Actions and Words, Again

[See here for the first part]

So it seems that many people do not care that the treasures of the liturgy and the hymns are lost, and along with them any sustained relevance in the lives of sinners who, essentially, are exactly the same as sinners, say, 1700 years ago.

(Aside: It seems to me, in fact, that our current cultural situation is very near the situation of people like Ambrose and Augustine, following the legalization and then the State sponsorship of Christianity: i.e., very soon–if not already–there will be an influx of people into the Church or the sphere of those who belong to the Church, who have been pagans their entire lives.  They will not have been baptized and they will be approaching the Church from a position of nearly complete ignorance.  What will we do with them?  Will we pretend we can dumb down the Gospel to the level of unbelief, and that this will somehow appeal to them enough that they will gladly join Christian congregations?  Or will we be secure enough in our liturgical and apostolic heritage to assimilate them into the life of the Church, with the fullness of its ancient doctrine and practices (see Acts 2:42)?  This will obviously require much more work than what we’re currently doing, and a complete reworking of our present process of catechesis.  We will be starting at the ground floor, hoping to make life-long Christians.  That cannot happen in six weeks, or even two years.  Perhaps the early catechumenate, mutatis mutandis, can help us here if we are willing.)

But for those who do think the liturgy has something to offer, if only as a vestigial memory from childhood, what can we do?  I do not pretend to have the answers to a problem that has been in the making for probably 300+ years.  However, I will offer some tentative ideas, to begin or continue a discussion, especially in the LCMS (since that is my context).

  1. Parents, as I said in the first part of this, must be committed to what happens on the Lord’s Day.  Not only those who are parents of those particular children, but other members of the congregation who also have a vested interest in whether children grow up in the fear and instruction of the Lord.  Sunday School teachers cannot teach a class, and then absent themselves from the Divine Service without a very compelling reason.  Even if you think people don’t notice, it sends a strong message to children not to see their Sunday School teachers in the Divine Service.  It says you’re only putting in your time, and no more.  The other members of the congregation, surrounding the children, cannot sing and say everything half-heartedly or no-heartedly.
  2. When you are present in the Divine Service, and when you are at home, you must be willing to teach your children about the various parts of the liturgy (e.g., show them where things are in the hymnal), and connect the liturgy to the various concerns that arise in day to day life.  The Nunc Dimittis, for example, is especially appropriate for night time singing before bed.  (If you don’t know how it connects, ask your pastor!  He, if he’s anything like me, would love to tell you, almost more than anything.)  In the Service itself, you have to participate yourself and help your children to do so according to their ages.  Children will memorize the words if they hear the people around them singing them.  They do it with everything else you say; why not with the Divine Service?  Participate and sing the hymns, even if you don’t like that particular one!
  3. Related to that, realizing that the words are pure Gospel, sing them like you mean them.  If your children see you mumbling the words, or sitting there without your hymnal open, or glazedly looking out the window, they will quickly realize that these things are not important.  Guess where they won’t want to be next week?
  4. This presence and this participation will not only impact your children.  Here, we’ve come back around to unbelievers.  Imagine, first, this scenario: someone who is not a member of a congregation, who maybe has no connection with a congregation, who finds the Divine Service foreign, visits your congregation.  This person sits in a pew, sees people socializing right up until the beginning of the second stanza of the opening hymn, and singing the liturgy and reading the responses as if they were reading a manual on how to correctly install the flush mechanism of a modern toilet.  The hymns sound how Lutherans are always accused of sounding: like funeral dirges, not necessarily musically, but in the manner and appearance of the people singing them.  Death cometh, hopefully sooner rather than later.   At least, that’s what I’d be thinking.  Now, ask yourself this question: why in the world would that person ever want to return to your congregation for a Divine Service?  The fact is, we are the cause of the things we complain about.  The pastor can only do so much to speak and sing his parts with passion (especially if he’s an introvert like me); the people have to do a little work.  And if they do: if they sing with joy, if they appear to actually believe what they are singing and saying, might that not cause someone to take a second look at what appears at first to be an hour completely removed from the twenty-first century?  Maybe there’s something more here than meets my first glance.  Maybe still waters run deep.  Maybe…

Now, obviously none of these things, or anyone else’s ideas, will guarantee that churches will stop shrinking, that kids will start to love and treasure the liturgy more than their parents, that we can reverse a decades-long trend of apathy toward the liturgy that the Christian Church has developed over 2000 years.  Proverbs 22:6 is a proverb–the way things generally go–not a promise.  But the guarantee of continued falling away from God’s promises in baptism is much more likely if parents do not carry out their God-given responsibilities and bring their children to the services of the Lord’s House, teach them the stories of God’s salvation in Christ, and sing to them the songs that the Church has sanctified by long use.

On the other hand, if you want your children to keep looking for a church that will “fit their needs” and give them what they think they want, eventually they will just do what they always wanted anyway, and treat the Lord’s Day as just another day in the weekend.  If that’s what you want, I’d suggest we all just keep doing what we’re doing and kill off the liturgy, and with it the Faith that it instills.  I’m not willing to give up just yet.

Timotheos

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