Sunday, October 15, 2006

My Recommendations for the Use of the Lutheran Service Book

Our congregation will begin using the Lutheran Service Book (LSB) some time in the following months. Since the church council has instituted a worship committe to assist with this (and other matters) and since I'm (as head elder) titular head of this committee, I thought it a good idea to set forth my thoughts, recommendations, and suggestions as to where we should go with the Divine Service of God.

God has not called us to either creative or innovative in the Service of His house. Instead, we are called by God to be custodians of that Service, and to provide faithfully for it. We have been given a liturgy, which gives God's word and His means of grace to His people. We use that liturgy, and seek to faithfully pass it on to those who follow after us.

1. I would encourage us to consider returning to the church's historic use of the one-year lectionary (scripture readings in the Divine Service). My reasons for this:

a. the one-year lectionary is the historic use of the church. The 3 year series is of very recent origin (from the late 1960s). The purpose of the lectionary system is two-fold, to give the full counsel of God (compare Acts 20:27, " For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God") and to teach God's word to His people. I'm not competent to discuss whether the 3 year series meets the first criteria, but I think we have failed God's people on the second. (By "we," I'm saying the whole church; I'm not picking on Redeemer). One of the arguments given in the 1960s for use of a 3 year series was that it would provide for a greater Bible knowledge, by exposing the church to a much greater range of texts. Have we succeeded in this? Are God's people more biblically knowledgable now than they were, say, 50 years ago? Obviously, I think the answer is no. I'm not blaming our biblical ignorance only on this, but I suspect it has had a part in it.

b. the one-year series provides a continuity in the Service. In this series, the readings are the same on a particular Sunday each year, and so, for example, people who are in church, year in and year out, come to know that, say, on Easter Sunday, the gospel reading will come from Mark 16: 1-8. People come to know those passages well, and learn them, and can associate them with the hymns of the day from year to year. This is far less likely when a particular lesson will not be used again for another 3 years.

c. Finally, the one year series' historic usage means that there are helps and resources available for use in study, learning, and sermon preparation that stretch back further than the Nixon administration. For example, there are inexpensive books of Luther's sermons which are a wealth of information, devotional help, and sermon preparation help, but these are completely tied in with the historic one year series.

2. I would encourage us to consider using the LSB's Divine Service, Setting 3, as our exclusive service for Sunday mornings. St. Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, "To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe," (Phil. 3:1) and that's a safe and good thing to remember for us as we consider how the Service is to be conducted. I am opposed to the use of several different settings, as it seems to promote confusion ("which service are we using now?," "what's the response in this service?") where we should aim to avoid confusion.

What's more, I think it's a worthy goal to help folks internalize the service, knowing it from the heart, and not being so tied to having to carefully study what we should be saying in the next minute.

Next, some specific reasons for this particular service.

3. The Divine Service setting 3 is the church's historic service, and flows from German and English church usages from the last several centuries. If, say, Luther were to come in (apart from his having to learn English!) he would be able to roughly follow this service. We don't worship alone. We are together with those in the room, but, just as important, we are together (see Hebrews 12:1) with all the saints of all time, who are gathered together with us in spirit. It's important that we recognize that, and follow what our fathers in the faith have provided and given to us.

4. The confession of sins: LSB's DS 3 provides a good and faithful confession of sins. In the service we're using now, we confess that we "are by nature sinful and unclean," and while that can be understood correctly, the biblical teaching is that by nature we are created in the image of God. Sin is not a part of our human nature. If it were, Christ -- who was at the same time fully human and divine -- would be a sinner, but he correctly asked the Pharisees, " Which of you convinceth me of sin?" (John 8:46) (The usual explanation for the meaning of "by nature sinful" is that it means, "I am a sinner from birth," which is correct (Psalm 58:3), but far better to provide -- as does LSB DS 3 -- a clear, unambiguous confession).

5. The Kyrie ("Lord, have mercy") and the Gloria are given as the church has prayed for centuries. We have not used the Gloria ("Glory be to God on high") for many years as we have used the "This is the feast" song in its place. It's time to put that to rest, and the Gloria is what we should be singing there.

6. In the Salutation before the Collect ("The Lord be with you"), DS 3 gives the historically correct response from the congregation, "And with your spirit." Our response is not (as what we're using now) a "back to you, man!" kind of response, but a recognition that the Pastor, in praying the Collect, is praying with and for us all. The same response is properly given in the Preface to the Sacrament, where "and with your spirit" recognizes that what the Pastor is doing there is doing there is of the utmost gravity: that he will be handling the very Body and Blood of Christ.

7. The Offertory is again the historic, "Create in me a clean heart," and not "Let the vineyards," which should have been retired a long time ago.

8. Finally, in the Pax Domini (where the Pastor says, "The peace of the Lord be with you all") the proper response given is "Amen." In the Pax, the Pastor is serving as the mouth of God, giving God's peace to us. We don't give that peace back to the Pastor; that's not our job. Instead, DS 3 properly provides our response: "Amen!" In other words: "That's true! Let that peace be with me!"