Friday, April 26, 2013

Call for Sermons!

By Larry Beane

As I mentioned last fall, I am the sermons editor of the print journal (to which you must subscribe in order to be sanctified, as Gerhard said so long ago - I'll leave the citation to Fr. Curtis), and I am always on the lookout for good homiletical material to publish in Gottesdienst.

The next issue we will be working on is the Michaelmas issue.  Michaelmas is the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel (September 29), and it breaks up the post-Trinity season into two parts - which works well for a quarterly journal.

So if you are a pastor and have a gem of a sermon that was preached in the latter half of Trinity/Pentecost - after Michaelmas, or if you have heard or read a sermon that you think would be of benefit to our readers, please send it to me at as soon as possible.

If you have other sermons from different times of the church year, I would also be more than happy to review them and hold them until the appropriate season.

And thank you, dear readers, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, dear confessors and defenders of the faith! Thank you for your prayers, your kind words of encouragement, and for reading and supporting Gottesdienst and for courageously defending the liturgical proclamation of the Gospel of Christ crucified unto the forgiveness of sins.  Your defense of the Evangelical Catholic liturgical tradition and its preaching, catechesis, and confession today will serve generations yet unborn.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Squandering the Treasure

By Larry Beane

One of the official publications of one of our LCMS Districts reports that a retired pastor has just been given an honorary doctorate from one of the Concordia universities owing to the fact that under his leadership, his congregation's music "transitioned from the emphasis on traditional music and added a more Gospel oriented genre."

Speaking as an adult convert to Lutheran Christianity from a different tradition, I will unequivocally state my own opinion that there is nothing more "Gospel oriented" than the traditional hymnody from our Lutheran tradition.  But my opinion pales with the historical and cultural importance of that of Rosa Young, the heroic 20th century black Lutheran who founded many Lutheran churches here in the South following the emancipation of the former slaves.  Miss Young wrote concerning our traditional Lutheran hymnody:

“Those words of praise to Jesus and the sweet German melodies made a lasting impression upon my heart. I thought then, and still think to this day, that the Lutheran melodies are the sweetest in the world. Give me my Lutheran melodies.”  

This contrasted with the non-Lutheran hymnody that she described thus: 

“They praise noise; they applaud and approve noise. If one wishes to succeed…he must be noisy. The more noise he makes, the more quickly he will succeed. One has to be a real novelist, keeping something new before them all the time.” 

And again she praises traditional Lutheran worship as a "quiet, decent, orderly service" that causes the "Word of God [to be] sown in their hearts.”

The Lutheran Church is often called "The Singing Church" and Lutheran hymns are known for their theological rigor and their unequivocally Evangelical and Christocentric nature.  Our hymns are nothing other than the Gospel set to music - and that is our tradition from the ancient Gregorian chants, our 16th century chorales, and our modern hymns from within our formidable tradition.

In fact, our musical tradition is one of the greatest treasures that we have in our churches.  Invariably, churches that deviate from that traditional hymnody veer off into the shallowness, legalism, and self-centeredness of pop ditties at best, and heresy and false doctrine at their worst.

But we are now seeing our university system rewarding this abandonment of the most Gospel-oriented hymnody in Christendom with honorary doctorates, and an official organ of our church body calling this kind of thing a "more Gospel oriented genre" than "traditional music."

What a sad betrayal of the legacy of Rosa Young.

For more information about this remarkable Lutheran, see this post by the Rev. Walter Otten, as well as Miss Young's autobiographical Light in the Dark Belt.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

On Renovation

My dear colleague, Fr. Mark Surburg, and I have been corresponding of late regarding certain aspects of sanctification, namely, what the dogmaticians term renovation. He has a thoughtful piece on it here. We are both somewhat mystified that there seems to be controversy on this point in today's Lutheranism. To Fr. Surburg's thoughtful piece I will simply add a summary and an invitation to read through the full context of these quotations from the Scripture, the Confessions, and the dogmaticians. I don't think this should be a terribly controverted article in Lutheran circles.


Thesis. Christians are called to grow in the renewed life, in faith, in love, and in all good works. This renovation is a struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil using the means God provides us for such struggles in His Word and Sacraments. The renewed Christian's will and mind are active in this struggle, though in great weakness, as the Christian cooperates with the Holy Spirit using the new powers granted by the same Spirit in Baptism.

1 Timothy 4:15 Practice these things, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress.

Ephesians 4:15 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ

2 Thessalonians 1:3 3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.

2 Peter 3:18 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:15 But our hope is that as your faith increases.

Colossians 1:9-10 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-12 For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, 10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith? 11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you,

2 Peter 1:5-10 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.

Philippians 1:25-26 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

Large Catechism, 3rd Art. Of Creed.
Therefore it is given for a daily pasture and sustenance, that faith may refresh and strengthen itself so as not to fall back in such a battle, but become ever stronger and stronger. 25] For the new life must be so regulated that it continually increase and progress; 26] but it must suffer much opposition. . . . Thus, until the last day, the Holy Ghost abides with the holy congregation or Christendom, by means of which He fetches us to Christ and which He employs to teach and preach to us the Word, whereby He works and promotes sanctification, causing it [this community] daily to grow and become strong in the faith and its fruits which He produces.

Chemnitz, Examen, vol 1, 538
The testimonies of Scripture are clear, that the renewal of the new man, as also the mortification of the old, is not perfect and complete in this life but that it grows and is increased day by day until it is perfected in the next life, when this corruptible will have put on incorruption.1

Chemnitz, Examen, vol 1, 539-40
For also the new obedience of the regenerate is honored in Scripture with the title “righteousness” (Rom. 6:13, 18; Eph. 4:24; 2 Cor. 9:9, 10; Heb. 11; I John 2:29). And there is no doubt that this newness can and should grow and increase in this life.2

Chemnitz: Examen, vol 1, 424
It is a far different thing to speak of the powers or faculties of the mind, will, and heart of man before conversion, before he has begun to be healed and renewed through the Holy Spirit, than when once he has begun to be healed and renewed. For then, through the gift and operation of the Holy Spirit, there are present and follow new movements in the mind, will, and heart. Also the healing and renewal itself is not such a change which is immediately accomplished and finished in a moment, but it has its beginnings and certain progress by which it grows in great weakness, is increased and preserved. But it does not grow as do the lilies of the field, which neither labor nor worry; but in the exercises of repentance, faith, and obedience, through seeking, asking, knocking, endeavoring, wrestling, etc., the beginnings of the spiritual gifts are retained, grow, and are increased, as in Luke 19:13 the Lord commands with respect to the talents delivered to the servants, that they be not buried in the ground, but He says: “Trade with these till I come.” And in this sense Paul uses the very beautiful word ἀναζωπυρεῖν (“rekindle”): “Rekindle the gift of God that is in you” (2 Tim. 1:6). And because we must begin with the Word and learn from the Word about the will of God and about the working of the Spirit, there is no doubt that, when the Word is read, heard, and pondered and a man conceives the purpose and the desire to apply it to himself, when he wrestles with carelessness, lack of faith, and stubbornness, etc., these are true workings and operations of the Holy Spirit, even though they may often be so hidden by reason of great infirmity that the presence and working of the Holy Spirit is not perceived with any ardent feeling. There certainly one must judge not from his feeling but from the Word.3

(Quotations from other Lutheran dogmaticians collected from Schmid's Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.)

QUEN. (III, 632) thus discriminates renovation from regeneration and justification: “Renovation differs (aAs to the efficient cause. Regeneration and justification are actions of God alone; renovation is indeed an action of God, but not of God alone, for the regenerate man also concurs, not in his own strength, but through divinely granted power. (bAs to the subject. Man altogether dead in sins is the subject of regeneration. The sinner, indeed, is the subject of justification, Rom. 4:5,17, yet one recognizing his sins and believing in Christ; but the subject of renovation is man already justified. (cAs to the object. Regeneration is occupied with the production of faith; justification with imputable righteousness; renovation with inherent righteousness. (dAs to the form. Regeneration consists in the bestowment of spiritual life, and a transfer from a state of wrath to a state off grace; justification in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness; but renovation in a reformation of the mind, will, and affections, and so of the whole man, or in a restoration of the divine image, commenced in this life and to be completed in the next. (eAs to the properties. Both regeneration and justification are instantaneous; renovation is progressive, from day to day.” GRH. (VII, 294): “Regeneration, properly so called, like carnal generation, does not admit of degrees. But renovation does, because the interior man is renewed from day to day.” “(fAs to the order. Regeneration precedes justification, and justification precedes renovation. Renovation is related to justification as an effect to a cause, and follows it, not in the order of time, but of nature. Therefore Paul does not use these words indiscriminately. Tit. 3:5.”

BR. (607), (representing renovation more as a state): “Renovation is a combination of spiritual acts which the regenerate man, God assisting graciously by His Word and Sacraments, puts forth by means of the spiritual strength afforded him as to his intellect, will, and sensual appetite, in order to destroy the remains of sin, and to acquire greater sanctity, in the way of salvation, to the glory of God.”

HOLL. (553): “The remains of sin are the starting-point of renovation, i.e., those remaining in justified men, after illumination, conversion, and regeneration, and which are to be abolished, by daily renovation, that they may be diminished and suppressed, although they cannot in this life be entirely eradicated; to wit, some defect of the spiritual powers on the part of the intellect in regard to knowledge, on the part of the will to the pursuit of spiritual good, on the part of the sensual appetite to obey the higher faculties, together with a proclivity of these faculties of the soul to evil. . . . The form of renovation consists in the expulsion of mental errors and the illumination of the mind, Col. 3:10Rom. 12:2; in the rectification of the will and the renewing of righteousness and true holiness, Eph. 4:24; in the restraining of the appetites inclined to evil; in the purity and chastity of the affections; in 490the employment of the members of the body in works of righteousness, Rom. 12:1; in the subduing of the dominion of sin, Rom. 6:1319.”

[5] HOLL. (955): “As the body of sin in process of time is more and more weakened by the regenerate man, so the regenerate man is transformed more and more into the image of God from glory to glory by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:184:16). The body of sin, Rom. 6:6, is called figuratively the old man, as it is a compound of many sins, as of parts and members. As formerly criminals were affixed to the cross, and their limbs bruised, mortified, buried, and corrupted, so successively the old man is crucified when the desires of his flesh are restrained and as if bound; he is bruised, 1 Cor. 9:27, so far as the flesh is kept under, the external pleasures of this world being removed; being bruised, he is mortified, Rom. 8:13, so far as the strength to emerge is taken from sin; mortified, he is buried, Rom. 6:4, inasmuch as the memory and the thought of illicit things are removed; buried, he corrupts, so that the entire body of sin is abolished, here inchoatively and continuously, in the life to come completely, Rom. 6:6.” Renovation is therefore to be considered a continually progressive action both on God’s and on man’s part.

 QUEN. (III, 636): “Renovation in this life is partial and imperfect, admitting degrees, and therefore it never attains the highest acme of perfection. For sin remains in the regenerate, affects their self-control, the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and therefore our renovation progresses from day to day, and is to be continued through life, 2 Cor. 4:16. The want of perfection in renovation does not arise from the impotency of God, who renews, but form the incapacity of man, who is the recipient of the divine action.” It can therefore have augmentations and diminutions. QUEN. (III, 636): “Renovation is increased by godly acts and frequent efforts. These being intermitted or diminished, a diminution follows, so there is at one time an increase, at another a decrease. The Holy Scriptures expressly affirm that the renovation of the regenerate in this life ought continually to increase and grow, Eph. 4:16.”


Monday, April 22, 2013

Lift High the Christ, His Flesh and Blood Proclaim

Here is Part IX of my ACELC free conference paper (16 April 2013).  It is one of the sections that I omitted in my presentation of the paper, because of time constraints.  The entire paper will be made available on the ACELC website.

[There is one] particular ceremony, or pair of ceremonies, [that] needs to be considered, because it touches upon a decisive theological point.  Here I refer to the Elevation and the Adoration of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar.  Actually, more time and attention should be given to this topic than this paper can afford, but for now, if nothing else, let us have it on the table for discussion.

The Elevation of the Sacrament occurs after each of the elements is consecrated with the Word of the Lord.  Thus, after Christ has spoken, “This Is My Body,” His Body is lifted up by the celebrant at the Altar, in and with the consecrated Bread, in order that all may see it; and all are thus invited to adore the Lord in His Body.  In the same way also, after Christ has spoken, “This Is the New Testament in My Blood,” the Chalice is lifted up for all to see, that all may adore the Lord in His Blood.

Luther dealt with questions concerning the Elevation and the Adoration of Christ in the Sacrament throughout his lifetime as a reformer.  His attitude and criteria remained consistent, but were applied somewhat differently in the advice that he gave, depending on the particulars of each situation and its immediate context.  Bear in mind that he had to confront competing challenges on either side: Roman sacrificial notions, and the adoration of the Host apart from the Holy Communion, on the one hand; and Zwinglian denials of the Sacrament altogether, on the other hand.

Because of its associations with the Roman sacrificial Mass, Luther was at first inclined to do away with the Elevation.  However, several considerations led him to preserve the practice, and to defend it against critics and detractors: First, he wanted to exercise patience and care for the piety of the people, lest they be scandalized by such a dramatic change at the highest point of the Divine Service.  Second, he recognized that the Elevation could be understood evangelically, as a commending of the Body of the Christ to the communicants.  For this very reason, Luther notably retained the Elevation in both his Latin and German Masses, describing it as a proclamation of Christ in the Sacrament, and as a gracious invitation to eat and to drink His Body and His Blood for the forgiveness of sins.

As a third and final reason for retaining the Elevation, Luther set himself in opposition to Karlstadt and others, who insisted that the practice was contrary to the Gospel and to the Holy Scriptures, and that it therefore had to be abolished.  Here, as previously mentioned, Luther insisted on its freedom.

It was not Luther, but his own pastor, Johnannes Bugenhagen, who finally did away with the Elevation in Wittenberg (in the late 1530s).  He did so while Luther was away, and there are some indications that Luther was unhappy with this change in practice, especially because there were many people who then perceived it to be a capitulation to Zwinglianism.  In any case, Luther consistently supported Pastor Bugenhagen, and he did not publicly object to the change in ceremony.  Although he mentioned on occasion the possibility of restoring the Elevation to the Liturgy in Wittenberg, that did not happen.

Toward the end of his life, Luther indicated that it would be just as well for the Elevation to be let go from the practice of the churches; not because he was opposed to it, but for the sake of unity among the Lutheran territories, since many of them had already done away with this ceremonial practice.

In considering the Elevation of the Sacrament, it has to be taken into account what a prominent and visible part of the Roman Mass this practice was, and what a volatile issue it became in the context of the Reformation.  In that light, it is actually remarkable that the Lutherans kept it at all, and for so long.  That this continuation of the practice was not solely as a consolation for the weak, nor simply a matter of polemics against the Zwinglians, is demonstrated by a similar but slightly different practice that developed in some of the Lutheran territories of the Sixteenth Century.  In those places, the Body and Blood of Christ were elevated before the people at the Pax Domini, the pastor facing the people with the Host and the Chalice in his hands.  Evidently there was also a rite that would sometimes accompany this new ceremony, drawing upon the words of Luther from one of his writings against Karlstadt: “Look, dear Christian, here are the Body and Blood of your Lord Jesus, which He gives to you for the forgiveness of sins.”  In some cases, this new ceremony was used in addition to the historic Elevation.  Both practices were understood as a strong confession of the Body and Blood of Christ.

With or without the Elevation, as far as Luther himself was concerned, and for other Lutherans after him, there still remained the Adoration of Christ in the Sacrament; although this practice became controversial among the Lutherans, mainly after Luther’s death, in connection with a receptionist trend in Melanchthon and his followers.

The “Adoration,” here, refers specifically to bending the knee (or genuflecting) at the consecration of the Sacrament.  That is to say, it is the bodily worship of Christ, the Lord our God, in His Sacrament.

“Receptionism” is the view that Christ is not present in the bread and wine, except in the actual eating and drinking of the elements.  This view developed with Melanchthon, and continued after him, on the basis of Aristotelian philosophy (or, rather, on a misunderstanding of Aristotle’s “four causes”).  Especially as Melanchthon grew closer to John Calvin, in the years after Luther had died, he and others would make disparaging remarks about “bread worshipers,” referring to those (such as Luther!) who adored the Lord Jesus Christ in His Sacrament.

Luther, in his lifetime, explicitly answered the receptionist position, along with its implications for the celebration of the Sacrament, especially in a couple of letters that he wrote to a Pastor Wolferinus.  Therein he indicated that the proper “use” of the Sacrament, in accordance with the Lord’s Institution, begins with the consecration of the elements (with the Verba Domini) and continues until everything has been consumed.  Within that breadth of “use,” as Luther describes, the bread is the Body of Christ Jesus, and the wine is the Blood of Christ Jesus, exactly as the same Lord Jesus Christ has spoken in the consecration: “This Is My Body,” and “This Is My Blood.”  Therefore, we eat and drink because the Holy Supper is the Body given and the Blood poured out for us.  Likewise, everything is consumed, in keeping with the Word of Christ: “Eat,” and “Drink.”  None of the elements that He has consecrated with His Word should be returned to common usage, nor simply “disposed of.”

The Lutherans of the Sixteenth Century (and well beyond) followed Luther’s lead in this regard, and took these matters quite seriously, as the various Lutheran Church Orders (and several controversies) make plain.  In fact, church practices emulated Luther’s “consecrationist” position, in spite of the growing entrenchment of Melanchthon’s “receptionism” in subsequent generations.  Regrettably, the Formula of Concord, in its article on the Lord’s Supper, has frequently been interpreted through the filters of those later developments, and has therefore been misunderstood in a “receptionist” manner.

As regards the Adoration, in particular, the Formula of Concord has likewise been misunderstood.  On the surface, it would seem as though the Formula rejects this ceremony, when it explicitly disavows the adoration of the bread and wine.  However, that particular “antithesis” is actually confessed in response to those (including Melanchthon) who had accused the Lutherans of “bread worship,” as mentioned earlier.  The point is made, precisely because Luther himself, and many others, did adore the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament, while yet distinguishing His sacred flesh and blood from the creaturely elements of bread and wine, which do of course remain in the Holy Communion.

It is especially clear that the Adoration is actually defended and affirmed, when one compares the Formula of Concord on this point with the corresponding section of the Examination of the Council of Trent, by Martin Chemnitz (a primary author of the Formula).  For “no one except an Arian heretic can or will deny that Christ Himself, true God and Man, who is truly and essentially present in the Supper when it is rightly used, should be adored in Spirit and in Truth in all places but especially where His community is assembled” (FC/SD VII.126).  As Luther had also written in 1544: “In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, which is deserving of honor and adoration, the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present, proffered, and received both by the worthy and by the unworthy” (LW 34: 355).

Saturday, April 20, 2013

What Does This "High Church" Mean?

Owning the "High Church" label, for a little while, without quibbling over its semantic baggage:

A high view of the Church, as I have said before, goes hand-in-hand with a high view of Christ.  A "High Church" attitude and approach to the Liturgy and worship derives from a particular view of life before God, which finds its central focus and clarity in the Reconciliation of Christ Jesus, the Atonement of His Cross, and the Justification of His Resurrection from the dead.  It is with profound gratitude to God for this Gospel, for this grace in which we stand, that we draw near — through the flesh and blood of Jesus, by His Word and Holy Spirit — and, in reverent awe, that we approach the receiving and the handing over of His good gifts.

"High Church" is typically characterized by, and is usually identified with, a certain quantity and quality of formal ceremonial (admittedly ambiguous in its contours, but everyone evidently knows it when they see it).  Despite that common stereotype, however, outward ceremonies are not the chief or definitive concern; they are not the heart of the matter, nor are they decisive; leastwise not for a "High Church" Lutheran.

A high view of the Church, deriving from a high view of Christ, our Savior, approaches the Divine Liturgy and Christian worship with confidence and conviction concerning the following eight axioms (I'm calling them axioms, because I'm not sure what else to call them, but "axiom" has the right sort of orthodox ambiance):

1. The sufficiency, power, and authority of the Word of God, the Law and the Gospel, for repentance and faith, forgiveness, and life everlasting in Christ.

2. The centrality of the Holy Sacraments for the faith and life of the Church: Holy Baptism as foundational; Holy Absolution as a continuing exercise of the significance of Holy Baptism; and the Holy Communion as the heart and center of the Body.

3. The goodness of Creation, and of the body, especially in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus, who is the fulfillment of the first creation and the Firstfruits of the New Creation.

4. The catechetical character and liturgical purpose of Preaching, which is always proclaiming repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Jesus' Name, in order to bring disciples to and from the Font, to and from the Altar, in the worthiness of repentant faith.

5. The evangelical definition of the Office of the Holy Ministry, which in all things (including the exercise of Church discipline) aims at the forgiveness of sinners with the Gospel of Christ Jesus.

6. The "meet, right, and salutary" appropriateness of thanksgiving and praise, of worship and adoration, with "hearts and hands and voices," with body and soul together, and with lips that are opened by the Word and Spirit of Christ to confess and call upon His Holy Name, to the Glory of His God and Father.

7. The gracious Word and work of Christ Jesus, our merciful and great High Priest, who ever lives to make intercession for us at the right hand of the Father, and who also serves His Church on earth with His Divine Liturgy of the Gospel.

8. The unity, holiness, and catholicity of the Church in Christ Jesus, who is with her in each time and place, not only with His Spirit and Divinity, but also with His Body and true Manhood, wherever He calls and gathers His disciples together "in His Name," in the preaching and administration of His Holy Gospel.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Divine Liturgist and the First Worshiper of God

Here is Part I of my ACELC free conference paper (16 April 2013).
The entire paper will be made available on the ACELC website.

At the center is the Lamb upon His throne; Who was slain, and yet, behold, He lives.

He is the King of Glory, the one true God in the Flesh.  He is the almighty and eternal Son, begotten of the Father from eternity, but now also true Man, conceived and born of the Woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Under Pontius Pilate, He was crucified for our transgressions.  But His Father also raised Him from the dead for our justification, and seated Him at His right hand.  He lives and reigns to all eternity in His own glorious Body of flesh and blood.  In Him, the fullness of God is embodied: His two natures, divine and human, are perfectly and permanently united in His one indivisible Person.

God and Man are perfectly reconciled and permanently united in Him, the Lamb of God and the Lion of Judah in One: He is the Seed of Abraham and the Son of David.  In this one Lord Jesus Christ, in His Person and His work, the Lion and the Lamb lie down and rise up together, unto everlasting life.

The transcendence and immanence of God are thus resolved and held together in His one Body, crucified and risen.  For He is true God, exalted and glorified, and all things are put beneath His feet.  But He is also Immanuel, the God who is with us, who is the true Man, who lives and abides in the flesh forever, closer than a brother.  For He is not only like us, but He has drawn near to us, and given Himself for us, in order to save us, to make us His own Bride, to wed us to Himself as one flesh and bone, and of one blood, in such a profound and intimate way that even death shall never part us.

He is the New Adam, and we are His New Eve, given life from His wounded side, and given to Him by the Father in peace and love.  He is the Husband of one Wife, His Holy Church; and He is the Head of His Body, the household and family of God, in heaven and on earth.  He is our Strength and our Song, for He is our Life and Salvation.  In Him, the true and only God is very present and at work, revealing and giving Himself to us: in, with, and through His own human nature, His flesh and blood.

Our foremost interest, emphasis, and concern, therefore, in approaching the Divine Liturgy and true spiritual worship, is the Person and work of Christ Jesus.  Not only historically, but here and now in the Life of His Church.  For He is both the Subject and the Object of the Liturgy and of worship.

That is to say, not only is He what the Liturgy and worship are about; and not only is He the Content of the Divine Liturgy and of Christian worship; but He Himself is the Liturgist (the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament Priesthood with its liturgy), and He is the first and foremost Worshiper of the Father (the true Man, who is the very Image and Likeness of God, who lives in perfect faith and love).

Having come down from the Father in love, He is lifted up and returns to the Father in peace.  He has descended from heaven, even into the depths of our sin and death, in order to ascend with us in tow.  He is the Apostle of the Father, who is sent to us from the bosom of the Father, in order to make God known to us.  And He is the Author, Perfecter, and High Priest of the Christian faith, who has been sacrificed and slain for us, who ever lives to intercede for us before the Throne of God.  He is the one Mediator between God and Man, in whom the Father comes to us and we are brought to the Father.

Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the finish, and He loves them forever.  What He has accomplished and completed by His Cross, and manifested in His Resurrection from the dead, He now distributes and bestows by His Gospel: to the ends of the earth, even to the close of the age.  His High Priesthood and His Liturgy continue forever.  Not only before the Father in heaven, but also in His Church, wherein He is the One who speaks and acts, who does and gives all good things.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Not missing anything...

The Boston interfaith service is here.


The post-Trinity Season

If you filled out the original CPH survey on the bulletins for the historical lectionary, you recently got an email asking how you handle the Trinity season. Whether you got that email or not, I've also put up the same questions for our readers in our latest poll at right.

I'm especially curious to hear of anyone who skips Sundays at the front end of the Trinity season - I have never encountered that and would like to know the history of it.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Contemporary Worship, the Anabaptists, and the Hindus

This article appeared in the Michaelmas 2011 print edition of Gottesdienst.  As promised in the most recent edition, it is being posted here for perusal, in response to a request in the Letters section.

I guess Father Braaten was right. Our development officer—no, really, we have one—has been telling us that what our readers are likely most interested in is the provision of some clarity in theological thought and basis for our incessant objections to contemporary worship. So I dutifully proceeded to attempt to put some meat on the bones of our insistence that when the style of one’s worship is not traditional, something is amiss. In the Trinity 2011 issue, I sought to demonstrate that contemporary worship was fundamentally Arminian in nature, and that the drumbeats of its praise bands sought to excite what for Jacob Arminius would be the natural will’s innate capacity to make the right choice and follow Jesus. And almost before the ink was dry, we started receiving a good number of positive replies, in accord with Father Braaten’s expectations.

And we also seem to have struck a nerve—again—among those who object. Somehow or other, we always manage rather unexpectedly to attract the attention even of people in the middle, people who themselves tend to eschew the crooning of the likes of “Christian music” artists Laura Story, or the Sidewalk Prophets, or countless other singers of praise songs, but who on the other hand wouldn’t want to charge those who like that kind of thing with false doctrine. We Gottesdiensters are the convenient straw men of extremism, easy targets for reproach among people who might be inclined to transform the currency of their “moderating” influence into coins of their own popularity. Without alleging that anyone in particular is actually guilty of that kind of thing—for we wouldn’t want to be judgmental or anything—I’d rather simply ask that our readers be aware that there is no shortage of caricatures of what we’ve been saying.

You’ve probably heard the canard: The Gottesdienster is a Nazi: a hard-nosed, self-congratulatory, self-assuredly pompous narcissist, in whose universe weakness is not tolerated, and certainly love is nowhere to be found. He’s incorrigible. You can’t reason with him, because his mind is made up. The Gottesdienster will bravely rush into a burning church to save the vestments before it occurs to him that there might be children or widows in there. Why doesn’t he just go to Rome, then, where he’d be much happier?

The truth is, the Gottesdienster is not really like that at all. Rome is not right for him either. The Gottesdienster cannot tolerate Rome’s mingling of love with faith before God any more than he can tolerate praise bands. The Gottesdienster really only wants one thing, though you’d never know it if you listen only to his opponents. All he wants is Jesus.

I’m reminded of the parenthetical remark, when Miriam and Aaron opposed Moses, that “Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3 KJV). Their objection, “Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us?” (v. 2) reads like a who-does-he-think-he-is? kind of objection. So here’s Moses, spokesman for God, and getting all kinds of grief for it; Moses, who had in the first place been a bit on the incorrigible side when the Israelites had done their golden calf dance routine. Was Moses a Gottesdienster? Seems so. I always wonder, when I get to the part about Moses’ meekness, about the fact that it was Moses himself who had written that, which therefore makes it come off a little as though he’s defending himself. This in turn might give me a little encouragement to defend the Gottesdienster, though it still seems treacherous at best, and unseemly at worst, to do so. Moses can get away with saying that, after all, since it is the Word of God that he’s writing; but in our case, it’s rather like saying, “No, no, we’re not arrogant, really we’re not.”

Then again, Moses wasn’t really boasting of his humility; he was defending his office. In calling himself meek (Hebrew, ענו: bowed down, afflicted, poor, humble, meek), Moses was—whether he knew it or not—indicating the Christological character of his office. Christ Himself was accused of arrogance (“By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?” St. Matt. 21:23 KJV), and yet was very meek: “he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8 KJV).

I can already see the eyes rolling: “You’re making yourself out to be Jesus now?” And in reply I’d say that as Moses did, we must defend our office. It is incumbent upon the preachers of the Gospel that they bear with patience the accusations against their person, while defending with vigilance their ministry against its accusers. After all, we’re just as sinful as anyone in our person, so go ahead and complain about the fact that we’re sinful: you won’t be telling us anything we don’t know. But it is our duty to proclaim Christ and His Gospel, and this sometimes means defending the Office.

So we are constrained, in submission to the office we bear, to speak out when Israel is tempted to dance around a golden calf. We’ll leave to others the question whether this means those who want to do the dancing are apostate—and no, we are not really saying that ourselves—we’re only pointing out what should be obvious. The dance itself is not compatible with pure faith.

Those who fashioned for themselves a golden calf did so because they grew tired of waiting for Moses’ return. Those who fashion new ways of worship do so because they have grown weary of waiting on God. They will object that this is what their heart is telling them to do, and we will reply that this is just the problem. And really, you must have a look at some of the videos of praise worship that our guys at Gottesdienst Online have chronicled, if you want to do some liturgical observing of your own, though of course it’s quite a stretch to call it liturgical. Their hearts are telling them to worship this way, to emote, to swoon over Jesus, to get carried away with the pleasure of the encounter. Luther’s German for a fanatic is Schwärmer, which also means one who rhapsodizes. Today’s Schwärmer close their eyes, they raise their hands, they sway, they carry on, they feel.

But their feelings are not telling them the truth. The truth is that Jesus does not approach you through the experiences of your heart, but through the office of Moses, through the ministry of the Gospel,

because we know that God approves this ministry, and is present in the ministry [that God will preach and work through men and those who have been chosen by men]. And it is of advantage, so far as can be done, to adorn the ministry of the Word with every kind of praise against fanatical men, who dream that the Holy Ghost is given not through the Word, but because of certain preparations of their own, if they sit unoccupied and silent in obscure places, waiting for illumination, as the Enthusiasts formerly taught, and the Anabaptists now teach. (Apol XIII, 12-13, Trig, 311, italics added)

See there? Melanchthon (author of that quote, from the Apology to the Augsburg Confession) was a Gottesdienster too. I guess we’re in good company.

More importantly, the Apology recognizes that it is false and pernicious to suppose that emotive worship experiences are what kindle and stoke faith. The whole purpose of the praise band genre is not to serve the Word of God, but to serve the heart. This is undoubtedly why its lyrics are so often banal and trivial, tending toward the personalization of faith experiences rather than the objective truths of the faith.

Consider, for example, these lyrics from the Sidewalk Prophets:

Three in the morning,
And I’m still awake,
So I picked up a pen and a page,
And I started writing,
Just what I’d say,
If we were face to face,
I’d tell you just what you mean to me,
I’d tell you these simple truths,

Be strong in the Lord and,
Never give up hope,
You’re going to do great things,
I already know,
God’s got His hand on you so,
Don’t live life in fear,
Forgive and forget,
But don’t forget why you’re here,
Take your time and pray,
These are the words I would say . . .

Space does not permit a more exhaustive demonstration; suffice it to say these lyrics are typical. They can be interpreted to be edifying and helpful in some sense, and they certainly aren’t in themselves harmful. No false doctrine here, certainly. But not much else, either; especially, that is, when the music is stripped away. If standing alone, the lyrics suffer; they need the support of the music to make their listeners appreciate them. And that, it turns out, is just the nature of the kind of music to which they always tend to wed themselves. The music is beyond Romantic. It elicits emotion like an Italian opera might, although an entirely different genre: if you don’t know the language, it may not matter.

What matters to these practitioners is participation in a kind of reaching out, of feeling the Lord’s touch, in a very nonsacramental way. What matters is the encounter, the moment of illumination, unoccupied with doctrine, wrapped in the relative obscurity that is common to many popular lyrics.

As in much popular song, the meaning of the lyrics is made intentionally somewhat obscure to the hearer. I’m reminded of Tom Hanks’s brilliant offhand quip, in the movie You’ve Got Mail, about the sixties folk song “Both Sides Now”: “I could never be with someone who likes Joni Mitchell. ‘It’s cloud illusions I recall/I really don’t know clouds at all.’ What does that mean? Is she a pilot? Is she taking flying lessons? It’s probably a metaphor for something, but I don’t know what.” Obscurity in the lyrics of popular songs became fashionable in the sixties and seventies, about the same time Contemporary Christian music was born.
Although praise lyrics are generally not nearly so obscure, their lack of specificity regarding specifically Christian truth makes them just as suitable as vehicles of the emotional surge they seek to elicit in their hearers. Most of them could as easily be sung by Buddhists or Muslims. Consider, for example, these Laura Story lyrics, from “There Is Nothing”:

Lord I come before You
To honor and adore You
For who You are and all that You have done
Lord I am not worthy
My heart is dark and dirty
Still somehow You bid for me to come

So clothe me in humility
Remind me, that I come before a King

And there is nothing
There is nothing
More precious, more worthy
May I gaze deeper
May I stand longer
May I press onward to know You Lord

Such nonspecificity might be fine when you’re listening to, say, “Quitting Time” by the Roches, who make no pretentions about being anything other than entertainers. When this is employed as an ostensible vehicle for the faith, however, it becomes a problem. It becomes the fruits of the Anabaptist who dreams that the Holy Ghost is given not through the Word, but because of certain preparations of his own.

Remember the old George Harrison song “My Sweet Lord”? Consider these lyrics:

I really want to know you
Really want to go with you
Really want to show you lord
That it won’t take long, my lord (hallelujah)

My sweet lord (hallelujah)
Hm, my lord (hallelujah)
My sweet lord (hallelujah)

Anything objectionable there? Of course not, in fact it sounds rather indistinguishable from the kind of thing you might hear from a praise band. Unless, that is, you happen to know about the background singers’ prayer that comes in later in the song: “hare Krishna, hare Krishna, krishna Krishna, hare hare, Gurur Brahma, Gurur Vishnu, Gurur Devo, Maheshwara, Gurur Sakshaat, Parabrahma, Tasmayi Shree, Guruve Namah, Hare Rama, hare Krishna . . .”

And that, dear friends, comes from the Bhagavad-Gita, a seminal poem that forms the basis of Hinduism. Repetition of the mantra is said to be the “sublime method for reviving our Krishna consciousness” ( Here’s the explanation of the mantra from

As living spiritual souls we are all originally Krishna conscious entities, but due to our association with matter from time immemorial, our consciousness is now polluted by material atmosphere. In this polluted concept of life, we are all trying to exploit the resources of material nature, but actually we are becoming more and more entangled in her complexities. This illusion is called maya, or hard struggle for existence for winning over the stringent laws of material nature. This illusory struggle against the material nature can at once be stopped by revival of our Krishna consciousness.  (

No Christian should have any difficulty recognizing the odious character of that kind of thinking, but how many would recognize it for what it is if it’s left in the background, untranslated, while the banal English lyrics are made the heart of this popular song? In fact, Gospel singer BeBe Winans took this very song and removed the Krishna references and added in their place, “You’re the Mighty One, You’re the Prince of Peace, You’re the First and the Last, You’re the Great I AM, and the Precious Lamb,” as though that would somehow baptize this song for use among Christians. And for many, that sort of thing works just fine, because it’s all really about the mood anyhow, about making the experiential connection with Jesus.
And this provides opportunity to address again a central failure of the contemporary worship mentality to understand that the means of grace are not the experiences of the Christian, but the words of the Holy Gospel.

This gets to the heart of that quotation from the Apology about fanatical men who dream that the Holy Ghost comes to them if they sit and wait for illumination. “Fanatics” have the theological problem of failing to recognize that the real point of contact that a Christian has with God is only the Word of God, and of replacing that link with personal experience. And when personal experience, particularly when that experience is tied to emotion, becomes the driving force in determining the legitimacy of one’s views, it can be a very dangerous thing indeed. The self-control of which the apostle Paul speaks is particularly the control of one’s emotions: the Greek enkrateia (ἐγ + κράτεια) is derived from krateia: strength. Self-mastery has to do with keeping oneself constrained; that is, with keeping the emotive drives in check.

This is not to say that emotion has no place in worship; on the contrary, worship of the noblest kind can be very emotional, since the comfort of the Gospel is bound to have an effect on the depths of one’s soul; and hence it is all the more necessary to take great care to distinguish worship centered in the Gospel itself from worship centered in the emotions. The latter kind, when called Christian, is nothing more than a Trojan horse in which enters the mischief of a false faith rooted in something other than the Word of God.

So then, not only is true faith at odds with the natural will (as this column sought to demonstrate in the previous issue), it is also inseparably bound to the Word of God. Christian faith is dependent upon the Gospel not only at its inception, but for its sustenance. The Gospel itself must form the heart and nucleus of all Christian worship, and therefore nebulous or simplistic emotional “encounters” cannot be allowed as replacements. Nor, then, can the kind of music that lends itself so easily to the repetition of Hindu mantras ever become compatible with what is truly Christian.

And maybe the reason Gottesdiensters tend to come off as so incorrigible is simply that we know this. And ironically, we know it instinctively: we recoil when we hear music that purports to be Christian but has that encounter-driven feel to it, or perhaps even if it has to much feel to it at all. We know the incompatibility from experience as well as from an awareness that the Word of God and faith must be wedded together. But what we have experienced is the fact that our own experiences are cheap imitations and poor substitutes for the riches of the Holy Gospel.

Hence we must not only insist on right worship—orthodox worship, that is—but on the Gospel. After all, we would be no happier with a dignified and well-ordered kind of worship than with a contemporary kind if both were devoid of the Gospel.  And heaven knows there are plenty of dignified worship forms that are devoid of the Gospel. In fact, this is the reason we don’t just go to Rome, or to Canterbury, or anywhere else. It’s because we want the Gospel in its purity, and the dignity of worship and form that such places afford is not really what we’re after. Where the Gospel is watered down by merits or personal satisfactions, it is as bad for us as where it is watered down by emotive vessels that belie its heart, which is always the mercy of Christ for unworthy sinners.

Yes, we want it all. We want right doctrine, and we want right worship. We want Lutheran substance and Lutheran style too. But in this, we do object to being called selfish, for we really only want what Jesus Himself wants us to want, which is Himself. Contemporary worship’s music is bound to the emotions; we’d prefer to be bound to the Gospel. We object because we understand what’s wrong with the Anabaptists (the fanatics, that is), namely, their divorce of faith from the Gospel. This is what leads them to replace that void with the emotions, and encounters; and this in turn is what leads them to prefer—unwittingly, of course—music that mimics the mantras of the Bhagavad-Gita. From this preserve us, Heavenly Father.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Great Art for the Historic Lectionary

About a month ago, we at Gottesdienst contacted CPH about the possibility of getting bulletins keyed to the Historic Lectionary with classic and excellent Christian artwork. The project was assigned to the same folks who gave us the wonderful Treasury of Daily Prayer. I, for one, am very excited about the prospect. I've priced out doing something similar at our local printer: 25 cents a copy and I'd have to find the art! In contrast, CPH bulletins run more in the 6 to 8 cent range.

At any rate: take the survey and let them know you are interested. 


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Incumbent Protection Act of 2010

It's hard not to revel in Schadenfreude when a politician whose policies you don't much like gets hoisted on his own petard. Such was the struggle against sinful glee we all had when Dr. Kieschnick got the majority of his incumbent protecting restructuring plan through the Synod only to be summarily defeated by Fr. Harrison. The sad spectacle of the president emeritus trying for a Nixonian comeback a few weeks ago was, well, sad.

The nominees for Synod President 2013 are out, and as many have been speculating, under the new three-man race rules, only one challenger is allowed to rise to the top. No more dark horses, possible voting bloc splits, etc. It's all nice and clean: the incumbent, the incumbent's 1st VP, and one challenger pushed by the opposition. Yet under the Incumbent Protection Act of 2010, the challenger is even more hampered than under the old system. In years past the challenger had around 1200 delegates to contact – a group of people with no previous existence. He and the incumbent would be reaching out to this group in the same way – mailings, and in these latter days, videos, emails, etc.

But now things have changed. There are ten times the delegates and the incumbent gets face time with them at district conventions for the year preceding the election. The challenger will never get to give a speech to all the delegates of any one district, let alone the dozens of such speeches the incumbent has given. How can this gap ever be closed?  Amazing things can be done with technology these days, but nothing beats pressing the flesh in politics, ecclesiastical or otherwise. The cost of direct mailing has increased by an order of magnitude.

DayStar did the smart thing, the only thing, under this new system: they suggested that folks of their persuasion nominate a DP from a big and diverse district who stands roughly in the middle of the road that is Missouri. He is probably not DayStar’s ideal candidate, but what can you do? The idea is that in our 53-47 Synod you only need to flip a small number of votes. The floor for each side's support is 47ish percent. How to flip those few other needed votes your way? On the issues? That's tricky. How do you know - especially in the new voting system - what the issues really are? We have ten times the electors now. Do you know what they think? Do you know how many of them will vote? Uncharted waters.

So you pick a DP from a big district and hope that some of the non-theological delegates from this big district who might have gravitated toward the incumbent will instead vote for the hometown kid. It might just be enough....

Will it work? And what will Dr. Maier's strategy be? Well, that assumes that he really wants to be a candidate. He may well just be doing his Synodical duty and letting his name stand to fill out the three spots. He may not want to lift a finger in any sort of campaign. If he does, it’s hard to imagine that he would follow Dr. K's lead and try to make hay out of Newtown.  Why not play it safe with standard MO boilerplate and maybe win it by running up the score in Michigan? But again, he may do nothing more than answer the official questions asked of him for the Synodical publications. DayStar will say what they want to say and spend what they want to spend without him, be assured. (And will JesusFirst reappear?)

Our prediction: President Harrison wins handily and we all see the proof that the Incumbent Protection Act of 2010 was very, very well designed by Team Kieschnick.

The Editors

Gerhard on preaching sanctification

How should we talk with our people about living a godly life? How should we encourage them to progress in godly living and yet not fall into works righteousness? We could start by just telling them about what the struggle is like. Gerhard does a good job, I think.

In the beginning the desire is more clouded, the assent more languid, the obedience less intense, and these gifts must increase. But they grow in us not like lilies of the field but by trying, wrestling, seeking, asking, knocking, and "this is not of ourselves; it is the gift of God.” The Savior says in Matt. 13:12, “It will be given to him who has.” Whoever has received very small spiritual gifts from God should acknowledge them with a grateful mind, asked that they be increased, and neglect no opportunities to advance in piety. To him it will be given that he may be the richer, but from him who does not have, that is, from him who behaves as if he had received nothing from God, even what he has will be taken away.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Contemporary Worship as Arminianism’s Latest Installment

This article appeared in the Trinity 2011 print edition of Gottesdienst.  As promised in the most recent edition, it is being posted here for perusal, in response to a request in the Letters section.

These days the debate over faith—that is, what produces faith in the heart—is making itself known in the worship wars, with a vengeance. What we are witnessing in the first part of the twenty-first century are, I believe, the logical result of being on the wrong side of this debate. When one does bad theology, the prescribed end is bad worship. The old saying is true: lex orandi, lex credendi. You show by the way you worship what you believe. And this has always been true. Faith alone saves, but faith is never alone: it expresses itself in worship. By faith Noah built an altar. So did Abram. By faith Abraham prepared to offer Isaac. By faith Israel insisted that he be buried in Canaan. By faith Moses took off his shoes, for the place where he stood was holy ground. By faith David desired to build a house for God. And so on. Faith works. And the works of faith are the evidence of faith. So also, faith worships: worship is work, since worship is not only God’s service to us, but also our returning of thanks and praise. So therefore like all the works of faith, the worship of faith is the evidence of faith. And there’s a corollary of this too: the way you worship can belie what you say you believe, if you don’t really believe it. As Jesus put it, Ye shall know them by their fruits (St. Matt. 7:20).

So here’s my thesis: the appearance of contemporary worship in Lutheran churches means that what is believed, taught, and confessed in those places is not really Lutheran theology at all, but something else.

Let’s look first at the difference between faith as we know it and faith as other Protestants know it. It’s not the same, although at first it looks the same. Protestants of all stripes have for generations been following Luther’s lead by insisting that faith alone is that which receives the grace of God for salvation, the medium leptikon, as the dogmaticians like to call it. A cursory glance at Wikipedia will demonstrate this quickly enough: “Presbyterian theology typically emphasizes the sovereignty of God, the authority of the Scriptures, and the necessity of grace through faith in Christ” (, s.v. “Presbyterianism,” my emphasis). “The Methodist presentation of sanctification includes the understanding that justification before God comes through faith.” “Baptists . . . subscribe to a theology of believer’s baptism (as opposed to infant baptism), salvation through faith alone, Scripture alone as the rule of faith and practice, and the autonomy of the local church” (ibid., s.v. “Methodism”).

But for these groups, as opposed to Lutheran theology, there has always been an asterisk. Faith alone saves, but for the Baptists, faith is at least in part a product of the will; for the Methodists, as Arminians, similarly free will contributes to saving faith. And for the Calvinists, although faith is said to be worked by grace alone, it is also sprinkled with a heavy dose of the need to acknowledge divine sovereignty.

What Lutheran theology brings to the table is a robust insistence, on the one hand, that faith alone, with a corresponding insistence upon grace alone, is what truly glorifies God alone. In dogmatic terms, sola fide and sola gratia, taken together, lead to soli Deo Gloria.

And if we fail to steer clear of the sirens of Arminianism, we might find ourselves on the rocky shoals of the liturgical shipwreck that is contemporary worship. Let’s put it this way: if you like contemporary worship, it means your theological ship did not steer. It isn’t a matter of taste. It’s a matter of faith. This is another way of saying the Divine Liturgy is not a matter of adiaphora, something we at Gottesdienst have been widely known and criticized for saying.

The Arminian Peril

If we should fall victim to the allurements of Arminian decision theology, and begin to believe that our own free will had something to do with our salvation, we might be overly inclined to seek ways to stir up the will while at worship, so that the will might make a worthwhile contribution to the equation. American history is full of this kind of thing, as you are probably well aware: from the tent meetings of the nineteenth century to Aimee Semple McPherson to The 700 Club. And now we have the next installment in the drumbeats of so-called “Christian music.” Not hymns, but songs: the Christian music genre which arose over a generation ago, led by a band consisting of such instruments as acoustic guitar, bass guitar, drum set, electronic keyboard, and a vocalist.

Contemporary worship is truly Arminian, because it means to excite the natural will, as Baptist spirituals have been seeking to do for a long time. The drum set epitomizes it, I believe, because it relates to what is innate and seeks to elevate it.

The drums amplify the beat, and the beat makes you want to dance, to get more fully in touch, as it were, with your animal instincts; to arouse your natural will.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with bodily participation in worship. After all, we encourage bowing, kneeling, the sign of the cross, etc. As God is incarnate, so our worship of Him ought to be reflected in our bodies. But this is different. There is a clear line which needs to be drawn between the bodily movements consciously made to honor God and the mere exercise of natural bodily movements as a reaction to a beat. The former is worship; the latter is not, and in fact can be inimical to worship, because it is a distraction. If my mind is drawn to the beat, then it is being drawn away from the heart of worship, which is Christ. So it is that a rhythm section belongs in a nightclub, a coffee shop, or a dance hall, but not in church.

Unless, that is, your church is laden with Arminian tendencies. For Arminius, the grace of God is said to restore man’s free will, enabling him to choose or refuse the salvation offered by God in Jesus Christ. God’s universal prevenient grace works upon all alike to influence them for good, but only those who freely choose to cooperate with grace through faith and repentance are given new spiritual power. As John Wesley said it, man is in fact totally corrupted by original sin, but God’s prevenient grace lets free will operate.

Thus the natural will—free will—is critical to the conversion of the heart to faith. For even if it is said to contribute only a small token of what is needed for the attainment of saving faith, that small token is what makes the difference between one who in the end believes and one who does not. So natural will is at the center of the equation; and hence the kindling of the will is of crucial importance to worship in the Arminian way.

So the drums and the beat, the keyboard and the vocalist—but especially the drums—are discovered as good things, helpful things. They are the match that ignites the will.

There is, of course, a certain grain of truth to the idea that the will must be kindled in worship. But what truly Christian worship seeks to do is to kindle the will of the new man, as St. Paul says, “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Eph. 4:23 KJV). There are two wills: the old and the new; the natural and the spiritual. St. Paul’s explanation of this is clear, as he cites the Prophet Isaiah: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:9-14 KJV). The trouble with the natural will is that it is unable to receive the Spirit of God, or want anything to do with it. Not only so, but, again as St. Paul says, “I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:21-23).

Since this is so, the matter of kindling the will in worship must be treated with care. There are two wills in the Christian. There is evil present alongside the regenerate mind. There is sin in our members. In worship, then, we must have an acute awareness of this: We do not want to excite the natural will, but the spiritual will.

Contemporary worship fails, because this is precisely what is wrong with it. By appealing to the baser instincts of man, it seeks to arouse the natural will. It arouses the wrong will.

But this is not to say we disparage all kinds of music that have a beat. The arousal of the natural will in natural matters is not at issue here: various forms of entertainment as entertainment are not the problem. It’s when we seek to blend them with spiritual things that confusion results. The natural will cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God. There is a disconnect. There must be a disconnect. Where there is not, it is because of a failure to understand  the radically gracious nature of faith. Arminianism is notorious for this failure, and therefore the effect of Arminianism on contemporary worship is palpable.

The Previous Manifestation of Arminianism among Us

Arminianism is also evident in the kind of evangelism efforts that were seen in our own church body not too long ago. In fact I think the worship wars are in a way the next incarnation of the same thing we saw mostly in the realm of evangelism a generation ago. What was awry in the Synod’s thinking about missions back then has now morphed into contemporary worship, which is just Arminianism’s latest episode. But you don’t have to go back a full generation to see the sirens’ former appearance. Even the previous synodical administration was fond of putting the onus of conversion on the evangelism efforts of the church. President Kieschnik used to be fond of the finger-snapping routine you might have seen: he’d start snapping his fingers, and then he’d say, “Every time I snap my fingers, another soul goes to hell,” which might make us wryly wonder why he doesn’t just stop snapping his fingers. His purpose—and the purpose of the Missouri Synod in convention for many conventions—was to fulfill the Great Commission. That is, we fulfill the Great Commission. We do this, we cooperate, we participate in making the grace of God a reality. A generation ago the chief manifestation of Arminianism in our midst was this odious evangelism overkill and fervor, a missionary zeal that was a bit tricky to argue with, since it’s true that the Church has a mission to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

But it’s not true that God is leaving the matter of anyone’s eternal salvation up to us. The grace of God is a sola kind of grace. That goes for conversion, and that also goes for missions. Nothing can be crafted in a way that suggests otherwise. Faith is sola gratia, and so also missionaries go forth sola gratia, by the grace of God alone. Of course we are all for the spreading of the Gospel, but we dare not forget that this is God’s work. The Holy Ghost is the active one, just as at Pentecost. They were all sitting in one place, and He came rushing in like a mighty wind. So it is today; it is no different. The Holy Ghost is as mighty as the tsunami that swept across the shorelines of Japan: nothing can stop it. Go ahead and try (I speak as a fool here: I’m not actually suggesting you become slothful). Say you failed in every way to spread the Gospel in your neighborhood. Say you were as lazy as you could be, sat on your hands all day, and did nothing, nothing at all. The Holy Ghost will still get His work done. He always does: the Word shall not return void. The mission work of the Church is the activity of the Holy Ghost, and it is blasphemy to suggest that we can fulfill what only He can do.

If we consider the Great Commission in context, we can see that it is not what your evangelism committee thought it was. First, the emphasis even in the commission itself was not on “go”—which does not even appear as a verb in the Greek, but as a participle (“going”), lessening the import of the word—but on “all nations”: the Gentiles were now at last also in view, whereas they were forbidden territory beforehand. Second, what really spread the Gospel, according to the Acts of the Apostles, were some events over which no man had control: Pentecost, an Old Testament feast, had brought proselytes from all nations to Jerusalem, and they just went back home believing. Meanwhile the Church, still clustered around Jerusalem, did not spring into evangelistic action, but was finally scattered by the first martyrdom, of St. Stephen. St. Paul’s missionary journeys were then to “establish” churches in the various Gentile places where communities of Christians were already beginning to form. Third, the commission was given to the apostles, and so they went forth preaching everywhere. But the rest of the people of the Church did not suddenly decide to go door to door with evangelism tracts. They showed forth the grace of God in their lives, to be sure, but not because they went around “witnessing” in the style of personal testimonies or Kennedy Evangelism programs. During the 1970s, the Missouri Synod imported the Kennedy program through a man named Leroy Biesenthal, who was the Synod’s evangelism director at the time. The Biesenthal program was said to “Lutheranize” the Kennedy program, since Kennedy was a Presbyterian, but the changes were scarcely noticeable. I remember thinking, during those days of the Evangelism Explosion as they called it, that if you saw two strangers approaching your front door, you knew they were either Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Mormons, or Missouri Synod Lutherans. I suppose we might add some Presbyterians or Methodists to that list, but I think they were mostly too wimpy to get that bold about their campaign. And for that matter, so were most Lutherans. Fortunately. Maybe they knew somehow that this wasn’t quite what the Catechism had taught them about faith and grace.

The Latest

So let’s bring this matter up to date. Today’s contemporary worship patterns have simply taken those efforts and brought them into the worship setting. This is the next generation, the next chapter in the Arminian playbook. Consider Rick Warren’s answer to the question, “How can we make the transition from a traditional worship service to a more contemporary one?”:

First, be sure that your congregation wants to grow in this way. How do you know they want this? My heart goes out to church members who are being alienated from their congregations because of music style or preference. Where are they supposed to go to church? Before your congregation can grow and work to fulfill the Great Commission, it must align itself with a philosophy and lifestyle of ministry. Once you’re on the same philosophical page, how worship is done won’t matter as much because your goals, not traditions, will be the focus. Then you can take the next step: determining the methods for growing and changing. (“Tips for churches transitioning from traditional to contemporary worship,” Issue #259: 5/17/2006 in Rick Warren’s Toolbox, at

It’s no question that contemporary worship is a change. What Warren makes clear is that it is the mark of a change in thinking. It’s carrying the overheated evangelism fervor into the church. It’s seeking to fire up the church to excite the wills of the people. It seeks to fire up the wills of Christians present, and to enkindle the wills of seekers. Arminian evangelism is at the core of contemporary worship’s goals, and they think their own earnest participation will make the difference in someone’s eternal soul. This is why their drums are beating. This is why they have imported elements of the popular music of baby boomers. They know just how popular it is, and they are supposing—falsely—that its popularity is now being translated into a kind of attractiveness for the Gospel. And they can suppose this because they think that free will has the capacity to decide for Jesus in the first place.

If we truly believe that faith is not dependent in any way on the natural will, then we should not worship in a way that suggests we want the natural will to take part. The new creation, formed by the Word of God, corresponds to a liturgical worship in which the words of faith are most prominent: words of Scripture, to which the music is handmaid, not master. Sacred music, whether it be Gregorian chant or a Bach chorale, is unanimous in seeking to quiet the natural will rather than to excite it. It desires to still the heart rather than accelerate its beating. Nor is it driven by the beating of drums but by the Gospel itself.

The formal and sublime nature of the Divine Service itself cries out, saying, our worship is ever mindful of the exclusively grace-filled nature of faith, and feels no need to panic about anything whatsoever, all finger snapping upon the damned notwithstanding; and it is also quite content with rote repetition. Take that. We want to repeat, again and again, that the precious words of the Gospel, and only these, are our life. We want to cry repeatedly for mercy, for we know that God is merciful toward them that fear Him; and has become incarnate, that He may win salvation for all by His innocent suffering and death, and distribute it freely to those who trust in His own saving name. What response could be a more appropriate way to express our gratitude to our gracious God than to adorn His gifts with the best kind of ceremony we know how to use? Processions, candles, chant, and devout dedication to the Divine Liturgy—by all of these we say to ourselves and to all the world that we are bound, with a voice of thanksgiving and praise, to the means of salvation which God has graciously appointed for us.

This lecture by Father Eckardt was presented at one of our Gottesdienst conferences, in Kansas City (Christ Lutheran Church, Platte Woods, March 18, 2011).