Monday, April 14, 2008

In the Name of Freedom

Pastor Esget posted this today:

"When people in the name of revival take up arms against the order of worship itself, they are violating the Christian fellowship. Often this is done in the name of liberty. But the freedom that is desired will mean a lack of freedom for the greater number of people. It will mean that certain pet interests shall characterize that which should be the common possession of all. One demands the right to celebrate worship according to one's own pattern. Denied this, one does not feel at home and may leave the fellowship. It is just here that the un-Christian character of this attitude is seen, and it is here that every churchly movement must stand the test. When revival piety in the church is unwilling to live in the framework of the liturgy in the common service of worship, it has placed itself outside the fellowship of the church and can no longer be counted as a living movement of the church of Christ.

-Bo Giertz, from "Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening"


When my husband was still in seminary, he spent three months working with IELC pastors in India. One of those pastors eventually moved his family to the United States and works as a chaplain at a hospital to support them.

He received an invitation that the pastor was going to be installed as a missionary to the Indians in a reasonably big city in the area. This pastor had said he really wanted my husband to be there. My husband really wanted to be there. This man means a lot to him.

We went down on the appointed day and Jeff vested and sat with the other pastors, as is normal. Also showing up were a few of the other chaplains from the hospital. The service was what they call blended. It followed a basic liturgical order but to modern music, and just about every component lacked the meaning that would've been in its hymnal counterpart. I felt out of my element, I felt like I had been deprived of part of the gospel message that is usually there for me.

But when the pastors were to go down and bless my husband's friend, the presiding pastor of the congregation that was installing him invited the hospital chaplains up as well. A woman, a Baptist, and I am afraid I don't know the background of the third.

The point of the blessing is that the pastors are affirming that they are one in doctrine and practice with this man, and promising to support him in his role serving the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. My husband's friend did not want the chaplains up there, but did not have the freedom at the moment to speak out against it. He shouldn't have been the one who had to. The Senior Pastor should've known better. My husband's friend should've been protected from that. He had already told the woman, who was United Methodist, when she came with her vestments and ready to process in with the pastors, that she was not welcome to participate in that as it was against our theology. He had already been called on to police the situation that day, on a day that was very important to him.

My husband, when this happened, as discreetly as possible for the sake of his friend, turned away from the gathered pastors and walked up the side aisle and out of the sanctuary. He would not pretend to be in fellowship with that. He politely explained to the elder that came to make sure he was not sick, and he as politely as possible explained to his friend and to the pastor who presided over the installation why he could not be one with that. The friend understood, the senior pastor only saw that what could've been done better is that my husband could've been informed that he planned on doing that.

The pastor had taken a rite which has a specific theological meaning and tweeked it so that it could be personal and warm, and be about all of those who mattered to our friend....without that friend's permission.

My husband was kept from his freedom (and his duty) that day, to be up there and to perform his role as pastor, friend, and colleague to the missionary---all in the name of the individual freedom of that congregation to make worship what they wanted it to be, rather than what we are supposed to be united in. My freedom was hindered because I could not worship in comfort and familiarity but had to constantly wonder what was coming next. Many in the Missouri Synod's freedoms are hindered in this way because instead of seeing the LCMS on a church sign and knowing that it is supposed to mean that the congregation bearing that sign should be teaching the same things and worshiping in the same manner as the last congregation that they were in...instead Lutherans have to church shop as if they were non-denominational, until they hopefully find a church where they are "comfortable," and even then, a year down the road they can be surprised by a pastor's new plans, or find out that the church teaches something they are not in agreement with.

We had a good lunch with our friend and many of the people that he is pastor to in his missionary ministry from the Indian community. However, it was flanked by doubt as to what was really understood, a fear that he had offended us and likewise (something that is a big deal in Indian culture), all over something that there was protection against in place, had the senior pastor of that church saw it as his duty to follow the prescribed rite, rather than re-inventing it and tweeking it to make it all more personal.


Marie N. said...

You well put into words the feeling I have when I need to visit another church. The Word is abandoned to make room for politically correct buffet-style pablum.

Beth said...

Wonderful explanation. Being from the ELCA I often get varying "reasons" as to why the LCMS does things a certain way and why they won't do certain things. This is by far the best explanation I've heard. Even though I need to think about it to decide if I agree or disagree, I certainly better understand and respect the reasons behind it.

God bless!

elephantschild said...

I'm so sorry... what sorrow!

Jane said...

I am sorry to read that this service was so marred.

It is sad that we have to church shop these days. My son found only 2 in a large city that he would even consider joining, which is sad.