Changing up worship

Morning Chapel at school was great!  First of all, I loved and needed to hear the words of our first hymn, CW 459:

“O God, my faithful God, O Fountain ever flowing, who good and perfect gifts in mercy are bestowing, give me a healthy frame, and may I have within a conscience free from blame, a soul unhurt by sin.

Grant me the strength to do with ready heart and willing whatever you command, my calling here fulfilling, that I do what I should while trusting you to bless the outcome for my good, for you must give success.

Keep me from saying things that later need recalling; grant that no idle words may from my lips be falling, but then, when in my place I must and ought to speak, my words grant power and grace lest I offend the weak.

Lord, let me win my foes with kindly words and actions, and let me find good friends for counsel and correction.  Help me, as you have taught, to love both great and small and by your Spirit’s might to live in peace with all.”

After we sang that hymn, the preacher of the day got up and talked about why he had decided that he was going to change up worship today a bit.  He had observed students sleeping in chapel for a few days in a row and thought that it might be a good thing.  He pulled a random freshman up to do a scripture reading, a sophomore to sing a solo from the supplement hymnal, a junior to play a guitar solo, and a senior to improv part of the devotion.

He didn’t actually make them do it.

After the students had sat back down, the preacher addressed why it wouldn’t actually be good for him to have followed through.  First of all, it would have been done for selfish reasons–him running things the way he wanted to.  He explained how our church liturgy was carefully (and historically) created so that the focus was entirely on Christ.  It’s not a perfect formula (since we don’t live in a perfect world), but it’s a very good, very scripturally sound formula.

Though churches periodically use special liturgies, it is best for them to follow the basic structure of our existing liturgies/worship format.  Why?  As the hymn said, lest we offend the weak.

Imagine that those four students (who had been put on the spot) had actually been asked to follow through–and that anyone with weak faith in the “audience” had latched onto the concept for the wrong reasons.  “That soloist is really pretty–I loved to watch her sing.”  “The speaker is my buddy on the basketball team–I can’t wait to give him a hard time about how he messed up his words…” and so on.

Besides, when we think that we can improve on something that is solidly founded on Christ and heavily scripture-based, we are highly deluded.  God speaks in His word, and there are no words more powerful than His.  If we reiterate them, then God’s voice is heard in us, but unfortunately it can be so easy to fall prey to the temptation to elaborate in catchy ways that actually distract people from catching the Word.

I’m thankful that our WELS churches most often follow the liturgies we’ve published in our hymnal.  I know that some congregations have experimented with contemporary worship, and I think that in the right setting it can be done appropriately and without offense, but making such variations is not to be done lightly.  We are to build one another up, not capitalize on one another’s weaknesses.

Going back to the hymn, so many of the words just fit different matters I’ve been praying about or struggling with, so…thank you, Lord, for putting those words before me today!

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