Imagine you and I attend two different churches of the same denomination and meet for lunch afterward. How much of what we both experienced should be the same and how much should vary?
Now to be honest, some things are going to be different no matter what. The odds of two different churches operating independently of each other picking the same hymns, praying
the same prayers, and hearing the same sermon is impossible. Maybe one or two hymns will be the same on some Sunday’s; the general topics that are prayed for will be similar; but to have identical services would be impossible.
In The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, many congregations today use Lutheran Service Book as their primary source for hymns and services; it has reached levels of use not seen since the high-point of The Lutheran Hymnal. This is a great benefit for the Church that
you or I can walk into any congregation and be greeted by the familiar site of a known hymnal in the pews.
But the question is how much should be the same and how much should be different from congregation to congregation?
Consider that Lutheran Service Book has five different options for the Divine Service; in addition to six other non-communion services. By comparison The Lutheran Hymnal offered one communion service and four non-communion services. Having so many different services might keep people entertained, but it will also keep them guessing on which service is going to be used on which Sunday.
There is also the issue of Lectionaries. The Church has two main Lectionaries to choose from: a One Year and a Three Year. The readings for these Lectionaries can vary widely from Sunday to Sunday; although on major festivals they normally are pretty close. There are also some churches do not use any Lectionary, instead opting to preach in a continuous sermon series.
Recently I have been watching a weekly video offering that walks through the Gospel reading for the coming Sunday; I can do that because the host uses the Three Year Lectionary; if he did not, I could still watch, but they would not be nearly as helpful. Concordia Seminary offers sermon helps in their quarterly theological journal; again they use the Three Year Lectionary, so they are again helpful to me; but not to the one using the One Year Lectionary.
There is then the issue of the Prayers of the Church. The LCMS offers weekly Prayers
of the Church that are tailored written based on the readings and on Church and world events. They come with intercessions ready written for Election Day, Life Sunday, Thanksgiving, what have you. Not to mention the four different options for Prayers of the Church provided in the Altar Book. Unless of course, you would rather write your own, as many do.
What is the problem with so much variety? On the surface it is just the whim of the
individual pastor and congregation as to what they are doing on a particular Sunday. What about the rest of the congregations and what they are doing? Too each his own is often our response.
To have every congregation do a carbon copy of what the other is doing would be wrong. Traditions have been established, and should be respected. But are we one Synod with over 6000 congregations? Or are we over 6000 congregations with one Synod?
I believe this has led at least in part to the lack of concern of the practice between congregations. If one congregation does Setting 1, uses the Three Year Lectionary and the Prayers of the Church off of the web; and another congregation does Setting 5, One Year Lectionary and Prayers of the Church out of the Altar Book; and a third congregation does Setting 3, preaches in continuous series, and writes their own prayers; well how can their possibly be any concern for the other, when the other does something completely foreign to what we do?
And so we are back to you and I meeting for lunch after attending different churches that do completely different services with different Lectionaries and prayers. Can we truly discuss what happened that morning in the service with any familiarity of what the other experienced?
In an age where we are told to be our own person, to do our own thing, to reject what everyone else is doing and go our own way; has the Church followed suit to its detriment?