Mixed Messages – Visit to Holy Cross Lutheran Church (LCMS), College Station, Texas

Paul’s warnings about trumpets giving uncertain sounds (I Cor. 14:9), go unheeded by the modern church. Entering Holy Cross, College Station, Texas new sanctuary in April 2022, my sensory impressions were all sound stage not church. They have paid little if any heed to about 2,000 years of church architecture. They have the pulpit higher than the altar. In 2000, St. Kurt was asked what he thought of Our Savior, Houston, Texas new sanctuary. He laughed. He said the only time Lutherans of the Reformation put their pulpit in the center above the altar was in the Age of Rationalism.

This was Holy Cross’s 10:45 Contemporary Service and I was surprised to find liturgy. Again though, messages were mixed. The pastor was in an alb with a red stole; it was Confirmation Sunday, but the acolytess was without robes as she minced her way up to light the candles. The songs were all from the Lutheran Service Book. It was the first time I heard LCMS-approved Contemporary Worship songs. The lyrics were fine, some quite fine, but the music was pure country. The congregation hardly sang “Praise to the Lord” or even “Holy, Holy, Holy”, but they belted out “What a Beautiful Name”, “Remembrance” and “Lion and the Lamb”. So their roots to the 16th and 19th century Church are withering, but they’re firmly rooted in the 21st century.

So, I’m thinking this is LSB’s contemporary service, but then I read the fine print. The Rite of Confirmation is from there, but “The worship service is an original worship service for Confirmation at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in College Station, Tx.” Evidently, the Lutheran Service Builder[i] was not ‘contemporary’ enough.

So, the mixed message is already in LSB’s Rite of Confirmation. Confirmands were asked, “Do you confess the doctrine of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, drawn from the Scriptures as you have learned it from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true?” Historically, confessional Lutherans have confirmed based on confessing the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. I know, I know people get confused with the ELCA who bogarted the term Evangelical Lutheran Church in America with the simple definite article. So what? Legitimatize their hutzpah by narrowing your confession?

You can see the footprints of the creator of this liturgy of the day in serval places. Before pointing these out, let me say, I did hear the objective nature of the Gospel emphasized and this nice nugget, “The Bible is God’s breath in human print.” That’ll preach. And literally the last line of the sermon was “Parents get these kids to church. That’s your responsibility.” You Waltherians will be offended because he didn’t end with the Gospel. So what? Luther didn’t always, neither did Paul nor Jesus!

Here’s where the creator of this one-use worship service muddied the water and mixed the message. He does have the indicative absolution that most contemporary services forswear. But he can’t go all the way. He does says, “As a called and ordained servant of Christ”, but he doesn’t claim to speak in the stead of Him, but says, “by His authority.” The made-up, as opposed to historic, “Blessing of the Communicants” and “The Benediction” mixed messages were more troubling still.

First, the Blessing at the dismal of those who communed: “Having experienced Christ’s presence in the broken bead and this meal once again.” It’s the Reformed who love to speak of Christ’s presence. Confessional Lutherans speak as Scripture does of the Body and the Blood of Jesus. Second, the 3,500 year old Aaronic Benediction isn’t good enough for Holy Cross. No, they’re dismissed with “Experience the loving presence of the Good Shepherd, welcoming, guiding, and protecting your life.” Funny, the pastor really did hammer home the objective nature of the Gospel. Why the emphasis on experience at the end?

There was not a word about who should or should not commune. This is wide open Communion. This on Confirmation Sunday begs the question: Why bother instructing your own if you don’t care if or in what visitors have been instructed?

Following the first four centuries of the Church and Christian charity, I conclude there is no forgiveness, no life, and no salvation in the Body and Blood of Christ here because these were not there. The Early Church said the divide was clear. If you believe it’s the Body and Blood of Christ, you have Closed Communion, as Roman Catholic, the Orthodox, and Confessional Lutherans still do. If you don’t believe the Body and Blood of Christ are here, you have Open Communion. Their Communion Table is wide open, so, no Body and Blood there. Furthermore, Christian charity, says these people are not knowingly giving the Body and Blood of Jesus to those who won’t, can’t, or don’t discern it thereby bringing weakness, sickness, and death on themselves.

You know in times of war and/or want, coffee is mixed with chicory to have more of it. So what’s the war or want driving the contemporary church to mix their message? Whatever it may be, whether mixing the Gospel, the Law, the Truth, the Confession, or the coffee, you end up with less of the real thing.

[i] Lutheran Service Builder is technological innovation that is probably here for ‘good’. However, the fact you can import your own worship styles, languages, way, or emphasis in the fonts of LSB is akin in my mind to the U.S. Army putting crosses on Mormon and Christian Scientist chaplains. It’s false advertising. Furthermore, I see it as the Trojan Horse for not only spreading contemporary worship but for unique, and therefore more sectarian than catholic, worship.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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