Friday, July 2, 2010

a liturgical slight of hand

There is a trick that many churches use in order to convince themselves that their aberrant liturgical practice is okay, beyond criticism, even somehow justified.  It took me a while to catch on to this trick, but after seeing this pattern for some time now, I must comment upon it.  I refer to those churches which have decided that as long as they take their more nontraditional practices and move them over to their nonliturgical space, such as a "fellowship hall," or a basketball court, or multipurpose hall, or whatever it is or is called, then it isn't really the same thing as "church."  It's just something we allow to happen, so that the youth can have something they like, that will keep them from leaving the church.  More and more I hear of this happening. 

Yes, there are indeed churches where there is no longer any pretense of tradition, and so there is no need for this slight of hand.  The Missouri Synod has an alarmingly growing number of places like Hales Corners, in suburban Milwaukee, where there is no need to be concerned with stuffy old things like the liturgy.  This trend requires all the spiritual resources we can enlist in order to answer, fight, and resist it.

However, there are many churches out there, in fact, more in the rural areas than I had thought, where it is believed that to minister to the people effectively the church must adjust its style for each age demographic.  So you will see churches with at least two, sometimes three different styles of worship, one for the young, and something a bit more recognizably Lutheran for the others, though I hasten to add that it is often inaccurately described as "traditional."  And the former, the youth worship, is in many places relegated to the cafeteria, or the gym, or whatever, you know, that large space for which, just a few years earlier, funds were raised, sometimes with the help of synod offices, in order to provide a "needed" new space for the needs of the parish. 

I have seen, to be sure, the same take place in other churches as well.  For example, there are Roman Catholic parishes where the parish "charismatic prayer group" meets in someone's home, or in the basement chapel.  You get the picture.  This is not a new trick, nor is it unique to the Lutherans who think we must be Evangelical to attract and keep the youth.   It is, nonetheless, disingenuous, deceptive, and needs to be called out for the disservice it is to our young people.

Unfortunately, this is not really limited to the parish ministry.  For if we look at many of our high schools, and universities, as well as the worship of certain nonparochial gatherings, like women's conferences, youth gatherings, district conventions, etc, we see similarly disgraceful liturgical behavior.  And in many of those cases, I have heard people make the claim that this is, after all, a gym and not a church, or this is a "celebration" more than a traditional church service.  If it takes place at Mile High Stadium, or the Superdome, then you can't really expect to have people dress up, and turn to Divine Service III, etc.  The space isn't appropriate for traditional liturgy, some will say.  (Isn't it interesting that people who have gone to youth gatherings tell me that the only "mass event" not called a "mass event" is the Mass?)

In fact, it ought not escape our observation that the idea that you can allow inexcusable liturgical practices as long as you move it over to the gym or auditorium is even exemplified by the seminary itself.  Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, for example, has officially convinced itself that allowing the outright unionistic worship of the Society of the Holy Trinity, complete with women "pastors," was permissible on its campus a few short years ago because it took place not at Kramer Chapel, but in the auditorium.  Yet this is the same seminary that, just a few short years before that, took a stand against the Yankee Stadium gathering in 2001.  Yankee Stadium, likewise, is not a consecrated church, so maybe that's why the Fort Wayne seminary eventually even allowed its protest against that affair to evolve into a whimper, and then finally to just disappear.

This theory that a nonchurchly space can be used for nontraditional practices leaves me at a loss, however, to explain a school like Concordia University Wisconsin, where article XIV of the Augsburg Confession (contained as it is in the "Concordia") is routinely disregarded by having nonordained men preach right in the regular chapel services, in the chapel.  Perhaps the Chapel of Christ Triumphant is like a big, macrocosmic example of the same thing, but on a synod scale, so that it is like the Synod's own version of the parish multipurpose room.  What happens with our youth, either down the hall on Saturday nights, or two states away when we send them off to one of the Concordia campuses, is okay as long as it keeps them involved with the church, and of course with "church work."

From such thinking and practice, deliver us, O Lord.

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