19 April 2013

Hungry for Liturgical Worship

In his preaching this past Sunday, Pr. Seyboldt described the hunger of the sheep for the food their Shepherd gives to them.  According to our fallen nature, we all tend to hunger for the wrong sorts of food, including that which God has forbidden, instead of hungering for His Kingdom and His Righteousness.  But our Lord not only feeds us generously with His Gospel, with His preaching and His Sacraments; He also instills in us a hunger for His good gifts, that we might long for them, and seek them out where His Voice declares them to be for us: To quench our thirst in His quiet waters, to graze upon the lush green pastures of His Word, and to feast upon the choicest of Meats and the finest of Wines at the banqueting Table of His House.

At the ACELC free conference this past week, I was asked to represent a "High Church" attitude and approach to the Liturgy and worship.  Another pastor, Rev. Philip Hale (Nebraska), was asked to represent a "Traditional" approach; and Rev. David Langewisch (Colorado) was asked to represent a "Contemporary" approach.  Each of us presented a position paper, and then we all took part in a couple of panel discussions, along with Rev. Rick Sawyer (Mississippi) and Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller (Colorado).

In the second panel discussion, Rev. Langewisch was responding at one point to a question concerning those people who switch congregations, in preference for one "style" of worship over another.  Among his different points, I was especially struck by this observation, which he offered in passing: Those who have grown up without a good teaching and practice of the Sacraments, once they have discovered the Sacraments, are attracted to liturgical worship and gravitate to congregations with liturgical worship, because they are so hungry for the Sacraments and want as much of them as they can get. (I'm working from memory, here, so this shouldn't be regarded as a "quote," but I believe it is a fair and accurate paraphrase of Rev. Langewisch's comment.)

When I pointed out the significance of what Rev. Langewisch had noted, namely, that those who hunger for the Sacraments are inclined toward liturgical worship, both he and Rev. Hale objected that people are also attracted to liturgical worship for various other reasons, not all of them so pious or salutary.  I concede that argument; and yet, it does not change at all the point at hand.  No, whatever other reasons people may have for preferring liturgical worship (good, bad, or otherwise), the fact remains that, those who are hungry for the Sacraments will usually tend to seek out a liturgical congregation.

Why?  Because, not only are the Sacraments at the center, definitive and decisive for liturgical worship, but the Liturgy itself is sacramental in its character, content, and quality.  Certainly that is so, in the sense that the Liturgy comprises proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the Holy Communion.  But it is also the case that liturgical worship provides the external context, structure, and vehicle by which the Word and the Word-made-Flesh are conveyed and delivered to the people of God.  The means of grace do not exist in a vacuum, but the external Word is given and received within the external setting of the Liturgy.

When worship is shaped by the Liturgy, taking its cues from Holy Baptism as the foundation and the front door of the Lord's House; from Holy Preaching as the lungs of the Body; and from the Holy Communion as the heart and center of the Church's faith and life in Christ Jesus; well, then it is the Gospel-Word and Sacraments that stand out and pour forth, like a beacon in the night and a fountain in the desert.

By the same token, when worship is shaped by personal or popular preferences, by aesthetic sensibilities or musical tastes, or by cultural icons and theoretical totems, well, then it will be "anthropology" and "sociology" that stand out and pour forth.  (That is true, I might add, whether the "culture" is high, low, or middle-brow.)

Which is not to say that liturgical worship pays no attention to aesthetics or to the people; nor to suggest that other approaches to worship pay no regard to Word and Sacrament.  (I made a case in my paper for the appropriateness and benefits of aesthetics and beauty, and for the intersection of the Gospel with human life; and all of the presenters were united in their commitments to the Word and Sacraments as means of grace.)  But the very differences of which we are trying to speak, when we fumble about with such terminology as "High Church," "Traditional," and "Contemporary" worship, are differences of precedence and priority, and of the "engine" that guides and governs the entire enterprise.

In "High Church" liturgical worship, the Sacraments are "calling the shots" and "steering the boat" in a way they simply do not in "Contemporary" or "Traditional" LCMS worship.  (As for the LCMS "tradition," prior to the 1960s, on average, the typical communicant was receiving the Sacrament less than twice a year.)  And in "Contemporary" worship, by definition, community culture and popular preferences are charting the course and navigating the waters in a way they simply do not in liturgical worship.

So, I believe that Rev. Langewisch's comment and observation were exactly right, and for good reason: Those who hunger for the Sacraments will gravitate toward liturgical worship and liturgical congregations.  And, I would suggest, the sheep of the Good Shepherd ought to be taught such hunger for His Sacraments.


Unknown said...

You know, I don't think that the conference did a very good job of defining the terms, especially traditional vs. high church. I think any number of people would have resonated with your paper and might consider themselves to be "high church."

As the conference presented it, traditional worship values preaching and high church values the sacraments. But, I'm not certain that's an accurate definition.

Unknown said...

might not consider themselves high church...

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I agree that the terminology is a bit confusing, and difficult to define. That was one of the biggest things that I struggled with in preparing for the conference, and in trying to decide how to approach my paper. I'm not a big fan of any of these terms, actually, especially because they've taken on a good deal of "baggage" along the way. I don't mind being identified as "high church," although I don't typically think of myself in that way. It's rather more of an Anglican term than a Lutheran one, and, in my experience, people tend to use the term pejoratively.

I understand your distinction between emphasizing preaching, on the one hand, and the Sacraments on the other hand. For my part, I aim to avoid any sense of competition between the Word and Sacraments. I liked very much what Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller said during the panel discussion: that preaching is "sacramental," and the Sacraments are another kind of "preaching." My own way of saying this, usually, is that preaching is always leading to the Sacrament, and that the administration and celebration of the Sacrament always includes the preaching of the Gospel of Christ.

Unknown said...

I would say 'High Church' balances Sacrament and Word/Preaching (for example the Gospel Procession). Traditional values preaching (and Word proclaimed) over the Sacrament, Contemporary more emotion/music balanced with emotive preaching.

That's why early 20th Century Missouri is Traditional and preached every Sunday but did not receive from the Altar every Sunday. In fact many of my traditionals balked at every Sunday communion preferring a service of the Word as what we are supposed to be doing each Sunday.

This article was helpful to me to see that Von Schenk et al. were instrumenting a sacramental revival in Missouri in the early 20th C. ...and why Von Schenk despised other liturgically minded since perhaps they were about aesthetics or repristination at best without comprehending the sacramental core. (though Von Schenk was interested strongly in aesthetics - worship in the beauty of holiness especially being surrounded by ugliness in New York - but aesthetics never came at the expense of the Sacrament)

This may also explain the Lutheran liberal high church leanings of the mid-century to current era. That though they have emptied the Word of authority and are Gospel Reductionists, the Sacrament is, as Luther put it, pure Gospel, thus even for a GR, the sacramental character of liturgy for maintains its draw.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Ryan. I think you've put your finger on some important points, or least possibilities. I, too, have been struck by the work of Von Schenk, and by some of his significant insights and churchly accomplishments.

For my part, as I've said before, I am reluctant to allow any sort of wedge or competition to come between the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacrament. I still maintain that, where the preaching is sound, the Liturgy will follow in the right direction, even if slowly. And where the preaching is consistently not what it should be, the Liturgy won't be what it should be, either. In point of fact, the preaching is a constitutive and decisive aspect of the Liturgy itself.

The Gottesdienst gathering in Chicago this coming month (14 May) will be addressing some of these very connections and concerns between preaching and the Sacrament.