Thursday, August 20, 2009

Unity or Conformity? A Mission Question

When the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) came out in 1978, I’m told the idea was to create unity (conformity?) in worship among Lutherans. By which I mean that a Lutheran could walk into any Lutheran church in Canada (or the US) and have the same worship experience - hear the same liturgy, sing the same hymns. This, I was told, was meant to foster cohesiveness among Lutherans.

But I wonder if that was a worthy goal to begin with.

In seminary when we complained that using the LBW was too boring because it was too static, we were told to “look at the rubrics. There’s lots of ways to play around with the service to deal with the monotony.”

Rubrics, h’uh?

Now, it seems the wind has shifted. Lutherans now use a variety of resources to create worship experiences that meet local needs. I guess God is more interested in people using their creativity than in making sure we’re in lock step.

But more than that, part of being Lutheran is the freedom to chart our own congregational course, with the Holy Spirit’s help. Especially in worship. Luther, apparently, encouraged congregations to create their own liturgies, lest the liturgy itself became a “work” or “law.”

That’s why I was a little concerned when the Evangelical Lutheran Worship came out. It seemed to me to be another grasp at conformity. Which, in a way, I guess it was. 2/3rds of the hymns can be found in the LBW. So, clearly, it was meant as a replacement to fulfill the same function as the earlier book.

But it looks to me now, that churches are using it as one resource among many. I know that’s how my congregation uses it.

However, we have a divided church. Much more divided than the ELCA. At least that’s how it looks to me (yesterday, the ELCA passed their Social Statement on Human Sexuality with a super majority of 60%. Only a third of elected delegates voted against it. The number would be higher in Canada.).

But I think what binds us together as Lutherans is our Christian freedom, the semi-autonomy of the local congregation. That is our strength.

It’s also why we fight.

But if we’re to re-claim the mission of the church, then we need the freedom to engage our own contexts in local ways, using local means. Just as God made each person unique, so God made each church. So, I think that God wants us be in mission in our own unique ways.

This may mean that some of institution will die. Our organization as a church body will change. Our roles will shift.

And this will hurt. But whoever said that God’s mission would be easy?


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