Why do We have Worship Wars? by Pr. Klemet Preus

(Editor’s Note: This is part two of a five part series on worship in the LCMS.)


Have you every wondered why we have worship wars in the Missouri Synod? I’m going to explain to you why this is so in less than 500 words when, justly, it should require about 500 pages.


When C.F.W. Walther came to America in the late 1830s he brought with him the Biblical, Lutheran doctrine and the church practices, consistent with that doctrine. These had identified the Lutherans for the previous three centuries. One of the practices was a regular use of the historic liturgy and a desire to use this liturgy uniformly among the Lutheran congregations of these immigrant German Lutherans. These Lutherans found and formed fellowship bonds with other Lutherans and soon the LCMS was born. The new church possessed a strong desire to bring their doctrine and practice to those around them and this zealous missionary passion was blessed by God as the synod saw more growth over its first century than any other Lutheran body in America. The worship practices of the Lutheran churches emphasized word and sacrament as those means by which the Holy Spirit brought people into and kept them in the faith. So, as the synod moved into the latter part of the 20th century most leaders saw little need to adapt, adjust, modify, alter, tweak or otherwise change the basic structure of the Sunday service. Of course the service evolved as the language of the people changed from German to English and as new musicians and poets made contributions to the historic treasury of worship resources with which God has blessed the church.


As the Lutherans of the LCMS began to rub shoulders with the people around them they discovered that most protestants in America had little understanding and less use of the Word and Sacrament as the divinely appointed means by which the Holy Spirit grows his church. These Evangelicals believed that the assurance of salvation was not in the gospel but in the religious experience of the Christian. To them, the purpose of worship was to cause an emotional religious experience in the heart of the worshipper. I described this phenomenon in my most recent blog “Why do the Evangelicals Worship that Way?” Initially, most Lutherans trusted the words of Friedrich Carl Wyneken, a founding father of the LCMS who had described the worship life of a vibrant church: “everything takes its peaceful quiet course in accordance with the written word.” And initially the LCMS consciously resisted the influence of American Evangelicalism.


But things changed. There were so many American Evangelicals (Methodists, Baptist, Pentecostals etc.) that soon the LCMS could not help but suffer their influence. Additionally many within the synod began clamoring in defense of the idea that the LCMS should intentionally jettison its cherished traditions including a uniform use of the historic Liturgy. It was discovered, so they claimed, that you could do better mission work among Americans if you adopted the religious “heart language” which was uniquely American. This language included the notion that “the hour I first believed” when I felt the “Joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart” was the “critical event” upon which I based my “blessed assurance.” David Luecke, one of the advocates for intentional change in the worship patterns of the synod, encouraged, “I have found it productive to inquire about when they [Lutheran] felt closest to God or what they remember as a mountain-top spiritual experience, or when their faith means the most to them.”


Those who opposed the wholesale change of the liturgy claimed that such an action was not really mission work but a capitulation to the false doctrine of American Evangelicalism by adopting a worship style which promoted that doctrine. We were becoming American Evangelicals they claimed. And if congregations grew because of change in worship it was mostly because they were appealing to the wrong beliefs of those around them.    


So there are worship wars. These wars are not incidental or insignificant. They are not simply a matter of style. The changes advocated by many in leadership positions are not benign. And the outcome of these worship wars will determine whether or not the LCMS will continue to be a Lutheran church.


The problem is when congregations attempt to blend the liturgy of the historic church with the “Blessed Assurance” of American Evangelicalism. But that is another story.  





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