This is the first part of the seminar I gave at the St. Michael Conference at Redeemer in Fort Wayne, Indiana, last month. It is not a finished paper, only lecture notes.
THE USE OF VOICE AND POSTURE IN WORSHIP: An explanation and demonstration of the use of speaking, reading, and chanting, and of body language in the Holy Liturgy.
Thesis: deliberate and conscious efforts in leading worship serve to remove the man from the preaching of the Gospel. There will also be some discussion of sources and rubrics.
The preaching of the Gospel and the conduct of the liturgy are of a piece. The old Scaer adage “preach like a Baptist” was, I think, meant more as a joke than as an actual aphorism. My evidence for this is that David Scaer himself does not preach like a Baptist. Except if he meant preach with authority. But the antics and emoting for which Baptists are known are certainly as out of place in the pulpit as they would be at the altar. Not only do we not share pulpit and altar fellowship with Baptists, but our pulpits and our altars must have fellowship with each other. How you behave at the altar should be essentially the same as how you behave at the pulpit.
The celebrant should be deliberate in his stance and actions. Sometimes I'm led to think there must be a mysterious Missouri Synod book of rubrics floating around somewhere that says that to be truly Synodical one must behave as though the vestments he is wearing are uncomfortable, he ought at all times to rest his weight on one foot more than the other, and he ought never wear a chasuble, so that we can see the casual manner with which he is to bear himself. Too many who conduct the service do so in a way which says, “I’d really rather be somewhere else.” On the contrary, the celebrant must conduct himself in a way which is in keeping with our confession:
Nothing is rushed, but nothing is casual. Everything is deliberate. Indeed even if something accidental or unexpected occurs, the celebrant should, as best he is able, maintain the decorum of the setting, and, as Piepkorn says, “The unforeseen, the accidental, the disturbing must not be permitted to distract us. We are God’s ambassadors and God’s servants. We are speaking for and to God. Our entire lives ought to be, and our public minister must be en Christo – in Christ! So must the calm peace of the changeless Christ in our souls be reflected in our outward demeanor” (The Conduct of the Service, iii.)
There is, of course, a significant difference between the pulpit and the altar. The pulpit is the place for communication, in your own words, of what the liturgy expresses in the words of the Mass. It is the place for your personal application of the Gospel to the present situation. Yet this difference does not permit a difference in demeanor for the one preaching. The gravity of the situation is no less during the sermon.
The pulpit is not the place for personal antics, any more than the altar is. The decorum which ought to attend the celebrant at the altar is the very same as that which ought to attend his preaching. It is a formal event, however personal the application gets.
There is another difference between the pulpit and the altar. The altar has specific attending rubrics to help the celebrant know exactly how he should stand, gesture, and speak. There are, of course, no corresponding rubrics which apply to the pulpit. Nevertheless the gestures and voice that the preacher uses should only be distinct from his gestures and voice at the altar to the extent that the particular purpose of the pulpit differs from that of the altar, namely, in the latitude and extent of the personal nature of the communication that is allowed in the pulpit. It is the fundamental similarity of the pulpit to the altar, and the fundamental difference between them, which dictate the fundamental behavior of the preacher.
Cute expressions designed to impress the hearers come at the expense of impressing upon them the Word itself. People may say they like to have something to take home with them, which is mostly bogus. What they end up taking home is some trite slogan, in place of the Gospel. The pulpit is also not the place for telling jokes. Preaching is not stand-up comedy, or something you learn to do in speech class to get and hold people’s attention. Gags and gimmicks are out of place, because they belie the power of the Gospel; they presuppose that the preacher is giving nothing better than midrash, and probably something worse. Indeed this also means the telling of endless vignettes and stories is most assuredly not preaching. Some preachers can be found who only do such things, from beginning to end of the sermon. This is not preaching. This is boredom incarnate.
Liturgical worship recognizes that the posture and behavior of the participants is a reflection of what they profess. To cite the extreme case, if someone enters the church with a pink spike hairdo, rings of one kind or another piercing his body in various places, a swagger in his gait, a smirk on his face, and perhaps a chortle at every reference to Jesus that he hears, it becomes apparent that he does not really wish to be present, or associated with the Christian Church. Therefore, on the contrary we find it fitting to dress properly for church, to carry ourselves with decency, to make the sign of the cross, to fold the hands, to stand erect, to bow the head, or—notwithstanding its increasing unpopularity—to bend the knee.