Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Nothing New Under the Sun

Don't think for a moment that "modern" innovations in "Church Growth" parishes are all that modern. Things like these have been creeping into congregations for a long time. The following P.E. Kretzmann quotations serve to illustrate Ecclesiastes 1:9, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun.”

"Gospel Anthems"

We must take note also of a most deplorable tendency of our times, namely, that of preferring the shallow modern ‘Gospel anthem’ to the classical hymns of our Church. The reference is both to the text and to the tunes in use in many churches. On all sides the criticism is heard that the old Lutheran hymns are “too heavy, too doctrinal, that our age does not understand them.” Strange that the Lutherans of four centuries and of countless languages could understand and appreciate them, even as late as a generation ago! Is the present generation less intelligent or merely more frivolous?

(From P. E . Kretzmann; Magazin fur evang.-luth. Homiletik und Pastoraltheologie; June 1929, pp 216-217.)

Secular Dates in the Church

A very strong tendency toward sectarianism and even secularization is found in the increasing number of special days that are celebrated, at least with a special ‘program’ in the Sunday-school, if not with a similar perversion of the regular service in the church itself. We have with us to-day Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Children’s Day, Rally Day, Father-and-son Day, Decision Day, Washington’s Birthday, Lincoln’s Birthday, Roosevelt’s Birthday, Armistice Day, and a host of others, and apparently the end is not yet. “All these,” Rev. F. R. Webber says (Lutheran Church Art, November, 1928), “are anthropocentric. We have a church-year that is highly Christocentric. Any so-called Lutheran who sets aside the old church-year and out of desire to ape the sects indulges in the sloppy sentimentalism of the sectarian, Christless world-year is a traitor to the Word of God. What warrant have we to observe festivals, ferias, and fasts in honor of people?” The stricture, though severe, is well taken and well worthy of serious deliberation.

(From P. E Kretzmann, Magazin fur evang.-luth. Homiletik und Pastoraitheologie, June 1929, pp 218)

Prayers Over the Collection Plates

A very peculiar innovation showing the trend toward sectarianism in our circles is a strange liturgical act, the possibilities of which were evidently overlooked by the old Lutheran compilers of church orders and orders of service for Sundays and holidays. The reference is to the act which the children, in their usual frank, if not brutal, manner, with more truth than poetry, call ‘the blessing of the nickels’ or even ‘the blessing of the pennies’. It is a short prayer of thanksgiving spoken over the collection plates after the deacons or ushers have solemnly marched up the center aisle, with the baskets or plates carefully stacked on the left arm.

Charity fails to find an excuse condoning such an act in a Lutheran church. We have ever taught that good works and the merit of men should be kept out of sight as much as possible, particularly when we assemble in the house of God as poor sinners desiring the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins, without any merit or worthiness in ourselves. Formerly the collection was purposely taken (or ‘the offerings lifted’) as unobtrusively as possible, during the singing of the hymn following the sermon, not during a sentimental ‘offertory’ played with soft stops.

And now much ado is made, not exactly about nothing, but surely about the least of our gifts for the kingdom. That a special prayer of thanksgiving is offered, or even a special service of thanksgiving arranged, for an unusual gift of God’s mercy in overcoming our close-fistedness is entirely in order, but to include the Sunday collection in a regular order of worship, with a special liturgical act, is – simply not Lutheran.”

(P. E . Kretzmann, Magazin fur evang.-luth. Homiletik und Pastoraltheologie, June 1929, p 219.)


Father Hollywood said...

Dear Joel:

Two rituals that Ive always thought a little odd are the Elevation of the Collection Plates and the Reverencing of the Elders.

In the former, a pastor who wouldn't be caught dead holding the Lord's body and blood aloft will instead, elevate the collection plates at the altar and hold them up for a second or two (adoration?).

The latter happens when the altar boy (or girl?) or the pastor collects the plates from the elders, and the elders bow toward the altar, and the pastor (or acolyte) bows to the elders - along the lines of Japanese businessmen.

Rev. Joel A. Brondos said...

If the pastor would lift the plates, maybe he should also wave them:

"His own hands shall bring the LORD's food offerings. He shall bring the fat with the breast, that the breast may be waved as a wave offering before the LORD." (Lev 7:30)

Still, the lifting doesn't bother me entirely too much -- other than the fact that (as you point out) people object to raising the host but are fine with raising the collection plates.

If they considered the elevation of the host as the body of Christ being offered to God (like the offerings), then I could see a reason for the objection to raising the host.

And I've seen pastors use various rites for such things as dedication of a dwelling, and the sacred use of candles, vestments, hymnals, organs, etc. I suppose one could have a dedicatory rite for offerings given by Christ's holy people for sacred use in supporting the proclamation of God's Word -- and perhaps raising the offerings before the altar is a short-hand, abbreviated rite in itself.

As for bowing, I generally prefer to bow toward those bringing up the offerings rather than showing them my backside as I bow before the altar. In one congregation I served, it was the responsibility of the deacons/elders to bring up the offerings of God's people.

Imagine having a deacon like St. Stephen bringing up the collection -- if ever he did such a thing. Showing some sign of benevolent respect to men who serve in the giving and receiving of offerings might conjure up images of Japanese buisnessmen - but if it can be seen as a means of gracious love and respect between Christ's people, then I can't imagine inventing anything else that would be more appropriate than a little bow -- as is the custom of some at the Lord's Table before and after the giving and receiving of Christ's precious body and blood.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Joel:

It's especially funny, though, when pastors will "reverence the elders" but not the altar. They are usually the same guys that will elevate Mammon but not Jesus.

There is a Catholic booklet called "How Not to Say a Mass." I think there could be a Lutheran edition, but I don't know whether it would be a reference work or comedy... ;-)

Rev. Joel A. Brondos said...

I think the Lutheran version of how not to conduct the Mass is called the Ablaze! movement - and you're right . . . I don't know whether that's a reference work or a comedy, but whatever the case, I'm not laughing.

Then, of course, there's always the book "Why Catholics Can't Sing," in which the last pages (if I recall) reference a Lutheran minister with a plastic fork hung around his neck. I'll leave it up to you to satisfy your own curiosity . . . or not.

Anonymous said...

Ok Pastor,
If I promise not to tell anyone else...will you explain the 'fork' thing.