Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"Liturgy" misunderstandings

"Liturgy" misunderstandings
Rev. John C. Drosendahl

Rev. John C. Drosendahl, pastor at a church I once was the pastor, posted this earlier today. It is the best short description of the Liturgy I’ve seen for some time.

This word "liturgy", which is so common in most Christian churches (Roman, Orthodox, Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, and others), is also commonly misunderstood. Big time. I would venture to guess that most people who use this word, use it wrongly. I used to. Not any longer.

The first confusion I had with this term was growing up as a kid, thinking that this word "liturgy" referred to some sort of style of worship. My bapticostal and fundagelical friends found out I was "Lutheran" and looked down on me because my worship was "liturgical". To them it seemed to mean "boring" or "rote" because it was steeped in old, stale traditions. So I began to view the word "liturgy" somewhat negatively, because I wrongly assumed that it was somehow binding God, holding me back, and limiting my worship experience. It wasn't until much later that I realized that the liturgy was God binding Himself to the keeping of His promises to us, and that the only limitation of the liturgy was protecting worship from the shenanigans of the devil, this world, or the sinful desires of people like me.

The next misunderstanding I had with the word "liturgy" was assuming that it was all about the structure or format of worship. This was a smidgen closer to the truth, but not by much. By the time I got to college, there was a plethora of church experiences available, in chapel at Concordia, and in local congregations. Some embraced a more free-flowing structure of the charismatic worship, and others would travel to an Episcopal congregation in Connecticut for Anglican forms of worship. Our Lutheran liturgy was viewed as only one possible choice among all the flavors of worship out there on the smorgasboard of Christian experience. But I knew that there must be something more to this notion of the "liturgy" which made it stand out in this post modern age of "your truth, my truth, all god's children got a truth" thinking...

My first year at Seminary, I encountered my third and final consternation with regard to this notion of "liturgy". I began at my field-work congregation, steeped in "church growth" principles, and entrenched in the strange notion that "everyone is a Minister". In the front of the bulletin, it was printed that the word "liturgy" came from "lit" (related to "laity", meaning the people) and "-urgy" (related to "energy", meaning the "ability to do work"). So the bulletin blurb wrongly deduced that liturgy was the work that the people gotta do for God. Yet I knew something was wrong with this, since God is perfect, and doesn't "have need" for us to do anything for Him. Yet the entire worship service at my field-work church was labeled in the bulletin, part by part, couched in terms of what *we* do for God. "We" confess our sins. "We" enter into His presence. "We" listen to His word. "We" sing His praises. "We" offer him our tithes. "We" commune with our God. "We" depart with God's blessing. Now, indeed, we do all of these things in worship, but something was still missing in this whole concept of the "liturgy".

The first professor at Seminary who got me thinking about all of this "liturgical confusion" was Professor Nagel. He was known for reminding us to carefully notice "W(w)ho is running the verbs" as we viewed the actions of God's church. If it was given us to do, like in God's commandments, it was Law. But if it was reserved for God to do something, that was of the Gospel! This got me to thinking of all the "we's" of my field work church. It was bass ackwards. The only reason we did anything in church is in response to what God does for us, and promises to keep on doing on our behalf! So I concluded that "we, we, we, all the way home" might be fine for the last little piggy, but it was no good as a perspective for liturgical worship.

The last professor who helped me flesh out this liturgical confusion was the venerable and probably now sainted Dr. Fremder. This kind man straightened out my crooked thinking with regard to what the liturgy really was. He explained that the "laity" half of the word "liturgy" was not a designation of the main actor in the liturgy, but rather it indicated the main recipient! The word leiturgia in the Greek could refer to any action that benefited "the people" of a society. For example, if a Roman road was built through your Greek property, and a large tree branch fell into the road in front of your house, you were given the task of clearing the road for the sake of the people. It was an "-urgy" or work that was necessary so all people who needed that road would benefit.

From here, Dr. Fremder taught us that our worship is truly an haupt Gottestdienst. This German term meant that it was an "holy, Divine service". It was "holy" in that it's main purpose was to take sinners and make them holy by the forgiveness of their sins. "Wow!" I thought..."only God can forgive people and make them holy!" Then Dr. Fremder taught us that it is a "Divine" service because God was the chief Actor in the liturgy. His Name began & concluded the Divine Service as bookends to it in the Invocation and Benediction. He forgave sins in worship. He strengthened faith by the power of His Holy Spirit. He saved from death & the devil. He bestowed His gift of everlasting life within the liturgy. It was truly a "service" of God indeed, as He served us with a triple helping of holiness, in remembrance of baptism, in the gospel proclaimed, and in the sacrament of the altar delivered!

This gave a whole new understanding to me of the treasure of liturgical worship. So much of it (some 97%+) was directly from God's word of scripture! Even the words I got to confess, pray and sing were not from my own heart (from which much evils come), but from the bible. God Himself was opening my lips so that my mouth could show forth His praise! Not only me, but also all the people the Holy Spirit gathered there to enlighten them with His gifts were just as blessed as I was. In remembrance of baptism, Jesus was placed into our cleansed hearts. In the proclamation of Christ's gospel love, Jesus was placed right into all of our ears. In the Lord's Supper, Christ's very body & blood were placed into our mouths to swallow Him down!  Liturgy truly is God's work to bless and benefit His people!  

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