(This is the final post of a five part series on worship in the LCMS.)
What is the future of the LCMS in the aftermath of the last two decades of worship wars within our church? I’m going to explain why I think that the worship wars might be coming to an end in less than 700 words even though, justly, it should require 700 pages.
Despite the continued worship wars within our synod I am fairly optimistic that in another generation these conflicts will subside and we will enjoy peace around a relatively uniform Divine Service. Why do I think this?
First, I am convinced that the vast majority of pastors and congregations in the synod do love the liturgy and the theology behind it. We are Lutherans. When we say “grace alone” we mean that God graciously blesses his church through the means of grace alone, not through human efforts or the emotional experiences postulated by American Evangelicalism. For a discussion of the worship theories of American Evangelicalism see my last four blogs.
Second, I am convinced that those who love the historic liturgy while at the same time flirting with the worship style of Evangelicalism will slowly come to realize that you can’t have it both ways. I know that I did. These Lutheran pastors and churches will recognize that the worship is receiving the gifts of God offered in the gospel. They will reaffirm that the gospel does not need the embellishment of zippy attention getting pop tunes or well polished bands. We believe that the Gospel is God’s power unto salvation, not merely that it can be God’s power when it has popular music. Most importantly our church will rightly conclude that the historic liturgy is simply the best instrument we have in carrying the gospel to God’s assembled people.
Third, I am convinced that our synod is beginning to see American Evangelicalism as a threat to the church. In years past Lutherans, rightly, were suspicious of all things uniquely Roman Catholic because we saw the Roman church as a threat to Christ. We are entering a time in which we will increasingly conclude the same about American Evangelicalism. We will see the damage it has done to us as a synod by the encroaching influence of Reformed theology and without any force or any convention resolutions we will avoid any appearance of Evangelicalism. In short we will reclaim our rich Lutheran heritage.
Fourth, I am convinced that in the near future we will be blessed with leadership at the highest levels of the synod which actually attempts to unite our church rather than divide it. What is needed is not a compromise between two different styles but a candid discussion which is intended to bring about the type of worship uniformity which we used to have and desperately need to have. This will mean that some will have to sacrifice things they love while others will have to tolerate things they dislike. The result will be too broad for some and two narrow for others but both for the sake of love will agree. This can happen only if all sides in the worship wars have confidence in leadership which makes uniformity and unity happen. I am convinced that the synod is ready for that leadership.
Fifth, I am convinced that the number of pastors and congregations which have discarded the liturgy entirely is really not that large. Surveys indicate that less than 5% of the synod uses no hymnal at all. Of course a huge percentage of the new missions in many district use no hymnal and that is a serious problem that profoundly affects our future peace and unity. But the makeup of the synod is still liturgical in the whole. This small number of congregations would not likely agree to a process which actually attempts to achieve peace through unity and worship uniformity and would most likely leave the church if such a process were to take place. That leaving would be tragic but probably necessary. Walking together is only possible for those willing to place limits on their own freedom.
Will all this happen? I actually believe it will. But it will require honest and trusted leadership. But that is the topic of another story.