Friday, April 23, 2010

A First Step

We answer that it is lawful for bishops, or pastors, to make ordinances so that things will be done orderly in the church, but not to make satisfaction for sin. . . . It is proper that the churches keep such ordinances for the sake of love and tranquility, to avoid giving offense to another, so that all things be done in the churches in order, and without confusion. Augusburg Confession XXVIII.53-55

All things being done today in the Lutheran congregations of North America are not being done in order. Things are in a state of confusion.

To wit. If I am on vacation and I see a sign on a church bearing my jurisdiction's name – I may walk in and find that I have absolutely no idea what is going on. The service may be a serious of words never before strung together in Lutheran liturgical history, made up by the local pastor or his worship director sometime in the week previous. This gives offense. I, or my parishioners, will be completely out of sorts in such a parish. It will not be home. It says LCMS on the sign, but the service bears no connection to our worship.

It will do no good to insist that such a parish subscribes to the same doctrine as we do and therein lies our brotherhood. I am more than a mind that gives assent to doctrine. I live out that doctrine in my worship with my voice and actions. If there is a disconnection between the worship of two different congregations such that a man from one place simply recognizes nothing familiar in the other, how can we actually go through the act of sharing our common doctrine? To share common doctrine means to confess with one voice in the one body of the church. If I feel out of place, lost, confused, and befuddled when I encounter what goes on in Sunday morning, how can we rejoice together in our supposed doctrinal unity?

The state of our church body today in matters of worship is one of this sort of confusion, disorder, and giving of offense. Fortunately, our Confessions address such a situation and propose a solution: the bishops and pastors should make ordinances in the church so that, for the sake of love and tranquility, things might go along in peace.

But where to begin? How about this. When you get in this discussion with a brother pastor, district official, etc., and he insists on his Christian freedom to write his own liturgy every week and model the style thereof based on whatever is currently popular at this or that megachurch, read this section of the AC to him, point out the confusion and disorder he is causing and then ask him this much: when you have the Divine Service, will you just use one of the settings of the Divine Service from any one of our three hymnals for the actual words of the service? Use whatever hymns you like, whatever instrumentation, whatever ceremonies, sing it or speak it or make up your own musical setting: but for the actual words, will you just please pick from this list of 7 or so options? Will you do this for the sake of peace and unity and love and tranquility? Will you do this so that when my parishioners are on vacation and they visit your church they will not feel completely left out?

That would be a nice first step toward tranquility and order in the church. It would be a good ordinance for the bishops to put forward and for the pastors to accept.

If he says no. . . well, I wonder then if the reason isn't pride. It must be quite an ego trip to write up your own liturgy each week and then hear all the people speak those words you so lovingly crafted. I think this is the real appeal of creating liturgies – even when those who do the composing don't realize that this is the appeal.



  1. Heath,

    Gotta be honest, brother - not a big fan of this proposal at all. I don't see it as an improvement on how things are now. I mean, what's worse: A full-blown "contemporary" service with a self-made, unrecognizable "liturgy" or a "contemporary" service which pays mere lip service to the liturgy? For my part, I'd prefer the former over the latter. At least things wouldn't be as uncomfortably schizophrenic. Have you ever been to a "contemporary" service with the "praise band" in front of the altar leading the congregation in "getting down with Jesus," but that also employs the liturgy from the hymnal? I've been to more than I care to remember - it doesn't work, trust me.

    Plus, I really don't think this section of the Augustana has such a compromising proposal in view. I mean, I doubt very highly that our Lutheran forebears would have been down with allowing congregations to employ methobapticostal practices so long as they mouth the words of the liturgy. Do you?

    Nope. If we are going to truly work towards unity and tranquility, it will necessitate much more than minimalistic concessions which really do nothing at getting to the root of the problem, which is not that we're not all saying the same words, but that we don't currently share a common confession of the faith.

    Just my $.02 - FWIW.

  2. Brother Thomas:

    I encourage you to consider Pastor Curtis' title. What he proposes is not the end. It's the beginning, rather, a beginning to the beginning.

  3. Fr. Juhl,

    Yeah, I read the title and the full post, my friend. I understand what Fr. Curtis is proposing. Still don't like it. Y'all are free to disagree. I just don't see it as a beginning to anything, and do not think it is a legitimate application of the quoted AC reference. You don't treat cancer with tylenol as some "beginning to the beginning," but get right to the surgery and chemo. What we need is an open and honest theological dialogue on worship; one that does not begin with any assumptions or compromising parameters, but digs into Scripture and our Confessions and analyzes our current practices in their light.

    Besides, do any of you really think the "church-growthers" would even entertain such a proposal as a "first step," which presumes that there will be future "steps" to come? No way! Better to just cut through all this nonsense and get to the heart of the matter.

  4. Fr. Messer,

    I'm of two minds. I hear what you are saying, and agree that there is wisdom is moving more forcefully.

    But here's the thing: I don't think you think your big dialogue would work either. The endless dialogues are part of the problem.

    What we probably need is to fess up to our divisions - and putting forward a proposal like the one I've written here helps with that. If a brother can't agree to put aside even a tiny bit of his Christian freedom for the sake of Christian peace and unity: then why do we bother trying to pretend we can live as brothers?

    So the title of the piece is intentionally ambiguous: a first step toward what? Perhaps just toward understanding that we are already two Synods.


  5. Fr. Curtis,

    I fear that such a suggestion would be blown off because you are using the AC in a "law" sense that it "wasn't intended for" - attempting to bind someone with its words, and that probably won't fly - you'll hear how it was meant to be a confession of the Gospel or some such thing.

    I don't think the way to respond to an appeal for freedom is by going to the AC. Rather, if someone cites freedom, point to that person's voluntary membership in the Synod. To be in the Synod is to fundamentally forgo some things which would otherwise be Scripturally or Confessionally free for the basis of working together. I still don't think it would work, but it might work slightly better than the AC. . . . and I guess it leaves the door open for the usage of the "Creative Worship" thing. . . but that is better than crazy service de jour.

    (ACK! The word verification was "saten"!)

  6. Fr. Brown,

    Yes, "ordinance" is a law word. There it is in the AC highlighted favorably. Societies of men need ordinances, rules, etc., so that we might live together in peace and harmony. You just can do without them, as you note with your mention of the rules of our Synod.

    Our allergic reaction to law words is part of the problem - so I'm happy to let this bit of AC XVIII rankle.


  7. Pr. Messer:

    What exactly are "the methobapticostal practices" to which you refer? I think that goes to the issue in this discussion.

    I think that Pr. Curtis' suggestion of adopting a set ordo is the way to go. (Though I'm not sure how many parishes not currently doing so would make the change.) With a set ordo, there is a set confession of faith in worship--the lex orandi.

    Selection of hymnody would also have to be addressed, so that nothing sung is false. And I would guess that Pr. Curtis would also include that as part of his proposal. (I'm going to take his statement of "use whatever hymns you like" not as permitting use of songs with false teaching.)

    So are "the methobapticostal practices" the use of particular musical settings? Are they particular musical instruments? Are they having screens in the sanctuary? Are they the way a worshiper holds their hands? I might have issues with some of these practices....but I'm not sure they are essential to Methodist, Baptist, or Pentecostal theology. Go find a Church of Christ (Campbellite) or some American Baptist congregation, and you won't find any such things there....but plenty of false teaching.

    Maybe I just see that consistent use of a set Divine Service ordo would pay great dividends and bring some unity to our Synod's worship practices (at least the majority). And that way, Pr. Curtis' desire to have confession of faith and worship coincide as they ought would be seen among most of our Synod.

  8. The intent behind using only Synodically approved hymnals was the original cure to this -- remember, the Synod was founded in the days of revivalistic "New" Lutheranism. The cutting off of crazy worship was one of the purposes for the formation of the Synod.

    Using the AC is going. Using the Synodical by-laws are good. A layered approach, an appeal to order (I think the scriptures about order in worship are apt - as a synod we are together, what order is there amongst ourselves!) is good. And whether it is ignored or not isn't really the point - ours is to speak.

  9. But here's the thing: I don't think you think your big dialogue would work either. The endless dialogues are part of the problem.

    Which "endless dialogues" would those be, Fr. Curtis? Have we ever had a serious, honest, synod-wide theological dialogue on this subject? Did I miss something?

    I think we would all do well to remember that, relatively speaking, the "contemporary worship" movement in our synod is still brand spankin' new. I know it doesn't feel that way, and surely for many of us it has felt like we have been engaged in "endless dialogues" on the subject. But, the truth is that we have never really had a serious, synod-wide theological dialogue about this. Pastors and congregations just began doing their own thing, even, in many cases, deliberately hiding what they were doing from the rest of the synod (I know, I was a member of an LCMS congregation that went full-blown "contemporary" in the late 80s, early 90s, and we were told to keep everything "hush-hush," since the synod wasn't ready for it). Eventually, as more and more pastors and congregations joined the movement, it became, in a sort of de facto way, "acceptable" in our synod. But, it was never seriously discussed. I mean, you can't count vague convention resolutions and CTCR, CoW, and CoP statements as serious discussion on the matter.

    Would the kind of "big dialogue" I'm talking about work? I don't know. Probably not. But, it's worth a shot, I think. And, coming up with "first steps" in lieu of the kind of serious dialogue we need to have would militate against that, imho.

    It is precisely because I am with you in believing that we need to "fess up to our divisions" that I would rather bypass "first step" proposals and get to the heart of the matter.

  10. Fr. Messer,

    We've had serious dialogues at the district level here in SID; and I'm sure other districts have as well. In 2005 I went to a Commission on Worship workshop that included quite a bit of discussion. Countless circuit brethren have taken it up with one another. And this past winter we did in fact have an official Synod-wide gathering specifically devoted to this discussion.

    And it's all just a shade better than pointless. It's not completely pointless because you don't know when a conversation might just catch a brother right and get him thinking. But it's close to pointless because our jurisdiction refuses to acknowledge what AC XXVIII says the church needs: ordinances regarding worship and ceremonies for the sake of unity and peace.


  11. Fr. Zimmerman,

    When I say "methobapticostal practices," I'm referring to those practices which flow from a theology of worship which is contradictory to what we Lutherans believe, teach, and confess. To cover everything, I should probably say "methobapticostal" and "Americanized evangelical" practices. There are certainly many differences and nuances to be found within "protestant" worship, but they all adhere to the same theology, namely that Jesus is not really present in worship, but seated upon His throne "up there."

    While having a set ordo in place would be wonderful, it doesn't necessarily follow that there would be "a set confession of faith in worship - the lex orandi."

    The way I read Fr. Curtis' proposal is that congregations would be free to sing whatever they wished, in whatever manner they wished, and employ whatever other practices they wished, so long as they used the actual words in one of the settings of the DS in one of our hymnals. I do not read it as you are, including the selection of hymnody as being addressed, since, well, he seems to be saying the opposite - "Do whatever you want, so long as you use the words in one of our settings."

    If he revised his proposal to be more akin to how you've graciously chosen to read it, I'd be more inclined to react favorably. But, as it is, I don't think it would be helpful.

    As far as what specific "practices" I have in mind, I'm talking about any and all that conflict with our Lutheran theology of worship - singing of "praise songs," replete with false doctrine, led by the "praise band," which is located in front (or, in place) of the altar; testimonials, drama skits, and motivational messages in place of Lutheran preaching; an informal, "party" atmosphere in place of the awe and reverence which should be a given when in the presence of our Lord, and so forth.

    I readily admit that my own personal experience may be getting in the way of being objective here, but I have seen attempted exactly what Fr. Curtis is suggesting, and it doesn't work. It's just awful, really, and I think it's much worse than when a congregation just forsakes the liturgy completely and goes full-bore contemporary. At least, then, the schizophrenia and confusion is gone and people know exactly what the congregation is confessing about their understanding of worship.

  12. Fr. Curtis,

    I don't think you can count the kinds of discussions you mention as serious, open and honest, synod-wide theological dialogue on this subject. Discussions, yes. Seriousness on the part of many participants, yes. But, not the kind of dialogue we need.

    As for the theological convocation on worship held this past January, the "accommodating" parameters were already set up in advance and prevented any kind of serious dialogue from having any kind of impact on our synod's understanding of worship from happening. The deck was already stacked against anything truly meaningful emerging from that little pow-wow.

    I'm not talking about gathering together to talk about this topic with pre-conceived assumptions already firmly in place. Of course such gatherings are pointless. I'm talking about going back to Scripture and our Confessions, putting down in black and white the theology of worship we find there, and analyzing the practices in our synod against the same. We have never really done that. You may have; I may have; many others may have (even groups of circuits or districts may have), but we've never really done that on a synod-wide basis (not since the "contemporary worship" movement has become en vogue, anyway). It may be too late for that, I fully realize, but I think it's worth a shot. I can dream, can't I? :)


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