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Archive for June 18th, 2013

It is quite congenial to the wisdom of God, that he bestows his blessings by simple means. If he employed great means the blessings might be ascribed to their greatness; but when they are simple, the blessings can be ascribed to him only. St. Paul saith, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” 2 Cor 4:7. The feebler the instrument seems by which mighty works are wrought, the plainer the omnipotent hand of God is to be seen.”

 The quote is from  Rev. Pr. David Henkel[1] (born 1791, Staunton, Virginia, died 1831 in Lincoln, NC), ” Flood of Heavenly Regeneration”, in which he teaches the Biblical doctrine of Baptism.  The means of grace, Word and Sacrament are words, and water, bread, wine.  Just think: when the Church moved out into the Roman Empire, the great cities had pagan temples with magnificent services and ceremonies and they were mega-services.  The Christians had words, water, bread and wine, ordinary…in one’s home, in the catacombs.  By them the Lord built His Church in a pagan world against all odds. By them the Lord gives us His Word to fill us, wash us, cleanse us, feed us.  Pr. Henkel points out that if one does great spiritual works, like fasting, long prayers and giving to others everyone praises those works (see Matthew 6:  1-18).  We ascribe greatness to the means not to the Savior.  We live in a time when people applaud mega-churches, mega-worship, mega-pastor personalities, that is praising the means as great.  This is so far away from the truth of the Scriptures. I love the liturgy of the Church but when a liturgy becomes simply “smells and bells”, and very grand,  folks may say, Oh, what a wonderful service!  “‘Tis mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the god”, as quoted by C. S. Lewis on ‘creative worship’[2].


[1] David Henkel, one of the founders of the Tennessee Synod was one of the most important theologians of nineteenth century confessional Lutheranism in North America. The Tennessee Synod had the distinction of being the first Lutheran church body to publish the entire Book of Concord in English, and its pastors were zealous missionaries, contending against false doctrine and proclaiming the truth of the Gospel. One of  Henkel’s contributions was a book contending against the errors of Unitarianism, and is still a valuable resource for responding to those who deny the scriptural teaching of the doctrine of the Trinity.

[2]There is no subject in the world (always excepting sport) on which I have less to say than liturgiology. And the almost nothing which I have to say may as well be disposed of in this letter.

I think our business as laymen is to take what we are given and make the best of it. And I think we should find this a great deal easier if what we were given was always and everywhere the same.

To judge from their practice, very few Anglican clergymen take this view. It looks as if they believed people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service. And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain—many give up churchgoing altogether—merely endure.

Is this simply because the majority are hide-bound? I think not. They have a good reason for their conservatism. Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best—if you like, it “works” best—when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping. The important question about the Grail was “for what does it serve?” “‘Tis mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the god.”

A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question “What on earth is he up to now?” will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, “I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats,  or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.”

Thus my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity. I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever, if only it will stay put. But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship. You give me no chance to acquire the trained habit—habito dell’arte.”

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