Thursday, March 31, 2011
We'll wait and see what they say…
You may have heard about the "discovery" of a document that is being hyped by the media and opportunistic "scholars" as being the "greatest find" ever in the history of archeology related to Christianity, with claims that this find is akin to the Dead Sea scrolls in its importance for Christianity. The best response at this point is simply to tell people that there is, at present, very little actual information about the discovery and the document itself is written in some sort of Hebrew based code-language. It is also very important for people to keep in mind that there were swirling about in the days after Christ's life a number of heretical sects and groups that combined elements of Christianity and Judaism with various pagan philosophies and religious opinions. There is nothing surprising therefore to find that there may be a document produced by one of these sects. What it contains remains unknown. It may be a wonderful discovery providing yet more extra-Biblical evidence confirming the historicity of the canonical Scripture. Or it may not be. At this point, it is best to ignore the media hype and chatter and wait for some sober-minded evaluation and judgment. I remain disgusted by so-called "scholars" who literally bank on the general public's ignorance about things that have been well know for many years. Here is but one example of the media-hype over this set of metal plates.
For the second year in a row – due to an unusual coincidence of calendars and moon phases – Easter will be observed on the same Sunday in all Christian traditions.
Most years, Easter – the celebration of the raising of Jesus Christ from the dead – is celebrated on different dates in western churches and most Orthodox churches because of ancient discrepancies in calculating the calendar. This year Easter is celebrated by all traditions on April 24th.
Now the National Council of Churches is renewing a call to Christians to make this happen every year and agree on a common date to celebrate the most important event in Christian history.
Read the rest here.
Sovereign Grace Music. Psalms. Gaithersburg, MD: Sovereign Grace Music, 2008. Audio CD. $10.00. www.SovereignGraceMusic.org (H)
Sovereign Grace Music. Sons and Daughters. Gaithersburg, MD: Sovereign Grace Music, 2009. Audio CD. $12.00. www.SovereignGraceMusic.org (H)
Sovereign Grace Music. Risen. Gaithersburg, MD: Sovereign Grace Music, 2011. Audio CD. $12.00. www.SovereignGraceMusic.org (H)
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
For your consideration…
This is a post from May 27, 2010. I've moved it up here because I'm scheduled to talk about the same topic today on Issues, Etc. - +HRC
Can a religion be only cerebral? Is religion only a way of thinking and not a way of doing?
I don't believe so. I think that religion is a matter of soul, mind, and body. It is a way of thinking, doing, and living. In other words, it is a matter of piety. The old saw about "Lutheran substance and [American] Evangelical style" is all wrong – in fact, the catch phrase intentionally plays down the importance of a lived religion: it's merely "style." And we all know that style is unimportant. Once men wore fluffy collars, now they wear ties. Just a manner of style.
But it's the wrong word. What the advocates of such a plan mean to say is: Lutheran substance, American Evangelical piety. The piety of a Christian is how he lives the faith he professes. Piety is what a Christian does and the words that rattle around in his head without him consciously thinking about them: the words and actions of his Sunday morning worship, how he prays in his daily life, the pattern of sound words that pop into his head throughout the week, the songs he sings, the proof texts he knows by heart and repeats to himself, how he explains the faith to his children, the way he dresses for worship, the popular activities he avoids because of his faith, and the like.
So is there a distinctively Lutheran piety? Or is being Lutheran simply a cerebral matter: Here is a list of doctrines: if you assent to these, then you are a Lutheran and your piety is up to you, as an individual or community, to devise on your own from whatever source you like. Is that how it is?
I certainly don't think so. And I think the history of the Reformation and even a cursory reading of the Lutheran Symbols give the lie to such a notion. Indeed: the Reformation was about piety, about actions, about a faith lived in a particular way.
So what is the distinctively Lutheran piety? It is not hard to define. It is spelled out in the Symbols and the history of our fellowship, it is written on millions of hearts – it is so well known that it is easily caricatured on the radio by Garrison Keillor.
Lutheran piety begins at the Divine Service. The Mass is celebrated among us as the thing of most importance(AC XXIV). Lutheran piety is reverent (think of Luther sucking up the Precious Blood off the altar rail in 1543). Lutheran piety dresses up for church. Lutheran piety dwells within the traditional prayers, lessons, vestments, and ceremonies of the Western tradition (Ap. XXIV.1). This is a rich tradition, therefore, Lutheran piety recognizes that there is room for one parish to have more ceremonies than another: so long as the ceremonies in use comport with the pious tradition within which we live, for we are not frivolous, jocular, or offensive in the house of God (FC SD X). Lutheran piety bows or kneels at the altar. Lutheran piety adores Christ present in the Sacrament. Lutheran piety stands for the Gospel Lesson. Lutheran piety chants and sings. Lutheran piety considers one day more holy than another, unto the Lord, and thus offers the Sacrament on every Lord's Day and the other high feasts. Luther piety has pastors, celebrants, and ministers. Lutheran piety is one of Word and Sacrament, tilted slightly toward Sacrament: thus the Sacrament has pride of place over the sermon.
After the benediction, Lutheran piety goes into the home. Lutheran piety, while standing or kneeling, makes the sign of the cross, morning and evening, and recites the Creed and the Lord's Prayer. Lutheran piety goes to confession and says, Dear pastor please hear my confession and pronounce forgiveness in order to fulfill God's will. Lutheran piety reads Luther's sermons, Portals of Prayer, and the Fathers. Lutheran piety thanks God for clothing and shoes, house and home, eyes, ears, and all my members. Lutheran piety teaches his children to say, "We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things." Lutheran piety expects crosses. Luther piety expects that it will daily sin much and need forgiveness.
Lutheran piety is, as you can see, molded and formed by two things: the liturgy as described in Ap. XXIV.1 and the Small Catechism. These tell us the how of the Faith. Through these the Lutheran Faith is lived. The Catechism is not a doctrinal treatise, a merely cerebral book: it is an instruction manual for personal piety. It gives words and actions. Just as Anglican piety is formed by the 39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer and Roman piety by the canon of the Mass and the rosary, Lutheran piety is shaped by the liturgy and the Catechism.
The words of the liturgy and the Catechism constantly rattle around a head shaped by Lutheran piety. They are the lens through which daily life is filtered.
The mind and heart shaped by Lutheran piety can complete all of these ellipses:
· Isaiah mighty seer....
· I believe that I cannot by my own....
· What is the world to me....
· ...that we are by by nature....
· Lord now lettest...
· A mighty fortress...
· The Lord be with you. . .
· Lord God, Heavenly Father, bless us...
· O Lord, open Thou my lips...
· This is most certainly. . .
· Yes, yes it shall...
· We should fear and. . .
· Glory be to God on high. . .
· . . . therefore with angels. . .
· Lord, let at last thine angels. . .
There are other pieties that have different catch phrases, different actions, different ways of worship. The American Evangelical piety uses the 19th century camp meeting liturgy: warm up songs, call to worship, prayer of confession/humility, songs, scripture reading, sermon, songs. American Evangelical piety does not wear vestments or regard one day as more holy than another (except for Sunday, Christmas, and Easter). American Evangelical piety does not make the sign of the cross or go to confession. American Evangelical piety, when it celebrates the Sacrament, does so in a simple manner without ceremonies that would indicate worship or adoration toward the Sacrament. American Evangelical piety is upbeat, casual, and jocular. American Evangelical piety expects daily improvement and victorious living. American Evangelical piety reads Guideposts, My Utmost for His Highest, and the Purpose Driven Life. American Evangelical piety knows what AWANA stands for. American Evangelical piety has worship leaders, song leaders, praise bands, and preachers. American Evangelical piety is one of Word and Sacrament, tilted strongly toward Word: thus the sermon has pride of place over the Sacrament.
The mind and heart shaped by American Evangelical piety cannot complete many ellipses besides the lyrics of currently popular church songs. The words that rattle around the head formed by this piety are generally phrases of their favorite preacher, song, Bible verse, or currently popular book.
Now – what would happen to a Baptist church who wanted Baptist doctrine but took up Lutheran piety via the Common Service on Sunday morning and replacing Guideposts and free form prayer with Portals of Prayer and the Creed throughout the week? What would happen to an E-Free church that swapped out their current list of songs for those in LSB and had their pastor wear an alb and stole? If they did this for a generation at the late service, what would the next generation of Baptist and E-Free preachers be like?
The generation that brought American Evangelical piety into the Lutheran Church is now in late middle age. Their confirmation classes are now graduating from seminary and Synodical schools. For the first time in history, we have Lutheran pastors who cannot complete all the ellipses listed above because they always went to the late service that was formed not by Lutheran piety but by American Evangelical piety. For the first time in our English-speaking history, we are ordaining pastors who do not know the Common Service (or any setting of the Western liturgy) by heart. For the first time in history, we have school teachers who cannot say Matins from memory – but know all the lyrics to the top five selling worship songs as listed each month by CCLI.
Will a church body really be the same church body if a number of its parishes are formed by Lutheran piety and a number of others by American Evangelical piety?
We are not just minds – we are minds, souls, and bodies. Piety matters. That's why the Confessions say so much about it. A sea change has occurred in the piety of the Missouri Synod – a change away from Lutheran piety and toward American Evangelical piety. We are only beginning to feel the repercussions.
For your consideration…
It's that time of year - between Palm Sunday and the first couple Sundays in May, most congregations will be bringing confirmands to the Lord's Table for the first time. Here is something you might find useful in preparing your candidates for confirmation and/or first communion.
Receiving Holy Communion
In the Sacrament of the Altar, our Lord Jesus Christ has given us a miraculous and precious gift: His own true Body and true Blood for the forgiveness of our sins. We wish to receive that gift in a manner that shows our faith in our Lord and in this gift from his hand.
The Bible says in I Corinthians that we should "examine ourselves" and "recognize the Body of the Lord" before we come to the Lord's Supper. Besides making a regular habit of taking advantage of God's gift of Individual Confession & Absolution, it is a good idea to review the Catechism's Christian Questions and Their Answers, which can be found right in the hymnal, p. 329. Do this right when you sit down in church each Sunday morning.
The Catechism also says that "fasting and other bodily preparation is fine outward training." Fasting helps focus our minds on this special, miraculous food we receive in the Lord's Supper. A simple way to fast before the Lord's Supper is simply not to eat breakfast before church on Sunday morning. Use the time you would have used to eat breakfast in additional prayers for a right and worthy reception of the Lord's Supper.
Before you go up to Communion you can turn to the inside from cover of the hymnal to find prayers for "Before Communing" and for "Thanksgiving after Receiving the Sacrament." In addition to these, you may want to memorize these traditional prayers to pray while at the Altar.
Prayer before receiving the Body: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. But only say the word, and your servant shall be whole." (Matthew 8:8)
Prayer before receiving the Blood: "What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I shall receive the chalice of salvation and call upon the Name of the Lord. I shall call upon the Name of the Lord which is worthy to be praised and so shall I be saved from my enemies." (Ps. 116:12-13; Ps. 18:3)
And remember the simplest prayer of all: when the pastor says, "The Body of Christ" and "The Blood of Christ" respond by saying, "Amen."
Dress and Demeanor
Receiving your Lord's Body and Blood is a holy, mysterious, and precious gift to you from God. Your dress and demeanor should reflect your thankfulness and respect for this gift. This is why people wear clothing that is modest and neat for church: it shows respect for this miraculous gift which Jesus gives us.
Maas, Korey D. The Reformation and Robert Barnes: History, Theology and Polemic in Early Modern England (Studies in Modern British History, Volume 23). Rochester, NY and Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Boydell and Brewer, 2010. 250 Pages. Cloth. $99.00 www.boydellandbrewer.com http://www.boydellandbrewer.com/store/viewItem.asp?idProduct=13114 (LHP)
Begbie, Jeremy S. and Steven R. Guthrie, Editors. Resonant Witness: Conversations Between Music and Theology (The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Liturgical Studies). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011. 497 Pages. Paper. $34.00. www.eerdmans.com (LHP)
Reformed Praise. Cross-Centered Worship. Minnetonka, MN: Reformed Praise, 2005. Audio mp3 download album. $10. (CD available for $13.00.) www.reformedpraise.org (H)
Reformed Praise. Merciful to Me. Minnetonka, MN: Reformed Praise, 2010. Audio mp3 download album. $10. (CD available for $13.00.) www.reformedpraise.org (H)
Reformed Praise. Amazing Love. Minnetonka, MN: Reformed Praise, 2010. Audio mp3 download album. $10. (CD available for $13.00.) www.reformedpraise.org (H)
More Kindle formatted e-Books are available from Concordia Publishing House. Please note that the latest titles include the most recent edition of Dr. Gene Edward Veith's The Spirituality of the Cross.
Mission from the Cross: Lay Reader's Edition
A helpful and practical suggestion…
Whenever a new pastor arrives at a parish, there is built-in change that just comes with the change in man. Then there are the changes that happen because the man doesn't know all of the traditions of the congregation that he serves. There are also the deliberate changes that a pastor may attempt as well (hopefully after much patient instruction, although that is not always the case). The first type of change is unavoidable, the second is avoidable. The third type of change requires some patience, teaching, and trust between pastor and congregation.
Pastors in the LCMS carry two sets of documentation. The first is the Self Evaluation Tool or SET. This tool is a collection of the pastor's responses to a number of theological issues, including "hot-button" issues of our day. The second document is the Personal Information Form or PIF. This form deals with more personal information regarding the pastor. Both of these forms help congregations when they choose to call a pastor.
What I am suggesting in this article is that each congregation have a document called something like "Congregational Tradition Inventory" which lists all sorts of traditions that are used at a given congregation. This form could be given to new pastors or vacancy pastors to help avoid those changes that can be avoided. This could help reduce unnecessary conflicts within a congregation as well.
The Congregational Tradition Inventory could include the more formal things (Communion Sundays, Divine Service Information, Lectionary used, stuff like you see on the LutheranLiturgy website and so forth) and also a lot of the things which are not so formal (pastor including those with birthdays in the prayer of the church, an Easter breakfast, Fall Harvest festival, Children's Christmas Eve service, and so forth). This could include a ton of valuable information for any pastor who is going to serve in that place.
This would not have to be anything formal in Synodical respects (unlike the SET and PIF), but instead could be a congregational document to be shared alongside the Constitution and Bylaws when a call is accepted. It could also be updated easily by a Board of Elders when any tradition changes in the congregation. The point is that this is a flexible tool that could have as much/as little information from the congregation as they wish and be very helpful for both congregation and pastor.
Think of it, congregations, your new pastor doesn't forget those traditions and cause small offenses here and there through his first years.
Think of it, pastors, you would know what is normal and customary in the congregation you serve without having to investigate too much.
Wyneken and Harrison…
All this should firmly and constantly move our hearts to pay close attention to the powerful enemies of this unity, external as much as internal. For we have the devil against us, the world around us, and the flesh upon us. And the flesh is not only remiss in and unwilling to maintain such unity; it harbors in itself the very things that destroy it unless they are powerfully opposed: darkness, envy, mistrust, bitterness, anger, sarcasm, hatred. The self-seeking, the disregard for the well-being and woe of others, only looks to itself and seeks its own benefit. kindled by the devil and his minions in the world, the hellfire of suf- fering breaks out, and the bond of peace and of unity is sunk. We must deny, crucify, and sacrifice all of this through the love of Christ. We must attend to and oppose it with the noble fruit of the Spirit—true humility that happily gives honor and seeks nothing. When we must fight and wound, we are only the more humbled. Heartfelt love, which is accom- modating, peaceable, forgiving, gentle, patient, and longsuffering, keeps the little oil flask of mildness by its side at all times. Only by daily, serious renewal do we shed the old man and his works and put on the new man, who is created according to god in Christ Jesus. This is the only way one mind and true unity can be preserved among us. In daily repen- tance, the fire of divine love kindles anew in Christian hearts. Our fellowship of love is based upon and held together by this divine love. Through repentance, it is deepened and more firmly established, so that in matters of faith, no new, strange, and thus false view, explanation, and understanding of the truth of Scripture may be forced in. even under great pain and terrible suffering, our fellowship will not be torn.
Then why, beloved brothers, do we stand by one another? Why can't we leave one another? It is because we cannot let go of the one truth that we, in fellowship with all the saints, have acknowledged, believe, and confess as it is in the Confessions of the Lutheran Church. These Confessions bear witness to the truth clearly, plainly, and powerfully on the basis of the Holy Scriptures, against all the desires of Satan, to the whole world. And why do we hold so firmly to our Confession such that we happily endure the hatred of the world and also of the rest of Christianity, which is difficult to bear? Why, with god's help and grace, would we suffer persecution and death before we would give up even a small part of that Confession? We do so because we have come to make the truth set forth in that Confession our own, not in times of good leisure and rest, like we might appropri- ate other natural or historical truths. The Holy Spirit has revealed this truth to us in the midst of the burdens of troubled consciences as our only salvation. Through the Word, the Spirit has borne witness to the truth in broken and troubled hearts. Our consciences are bound to the Word and therefore to the Confession of the Church. As poor, forlorn, and condemned men, we have learned to believe in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. The peace of conscience, the peace of our souls, the hope of eternal blessedness, our very be- ing and life hang on this truth. to surrender it would be to surrender our salvation and ourselves for time and eternity. Therefore, neither can we let go of the most insignificant portion of the Confession because the entire series of the individual teachings of the faith are for us one chain. This chain not only binds our understanding in the truth, it binds our consciences and lives. The loss of an individual part of the same would break this chain, and we would be torn loose from Christ, tumbling again into the abyss of anxiety, doubt, and eternal death.
Therefore we hold fast to our Confession, as to our very life's life.
F.C.D. Wyneken, in At Home in the House of My Fathers, p. 287
I've been in recording mode recently with several of my own new tunes as well as with the next installment of our Parish Presbyterian demo recording efforts. This one was written by Greg Wilbur and has been our Psalm-of-the-Month through March.
A week ago Jesus insists that unless you are born of water and the Spirit (Baptism) you cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Then on Sunday He sits by Jacob's well and tells a Samaritan woman that He has water that will become a spring to eternal life in her and that if she has this water, she will never be thirsty again. In the middle of this is the Old Testament story of Moses who hits the rock with his staff and water flows to a people complaining that they are thirsty. It is a lot of talk about water. But we don't talk like this. Should we?
We've compiled the Basic Christian Library just for you. It continues to be one of our most-visited posts.
Recently we added 3 new resources:
Senske, Kurt. The Calling: Live a Life of Significance. St. Louis: Concordia, 2010. What is your purpose in life? What is God calling you to do? This book combines biblical wisdom with secular strategies to educate you on living a life of meaning and significance in all areas of life – family, professional, community, and congregational.
Schkade, Jonathan. Icky Sticky, Hairy Scary Bible Stories. St. Louis: Concordia, 2010. The stories in the Bible are not always nice and happy. Some are messy and dangerous. Some are about foolish, strange, or awful things. This collection of short, funny poems is sure to capture the attention of any reader. Each poem shows that God works in the ugly, icky, gross world we live in and helps us out of our messes.
Baker, Robert, ed. Lutheran Spirituality. St. Louis: Concordia, 2010. This book is a how-to for Lutherans wanting more out of their spiritual life written by respected Lutheran scholars. It will help leaders in the church discover reachable goals to strengthen their own faith and help others grow strong as well.
Have you read any of the suggested books? What are you reading now? What should be added to this list?
Share in the comments or on Facebook.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Anthony Esolen names a common malady:
What a Sunday Morning with Driscoll looks like…
My wife and I recently took a trip to Seattle, Washington so that she could attend the American Pharmacist Associaton conference. We were there over the weekend and, as there was not a faithful congregation nearby where the Gospel was purely preached and the sacraments faithfully administered, we decided to attend Mars Hill Downtown, a short walk from our hotel. It's a very influential network of non-denominational churches founded in Seattle under the leadership of Pastor Mark Driscoll, a fiery and uncompromising preacher.
Mars Hill Downtown is located in an old red brick building that from the outside looked like it was abandoned. It would appear from the structure that they are trying to reach out to the poor and disenfranchised of the city. I was a little surprised, then, that there was a security guard at the entrance, put there to keep the homeless and poor out and the young yuppies in.
Once inside, the building was a hybrid of coffee shop and contemporary art gallery. The floors and walls were black, without any decoration, crosses, or other symbols that would lead the visitor to think that this is a place to worship the Triune God. There was a gathering area with good coffee, information about the church, and a bookstore which consisted mostly of books written by the Mars Hill staff. While getting our coffee, we were greeted by a very friendly man in his twenties, dressed in Urban Outfitters jeans and trendy buttoned down shirt, who kindly asked where we were from, how we heard about the church, and told us that he was glad that we were there.
The worship space was darkly lit with a stage in front. At the back of the stage was a curtain especially made for projection, and an advertisement for a church trip to Turkey was looping. The equipment was set up for the band, and we sat down and had a seat about ten minutes before the service was about to start so that my wife could read through their booklet on what they believed.
After we sat down another young man in his twenties, dressed in Urban Outfitters trendy jeans and button down shirt, sat down in the seat in front of us, asked us where we were from, and told us how great the church was. He had been attending Mars Hill since he moved to Seattle about 4 years ago and since attending there he had started taking his faith much more seriously, had learned much more about theology, and had become a better man and a better husband.
The service started with two songs led by a rock trio of guitar, keyboard, and drums. The first song reminded me vaguely of Psalm 51 and the second song was the David Crowder arrangement of "All Creatures of our God and King". I appreciated the hymns, as they were the only songs in the service that I would call sing-able congregational song. After the opening songs, we had about 20 minutes of announcements. It was during this time that most of the church attendees came in. The people attending the church were nearly all young, white people in their 20's and early 30's. There were no children as they were sent elsewhere, and there were no middle aged or older folks. There were also no teenagers. The announcements were part announcement/part pep rally. We clapped several times at all the amazing things that God was doing at Mars Hill. We were introduced to the staff, all of whom were dressed in Urban Outfitters jeans and shirts, and we learned that the Easter service was going to be combined with all Mars Hill campuses and held at Qwest Field (the home of the Seattle Seahawks). The feeling of incredible excitement and happiness filled every moment of the announcements.
After the announcements, they took up the offering and we sang the hymn Amazing Grace. Now, a full 35 minutes into the service, we were ready to hear from the Man himself, Pastor Mark Driscoll.
As Mars Hill consists of several campuses, we watched a video of his message which was broadcast from another campus. Pastor Driscoll was nicely dressed in Urban Outfitters jeans and buttoned down shirt. His hair was just slightly messy and he had the two-days-without-a-shave beard. Mars Hill was making their way through the book of Luke (and taking two years to do it), and this week's message was on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. While the irony of reading that parable while a security guard stood at the entrance to the church and kept the poor people out was not lost on me, the focus of the day's message was on hell. There are some very positive things I have to say about Mark Driscoll at this point. First, unlike many mega-churches, he does not do Christianity-light. He does the best he can to preach the truth to the people he can reach. Secondly, he did appear to be genuinely concerned about the people in the campus churches and in the community regarding their eternal salvation.
He began his teaching on hell by showing very clearly from Scripture that we consist of body and soul, and that at death the two are separated but will be re-united at the resurrection. Everyone will either spend eternity in heaven or will spend eternity in torment in hell. He then went through several false teachings such as universalism, annihilism, reincarnation, naturalism, and purgatory and showed how they were false. While he was good to this point, he began repeating a phrase that he repeated throughout the entire 45 minutes message that really began to sting. He said, "It's my job to tell the truth. It's your job to make a decision". He spent the bulk of the 45 minutes making it abundantly clear that if you did not make the right decision you would, without a doubt, spend all eternity in torment in hell. The Lutheran in me kept expecting him to get around to the Gospel. Unfortunately he never really did. If I make the right decision I go to heaven, if I don't I spent all eternity in hell. I'm sorry Mark Driscoll, but that's not the Gospel. My wife leaned over to me at this point and said, "There's no grace!"
The Gospel was so tainted with decision theology that there could be no assurance of forgiveness besides your own personal feelings of conversion. This is the problem with decision theology: it separates the forgiveness of sins from the death and resurrection of Christ and places it on the decision of the individual believer. Yes, Jesus died for you, BUT, it all really depends on your ability to make a decision to BELIEVE that and to have a true conversion experience. I am so thankful to belong to a church that preaches pure Gospel, where I simply look at Christ and trust that I am saved by His grace, brought to faith by the Holy Spirit, and nurtured daily and weekly through Word and Sacrament. I think an important outreach for the Lutheran church could be to reach out to those who get burned out by this all-law, emotionally draining approach to Christianity, and give them the comfort of the pure Gospel.
Following the message, they celebrated communion. Pastor Tim got up in front of the congregation and explained their beliefs on the Lord 's Supper (it's an act of obedience to remind us of what Jesus did). He also tried to reach out to those who were committing the cardinal sin of evangelicalism; knowing the faith but not REALLY believing it. You could also use communion as a way to rededicate yourself to Jesus. However, Pastor Tim did not mention that communion gives us forgiveness of sins and salvation and he did not recite the Words of Institution. It was interesting to me that we were not ushered row-by-row, but people came up and received the cracker and juice or wine as they felt moved to do so.
The band played a song during this time that made a few references to the Passover (the song was called "Pass Over Me"). The song went on during the duration of communion and led to a very, loud, mystical, and moving climax as communion finished. Pastor Tim then led us in prayer and told us that the staff was available to talk if anyone had questions about the faith. Then we left, feeling like we had been spiritually beaten by 90 minutes of law. We stopped by a near-by chocolate shop to cheer up my wife, which just goes to show that emotional "spirituality" can be edified with Hershey's.
The best thing was probably the coffee. It was quite good and you could drink it during the worship time. It really made the 45 minutes of hell-fire much more relaxing. As a 20-something I really did feel like I could belong there if I just gave up the pure Gospel and my Lutheranism. Mars Hill has the following things that the Lutheran church could emulate: good coffee, very welcoming people, a positive environment, well-executed worship times, and a good use of technology such as their website and their use of the web 2.0.
Besides that, it is beyond my understanding why we would want to imitate the Mars Hill experience in the Lutheran church. What they practice in worship clearly supports their doctrine. Really, it does!
Perhaps this will help:
The Spirituality Paradigm of Evangelicalism
Music and media may be at the bottom of this chart, but they fit very well within this system. Mars Hill has the emotional and subjective down to an art. I would say, whether intentional or not, it is emotionally manipulative. Let's review the service:
All of these things, from the evangelical perspective, are simply there in worship to help people connect with Jesus. And these are all standard practice. But what were we so excited about? What was the substance of the service? Let's review everything in the service again, looking for biblical content. This was a bible believing church after all.
That's it. Really, that was it.
Now let's look the Lutheran Spirituality Paradigm
Where does the intense, emotional, personal manipulation come into play? It doesn't. It doesn't come into play because we believe that we are saved by grace through faith, and not through our good works or the personal emotional intensity of our conversion experience.
It is worth noting that the Lutheran paradigm fits perfectly with the Liturgy of the Christian church, which itself grows out of the synagogue service which was familiar to Jesus and the early church. While Jesus rebelled against the excessive legalism of the Pharisees and academic disbelief of the Sadducees, he never rebelled against the synagogue service. Rather, it seems that he attended regularly, preached within it, and never made an attempt to make it into a subjective, personal, and emotionally manipulative event.
Having established the Lutheran faith paradigm, let's look at how much biblical content we find in the Liturgy which we call the Divine Service.
1. Introit (opening Psalm)
2. Biblically literate, Christ-centered hymnody.
3. A reading from the Old Testament.
4. A Psalm of the Day
5. A reading from the Pauline Epistles, Revelation, or the book of Acts
6. A reading from the Gospels.
7. Prayers that petition God on behalf of the world.
8. The sacrament of the altar.
9. The sacrament of Holy Baptism on certain occasions.
10. The Sanctus, Nunc Dimittis, Kyrie, Agnus Dei, and Alleluia, which are all taken right from Scripture.
11. A sermon, in which the reading of the day are explained.
12. The Lord's Prayer
13. Confession and Absolution, which is clearly taught and commanded by our Lord.
In other words, we can see how in the Divine Service we are practically swimming in the Word of God. Because we believe that the Holy Spirit works through Word and Sacrament, we submit ourselves to the way He normally works, rejoice in the sure salvation won for us by Christ, and we respond with our songs and prayers. This is why the Lutheran confessions state that seeking God apart from Word and Sacrament is of the devil.
The big question in the Lutheran church in the past thirty years had been whether we can take the emotionally charged, subjective elements from the Evangelical faith paradigm and insert then into the Divine Service without destroying the Lutheran Paradigm. I think the wisest answer is a clear no. We cannot important elements of the paradigm without eventually seeing a full shift to that paradigm. Attempts to mix the two will inevitably be met with conflict because we attempting to believe two contrasting things at once.
I know that parting from the Evangelical faith paradigm is not an easy thing, yet we leaders in the church must think pastorally. It is possible that allowing our dear lay people to live with the Evangelical paradigm for years has given them an Evangelical approach to the Christian faith. Dear brothers and sisters, this is not okay! We must slowly, deliberately, and lovingly restore (or in many cases, teach for the first time) the Lutheran spirituality faith paradigm, not for our sakes, but for the sakes of our dear brothers and sisters in Christ who will be and are already being led astray by the loud, steady stream of American Evangelicalism which leads to nothing other than a mixing of law and Gospel and terrible burden on the consciences of God's own people.
I know the temptation to copy and paste what we see in Evangelicalism is strong. They do, after all, attract thousands of young people. So let's copy it; let's copy the good coffee, positive environment, and accept nothing less than excellence from those who lead worship; even from the volunteers. Let's leave the emotional manipulation, co-mingling of Law and Gospel, and un-biblical spirituality right where we found it.