Sunday, April 6, 2008

Nice versus Necessary.

Another difference that we need to remember is that there is a world of difference between that which is nice and that which is necessary. There are few things that are necessary to have a Lutheran Congregation - The Gospel rightly preached and the Sacraments rightly administered. That's it. That's what is needed - and if you have that, you have a congregation that is good, right, and what it is supposed to be.

And rightly administered. . . well. . . that's right according to God's command. That is administered so people actually get God's gifts. That isn't talking about a beautifully designed service or proper usage of flowers on the altar. Is the Gospel preached - are the sacraments administered? If so - it is enough.

A lot of times, pastors can get hung up on things that are nice. . . but not necessary. Take for example - chanting. I love chanting. I think it is beautiful. I love that the LSB has included the pastor's line for the chanting of the liturgy - but I don't chant here at my congregation. I may never. It's not something they've done, and it may never be introduced. And that's okay. Chanting is nice. . . I think it adds something to the service, reverence, a sacred character perhaps. But it isn't necessary.

As pastors, we should focus on that which is necessary (or avoiding that which is necessary to avoid) and let the niceties be. Let the niceties develop as they come - bring in the ones that can be brought in, useful for instruction - but don't let a focus on the niceties consume you.

It's important to remember this, because what I think is "nice" - someone else might not think it nice. And then, you have a fight over what is nice -- and that becomes a matter of opinion. You can't win that one. Now, necessary - you can point to Scripture on the "necessary" points. . . but if something is nice. . . eh.

There are a lot of things in congregations that pastors rush to change, things that. . . well, probably could be done more nicely. But how is a pastor's time better spent - working on making something nice - or dealing with the necessities? It's not my duty to make the church "Nice" - I am not an interior decorator or a master of ceremonies - I am a steward of the Mysteries of God - that is where my focus should be.

Besides - how much trust and political capitol can be burned up in trying to fix a "nicety" that ultimately doesn't matter? The question isn't just whether or not something is a hill to die on - it's a matter of whether or not the hill should even be bothered with in the first place.

Now, where is that line between nice and necessary? Not always easy to see - probably right along the lines of "does this practice counter the Gospel or negate the sacraments?" Then go from there. There is a lot that we could easily put up with if we focused on what was necessary - still doesn't mean that I don't cringe when I see plastic individual communion cups - but those little plastic pieces still get Christ's Blood to people - I guess they get the job done. Not the nicest, but they do what is necessary. And then I don't cringe as much. . . .

No congregation will ever be as "nice" as I would ideally want it to be - and I'm not going to worry about making mine that way. Ain't my job. Rather - preaching Christ and Him crucified -- and let the niceties sort themselves out in due time.


Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

I think Preus has it right in The Fire and the Staff, when he says to teach the congregation into deciding/desiring the change for itself, rather than the pastor to impose it for some reason.

Yes. Pastoral chanting is nice, unless the pastor is tone-deaf. :) Where someone and I will get into an energetic discussion is whether one should take the music away from the laity. To take written four-part music away from the laity is fighting words for me. We learn through music. It might not be scripturally mandated, but it is mandated by how we function as human beings. :)

Good post.

Dizziness said...

I agree with Dan. Many might take your distinction as license to change the entire form of the divine service. Unfortunately Preus also cautions us from assuming musical form is not part of our proclamation of the Word. Not all things are permissible if they offend or distort the Word of God.

The same goes for sacramental practice. Silver chalice is nice but a plastic cup may in the minds of many ruin our confession of the real presence.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I think I should specify the direction of change I am implying. While I agree, dropping the chalice for plastic isn't good, and indeed, might be quite harmful, if you are at a place where there is plastic, it is not of dire importance that you bring in a chalice. Would it be nice to bring in a chalice - sure. However, it isn't a necessity. The Church is not ruined because there is no chalice.