Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Monday, September 16, 2013

STUFF 2013 you call that worship?

Given my current touring schedule, it will be some time before I am in a pulpit again.  Thus, it seems a good opportunity to reprint a few pieces I've written for various publications over the past few years.  
The theme for the Spring 2013 Issue of Connect Journal was "You Call That Worship? 
Herewith my submission, with apologies for violations of contractual contracts etc . . .

Q: You Call That Worship? 
A: You Call That Doctrine?

So, as you may or may not know, I grew up Lutheran, switched to the Episcopal Church, and then got ordained some years later.  As an Episcopal priest, I duly confess before you, my brothers and sisters, before the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, that I am in fact a liturgy snob.  Dennis Michno is my bedside reading, and dropping his name like that with no explanation just proves the point.  Reus liturgicis arrogantiam.

At the same time, having grown up Lutheran, I understand the corresponding theology snob.  That is, I know that some people cannot help reflexively scoffing at poorly thought-through truth claims about God and the work of Christ on our behalf.  Sermons anchored by folksy stories from the internet, or culminating in harsh judgements with no gospel leave them shaking their heads in sadness.

Perhaps you’ll find this helpful as an over-simplified explanation of the difference between an Episcopal and a Lutheran understanding of things . . .
Lutherans are bound together through common doctrine . . . A “confessional church” is one that shares a common confession.  (Duh, right?)  Episcopalians are bound together through common worship . . . The Book of Common Prayer is a book of “common prayer.”  (Also duh, right?)

At the risk of over-simplifying my oversimplification, one might put it like this:
In the Lutheran Church, you can worship any way you choose, but you must believe these basic things.  In the Episcopal Church, you can believe anything you want, but you must worship using this little red cookbook.  Lutherans are bound together by belief; Episcopalians are bound together by worship.

And, as you might’ve guessed by now, this leads many Episcopalians to wonder aloud, “You call that worship?”  And it leads many Lutherans to shake their heads and say, “You call that doctrine?”

In practice, it allows Lutherans to tolerate things like omitting the sursum corda, putting the dismissal before the closing hymn, and wearing toga-length albs.  And it leads Episcopalians to tolerate things like bad sermons, a profusion of labyrinths, and John Shelby Spong.

The question, “You call that worship?” could be followed by “You call that doctrine?” which could be followed by “You call that music?” and “You call that a Bible Study?” and “You call that systematics?” etc. etc.

Which, of course, leads to my simple little point here:
We all have things we cherish.  Things that we think are non-negotiable.  Things that we’re certain are so obviously the most important thing in God’s mind, and that’s why we’re so passionate about them.  And not just that a right relationship with God is in the balance, but the future of the Church itself.

If the Episcopal Church suddenly decided that common worship were just a local preference, the glue would be gone.  If Lutherans abandoned a common confession, there’d be nothing to gather around except pot-lucks and coffee.  For others the slippery slope is the King James Version (in it’s original inerrant form), or the Evangelicals’ Great Commission, or The Calvinists’ TULIP. 

We all have our pathways to God, and ironically we all run the risk of putting those pathways before God.  So, yeah, I’m a guy who might ask, “You call that worship?”  Just as you might ask, “You call that doctrine?”  And when it comes down to it, the appropriate answer is “yep.”

George Baum is exactly one half of the band, Lost And Found (, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Ohio, the father of two, and the husband of one.

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