Abandoning Those Most in Need

If you follow what’s going on in the news in Africa, especially in Zimbabwe, you can see what suffering amidst chaos the church is dealing with there. Did anyone at the ELCA Assembly last August even stop to consider how the vote to roster gays would affect our ability to stand with them in solidarity and continue to support them, or would they even want our support after such a vote?

The following press release from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania clearly states the reasons that recent ELCA advocacy for same-sex unions is both false teaching and a serious threat to the authority of scripture.

  • ELCT Press Release
  • Date: April 29, 2010
  • Press release No. 004/04/2010

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) has reiterated her opposition to same-sex marriage and stated that those who are in such unions are not welcome to work in the ELCT because such practice is incompatible with Biblical teaching.

The ELCT Executive Council meeting, held in Moshi on April 27 to 28 this year, received and approved “The Dodoma Statement” prepared in January this year by the ELCT Bishops’ Council. The bishops met in Dodoma to discuss in details steps to take after the decision of some European and American churches to recognize same-sex marriages.

The Statement says: “Those in same sex marriages, and those who support the legitimacy of such marriage, shall not be invited to work in the ELCT. We further reject their influence in any form, as well as their money and their support.”

“This church affirms that love is the essence of a relationship between two people who live, or who want to live, together in marriage. But, with regard to married spouses, this is the love between two people of the opposite sex.”

“This church does not accept reasons offered by advocates of same-sex marriage and its legitimacy unless it is based on the Word of God and Biblical teaching; therefore, we reject inappropriate and false interpretations of scripture produced to justify the marriage of people of the same gender.”

“This church encourages and supports all those around the world who oppose churches that have taken the decision to legalize same-sex marriage.”

“We appeal to those of like-mind with us to continue to be salt and light in our relationships. We should direct our energy into maintaining the unity and cooperation between us. Such unity will help us avoid falling into a state which would further injure the body of Christ, that is, the Church.”

“Those supporting same-sex marriages have started to do all they can to destroy one Biblical passage after another in order to legalize homosexuality and affirm that marriage is not necessarily between a man and a woman. They do so by putting forward their new and wrong interpretation – one which displays an attitude and understanding which differs from that which has existed for many years in the Church regarding the meaning of marriage in accordance with the teachings of the Word of God.”

Some Bible passages that have been misused and given another interpretation to defend same-sex marriage are the following: Genesis 1:27-28, 2:24, Matt. 19: 5-7, Rom. 1:26-27, Gal. 3:28, etc.

The statement goes on to say: “The ELCT and other people worldwide who support our stand on the issue of opposing same-sex marriage believe that the Bible cannot be interpreted according to people’s wishes or according to other authorities or to culture. Rather, the Bible is self explanatory and is merely translated into various languages without altering the meaning.”

“The ELCT accepts that moral values may change among people as their situations change; however, ELCT believers know and believe that there are some things that cannot change, such as people having noses, ears and mouths.”

“This church believes that, based on the teaching of the Word of God, there are values that cannot be adjusted even under the pressure of changing conditions and locations. One of these unwavering values concerns the issue of marriage and its meaning.”

Issued by:
Office of the Secretary-General, ELCT

Churches splitting here, new Synods being formed, staff layoffs because of decreased funding, world missions and unity undermined.  So much for justice.

ELCA Fallout

In the cover story of this month’s “The Lutheran: ” “Sexuality issue causes division, sadness — and hope: Assessing the fallout from decisions made at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, one can read the following:

Jo Hollingsworth, an admittedly left-leaning member of Hope Lutheran Church in Fostoria, Ohio, supports ELCA‘s decisions on sexuality issues. She finds her decision strengthened by her first-ever reading of the Bible from cover to cover in just more than a month’s time.

“In a book this extensive — more than 700 pages — of course the writers contradict themselves. They say gays are anathema, but they say divorce is anathema too,” said Hollingsworth, a lifelong Lutheran. She picked up on another theme as well: “You’d better be careful before you go around condemning people, saying that they are wrong.”

You can not see the full article unless you’re a subscriber, but this is all of Ms Hollingworth’s printed comments.  For me they highlight several important problems with Lutherans and Scripture.  First, she self-identifies as “left-leaning.”  That’s fine as far as it goes–I don’t pretend to believe that there is such as thing as pure objectivity–but one has to question the purpose for reading the Bible cover-to-cover after such a vote, in the middle of a controversy, in light of a political ideology.

If someone is just now, for the first time, reading the entire Bible, and doing so with a leftist bent then of course it will “strengthen” her decision.  I can’t imagine any other reason to do so in light of the ELCA controversy on gay rostering than to find what you want to find there.  This sense is strengthened by her description of what she read.

“Of course the writers contradict themselves,” she says.  Well of course she thinks so.  She came at the book already believing the authors are merely human writers of spiritual literature.  Rather than focus on the reader, herself, and what God may want her to have ears to hear, she focus on the writers.  The “of course” shows how she sees Scripture as literature and found what she expected and that there is not one true author but dozens of “writers.”

It’s interesting that she says they “contradict themselves,” not “one another.”  One might expect multiple writers from different cultures over thousands of years to say things that at least appear contradictory. It’s another thing to claim that John, say, asserts one truth in his first epistle and another in his second, or Matthew one thing in one chapter of his Gospel and another in a different chapter.

Nor is she willing to concede that what looks like contradiction may be a flaw with the reader, any reader, including her.  One does not have to believe that Scripture was “transcribed”–God’s mouth to the writer’s hand–in the originals to believe that God is indeed the sole author of Scripture who has a consistent message full of mystery and paradox that He wants us to hunger and thirst for so deeply that we “eat this book.”  It is a message that must be prayerful sought after in communion with the Holy Spirit and God’s people over decades, not a quick cover-to-cover reading in a month in order to confirm one’s political positions.

Apparently, as evidence that “the writers contradict themselves” she offers this: “They say gays are anathema, but they say divorce is anathema too.” What’s the logic here?  That since many Christians shamefully no longer consider divorce to be a problem that we also should think homosexuality is fine and dandy?  That somehow seeing divorce as wrong contradicts seeing homosexuality as wrong?  Does she understand that a contradiction is saying one thing about some thing and then saying something contrary about the same thing?

What’s more, it sure sounds to me like she at least concedes that Scripture condemns homosexuality.  Her solution, then, seems to be that we shouldn’t listen to that condemnation because the writers contradict themselves and also hate divorce.  It begs the question of why should we listen to anything Scripture has to say about any moral truth claim.

(Granted this reasoning can be taken too far, as in “You don’t believe God created the world 15,000 years ago so you can’t believe in the resurrection.” This, however, is not the same thing.  One thing that is clear from reading Scripture is that when it comes to sexual relations, Scripture consistently proclaims that God-pleasing sexual relationships can only be found within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.)

N. T. Wright addressed just this kind of thinking in an interview on his views on homosexuality.

So the attempt to get around Paul’s language on homosexuality by suggesting that its cultural referent was different than ours doesn’t work?
At any point in Paul, whether it’s justification by faith or Christology or anything else, you have to say, of course this is culturally conditioned. He’s speaking first century Greek, for goodness’ sake. Of course you have to understand it in its context. But when you do that, it turns out to be a rich and many-sided thing. You cannot simply say, as some people have done, that in the first century homosexuality had to do with cult prostitution, and we’re not talking about that, therefore it’s something different. This simply won’t work. So yes, it is impossible to say, we’re reading this in context and that makes it different. What can you still say, of course, and many people do, is that, “Paul says x and I say y.” That’s an option that many in the church take on many issues. When we actually find out what Paul said, some say, “Fine, and I disagree with him.” That raises all kinds of other issues about how the authority of scripture actually works in the church, and at what point the authority structure of scripture-tradition-reason actually kicks in.

That’s really what’s at the heart of this issue, and everyone knows it, and that’s basically Ms. Hollingworth’s reasoning: Paul says x but I say y. I once had a Christian tell me “I don’t care what the Bible says about abortion.”

If it’s just a collection of sacred stories–and I used to love that word, story, and am growing it hate it because so-called “progressive Christians” are using it in a kind of 21st century demythologizing project–from which we can find our own stories validated, and from which we can pick and choose based on supposed contradictions, ignorance of Science at the time of writing and out-dated cultural notions then it’s not really Scripture at all. It’s merely an edifying good read, like Dostoevsky.

Adultery, pre-marital sex, homosexuality are all expressly forbidden in Scripture.  Divorce is allowed because of the hardness of our hearts, but considered sin, and though polygamy was practiced (like divorce) it was not endorsed (like divorce was not endorsed), and may even have been implicitly condemned in such passages as Deuteronomy 17:17 where God commanded that the king “shall not acquire many wives for himself.”

Ms. Hollingworth’s reasoning, and I realize “The Lutheran” could not have done her full views justice, and neither can I, is like arguing “The writers say that stealing is anathema, but they say dishonoring the Sabbath is anathema, too.”  First of all, so?  Don’t do either, then.  Second, just because many people do not “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” is hardly a rationale for stealing.  And finally, it is no way no how a contradiction of any sort.

Church Constituencies?

According to a recent Synod newsletter referring to the upcoming Synod Assembly: “Congregations with members who are persons of color or persons whose primary language is other than English: Send one additional lay voting member from each constituency.”

Huh? Did I miss something in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”? Or maybe I misread something in 1 Corinthians 12:13: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”

We Lutherans seem bound and determined to model the world. As an issue of justice in the world at large, we should support those with less voice or no voice, those who are marginalized and maligned, but to bring the concepts of constituencies and the politics of interest groups into the church?

In keeping with the spirit of generosity, I imagine this is being done because historically Lutherans churches, in America, anyway (not Africa), are not exactly full of mixed ethnicity. It is a good thing to try to find ways to minister and welcome all.

However, this is not a vision conference. They clearly want varied representation in the voting, which seems to imply that congregations with people of color or who are not native English speakers somehow need mandated help to find a voice in their own home churches. It’s almost as if the thinking is, “We have to enable them to come or the representatives their churches do send will not represent them adequately.”

Seasons in the Son: Why I Am Lutheran IV

I am writing this on the eve of spring; as the northern hemisphere transits from the season of death to the season of rebirth, so too the Church transits from the season of Lent to the season of Easter. Because Easter is dated on the lunar calendar used to calculate Passover, we do not always have Easter so close to the start of spring, so it is a perfect time to write about the importance of seasons to the Christian life.

Recently I attended a men’s conference at a local church because one of the seminars offered was “Mentoring Youth.” Prior to the seminars we had a worship service in the style of that church. I am no stranger to their style of worship, and it is authentic worship of our Triune God by people who genuinely love our Lord Jesus Christ; however, my personal worship experience was jarred by the constant use of the exclamation ‘alleluia.’

Not all churches follow the practice of “burying the alleluia” during Lent, and the Sundays in Lent, like all Sundays generally, are, in a very real sense, “little Easters;” however, I have always felt that such practices heighten the awareness of the important distinctions of our church seasons. I like them, and the Lutheran church’s incorporation of the seasons of the church year—and the various liturgical practices connected to them—into its worship has a strong appeal to me.

Unless one lives in Camelot where “the climate must be perfect all the year,” we all experience temperate seasons as well as more symbolic seasons of life like the season of youth or the season of grief. Seasons of all sorts (even sports seasons!) help to regulate our lives. Church seasons reflect this natural aspect of being part of creation, and they point us to the God of seasons. They assure us that the Lord of creation is also the Lord of time, the Lord of transition, the Lord of change.

Being attuned to the changing seasons of the Church is as important as being attuned to the changing seasons of nature or of life. Rather than being quaint or archaic, seasonal practices can enrich our personal prayer and our corporate worship and also help us develop spiritual discipline by nurturing spiritual structures.

Jesus lived and suffered and rejoiced in all ways common to all people, so it is fitting and instructive that our Church seasons reflect the seasons of His life. Though extraordinary in every way, we sometimes forget He even lived quite a bit of His life in “ordinary time.” (Kathleen Norris wrote a brief and wonderful book called The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work” that properly connects “ordinary time” to worship.)

Christ is found in the rhythms and patterns of life. In fact, he reconciles them as well as us for He “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20)

Now that it’s Easter, can I get an alleluia?

Why I Am Lutheran–Part III: Song

“Come on and sing, sing, sing, sing, everybody start to sing.” Man, do I love to sing! I took a lot of heat in the clique ridden halls of high school for listening to the kinds of music I did. Imagine a fifteen year old in 1980 walking the halls singing “Do you hear that whistle down the line, I reckon that it’s engine number forty-nine,” or “Oh give me land lots a land under starry skies above; don’t fence me in,” or even “I’m an old cowhand from the Rio Grande.”

Big Band and Swing, Frank and Bing—deathless music, the kind of music you can sing along with, and that’s what matters to me: participation. Garrison Keillor once wrote: “I have made fun of Lutherans for years—who wouldn’t, if you lived in Minnesota? But I have also sung with Lutherans and that is one of the main joys of life, along with hot baths and fresh sweet corn.”

So true! Most all Christians love music, but Lutherans love to sing, and we’re willing to do it in public, as long as our pew mates are singing with us. I love contemporary Christian music. I love listening to it, but in church I don’t want to just listen to other people sing; I want to follow the advice of the Amy Grant song: “Sing your praise to the lord. Come on everybody stand up and sing one more Hallelujah!” It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s scripturally sound, honors God and I get to sing along.

In the first part of this series, I wrote about the importance of the liturgy, and song is closely related to that. The primary purpose of the liturgy is to focus our attention upon Christ, and singing helps us do that. We sing hymns, like everyone else, and we have fantastic choirs, but in addition, as part of our worship, Lutherans have the “Ordinaries” (ordinary, every Sunday songs) of the liturgy: the Kyrie (“Lord have mercy”), Gloria (“Glory be to God on high”) Sanctus (“Holy, Holy, Holy”) and Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”).

In other words, throughout the entire service, I get to “sing praise to my God while I have being.” (Psalm 104) Singing is a very important part of Christian worship. There are 165 references to the words ‘sing’ and ‘singing,’ in Scripture, and they are not just found in our hymnbook, The Psalms, either.

Chronicles tells us to “Sing to him, sing praises to him, tell of all his wonderful works. Zechariah commands “Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion! For lo, I will come and dwell in your midst, says the LORD.” Samuel says “For this I will extol you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing praises to your name.” Paul tells us in Ephesians to “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.”

The adult Sunday school class recently watched a film (“Amazing Grace”) on the life of the evangelical Member of Parliament and anti-slavery champion William Wilberforce. He first introduced his bill calling for the end of British involvement in the slave trade in 1789. By 1797, still unsuccessful, he had worked himself to the point of illness and exhaustion. Earlier in the movie, he had stood up on a table in a gambling establishment and joyfully crooned “Amazing Grace,” the hymn written by his mentor, and former slave ship captain, John Newton. But by 1797, his voice was shot, and he said “the worst thing is that I can not sing anymore.”

At one point his friend, the Prime Minister William Pitt, asked Wilberforce: “Do you intend to use your voice to praise the Lord or change the world?” Wilberforce did both because he understood that it is in praising the Lord that we change the world. He won his fight, regained his voice and went on to champion other just causes.

In Psalm 40:3, David says “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.” In five other Psalms the phrase “new song” can also be found. When we become “new creations in Christ” we sing a new song. Indeed, John tells us in his Revelation that none but the redeemed can sing that new song. (14:3)

Last month I wrote about Baptism. This is where we learn the new song, “And this must be the start of something…This could be the heart of something…This could be the start of something big.” The liturgy is where we Lutherans get to practice it, so “Come on and sing, sing, sing, sing, everybody start to sing.”

Why I am Lutheran—Part II: Baptism

Last month I started a series on why I am Lutheran, explaining that I wasn’t raised Lutheran but drifted towards it while studying the Reformation and then fully embracing it after attending a Lutheran church.  In Part I, I described the importance of the liturgy and how it helps to enable me to worship God in Spirit and Truth.

In no way in this series am I trying to diminish any other Christian worship tradition or to suggest that they “do it wrong” or “don’t get it” or even that they don’t share some of the same elements, priorities and focuses as Lutherans.  I simply wish to examine why I am Lutheran both as a way of helping me to refresh my own faith journey and, hopefully, as a way to help others revisit and re-encounter their own.

When I first began attending a Lutheran church it didn’t take me very long to notice something quite extraordinary, and I don’t think anyone can worship in the Lutheran tradition for very long without realizing this:  Baptism is not seen as a one time past event but a living and on-going present reality.

Because we see the outward sign of the inner grace when a person is baptized, it becomes easy to see that sacrament as a one-time event and to see the Eucharist as a more frequent sacrament because we celebrate it weekly or bi-monthly or quarterly.  But not so!  Baptism, rightly understood and practiced, is a daily, even hourly, sacrament.

In Baptism in the Theology of Martin Luther, Jonathan D. Trigg explains that in Luther’s thought, “Baptism’s ‘present tense’ is central – its abiding force in the Christian’s life [is] ever available for an encounter with God.”  Luther insisted that Christian progress is not onwards “from” baptism, but a repeated return “to” it.

So removed in time, many people are unaware that the Reformation was a slugfest that would make today’s “culture wars” look like cotillions.  Luther’s biographer, Roland Bainton, once wrote that Luther would have been a “troubled spirit in a tranquil age,” and the Reformation was anything but a tranquil age, and much of the turmoil centered on the sacraments.

Luther struggled mightily with himself, his age and even other reformers to develop a view of the sacraments as mystery rather than magic and as means of grace rather than mere signs and symbols.  It was a hard balance to strike with the Catholic Church on one side and both other reformers and the Anabaptists on the other.  It was through this struggle that Luther developed a view of baptism that is complex and nuanced but quite scripturally sound and rich.  It can not be understood, let alone dismissed, in an instant.

To dismiss Luther’s view as “works righteous” as some other protestant denominations do (see Fred G. Zaspel’s 1988 “Baptism: A Reply to a Lutheran Catechism“) is to misunderstand that baptism is God’s act, a divine testimony to what “grace alone” really means, whereby He imparts the blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

To exclude children is to misunderstand that grace precedes faith.  Luther argued against the Catholics that the sacraments did not work through some power of their own, but through faith.  “I may be wrong on indulgences,” Luther declared, “but as to the need for faith in the sacraments I will die before I recant.”[1]  That faith, however, is itself a gift of God, and there is no indication that He withholds it on the basis of age or that it is merely individualistic in nature.

Faith is both individual and communal.  We celebrate Holy Communion in community but not as community.  In the Eucharist we stand alone before God, each one eating and drinking, the faith of the individual, given as a gift from God in baptism, appropriating the further grace offered in the meal.

Baptism, on the other hand, is celebrated not only in community but as community.  Bainton called it the “sociological sacrament” which “links the Church to society.”[2] In baptism we have the baptized, the sponsors, the family and the local congregation all participating together as the called and gathered body of Christ.  Luther would argue that it was not only the unarticulated faith of the child, like that of the faith of a sleeping adult, but the faith of the community undergirding the child which is present in the sacrament, which is still exclusively the work of God.

And so the baptismal font is an integral and indispensable part of Lutheran worship every Sunday and every season.  Throughout the church year we return to it again and again, and not just when someone is baptized.  We also spend years preparing a child for confirmation, which is really the utterly miraculous moment when the child affirms her baptism, publicly professing his faith in Christ before others, literally confirming that the faith of the family, sponsors and congregation is now his and hers.

No where else have I ever been so continually reminded and aware of the joy and wonder of my own baptism and that of others as I have in a Lutheran church.  Thanks be to God!

  1. quoted in Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Pierce and Smith, 1950, p. 107 []
  2. Ibid, p. 110 []

Why I Am Lutheran—Part I: Liturgy

I’ve never agreed with the statement that familiarity breeds contempt. I have found that all too often familiarity breeds inattention, not apathy or callousness so much as forgetful neglect. Unfortunately, we humans all too often take for granted that which is most precious and familiar to us.

And it’s not just “stuff” we do that with, is it? We do it with practices, traditions, rituals and even beliefs. We get so familiar with them that we stop noticing. And then a child asks “Is God real?”, or a friend asks “Why is God silent in my grief?”, or a neighbor asks “Why are you Lutheran?” In order to follow Peter’s injunction to “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15) we are forced to notice again that which we ceased truly seeing.

I wasn’t raised Lutheran. I chose Lutheranism after first studying Reformation history in graduate school and then actually worshiping at a Lutheran church, so I was forced to think through many of those aspects of our faith traditions that we tend to take for granted. As we begin this new church year, I thought I would begin an informal series on why I am Lutheran, both as a way of helping me to refresh my own faith journey and, hopefully, as a way to help others revisit and re-encounter their own.

From the title, it may look like I have a systematic plan for this series, but in reality I chose this title after I saw where my thoughts were going, and I have no idea what aspect I may focus on next. Other Lutherans may have different priorities and preferences, but liturgical worship was one of the most powerful factors that drew me towards Lutheranism.

As Jesus taught, the only “right” way to worship God is “in Spirit and Truth,” (John 4:24) so I don’t want to imply that liturgical worship is the One True worship. There are liturgical churches, like the Roman Catholic, where I do not feel I could worship God “in Truth” because of profound doctrinal differences. I do not think liturgical worship is—in and of itself—somehow superior; however, I do feel it has within its form the potential to be more rich, connected and elemental than more modern forms of worship.

Too often those who are unfamiliar with it argue that liturgical worship is dead or canned or overly ritualistic or boring. As Simon Chan, in Liturgical Theology, argues, these “concerns should not be dismissed lightly, as [they] grew out of the deeply spiritual sense that the Spirit can not be domesticated.” (126) However, any worship that is not “in Spirit and Truth” is dead, period.

Before I even knew it, I was drawn to liturgical worship by its “work.” In The Church’s Liturgy, Michael Kunzler explains that in its profane origins “Literally translated ‘liturgy’ means ‘work of the people/ for the people’.” However, “on account of the unique character of Christian worship people at first… avoided a general concept for it. When ‘liturgy’ was adopted for it, it was not however forgotten… that liturgy first of all is the work of God, who brings about salvation in the world through Christ in the Holy Spirit.” (13)

There are actually two senses in which the term liturgy is commonly used, and this sometimes causes confusion. In the more specific and formal sense, it is restricted to the Holy Eucharist. When an Eastern Orthodox Christian speaks of the liturgy he is most likely referring only to the Eucharist Service, what Roman Catholics refer to as the Sacrifice of the Mass, and what Lutherans and other Protestants might call The Great Thanksgiving.

On the other hand, especially in Protestant churches, “liturgy often means the whole complex of official services, all the rites, ceremonies, prayers, and sacraments of the Church, as opposed to private devotions. In this sense we speak of the arrangement of all these services in certain set forms, used officially by any local church, as the liturgy of that church. So a service of evening prayer is also part of the liturgy.”

The Lutheran church uses both in theologically meaningful ways. Thus, in the more formal sense, the liturgy refers to the part of our service devoted to communion and is the work of Christ alone on the cross. However, the liturgy is also “the work of the people,” not as a means of grace but as a “duty and delight,” in a worship and thanksgiving response to the work of God through Christ.

If a Lutheran service often feels like a lot of work it is and should be. Too often we think of work as either a bothersome chore or a theologically dirty word. In the sense of the work of worship and praise as a response to God’s grace, it’s neither. We are, after all, God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” (Eph 2:10)

Properly done, liturgical worship is embodied worship. As we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation, it is appropriate to see worship as an act which involves more than our minds and spirits. It is an offering of our “bod[ies] as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God,” which is our “spiritual worship.” (Rom 12:1) It engages our bodies and senses as well as our thoughts, words and feelings.

We truly are like children (in all ways both good and bad). As any teacher will tell you, if you engage children’s bodies and senses they’ll learn more than if they just sat there and listened. Learning is work, so is worship. School is full of ritual, so is worship, even in non-liturgical worship. The best way to keep living ritual from becoming dead rote is to engage the whole person in the work of worship and thanksgiving that “is indeed right and salutary” in response to the work of God through Christ Jesus.

By changing the theology without discarding the ancient and common mode of corporate worship, Lutheranism allows me to most closely approach in this life the perfect worship in Spirit and Truth that I will only truly be capable of in the next.

Note: While I differ from Catholics substantially, many of them, like Merton, Nouwen, and Neuhaus, have had a profound influence upon my spiritual development. One way I do not differ is in my love of liturgical worship. Read “…But Isn’t Liturgical Worship Dead” to see a Catholic brother’s (David Bennett) viewpoint on this topic.

The Path of Worship