Words of wisdom from Dr. Marquart for all of us Lutherans, especially for those who advocate so-called “contemporary worship” in the LCMS. Frankly, though, they are probably even more piquant for those self-styled “liturgical types” who don’t follow the General Rubrics (often because they don’t know/haven’t studied them) and think that they are free to bedeck the received forms with their personal idiosyncrasies and invented ceremonial flourishes.
Marquart wrote the following in 1994. I wonder what he’d say if he were still with us.
We must think in broad vistas here. It is no good snatching up some piece of detail and saying “No harm in that, is there?” Liturgical gestures, practices, customs, and “styles” are not items in a cupboard full of interchangeable bric-a-brac. They are part and parcel rather of larger complexes of meaning and must be seen in that light. Superficially it might seem, for instance, that folding hands, clapping, kneeling and foot-tapping are all pretty much the same thing. They are all neither commanded nor forbidden in Holy Scripture, and so are indifferent things or “adiaphora.” It’s all just a matter of what people are used to, right?
Wrong! Folding hands and kneeling are really very much unlike clapping and foot-tapping. They and other traditional gestures, like bowing or making the sign of the cross, are deliberate acts, in which the body obediently follows the direction of the mind and spirit. Even if they have become thoughtless and mechanical, they were once adopted quite intentionally. It is otherwise with rhythmic clapping and foot-tapping. Here the body and the senses are in the lead, with the mind and soul in tow, drifting who knows where. Kneeling and folding hands, therefore, are appropriate to the sobriety of the church’s worship, while the more involuntary, instinctual foot-tapping and hand-clapping, typical of atavistic nature-cults, fits the emotionalism of anti-sacramental sects.
It is useless to object that clapping is, after all, “scriptural,” since Ps. 47:1 says: “O clap your hands, all ye people.” This biblicism forgets that we have no “feel” for the ancient Hebrew sacral culture. Clapping today does not convey, as in the Psalm, that “the Lord most high is terrible” (v. 2). On the contrary, in our culture such behavior evokes the folksy self-indulgence of a karaoke singalong, and of a sectarianism which apes such popular pastimes.
(Rev’d Dr. Kurt E. Marquart, Church Growth as Mission Paradigm, Our Savior Lutheran Church, 1994; 104; emphases mine)
Style and substance are completely unrelated, right? We might just as well have an EDM worship service, as long as Law and Gospel are “rightly divided” from the pulpit, I suppose. Take the featured video—nothing they’re doing is explicitly forbidden by Scripture (actually…well…that might not be true); maybe their pastor preached a great sermon after they all finished thrash-dancing. I mean, David danced before the Lord, so what’s the problem? Let’s imagine a hypothetical Lutheran scenario: there’s nothing in Scripture that says that a pastor cannot put a kiddie-pool full of Jell-O on the altar, climb inside of it, and sing “Yellow Submarine.” No verse in Scripture prohibits this! If said pastor were to protest that he did what he did “for the sake of the Gospel,” then he’d no doubt be doubly invincible, “the Gospel” being a thing that is more and more “in the eye of the beholder” these days.
We know that this is ridiculous, absurd, and sacrilegious, yet still there are some who would ask that this be “proven.” I suppose they are the same who would have insisted that Justice Potter Stewart give a definition of “hard-core pornography” in his concurrence (Jacobellis v. Ohio) rather than simply stating, “I know it when I see it.” For some things, if you don’t “know it when you see it,” no amount of “proof” (assuming it could be furnished) would ever convince you. This is not a “proof” thing.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: in the final estimation, the liturgy of the Church (especially the Lutheran liturgy) is all about the commendation of the dying, because we are all, each and every one of us, dying. Pastors are to plant and water again and again the seed of the Resurrection, Christ’s Body and Blood, in the bodies and souls of dying people. This is our faith, our lex credendi: that Jesus, true God and true Man, is our Lord, Who has redeemed us and will raise us from the dead on the Last Day to life everlasting. This is, as Matthias Loy’s hymn puts it, “an awful mystery”; it is a mirandum, that is, “a wonder.” It is not “cool.” It is not “neat.” It is not “fun.” It is not “sweet” or “awesome” in the trite, insipid sense which these words have acquired. Some liturgical styles befit the worship of Christ as our God and Lord; others do not.
So beware those who imagine that all leges orandi are equal when it comes to commending the mystery of the faith to the hearts of the faithful, especially to the young. They are obviously not equal. If your worship service couldn’t be held in the catacombs—without bulletins, without a projector screen, without electricity, even—with a tangible threat of death hanging over the heads of those assembled, then a reassessment might be in order.