ. We gather in the Liturgy of the Mass where Christ forgives, redeems, and saves us, sending us out to the liturgy after the liturgy, our lives and vocations.
The immediate objection by those who remain confused is, "Well, which form of the Mass?" They point to historical diversity as a red herring, pretending that it allows all sorts of creativity, novelty, and diversity in our own day. My response is the form found in the Lutheran Service Book. There is our form of the Mass. It is not perfect, but it is faithful. It could use more direction in terms of ceremony, but if all of our congregations submitted themselves in humility and obedience to the heritage we have received, then we would not be in our current state of evangelical confusion and widespread disunity.
May the living, risen, and ascended Christ grant us repentance by His Holy Spirit and so draw us in faith to His precious gifts of the Mass for the renewal of the life of His Holy Church.