Over Reaching, by Klemet Preus

Someone said:

The MNS BOD resolution to require that mission congregations use LSB to receive funding was an overreach. It galvanized the left and polarized the mushy middle. That’s why you got your lunch handed to you. Years of work, all down the drain.

I tend to agree with this assessment. Although I take issue with the last sentence. The Board’s resolution was an overreach. Here’s what happened.

We know that you cannot legislate the liturgy. You can’t force people to use the hymnal. As a board member I noticed that more and more mission starts initiated by the district Missions Committee were churches which did not use any hymnal or liturgy or hymns at all ever. It bugged me. The Alley was by no means the first. I tried to talk to the Missions committee about it but they made it obvious that were not interested in any dialog.

So we passed a resolution which offered four pages of whereases proving that the church’s historic position was to strive for uniformity of worship and then we resolved the following:

Resolved that the MNS district give English speaking subsidized congregations of the Minnesota South District sufficient numbers of the LSB for use in their congregational services, and be it further

Resolved that the funding for this gift be reflected in the mission budget of the district, and be it further

Resolved that all new congregations be asked to assure the district that the LSB is being used consistently in the services of the congregation, and be it finally

Resolved that all district BoD members thank God for His work among us through the Divine Service of Word and Sacrament.

Notice that all we asked for was assurances from new congregations that the LSB was being used consistently. We didn’t define “consistently.” We didn’t define “used.”

Our intent, obviously, was to force the missions committee to start the type of congregations that everyone in the district would be happy to support. We reasoned that not everyone wants to spend mission money on churches which refuse to use the hymnal. At the same time no one has expressed a reluctance to support those churches which do. As a board we were responsible for spending other people’s money. So let’s spend it in a manner that all the people want.

This was perceived as forcing the use of the hymnal and it was characterized this way as well.

I am convinced that had we done nothing the lion’s share of the new missions in our district would use no hymnal since the expressed view of the missions committee was that hymnals and the liturgy slow down growth in mission starts. As it turns out that is precisely what is going to happen and now the Missions committee has a convention resolution to back its unlutheran predilections. I am very sorry about that.

In retrospect we should not made a policy but instead simply not funded these starts which don’t use the hymnal. The effect would have been the same and we would not have given the left their hill to die on.

There is no doubt that this issue galvanized the left. I think it is also true that it polarized the middle. I anticipated that the left would be galvanized. I did not anticipate that the middle would be swayed so completely. So that was a big mistake. I am sorry for that mistake.

Our convention faced two big issues. If we had simply been confronted with the Alley with no discussion before us on worship or LSB use I think we could have made our points much more fruitfully and with a better showing although I do not think we would have won. By allowing the issue of worship to be brought to the floor we made things too complicated and the sound bite approach worked well against us.

But let me tell you what is galling. We try to teach the church about the divine service, the liturgy, our use of hymns etc. We use God’s Word, the confessions, our heritage and history to attempt to show the surpassing greatness of the divine service. The bureaucracy sings our praises gives us a plethora of “ataboys” and proceeds to start mission congregation after mission congregation which will never use any hymnal.

So I can understand the frustration of the person who felt we overreached on the LSB thing and I am sorry that we did it. At the same time I hope that he can understand the frustration we felt on the board as year after year we spent money on stuff that most congregations would never have spent.

I also do not think that years of work are down the drain. Politically we have experienced a set back. But catechetically we did get to confess the truth and that is never work down the drain. Further, there is little doubt in my mind that the other side will overreach and we will back at a convention arguing the same thing.

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.


Over Reaching, by Klemet Preus — 11 Comments

  1. Perhaps it would not be helpful or feasible, but I wonder if the 4 pages of rationale could be printed, perhaps in a future article here? As you rightly say, catechesis is never wasted. Perhaps it can be “not wasted” here also.

  2. Fritz:

    Here it is.


    To Fund Congregations which Use the LSB

    Whereas the confessions of the church identify the Lutheran practice as retaining and defending the liturgical customs of the church, “At the outset it is again necessary by way of preface to point out that we do not abolish the Mass but religiously retain and defend it….We also keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of readings, prayers, vestments, and other similar things.”

    And whereas the confessions of the church recognize the teaching value of liturgical customs, “People are drawn to Communion and to the Mass. At the same time they are also instructed about other false teaching concerning the sacrament. Moreover, no noticeable changes have been made in the public celebration of the Mass…For, after all, all ceremonies should serve the purpose of teaching the people what they need to know about Christ.”

    And whereas Martin Luther favored a uniform liturgy as a reflection of the one gospel we have received, “As far as possible we should observe the same rites and ceremonies, just as all Christians have the same baptism and the same Sacrament and no one has received a special one of his own from God.”

    And whereas Luther tempered the liberty of the congregation with the insistence that it be sacrificed for the sake of uniformity, “Each one surrender his own opinions and get together in a friendly way and come to a common decision about these external matters, so that there will be one uniform practice throughout your district instead of disorder – one thing being done here and another there.”

    And whereas the founders of the LCMS did the same, “While the framers of the [first LCMS] constitution remained faithful to Article VII of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession in that their demand for uniformity was not absolute, they did insist rather vigorously that the member congregations leave no stone unturned in their efforts to introduce uniform ceremonies. The constitution even goes so far as to claim that uniformity in liturgy, especially if this liturgy is increased and developed according to Lutheran standards, will be helpful in purifying the American Lutheran Church of its Reformed excrescences.”

    And whereas C.F.W. Walther also recognized that Christian Liberty is misunderstood when it is invoked as aversion to traditional liturgical ceremonies or when it is invoked to promote anything less than uniformity in liturgical practices, “Unfortunately also many of our Lutheran Christians are still without a true understanding of their liberty. This is demonstrated by their aversion to ceremonies. It is truly distressing that many of our fellow Christians find the differences between Lutheranism and papism in outward things. It is a pity and dreadful cowardice when one sacrifices the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American sects, lest they accuse one of being papistic! Indeed! Am I to be afraid of a Methodist, who perverts the word, or be ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather rejoice that the sects can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them?

    “It is too bad also that such entirely different ceremonies prevail in our Synod, and that no liturgy at all has yet been introduced in many congregations….

    “With this we are not insisting that there be uniformity of perception or feeling or of taste among all believing Christians – neither dare anyone demand that all should be minded in this as he is. Nevertheless it remains true that the Lutheran liturgy distinguishes Lutheran Worship from the worship of other churches to such an extent that the houses of worship of the latter look like mere lecture halls in which the hearers are only addressed and instructed, while our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which the Christians serve the great God publicly before the world.

    “Uniformity in ceremonies (perhaps according to the Saxon church order published by the Synod, which is the simplest among the many Lutheran church orders) would be highly desirable because of its usefulness. A poor slave of the pope finds one and the same form of service, no matter where he goes, by which he at once recognizes his church. With us it is different!.…How different it would be if the entire Lutheran church had a uniform form of worship! This would, of course, first of all yield only an external advantage, however, one which is by no means unimportant. Has not many a Lutheran already kept his distance from the sects because he saw that at the Lord’s Supper they broke the bread instead of distributing wafers?

    “The objection: What would be the use of uniformity of ceremonies? – was answered with the counter question: What is the use of a flag on the battlefield? Even though a soldier cannot defeat the enemy with it, he nevertheless sees by the flag where he belongs. We ought not to refuse to walk in the footsteps of our fathers. They were so far removed from being ashamed of the good ceremonies that they publicly confess in the passage quoted: ‘It is not true that we do away with all such external ornaments.’”

    And whereas Walther recognized that the forces behind the criticism of certain customs in America or the encouragement of their disuse are precisely those who want the Lutheran Church to lose its identify and freedom and become part of the Reformed Evangelical community. “These so-called Protestant churches assert that of all Protestant churches the Lutheran has really been reformed the least; for, they say, it still retains much of the leaven of the Romish Church. For proof they cite the gown worn by our ministers when officiating, the wafers used by us instead of ordinary bread at Communion, the crucifix and the candles on our altars, the liturgical chanting of our ministers at the altar, signing persons with the holy cross, and bowing the head at the mention of the name Jesus. All these matters are innocent ceremonies, on which our church does not condition man’s salvation here or hereafter, but which it will not permit to be pronounced sin. For no creature has the right to declare something a sin which God has not declared such. Anything that God has neither commanded nor forbidden is a matter of liberty.”

    And whereas the early Missourians, lead by C. F. W. Walther encouraged in the strongest possible terms the uniformity of worship. “The usages in the divine services are of the greatest influence on the outward and inward growth of congregations, and the greatest possible uniformity in them is especially desirable because the Lutheran Church is first recognizable from its public worship by unlearned people who have recently come to a place. Now it was especially stressed how desirable such uniformity would be already from the different kinds of singing. . . . All the pastors of our Synod in whose congregations rhythmical singing has not yet been introduced, were admonished to work for its introduction.”

    And, whereas the leading theologians of the LCMS during the transition from German to English (second quarter of the twentieth century) articulated the same position on the desirability of the uniformity in worship. Upon the publication in 1935 of a common liturgy and agenda in English our leaders were ecstatic. Theodore Graebner claimed: “In causing this new liturgy to be printed our synod unquestionably intended to make possible a liturgical uniformity in our congregations in order that this element might be conserved during the transition from German to English.”

    And W. G. Pollack declared, “The fond hope of having one hymnal for the churches of this body has been realized, giving us another outward manifestation of the unity of faith.” This corrected a situation in which “Every church seems to have its own private service, different in whole or in part from any others. A visitor, if he can take part in the liturgy at all, is at a great disadvantage.”

    And whereas, in the production of the LSB, it was the clear intent of the LCMS in Convention that this hymnal reflect the historic position of the Lutheran church that we use this book in our attempt to strive for the greatest degree of uniformity of worship. “Resolved that the Commission on Worship bring together a forum representing the diversity of practices within the Synod (on worship)…for the purpose of increasing understanding building consensus in our doctrine and practice of worship,…And be it finally resolved that everyone heed the advice of Dr. Martin Luther who penned words that speak directly to our time and place: ‘I pray all of you my dear sirs let each one surrender his own opinions and get together in a friendly way and come to a common decision about these external matters so that there will be one uniform practice throughout your district instead of disorder.’”

    And whereas it is true that uniformity of practice is neither a condition for salvation nor a condition for fellowship, it is also true that uniformity of worship is so important to the unity of the church that there is no apparent reason to deviate from the historic uniform liturgy of the church.

    And whereas it is true that uniformity in worship is not something which should be enforced, it is also true that all pastors and congregations should not need to be forced but should willingly sacrifice their liberty in order to have a uniform liturgy as both the LCMS and Dr. Luther have averred.

    And whereas two thirds of the congregations in the LCMS are currently using the LSB.

    And whereas 90% of the congregations of the synod currently use a Lutheran hymnal.

    And whereas the BoD of the MNS district has the responsibility to use the resources of the district in a manner which reflects both the will of the congregations of the synod in this place and the historic practice of the Lutheran church.

    And whereas the decision of the BoD to grant subsidy to this church rather than that church has never been and should not now be construed as denying or restricting the freedom of any given congregation, therefore be it

    Resolved that the MNS district give English speaking subsidized congregations of the Minnesota South District sufficient numbers of the LSB for use in their congregational services, and be it further

    Resolved that the funding for this gift be reflected in the mission budget of the district, and be it further

    Resolved that all new congregations be asked to assure the district that the LSB is being used consistently in the services of the congregation, and be it finally

    Resolved that all district BoD members thank God for His work among us through the Divine Service of Word and Sacrament.

  3. Thank you, Klemet, for your thoughtful comments on what when on behind the scenes with the BoD and its hymnal resolution. The other side certainly used this issue to their advantage, but I suspect that their webpage and its list of candidates also assisted their cause greatly. I haven’t seen that kind of organizing at the district level before, so the hymnal issue was likely just one of a number of factors in the meltdown.

    I apologize for the Monday-morning quarterbacking, FWIW. Easy for me to say. You were the one in the trenches.

  4. You’re _sorry_ for confessing the truth because you lost a vote at a district convention?

    You’re _sorry_ for bringing the issue of worship to the floor because it “galvanized the left” and “polarized the middle”, calling it a “mistake”?

    (Perhaps it is possible to address the issue of worship by making political resolutions about something other than worship, but … I don’t know … I kind of think you HAVE to talk about worship.)

    Is someone giving you a hard time, accusing you of being politically inept by “overreaching” because you attempted to urge people to be Lutherans in theology and practice? Are you subscribing to the position that you could make them to be more appreciative of Lutheran theology and practice by some sort of subtle POLITICAL maneuvering organized skilfully over a number of years?

    Is someone attempting to suggest that “Years of work are all down the drain” because of this overture? Work? What kind of work? Massaging the Gospel politically in order to make it palatable to those who have forsaken our confession for something inferior?

    Whose work is it when one works politically? Whose work is it when one believes, teaches, and confesses what is good, right and salutary?

    Dear Lord God in heaven above — preserve us from men who make political maneuvering to be a means of grace, means by which the Holy Spirit would convert the mushy middle and turn the galvanized left!

    The only way I know how to accomplish anything worthwhile is to confess and teach what the Lord has given, rightly dividing between Law and Gospel — and thus Lord accomplishes what He wills, either confirming the unbelievers in their unbelief or leading people to repentance and saving faith.

    I’m not advocating bellicose logomachy. We’ve had hotheads at district and synodical conventions. That’s not a Law and Gospel approach either. Confessing the truth as was done in this overture was not polemical . . . and I thank the Lord that it wasn’t political.

    No doubt there are people waiting to take the credit for “working all these years” through political maneuvering in order to “regain” the Synod. But there are others who are willing simply to insist on what is salutary and let the chips fall where they may. Let “countless thousands” (as the TLH puts it) choose another road.

    Those who voted against this overture have made their confession clear. Those who composed this overture made their confession clear before the Lord. We do not judge things in terms of the number of people who say Yea or Nay, but rather those things to which we may say Amen.

    Stop saying you’re “sorry” and keep APOLOGIZING in the best sense of the word. 🙂

  5. The Missouri mindset is interesting: we should never expect unanimity in anything, so we’ll continue to do the win some, lose some political thing until Jesus comes back. What has changed in the past 450+ years that has made unanimity of confession impossible? Today, Zwingli would be allowed to remain in the LCMS–and would be encouraged by the ELCA’s official position/fellowship to join the ELCA–but Zwingli would actually have the integrity to confess his error by leaving. Otoh, if Walther were coming over from Saxony now, he would see a need to start a new body, as Missouri today is far more like the bodies that existed in the U.S. before 1847 than like Missouri in 1847.

    Again, what has changed in the past 450+ years–or 150+ years–that makes it acceptable to be in fellowship with errorists who are able to practice their error with impunity?

    BTW, wrt “Fritz”: Klemet, ‘Eckert’ and ‘Eckardt’ are two different guys (although they may both think it a compliment to be confused for one another).

    EJG (NOT Joe Ostafinski, Dr. Maier!)

  6. Again, what has changed in the past 450+ years–or 150+ years–that makes it acceptable to be in fellowship with errorists who are able to practice their error with impunity?

    It is not acceptable, but the average member of an LCMS congregations probably sees himself in fellowship with members of his local congregation and not so much in fellowship with all other members of his synod. Right now it is unlikely that his local congregation will leave the synod so he stays put and hopes those in error will repent of their error.

    There are of course many practical, spiritual and emotional reasons we stay in our local LCMS congregations as well as the LCMS. These do not outweigh the importance of being faithful to Christ and his word, but we poor miserable sinners are experts at cheating the scales, aren’t we? Like the Apostle Paul, we have earned the title “Chief of Sinners.” When we know better, we still don’t do what we should, and we usually don’t even know better. The time is well overdue for confessional Lutherans in the LCMS to repent and return to the peace of Christ we enjoy when we are in fellowship with him and the added peace we can enjoy when we are in fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ who share the same confession.

  7. I was going to let the name confusion stand, since I was confused for a far finer man than myself. But alas, I must confess it is not so. Perhaps I should apologize to Fritz for being confused with him.

    But thank you very much, Klemet, for the incredibly prompt response on putting out the rationale on the resolution.

    Peace in Christ,

    Rev. Andrew Eckert
    Wellston, OK

  8. Klemet,

    My sincere thanks for your work. I think what hurts in these situations is that a person feels reproval in seemingly finding out what the majority believes.

    Your brother-in-law once told me to bear constantly in mind that according to reliable statistics, half the population is below average. This has proven true theologically in my experience. But it was especially true in MN. (I was in MN North for six years.)

    The same majority might have voted differently had the issue arisen some other way or been presented with a preponderance of time alloted to the resolutions’s sensible defense.

    Unfortunately, the whole state seems moved by trendy emotion. Al Franken and Jesse Ventura can attest to it.

    Or maybe these sorts of events are more a condemnation of the whole convention process as it now exists.

    For my part, I would like to see cut all funding to the “The Alley” based exclusively on the offense of its name. And in the end, the unfairness with which issues are treated at conventions leaves parishes using the power of the purse and further balkanizing.


    Jim Strawn

  9. Although it may be unfair, it has come to be that in order to hold to what is Lutheran in confession, identity, and practice, one must be even more winsome that our opponents, more gracious than our opposites, and more careful than those who choose to not be Lutheran in name or practice… at least if we want to make our point… We should not appeal to rule or by-law (this is the incessant methodology of those who oppose Lutheran confession, liturgy, practice, and identity). If we use rules to make our case, we always get labeled as rigid, inflexible, hard, or mean spirited. And then the argument is no longer about Lutheran confession, liturgy, identity, or practice but about us… so maybe it was a well-intentioned over reach… but, as someone said above, good catechesis need not be wasted… let us appeal with a smile, with earnest hearts, and well chosen words and it will bear fruit in its own time…

    BTW I heard the father of the pastor of the Alley describe with glowing pride the work his son was doing there and how mean, foolish, and narrow minded his critics… so the issue was not about Lutheran confession, identity, liturgy or practice but about who is nicer, more reasonable, more open… and if we give in to that framework by how we say what we do and how we stand for what is true, we will always lose in the minds of those who have not yet chosen a side… just a few thoughts. . .

  10. Larry,

    I also believe Christians ought be genial. Basic parliamentary fairness is, however, not too much to ask.
    *This is particularly true when one is being asked to support something financially to which he is in direct and visceral opposition.* The body is in effect saying “If you lose this vote you are morally obligated to support what you oppose.”

    There is a simple reality here: When a point is won not through theological and discoursive public engagement, but through appeal to emotion, or gross imbalance during debate, it is not truly won at all.

    When one side, for example, is allowed the chair for an hour and the other given the floor in three minutes snippets in pro-con format, how will the losing side respond? This is simply gross injustice to an issue and to a minority (or even majority) view.

    And there *are* remedies which restore fairness. These must be requested and encouraged and the injustice of the process exposed. *We cannot afford to accept the presupposition that the issue is not about fairness and reform at the conventions, but instead about expressions of Christian love.* Who wants a church where theological decisions turn on emotive expression?

    People robbed of thoughtful legislative recourse vote with their pocketbooks and presence. The present state of the synod’s coffers are one attestation of this.

    At our last Ohio District convention in 06, a floor committee gutted the majority of congregational overtures. At this year’s convention, I believe there were only six total, and but a single floor committee. This does *not* mean those parishes were all satisfied during the triennium. They chose to vote a different way.

    Now, I am probably the only one defending this position, but here it is: Attention to the rules of debate creates fairness; that is why they exist. Ditto on nomination rules and elections.

    Before he was elected in 06, the present president of our district discussed some of these matters. This convention, he *voluntarily* put off his state-of the disctrict speech until *after* the election. It is a start.

    Change is certainly possible if we work toward it. Of course, we have to be willing to make the changes (perhaps losing some authority) when we ourselves are in power.

    Jim Strawn

  11. Question to Pastor Preus with Pastor Braun going to Worthington and he just being elected to the Board who replaces him on the Board?

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