Thursday, July 19, 2012
Multiculturalism's Presence in Divine Worship: Challenge or Threat?
Multiculturalism's Presence in Divine Worship: Challenge or Threat?
by Alvin Schmidt
Christian News, July 23, 2012
Vol 50, No. 30
There is a ubiquitous, invasive socio-political phenomenon in our midst. We hear or see its effects virtually every day. People think it’s chic and trendy. Its name sounds suave and sophisticated. It is multiculturalism. Yet countless people do not know what this phenomenon is really all about. All too many think it means learning about other cultures. Even worse, many uninformed Christians think it means bringing Christ to other cultures. •Sorry, that is not multiculturalism! Because so many do not understand what multiculturalism really is, they are unwittingly aiding its apostles to advance their agenda on all levels of society, including the Church.
Multiculturalism, as I state in the very beginning of my recent book. The Menace of Multiculturalism: Trojan Horse in America, is a leftist political ideology. It sees all cultures, their mores and institutions, as essentially equal. No culture is considered superior or inferior to any other. Cultures are merely different. Criticism of other cultures, especially non-Western cultures, is labeled "insensitive" or "bigoted." Any criticism is politically incorrect. There is, however, one major exception. The Euro-American culture with its many Christian underpinnings is not only criticized but condemned, commonly accused of racism, sexism, and classism.
I use the term "Euro-American culture" to refer to those components of American culture that are derived from the beliefs and practices of England and, to some degree, of Northern Europe and adapted to American needs. Briefly, these beliefs are as follows: God created human beings and the world; human behavior is to be judged as right or wrong, moral or immoral, in the light of the Ten Commandments of the Bible; objective knowledge is attainable; the rights, freedoms, responsibilities, and dignity of individuals take precedence over those of groups, people are governed by rule of law that is enacted democratically; every man and women is equal before the law; every accused individual is innocent until proven guilty in a fair trial where he or she can face the accuser; people have the right not only to succeed but also to fail economically; and a free society that provides equal opportunity does not guarantee equal outcome.
Multiculturalism has its roots in cultural relativism, the concept which says each culture is to be judged relative to its own standards, and not from outside the culture. This radical concept can be traced to the German philosopher and court preacher, Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744¬-1803).
Cultural relativism gave rise to the idea that not just culture, but that the moral behaviors of another culture were culturally relative too, and thus not to be judged by people of another culture from the outside. After World War II this concept, often couched in the words of "truth is relative," was taught and imbibed by millions of Americans in schools and colleges across the nation. Soon this notion expanded from not judging some culture from the outside to not judging personal behavior within a given culture. This belief has now filtered down to the average man and woman in America so that if one says sexual relations outside of marriage, homosexual behavior, and other forms of immoral acts are morally wrong, he is called an "insensitive bigot.”
Cultural relativism gave rise to postmodernism, an ideology that says the attainment of objective truth is impossible; no truth or idea is transcendent; all ideas or truths are socially constructed; they are only true if they benefit the powerless or those whom white Euro-Americans have "oppressed," and the facts of history are unimportant. Briefly put, multiculturalism is the marriage of cultural relativism and postmodernism. As my friend Dinesh D'Souza says, multiculturalism "represents a denial of all Western claims to truth."1
Multiculturalism is compelling a high school choir director in New Mexico, as happened this past December, to eliminate a number of Christmas carols from a 90-minute Christmas concert and to replace them with music from other religions and cultural backgrounds. It is forcing the choir director to call the program "A Winter Concert" instead of "A Christmas Concert." It is taking the name of Jesus out of the song "Jesus is the Reason for the Season," as the choir director, under pressure, asked the students to do. It is adding the Islamic crescent to the White House Christmas tree, as happened this year. It is a leftist ideology that hates Christianity. That is multiculturalism!
Multiculturalism Invades Christian Worship
Given the pervasiveness of cultural/moral relativity in our society, it did not take long for this Zeitgeist to find its way into the life of the church. Multiculturalism has invaded the institutional church on many levels, but I shall only focus on its presence in the context of worship.
Making the Bible Politically Correct
One way that multiculturalism has entered the worship life of many American Christians has been by making the Bible politically correct. The latter is the ancillary arm of multiculturalism. More than one Bible translation in recent years has been drastically altered. In 1994 The New Testament of the Inclusive Language Bible appeared. This "translation" spurns "God the Father," a common biblical expression, by rendering it as "Parent" or "heavenly Parent." Where Jesus says "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30), this version of the New Testament has: "I and my heavenly Parent are one." The Lord’s Prayer now reads: "Our Parent, who is in heaven."
Another Bible, The Oxford Annotated Bible (RSV, 1991), although not as radical as the Inclusive Language Bible, also shows its multiculturalist sympathies by having eliminated the masculine pronouns and other masculine references in countless instances. The words "Sinful men" in Luke 24:7 have been changed to "sinners." "Every man serves the good wine" in John 2:10 now reads: "Everyone serves the good wine." Where the word "brethren" appears, this version says "brethren and sisters." But even more damaging is its neutering of the Holy Spirit. For instance, the familiar words "When the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things . . .." now read: "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything . . . . " The pronoun "he" may no longer refer to the Holy Spirit.
Making Hymns Politically Correct
In 1995 the United Church of Christ (UCC) published The New Century Hymnal in which multiculturalism invaded virtually every one of its hymns. Here are only a few examples. The familiar words of "Son of God, loves pure light," in Silent Night have become "Child of God, loves pure light." The hymn Beautiful Savior is now called "Beautiful Jesus," apparently the word "Savior" is offensive to subcultural groups who do not believe that Christ is the savior. The fourth stanza's words, "Lord of the nations, Son of God and Son of Man," have been tossed into the dust bin. This hymn has been so severely mangled that there is very little resemblance to Joseph Seiss' translation. The words "A mighty Fortress is our God, A trusty shield and weapon," in Luther's majestic hymn, now read: "A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing." Gone are the words "A trusty shield and weapon." "The Kingdom ours remaineth" is now "God's realm is ours forever." And one can guess what happened to the words: "And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife." They became "Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also." The United Methodist Hymnal of 1989 also uses these same words in this latter instance. The UCC hymnal also found Martin Rinckart's Now Thank We All Our God to be out of tune with political correctness. His words "All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given" were changed to "All praise and thanks to God our Maker now be given." The word "Father" has been expunged. Similarly, "The Son and Him who reigns" now reads "To Christ and Spirit too." Masculine names or pronouns referring to God had to go.
It is quite obvious that the revisionists applied the standards of radical feminism, a principal ingredient in multiculturalism. "Lord of the nations" and "kingdom" evidently smacked too much of male chauvinism. So did the words "Son of God and Son of man." And the words "a trusty shield and weapon" are too reminiscent of war.
In 1993, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) took its tum in embracing multiculturalism. It side stepped the biblical foundations of the historic Lutheran liturgy by introducing an American Indian "smudging" ritual as part of its worship activities at the Kansas City convention. This rite used smoldering sweet grass, sage, and cedar, an alleged American Indian version of incense. A feminist clergy preached on "inclusiveness" by castigating the Euro-American whites in the ELCA for being too inclusive; they are afraid of "losing [their] denominational and ethnic identity," she said.2
Worship in the WELS
The spirit of multiculturalism has also entered the worship life of the WELS. In 1992, this conservative synod published its new hymnal, Christian Worship. It contains more than one instance of multiculturalism, primarily in the context of political correctness. For instance, it changed the Nicene Creed to say that God in the incarnation became "fully human." To be sure, this translation can be justified on the basis of what the original says in the Greek, including the Latin (homo factus), and the German (Mensch). Following the Lutheran Book of Worship, the WELS also tampered with the Nicene Creed's words "for us men" by replacing them with "for us."
These changes provoke the question: Why did these revisions occur now? Obviously, it was not the Greek, the Latin, or the German that prompted these changes, or they would have been made long ago. Even if one puts the best construction on these changes, one can only conclude that it was the Zeitgeist of multiculturalism that prompted these changes. Any other conclusion, I think, would be naive.
When I began to examine the WELS hymnal, I also found other changes. Some of its hymns have been as badly mutilated as those in the UCC's hymnal. Neither the UCC nor WELS was burdened with an inferiority complex. Both apparently believed that they could improve Luther's A Mighty Fortress, and neither liked the words "And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife.” The UCC revision at least retained some family linkage, whereas the WELS rendition is totally devoid of any family reference. It reads: "With his good gifts and Spirit. And do what they will –Hate, steal, hurt, or kill." Parenthetically, I might note that the new (1994) German hymnal of the Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirchen in Bayern und Thuringen leaves Luther's original words of A Mighty Fortress completely intact, apparently recognizing, unlike their American counterparts, that they could not improve on Luther's rendition.
Worship in the LCMS
Not all is well in the LCMS. In trying to appeal to various subcultural groups in our society, who are highly influenced by multiculturalist propaganda, thousands of congregations in the LCMS are having the historic, Lutheran liturgy to go the way of the American buffalo.
Increasingly, one finds more and more congregations that are no longer using the liturgies in the Lutheran Hymnal or Lutheran Worship in their divine services. Everything is printed out in a bulletin, ranging from 8 to 10 pages. Thanks to the word processor and the photocopying machine! As one looks at these printed orders, it becomes exceedingly difficult to know whether one is in a Presbyterian, Methodist, or even in a Baptist church. Sometimes one wonders whether some Lutheran enemy has exhumed Samuel Schmucker, and brought him into our midst..
Creative Worship Materials. One of the primary instruments that is aiding and abetting pastors and congregations to Schmuckerize the Lutheran church services is the publication known as Creative Worship, furnished by Concordia Publishing House. It comes in printed form as well as on computer diskettes, available for $40 per series; one series covers roughly one¬ fourth of the church year.
Creative Worship materials commonly deprive parishioners (who, in most instances, still call themselves Lutheran) of learning, singing, and remembering the Gloria Patria, the Kyrie, the Gloria in Excelsis, and the Sanctus, all firmly grounded in Scripture. There is more. These materials also deprive worshipers of learning and singing the historic Order of Vespers with its beautiful The Magnificat; they no longer have worshipers sing the Order of Matins with its Te Deum or the Benedictus. Centuries of Christ-centered, biblically based liturgical components are torched in favor of word-processor generated varieties, conveying the message that today' s pastors not only can improve the historic liturgy, but that they can do so 52 times a year, not to mention the services in Advent and Lent.
Creative Worship materials cannot be understood without taking into account the spirit of multiculturalism that so widely pervades our society. Let’s remember that multiculturalism asserts that all cultures and their practices are essentially equal, and that the values of all groups are to be honored, especially those having non-Western origins. From here it is a small step to say that all forms of worship are equal too, and so it is quite appropriate to supplant the historic liturgies which reportedly have strong Western origins. Moreover, some in the LCMS are saying that we need to become "a multicultural church." Thus the Creative Worship orders often not only omit the Gloria Patri, the Kyrie, the Gloria in Excelsis, etc., but frequently contain no confession and absolution of sins, and at times the Apostles' or Nicene Creed is omitted too. The confession of sins that are commonly printed omit the biblical teaching of original sin by merely mentioning sins as activities but say nothing about sin as a condition; that is, the reason why people sin. Gone is the historic Lutheran confession of "I a poor, miserable sinner." Omitting the latter is very compatible with those cultural or subcultural groups who admit that people do on occasion sin, but who do not believe that people are born sinful.
This past summer, for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Creative Worship suggested that the song “They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love" be sung during communion distribution. This song is from the song book All God's People Sing (1992). The fact that this song has absolutely no relevance to the Lord's Supper whatsoever, or any Gospel content or motivation, does not seem to matter.
Speaking of the book All God's People Sing, on page 4 we are told that this book "can be used in almost any setting in which Christians gather.”3 This must mean that it is also appropriate for regular divine services too. So then, let us see what kind of songs this book offers God's people. Given that the book was published in 1992, ten years after Lutheran Worship appeared, it is not surprising to see it reflect shades of multiculturalism. For instance, one number is the Civil Rights song of the 1960s, "We Shall Overcome," a song that is indeed correct politically but completely devoid of any Christian content. In its foreword, the book speaks about "African-Americans," a current politically correct term, used by the song book's editors in spite of what some polls showed at the time of book's publication, namely, that the vast majority of American blacks do not want to be called African-Americans. It is a designation that qualifies their American identity. Nevertheless, it is a term that the liberal, leftist media have been foisting on the American public ever since Ramona Edelin, a radical black leader, launched this multiculturalist term in New Orleans, three years before the book All God's People Sing appeared. It is disappointing to see how soon a committee of the LCMS, without exercising any critical acumen, echoed this highly divisive multiculturalist term.
Not only does Creative Worship frequently reflect multiculturalist elements, but its name reflects a major theological problem. Its name should have raised a mental red flag right from its inception. Why? Because it implies that people are the principal performers Sunday morning, and that it is they who are the creative ones in God's sanctuary. It conveys an anthropocentric, rather than a theocentric, concept of worship. Such a laudatory view of what people do in the pew is at great odds with historic Lutheran theology. It contradicts the Lutheran concept of Gottesdienst.
Finally, let me say that calling human praise and the adoration of God "creative" comes perilously close to some aspects of Gnosticism that the early Church had to condemn. One of the marks of Gnosticism is its emphasis on being spiritually creative. Describing the Gnostics, Irenaeus said that "every one of them generates something new every day, according to his own ability.'''' Similarly, Elaine Pagels, the modem analyst of Gnosticism, writes: "Like circles of artists today, gnostics considered original creative invention to be the mark of anyone who becomes spiritually alive. Each one, like students of a painter or writer, [was] expected to express his own perception by revising and transforming what he was taught.”5
Let us not think that Gnosticism is an ancient heresy that only vexed the early Christians. By no means! Recently (1992), Harold Bloom in his book, American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian, showed how Gnosticism pervades American denominations. The same year, Peter Jones, in his book The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back declared that Gnosticism is reestablishing itself in American religion in New Ageism and radical feminism. To these, I would add multiculturalism because it promotes all sorts of isms that are incompatible with orthodox Christianity. In short, the wide use and acceptance of Creative Worship materials, with emphasis on making worship 'creative" and in its borrowing specific multiculturalistic elements (noted earlier), is not an innocuous adiaphoron, as many in the LCMS seem to think.
A Black Lutheran Hymnal. Another example of multiculturalism's presence in LCMS worship is its forthcoming hymnal for black Lutherans. Given that no hymns or other parts of this forthcoming hymnal have been released, I am not able to cite any specifics of how this hymnal accommodates itself to multiculturalism. But one does not need any. The very fact that the synod approved the production of such a hymnal is a major capitulation to multiculturalism.
That hymnal will not bring black and white Lutherans together. It will separate blacks from whites and whites from blacks, similar to what black college yearbooks and black dormitories are doing on university campuses today. Publishing a black Lutheran hymnal is an unwitting example of neo-racism, so rampant in multiculturalism. How sad that Galatians 3:28 was not remembered when this request was made and honored!
A black hymnal is also in conflict with the words of Martin Luther King, who once pleaded: "Let us not be judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character." It would have been much more God-pleasing if the synod in response to the request for a black hymnal would have paraphrased King and said: "Let us not judge our present hymnals by the color of those who wrote "them but by the content of their theology." That would truly have been "inclusive," to use a favorite buzzword of multiculturalism. But instead the synod fell prey to the divisive, tribalistic ideology of multiculturalism. It not only forgot Galatians 3 :28 but also St. Paul' s admonition to the Romans: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2). And Paul further adds: "[W]e being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another' (Romans 12:5). A black hymnal is completely incongruous with St. Paul's words.
To see liberal Protestant denominations capitulating to multiculturalism is not too surprising, because once sola Scriptura and salus Christus have been compromised, as they have been in many of these groups, it's not too inconsistent for them accept the premises of multiculturalism. But what is one to say about the LCMS which officially still professes sola Scriptura and salus Christus!
To understand the LCMS's meandering into the quagmire of multiculturalism, there is undoubtedly more than one reason. For instance, there is the silent but powerful influence of the culture at large, which today is increasingly accommodating itself to multiculturalism. There is, however, another variable that has in recent years operated in LCMS circles, one that is making it easier for multiculturalism to be invading the synod. It is the variable of Lutheran diffidence, the lack of Lutheran self-confidence. This affliction, I believe, sheds considerable light on how and why multiculturalism has entered synod's worship life as well as some of its other activities. While Lutheran diffidence is not confined to Missouri Synod Lutherans, I shall only focus on it today.
One would think that Lutheran diffidence should have started in the 1920s, soon after the United States fought those terrible "Huns," as Germans during World War I were called, and that American Lutherans (most of whom were Germans) would then have developed a lack of self-confidence amongst their English speaking Protestant neighbors. No, World War I with all its anti-German prejudice and discrimination did not create much diffidence in the LCMS. It didn't even bring it about with World War II, when the country fought the Germans once more. To the contrary, the LCMS, shortly after World War II, portrayed a large measure of self-confidence rather than the lack of it. This is even apparent statistically.
From 1953 to 1970 (the zenith year in synod's membership) the LCMS membership increased from 1,850,100 to 2,877,291 members, an increase of 55.5 percent in less than 20 years. The number of congregations grew from 5,031 to 6,083, a 21 percent increase. In one of its best years, from 1955 to 1956, the synod opened 2.46 new congregations each week.6 No mean accomplishment! And, we must not overlook a very significant fact: All of the synod' s parishes used page 5 or 15 of The Lutheran Hymnal in its divine services. There were no Creative Worship materials, and contrary to what its users are saying today, the historic Lutheran liturgy was no deterrent to statistical church growth, as is often asserted today.
Then came the mid-1970s and 1980s, the decades that harvested what the radical 1960s had sown in our nation: its anti-Viet Nam and anti-American protests on campuses, its draft dodgers, its flower children (hippies); its expression of "do your own thing;" its cliché of "make love not war;" its slogan of "destroy the system;" and its love of leftist politics. Millions were affected and infected. All too many Americans began to despise their nation's past beliefs, values, and practices. The leftist propaganda that said America was evil was sheepishly accepted. The problems of racism, sexism, and poverty were the fault of white Euro-Americans. White guilt was born. The stage was set for multiculturalism.
Multiculturalism gained a foothold in the United States by its citizens losing their cultural consensus, their self-confidence in their nation's past accomplishments and blessings. This national milieu did not leave the members of the LCMS untouched. Its members, similar to the country as a whole, lost faith in synod's one-time consensus and confidence. They not only were white, but they were also German, and they were a liturgical church in a predominantly non-liturgical, Protestant America. Many LCMS congregations let the Lutheran liturgy become stigmatized, and in the parlance of multiculturalism saw it as "offending" those of non-white, non-German origins. Solution? Drop the historic Lutheran liturgies. That will make the LCMS more attractive to non-Lutherans, to sub-cultural minorities, and to others of non-liturgical backgrounds.
More and more LCMS pastors began stimatizing the historic Lutheran liturgies, not knowing, as Shelby Steele has shown, that when a group lets itself, or its behavior, become stimatized, it gives power to others to control it.7 The others in this instance are those who have never known, or cared to know, what the traditional Christian liturgy does in the life of Lutheran worshipers.
Lutheran diffidence, or lack of self-confidence, is not only evident in the disemboweling of the historic liturgies, but also in its catechesis. Pastors seem to be embarrassed to call adult confirmation classes by that name. So they call it an "adult information class" or some other non-descript name. Even the words of an "adult instruction class" are seen as inducing discomfort in people who are interested in joining the LCMS. Moreover, when an adult class is assembled, all too many pastors are afraid to use Luther's Small Catechism. Somehow the Catechism is seen as suitable only for seventh and eighth graders. Apparently, they are too young to be offended by Luther's name, so conspicuously visible on the cover of that classic book of Christian doctrine. Thus, the LCMS has more and more congregations where growing numbers of its members, who joined as adults, have never seen Luther's Small Catechism, much less studied or memorized it. They have been brought into the church with watered-down catechesis. Almost any book of instruction with biblical topics is preferred to Luther's Small Catechism. Thus more and more members commonly do not know the Third Commandment from the Seventh, or the Eighth from the Second. And never mind asking them what the Three Articles or the Seven Petitions are. Chances are that they have never heard of them, much less know what they teach.
All of this is bad and sad enough, but non-Lutheran adults are also taken into communicant membership with extremely brief periods of instruction. At best, instruction consists of 10 to 12 week sessions, with one hour per week.-Frequently one hears that many pastors grant communicant membership to adults with only two or three hours of so-called "information" sessions. Can anyone find such brief catechumen periods in the early Church?! Is it any wonder that these new members go out the back door as fast as they enter the front! Is it any wonder that the present LCMS membership is more than a quarter million below what it was in 1970!
The watered-down catechesis also means that members are not being taught what Lutherans mean by "worship," namely, that when we join our fellow believers on Sunday morning, God is serving us in Word and Sacrament. It is His service. It is a Gottesdienst. He is the subject, and we are the objects of His service. This Lutheran understanding of worship, so prominent during the Reformation, seems to be foreign to most Lutherans today, including all too many Lutheran pastors. The Reformed, Calvinistic culture in our country sees worship as man at the center of what transpires Sunday morning, and this concept of worship is what all too many LCMS Lutherans reflect today as well. Thus we need a revitalized catechesis so our members would once again understand that worship is not primarily a human activity, but one in which we merely respond in thanksgiving to His mercy and grace.
When pastors try to justify using non-historical, improvised forms of worship because their parishioners do not understand the liturgies in TLH or LW, one must ask: whose fault is that? All too many members of synod' congregations have never really been catechized concerning what the Gloria Patri, the Kyrie, the Gloria in Excelsis, and other components of the liturgy mean and contribute to the Christian's worship life. They also have, in most instances, never heard the liturgy's components explained in sermons. (On a personal note, permit me to say that a couple of years ago I preached on the different pafts of the liturgy. I received numerous comments of appreciation, even weeks later. In fact, many pointedly asked why they have never heard pastors preach on the liturgy before.) Thus I urge all of you fellow pastors, along with preaching and teaching the six chief parts of the Catechism, to teach your parishioners what the different parts of the historic Lutheran liturgy mean in a divine service, a Gottesdienst. On one Sunday preach on the Gloria Patria, on another expound on the Kyrie, and on still another Sunday extol the meaning of the Gloria in Excelesis, and so on, just as you preach on a biblical text.
Misuse of Adiaphoron
Pastors who use improvised orders of worship instead of the traditional Lutheran liturgies of TLH or LW are quick to invoke the Lutheran principle of adiaphoron, that great Lutheran escape hatch. It is a nice way to disguise Lutheran diffidence. They also like to cite Article VII of the Augsburg Confession (AC) to justify their liturgical deviations. This article says: "It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places." By merely citing Article VII of the AC, they ignore the rest of the story (as Paul Harvey would say), and that story lies is found in Article VII of the Apology, where Melanchthon upon saying "we believe that the true unity of the church is not harmed by differences in rites instituted by men," immediately adds that it is good when "rites are observed for the sake of tranquility." And then in the next sentence he further states: "[I]n our churches we willingly observe the order of the Mass, the Lord's day, and the other more important feast days. With a very thankful spirit we cherish the useful and ancient ordinances, especially when they contain a discipline that serves to educate and instruct the people and the inexperienced." The latter words of this sentence, which say the ancient ordinances serve to "educate and instruct . . . the inexperienced," shows that Article VII of the AC may not rightfully be used to defend the maverick orders of worship that are increasingly found in the LCMS today. If Article VII means anything, it tells us that improvised forms of worship are especially inappropriate for those who are new to the Lutheran Church, "neophytes," as St. Paul calls them. Moreover, pastors who try to justify their liturgical deviancy need to remember that they have a solemn obligation, first and foremost, to serve the "household of faith," as the Epistle to the Galatians admonishes us.
Ignoring Luther's Warnings
Lutheran diffidence, so evident in the improvised "liturgies," has in part been reinforced by all too many pastors not remembering, or choosing not to heed, Luther's warnings. He gave no aid or comfort to liturgical deviants. In his discussion of why he wrote Die Deutsche Messe (1526), he forcefully states that he did so primarily to stop the "fickle and fastidious spirits who rush in like unclean swine without faith or reason, and who delight in novelty and tire of it as quickly, when it is worn off.8 Frank Senn says that with these words Luther "warned against those liturgical renewalists who felt obliged to produce a new order of worship when the people had forgotten to use the old one.”9
In the introduction to his Small Catechism, Luther told the clergy that innovations and variety do not nourish Christ's people. Said he: "the preacher should take the utmost care to avoid changes or variations in the text and wording of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Sacraments, etc. On the contrary, he should adopt one form, adhere to it, and use it repeatedly year after year." And he added: "They [the people] are easily confused if a teacher employs one form now and another form--perhaps with the intention of making improvements--later on.”10
Why are these common-sense warnings of Luther being ignored by so many of our synod's pastors? There undoubtedly is more than one reason, but one that certainly is present is the influence of multiculturalism. Pastors who are spuming the traditional Lutheran liturgy by churning out a new liturgy every Sunday may not consciously identify with multiculturalism, but in wanting to have all cultural and subcultural groups hear the Gospel they have come to believe that they must make the Gospel appeal to all cultures, forgetting that there is a day-and-night difference between taking the Gospel to all cultures and appealing to all cultures. In the former, the Gospel invariably affects and changes many aspects of the culture, whereas in the latter instance the culture affects and changes the Gospel.
I do not think there many informed Christians who would deny that our American society is coming unglued. One only needs to note the increasing acceptance and prevalence of the immoral behavior: partial-birth abortions, widespread pre-marital cohabitation, increasing rates of illegitimate births, and homosexuality seen as a valid form of expressing human love to see that this is true. And in this contagious milieu of multiculturalism we also see the historic, traditional becoming unglued as well. Our society has lost consensus on virtually everything. The only consensus is that it is no longer necessary to have any consensus. A similar attitude is being adopted by many of our synod's pastors and congregations. Relative to worship, and increasingly with reference to other practices too, the only consensus is that we' need no consensus. Thus multiculturalism's presence in our worship life is not a challenge but a major threat to the faith once delivered to the Saints. In continuing to study multiculturalism, I believe that it is the biggest threat the Church has faced since its early existence, not only because of its intrinsic nature and ideology, but because all too many within the Church's leadership are not willing, or not informed enough, to "convince the gainsayers" (Titus 1 :9). May our gracious triune God intercede in behalf of His elect.
1. Dinesh D'Souza, The End of Racism: Principles for a Multiracial Society (New York: Free Press, 1995), p. 344.
2."Religious Scapegoats," Forum Letter (October 7, 1993), p. 3.
3. All God's People Sing (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1992), p. 4.
4.Irenaeus Against Heresies, in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1981), vol. I, p. 343.
5. Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (New York: Vintage Books, 1981), p. 22.
6. Membership statistics are cited from the Statistical Yearbook (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1953-1996).
7. Shelby Steele, "Wrestling with Stigma," (Convention Paper Presented at the National Association of Scholars, New Orleans, December, 1997).
8. Martin Luther, "An Order of Mass and Communion for the Church at Wittenberg," Luther's Works, trans. Paul Zeller Strodach, revised by Ulrich S. Leupold (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1965), vol. 53, p. 19.
9. Frank Senn, Christian Worship and Its Cultural Setting (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), pp. 15-16.
10. Martin Luther, "Preface," Small Catechism, ed. Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 338.
Alvin J. Schmidt
Presented at Concordia Theological Seminary
Fort Wayne, Indiana
January 22, 1998