Bishop and Christian*, August 2008

[We continue hearing from Pr. Heath Curtis-see July for the previous section-on what has been inherited from those who have gone before us in the Church. As always, the invitation stands for you to discuss with me any questions or thoughts.]

“Beyond Tradition for Tradition’s Sake”

Reverence vs. Hey Jesus, Pull My Finger

We are not merely traditionalists for tradition’s sake – although as I have just narrated, that is not a bad thing: keeping the 4th Commandment is never a bad thing. Rather, those of us who advocate upholding the description of the churches of the Augsburg Confession as churches which adhere to the traditional

liturgical forms do so because we find these forms objectively more excellent, appropriate, and praise worthy than modern neo-Evangelical forms [which are often called “contemporary worship”]. In the first place, the traditional liturgical forms and ceremonies encourage reverence and awe. Our age and culture does not do reverence well. For us, nothing is sacred. Everything that is not humorous, sarcastic, or comfortable is stodgy, stilted, and unauthentic. This seems a far cry from the Biblical witness. You can’t read your way through the Torah [Genesis-Deuteronomy] or the Gospels without constantly running into people kneeling, crying out in fear of the Divine Presence, and clearing temples of worshipless activity. The traditional liturgical forms embody this sort of serious reverence – where our age has given us the coffee shop church: the house of the Lord has literally been turned into an emporium and the altar of our Lord’s Presence has been pushed to the side to make room for the band. These words from Pr. David Petersen eloquently describe the difference between a reverent approach to worship and the modern comfortable approach.

There are those among us who think the Gospel is best or most fully expressed as a casual, comfortable relationship with God. For them the resurrection of Jesus Christ means no fussiness, no solemnity, no seriousness, or formality. It is not enough that Jesus is your friend, He must be your bosom buddy. He is the kind of God you could go fishing with. It’d be okay if you hadn’t showered and smelled like fish, if you wiped you nose on your sleeve. If you belched He’d laugh. He is the kind of God who likes greasy snack foods and licks His fingers. It is not really the Gospel for these people unless you can say: “Hey, Jesus, pull my finger.” For them He is the kind of God you can tease. He understands. … The angels do tell the believers to not be afraid. We are to come to God as dear children to their dear Father, trusting that He will not despise us nor grow angry with us even at our selfish and childish requests, but rather that He loves to hear our prayers. Jesus tells the disciples that they are not merely His servants but also His friends. But at the same time He is the Lord and Ruler of the Universe and should at least be given the respect we reserve for polite company. Being respectful of God, listening while He is talking, wearing your finest clothing, being serious, quiet, and attentive while He expresses His love for you and presents you with His gifts, is a confession of who you believe He is and what you believe He is doing. Joy need not always be mindless, fleshly pleasure. Joy can also be sober. In fact, the deepest joy is. There is time for trumpets and timpani, and there is a time to pray in silence. But there is never a time to forget who God is or that the Lion of Judah still has claws. Do not be scared. Do not be terrified. For your heavenly Father loves you in Jesus Christ. You are precious to Him and in Him you are safe. At the same time do not dismiss fear altogether. For the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. You are not His equal. Those who know His love respond in reverence, even as did Isaiah in the Temple, Peter, James, and John at the Transfiguration, and St. Mary at the annunciation. The Lord has not given you a playmate out of the Virgin’s womb. He has given you a Savior. (

Pastor Petersen would no doubt second the quip from CS Lewis’ Narnia series: He’s not a tame lion. Reverence in general begins here: acknowledging the holiness of God and our own unworthiness to be in his presence.

The Real Presence of God

And make no mistake: in the Divine Service we are in the Real Presence of God. For by his gracious invitation we are called to the Lord’s altar to receive Him in his Body and Blood. Jesus is really there. He really is. This is the point of departure for the entire traditional Divine Service (Mass): the bodily and bloodily presence of Christ. [We should then ask ourselves:] How should I comport myself in his presence? How shall I prepare to receive him? How shall I honor him?

[The answers are given by what the Body of Christ does in the traditional form of the liturgy as we have it in Divine Service, Setting III of Lutheran Service Book [TLH p. 15]. See also the booklet on the liturgy that is available on the table outside the sanctuary. If you would like to see what Pr. Curtis has written on the liturgy, just ask.]


[T]he Historic Liturgy [has been] honed and perfected by all ages of Christians from the Apostles on down. Did it fall from heaven? No – but it is soaked in the Words of Heaven as found in the Scriptures. Is it unchanging and unchangeable? No – but it is no one man’s to change willy nilly. It belongs to the Church and she changes it over time, slowly at a snail’s pace as befits a Woman who is several thousand years old. It is self-contained and is its own culture. It does not adapt to cultures but absorbs them, takes on what is best and spits out the rest. Resistance is futile: you will be assimilated. And the only thing sadder than not knowing of this Historic Liturgy and its meaning is knowing of it and rejecting it for what you made up on Monday afternoon (the latter would seem to contain not a small measure of pride as well).

[Next month we will consider the ceremonies of the Lutheran service. Pastor Winterstein]

*St. Augustine said, as Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; but with you I am a Christian.”


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