Fifteen years ago, if you'd told me I would be liturgical, I would've laughed in your face. I was raised with the liturgy, and found it drab compared to the contemporary services I'd attended. Even several years after I understood and agreed with why the liturgy should be used, I still struggled with the reality of it. But once I had kids and had it memorized so that I could concentrate on the words and what they were saying (believe it or not, like with meditation, memorization actually helps you dig into the meat of the service, it doesn't make it more rote), I really began to appreciate the beauty of it, and (gasp) sometimes it even provokes an emotional reaction, it is so beautiful or applies so readily to where I need God to speak to me.
I'd been in the contemporary worship scene. I'd loved it. But I had also been in situations where the law that is so often involved with it obscured the gospel and left me feeling condemned because I didn't feel anything, or I was aching for the gospel and it wasn't there - because it was so fixated on what I was doing for Christ. The liturgy gives me both, and it unites me with Christians who have been worshiping that way for almost 2000 years, and Jews had done so before that. Christ was liturgical. It takes everything away from me and instead, it becomes about Christ feeding me with His holy Word, line after beautiful line.
Last Sunday I was in an LCMS church that uses blended worship -- not really our choice, we were requested to be there by a friend. Blended worship is often utilized by Lutheran churches to give the service a liturgical "format" so that it feels vaguely familiar to Lutherans, but is supposedly relevant to strangers coming into the church. Anything that might be offensive was removed. The wording to the confession was mellowed, and the absolution, rather than being the pastor pronouncing absolution because he forgives us our sins, he merely assures of that we have been forgiven. There was no creed. Thankfully, there was no communion either at that service.
Since there is such a focus on what a stranger to the Lutheran church experiences when they come into that congregation, I thought I'd share what a person who embraces liturgical worship feels like in such situations. Because I too was a stranger there.
While the words were up on the wall because of the Power Point projector, I felt like an alien. The words which were committed in my heart were different. The musical responses were not the same. Rather than something that openly and richly in few words proclaimed the glory of Christ, instead, simple repeated chants like "Oh Christ you are glorious" were repeatedly sung. He is glorious, I'll grant that. The liturgy instead though, in as short a time explains WHO is glorious, WHAT He did that is glorious, WHY He is glorious, and even sometimes HOW He did something glorious and WHERE He is now...and that we will be with Him there, too (WHO, WHAT, WHY, WHEN, WHERE, and HOW....traits that my 7th grade English teacher taught me were necessary for judging whether a non-fiction piece was really doing its job in conveying important information).
During this service, I struggled with my sinful flesh more than I usually do in church. I didn't want to be snobby. I didn't want to just say "oh, this modern stuff is crud." I could believe that the liturgy is a superior vessel for proclaiming the gospel but still could try to focus on the Word of God that was there. But it was SO hard. Like I said, the substance of what was conveyed was so much less. But it was there. The Powerpoint presentation told us where we were in the service, but it seemed like it could just as easily stated "Kyrie - Lord Have Mercy" as it could've said "anthem" and then the strangers and members alike are educated. The gospel lines in the liturgy were replaced by lines that were about what I am doing for God. The sermon, while I do believe I was blessed and edified by it, again contained about 5 lines of gospel, and it was the token "Jesus does this in our hearts." I was exhausted by the end of the service, because I wanted so desperately to honor God in the service and not miss His Word because I resented how dumbed down the service was. Even the benediction was law. I went out knowing that I had struggled with myself, that I was partially fed, and while I do think these observations are accurate and good, I could not unmingle my sinful self from it, and the pastor's efforts to do His job were so confused that he did not make that task easier for me, instead he bound my conscience.
I am not writing this to offend anyone who uses contemporary worship or blended worship. I hope that it is clear that while I have no intention to embrace these types of worship, that I really tried to receive God's Word in the venue that was there before me that day. But there is a different purpose in contemporary/blended worship than there is in liturgical worship.
Contemporary is about individual experience. When I was in a Christian Contemporary church , you close your eyes, sway to the rhythm, raise your hands, and are open to where the music and the message take you (btw, the way you could tell this was Lutheran is that no one was raising their hands). It is also about what I am doing for God. Liturgy is a "we" experience. While you are still an individual, everything is God feeding His people, and His people's joint response to being fed. This is the same response through the ages right up to this time, and along with the saints in Heaven. I am there being fed by God along with the rest of the body of Christ, in heaven and on earth. The spiritual reality of that is a much greater sense of awe than I ever felt when I went to a really good contemporary service where my soul did not feel weighted down by my sin.
I honestly don't know why I am writing this. Maybe just to let those of you Lutherans who embrace blended worship that in your appeal to be more "relevant" or to "reach out to the community," your rejection of a common manner of worship actually does cause pain to some who come in and sit in the pews. When we walk out at the end and never come back, it isn't because we are snooty. It is because your rejection of something so precious to me and to the history of our church breaks my heart (the liturgy does not alienate those who are young in the faith, by the way. often, it gives them a clearly different culture than the one that they are leaving, and it is a blessing). When I see that LCMS cross on your sign, I should be able to go in and feel at home. I should receive proof that every Sunday we are raising our voices together, even in different locales. The expression of your congregational personality should be in your handshake and your smile, maybe in the flourishes of your church musician, in the manner of your pastor, and how you show love the love of Christ.
The best way that I know how to explain it is this:
I had a good friend in school who for various reasons decided that she was going to change her first and last name to try to give herself a fresh start in life. Whatever the reason why she wanted to do this, and she chose to look at it optimistically, a fresh start and all that -- her family was really hurt. Her father considered his name to be a gift to her...and she was rejecting the name they gave her at her birth. The new name made her seem like a stranger. She didn't understand why her family would struggle with this or see this as a rejection of them. No matter how much they tried to understand, they still felt rejected, and she saw this rejection as a lack of support for her. This wasn't a situation where she was walking away from cruel, domineering parents. I couldn't help but look at what she was doing and because of the price, see it as extreme...she was attempting to throw away her whole identity -- including a lot of things that were good, in favor of something that was nebulous and undefined. Yet she didn't see that she could be a great person (and in fact was a great person) and still hold on to the things that tied her to her roots. She was (and she would admit this) too scared to dig deep to find the person she really was within that context.
That is how I see contemporary and blended worship in the LCMS. Throwing away the liturgy is throwing away precious gifts that unite us all together. With that, often comes a simpler - but a shallower form of worship...and also along with that, other things are lost, too. Soon, the Lutheran understanding of communion fellowship, the office of the ministry, and sometimes even Scripture itself is lost, and while the name Lutheran might be there, all the parts that make the name Lutheran mean something are gone.
Rather than throwing out our all the traditions and rituals of our "family," it would be wiser to find the definition of who we are back in our family tree. It gives a context.
I just know, sitting in that pew last Sunday, I became painfully aware not of the shallowness of the service...but of what has been lost to this congregation...and so many others.