The Evangelical Lutheran Church- Doctrine and Practice (Part 1)

June 25th, 2012 Post by

One of the first district pastors’ conferences that I ever attended, and certainly one that I will always remember, was in the late 80s in Omaha, Nebraska. There was much buzz about this specific conference because of the main presenter, Rev. David S. Luecke, and his recent book, Evangelical Style and Lutheran Substance (CPH 1988).  Lutheran Church Extension Fund had purchased and provided the book for everyone in attendance (along with George Barna’s Marketing the Church) and we were encouraged to read it before the conference.

I must admit, at the time I didn’t fully grasp what all the fuss was about.  The presentations were made, the questions and answers were pointed and the discussions were very heated.  Many, including myself, firmly believed that mission and outreach were the most important thing and everything else was negotiable. What did it matter what the style was, as long as the substance was solid and pure and Lutheran.  I just didn’t get it.

For many years much of Lutheranism has suffered from a disconnect with regard to doctrine and practice and their relationship.  Through the years I could see in the congregation I served that what I taught and preached didn’t always fit with the practice I was teaching or promoting.  In my attempt to be relevant and contextual and missional, I was simply sending a mixed message and confusing the faithful.  Slowly I began to see that throughout the history of the church, doctrine and practice have always gone hand in hand, and every attempt to separate the two has ended in the slippery slope to heresy.

Several years ago a doctrinal controversy in my circuit helped connect the dots for me with regard to doctrine and practice.  A brother LCMS pastor began preaching and teaching “once saved, always saved” and a storm of controversy ensued regarding predestination, election, and apostasy.  I went to visit this pastor out of care and concern, and he assured me that he truly believed what Scripture and Confessions say regarding the possibility of a Christian falling from faith.  He also told me that he would never say that from the pulpit or in Bible Study.  When I asked him why, he said that election/predestination was a minor and confusing doctrine, and had absolutely no bearing on his pastoral practice.  In the months and years that followed, I could see first hand how various pastoral practices taught and encouraged the false teaching of “once saved, always saved.”  Practice corresponds to doctrine, no matter what our intentions may be.

Since that time the Rev. Klemet Preus has authored an amazing book that shows again and again the connection between doctrine and practice and practice and doctrine. The Fire and the Staff, CPH 2004, is an instant classic in my humble opinion and a must read for all who truly desire to be Lutheran, both clergy and laity. I have many favorite sections including “Trick or Treat” (p. 71) and “Gin and Tonic in North Dakota” (p. 121) and “The Village, the Well and the Water” (p.80), but the best thing about this book is the way that it shows again and again how practice teaches doctrine and how practice necessarily corresponds to doctrine.

I still encounter many who are not convinced of the connection between doctrine and practice and wish to separate and compartmentalize the two. To them I ask these simple questions:

How would your spouse react to you saying, “I believe in the doctrine of monogamy, but I think we need to be flexible on the practice.”?  or

How would the police officer respond to you saying, “I believe in the doctrine of a speed limit, but my practice varies a bit.”?

Most often, these two questions help connect the dots for them, as they needed to be connected for me.






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  1. Rev. McCall
    June 25th, 2012 at 10:30 | #1

    I agree and I think Preus’ book should be required reading for all seminary students!

  2. June 25th, 2012 at 11:02 | #2

    Rev. McCalll, I think it should be required reading for every grade school and high school administrator, superintendent and teacher. One of my favorite passages is on page 235, “We are saved by that simple sentence, ‘Christ Jesus came to save sinners of whom I am chief.’ But that does not entitle us to throw away everything else that Scriptures teach.”
    Let’s be and do who we say we are. Why make apologies for being Lutheran? I’ve never understood that. The sign on the front of the high school where I teach says Lutheran North. I won’t ever apologize and will defend the Lutheran Confessions that I took an oath to uphold.
    @Rev. McCall #1

  3. helen
    June 25th, 2012 at 15:03 | #3

    “There was much buzz about this specific conference because of the main presenter, Rev. David S. Luecke, and his recent book, Evangelical Style and Lutheran Substance (CPH 1988). Lutheran Church Extension Fund had purchased and provided the book for everyone in attendance (along with George Barna’s Marketing the Church) and we were encouraged to read it before the conference.

    How generous of LCEF to buy the books that spread false Christianity among Lutherans!

    [Thanks for verifying that they did this; I have been accused of unfairly maligning my church in a public forum for reporting another incident of the same sort, on another topic here.]
    Non-Lutheran practice did not invade the LCMS without a lot of help from the leadership… which is precisely how the elca got where it is today. The laity there would never have supported many of the things that went on, if they had been told about them and given a choice. Now even when they are told, they are seldom given a choice (except perhaps to leave their historic churches and family plots in cemeteries behind and “go somewhere else”).

    Ironic, isn’t it! “Lifelong Lutherans, get lost! We’re too busy worrying about the ‘lost’ [or so we say] to worry about what happens to you.”

    I agree that Klemet Preus’ book is well worth reading!

  4. John Rixe
    June 25th, 2012 at 20:12 | #4

    How generous of LCEF to buy the books that spread false Christianity among Lutherans!

    Pastor McCain,

    Does CPH publish books that spread false Christianity? Isn’t there some review of the contents? Thanks.

  5. Gisela
    June 25th, 2012 at 20:46 | #5

    @helen #3
    Helen, a big “AMEN” to all you said!

  6. Rev. Paul T. McCain
    June 26th, 2012 at 07:40 | #6

    John:

    I pray not.
    Yes.

  7. June 26th, 2012 at 08:16 | #7

    I agree with the comments about required reading of The Fire and the Staff, maybe we can get LCEF to buy all the schools a copy? Ha, ha. The points on doctrine and practice are well taken and I would like to add an observation that I make in this regard. Being on the far side of 50 I can report that several congregations I have been a member of, or know folks in another congregation, all exhibit a common characteristic.

    It would appear that people will leave a congregation much faster over personal and church government issues than they will doctrinal issues, including practices in practices in conflict with doctrine. Perhaps another way of saying that could be, only one or two straws will break the camels back in the case of personal and polity issues, while it takes a bale of hay when it is doctrinal. I can only assume this is because doctrine and practice is what they know the lest about. Has anybody else experienced this too?

  8. Rev. McCall
    June 26th, 2012 at 08:38 | #8

    @Gene White #7
    Well LCEF did buy all us TX pastors a fine leather satchel for all our efforts to travel to the convention. I would have rather had a book, but it’s a start I guess! ;-)

    I know several pastors who have purchased copies of the book on their own for their teachers, elders, etc. and have had a study on it. I think we stand a better chance of starting there before we hold our breath waiting for LCEF. Maybe we can drop some hints to CPH to run a sale on it or something. :-)

  9. John Rixe
    June 26th, 2012 at 08:51 | #9

    @helen #3

    Apparently LCEF has provided expenses for conferences with controversial speakers and materials.  You were right – I was wrong.

  10. helen
    June 26th, 2012 at 11:10 | #10

    @John Rixe #9
    “You were right….”

    It gives me no pleasure! It would be a great help to us pewsitters, if our leadership was not constantly thinking the grass was $$$greener on the non-Lutheran side of the fence!

  11. June 27th, 2012 at 19:08 | #11

    This brings me to a subject I have been thinking on a lot recently. It is unfortunate that worship and prayer have bene relegated to Pastoral Theology. We need a systematic theology of worship: first principles, from Scripture, thesis – antithesis. It should be a standard part of every Lutheran Dogmatics course.

    When contemporary worship (as commonly understood) made its initial inroads into the Lutheran church, no one had a ready response. Something was off, but our pastors were missing the necessary systematic structure to identify exactly what, and therefore they could not offer a legitimate reason to forbid it.

  12. Ginny Valleau
    June 28th, 2012 at 11:35 | #12

    Pastor Diers,

    The ACELC has written an error document (http://www.acelc.net/userFiles/2001/divine_service_liturgical_offices.pdf) that identifies the issues, including the scriptural and confessional basis and a response to contemporary worship.

    Also, the ACELC 2013 Conference theme is “Christ for Us: The Divine Service,” where much of this will be explored. The Conference will be April 16, 17, 18, 2013, at Trinity Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas. Watch http://www.acelc.net/ for more details. Hope to see you there!!

    God’s Blessings,
    Ginny Valleau

  13. June 28th, 2012 at 13:49 | #13

    @Ginny Valleau #12

    Yes, to be sure, the foundational work for the theology of worship has been done. Now it is time to teach it in a systematic way as an essential point of Dogmatics in our pastoral training.

    Liturgics is a separate course, and as such it certainly has its necessary place. However, I do not think we should leave a systematic theology of worship until Liturgics 101. It belongs in Dogmatics. To leave the theology of worship to Liturgics creates a false sense of separation, as if the theology of worship stands apart from the theology of faith and the ordo salutis, when in fact these two things are inseparable.

    Liturgics then becomes a study of how the Church in all ages, has applied and presently applies the Scriptural theology of worship to establish the forms and rites of the Church. It then becomes clear how the modern rites of contemporary worship are not adiaphora, or a mere difference of opinion over forms, but, in fact have just as much right to be in the Church as does a false doctrine of salvation, which is to say, none.

    The is the heart of lex orandi lex credendi.

  14. Mhart456
    June 29th, 2012 at 14:04 | #14

    Luecke came to SID pastor conference peddling “No Style, Nor Substance” in Spring 1990 held at Bethany, Fairview Heights (O Fallon). What can be said twenty something years later? How about this for future installation services, “Do you renounce Alternate Worship, as you have come to know it, in all its works and ways?.” If so, then say, “Yes, with the proper study of the Book of Concord and Holy Scripture.”

  15. June 29th, 2012 at 14:56 | #15

    Pr. Martin Diers :
    @Ginny Valleau #12
    Yes, to be sure, the foundational work for the theology of worship has been done. Now it is time to teach it in a systematic way as an essential point of Dogmatics in our pastoral training.
    Liturgics is a separate course, and as such it certainly has its necessary place. However, I do not think we should leave a systematic theology of worship until Liturgics 101. It belongs in Dogmatics. To leave the theology of worship to Liturgics creates a false sense of separation, as if the theology of worship stands apart from the theology of faith and the ordo salutis, when in fact these two things are inseparable.
    Liturgics then becomes a study of how the Church in all ages, has applied and presently applies the Scriptural theology of worship to establish the forms and rites of the Church. It then becomes clear how the modern rites of contemporary worship are not adiaphora, or a mere difference of opinion over forms, but, in fact have just as much right to be in the Church as does a false doctrine of salvation, which is to say, none.
    The is the heart of lex orandi lex credendi.

    You are absolutely correct in this. I can still recall as a young Lutheran adult the move for contemporary worship while we lived in the SFO bay area. There was no valid reason offered for not doing it so it became a matter of emotions and a move to get away from King James English. Mind you the service was still reverent and had all the parts of the liturgy still intact, mostly. We only had one contemporary hymn however for communion. But that is how erosion starts, is it not?

  16. ralph luedtke
    July 3rd, 2012 at 02:20 | #16

    All I know is there are too many that brush off true teaching and application and say,I have mine,that’s all that matters———-as the churches crumble.Good job Barna and your spiritual dwarfs. It’s God before money and power and politics and perks-Right?

  17. ralph luedtke
    July 3rd, 2012 at 02:22 | #17

    All I know is there are too many that brush off true teaching and application and say,I have mine,that’s all that matters———-as the churches crumble trying to stand on quicksand accepted by too many leaders among us.Good job Barna and your spiritual dwarfs. It’s God first and always. Learn it and live it from the love of our Savior.

  18. Ron
    July 26th, 2012 at 16:11 | #18

    I imagine this topic is closed by now, and that I’m writing to myself (I have a fool for a correspondent). I’ve been trying to develop an appreciative understanding of authentic Lutheran doctrine. I’m not a Lutheran, but do attend a conservative Lutheran church fairly regularly. There are a few doctrinal issues that I fervently wish I could completely embrace with integrity. I won’t join a church as a stealth cafeteria Lutheran (a crypto–nondenominational evangelical?). Luther speaks to me more effectively than any living pastor I’ve experienced. His encouragement to believe God’s promises, and his clear stand on the “solas,” and much more, draw me to the tradition that bears his name. The sense of continuity with church history is wonderful. Objective doctrinal truth, biblically and historically orthodox, matters…greatly. I bumble and stumble asking questions here, but it’s really all I can do. On the matter of worship, I largely agree with a more traditionalist understanding. Yet (here comes the heterodox “yet”), when I attend the tiny Lutheran church in my area, and gain valuable insight and spiritual substance from the liturgy, at times I wonder about the worship music. Many of the hymns are almost impossible to sing (at least for me, since my singing voice scares women and small children). The lyrics of some are, in places, difficult to decipher, which seems to result from the way the grammatical structure is twisted by the older rhetorical style. As I (feebly attempt) to sing them, it occurs to me that not a few new visitors might well not return. Which is awful, because the church has so much to offer in the preaching of the Word, etc. I ask, because I don’t know…. Did Luther require that only a uniform style of worship be used? Did he allow only hymns that were quite old by his time to be used? Did he, himself, ever introduce newer hymns to the church–hymns that the traditional church of his time might have found a bit innovative? I’ve grown weary of superficial worship practices, with fluffy, vacuous songs intended to entertain rather than to worship. It seems to me the church has a certain calling to educate the aesthetic tastes of contemporary Christians. Yet, I’m not sure that chronological considerations alone makes worship songs acceptable. As I become more informed, I’ll hopefully ask what are surely tediously basic questions! : )

  19. Ron
    July 26th, 2012 at 16:23 | #19

    Pastor Diers, I see I have time to burden you with a tiresome question here, too. Your comment above was of interest to me:

    “Liturgics then becomes a study of how the Church in all ages, has applied and presently applies the Scriptural theology of worship to establish the forms and rites of the Church. It then becomes clear how the modern rites of contemporary worship are not adiaphora, or a mere difference of opinion over forms, but, in fact have just as much right to be in the Church as does a false doctrine of salvation, which is to say, none.

    The is the heart of lex orandi lex credendi.”

    I’ve been in an ongoing discussion with a (Roman) Catholic colleague, who emphasizes the central role of lex orandi lex credendi in her theology. She’s influential in current liturgical revisions in the Roman church. She is also an ardent disciple of Teilard de Chardin, and devoted to an evolutionary, cosmic, panentheistic christology (this is “christocentric” to her). What I gather is that lex orandi…. is what allows the liturgy to shape and direct the doctrine of the church. If the church develops a tradition of praying/worshipping in a certain way (evoking the saints, for example), then that’s what Catholic doctrine should be. I’ve asked her if there’s a corrective to a liturgy that may move in an erroneous direction (I was tempted to say, “a liturgy run amok”). But, it seems the liturgy is what’s self-authenticating. If there’s such a thing as “bibliolatry,” is there also a “liturgiolatry”?

  20. July 26th, 2012 at 17:10 | #20

    @Ron #19

    Ron, your observations are precisely on target.

    Te be clear, “lex orandi, lex credendi” is not a “principle” but a law of nature, so to speak. It is a recognition that if you change your worship, you are also changing your faith. Likewise, if your faith changes, your worship will change to reflect it. The two always go hand-in-hand.

    So, if your theology is “Law and Gospel, Justification by Faith, Means of Grace”, your worship will be something like the historic liturgy, even if you do not use any of those terms.

    If your theology is, rather, “I must make myself worthy to please God” you will get something like contemporary worship.

    Also, if your theology changes, yet you have the historic liturgy, you will naturally begin to change it to accomodate your theology, as you have noted with your friend.

    So likewise, if you adopt a form of worship which conflicts with your theology — guess which one is going to change? As you worship, so you believe.

    Thus it was inevitable that Luther had to reform the liturgy, removing the Canon of the Mass. Lutheran liturgy reflects Lutheran theology.

    Those “Lutheran” churches which are adopting the worship of the mega-churches will end up being Lutheran in name only. It’s only a matter of time.

    Finally, what about the case where liturgy and theology are incongruous to one another? Meaning, you have the historic liturgy, but a false theology? When that happens, the liturgy is often the only thing which creates and preserves the Church at that place. The official doctrine of the church may deny Justification by Faith, and yet the Gloria still declares, “Oh Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.”

  21. Ron
    July 26th, 2012 at 19:45 | #21

    Pastor Diers, thanks very much. Your thorough comments have been a great help. Concerning your last point, again I refer to my colleague at work. She speaks of accepting the creeds, the magisterium, and so on. Yet, I’ve realized in our ongoing conversation that the content she appears to assign to significant terms are not in line with many of those in the pews around her. Same terms, different significance.

    An understanding of the proper interplay of lex orandi, lex credendi makes all the difference. I’ve read in a church history or two that some have put either the rule of faith, or, the rule of faith, “first.” My impression was that some with a more mystical bent (my friend is a lay Benedictine, extremely devoted to mysticism) focus on the rule of prayer–as she told me she does. Others, more concerned with doctrinal truth, focus first on the rule of faith. What you’ve said helps me to grasp the way the rules do, as a matter of fact, influence each other.

    What you say about the mega-churches and worship/theology clarifies things further. If, theoretically, there were an evangelical sort of (non-denominational) church that clearly taught salvation as God’s works alone, would their contemporary worship necessarily have a deleterious effect on the theology? As I read you, the answer is clearly, “yes.” I’m thinking of churches I’ve attended since childhood, which were of the nondenominational evangelical sort. My honest recollection is that it was emphasized time and again that salvation is all of God, initiated only by God, and completed by God. A human work inevitably fails, while God’s never does. I was taught that apart from Christ, I’m dead in sin without the ability to do anything to save myself. Unless God graciously calls me, and gives me the gift of faith, I have no hope. These were obviously not liturgical churches in the more traditional sense. I recall the rejection of Arminian theology, and of any human ability to cooperate in God’s gift of justification by means of Christ’s imputed righteousness.

    But even those churches would have been troubled by some of the mega-church fluff and folly entertainment. The emergent church movement would have sent them over the moon with indignation on behalf of the Word of God. So, I guess I’m wondering just how bad these churches were. I know they weren’t up to Lutheran standards, but at least some things were presented. Again, thank you for taking the time to help me in this way!

  22. Jason
    July 26th, 2012 at 20:12 | #22

    @Ron #18

    Hi, Ron. If I may, with deference to Pr. Diers, I would like to comment on the hymns.

    I am a life-long LCMSer, have been involved in vearious lodearship at different times in different places. Yes, I agree, some of the hymns, well, they suck. I can read music, took piano lessons, can carry a tune (had a choir director say I had perfect pitch?), so I understand but wouldn’t consider myself an expert, per se. But I do notice what song sand hymns are sung. Sometimes the words stumble a bit, because of trying to get the stanzas to rhyme, or translate from German or other language. I would encourage you to stick with it for a bit. Like taking classes at college, it can be hard at times, but you get better with practice.

    My struggle is usually with the melody. I find some tunes just unsignable. I find them too challenging, and I fear that if I struggle it must be near impossible for the musically not-so-gifted. A hymn could have the greatest lyrics, but if you can’t sing it, well, lipstick on a pig. Some ocngregations have a good avenue to express song favorites and such. Hopefuly you can offer a little input and be heard.

    And no, not everything has to be old. I really like ournew hymnal, and we have fairly new song in there. Gerry Coleman is someone I know and have personally met. He wrote “The Lamb.” While I can’t think of which song it is (haven’t sung it much) Twila Paris is the author to another hymn in our service book.

    I hope you find a good church home within Lutheranism. Can’t say we are perfect (read certain other topics here), but we do have some real gems of pastors and congregations. I will pray for God to guide you in your endeavors. And I hope Pr. Diers keeps giving you more pastoral advice.

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