The First Thing

Targets in The Church

An interesting article (subsequent comments) from:

Wilken suggests is that the "worship wars" are possibly symptoms of a deeper problem: the erosion (intentional or not) of Christian doctrine and unity often beginning with Pastoral adjustments ("tinkerings") to the historic liturgy. On removing the creeds:

It isn't surprising that the Creeds are often the first target of the worship warriors. Remember, the worship war is about Doctrine. The Church's first line of defense against doctrinal change and innovation are the Creeds. Any good soldier knows that you strike the most important targets first.

Wilken's point is that the deprecation of the historic liturgy (and with it, historic hymnody) is a symptom of doctrinal disunity. Late in the blog comments, he adds:

In most cases, the pastor simply takes the historic liturgy away, piece by piece. He labels those who complain as sticks-in-the-mud who don't want the church to grow and just want their own way. Far from celebrating the historic liturgy, the pastor systematically marginalizes it and those who want to retain it.

The metaphors of 'warfare' and 'targets' are particularly interesting, and are worth further exposition. [1]

The Warfare Analogy

I'm not completely sure this is the best approach, but let me go with it:

Consider the changes observed in human conflict over the past century. From the gruelling, drawn-out hell of trench warfare and war of attrition of the first world war to the dawn of air power, mechanized warfare, combined arms (Blitzkreig, WW II), to the threat of strategic nuclear warfare (cold war), to guerilla/asymmetric conflicts (Vietnam, Afghanistan), and beyond--human warfare is always in transition.

Perhaps spiritual warfare is also in transition? Could the incredible bloodshed and murderous technological changes of the twentieth (and sadly, now the twenty-first) century and our increasing societal nihlism go hand-in-hand?

We must not lapse into the error of believing we're the first to encounter the devil's fiery darts. Let us not regard Scripture and the Confessions as a Maginot Line--an impressive array of fortifications that proved entirely useless in the face of a new style of warfare. [2] Perhaps this is the belief of the marketers and church growth crowd, who alloy or water down Scripture with humanistic marketing campaigns, placing their faith in focus groups, email campaigns, and coffee bars instead of the Cross.

I believe careful inspection reveals that our enemy is using the same old tricks, but masterfully innovating, using the power of mass media and consumerism to sow doubt and confusion. If this is true, let us not be tempted to abandon our strongholds.

The Enemy's Attack Plan

The result of human warfare is, without question, doubt, fear, disgust, hate, and despondency. There is probably no small coincidence that the horrific ravages of the wars in the past century also paralleled an increase in theories that take as their starting point:

  • There is no God, thus there is no transcendent, ultimate truth, and
  • Our concept of reality is subjective, individual, and conditioned--defined by language and culture.

If we return to the 'warfare analogy,' this is similar to a "pincer movement attack," where we're faced with an outright rejection of the objective possibility of the supernatural on the one side, and a (seemingly) overwhelming force pressing us toward a completely subjective, relativistic view, on the other. Within Christendom itself, we've strained against apostates, (possibly atheistic) rationalists, new age syncretists, false teachers, sheep in wolves' clothing--the whole gamut [3].

There are some significant additional difficulties on this battlefield:

  • A flat or declining population growth rate in Western countries,
  • The ascendancy of a postmodern, mass-media-driven, entertainment-driven culture,
  • Difficult fiscal/economic times and increased desperation among Church and Synodical leadership, and
  • The rise of the internet (world-wide web) and its concomitant service as a vehicle for anti-Christian screeds.

It's easy to reach Wilken's somewhat depressing conclusion:

Before it is over, the Creed will be gone altogether, along with many other things once considered essential to Sunday morning. Few will remember what Sunday worship used to be. Within a generation, no one will.

What a battle! What forces we face! What hope have we?

Our Response

We certainly face an impressive number of challenges. Wilken correctly identifies a critical moment where the enemy is breaching our defensive lines, and I'm sure there are many other areas where it feels like we're being overwhelmed by the enemy.

Yesterday's All Saints Day sermons (and hymns) still resonate in my ears. The Saints who are now in heaven are examples for us to follow--their examples show faith in the efficacy of God's Word and the workings of the Holy Spirit to create and sustain faith. These are men and women who died (often horribly) because of their faith; their unswerving faith in God and his promises in the face of the ultimate adverstiy is an inspiration to us, and our hearts are emboldened by their rememberance.

Our goal then, should not to be to waver from the strategies we (as a Church) have used since the very beginning, which is to say that we must continue to unreservedly place our faith in the Triune God. In an era of well-lit boardrooms, excel spreadsheets, and double-entry accounting, it seems horribly impractical to do so--yet there is no hope without such faith.

Perhaps we've heard this passage (Eph. 6, KJV) "too many times," but it should be a rallying cry in these dark times:

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And of course, no stranger dark times himself, the words of our own Dr. Martin Luther. As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I am hoping we (as Lutherans) spend less time navel-gazing and lamenting our past--and lost--glory, and more time singing and learning from hymns such as this:

A mighty Fortress is our God,
A trusty Shield and Weapon;
He helps us free from every need
That hath us now o'ertaken.
The old evil Foe
Now means deadly woe;
Deep guile and great might
Are his dread arms in fight;
On Earth is not his equal.

With might of ours can naught be done,
Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the Valiant One,
Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this?
Jesus Christ it is.
Of Sabaoth Lord,
And there's none other God;
He holds the field forever.

Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us.
We tremble not, we fear no ill,
They shall not overpower us.
This world's prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none,
He's judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.

The Word they still shall let remain
Nor any thanks have for it;
He's by our side upon the plain
With His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child and wife,
Let these all be gone,
They yet have nothing won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth.

(TLH, #262)

There's nothing I can add to this discussion beyond what Paul and Luther have already written. I will add, however, that J. S. Bach has a sublime reading of Luther's text in his Cantata (BWV 80), a work I'm currently studying and enjoying:

(feel free to ignore the sad but inevitable examples of "atheist screeds" in the youtube comments)

S . D . G .

  1. I realize I'm biting off more than I can chew in a quick blog post--library bookshelves overflow with this topic, and I'm painting subtle and complicated topics with a broad, imprecise brush. This is really the "tip of the iceberg."
  2. The Maginot Line was built for a style of warfare that didn't exist in 1940, when the Nazis essentially blasted past and around it, unimpeded.
  3. At times it takes the mind of a tireless lawyer to deciper the "what we believe" statements of certain denominations. They employ the language of Christianity in places, while carefully and cunningly undermining its message at critical points.