Saturday, March 21, 2009

Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening

Having recently been given a copy of the old booklet published by the Augustana Book Concern by a brother pastor from the Society of the Holy Trinity (thank you, again, Phil), yesterday I read Bo Giertz' Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening. I had read it before, having downloaded its text from the LCMS website several years ago, but holding the actual booklet (autographed by Bishop Giertz!) in my hands makes for a more satisfying reading experience.

The booklet itself is actually only section of Giertz' first pastoral letter (herdabrev) written soon after his 1949 election as Bishop of Gothenburg. Clifford Ansgar Nelson's translator's introduction tells us,
It is an ancient and treasured custom in the Church of Sweden that when a new bishop is elected in any diocese of the country, he writes a pastoral letter intended in the first place for the ministers of the diocese. This "Herdabrev" is usually a very personal word of encouragement and pastoral counseling which serves to introduce the new bishop to his pastors and people. Sometimes the letter is brief and can be contained in a few printed pages but frequently the letter is long enough so that it becomes a book of considerable size.
Pastor Nelson concludes his introduction with a word that, at least from an American Lutheran perspective, is as amazing today in 2009 as when he wrote it 60 years ago:
It deals with a religious question that is perennial in the church. And it is because the bishop reveals such a profound appreciation of the values of religious awakening and evangelical piety on the one hand, and of the time-honored values of liturgical worship on the other, that this section has been lifted out for translation. We in the American churches will do well to ponder the problem that the bishop discusses in these pages. It is toward an understanding both of liturgy and spiritual awakening that this document is herewith published.
Here we see an attitude towards worship unlike what we've experienced in the "worship wars" between "high church" and "low church" proponents. Interestingly, it is an attitude one finds clearly expressed in Giertz' The Hammer of God and one I experienced when with the Society of St. Birgitta in Vadstena.

Perhaps the following will whet your appetite for Bishop Giertz' important message to the priests of the Diocese of Gothenburg in 1949 and to Christians today:
It is important for us that both awakening and liturgy be given their proper and pristine Christian place in the life of the congregation. Awakening is always needed, not only because the church must always be a missionary church and reach out after those that are on the outside, but also because there is always the need for awakening even among the most faithful members of the church. The church has exactly as many sinners as she has members. The old Adam in each one of us is prone to fall asleep, to make the Christian life a dead routine, to use liturgical form to cloak his self-complacency and impenitence. It is not difficult to fashion a form of religion that suits the ego and allows the old Adam within to become sovereign again. One may go regularly to church and Holy Communion. One may cherish beautiful church music and lovely sanctuaries. One may be honestly convinced that one possesses the correct doctrine and loves the pure preaching of the Word. And at the same time one may be thoroughly obsessed by self-love, complacent with one's self, satisfied with one's own pious accomplishments and totally indifferent to the troubles and burdens of one's fellow men, which are so apparent before one's very eyes. The Holy Spirit always needs to awaken slumbering souls, stir up the dust, push the old Adam against the wall, and blow a new breath of life into the dead bones. Awakening is never superfluous, as long as we are in the flesh.

Liturgy is just as needful. There can be no normal church life without liturgy. Sacraments need form, the order of worship must have some definite pattern. It is possible to live for a short time on improvisations and on forms that are constantly changing and being made over. One may use only free prayers and yet create a new ritual for every worship situation. But the possibilities at soon exhausted. One will have to repeat, and with that the making of rituals is in full swing. I circles where people seek to live without any forms new forms are nevertheless constantly take shape. Favorite songs are used again and again with monotonous regularity, certain prayer expressions are constantly repeated, traditions take form and traditional yearly ceremonies are served. But it would not be wrong to say that the new forms that grow up in this way are usually less attractive and more profane than the ancient liturgy. They contain less of God's Word, they pray and speak without Scriptural direction, they are not so much concerned about expressing the whole content of Scripture, but are satisfied with one thing or another that seems to be especially attractive or popular. The new liturgy that grows in this manner is poorer, less Biblical, and less nourishing to the soul than the discarded ancient order.
Go ahead, read it all here or download it here as a pdf document.

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