Tuesday, June 17, 2014
There Is More to the Ordo than Words
What does it profit a synod to recapture the Ordo, but continue to forfeit its theology?
This is the question I have for my confessional brethren who argue that, if we can come to an agreement in our synod that "the Ordo is non-negotiable," it will suffice in bringing a cessation to our worship wars. I wish I was as optimistic as some of them seem to be, and I do certainly appreciate their sentiment, but I just don't think that will do it. I should also add, before continuing, that I do realize that there are many of my brethren who acknowledge that making the Ordo non-negotiable would be but a first, salutary step in healing our synodical divide on the worship front. I can agree with that. It would indeed be a first, salutary step. But, it cannot be the last step.
Years ago, I had an LCMS pastor say to me, "The liturgy is still there; it's just hidden." This was in response to me questioning him about what had happened to the liturgical service, which was now replaced with a contemporary praise service. He believed that he was staying true to AC/AP XXIV by keeping all of the liturgical elements in place, but substituting them with CCM songs (e.g., "Here I Am to Worship" by Michael W. Smith in place of the Kyrie, or "Lord, I Lift Your Name On High" by Rick Founds in place of the Creed, etc.). He was wrong. These substitutions not only failed to keep the liturgy in tact, as he believed, but they also put forth a different confession of the faith that is most definitely not in line with our Lutheran confession of the faith. Which makes sense, of course, since the writers of these songs are not Lutherans.
Keeping the Ordo in tact is not a matter of counting the number of liturgical elements in the Divine Service and making sure to have the same number of songs to replace them in a pieced-together invention of a pastor's, or worship team's, creative imagination. The words of the Ordo must be kept in tact wholesale, or it's not the same Ordo. Words matter, after all. Those words were carefully and specifically chosen by our fathers in the church catholic for a reason. They are God's words (or, God's Word). They come directly from Holy Scripture and retell the story of our salvation through Christ, our Lord, each time we are gathered in His Presence, and, more than that, deliver that salvation to us via His Holy Word and Sacraments. Those words work together in the Ordo to become the language spoken and confessed by the faithful. They are Holy Words confessed by Holy People in God's Holy House in the Presence of their Holy Lord. They are not to be substituted with words composed by individuals, which pour forth from their hearts and emotions to reveal how they personally feel about God. To do so is to replace the Church's confession of the faith with this or that individual's love songs to God. It doesn't work. It can't work.
However, I would also argue that the Ordo is not kept in tact simply by keeping the words of the liturgy in place. I've witnessed the attempt to do this, and it doesn't work any better than substituting CCM songs for each liturgical element. In fact, I think these so-called blended services are even worse than full-blown contemporary praise services. I attended a District function once that began with "Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord," then went through the liturgy until the Hymn of the Day, which was another CCM song (thus, NOT a hymn!), then followed the liturgy again until more CCM songs were used in place of hymns, and so forth. I know this was a well-intentioned attempt to please everyone, but it was just a train wreck. And, it didn't accomplish its goal anyway, as neither the liturgical crowd nor the contemporary crowd was pleased. Everyone was just confused. The only people something like that could please are those who simply don't know any better. If you're going to go contemporary, just go all the way. At least, then, people know what they're getting.
So, the Ordo is not kept in tact either with the substitutionary method or with the blended method. We can say it is all we want, but we're just lying to ourselves. The only way the Ordo can truly be kept in tact is if the words are kept in tact and the hymnody employed matches those words. But, even then, it can all be ruined through poor preaching and irreverent behavior. If the hymnal is used verbatim from the liturgy and only hymns from the hymnal are sung, that's great, but it can all be for naught if the pastor's preaching doesn't jive with what is confessed in the liturgy and hymnody. Granted, the liturgy and hymnody can rescue the people from poor preaching, which is something we liturgical folks like to point out as one of the best arguments for their employment, but a consistent dose of "how-to," motivational messages, rather than Law-Gospel sermons, can (and will) lead the people astray, despite the liturgy and hymnody. In other words, Lutheran preaching must accompany Lutheran liturgy and hymnody for the Ordo to be truly kept in tact.
Likewise, irreverent behavior and nonchalance can also prevent the Ordo from being kept in tact. We confess that ceremonies teach, and we are right to confess that, because they do. Ceremonies do not have to be the same everywhere, to be sure, but this does not mean that "anything goes," as many seem to believe. Reverence is not optional. We confess that we retain the Mass, religiously defend it, and celebrate it with the highest reverence. This, of course, doesn't mean that we all must bow at all the right places or genuflect and elevate or chant or hold our hands a certain way, and so forth, but what it does mean is that we must behave as if we're in our Lord's Holy House, where He continues to Tabernacle among us in His Flesh and Blood. All frivolity is out if we are to keep the Ordo in tact.
All of this is to say that there is a lot more involved to keeping the Ordo in tact than sticking to the words in our hymnals. There is more to the Ordo than words on pages. I pray that we're not going to settle for some self-defined lowest common denominator, and then, once achieved (if ever), pat ourselves on the backs as if we've brought the worship wars among us to a peaceful conclusion. If we're going to shoot for recapturing the Ordo among us, let us keep plowing forward until our churches of the Augsburg Confession can be recognized as the "our churches believe, teach, confess, and practice . . ." described in that Confession. For that to happen, not only must the words of the liturgy be kept, but the hymnody must match those words, as well as the preaching and the ceremonies employed, all of which are focused on the voice of our Good Shepherd and His Bodily Presence at the Holy Altar.
Or, to put all of this another way, look at the picture at the top of this post and imagine that both of those congregations say the exact same words of the liturgy (i.e., follow the same Ordo). Would that really be enough? Really?