“The Catholicity of the Reformation” (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

The following is from “The Reform of the Mass: Evangelical, but Still Catholic’ in The Catholicity of the Reformation by our good Lutheran friends, Carl Braaten and Robert Jensen. In this essay, Frank C. Seen makes many interesting points, but I thought the following was especially pertenent to our own day. In talking about the order of service of the early church which the liturgical movement attempted to recapture, he has this to say:

This historic order can no longer be presumed to be intact in the churches of the Reformation (except in the Episcopal/Anglican churches in which the use of the prayer book is required by canon law). the pressure is great for these churches to devise “alternative” or “creative” liturgies that will be “seeker friendly.” What these well-intentioned efforts run the risk of doing, however, is undermining orthodoxia–the “right praise” of trinitarian worship that is expressed in the texts of the historic order of service. The “glory and praise” choruses and Jesus-songs in neo-evangelical worship (usually called “celebrations”) do not offer the same sturdy articulations of the trinitarian faith expressed in the texts of either the Latin chants or the chorales of the German Lutheran song mass (Lied Messe). No matter how conducive to engendering liturgical enthusiasm the “glory and praise” choruses might be, they are theologically unequal to the Gloria in excelsis Deo or Allein Gott in der Hoh sei ehr. The experience of the Reformation teaches us that the forms of public worship are not matters of indifference (adiaphora) because prayer (especially sung prayer and praise) forms belief; or as the church fathers would have said, the lex orandi establishes the lex credendi. It is not adequate to claim the evangelical freedom to change forms of worship if those changes diminish expressions of the ecumenical dogmas of God the Holy Trinity and the two natures of Christ on which Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Cranmer, and the Council of Trent were not in disagreement. The catholic faith requires catholic worship.

The experince of the Reformation also teaches us that when liturgy goes awry the problem may be less with its form and content than with the way in which it is celebrated and interpreted. Today historic forms of worship are being jettisoned in favor of “alternative liturgies” that employ popular-type songs and dramas with the argument thattraditional liturgy is boring or meaningless to occasional (and sometimes even regular) worshipers. Almost invariably this argument is put forward by pastors who have little competence in presiding at the liturgy in a knowledgeable or compelling way and who may even be insecure in the role of presiding minister.

This ritual incompetence includes not only poor public performances by ministers, musicians, and congregations but also poor judgment on the part of worship planners in deciding what to add to or subtract from the orders provided in the authorized worship books. Many liturgies get bogged down in extraneous details not specified by the order, or go in uncertain directions ritually and therefore also theologically. It is little wonder that they fail to engage contemporary worshipers.