Another Letter to President Forke ““ The LCMS Leadership has Abandoned the Noble Request for Liturgical Uniformity, by Klemet Preus

Brother Forke,

Allow me a few words about the place of freedom in our discussion.

The idea of “Freedom” is very difficult for us to rise above. Question freedom or threaten to deprive someone of it and watch us squirm.

Years ago I sat down with my daughter and told her what I intended to give her to help with her college education. At the same time my ex-wife went to court against me to require me to pay for my daughter’s education. The requirement she sought was actually less than I had freely promised. My lawyer advised me not to bother contesting the action against me since I would be wasting money over something which did not cost me anything. I replied, “I understand the math of the situation. You need to understand my freedom. I refuse to be forced to do the right thing when I have every intention of doing it without force and I intend to do more than I am forced to do. I will not allow anyone to say that I was forced to do that which I ought to do without force and which I have always done without force.” That principled decision cost me no small amount of legal fees.

So I know what it is to challenge a person’s freedom. I know that others are just as stubborn as I in protecting their free rights either as fathers or as Christians.

But I would at the same time exhort the pastors and congregations who make up the Missouri Synod with the words which Luther spoke to the Christians in Livonia and which our synod approved and accepted by in 1995. “Each one surrender his own opinions and get together in a friendly way and come to a common decision about these external matters, so that there will be one uniform practice throughout your district instead of disorder – one thing being done here and another there.” [1]

What is encouraged here is not that we deprive others of their rights or freedom but that all of us voluntarily surrender our opinions and even our rights in order to achieve something more desirable than freedom. We attempt to achieve uniformity.

So when the two values – freedom on the one hand and uniformity on the other – are in conflict the church resolves the conflict by leaning in the direction of uniformity.

Elsewhere I have written:

We see the same two principles at work in the thinking of Luther as he grapples with the question of liturgical freedom and liturgical uniformity. On the one hand, Luther clearly asserts liturgical freedom. “For these rites are supposed to be for Christians, i.e., children of the ‘free woman’ [Gal. 4:31], who observe them voluntarily and from the heart, but are free to change them how and whenever they may wish.” [2] Luther does “not want to make a law, but simply to demonstrate a decent and fitting order to be used in freedom by free Christian men.” [3] On the other hand, Luther sees the need for uniformity in liturgical matters and urges a sacrifice of the very freedom which Christians posses. “Let us approve each other’s rites lest schisms and sects should result from this diversity of rites – as has happened in the Roman church.” [4] This “approval” occurs through a process of “common consent.” As with Paul, so with Luther, the principles of freedom and love live in a holy tension in which uniformity in ceremonies is willingly promoted and not forced.      

But this noble quest for uniformity has been largely abandoned by our synod, and, in all due respect, by its leadership. I am under the impression that when pastors or congregations discard or change the liturgy, which until recent times was uniformly used among us, these changers of the liturgy are not admonished with the words of Luther that we sacrifice what we want in deference to the uniformity we all need. I am under the impression that instead those who advocate the changes are put forth as pioneers or change agents especially if their congregations grow in numbers. Conversely, those who do not change the liturgy are called “museum pieces” or “encumbrances to mission,” or worse. I am under the impression that the synod has largely thrown in the towel in the quest for uniformity. A friend recently told me “I appreciate your zeal, Klemet, but it’s too little too late. The synod will never have uniformity again. We will continue to have more diverse worship expressions and you will be frustrated until you accept what has happened and what is happening.” So my quixotic efforts are politely refused. And yours may be as well, my brother in Christ.

My daughter came up to me during my little legal scrap with my ex-wife described above, and said, “Dad, I know that you promised to support me freely. I know that you always will. Why not simply accept the legal imposition so that you can stop fighting with Mom and get on loving me with a bit more attentiveness? Is your freedom worth more than me?” How should I have responded to my daughter?


[1] Luther’s Work 53 p. 47

[2] Ibid  31

[3] Ibid. 34

[4] Ibid. 31

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Administrative Pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church and School in Naperville, Illinois. He is the founder of the Brothers of John the Steadfast. He is also a partner in Wittenberg Church Consultants. He enjoys watercolor painting, gardening, and watching college football and basketball. He has an M Div from Concordia, St. Louis, an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a Doctorate of Ministry from Concordia, Ft. Wayne.

Comments

Another Letter to President Forke ““ The LCMS Leadership has Abandoned the Noble Request for Liturgical Uniformity, by Klemet Preus — 9 Comments

  1. Is the practice of CW becoming the new uniformity in the LCMS? It appears to be in some circuits. If so, can a liturgical congregation in good conscience remain in that circuit or for that matter in the synod?

  2. Indeed, CS, you ask a good question. Or, rather, MUST a liturgical congregation remain in that circuit as a testimony? What is indeed frustrating is that I can remember a time when a liturgical congregation (or, rather, her pastor) might express disappointment to the CW congregation (or, rather, to her pastor — these exchanges are supposed to happen in the Circuit Winkel — that is a part of the purpose of the Winkels, I believe), but then the liturgical congregation/pastor might be told that he ought not to harangue (my word, not another’s) the CW congregation/pastor.

    But, I wonder, have we now entered another time when the CW congregation/pastor might suggest that the liturgical congregation/pastor are not only behind the times but also “irrelevant” for today’s culture. And, I wonder, who “wins” the argument? In most cases, I fear that the congregation which is deemed to be “successful” (let the reader understand how “successful” has been redefined in too many areas in the LCMS) is permitted to “win” the argument. This pragmatic kind of thinking is far too common, way too easy, and does not serve the Gospel.

    So I ask again: should the liturgical congregation doggedly remain where she is in relation to her sister congregations AND retain the liturgy as a testimony against “successful,” “contemporary,” and pragmatic congregations/pastors? Oh, and I would also add that the liturgical congregation’s/pastor’s testimony is never merely against error, but is primarily a testimony FOR the blessed Gospel and God’s love for souls — that should be obvious (though, sadly, many think not).

    Preus, I look forward to your other articles. This is excellent food for thought and discussion. May it be that we in the church will be glad to embark in genuine discussion.

    A blessed new year, Rossow and all readers, through Christ our Lord.

  3. @Rich #4

    As has been rightly pointed out in past posts liturgical worship is contemporary and always has been.

    Your question brings up another question. What kind of uniformity exists in a congregation which offers both CW and liturgical worship. Many congregations that offer CW also offer LW. It seems to me the LW is kept around to appease those stuck for eternity in “grandfathers” church. Once they are gone there will no longer be a need for LW. The congregation will once again have uniformity, that is, they will be uniformly non-liturgical worshippers.

  4. Is the practice of CW becoming the new uniformity in the LCMS? It appears to be in some circuits. If so, can a liturgical congregation in good conscience remain in that circuit or for that matter in the synod?
    +++++++++++++++++++++++

    Basically, yes. At least one district president is imposing his own installation rite upon pastors demanding that they vow not to do anything the congregation doesn’t like (or consider its custom). Frankly that imposition of an unchurchly and un-catholic installation is sectarian and ought to be stamped out. District presidents who do that kind of thing are acting far outside their authority.

    Those who want to use forms of worship borrowed from Baptists and Pentecostals should just go and join those sects.

  5. Klemet writes:

    >I am under the impression that instead those who advocate the changes are put forth as pioneers or change agents especially if their congregations grow in numbers. Conversely, those who do not change the liturgy are called “museum pieces” or “encumbrances to mission,” or worse.<

    Many of us have witnessed and continue to witness the "worse." I have seen on numerous occasions pastors being forced to violate Scripture and their consciences when revivalistic and unscriptural worship practices are crammed down their throats by congregational worship committees, elders, and district executives. "Do it our way, or we will starve you out" is the unspoken but very clear message. If a pastor is not "diverse" and "flexible" with regard to "worship style" he is labeled as rigid and unloving. Such pastors are often persecuted and abused and in time many simply quit under pressure or are given the "opportunity" to resign in exchange for a "generous severance package." Those who quit rarely receive another call.

    "Everyone did what was right is his own eyes" is now being hailed as a virtue rather than an abomination.

    For the record, I refuse to use the term "contemporary worship." The term has become meaningless on numerous levels. Can we be honest and call it what it is, revivalism, pure and simple?

    Lutheran by conviction,

    Clint

  6. On the other hand, Luther sees the need for uniformity in liturgical matters and urges a sacrifice of the very freedom which Christians posses. “Let us approve each other’s rites lest schisms and sects should result from this diversity of rites – as has happened in the Roman church.” [4] This “approval” occurs through a process of “common consent.” As with Paul, so with Luther, the principles of freedom and love live in a holy tension in which uniformity in ceremonies is willingly promoted and not forced.

    My observation is that those dropping the conservative (traditional) liturgy in favor of popular worship practices are doing so because they do not believe liturgy matters; instead, what really matters is having an encounter with Jesus. Indeed, it seems that those who press Christian liberty the strongest when it comes to rites view them purely as the effects of the culture around us and as the culture changes so will the rites. Such an idea resists understanding liturgy in the context of the Holy Scriptures. These same people pressing adiophra in worship want to keep the debate over liturgy within the confines of Christian liberty, because in there they don’t have to define liturgy from scripture but can continue talking about constructing “worship services” designed to bring people into an encounter with Jesus in the name of Christian freedom. In short, the Holy Scriptures can be tabled and all talk about liturgy rests upon a mushy relativism of what one believes is adiaphora or not, and with all forms of worship having equal footing just so long as the goal is encountering Christ. There is no “getting through” to the proponents of culturally based pop-worship in discussions of adiophora. The debate must be removed from that arena and put firmly back into the Holy Scriptures. Only then can we began to talk about a Christ centered liturgy, what that means, and why we go to church.

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