“Without Forme, and Voyd”

In theory, I don’t have a problem with contemporizing the liturgy, and my objections have less to do with musical setting or style than preservation of the text.  I do feel that the setting of the Divine Liturgy should be dignified, but that is, in part, a matter of taste. I would love to hear what someone like Sufjan Stevens would do creating a setting of the liturgy, but then again he is a Christian artist whom I like. I would not, however, like to have him rewrite the text. There is a church in Minneapolis that I’ve heard is doing some interesting and respectful contemporary settings of the Lutheran liturgy. They are called Mercy Seat. I’ve listened to some of their settings, and I do have some concerns that texts have been changed, and that can change doctrine, but…

One of the blogs I visit from time to time is written by Gregg Burch. He is a life coach and consultant. Gregg often writes about the decline of the ELCA. His perspective is that of his generation; based greatly on a business model with which he’s had some amount of success in the business world.  One of his fairly recent posts is Life at the Edge of Chaos, in which he advocates for change, if the church wants to survive. Below is a response I made to his post.

The first and perhaps least important is a common error that I myself have made. I was advocating for flexibility in musical styles, or settings of the Divine Liturgy on the Steadfast Lutherans site. I rightly received admonishment for saying “Remember that many of Luther’s hymns were written to tavern or volk songs.” This is wrong, and here’s the evidence:

“Of the melodies to Luther’s 37 chorales, 15 were composed by Luther
himself, 13 came from Latin hymns of Latin service music, 4 were derived
from German religious folk songs, 2 had originally been religious
pilgrims’ songs, 2 are of unknown origin, and one came directly from a
secular folk song.” (Data compiled from Squire, pp. 446-447; Leupold,
ed., Liturgy and Hymns; and Strodach, ed., Works of Martin Luther, VI)

There are some wonderful hymns set to folk songs, and other popular melodies. There is a melody by Haydn that has been used over and over again. It has been used as the Alma Mater of my university, the hymn tune Austria, or the hymn Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken, and has been put to other less savory purposes. (I like to link to songs or video clips here, but I cannot in good conscience link to the last version of this melody. I do not own a recording of this, and the comments on the YouTube pages that feature this version I find too distasteful.) The difference between these reworkings of what was then popular music and contemporary Christian music is that these songs were written for communal singing, something that people just don’t do anymore. Today’s singing is performative. Popular Christian music is not written to be sung in unison or in chorus, but by a soloist. It inspires applause not glory to God.

This should not be read as if I’m against new settings to the Mass or new hymns being written, but they should not be written for performance, but for worship. The Anglicans have been looking at creating a new hymnal. Like the Lutherans this involves many committees and study. One of the things they found was that youth are not looking for change. Change is what their parents and their grandparents did. They want the traditions that the previous two or three generations feel are holding the church back, and have abandoned. Here’s the evidence: Don’t Do It for the Kids: Of Hymnal Revision and Young Adults

The other thing that concerns me in your post is the idea of running a church like a business. This seems like a rather Godless way of approaching the Divine. Truly I want to see church attendance grow. I want to see more people accept the the Love of Christ, but using a five year business model seems wrong. Business is mercenary. It does not nurture. It does not care for anything other than it’s own gluttony. It turns people into consumers, and this language seeps into all aspects of culture.

I worked as a social worker for quite a time. When I started out I worked with patients, then clients, afterword participants. Slowly the nomenclature was changing, becoming more human. Then, suddenly, everybody started adopting a business model. When I left the field of social work I was working with consumers. They consumed goods and services. They no longer participated in a program of care. They simply consumed. Business models make us consumers, not worshipers, not God’s people, but a thing to which other things can be sold. The financial meltdown of 2008 shows us just how sinful the business model is.

Living on the edge of chaos is not the same as wallowing in it. We’ve been wallowing in chaos ever since the 60s, as more and more of the traditions of the Church of the Augsburg Confession are set aside. It is time for the over 40s (that includes me) to actually listen to what the younger generations are saying that they need, not want but need, and for us to stop acting like we know what’s good for them. Give them a proper catechizing and let them continue the work of ordering the chaos.

I’ve recently started reading a book that hasn’t been getting much press on the Lutheran blogs, at least not the ones I’ve been reading: “Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics.” I’ve barely scratched the surface, but it would seem from the tiny bit I have read that part of the thesis of this book is that one of the ways in which we’ve become more heretical as Americans is through a sentimental, me-centered willingness to discard tradition: a variety of sentimentality that  permits Marty Haugen, praise band performance, and liturgical dance in the Divine Liturgy.

Probably Surely the most conservative blog to which I attend is The Brothers of John the Steadfast. It should be no surprise that they would be opposed to contemporary worship in a Liturgical church, and it’s no surprise that they reblogged this reblogging from Rev. Cwirla’s Blogosphere called A Belly Full of Greeks.

And now, Here’s the Trojan Horse:



5 thoughts on ““Without Forme, and Voyd”

  1. I didn’t remove your comment. It still resides on the blog below the link to the post you mention, Life at the Edge of Chaos.

    I just wish my Lutheran friends were as attached to the tradition of true discipleship as they are to a form of worship. When worship becomes the core process of the church, it no longer treats the main thing as the main thing. As Mike Breen says, “The operating system of most pastors is the church. Unfortunately, that is not the operating system of Jesus. Discipleship is the operating system of Jesus.”

    I did a workshop for twenty ELCA Mission Developers a few years ago. I asked the group to break up into triads and talk answer this question, “By what means will you disciple people in your church plant?” After fifteen minutes of discussion, I asked them to share with the room. There was not a cogent idea in the room. I don’t think they had ever considered the question.

    Jesus did not give us the great commission to “Go and make traditional, liturgical worshipers.”

    • Gregg,

      The last time I’d looked at your site I didn’t see my comment. Perhaps it was an over site. I’ve removed the sentence in question.

      As for the rest of your comment I’ll reply soon.


    • Gregg,

      I know I said that I’d respond soon, but it’s taken me some weeks to figure out just how to respond. It’s actually halted all of my writing, and I fear that my response to your criticism will not be sufficient for you.

      I continue to come across posts on Lutheran blogs complaining of dwindling attendance, and the problem with the direction in which the church is moving. These complaints cross synods. I’ve seen them from the ELCA as well as the LCMS. I’ve also noticed that the advocates of change are mostly over 40, and the advocates of traditional worship are mostly under 40, but this doesn’t address your complaint that Lutherans are not embracing “discipleship.”

      You talk of “operating systems,” claiming that the church is not the “operating system” of Jesus, but when I look at the Bible I see Jesus going to the temple. He is engaged with and using that “operating system.” (I’m using that term under a bit of duress. It doesn’t quite feel like the proper way to address the Divine or our interaction with the Divine in the Liturgy.) You may be getting ready to point out all of the places that in the Bible where Jesus is at the temple engaged in study and worship, yet he is confronted with the hypocrisy of the Pharisees’s legalism. I would point out that Jesus never says that temple worship should be abandoned, or changed. He does not advocate innovation in worship, but rather to carry the life of the temple, the loving justice of God, out in to the world. The church, the administration of the sacraments, is precisely Christ’s “operating system.”

      As far as your experience with the ELCA Mission Developers goes, I’d suggest that you did not ask the right question. I’m not even sure what you mean by “By what means will you disciple people in your church plant?” What do you mean by the verb to disciple? Is it a verb? What is a “church plant?” Perhaps it’s this type of language that is getting in the way. A church is not a factory for turning out disciples, but a place of worship, a place where Grace is freely given. What do you suppose they would have answered if you’d asked them how they were going to proclaim the Grace of God to their congregation; how they were going to proclaim the Law and Gospel? What do you think they may have said is the, product (You have me doing it now.) of a proper catechesis, and a dignified use of the Divine Liturgy? I suspect that if you were speaking the language of faith rather than business you’d have heard them telling you about the good works, the discipleship, that comes from the Grace of God.

  2. Pingback: Why Young People Leave the Church « Uncle Frog

  3. Pingback: Giving Up on Lutherans | Uncle Frog

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