Speaking of Worship, a Few Thoughts on “All Things to All People” A Favorite of President Kieschnick, by Pastor Rossow

We have had some vigorous discussions about worship on the posts on The Alley church this past week. One of the scriptures often cited in defense of “contemporary” worship is I Corinthians 9:22 where Paul says “I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some.” It happens to be the Epistle reading in the three year series this week and my sermon text so I thought I would share a few thoughts  from this text on the blog today.  

This text  is also used by President Kieschnick to defend his assertion that today’s church is not his grandfather’s church. In his Leadership News insert in the Reporter last March, President Kieschnick quoted  I Corinthians 9:22.  His point  is that  we just can’t do church like we used to. The culture has changed. That is either the most meaningless truism (someone on the comments section this week said that we liturgical sorts should be consistently traditional and stop using blogs and return to parchment paper) or it is a challenge to totally re-work church. I believe it is the latter.

By the way, as long as we are on the subject of President Kieschnick’s insert, I am reminded of a personal e-mail I got from him a few months ago after I had asserted that he was a practitioner of the principles of the Church Growth Movement. He objected that he was not. When you title your insert in the denominational newspaper “Leadership News” you are clearly supportive of the Church Growth Movement. “Leadership” is or was all the rage in the movement. It is code for “get your pastor to be a leader, i.e. a CEO and an agent of change who can lead your old traditional church out of the dark ages into the new measures.” This of course squares with his mantra that this is not your grandfather’s church. Back to the point.

If you study I Corinthians you will see that Paul is describing his lifestyle with those he is trying to convert. He is not talking about worship or how  church is to be done. It is a stretch to apply this to either of those concerns. Amongst the Jews Paul would not walk around with pork fat dripping from his face nor with a ham bone in his knapsack. He was careful not to turn them off with such stumbling blocks. If he were to go over to a Gentile’s house for dinner, someone he was sharing the Gospel with, even though by birth he was a Jew, he would not go immediately into their refrigerator and throw out any bacon or sausage. That would be an unnecessary action that would harm his presentation of the Gospel. However, when it comes time to talk about worship in chapters 1, 11, and 14 he has a lot to say that does not sit well with folks. He is not all things to all people when it comes to worship. He rebukes them for not preaching Christ crucified, for disorderly worship, for sinning against the body and blood of the Lord, for women speaking in church, for babbling in tongues that are not understood, etc.

I had someone tell me a while back that if you just look at Paul’s practice, he changed the way he presented the Gospel everywhere he went based on the locale. That is just not true. Read the book of Acts starting at chapter 13 and you will see that he did the same thing over and over and over again. He even preached the same sermon with possible exception of  when he was with the philosophers in Athens. But even in Athens he begins in the very same way (Acts 17:17) and only goes to the Aereopagus because he was invited!

In our personal interactions we ought to be accomodating to others. There is no need for us to put up offensive behavior that is not needed. But let’s not misunderstand Scripture and turn  Paul’s advice on how to act around Jews and Gentiles  into a cause for re-doing the church.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Speaking of Worship, a Few Thoughts on “All Things to All People” A Favorite of President Kieschnick, by Pastor Rossow — 25 Comments

  1. I also defer to the text above, “AMEN!” Thank you Pastor Rossow for all you do and thank you to your wonderful congregation who donate a portion of their Christ-given Shepherd to spend time at Steadfast Lutherans. To God be the Glory!

    Paul in O’Fallon

  2. The group of Pastor’s here have been a God send literally. Continue preaching what the Bible says, not some post-modern world translation way of preaching. The church transcends the world changing around it as long as it holds to the teachings of Christ. Once it steps away from those teachings we wind up with this mess.

  3. Great post, Pastor Rossow! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the “Paul became all things to all people” argument used by those advocating “contemporary worship.” As you’ve rightly shown, the context makes this argument completely invalid. A little exegesis (which, sadly, seems to have become a lost art these days) goes a long way, indeed!

    In Christ,
    Pastor Messer

  4. I too was studying 1 Cor 9 today, and was struck by the power of the context. To begin with, chapter 9 is the center of a section which makes up 8-10, primarily meant to address the Corinthians *abuse* of their boasted freedom to live and do as they saw fit by eating meat offered to idols. Paul exhorts them not to “knowledge” but to love, particularly for the weaker *brother.* He will do anything for the sake of those inside the Church, lest he cause them to stumble out of the faith. (Thus 1 Cor.8)

    In 9 he digresses into a defense of his own actions in their midst as one who was not paid for “wisdom” like the stoics and other philosophers of the day. By example, he claims to demonstrate just this “love” he was exhorting in chapter 8, in that, rather than make use of his own rights as an Apostle, he chose love for the Corinthians and preached for free. He lived so as to demonstrate that, no matter what, this love was his first principle of action.

    Again, Paul is referencing *not* the Corinthians outside the Church, but those who have already become Church (certainly, he is not boasting about how he did not walk into Corinth before making one convert and ask them to pay him to tell them the Gospel – there is no the “love” in refraining from that.) No. Paul is showing an example of what he preached in ch. 8, that for the sake of those who had become the Church in Corinth, he went to any end, so as to save them.

    And here’s an amazing insight! Paul is concerned in 8-9 with “saving” those who are already “saved,” so to speak. That is, he does not want to LOSE anyone he has already found. He does not want to obscure “nothing but Christ and him crucified” by any of his own desires/opinions, even by his own need for food and drink! Neither does he put himself on any pedastul, for, at the end of 9, (directly after the vaunted words of “change”) he even expresses that he is concerned lest he himself be lost through his own failure to preach the true Gospel.

    Thus, the central core of 9 (All things to all people) is a hinge point in his argument that one should not put stumbling blocks before the people of faith. It’s not that this does not apply at all to loving those outside the Church, and it’s not that we can’t understand how this love influences mission – but those things are simply not what Paul is talking about. He is talking about his actions with those inside the community – not using his knowledge of Christian freedom to do as he sees fit, but rather, to serve all at all costs.

    In ch 10 he will return to “meat offered to idols,” building on what he has said so far, and using it as a stepping stone to turn them away from selfish acts done in prideful knowledge for the sake of the flesh, towards participation with their weak brothers in the flesh and blood of Jesus.

    Truly, Paul is a master of argument. He weaves his position with the tight-knit power of a true master.

    It is a great shame that some will then take pieces of these words and use them as a sledgehammer to beat up their brethren in the faith, the very ones these words exhort us to go the extra mile for! If we “liturgicals” are wrong about our concerns, then we are in fact the very weaker brothers who’s consciences are vexed over the meat in idols temples – that is, the very ones who the “mission minded” ought to be “becoming liturgical” for, so as to not cause us to stumble.

    Now, I don’t think the Divine Service is quite the same matter as meat offered to idols – that is, something outside the Church. But that’s a different matter altogether. What is key is that: Knowledge puffs up. Love builds up.

    Knowledge (“this is not your grandfathers” “life has changed” “etc”) is being used to argue, push and bludgeon “change” of a wide variety of things in the Church. Love sits on the sideline, perhaps called into the game to wave a flag for “the lost,” but then quickly benched again should it require even the semblance of patience and long-suffering with those who’s consciences are being vexed.

    The sermon will be posted in audio at http://www.beallwashedup.blogspot.com some time tomorrow afternoon.

  5. I think it is true, as evidenced by the popularity of contemporary services, that the formalism and the foreignness of the Divine Service are stumbling blocks to modern, worldly sensibilities (that is, people want a worship that lets us be irreverent, informal, sentimental, “relevant”, and anti-intellectual). The Divine Service is not a stumbling block to true faith however. The problem is, it is hard work to teach people to set aside their worldly sensibilities to appreciate and desire the Divine Service.

    What has been forgotten is that worship is not primarily a mission tool– it is to deliver Word and Sacrament. Contemporary worship is designed to appeal to the non-Christian’s worldly sensibilities and fill seats, which it does. But, it is not designed to instruct, to move the person beyond those worldly sensibilities, or to compliment the reception of Word and Sacrament. (I have no idea what the heck the purpose of “blended” worship is. It’s not entertaining and usually full of bad doctrine. That is a true abomination that should be confined to the depths of the ELCA.)

    I would have less of a problem with Lutheran churches experimenting in contemporary worship if they at least made an attempt to remove the doctrinal problems and use it as a mission tool to prepare newcomers to appreciate the Word and Sacrament that is the focus of the Divine Service. I don’t know if it could be done properly, but from what I’ve seen, nobody is trying to use contemporary worship for that purpose. Instead, they are satisfied bringing Christians together to entertain them with sentimental, irreverent performances, and give them shallow, gospel-lacking self help lessons.

  6. As a followup, I’ll offer a defense of the Alley churchgoers and members of other contemporary churches. Many of those who go by the label as confessional are not clear in whether they are arguing 1) that the use of the Divine Service should be required as administering Word and Sacrament apart from it is impossible; or 2) that Divine Service is best, but other styles of worship may be used so long as they do not contain bad doctrine.

    If 1), then better argument is needed, as I’ve been hanging around these confessional Lutheran blogs for awhile and I have no idea where the Bible or confessions REQUIRE the use of Divine Service. If 2), then the criticism should focus on the bad doctrine, and if there is no bad doctrine, argument should be in favor of Divine Service as best rather than against practices that are not in error.

    For example, if a contemporary worship service started with a doctrinally sound confession, went into praise-style songs that contained no Arminian, or other, error, continued with Bible readings, a gospel filled sermon, offering, a few more praise-style songs, closed communion, and benediction, would there be anything to criticize as error? (I admit, I have never seen such a praise service.) If so, what would the argument from Scripture and the confessions be? If the argument is just to say we don’t change things except to remove error, then you lose, unless you can also provide Scripture that says “never change from one acceptable practice to another different, but also acceptable practice.” Maybe all your women wear hats in church, but I doubt it.

    I ask for clarification as one who loves the Divine Service and wishes to better argue for its more widespread use, but also as one who wishes not to limit Christian Freedom with man-made rules as the pharisees did. My current view would be that it would be beneficial for confessional churches to bring in a rockin praise band once a year to show that use of the Divine Service is NOT part of the Law.

  7. (I admit, I have never seen such a praise service.)

    The rest of us haven’t seen a praise service that was not filled with bad doctrine, “me” entertainment (and short on Gospel, though there may be law).

    That is what the fuss is about.
    I don’t see how abusing my ears with a “rockin praise band” once a year is going to clean up the “contemporary” act.

  8. Perhaps the next thing to be argued is that, since no such praise service format as yet exists–one that is confessional, reverent, scriptural, Christ-centered/cross-focused–then the praise enthusiasts will have to hold open the places they’ve already ‘won’, and press onward to more such ‘victories’–using what they’ve got so far–until such a service rears its useful head. All that matters is that the foot is in the door. Till the actual thing they profess to love follows through that door–Word, sacrament, law/gospel songs and preaching–they’ll let the shoddy stuff they’ve got suffice till the right thing comes along. They’re workin’ on it, no doubt. Day and night.
    But which really only proves that they *are* about form. Not content.
    So far, they got nuthin’, except accusations against confessionals. What a way to build a movement: accusing brothers and sisters; charging them with all manner of sins and sinful attitudes, and hoping to chip away at their consciences. For the sake of form, and not content. ‘Content pending,’ I suppose their disclaimer reads.
    What they don’t see is, that which they accuse of ineffectuality and uselessness is not the mere practioners of Divine Service, but Divine Service itself.
    Still, they gotta have it. They’e on a mission. But not for ‘content’; only for ‘form’. It’s that important.
    It is nothing but answering to a different spirit entirely.

  9. J. Jenkins,

    I think I would disagree on one point. It is not the Divine Service as “style” which is a stumbling block to the world, but rather it is *true worship* itself – that is, Christ the rock of offense doing to us what must be done. He offends the world, and True Worship – Preached Word (with authority over us) and Sacrament (God among us) is simply offensive and always will be, whether to moderns, post-moderns or whomsoever, whether hymns are sung or not. Paul didn’t need an organ to get stoned, beaten, arrested, etc.

    The reason why (so-called) “contemporary” worship appeals (though I also question this assumption too) is because it promises that man can, in fact, worship God if he wants to. That is, it supposes that man can enter God’s presence, as he is, even without Jesus, and pray to him, praise him and be heard, and then maybe hear about Jesus and be saved too. This, frankly, is not a Biblical faith. Hence, your comments about confusing “mission” and “worship” are highly pertinent, because by doing so one really loses both.

    To try to “make” Biblical, True Worship palleteable to pagans (especially through something as peripheral as music!) is like trying to sell an eco-zealot a car without an engine on the premise that it doesn’t burn fossil fuels and has bio-degradable paint. You might sell it, but to no one’s benefit – except, maybe the pocketbook of the salesman.

    It is also so very important to remember that St. Paul does not advocate removing all stumbling blocks – just stumbling blocks that are only serving our flesh. The stumbling block of the Wisdom of God (cf. 1 Cor 1-2!) must remain. So much so that we must put aside our fleshly desires, dreams, hopes, etc, and go out into the world, suffering everything and anything in order to gain a hearing for the Name. And THAT means going places we’re not comfortable and talking about Jesus THERE, NOT making True Worship more participatory for pagans.

    Anyhoot…I do appreciate your post very much! 😀

  10. Mr. Jenkins writes, “If 1), then better argument is needed, as I’ve been hanging around these confessional Lutheran blogs for awhile and I have no idea where the Bible or confessions REQUIRE the use of Divine Service.”

    I have to wonder about the idea that if something is not explicitly required in the Bible or our confessions such silence necessarily entails it is permissible to adopt certain practices. I think part of what Pr. Fisk points out above speaks directly to such an idea; namely, that while our Christian freedom may allow us to adopt certain practices, we do not do so out of charity for our weaker brothers and sisters. So really, the argument that if a practice isn’t explicitly dealt with in the scriptures or our confessions, then we are free to adopt it, isn’t terribly convincing in light of Christian charity.

    On a different note, I think our traditional (I prefer to the term “conservative” over “traditional”, since the point made by many a confessional Lutheran is that just as Luther conserved as much of the liturgy he practiced as a RC as he could, we too should conserve as much of our liturgical practices as we can unless given sound biblical reasons requiring change), or conservative liturgy is well grounded in the scriptures. What parts of the conservative liturgy can be removed without tampering with the Word or Sacraments? I can only think of the genre of music used in the liturgy as one area that could be “played with” and that is precisely where some Lutheran churches begin to make changes and from what I have seen, it all goes down hill from there. Why?

    For one, most churches that tamper with the music genre used in the conservative liturgy almost always adopt the pop/rock sound baby boomers are accustomed to. Have you ever found a church that goes to a Muzak (elevator music) sound? Or maybe to hip-hop or gangsta rap? Anyway, I find it interesting that those fighting for contemporary worship really battle over a particular sound that, quite honestly, isn’t all that popular outside of the baby boomer set. To be sure there are some exceptions. I have heard of a congregation in Europe using Metal as their sound (I have seen a YouTube of part of their “Metal service”). I just wonder if that will be sustainable. 🙂 I suppose if a congregation was really wanting to be relevant to the culture around them, they would adopt music genres of all kinds; from sounds that would please the geriatric crowd to driving sounds that would please some of the younger set, to maybe light and fluffy sounds for yet others. Again, I find it very interesting that we don’t see this happening and I suspect that it is because the real purpose of adopting “contemporary worship” isn’t to get out the gospel message, but rather it is being adopted to appeal to a certain demographic and make them feel good about sitting in the pew Sunday after Sunday. In short, it is about entertaining those people who can sustain church growth numbers. Is that too cynical? Perhaps, but that is the only reason I can think of as to why, by and large, “Lutheran” contemporary services adopt the music they do. Maybe you, or someone else, can convincingly show why the pop/rock sound of much of “Lutheran” contemporary services transcends generations of listeners and is better suited for our culture than say the sound we find in most of the LSB, for example?

    Whatever the case may be, it seems apparent that the real litmus test for changing the liturgy is whether or not the change maintains a cross centered focus, or does it cause drift towards a theology of glory? Can anyone say, with a straight face, that replacing the font and altar with praise band equipment and putting a “worship leader” front and center hasn’t detracted from the theology of the cross? Can we truly say that the lyrics of many of the contemporary Christian songs (at least those I have had the misfortune of listening to) point to a theology of the cross? Finally, are all genres of music value neutral to such an extent they can be adopted in a worship service without drawing attraction to themselves in entertainment of the crowd; hence distracting us from Christ given for us in the divine service?

    Mr. Jenkins, I think the “better argument” has always been before us and that is we should not use our Christian freedom as an excuse to tamper with the liturgy upon pain of falling into greater errors in which we move the center of the divine service away from Christ and bring attention to “I”; which from the scriptures, we find always leads to devastating problems and sin.

  11. I’ve been to many excellent contemporary worship services. They included guitar, synth, bass, percussion, soloists singing with microphones……but also robust congregational singing, organ, piano, choirs…..and more importantly, the Confession and Absolution, reverent reading of Scripture, psalmody, Law/Gospel preaching, the Nicene Creed, Canticles, and the Lord’s Supper.

    It was called “the Divine Service”.

    The Divine Service is not a particular setting in LSB, LW, or TLH. It is simply the Lutheran Mass.

    When people say “contemporary worship”, though, and congregations offer “contemporary worship”, they don’t mean the Divine Service.

    So, J. Jenkins, my friend in Christ, I hope this helps. You’ve never seen “such a praise service” – but perhaps that is because when such a service is done rightly it becomes……the Divine Service.

    For those who seek and those who market these “alternative” services, the “sound” is just an excuse: what they really want is to be free to do what they want, rather than worship according to the synaxis and pattern of Biblical worship.

  12. At the risk of over-simplifying or painting with too broad a brush, a lot of this mis-guided attempt at “doing church” is my fault.

    As a baby boomer, it has always been about us and what makes us feel good. Unfortunately, we usually got what we wished and fought for – free love, disrespect for anything older than we are, if it feels good do it, etc, etc, you get the picture.

    We want to call this “praise and worship”. It really is just that! Unfortunately, all to often it is about praising and worshipping ourselves. We are creating God (and church) in our own image.

    revfisk and jim pierce, thanks for saying what I’ve felt in my heart, but couldn’t put into words nearly as well as you do.

  13. For decades Lutheran Hour Ministries has had as its motto “bringing Christ to the nations,” I only recently realized how Pauline that statement is, and how contrary it is to the neo-evangelical version of bringing people to Christ.
    That I think is the simplest explanation of the difference in the interpretation and application of 1Corinthians 9:22. In Christ Paul is freed from the dietary restrictions of the Judaism. But to bring Christ to his countrymen he disciplines himself, that is he limits his exercise of Christian freedom so as to not taint the message of Christ crucfied. He as an apostle has the right to be paid for his labors, but to avoid the accusation that he is charging people for the gospel he accepts no pay.
    A far cry is this from the interpretation of verse 22 in some circles. Here it seems some are prone to think that they may and exercise their freedom as Christians, and in some cases I would venture to say abuse their freedom to bring people ‘to’ Christ, by appealing to the nation’s vain and carnal nature.

  14. Rev. Bergstrazer:
    Theirs is not ‘interpretation’ but misappropriation of Paul and of Christian freedom.
    It’s utter mishandling of the tresury of grace.
    As if they’d use God’s money to buy themselves a Ferrari.
    What is ultimately behind it is self-justification: it’s what I want, and, even if I have to twist God’s word to mean somehting other than what it does, I will do so.
    Apparently, what God really wants for us, and why He delivers Christ into our hands and mouths, is simply to satisfy our appetites.

  15. Oh, let’s be honest here.
    It’s not ‘like’ anything.
    It absolutely is embezzling. It’s taking the Word of God for uses apart from its purpose. It takes directly from the source, and cheats and deprives those for whom it was intended.

    Why people want to be so deceitful and so deceived and so cheated is beyond me.

  16. I think that we get into the mess because we buy into the false dichotomy of saving souls with contemporary stle, or clinging to our liturgy while barely maintaining current membership. It makes me absolutely crazy to think how many times that this argument is put out there with no one challenging it.

  17. This post is in reference to #9, J. Jenkin’s thoughtful post asking if the use of contemporary services is objectionable in itself, or if it is only the false doctrine that is associated with it that is objectionable.

    First, let me say that I am impressed with your remarks even though I disagree with them. I appreciate the distinctions you make and find them helpful.

    You asked where the Bible or Confessions require the use of the Divine Service. At the very least, AC and Apol. XXIV require it. “We must repeat the prefatory statement that we do not abolish the Mass but religiously keep and defend it.” The term “Mass” in AC and Apol. XXIV does not just mean the Lord’s Supper, though that was included in it and the high point of the Mass. Mass means the liturgy. Luther’s Latin and German Masses were church liturgies, and later Lutheran musicians wrote musical settings of the Mass, meaning the Kyrie, Gloria, and usually others.

    The use of contemporary soft rock music is a different issue, but related. However, it is one that must be addressed first on the basis of the efficacy of God’s Word. Heb. 4:12 says “the word of God is living and powerful.” Isa. 55:11 likewise says, “[The Word] shall not return to Me void. But it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

    If God’s Word is efficacious in and of itself, then there is no need to make it work better. Either it works of itself, or it needs man’s help and effort to make it work. Either it is relevant in itself because the Holy Spirit works by it, or it needs man’s help to make it relevant.

    This is my main argument against the use of contemporary soft rock music in worship. Such music is introduced as a way of growing a church, as if the Word of God itself is dead and inert, and in need of man’s efforts to make it work. Yet this is not Biblical or Lutheran. It comes out of an Arminian theology. The results are that it leads churches to embrace decision-theologies, synergism, with a loss of catechesis and a de-emphasis on Sacraments.

    Here I also want to comment on Phillip’s remark in comment #16. He has seen a service that uses the traditional liturgical forms with a soft rock music. I do not doubt that there are such services. But I would be surprised if this arrangement continued for any substantial time, for the simple reason that style is not divorced from substance. Style rather relates to substance the way that fruit relates to the tree. Style that is Arminian plants the seeds to a substance that becomes Arminian, just as the seed from a fruit plants a tree of that same kind of fruit.

    I hope this helps. Please feel free to respond.

    In Christ,
    Rev. Robert Mayes

  18. At the very least, AC and Apol. XXIV require it. “We must repeat the prefatory statement that we do not abolish the Mass but religiously keep and defend it.” The term “Mass” in AC and Apol. XXIV does not just mean the Lord’s Supper, though that was included in it and the high point of the Mass. Mass means the liturgy. Luther’s Latin and German Masses were church liturgies, and later Lutheran musicians wrote musical settings of the Mass, meaning the Kyrie, Gloria, and usually others.

    Amen and Amen.

    I left the green fields of Confessional Lutheran worship for the ECLA and the Roman Catholic church for a period of time. I guess it took that sojourn for me to see what riches I had as a Lutheran formed in the Confessions.

    For anyone wishing to do a little research the pattern of the Divine Liturgy in Word and Sacrament, i.e., the Scriptures and the breaking of bread, have been followed in the Church from the very beginning. God comes to us, Christ is present FOR us in the Divine Service to give us His gifts. These are not “pharisaical” man-made rules but the result of the Holy Spirit guiding and forming the Church after Pentecost.

    Both Roman Catholicism and American evangelicalism still miss it. It’s not about what we do, it’s about what Christ has done and continues to do for us until He comes again. The vehicle for His gifts is the Divine Liturgy.

    The Confessions got it right.

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