That Doesn’t Belong in Church!

Clickbait! Got ya!  Now that I’ve got your attention, I can reassure you.  It’s not as bad as it sounds.  Yes, I know. Usually you hear somebody say those words and you tense up as if a fight is about to go down.  In this case I just want to pick up where I left off in last week’s Bible study.  The Absolution doesn’t “belong” in the Church building as if that’s the only place words of forgiveness can or should be spoken!

Far from it!  Wherever there is sin, there should be repentance and there should be Christian brothers and sisters forgiving one another from the heart as God in Christ forgave us.  This especially belongs in the Christian household.  Look at page 254 of your Lutheran Service Book and you’ll see a setting of Confession (from the service of “Compline”) that would be a beautiful addition to your family devotions.  It does not have the “I as a called and ordained…” absolution, but it is a reassuring order that could be done in the home.  Have the head of the household lead with the parts marked “L” and the family follow with the parts marked “C”. 

What Can We Do at Home?

            As Lutherans we know there are certain things we expect the Called and Ordained Ministers to do and them alone.  Still, there are other things that belong to all of us in the Royal Priesthood (1 Peter 2:9).  The simplest guidance I can give you is to page through the front of your hymnal and look at those red letters in the blocks, like we did above with L and C.  As you look through the Divine Services you see the parts marked “P” and can trust that those are the parts reserved for the Minister of Word & Sacrament to perform in the public worship service. 

            When you get to the “Prayer Offices” on page 219 – 267 you find a bunch of services primarily using L and C.  These can and should be used in home devotions. They do not “belong” to the Church as if they can only be prayed there.  These are Prayer Services and Prayer is most definitely a task belonging to the Royal Priesthood.  Where it offers a sermon or catechism instruction, use that time as the head of the family to instruct the children, hear them recite the catechism, and explain any big words they don’t yet know. (The Catechism itself is another one of those things that doesn’t belong in Church as if it can only be taught, read, recited, and learned there.  Instead see how each section begins with the words “As the head of the family should teach it…”).

Many Things Creep into the Church and Never Leave

            No, I don’t mean the well-intended “hand-me-downs” that are given to the church.  I mean that there are a LOT of devotional practices that originated in and belong to the Home…which have strangely crept into the Church’s weekly order of worship.  Some of these things came into the Church’s Divine Service innocently enough, with the purpose of adding greater beauty to the Liturgy and Life of the Church.  Other times they were added- very sadly- as the last place they can be found when home devotions have all but disappeared entirely. 

            The Advent Wreath is one example of a home-devotional decoration that is now a fixture in every liturgical church.  And what a great and beautiful addition!  Now we as Christian households need to make sure its presence in the sanctuary does not lead to its absence from our homes.  Use it faithfully in home devotions, even turning off the lights and doing the whole devotion by candlelight.

            Now let’s take a moment to talk about Prayer- in the Divine Service and in the home.  What we have in the Divine Service, called “The Prayer of the Church,” used to be quite literally The Prayer- singular!  It would be one, general prayer, repeated weekly so hearers and children could almost learn it by heart even as long as it was for a single prayer.  There was space for particular names and petitions to be uplifted, but there was not the cycle of many different names, needs, circumstances, and offices that nearly all churches go through now.

            I fear, I truly fear, that the lengthening of The Prayer in to the prayers and petitions and additions may have some root cause in our poor, impoverished prayer life in the daily devotions of our homes.  I’m too young as a pastor to know this for sure and there is no way to research it.  However I’ve heard just enough comments from people to make me think that- for some people- if the request is not prayed for from the Altar, it’s not getting prayed for anywhere at all. And that would be a very sad thing.  We also want to make sure we avoid any superstitious notion that a prayer said by the pastor in the Divine Service is in any way more effective or more likely to be heard by God than the faithful prayer of a Christian at home.

            To be clear, I’m not saying we need to “shorten” the prayers said in Church or that we pastors don’t want to know what needs you have and what we can pray for privately and publicly.  Heck no!  As with the rest of this study, I want to encourage and even admonish you to increase the practice in the home and especially in Christian conversation.  Too often we Christians just talk about our struggles and problems.  Each person takes their turn.  We commiserate…we never turn to God or turn each other to Him.  Let’s all learn to take those times to pause one another and pray with one another.

The Hymnal Doesn’t Belong in Church!

            By now you know what I mean and don’t mean.  A rack, fixed to the pew, containing hymnals that never leave the building- that is a “new thing” in the Church.  Maybe it’s all you’ve ever known in your lifetime, but go back less than 100 years and hymnals were truly pocket-sized.  Families brought their own to church each week, used them, and took them home for devotional use throughout the week.

            Obviously hymnals have gotten much, much bigger since then.  But the principle should remain in place- outside of those Divine Services where Pastor and Flock are fed with Word & Sacrament, the rest of the book is for you and your household to serve the Lord with gladness, performing the spiritual priesthood’s duty of daily prayer and sacrifice (the sacrifice of praise, Heb. 13:15).

Music – Soli Deo Gloria

            The Bible, the Catechism, and your church’s hymnal are three books that belong in every Christian home, on the table, used daily.  The Church and the Divine Service of Sunday morning have no exclusive ownership of them. They belong to you.  Of those three books the most daunting one to use may be the hymnal.  It’s the music.

Music serves different priorities now than eras gone by.  To be sure, there was always entertainment music, pub music, folk music, elitists’ music – all distinct from Church music.  That last one though should be our chief love and passion.  I would wager just about any amount that the deterioration of home devotions was brought about first by musical illiteracy.  You would think it was biblical illiteracy, but I wager the music left the home first and took much of prayer and Scripture with it. 

            Obviously, music didn’t leave entirely.  We still listen to it. We just can’t play it or sing it on our own.  If our children learn music at all, what is the purpose?  Is it to glorify God and serve the family in prayer and praise?  Accompanying hymns and prayers in home devotion (and some day assisting the public worship, perhaps) should be a goal of music education among Christians. Let’s challenge ourselves and our families to get that back.  Learning music should not be first and foremost about well-rounded education, or entertainment, or ambition to make it famous – but to glorify God- in the home, in the Church, and even in the State.


Next Week: A Sunday in the Days of Martin Luther