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What Luther Says

'Liturgical Dance' Is Not 'Liturgical'

Why does doctrine matter? Because doctrine informs practice.

From a distinctly Lutheran perspective, it was doctrine that caused the Reformers like Martin Luther to courageously call the Catholic Church to repent and return to "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3), not attempt to start a new church.

It was doctrine that caused the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) to split from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS).

It was and is doctrine that sadly causes divisions and keeps us apart.

Still, we're told that it must be this way, that this is the way that the Lord intended it to be, and that there will always be false teachers and wolves among the sheep.

1 Corinthians 11:18-19 (ESV) 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.

Despite the kind of spiritual reality that God's Word promises and warns us to expect, it still breaks my heart to see such a lack of unity in the faith within Christ's Church.

Yes, believe it or not, unity is possible, but not at the expense of doctrine.

What we so often fail to realize that doctrine matters. How can we call ourselves "Christians" and be so carefree and unconcerned about doctrine all the time?

"Deeds Not Creeds!" or "Don't Major In The Minors!" or "Doctrine Is Divisive!" is what we hear all the time. Well, uh, yeah. That's because it's supposed to work that way, my dear friends (1 Corinthians 11:18-19).

Doctrine is the reason why Jesus Christ came and did what He did. We want absolutely nothing to do with doctrine though. Why is that? Don't we understand that is we stand for nothing then we run the risk of falling for everything? "A little leaven" (Galatians 5:9) we're told, right?

I'm always amazed over the fact that we also fail to realize how our doctrinal beliefs actually determine the way we worship (a.k.a. our doctrine informs our practice).

Case in point, that's why we see something ridiculous like this from the June 5th, 2015 Synod Assembly of the ELCA's Metropolitan New York Synod that will cause you to just shake your head in disbelief and disgust.

The backlash was inevitable even from those currently within the ELCA.

I mean, it's one thing to include so-called "Liturgical Dance" within your church service, but to have the dancers in their tighty-whities is something else entirely!

Not surprisingly, the Metropolitan New York Synod removed the photo and wrote on their Facebook page that the "The picture was removed, unfortunately, because of the rude comments it was inciting."

Right. Those who wish to remain faithful Lutherans are the "rude" ones who are "inciting" division in the body of Christ simply by having the courage to stand up, to speak out, and to say enough is enough. Gimme a break.

To see Christ's Church treated in such a way by those who profess to love Him and love His Word and love His Sacraments and love His Church is laughable.

To see the faithful few persecuted by their own for merely raising the issue is maddening. Believe me, I know firsthand what that's like!

Now, before you think that this is primarily an ELCA issue -- think again! Slowly but surely, "Liturgical Dance" numbers have crept into the LCMS and unsuspecting parishioners clap and smile right along with the performances since they haven't been taught by their Pastors (or anyone really) why such practices are spiritually dangerous and to be avoided within the Lutheran church.

"Oh come on Jeff! Are you really going to try to make the case that dancing in church is a bad thing? What if they're doing it in service to God using the gift of dance and the gift of performing arts they've been given? How is that a bad thing? You probably love the movie Footloose for obvious reasons too, don't you?"

Yes, that's exactly what I'm going to do, and yes, I do love the movie Footloose, but for Kevin Bacon (who doesn't love Kevin Bacon?) and the music.

All kidding aside, this is a piece that's been in the works for awhile now, but I just didn't pull the trigger on it for a myriad of reasons. Then, yesterday, when I saw that ELCA picture making the rounds online, the topic was brought front-and-center again.

Plus, since it's the "Year of Hating Bad Theology (#YOHBT)," I think it's probably as good a time as any to say what needs to be said about this practice that continues to grow in popularity throughout our Synod.

Let's start with this very short commentary from Pastor Peters that he published a few months ago...

I Must Admit I Have Never Met A Liturgical Dance I Liked... 
"Why is it that David's impromptu dance before the Lord has become the script for modern liturgical ideas when an unbroken history of reverence is quickly discarded in favor of a circus atmosphere?"

He asks a very important question that we need to prayerfully consider. You also need to check out the video he highlights too, especially if you're not sure what this style of dance is all about.

The LCMS church we used to attend regularly has what's called the "Liturgical Dance Troupe." Lovely, isn't it? As if the inclusion of the word "liturgical" gives the whole practice instant credibility or something. Wait until our next entry on the historical, orthodox "Divine Liturgy" and then tell me if you truly think there is anything "liturgical" about such a practice in our churches today.

I guess we should just look forward to the "Traditional Service" being phased out altogether since we can add this Liturgical Dance Troupe to the long list of planned "Practices I Can't Wait For My Church To Use To Replace The Divine Liturgy" and all for the sole purpose of...what? Being more culturally relevant, entertaining, inclusive, seeker-sensitive, and/or mission/service-oriented perhaps?

Please excuse my "snarkiness" and inability to "put the best construction" on this here, but it just feels like "Beat The Crap Out of Confessional Lutherans Day" each and every Sunday and has for awhile now, which is why we ultimately decided to see if there's a more faithful and traditional church in the area.

I'm learning it's this way regardless of where you live and regardless of the LCMS church you attend and it's beginning to break me down by breaking my heart.

Ok, but what is "Liturgical Dance" and why am I so concerned that it's quickly becoming a fixture within many LCMS weekly worship services?

I'm willing to guess that some of you might take a look at that picture or video mentioned above and think to yourself, "What's the big deal?" Besides, everyone involved is only trying to use the gifts and talents that God gave them to glorify, honor, praise and worship Him, right?

See, unfortunately, that's the main problem right there and we're fooling ourselves if we think we're "doing it for God" and if we believe that's a "good" thing, because we should already know that it's not (it's never) about WHAT WE CAN DO FOR GOD, but (always) about WHAT GOD HAS DONE AND CONTINUES TO DO FOR US.

To put it another way, and to say it more directly, we go to church to receive, not to give. I know that goes against everything that's being taught these days, but it's true. Christ's Church exists so that those who calls and ordains to administer His gifts to His people will actually give them those gifts.

When many Lutherans tell you that the problem with us is that we're to "inward focused" or that "we need to move beyond these four walls!" there's certainly some truth to that, but whenever they seem to utter such words it's typically done to justify their un-Biblical "Church Growth" strategies and "Contemporary Worship (CoWo)" services.

But don't take it from me. Take it from someone who used to be in a "Liturgical Dance Troupe" herself before she realized why we should be concerned.

So You Think You Can Dance? True Confessions of A Former Liturgical Dancer 
OK, confession time. In 8th grade, I did a liturgical dance number (cringe) for Easter Sunday (double cringe) up by the altar (oh no, she DIDn’t!!!). Ran right up the aisle doing something swoopy. 
Before I married my husband, now an LCMS pastor, I took adult instruction. As I studied Lutheran doctrine, I learned about worship. It’s not about MY performance, but about God giving and me receiving His gifts. Looking back, I’m horribly embarrassed. Now I let my church just be church and my entertainment be entertainment. (As my husband says regarding the trend of turning church into an entertainment showcase: “I can’t find the ‘Jesus of Entertainment’ in the Bible”). But while we don’t need to “get jiggy with it” (yes, I’m THAT old) in church, it’s nice to see the current resurgence of dance shows, and other programs that are “throw backs” to the old variety shows (and no, I’m not THAT old). I can watch them with my tween daughters and share my love of dance. “Dancing with the Stars” brought Ballroom back, but “So You Think You Can Dance” (henceforth referred to as SYTYCD) is even better. Here’s why . . . 
Standard of excellence: In every couple, both dancers vying to be “America’s Favorite Dancer” have experience in at least one dance genre, and sometimes training in several. While I enjoy watching celebrities learn a new skill, some are not cut out to be dancers. That awkwardness can impede my enjoyment of the dancing. Generally, I hate the slow stuff like Waltz and Fox Trot. But when the dancers have experience, the choreographers can go beyond the basics, tell a story – or at least keep me from using the skip button. On SYTYCD, I know the dancing will be amazing. 
It’s uplifting: Seeing a B-girl like Sara strutting her ballroom stuff in heels or hearing Cedric’s speech about the importance of street dancers studying the craft if they truly want to be dancers? Watching Debbie Allen offering him a place in her dance academy with a scholarship? Wicked cool. How about Sabra, who walked away the winner, but has only danced for 4 years? Pasha, the Russian Ballroom dancer, is nailing Hip-Hop and ‘80’s Jazz. Witnessing a group of people striving for excellence in any field is always a positive thing. It bugged me that the judges kept Cedric at the expense of better, trained dancers. But, watching him strive beyond his comfort zone? Inspirational. 
You learn something: I’m a decent dancer. I took tap, ballet, and jazz for years, and do choreography for community stuff. I can watch a tape, learn it, and teach it to beginners. I’m competent in the basics and have more experience than the average arm-chair critic. But I’m always hungry to learn more. I don’t have Ballroom experience, but I learned about dancing down into the floor. A break-dancer is called a B-boy or B-girl (although I don’t really get the difference between Krump and Hip-Hop). Everybody knows about Jazz hands, but what about African Jazz? And wasn’t it nice to learn the Hustle isn’t just the line dance that we thought it was? For the rest of America, a door to the Arts has been fan-kicked wide open. 
Huge variety and excitement: The chemistry of the couples. Changing partners. More dance styles than “Dancing with the Stars”. Rotating choreographers. Dominic and Sabra doing “soft” Hip-Hop – a romantic routine by Shane Sparks set to Ne-Yo’s “Make it Work”. And Wade Robson always does something jaw-droppingly original, like this season’s Jaimie/Hok Flower-Butterfly dance and the Sara/Jesus “Bums at 3 a.m.” number. How about a Latin-style Vienesse Waltz? Ok, hated that, but it WAS original. Icing on the cake: the lifts! Danny and Lauren were the bomb in the final 6 with their daring disco lifts. If you missed the ending of Neil and Sabra’s Paso Doble you need to go online and try to find it because it was killer. Lacey and Pasha’s mannequin Hip-Hop and Sabra and Neil’s boardroom table Jazz numbers were unforgettable. (Judge) Nigel conveyed his hope that the finale could live up to the excitement of that show. I agree. 
Depicting faith on TV: So often, the portrayal of faith on TV is offensive to me. Not to bum you out, but my Dad just died in July. My sister and I sang “Amazing Grace” while he was dying, and then it was sung again at his funeral. SYTYCD is not a Christian show, but one of the choreographers used “Amazing Grace” this season. To see that song used on TV meant double to me this year. Then there was Mia Michael’s stunning routine based on the death of her father – it enacted their reunion in heaven. I don’t know if she’s a Christian, but for a mainstream show to acknowledge anything remotely Christian is cause for celebration in my book. Those dances touched me personally. I already know I’ll see my Dad in heaven, but it was nice to see that message portrayed on prime time TV. 
By the end of the week, maybe by the time you read this article, there will be no more dance on TV until a new season premieres. I’ll be happy no matter who wins this season. Lacey, Sabra, Danny, and Neil – I love them all. They are ultra-talented and fun to watch. Although it might be nice to for a girl win sometime. :-) 
Reality TV is a mixed bag. Some of is wonderful; some is atrocious and makes me want to hurl. SYTYCD is one of the good ones. If you haven’t seen it yet, you are really missing out. Next season, set your TiVo for the top 20 dancers – that’s the meat of the show where the best dancers are combined with outrageously good choreography. Unlike my foray into dancing in church, you won’t regret it. 
Kim Grams is a writer and pastor’s wife who lives in Scottsbluff, NE. She debuted in myHT with her article Diary of An American Idol Junkie.

I think it's always important for us to listen to people who have firsthand experience and knowledge about a specific subject like this. Did you catch her opening statements?

Then there's this hard-hitting, hit-you-between-the-eyes-with-the-truth commentary...

Nothing Says "Lutheran" Like Liturgical Dance

Do read that piece by Mrs. Hemingway. It's only a few paragraphs, but it appropriately summarizes the problem (yes, "problem") with this practice.

I like how Scott Diekmann reminded us that while those of the Liturgical Dance Troupe crowd will likely choose to ignore a loving admonition like this from people like me (Ephesians 4:15), preferring to proudly exercise their "freedom in Christ" instead, we might want to stick to our previous agreement.

…The Mass is held among us and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved, except that the parts sung in Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns. These have been added to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed for this reason alone, that the uneducated be taught ‹what they need to know about Christ›. AC XXIV, 1-3

Some ceremonies and Church practices are neither commanded nor forbidden in God’s Word, but are introduced into the Church with good intention, for the sake of good order and proper custom, or otherwise to maintain Christian discipline. FC SD, X, 1

Likewise, when there are useless, foolish displays that are not profitable for good order, Christian discipline, or evangelical practice in the Church, these also are not genuine adiaphora, or matters of indifference. FC SD, X, 7

For emphasis, there's also this too from the Worldview Everlasting archive...

In brief, liturgical dance is, well, not liturgical. In liturgy God speaks to us with his word and we say back to God what he has said to us. God does not speak to us through dance. While dance is very expressive and can express the entire gamut of human emotions and desires, it is not the means through which God speaks to us sinful humans. He speaks to us through his Word. It is his word which draws us in. It is his word which keeps us engaged in the liturgy. As one of our liturgies says: “Open my lips Lord and my mouth will declare your praise.” His word alone kills us sinners and raises us to new life. And it is through the word alone that the Spirit does such work. The Spirit is not in the dance, but in the Word. 
*- Rev. Gary Hall St. John’s First Evangelical Lutheran Church

I'm sure we could go on and on about this topic if we wanted to, but I'm hoping that everything that's been presented here so far will suffice in at least putting this practice on your radar.

If this is something that exists in your church at the moment, maybe consider approaching your Pastor and those in charge of such groups with these points and questions is a good idea (not in an accusing way, but in a loving way, hoping to dialogue with them).

In a Lutheran layman's terms, while it may seem as though we Confessional Lutherans are about to be purged from Christ's Church completely as doctrine and practices like "Liturgical Dance" become more commonplace, we know that God always preserves a remnant for Himself (Romans 10:18-Romans 11:16), and so "fear not, little flock" needs to be our comfort.

NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Candy-Making, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism almost 2 years ago now. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha!). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm experiencing and/or studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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