Ablaze with the Doctrine of Justification – Words that Never got Spoken at the Nebraska District Convention

(Editor’s Note – The following is from the newsletter of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Lincoln, Nebraska, pastored by  Rev. Clint Poppe. The rest of the story is explained in the introduction that follows.)

From the Pastor’s Pen: “Speaking the Truth in Love” Ephesians 4:15

For the past six years, in addition to my call and duties here at Good Shepherd, I have had the privilege to serve the Nebraska District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod as regional vice president and First Vice President of the District.

Over a year ago, at one of our regular congregational meetings, I announced that I would not be allowing my name to stand for President or Vice President of the District in the future. While there were parts of my service that I certainly enjoyed, there was much time away from family and congregation. I am very thankful for these sacrifices. It also became more and more clear to me that this position required more of a politician than a theologian; I felt I could no longer serve in good conscience.

Several weeks before the recent District Convention, I asked our District President for permission to address the Convention, for ten minutes or less, to offer words of encouragement to and for the church, as the outgoing First Vice President. I was told that it would happen on Saturday of the Convention. The Convention came and went and I was not given the opportunity to speak. While disappointed, I was not surprised. At the encouragement of our Elders, I now share my prepared remarks with you, words of encouragement to and for the church; words I was not allowed to speak at our District Convention:

June 6, 2009

President Sommerfeld, members of the Nebraska District Board of Directors, voting and advisory delegates of the 16th District Convention of the Nebraska District, and visitors, dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Grace and peace, love and mercy, from God our Father through Jesus Christ our crucified and risen and ascended Lord and Savior. Amen.

I would like to thank President Sommerfeld for allowing me a few minutes to address the convention. It has been an honor, privilege, and at times a challenge to serve the people of God in the Nebraska District these past six years as first vice president of the district. Thank you to the many congregations who placed their trust in me again for continued service. For years I have been telling people that when it comes to church, there is not a political bone in my body, yet some just didn’t believe me. Just over a year ago I made the decision that the only way to demonstrate my sincerity was to decline nomination. I pray that this choice is a God-pleasing one and that people would put the best construction on my decision.

I have seen and experienced a great deal in the past six years, and based on that experience I would like to offer some words of encouragement to and for the church. One of my special joys had been the opportunity to attend and participate in numerous ordinations, installations, anniversaries, and other congregational celebrations. I am thankful that the congregation I serve graciously allowed me to serve in this special way. I have been quite literally from Waunita and Imperial in the West to Falls City and South Sioux City in the East, with many, many points in between. As a life-long Nebraskan I was privileged to see and experience parts of the state that I didn’t even know existed. The one joyous constant was the love of Jesus Christ shining in and through the people of God in this place; united in the love of Christ. I encourage you, brothers and sisters in Christ, to strive for the kind of unity that Paul encouraged the Ephesian church to strive for: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4: 1-6) This unity is not something we create or achieve by human action; it is a gift from God. This unity is not dependant upon method or style but promised by the Triune God wherever the Word of God is proclaimed in its truth and purity. (Lord’s Prayer, First Petition) This unity is built not upon conventions and bylaws, but on the solid foundation which is Jesus Christ crucified and risen for forgiveness, life and salvation.

It is no secret that our beloved church, at all levels, has been plagued by division. This is nothing new and certainly not a post 9/11 development in the church. From the earliest days of our synod, in the controversies surrounding the banishment of Martin Stephan and choosing sides in the Civil War, the Predestination controversies and the English language debate, the Statement of the 44, the 1970’s “Battle for the Bible”, continuing worship wars and now Yankee Stadium, it may appear that we have been and currently are more divided than united. Look around right now. How sad that we have some brothers and sisters in Christ who will not commune, worship, or even speak with each other; continuing sinful divisions both real and imagined. Dear friends in Christ, God loves reconciliation! That’s why He sent Jesus into this fallen world; “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. ” (II Corinthians 5:17-6:1)

During the last several years, I have heard many people sincerely speak of missions and outreach, and with it very little mention of Christ’s once and for all sacrifice on Calvary’s cross. I have heard well-intentioned people speak passionately about all the people dying and going to hell, as if their fate was somehow dependant on our efforts and that Christ’s It-Is- Finished word meant nothing. I have seen doctrine and practices introduced into our congregations under the heading of new, contemporary, and emerging, which are nothing more than repackaged revivalism and New Measures of the 19th century. I have heard of a young woman who refused to commune at one of our district congregation’s altars because she had never used a hymnal before in worship and didn’t think she was in a Lutheran church. I fear that in our desire to be diverse and contemporary, we have inadvertently lost our Lutheran identity. All Lutherans, by definition, are confessional Lutherans. We promise that the Creeds and Confessions contained in the Book of Concord are a correct and true exposition of Holy Scripture. It is my prayer that we confessional Lutherans would be truly confessing Lutherans; Lutheran by conviction!

As we move forward together, fellow sinners redeemed and reconciled by the holy, precious blood of Jesus, may we always remember the material principle of true Lutheranism, the thing that really matters most, the main thing: we are justified, that is declared righteous, by grace alone, through faith alone, in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone, as revealed to us in Scripture alone; to God alone be the glory! This is what it means to be Lutheran; always has and always will!

Luther says it this way; “Therefore I say that there is no force that can resist the sects, and not remedy against them except this one doctrine of Christian righteousness. If this doctrine is lost, it is impossible for us to be able to resist any errors or sects. We can see this today in the fanatics, Anabaptists, and Sacramentarians. Now that they have fallen away from this doctrine, they will never stop falling, erring, and seducing others ad infinitum. Undoubtedly they will arouse innumerable sects and think up new works. Although in outward appearance all these things may be very good and saintly, what are they in comparison with the death and the blood of the Son of God, who gave Himself for me?” (note 1)

C F W Walther, in his 1859 Essay on Justification, (note 2) addressed to a District Convention much like this one, teaches us that keeping justification central in all we say and do is an ongoing challenge for the church. “Why is it that this conviction [justification] has to a large extent disappeared even within the Evangelical Lutheran Church?” Answering his own question he states, “Because most of the teachers in it have themselves lost this treasure.” Walther goes on, cautioning against a spirit that “considers purity of doctrine unimportant,” and “enthusiastic stimulation of feelings through all sorts of new regulations that downplay the means of grace instituted by God.” (p. 54) We need to heed his words of caution today as well.

Finally, Walther addresses both preachers and hearers, suggesting several measures that should be taken to awaken the lost consciousness of justification. To pastors he gives one word: Study! Study the Word of God and especially the Epistles of Paul. Study the Confessions. Study Luther. The fruit of this study will be, “that they, pastors, evidence all faithfulness in this improved knowledge thus acquired by God’s grace, untiringly promote the pure doctrine of justification as the basic and chief doctrine, inculcate it in their hearers, and conform all their sermons, catechism instruction, private teaching, admonitions, reprimands, consolations, counseling, in short, their total care of souls and congregational leadership to the pure doctrine of justification as the root, the central point, and the crown of all doctrine.” (p. 54)

“With respect to the hearers, however, it will be essential above all that they be directed to this pure pasture of the sweet Gospel, which alone makes one willing and glad to do good works. They should especially be introduced to Luther’s writings, have awakened within them the joy of reading the same, be helped to understand them, be shown the essential difference between them and all other human devotional books without exception, and be made aware of the proper use of the treasures of clear perception and of deep Christian experience contained in them.” Walther goes on to say that if this were to actually happen, the pure doctrine of justification would soon return and, “with the return thereof, by the repossession of this most precious treasure of doctrine, the blessing would be renewed that the age of the Reformation, comparable only to that of the apostles, so richly enjoyed.” (p. 54)

I would humbly submit that Walther, 150 year ago, in his urgent plea to the Lutheran church, was calling us to be ablaze with the doctrine of justification, “For practically 30 years Luther himself stood in spirit at the stake, a death he would have suffered with joy and rejoicing; however, it was not God’s will that he should teach by his death, but in and by his life. Now, as he won the battle against his enemies solely because the doctrine of justification ruled his heart, and constantly thought in harmony with it, so also our Synod can be victorious against the sects and all other enemies only if a fire, lit by a correct understanding of the doctrine of justification, begins to blaze up in us as it burned in our beloved Luther.” (p. 56)

May God grant this to us all, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Rev. Clint K. Poppe, 1st Vice President, Nebraska District, 2003-2009

1 LW 26: 176

2 Walther, Essays for the Church, Volume I, CPH 1992, p. 30-63.

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.


Ablaze with the Doctrine of Justification – Words that Never got Spoken at the Nebraska District Convention — 25 Comments

  1. For claiming to not be political this statement is just loaded with political language. The statement was made:

    “I have heard of a young woman who refused to commune at one of our district congregation’s altars because she had never used a hymnal before in worship and didn’t think she was in a Lutheran church. I fear that in our desire to be diverse and contemporary, we have inadvertently lost our Lutheran identity.”

    The Lutheran identity is not wrapped up in a hymnal, but in the Book of Concord. Hymnals were not used in the early church for the Mass. Rather, they had psalms, hymns and spiritual songs memorized. We now have the technology to put everything on monitors and screens. Hymnals are adiaphora!

  2. Matt,

    You are mistaking the hymnal for what is in the hymnal. This is a typical literary tool that we all use all the time called synecdoche where the part stands or the whole.

    Of course no one is saying that to worship God you must hold two pieces of cardboard covered in cloth holding together 450 pieces of paper. The hymnal stands for and actually encapsulates what is Lutheran. Some of the things that end up on screens are Lutheran but we cannot make the statement that all that we find on the screens in all Lutheran churches is Lutheran. We can say that about the hymnal.

    Golden arches are found at McDonalds, “Wolverines” are found at the stadium in Ann Arbor, when you see the Space Needle you think of Seattle, Lutheran hymnals are found in Lutheran churches and Baptist hymnals are found in Baptist churches or at least those Baptist churches that are commmitted to remaining Baptist. Those who aren’t have started embracing every fad that comes along and are no longer Baptist as is the case in the independent churches that do not use hymnals, i.e. they too embrace every fad that comes along.

    Is a hymnal necessary for salvation? Of course not. Does a sound hymnal that is based on the pure Gospel of Christ in a sanctuary that is used each week for the Divine Service increase the odds that a parish remains true to that pure Gospel? Without a doubt it does.

    Your argument about the early church is silly. As soon as the church had the capability of producing books to codify its worship it did. This is like the argument about small groups. Silly people claim that small groups are legitimate because it is how the early church worshipped. They did that because they were small and because it was illegal for them to gather publicly. As soon as they had the numbers and Christianity was legalized they not only started building and decorating public spaces, they took over some of the largest public buildings they could find (basilicas) and decorated them in a way that befit the sacramental and incarnational theology of scripture.


  3. I don’t think it’s fair to make off limits anything ever debated in the political sphere as “political.” That would be pretty much all topics of interest.

    The woman refused communion because she recognized what was being taught in the service was different. If the only difference was whether the liturgy was on the screen or in a book she would have realized that. Our hymnals are almost entirely Lutheran, so if the theology in them is foreign to her, were her prior churches Lutheran?

  4. Justin,

    I knew there was a simpler way to say what I was trying to say in #2. Thanks!


  5. Matt,

    Read the statement you cited by Pastor Poppe in the context of everything else he wrote in his address. He wrote, “This unity is not something we create or achieve by human action; it is a gift from God. This unity is not dependant upon method or style but promised by the Triune God wherever the Word of God is proclaimed in its truth and purity.” and “Look around right now. How sad that we have some brothers and sisters in Christ who will not commune, worship, or even speak with each other; continuing sinful divisions both real and imagined. Dear friends in Christ, God loves reconciliation! That’s why He sent Jesus into this fallen world;”

    We are divided because we are not walking together in the truth of God’s Word. It was not necessarily contemporary worship (or lack there of) that divided the woman from her Lutheran brothers, but her lack of understanding the doctrine of justification. Many of the songs, prayers and creeds used in CW confuse the doctrine of justification.

    Pastor Poppe is simply calling us all back to the Word of God. Unfortunately, the itching ears of men don’t want to hear it.

  6. Hymnals are adiaphora!
    My first hymnal was given to me from the Church in 1957. Those of us who still remember (and use) hymnals know this was THE Lutheran Hymnal. The grandfather (and mothers) among us affectionately refer to these services as page 5 or page 15. Although we long ago committed these services to memory, the joy of holding TLH still lingers.

    Of course, we were not blessed with monitors and screens.

    In the early 1980’s, I purchased my second hymnal, the Lutheran Book of Worship. While this was no TLH, we still managed to worship in a Lutheran manner.

    We had screens then – they were sometimes used in Bible class or Sunday school for movies relevant to the Scriptures being taught. No monitors though.

    In the 1990’s, I moved to a different congregation which used Lutheran Worship. So, I bought yet another hymnal. This was a difficult transition due to the close, but distinct differences between LW and LBW. I viewed this as good catechesis for it caused me to reflect on the differences and similarities and the reasons why.

    The Church had screens and monitors – still restricted to Bible class and Sunday School.

    Then, in 2006, along came the FINAL hymnal for me – The Lutheran Service Book. Without openning the hymnal, the cover proclaimed the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and on the front, an embossed Cross with Word and Sacraments I could see and feel. And, page 15 was back in Divine Service III. I confess my LSB was purchased from another Lutheran church – I was attending a Wednesday Bible class there when their shipment arrived and eagerly reached for my wallet to pay them for the ‘priviledge’ of owning the newest hymnal (our church received their shipment the next week.)

    Now, I find I can and do use this hymnal each and every week. No, not in the Divine Service for our church is richly supplied with copies in the pews. The hymnal is for my use at home, for me and my family. Sometimes, I just hold this treasure of the Church and meditate on the contents. Sometimes, I follow Luther’s advice and use the hymns inside to strengthen my faith or drive away the Devil as he cannot tolerate these hymns. My question to Matt is can you use your monitor or screen to help you through the week; can you hold these ‘treasures’ in your hand or near your heart and ponder the meanings wherein? Does your screen or monitor reflect the Church year each and every week; can you utilize these with your Treasury of Daily Prayer for guidance and building up of your faith?

    To refer to a hymnal as “adiphoran” I find very sad. Someone has deprived you of a great treasure of the Church. For over fifty years, I’ve possessed the hymnals of our Church. They didn’t make me Lutheran – but they most certainly have helped me remain Lutheran by what they teach and confess with their contents. What do your screens and monitors teach and confess each and every day?

  7. Brothers,

    First, sign that guy (Pastor Clint Poppe) up for synodical office. We need more guys like him, whether clergy, commissioned, or laity, in the service of our national church!

    Second, Matt is correct that hymn-books are an adiaphoron. The media is not the message. Lutheran Service Book is available in an electronic edition that can easily be projected on screens. Use of books is, however, advantageous to most older folks (like me) who have vision difficulties that are best corrected with reading glasses. Young folks can have their computer projectors, but older folks will prefer a book with better print contrast and clearer images.

    Third, the young lady who doesn’t like Lutheran worship is proof that the promoters of “contemporary worship” have undermined the Lutheran church. Whether this was intentional or not doesn’t matter. Back in the 1970s, my home congregation used a “prayer and praise” service that attracted mostly youth from that congregation. It was not different in format or music style for what is considered contemporary today. Eventually those youth (200+) all left for Evangelical churches (except for a handful, including myself). The youth left, not because they disagreed with Lutheran theology, but because they didn’t care about theology, God’s Word, or the real prayers of the church. The Evangelical style was more appealing, because it is about “God in me.” I learned that lesson thirty years ago, and have been warning our synodical leaders ever since.

    Fourth, I hope Matt agrees that the principles of Lutheran worship still need to be upheld and practiced, as found for example in Formula of Concord Article X, and that these principles are not upheld in most cases of “contemporary worship.” Norm Fisher has been writing some good posts on this subject at BJS. His posting of the Marquart article on “Liturgical Commonplaces” is also helpful.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  8. Some of us who are young see enough screens everywhere else to not mind holding a book once in a while, you know.

  9. Holding a book helps me feel like a participant in the service rather than just a spectator at an entertainment event.

    Educationally, it has been shown that having an actual book helps one pay attention, keep on track, and remember what was read, studied, or sung. One can always “go back” and reread the prior verse in a hymn or a previous paragraph in a book in the event you want to contemplate it further or “missed out” on what was said the first time. Having one’s own personal hymnal in church allows the individual to write notes its pages – such as when it was sung or any other special memories it promoted.

    My own books, not only my hymnal, are heavily underlined, marked, and have notes in the margins, reinforcing the message on the page. Interestingly, when I came in possession of some of my father’s and grandfather’s books after their deaths, I discovered similar underlining, marks, and notes. Perhaps it heredity, but it surely gives me a “hands on” feeling in public worship and private reading. It is interesting to re-read books years later and see what thoughts it prompted in you when you read it the first time. I guess I’m a genuine bibliophile (and that’s a good thing despite what it sounds like).

  10. I’m not adding much to this, but I have to say that I’m getting a tad tired of those who cry “this or that is adiaphora!” and expect that to be the end of the debate. On the contrary, it is in the true Christian and Lutheran spirit to BEGIN the debate at that point. When something is correctly identified as adiaphora (like hymnals or the liturgy), it is at that point that we must work most closely together and go into great detail to find what the most acceptable and God-pleasing practice is.

  11. Mr. Noland @ 7 writes, “The media is not the message.”

    I agree. The media type itself is quite obviously not the message. The type of paper, type font, and ink color are not the message. However, a question I find interesting comes to mind: Does the media type affect the delivery of the message in any way? For example, Stephen Mahar of the University of North Carolina Wilmington conducted a study (“Less is More When Developing
    PowerPoint Animations”
    )of the affects of animated Powerpoint presentations on students which apparently shows lower testing scores for students watching animated presentations versus their colleagues who watched non-animated slides. If the study is correct, then the correlation of media type affecting the message is clear: some media types can have a negative impact on receiving the message being conveyed, since the media type may actually reduce the person’s engagement with the information presented. In other words, if an animation is running, someone like me goes into “couch potato mode” and uses the media as a means of mindless entertainment. Of course, this doesn’t mean, in and of itself, such media should not be used, but I think it ought to raise our awareness that not all media types are created equal. Some media types just may have detrimental effects on the message being conveyed.

  12. RE: #10 by Caleb: “When something is correctly identified as adiaphora (like hymnals or the liturgy), it is at that point that we must work most closely together and go into great detail to find what the most acceptable and God-pleasing practice is…”

    I agree. There is a solution to this, but no one will like it: do as the confessional Reformed propose to do, agree only to sing inspired songs and worship without instruments, “inspired” meaning only the Psalter and a few selected passages from the NT, like Mary’s Song. The confessional Reformed, following Calvin (of course) view instruments as idols and anything sung other than what was intended in the OT and what is mandated in the NT (their words) is considered to be unscriptural worship. The idea of freedom within the concept of adiaphora is a great thing – except when it gets stretched so far as to be all inclusive.

    Now, I realize that this instigating to a great extent and that no earnest Lutheran musician (or layman, for that matter) would go for it, and perhaps rightly so, but it does propose a certain refreshing change to the bee-bop, yell/scream, bay-at-the-moon style of music that is so pervasive among “evangelical” Protestant American churches (and…sigh…now many Lutheran, as well) who favor a CW (yep, read that “Country Western”) format.

    Consider this tongue-in-cheek, but not to overly so….

  13. Having served in a very large LCMS congregation in Nebraska for 9 years during the 1970’s, I have to say that there was something about Nebraska Lutheranism that was “Lite.” At that time the leadership was predominantly liberal. There was a strong “conservative” element in the grass roots, but I noticed that it tended to be more of a “Back to the Bible Hour” sort of conservatism and not a Word and Sacrament one. I definitely was on the conserative side of the controversy in Synod at the time, but was wary of some of the bedfellows. The end result was that we are united on an inerrant Bible, but Lite on Lutheranism. The strength of Lutheranism was always a rural base, but to be honest, I didn’t know of too many congregations in Omaha or Lincoln to refer people to, and still don’t. There are certainly today some of them that are involved in shenanigans contrary to our doctrinal and fellowship agreements in efforts to mimic the “successful” “community” churches.

  14. I can tell you from personal experience that Pr. Poppe is one of the most effective evangelists I have ever met.

    He is also, shamefully, the target of some of the most vicious slander that I’ve ever Lutherans utter against one of their own.

    I presume that Pr. Poppe and his family have suffered from the hate directed against them, and are certainly due a rest from the poisonous atmosphere of our church politics. I pray that God sustains his ministry and continues to raise up men of faithfulness and courage to leadership positions in the church.

  15. Regarding hymnals, this past Lent I visited an LCMS congregation for mid-week worship. The church had in its pews Lutheran Book of Worship, plus the Augsburg supplements With One Voice and Worship and Praise Songbook. The ONLY identification I had that this church was in fellowship with my own was lcms.org!

    Our hymnal identifies a congregation’s affiliation even when the congregation is not proclaiming it. If I had seen Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal Supplement ’98 instead, I would not have had to reassure myself that I was in the correct place.

  16. Re: Jim Pierce (#11) My wife, who is also my ecclesiastical supervisor (I am a layman) has often said with respect to film clips, pictures, etc as part of sermons, “Now I know why God forbade graven images!” The medium does indeed become the message when one engages in using media to sermonize or teach.
    One summer, our congregation did a summer series on the Gospel of Luke, using a film or video. I was “privileged” to lead one session. I prepared by reading the text (three chapters in Luke) and watching the film several times. Then I thought I was ready. One of the questions I asked the class before the film was “Name some lessons that Jesus teaches us in these chapters.” Another was, “What did you think of Jesus?” When the film was done, I asked the first question. There were no answers–nobody–not one person– remembered what Jesus taught. The most common answer to the second question was, “He smiled too much.”
    I never used a film again. Can you imagine how much teaching is done when films are used in a sermon?

    There’s no way that the most well-intentioned film version of any Biblical story or passage can adequately convey the message that is there–everything is filtered thru the actors’ interpretation, the directors’ prejudices, and the viewers’ imaginations. It becomes entertainment, and not much else–a tragic dumbing down of God’s Word. It’s also a crutch for pastors who are too lazy to properly prepare a sermon.
    Now I feel better.
    Mr.Pierce, thank you for those insights–you have affirmed my opinion of using such media as utter bogosity.

  17. Matt,

    Books are good because they are more permanent than temporarily projected photons on a screen. (You will note that this is not an argument based on divine mandate but an argument based on the nature of God’s gifts to us.) I often wonder what archaeological record will be left of today’s civilization, if any. Besides, God certainly saw fit to give us a book as opposed to a movie or a PowerPoint.

    (Dr. Edward Tufte has some excellent criticisms of PowerPoint–its soundbite nature, its inability to present coherent thoughts in complete sentences, its unnecessary hierarchialization of content. Most damningly, he identifies their role in causing the poor decisions that lead to the Space Shuttle Columbia’s demise.)

    But what is better than a book and certainly better than a screen is when we, the faithful, have the liturgy committed to memory so that no text is necessary. I’m only in my twenties now, but I fully expect to be repeating the liturgy to myself over and over when I am old, weak, and dying.

    Pax Christi,


  18. Regarding the use of hymnals, historically, let’s not forget that Luther wrote prefaces to three hymnals containing many of his hymns in various settings (contained in vol. 53 of the American Ed. of Luther’s Works). He was, among other things, very concerned about the texts of the hymns he had written and that were at times “improved upon” by printers.

    From the Wittenberg Hymnal:
    “And these songs were arranged in four parts to give the young—who should at any rate be trained in music and other fine arts—something to wean them away from love ballads and carnal songs and to teach them something of value in their place, thus combining the good with the pleasing, as is proper for youth. Nor am I of the opinion that the gospel should destroy and blight all the arts, as some of the pseudo-religious claim. But I would like to see all the arts, especially music, used in the service of Him who gave and made them. I therefore pray that every pious Christian would be pleased with this [the use of music in the service of the gospel] and lend his help if God has given him like or greater gifts. As it is, the world is too lax and indifferent about teaching and training the young for us to abet this trend. God grant us his grace.”

    Hymnals are a way to promote good music, that is, music that is unlike popular, easy-listening love ballads but truly artful, something he expresses in his “Preface to all Good Hymnals” and in his preface to G. Rhau’s Delightful Symphonies (motets for the church year), the latter praising especially the wonder of human voice:

    “And yet, compared to the human voice, all this hardly deserves the name of music, so abundant and incomprehensible is here the munificence and wisdom of our most gracious Creator. Philosophers have labored to explain the marvelous instrument of the human voice: how can the air projected by a light movement of the tongue and an even lighter movement of the throat produce such an infinite variety and articulation of the voice and of words? And how can the voice, at the direction of the will, sound forth so powerfully and vehemently that it cannot only be heard by everyone over a wide area, but also be understood? Philosophers for all their labor cannot find the explanation; and baffled they end in perplexity; for none of them has yet been able to define or demonstrate the original components of the human voice, its sibilation and (as it were) its alphabet, e.g., in the case of laughter—to say nothing of weeping. They marvel, but they do not understand. But such speculations on the infinite wisdom of God, shown in this single part of his creation, we shall leave to better men with more time on their hands. We have hardly touched on them.”

    A little later:
    “But when [musical] learning is added to all this and artistic music which corrects, develops, and refines the natural music, then at last it is possible to taste with wonder (yet not to comprehend) God’s absolute and perfect wisdom in his wondrous work of music. Here it is most remarkable that one single voice continues to sing the tenor,11 while at the same time many other voices play around it, exulting and adorning it in exuberant strains and, as it were, leading it forth in a divine roundelay, so that those who are the least bit moved know nothing more amazing in this world. But any who remain unaffected are unmusical indeed and deserve to hear a certain filth poet12 or the music of the pigs.
    But the subject is much too great for me briefly to describe all its benefits. And you, my young friend, let this noble, wholesome, and cheerful creation of God be commended to you. By it you may escape shameful desires and bad company. At the same time you may by this creation accustom yourself to recognize and praise the Creator. Take special care to shun perverted minds who prostitute this lovely gift of nature and of art with their erotic rantings; and be quite assured that none but the devil goads them on to defy their very nature which would and should praise God its Maker with this gift, so that these bastards purloin the gift of God and use it to worship the foe of God, the enemy of nature and of this lovely art.”

    There is, in other words, a proper use of music and an improper use. The proper use of art music ennobles the natural musicality; the imporper use, whose point it is to promote promiscuity, dishonors God, its Creator.

    From the Weiss Hymnal:

    “Now there are some who have given a good account of themselves and augmented the hymns so that they by far surpass me and are my masters indeed. But others have added little of worth. And since I realize that there is going to be no end to this haphazard and arbitrary revision which goes on from day to day, and that even our first hymns are more and more mutilated with each reprinting, I fear that this booklet will ultimately fare no better than good books everywhere, namely, to be corrupted and adulterated by blunderheads until the good in it will be lost and only the bad remain. Similarly, we see in St. Luke 1 [:1–4] that in the beginning everyone wanted to write a gospel, until the true gospel was all but lost among so many gospels. The same thing happened to the books of SS. Jerome, Augustine, and many others. In a word, there must be mouse dirt with the pepper.1
    In order to prevent this as far as possible, I have reviewed this booklet again and printed the hymns of our group separately with the names of the authors, something that I had heretofore avoided for fear of vainglory, but that I am now forced to do, lest worthless hymns by others be sold under our name. I have placed other hymns which we think are good and the most useful in the second section.
    I beg and admonish all who love the pure Word no more to “improve” or enlarge our booklet without our knowledge. But if it should be “improved” without our knowledge, let it be known that such is not the booklet published by us in Wittenberg. After all, everyone can compile his own booklet of hymns and leave ours intact, as we beg, desire, and herewith declare to be our wish. For we would like to safeguard the value of our own currency, not begrudging anyone else the privilege of coining a better one for themselves, in order that God’s name alone be praised and not ours.”

    Here, clearly, a hymnal is kind of like a little doctrinal compendium, a hymn is sung doctrine — it better be the correct one! Compiling a hymnal is setting up a teaching standard, a canon, if you will: some make the cut because they are good, that is, in agreement with God’s word and expound it fully, while others don’t make the cut because their text is lacking.

    In summary, hymnals in the Lutheran church, from the very beginning, have fulfilled the important function of setting musical and textual (doctrinal) standards and patterns to be followed, later on with the sanction of the church body via church orders. That today trans-congregational standards — in this and many other areas — no longer seem to make sense is a problem, or, to put it differently, a lack of Christian love.

  19. Amen, Pr. Fisk! (#8) I spend more than half of each and every day staring at one screen or another … I don’t need to stare at yet another screen in church. We younger people definitely need a break from technology every now and then.

  20. Building on what Dawn wrote. . .

    It seems like every minute of every day there is a video screen in my face telling me what to buy, what to think, who to vote for, how to dress, what to be.

    And then in the liturgy I join in a song that has gone on for a few thousand years, in every nation, and will continue throughout eternity. Instead of being manipulated and “sold,” our Redeemer ends the warfare between us and our creator and gives us a foretaste of the eternal feast.

  21. I have a question. Why are you talking about the hymnal when the problems run much deeper. The lack of theological insight by those in power in the LC-MS. The abandoning of the Central Doctrine of the Church, the Justification of the Sinner. A PALS guy I had said that his church knew Justification they needed the Third Use of the Law, what an idiot and he runs a PALS group. Without Justification there is no Christ and then we are no better than Mohammedans, Jews, or Mormons.

    BTW Let us look at Justification,

    1 Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. 2 People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. 3 God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight (Romans 3 and 4 [3:21–26; 4:5].

    Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Edited by Paul Timothy McCain. St. Louis, MO : Concordia Publishing House, 2005, S. 33

    and the Ministry
    1 So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. 2 Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22]. He works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. 3 This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake.
    4 Our churches condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word.

    Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Edited by Paul Timothy McCain. St. Louis, MO : Concordia Publishing House, 2005, S. 33

    Justification comes through the preached Word and the Administration of the Sacraments in the LITURGY not some self imposed idea. We are not enthusiasts.

  22. Welcome to the LCMS clergy Stuart.

    Just do your best to patiently teach those who need it, i.e. “the idiots.”


  23. #19
    I spend my day with a computer, too, (plus too many hours of my evening here, no doubt).

    But, like my young Pastor, (who has told me he keeps his cell phone on his nightstand in case anyone should need him, and has his Notebook on early and late every day),
    I also value sitting down with a book in my hands. Most particularly, I value that at church.
    Keep your “bulletins” simple and short, please. The hymnal will do nicely.

  24. #13 by Karl — July 31, 2009 @ 3:08 pm

    You will be safe recommending “Lamb of God” on 72nd & L in Omaha, or “Zion West” at 14205 Ida Street.

    In Lincoln, I would suggest Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
    3825 Wildbriar Lane, Pr. Poppe’s parish. All confessional LC-MS pastors.

  25. @Karl,

    Also, Immanuel in Lincoln on 13th and South with Reverend Bloom is a wonderful confessional parish with the Sacrament every service.

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