Today is the day of the year that we celebrate the reformation and I’d like to talk to you a bit about the reformation, what came from that, and why we do some of the things we now do in worship. When I was at seminary, my professor described the reformation this way. He took a bureau full of clothes and he said that that bureau was in essence the Catholic and Orthodox churches. My professor said that Luther basically approached the bureau by opening each drawer and pulling out the things he found offensive, problematic, ungodly or unchristian and left the rest of the bureau intact. That, then, became the Lutheran church – very similar to the Catholic Church except for a few things that were removed or changed.
Calvin and Zwingly, the founders of the Presbyterian Church, on the other hand, approached the bureau that was the church very differently. Instead of pulling out the offensive articles, these two emptied the bureau completely, dumping everything onto the bed, and only putting back into the bureau those things which they found justified and upheld by scripture. This then describes for us the Presbyterian Church…only those things which could be supported by our scriptures.
That meant that everything for Presbyterians was created, in a sense, again, from the beginning. None the less, there is a lot that is similar with all of our protestant churches that arose through the reformation. Some of those things we still value highly, and a few of them we have let slide. Some of the key things that the Protestant reformation focused on was:
Priesthood of all believers. This means that there is a recognition that all of us are called. Pastors are not somehow better or more holy. We are all equally called by God as God’s children. We have a unique call to the ministry. But you also have unique calls. And together, we make up the church. The ministers of the church are all the people. The pastor of the church fulfills his or her call in a particular way.
As a result of this reminder that all are called, many things changed. One of the things that changed was the ROBES that the clergy wore. Before the protestant reformation, the robes the priests wore were to signify that they were different, that they had a special calling that others didn’t. But the robes changed for protestants. For Presbyterians, they became academic gowns. This signified that again, we were only different by what we had been trained to do.
Another important change was that the scriptures, prayers, etc before the reformation were written and read only in Latin. That meant that only people educated in particular ways had access to the Biblical materials. With the Protestant reformation, and the reminder that all people are God's children, it became important to recognize that God spoke to everyone through scripture and therefore it was very important for people to be able to read the scriptures in their own languages. Through the reformation it was recognized that people did not have to "go through" priests or saints to connect to God. They could pray to God on their own, read scripture on their own, be in relationship with God directly.
Songs were set to accessible tunes in the music of the people of the time. Catholic and Orthodox practice at the time meant that songs were sung FOR The people – they were performed, rather than people singing the songs themselves. But all of this, too, was changed. Kierkegaard talked about worship as a theater. He said that we tended to think of God as the prompterm the preacher and worship leaders as the performers and the congregation as the audience. But he said this was wrong. Instaed, God is the theatergoer. The speaker (and worship leaders) are the prompters and the congregants are the performers. Everything in worship then is done BY the people, though encouraged by the pastor and the other worship leaders. And everything in worship is done FOR God.
Much of this we still value, and yet there have been some reversions in this. Going back to the beginning of this list – robes. While originally, the robes of Presbyterians were academic gowns, making a statement that we are NOT different from everyone else – that we are called just as anyone is called to a profession, not separate, not better, not ABOVE, but a professional outfit, now, it has once again become a mark of being separate. It distinguishes us, when the original point was to state that we are not “other” and not different.
Reading the Bible in our own language. Yes, our scriptures have become written in our own language now. However, at the same time, we have hung on to archaic language that is no longer the language of the people in things like the way we say the Lord’s Prayer. As we read in today’s scriptures, the way we say the Lord’s Prayer is NOT an accurate translation into today’s language of the people. But we have become used to the way we do it. It brings comfort at some level to say it in the words our parents used and our parents’ parents used. There is value in that. But there is also a cost. The cost is that the children do not know what they are saying. The prayer does not have the same meaning for them that it does for us. And while we can talk about what these words mean with the kids, saying our most common prayers in THEIR language, in the language they use also sends an important message that God is not so lofty as to not want to hear from children. God is here, and accessible and open to hearing even from our kids. Similarly with some of our other songs and prayers. When we use words like “thee”, “thou”, “thine” we set God off. And again, while the message in that has value for some people, that God is above and holy and other, it also sends a message of inaccessibility. The very message, in other words, that the protestant reformation was working to challenge.
Church music…Luther put his words to tunes that were similar to bar tunes, the tunes that the regular people listened to during their regular days. How many of you listen to hymns other times than when you are in church? Hmm….
But to me one of the bigger problems that the reformation was addressing was that people had become unaware any longer of why things were done the way they were done. They had become stuck in traditions that no longer had any meaning other than a connection to what had gone on before. So another part of what I want to do today is to talk to you about why we do some of the things we do, in church. For example, what is the passing of the peace?
Presbyterian Church is a constitutional church which means we have two books that tell us who we are and why we do what we do. The first is our book of confessions, the second is our book of order. This is what the book of order says the passing of the peace is: “It is important in worship that we take the opportunity to seek and to offer forgiveness for hurts, misunderstandings and broken relationships among ourselves and that we respond to God’s act of reconciliation by exchanging signs and words of reconciliation and of Christ’s peace through the passing of the peace.” (2.6001b) So what does this mean? The passing of the peace is a mending–of-hurts time, an act of forgiveness time, a reconciliation time. In other words, the people we might approach during this time are those with whom we feel the need for reconciliation, or for offering or seeking forgiveness. You can pass the peace on to others as well, but it is as a sign that God forgives and reconciles everyone. You notice what it ISN’T? It isn’t a “greeting time”. In most churches it follows on the heels of our prayer of confession and acceptance of God’s grace because it is a sign that we have taken to heart God’s grace and now want to pass that on to each other. And for this it is a wonderful gift to one another that we can touch and recognize the grace that is literally, physically given to us.
Because we are all the participants in worship, when the choir sings or when the children “perform”, they are praying or offering up to God on our behalf the prayers, praise, celebration, declaration of God’s love and our commitment to God. So one of the questions that has come my way has to do with clapping in response to these offerings. Is clapping in worship appropriate and why or why not?
To me the answer is this: if you are clapping as a way of saying, “Amen! Yes, that’s my prayer! Well said on our behalf!” then I think it is absolutely appropriate to clap in worship. Calvin, though, says that if anything is not referencing God, then it should not be included, so our clapping is best when it honors God rather than the people who are offering the prayer on our behalf.
In worship, faith and celebration are not done for you. You are the participants, and we are all equals before God. As Jesus tells us in Matthew, “you have only one Master and all of you are brothers and sisters”. You are the ones here to worship and honor God. This is your performance or offering to God.
The bottom line, through all of this, is that everything in worship should be to God’s glory. Every banner, every song, every prayer should be focused on God. If a piece of art or an article in the sanctuary is focused on anything else – anything else, it is not appropriate in this space. If something takes the place of prayer, it is not appropriate. Our musicians work hard to prepare because they want to offer their best to God – and that is appropriate. So, in light of this, what does it mean that we offer up announcements, joys and concerns during worship? These, too, are prayers for the people of God. They are celebrations of God’s acting in our lives.