Conversation and information about music and liturgy from a confessional Lutheran perspective.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Introducing "The Plan"

"Nurturing Lutheran Worship at Bethany: The Three-Year Plan" (herewith referred to simply as "The Plan") was mailed out to all congregation members and introduced via pastoral letter, announcements in the parish newsletter and weekly bulletin, and in various sermon illustrations in the weeks surrounding the beginning of its implementation. Repeated in print were a Purpose Statement and a Worship Statement, the latter of which still appears (in revised form) in our weekly newsletter and on our website. It gives a general outline of worship of Bethany and serves to inform guests and visitors about our general practices. The Purpose Statement was specifically for the introduction of The Plan and explained to the congregation why we were embarking on our liturgical renewal effort. It read:

As Christians have been called to be 'in the world' but not 'of the world,' (2 Cor. 10:3; John 15:19) so the Divine Service has come to be known among Lutherans as 'the unchanging feast in a fast-changing world.' Though we are citizens of heaven by virtue of Holy Baptism, we are also still citizens of this fallen world, which accompanies our sinful nature to God's house even as the saint within us is drawn by the Spirit to worship God in Christ. Hence, God's unchanging forgiveness is ministered to us in the context of our culture.

Because worship connects an eternal God to his ever-changing people, the liturgy and music of the Church must always address this relationship so that the Word is effectively and convincingly proclaimed. Static music, liturgy, and ceremony risk disconnecting Christ from his people by becoming incomprehensible, ritualistic, and meaningless. Music and ceremony that moves beyond the grasp of the average worshipper carries a similar risk. The task of Christian worship, therefore, is to assure that the eternal truths of God are effectively proclaimed to the assembly. This requires both education so that Christians understand and appreciate the liturgy and hymnody of the Church, and also reformation, so that what has become artifact can be replaced by art that is truly able to perform its functions of adorning and proclaiming the Word.

Above all, it is important to remember that though practice may be changed according to the culture of the congregation, the substance as even style of worship remains consistent according to the confessions of the Lutheran Church. Lutherans worship as Lutherans believe. Confessional Lutheran liturgy is always centered on the means of grace: Baptism, Absolution, the proclamation of the Word, and the Lord's Supper. The problem of man remains sin, and God's solution remains Christ crucified for sinners. By Grace Alone, Faith Alone, and Scripture Alone, salvation is applied to us in the Divine Service. As God's chosen people, we are built up in our understanding of both sin and grace by the proper distinction of Law and Gospel, which is essential to Lutheran doctrine and practice.

Bethany's devotion to providing worship that achieves these noble ends is expressed in our worship mission statement. This statement explains both what is essential to Christian liturgy and seeks to transcend stylistic labels by affirming that Lutheran worship embraces yet transcends both tradition and contemporary culture:

"Christian worship begins with the crucified Christ, who comes to us in Word and Sacrament. He brings to the people of God forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. We in turn extol these gifts with joyful thanksgiving an praise, proclaiming the story of God's love through His Word. This celebration is done in concert with the Church throughout the world, and finds its expression in the liturgy. Lutheran worship is traditional in that it is part of the timeless culture of the Church, and contemporary in that it effectively communicates the Gospel to the assembly. Worship is the vocation of all baptized Christians. The Divine Service at Bethany is therefore designed to involve all who gather here in the name of the Lord."

Because worship that is truly confessional and evangelical cannot be static, and because congregations need to be educated about liturgy and worship that they may better know the riches they have received as members of the body of Christ, the program staff, the worship committee, and Ministry Council have designed the following three-year plan to nurture Lutheran worship in our parish. This plan takes the form of a series of strategic educational foci, which are accompanied by specific ceremonial, liturgical, or musical emphases designed to enrich the Divine Service at Bethany, that all who attend worship here may be more strongly connected to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through His means of grace.

So, "there it is". Looking back eight years later I can see some things that could have been said better, such as referring to "customs" that may be changed rather than "practices", since "practices" best refers to essentials such as baptizing and communing and absolving and so "customs" is a better word to describe adiophoric approaches as to how such things may best be done in a given cultural context. But enough of what I think. What do you think?

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