Monday, June 16, 2008

Liturgical snoozing...

The muse -- she's a no like a me....

That's my only excuse and I'm sticking with it.

Anyhoo, my brother's first child was baptized to Sunday ago at a church who's name will remain hidden. All I'll say is that it's a *very* large Lutheran congregation. The service (one of many) started at 11:00 a.m. and as is typical for my family we were running late. Turns out that it was only 5 minutes late. No problem I say to myself, we'll participate for most of it.


Five minutes late means that 1/2 of the service was complete. I'm not joking here. By the time we sat down it was practically over. Military precision is the operative word here; from the phalanx of men to collect the offering to the homily to the abbreviated hymns to the truncated liturgy, everything was on a strict timetable.

The same can't be said for the baptism. This was the definition of loose and unstructured. The order of service for baptism from the ELW was used but the way it was presided was the antithesis of the precision of the service before it. One would have thought that more planning could have gone into it. Maybe the number of baptisms precludes this. I can kind of understand having the baptisms after a main service in a church of this size but to be this free-form was a little sad.

The question I kept asking myself was: Is this really the best that Lutheranism has to offer? All of what differentiates a Lutheran worship from, say, a Methodist or Presbyterian service have been removed. And Lutherans wonder why membership rosters are shrinking! At the risk of sounding like a one-trick-pony, Lutherans must, for the health of their denomination, understand the tradition and heritage from which they come and to which they owe a great debit. Services like last Sunday's are really a shame. So much unrealized potential.

I've been reading the new translation of Bonhoeffers seminal book "Discipleship". It's a theological tour de force that all Christians should read. The first chapter is about "cheap grace" which, according to Bonhoeffer, is "grace" that is a theological principle or presupposition that comes before faith or discipleship; not the pure grace that is a consequence of a life of following Jesus. I wonder if Protestant worship is a symptom of this "cheap grace". A worship that asks nothing from you and that gives nothing back but platitudes. More on Bonhoeffer latter.


  1. That church baffles me, too. Why is it that so many people think that is really "church?" In a denomination that is shrinking, why is that church gaining in membership? What do people think they're getting out of it that it has such a draw?

    Worship should be the focal point of a congregation. It should prepare us, fortify us, and send us out into the world to do God's work. What kind of work could such inadequate "worship" possibly prepare those people to do?

  2. I'm with you sister. I'm totally baffled. I'm tempted to toot our liturgical horn but that would be superscillious and smug and that is most definately *not* what the ELCA needs more of. I'll just say that we ought to be exemplars to others in the ELCA and show them that it is indeed possible to attract believers to worship using the traditional liturgy.