Real Liturgical Renewal

Raise up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it, teaches Proverbs. For me, this has been the case regarding worship. I was raised a Lutheran, in an older, established congregation belonging to what would become the ELCA, First Lutheran in Minot, ND. I imbibed the ambience of the Lutheran liturgy as most Sundays we used Setting One from the Lutheran Book of Worship, the organist, cantor, and choir leading us in powerful, traditional settings of the Kyrie and Gloria, the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei. And the glorious hymnody . . . I still get the chills I felt in childhood when I hear “Lift High the Cross.” The high point was Holy Communion: Congregants would process up, take a small silver chalice from the table, and kneel at the octagonal rail encircling the altar, and receive the elements kneeling. I couldn’t articulate it at the time, but my experience of good liturgy shaped me, even as a child, both doctrinally in the ordinary, propers, and hymns, as well as experientially, as I encountered the mystery of God in the ambience of our beautiful worship.

Leroy Huizenga But a funny thing happened on my way through the liturgical forum. I got saved as a teen, after a few years of concerning myself chiefly with hockey and heavy metal and dropping out of confirmation in junior high. In brief, I had a profound healing experience relieving me from a severe depression. From that point on, I began taking my faith very seriously, which was good. While remaining active in my Lutheran congregation, I also began to hang out in Baptist and Pentecostal youth groups, wherein traditional liturgy was often disparaged as “dead ritual” or something similar. Given my mad skills on guitar and bass, honed by hours in my basement memorizing every song Iron Maiden, Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Ozzy Osbourne ever recorded, I took an interest in what’s called “contemporary worship” right about the time (the early 1990s) many congregations affiliated with mainline denominations of longstanding liturgical tradition were experimenting with worship bands. Obviously we weren’t playing Metallica’s “Creeping Death” when the Old Testament reading concerned the exodus, but we were playing music in my Lutheran church as well as my evangelical churches that was peppy and pleasing, modeled of course after the typical 3:05 pop song.

In recent years, however, while continuing to play in worship bands, I began to become increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of “contemporary worship.” As Rich Mullins, to this day one of my heroes, once said, contemporary Christian music is great entertainment, but it doesn’t belong in worship. (Ironic, indeed, coming from the guy who gave us “Awesome God” and “Sometimes by Step.”) I realized I was standing up front, on a stage, cranking hard on a guitar, or a bass, or a trap set, while leading a coffee-clutching congregation in singing lyrics that (as one internet graphic has it) involve “bad metaphors about God that seem oddly sexual.” I came to a point a few years ago where I realized our Sunday morning worship has hardly that at all; it looked and felt much more like a Top-40 pop-rock concert geared toward making an audience feel good than something designed to bring us to an encounter with the Almighty God revealed at Sinai and ultimately in Jesus Christ.

Why did many congregations take this turn? I suspect it involved a shift in the philosophy of religion (itself a subset of other cultural and intellectual currents) that came about in the 1960s and 1970s. Painting with a broad brush, before that time, religion concerned doctrine. After that shift, religion concerned experience. It’s easiest to see, I think, in evangelicalism, but the pattern holds for mainline Protestant and Catholic churches too. In any event, Christian worship became all too captive to culture and undergirded by a reflexive pragmatism.

Form and content are not finally separable, for the medium is indeed the message, or more cautiously, the form affects the content greatly. If our modern forms are emotive and superficial, we will wind up with a vision and experience of God that is emotive and superficial. Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi—how we worship shapes how we believe and thus how we live.

We need not make up worship, for liturgy is something given, something revealed, something objective, not something we concoct out of our own desires or feelings. In broad strokes, Christian liturgy comes from the Old Testament and Jewish culture fulfilled and interpreted by Jesus and the apostles. The liturgy of the Word comes from the liturgy of the synagogue, which involved prayers, Scripture, and preaching. The liturgy of the Eucharist (or Holy Communion, if you prefer) comes from Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper as the fulfillment of temple sacrifice. Of course there are many different rites across the times and spaces Christian history comprises, but they (should) stand in continuity with liturgical tradition going back to Eden, the first temple, and be theologically informed.

Indeed, perhaps the root of recent liturgical malaise is theological. To say “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” as many do, is to say that God is in the eye of the beholder, since traditional Christian theology has identified God and Beauty. As St. Augustine exclaimed, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!” And so beauty in liturgy will lead us to divine beauty. Beauty is the attractive element of truth, which when revealed delights us, pleasing intellect and soul, and thus in beautiful liturgy we are presented with the truth about God.

This, then, is the way forward, I think, for real evangelism and discipleship. Instead of providing people with an experience with which they’re already familiar from the culture, we ought to aim for liturgy that makes saints, a liturgy not captive to the culture affirming us but liturgy that reaches back ultimately to Eden through the traditions of the Churches, transcending and thus transforming us, giving us a glimpse of heaven, indeed of Beauty himself, ever ancient, ever new.

Leroy Huizenga is Director of the Christian Leadership Center at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Circumcision contravenes the Rights of the Child

Thanks to Cranmer

This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant (Gen 17:10-14).

Both Jews and Muslims in Germany are more than a little concerned about an Appeal Court ruling from Cologne which stipulates that the removal of the foreskins of babies and young boys amounts to bodily injury, and is therefore a violation of German law.

Sweeping aside millennia of religious custom and ritual, the Court has determined that State law in this regard is above God’s law, and that the child’s fundamental constitutional ‘right to physical integrity’ is challenged by the parental fundamental right to freedom of religion.

In cutting the boy, they reason, he is denied the freedom to choose his religion, because the outward change to his body and permanent. This is not, of course, the case with Christian baptism, which is also usually inflicted on babies, but a sprinkling of water on the forehead is not deemed to have enduring effects on sexual pleasure later in life. This Higher Court ruling expresses the view that the boy should have the freedom to choose whether or not to be circumcised when he reaches the age of majority and there is informed consent; that he is born with the right to ‘physical integrity’ which nobody should be permitted to take away (other than for acute medical reasons).

The verdict has some specific context, but the precedent has far-reaching implications. The case involved a four-year-old Muslim boy who suffered serious bleeding after undergoing a botched procedure. His mother took him to the emergency unit at Cologne University Hospital, and state prosecutors subsequently charged the doctor who had performed the operation.

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A priest to pray against this plague of plagues?

From Stand Firm with thanks to

Reading and praying this morning, I was arrested by the lesson from Numbers 16:

…and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Get away from this congregation, so that I may consume them in a moment.” And they fell on their faces. Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer, put fire on it from the altar and lay incense on it, and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them. For wrath has gone out from the LORD; the plague has begun.” So Aaron took it as Moses had ordered, and ran into the middle of the assembly, where the plague had already begun among the people. He put on the incense, and made atonement for the people. He stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stopped. (vv. 44-48)

Aaron reminds us that Jesus is our High Priest, standing between us and the judgment our race goes out of its way to merit.  Incense represents a pleasing offering to God, and only the perfect offering of Christ on the cross can make up for the way we live life on our own terms rather than as an offering to our Creator.  Incense also symbolizes prayer, and Jesus is the High Priest who “…is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”  (Hebrews 7:25 ESV)

After offering the morning “Suffrages” (a short litany for the church and the world), I found myself praying them again later, with that picture of Christ standing between those who will draw near to God through him and the many plagues that are upon us in this fallen world.  I prayed something like this:

Show us your mercy, O Lord;  And grant us your salvation.
Jesus, stand betwen our self-centered, sin-enthralled race and the judgment we deserve.

Clothe your ministers with righteousness; Let your people sing with joy.
Jesus, stand between all the flaws and falsehood in our churches and the rejection we deserve.

Give peace, O Lord, in all the world; For only in you can we live in safety.
Jesus, stand between our corruption of your creation and the disasters that afflict us through it.

Lord, keep this nation under your care; And guide us in the way of justice and truth.
Jesus, stand between this abundantly blessed yet ungrateful nation and the calamity we risk.

Let your way be known upon earth; Your saving health among all nations.
Jesus, stand between misguided peoples and the spiritual forces that deceive them.

Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten; Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
Jesus, stand between suffering people and the despair that can engulf them.

Create in us clean hearts, O God; And sustain us with your Holy Spirit.
Jesus, stand between our flesh and the “second death” it courts.

Churches fret and strive about so much – too much, really.  If we neglect the proclamation of the true High Priest, the only one who can stand in mercy between humanity and unsparing divine justice, we are truly disposable.  Plague infested, toxic waste.

May we be thankful that he lives and stands in prayer for us.

Global Charter upholds religious freedom

From Christian TodayDr Os Guinness

 

A new Global Charter has been issued by academics and activists to uphold the right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The drafting of the Global Charter of Conscience was overseen by English author and critic, Dr Os Guinness, and German sociologist, Dr Thomas Schirrmacher.

They hope that the document will bring religious tolerance back to the centre of public debate and safeguard the freedom of future generations to engage in public life.

The document calls for a public square that maximises freedom for all and asks people to have respect for those with differing views.

In one section, it appeals to religious believers and secularists to “acknowledge the excesses and at times evils of their respective positions, and commit themselves to an equal regard for the rights of all who differ from them in their ultimate beliefs”.

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