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Can Traditional and Contemporary Worship Be Complimentary?

091018-image.jpgSince my ordination in May, I have been charged by the leadership of Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church (Gilbert, AZ) to explore ways that we might plant new works in the Valley of the Sun. This has led me to seek out pastors in our network to find out what they’re doing in mission, and to seek ways that we might be able to advance the gospel through collaborative projects. In getting to know our neighboring Lutheran churches, I’ve been greatly blessed! … but also discouraged.

Worship Styles

One of the areas that creates tension between us is our approach to worship. Some churches have such a strong dedication to the classical forms of liturgy that they see contemporary expressions as inherently wrong – to the point that some of these traditional churches want nothing to do with partnering with the contemporary ones. Equally distressing are the churches that are so enamored with the positive reviews and growing numbers of contemporary churches that they have abandoned substantial principles and practices that are foundational to classical Christianity (and, therefore, Lutheranism). They look at churches dedicated to traditions as hopelessly out of date, and destined for a death-by-attrition, as the old-school believers eventually pass away, their churches and styles with them.

This isn’t just a Valley of the Sun issue. It is a huge issue for the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod denomination. Already this issue has divided us relationally. It threatens to divide us institutionally if we can’t find a way to lovingly coexist moving forward.

Worship at Christ’s Greenfield

Without patting ourselves on the back too briskly, I do want to point out that … well, we seem to be doing something right. I think it looks like this:

Traditional Worship: At our traditional worship services, there are some strong commitments to the most important principles of corporate, Christian worship. Yes, we sing mostly hymnody, and most often with organ accompaniment. Yes, we make much of the Lutheran Service Book (readings, chanting, sitting and standing).

Incense
If you think this kind of worship could never “work for you”, you may have an unhealthy bias against traditional worship styles.

But this isn’t the substance of our traditional worship. What is important is our emphasis on the Word (readings, preaching), our allegiance to the Lord’s Supper, our practice of Absolution, our commitment to shared prayer, and our understanding of the need for these things to be placed in their appropriate narrative order. Like the prophet’s experience in Isaiah 6, we see the Lord, are humbled to repent, hear the proclamation of forgiveness, are made ready for the hearing of the Word, and are given opportunity to offer ourselves to our God and His call.

Many traditional worship services I’ve visited recently remind me of this verse: These people approach me with their speeches to honor me with lip-service–yet their hearts are far from me, and human rules direct their worship of me.” (Isaiah 29:13). I’m sure this happens in pockets at CGLCS, but overall I believe we are a church of people whose hearts are close to the Lord, and that we are entering into worship not just by formula, but by deeply thankful intention.

Contemporary Worship: Over in the Life Center, there are also some strong commitments. We sing songs that are more representative of our cultural norms and context. There is more casualness in appearance (no robes, no altar) and actions (more clapping, hand-raising, laughter).

But this isn’t the substance of our contemporary worship. What is important is our emphasis on the Word (readings, preaching), our allegiance to the Lord’s Supper, our practice of Absolution, our commitment to shared prayer, and our understanding of the need for these things to be placed in their appropriate narrative order. Like the prophet’s experience in Isaiah 6, we see the Lord, are humbled to repent, hear the proclamation of forgiveness, are made ready for the hearing of the Word, and are given opportunity to offer ourselves to our God and His call. (See what I did there?)

guitar_jesus

If you find this image sacrilegious, you might have too strong a bias against contemporary worship styles.

Many contemporary worship services I’ve visited recently remind me of the story of Aaron, the people of Israel, and the golden calf. The people love what they love, and will clamor for it, even if it’s not appropriate. The measure of “good worship” becomes their enjoyment, not God’s prescriptions. “Confessing sins? Long scripture readings? Standing for prayer? These are uncomfortable, and bad theater!” I’m sure there are a few at CGLCS who hope that our contemporary services move away from our moorings, and become like the Jesus infomercials of modern Evangelicalism … but overall I believe we are a church of people whose hearts are close to the Lord, and that we are entering into worship not just out of personal preference, but out of thankful obedience to God, and a desire to please him in all that we do.

What CGLCS is getting right:
 Our traditional and contemporary services are the same in all the most important ways. This allows us to go back and forth, and still be a part of the same worshiping community. It also anchors

What CGLCS needs to be cautious about: We can never adopt an animosity toward what is going on in the other worship venue. Appreciate your preference, yes … but the day we start lobbying for our preference alone, and condemn the practices of our brothers and sisters across the courtyard, is the day we get infected with the poison that is crippling our denomination.

How CGLCS can help change the world! Rather than succumb to our propensity to divide, we need to shine as an example to the broader Christian and Lutheran communities of how alternative worship styles can remain grounded, compliment one another, and bear much fruit. If we can do it at 425 N. Greenfield Rd. in Gilbert, perhaps we can do it across the country? I believe so.

– EO

(This article was originally published via the Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church Blog.)

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Ancient Paths: The Lord’s Prayer

Ancient Paths: The Lord’s Prayer

I attend a church now that recites the Lord’s Prayer as part of every Sunday service. It also encourages its recitation in home devotions, both morning and evening.

That’s quite a leap from becoming a Christian in a church tradition that never recited this prayer. In fact, that tradition never recited anything. We didn’t even have scripture readings. Everything was spontaneous, except for the more-prepared portions of the sermon.

This practice was a bi-product of a strong bias … that written and recited acts of worship aren’t “sincere”. Or “authentic”. Or “genuine”. Only the spontaneous can be “real”. Everything else, because it has taken a preconceived form, if form-al. Because it can be said by rote, one can never know if there’s heart behind the recitation.

offering prayerInteresting. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus did not say, “Just talk to God like He’s your best friend.” He did not say, “Pray whatever is on your heart, as long as it’s what your really feel” (as though your feelings is the barometer of whether or not your prayer is appropriate!). He did not say, “Pray over these types of topics.” He never said anything like these well-worn approaches to prayer we find in our shallow, contemporary spiritualities.

He said, “Pray thus.” Then He said words. As Christians, we usually are very cautious about mincing the words of Jesus. But not when it comes to the Lord’s Prayer. We not only can find it dispensable … we often consider these words boring and inadequate.

The ancient church did not make this mistake. They recited the Lord’s Prayer. This was central to the liturgy for 1,500 years, and remains central in the expressions of classical Christian traditions today. But, from the outset of Early Modern thinking, the Lord’s Prayer has been trivialized by huge swaths of Christian practitioners. I don’t think what has replaced its use has been anything like an improvement.

A few principles to consider when it comes to written prayers in general, and the Lord’s Prayer in particular:

  1. We should be careful with our words before God. Spontaneous worship acts can get us into big trouble — just ask Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1-2). A concise presentation of well-chosen words is to be preferred — just ask King Solomon (Eccl. 5:2) and Jesus (Matt. 6:7-8).
  2. Only pre-written prayers can be prayed in multiple locations at once. In our service book, we have what are called “collects”, from the Latin word collectia, which means “gather people together”. These prayers not only gather the thoughts of everyone within earshot in the service, but also with churches all over the globe. How else could we pray together with our brethren in the global south if we didn’t have written prayers?
  3. The Lord’s Prayer is the Word. Your prayers are not. Recitation of the Lord’s Prayer secures our trust, and demands our reverence. Spontaneous prayers can be a crapshoot.
  4. whiningSpontaneity is a shallow well. Do you really want your congregation’s dialogue with God to be limited to the off-the-cuff thoughts of your leaders? Isn’t it to our advantage to led in prayer by mature, thoughtful saints, from both the past and present? If you’re going to have spontaneous prayer, it had better be done by people with deep doctrinal equipping who know what they should be praying and how.
  5. Spontaneity is no more “genuine” than thoughtfully selected written phrases. For years I have endured “spontaneous” prayers in church that are nothing but the same drivel that has been prayed a thousand times before. Often it’s an auto-pilot prayer which has as it’s only priority providing enough time in the service for the band to get off the platform.
  6. Spontaneous praying makes it hard for people to pray. Do you ever bow your head, and wonder what you should say? Especially when you’re asked to pray out loud, in a group? Written prayers free up those who aren’t so glib to enter into solid seasons of prayer without the pressure of coming up with good stuff. This may be a key reason why there isn’t much actual prayer in most contemporary church services.

My prayer for all of us is that we would be liberated from the cul-de-sac of our limited minds, and be freed to embrace the rich tradition of our church’s prayer life that is stored for us through literature. Jesus’ prayer is indispensable. So are the Psalms. May the Word, and those God has given to us to be its pastors and teachers, give thoughtful shape to our ongoing conversation with God.

– E.O.

 

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Ancient Paths: Luther on the Ten Commandments

Ancient Paths: Luther on the Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments. To be obeyed, yes. But, to be used for personal prayer? For me, this introduces a new way to walk an “ancient path”. Martin Luther has this to say about reading and praying through the Ten Commandments:

“I think of each commandment as, first, instruction, which is really what it is intended to be, and consider what the Lord God demands of me so earnestly. Second, I turn it into a thanksgiving; third, a confession; and fourth, a prayer. I do so in thoughts or words such as these:

CONSIDERATION

“’I am the Lord your God, etc. You shall have no other gods before me,’ etc. Here I earnestly consider that God expects and teaches me to trust him sincerely in all things and that it is his most earnest purpose to be my God. . . .

THANKSGIVING

“Second, I give thanks for his infinite compassion by which he has come to me in such a fatherly way and, unasked, unbidden, and unmerited, has offered to be my God, to care for me, and to be my comfort, guardian, help, and strength in every time of need. We poor mortals have sought so many gods and would have to seek them still if he did not enable us to hear him openly tell us in our own language that he intends to be our God. How could we ever—in all eternity—thank him enough!

CONFESSION

“Third, I confess and acknowledge my great sin and ingratitude for having so shamefully despised such sublime teachings and such a precious gift throughout my whole life, and for having fearfully provoked his wrath by countless acts of idolatry. I repent of these and ask for his grace.

SUPPLICATION

“Fourth, I pray and say: ‘O my God and Lord, help me by thy grace to learn and understand thy commandments more fully every day and to live by them in sincere confidence. Preserve my heart so that I shall never again become forgetful and ungrateful, that I may never seek after other gods or other consolation on earth or in any creature, but cling truly and solely to thee, my only God. Amen, dear Lord God and Father. Amen'”

I will do well to get in a rhythm of praying through these Ten Commandments. Perhaps not every day, but regularly. And not in a rushed way. It can be easy to zip through the consideration / thanksgiving / confession sections, and quickly rush into my litany of things I want God to do for me. I sense that wading deeply through the first three stages with effectively change the content of stage four!

Next up: A few thoughts about the third commandment. We all quickly agree that commandments 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 are still to be wholeheartedly obeyed today. But the third commandment? Many have dispensed with it altogether. I’m talking about Sabbath-keeping … next time. It truly is an ancient path that we should be asking for.

– E.O.

 

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Ancient Paths: The Athanasian Creed

Ancient Paths: The Athanasian Creed

Of the three creeds that are acknowledged by all of the ancient western Christian traditions*, the Athanasian Creed is known and used the least. It may be because it’s longer. But really it has a lot to do with its content.  Much of its purpose is an attempt to hammer down and make explicit one key point: the equality, unity and distinctness of the three persons of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Maybe one of the reasons that this creed doesn’t resonate as strongly as the others is that … well, it’s not that convincing to the human intellect.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.” This is the Lord’s declaration. “For as heaven is higher than earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:8-9). We, of course, try to understand the thoughts and ways of God. Though there is an infinite separation between God’s truths and our ability to understand them (“as heaven is higher than the earth“), we are still encouraged to seek the face of God (Ps. 105:4, 27:8). The Apostle Paul says that, “For now, we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).

All we can know about God is what has been revealed. Thankfully, God has gone to great lengths to let us know what we can know. As Jesus told His disciples on that Maundy Thursday evening, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you an advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth … He lives with you and will be in you … I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you … when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (from John 14-16). So, “all truth” is ours … that is, all the truth that we both need, and can handle. But ultimately, the fullness of truth about God is beyond our grasp.

That’s why descriptions about God can be so unsettling, and less than “convincing”. You can say it over and over again (as does the Athanasian Creed), but it doesn’t become more convincing through repetition. “We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one.” Like a bad cowlick, no amount of hair gel can pin this down. Three just isn’t one. And different just isn’t the same.

But both are true in our revelations from God. The writings of the prophets, the incarnation of Jesus, the authoritative teachings of the apostles — all agree that a) God is one, and 2) there are three persons who are God. Equally glorious, equally majestic, equally unlimited, equally mighty, equally authoritative … all eternal, all infinite, all uncreated. “He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.” 

It’s just hard, even impossible, to “think thus.” We can say it. And we can choose to believe it. But to “think thus”? “My thoughts are not your thoughts.” 

The Ancient Path is One of Belief

Herein lies the huge point for all of us as we pilgrimage down the ancient path. Ours is a journey of belief, not all-knowing; faith, not sight; revelation, not exploration. 

Many theological traditions, especially since the days of the Reformation, have prided themselves in their exhaustive studies of the scriptures, and their incessant attempts to pin down the cowlick of the mystery of God. Rather than taking Biblical revelation and believing it, they take the revelations collectively, and “try to make sense” of it. They end up with theological systems that say things that the scriptures don’t, claiming all the while that their thinking must be true – given what we know in revelation, compounded by our own brilliance that now makes it understandable.

This kind of speculation can fool us into extra-biblical thinking. But at worst, this work of theology can be a gross violation of the first commandments: We theologically “create” a “God” who isn’t simply the God He revealed Himself to be. This “God” becomes an idol – a product of our image-ination – that we then worship. And we misuse the name of God by attributing that name to a faux-version of “God”. “The Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” (Ex. 20:7). But, I’m ahead of myself. The ancient path of the 10 Commandments is my next blog entry …

Read the Athanasian Creed. Read it regularly. When it warms your heart, rejoice. When it bugs you, believe! It’s at those moments we are obliged to bend the knee to a God Who is much bigger, better and more brilliant than we. It is good to think thus.

– EO

* The Athanasian Creed is historically endorsed by the Lutherans, Anglicans, Reformed Churches, and Roman Catholics.

 

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“Ask For the Ancient Paths”

“Ask For the Ancient Paths”

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand by the roadways and look. Ask about the ancient paths, “Which is the way to what is good?” Then take it and find rest for yourselves.‘” (Jeremiah 6:16).

My own personal journey has led me down ancient paths. Over 30 years ago, I was gripped by a love and desire for the experience of the ancient, early church. I have always wanted to be a part of a contemporary Christian tradition that has beaten a consistent path from the first century to the present … and would most fully connect me to the early church, both in word and practice. The journey has led me to the classical Christianity ensconced in Lutheranism (particularly in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod). I have chosen to take this path … and have found rest for myself. I recommend it without reservation.

This week our church* is beginning a 9-week preaching series called Ask For the Ancient Paths. It is a study of the six chief parts of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism: the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, and Confession/Absolution. This series provides an ideal time for me to share some of my journey as it relates to the foundational teachings of classical Christianity as put forth in the Lutheran Catechism.

Feel free to engage with your questions, comments and critiques. “One who listens to life-giving rebukes will be at home among the wise. Anyone who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever listens to correction acquires good sense” (Prov. 15:31-32). Good sense, wise company, life! My journey continues. I hope yours will, too.

So, grab your hat, your sun-screen, your walking stick … let’s explore this ancient path together.

– EO

* Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church (LCMS), Gilbert, AZ

 

 

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Anglicans and Lutherans

Anglican_LutheranAn interesting article about two of my favorite “families” in Christianity.

Confessional Lutherans & Anglicans Draw Closer Together

As I have sought out denominational families to which I could be tethered in a wholehearted and fulfilling way, these have been the two that emerge.

– EO

 

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“The Day is Surely Drawing Near” 4th Sunday of Advent – 14.12.21

castle church

Castle Church, Wittenberg

Today’s Sunday Advent hymn text comes from the 16th century. Bartholomaus Ringwaldt puts a comprehensive theology of the second coming of Jesus into poetic form. It combines both the glories and tragedies of the apocalyptic events on the world’s horizon. I seldom “get” to sing about all of these things during the holidays.

The day is surely drawing near when Jesus, God’s anointed,
in all his power shall appear as judge whom God appointed.
Then fright shall banish idle mirth, and hungry flames shall ravage earth as Scripture long has warned us.

The final trumpet then shall sound and all the earth be shaken,
and all who rest beneath the ground shall from their sleep awaken.
But all who live will in that hour, by God’s almighty, boundless power, be changed at his commanding.

The books are opened then to all, a record truly telling 
what each has done, both great and small, when He on earth was dwelling.
And every heart be clearly seen, and all be known as they have been in thoughts and words and actions. *

Then woe to those who scorned the Lord and sought but carnal pleasures,
who here despised His precious Word and loved their earthly treasures!
With shame and trembling they will stand and at the judge’s stern command to Satan be delivered.

My Savior paid the debt I owe, and for my sin was smitten; 
Within the Book of Life I know my name has now been written.
I will not doubt, for I am free, and Satan cannot threaten me; There is no condemnation!

May Christ our intercessor be and through his blood and merit
read from his book that we are free with all who life inherit.
Then we shall see him face to face, with all his saints in that blest place which he has purchased for us.

O Jesus Christ, do not delay, but hasten our salvation;
We often tremble on our way in fear and tribulation.
Oh, hear and grant our fervent plea; Come, mighty judge, and set us free from death and every evil.

* (I wonder about this – will our sins be public domain at the judgment? Isaiah 43:25 says ““I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” If God won’t remember, why would he have us and others remember our sins? Isaiah 54:4 says ““Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.”  And, in Isaiah 65:17 it says ““See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”)

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2014 in Advent 2014, Lutheran

 

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