LCMS Council of Presidents Publishes Theses on Worship; How Do They Compare to Rev. Stuckwisch’s Theses? by Pr. Rossow

The Council of Presidents has just published  a series of theses on worship under the signature of President Kieschnick. The optimist in me says this is progress toward the goal of bringing our synod together on this trying subject. The skeptic in me says this is an attempt by President Kieschnick to have much sound and fury about this topic so that he can stand before the 2010 delegates and point to his efforts toward unity. Will this sound and fury amount to much? One of our readers pointed me to a good way to find out.

It depends neither on the optimist nor the skeptic within but on  the thinker who takes one cool hour of reason to compare the presidents’ theses to the theses recently presented by  Rev. Dr. Richard Stuckwisch on the Four and Twenty Balckbird’s blog. I do not mean to drag Stuckwisch and the presidents into a  fight they did not pick. There are things to be learned from both lists.  But there are significant differences. My initial reaction  is that the president’s theses are too abstract and generic to help us make much progress in the worship wars. Based on them it appears to me that pretty much every type of contemporary worship that we see in the LCMS today would be allowable. Stuckwisch’s theses on the other hand are quite specific.  I do beleive the Devil is definetely in the details when it comes to this discussion. Let me put the comparison another way. I am not convinced that one would be able to write and publish a hymnal like the LSB based on and growing out of the presidents’ theses. They are not in conflict with the LSB but I do not believe that applying them would lead one to develop a hymnal like the LSB. Stuckwisch’s theses on the other hand appear to support and give rise to a worship manual like the LSB. I could see the LSB spontaneously combusting out of Stuckwisch’s theses but have a hard time imaging that with the presidents’ theses. Are the presidents committed to a basic set liturgy as we find in the LSB, the basic liturgy of the mass, with a few variances from region to region as is described in the Book of Concord? I do not see that happening based on thier theses but I could be wrong.

I do not believe I have ever met the Rev. Dr. Stuckwisch. I may have been introduced to him or heard him at a conference but he is by no means a friend or associate. Concerning the presidents’ theses, I just heard Bishop Gilbert speak glowingly about thier drafting. He said the basic draft was written by Bishop Forke of Montana (a good conservative district president) and that there was much editing by the whole group of DP’s and that in the end the document was endorsed unanimously. President Gilbert was very struck by the unity displayed by the council of presidents on this matter. I am glad to hear that but as I said above, they may be  too generic to bring about much rapprochement in the worship wars.

Before offering a comparison of the two sets of theses here are a few general preliminary comments. I look forward to your insights recorded below in the comments section. The presidents’ theses do not mention reverence, adornment or beauty whereas Stuckwisch’s do. Stuckwisch addresses the need for love when speaking of adiaphora but the presidents do not. Stuckwisch mentions the need for rubrics whereas the presidents do not. Most importantly, President Kieschnick’s cover letter for the presidents’ theses suggests that worship differences are merely a matter of differences in musical taste. Stuckwisch on the other hand seeks to build a case for the need for particular kinds of music and forms, i.e. ones that are reverent and beautiful.

Here is how I see the two sets of theses in comparison. The presidents’ theses are given in the order they are presented and are in black and bold/black font. Stuckwisch’s theses are in red and are inserted where I thought they matched up best with the presidents’ theses. The textual support from the presidents’ list is omitted for clarity of comparison. I encourage you to read the textual support and to read Stuckwisch’s theses in the order he presented them. You can do so by clicking here for the full text of the president’s theses and here for the Stuckwisch theses.

I. Worship is not an adiaphoron.

A. Worship is commanded by God.
B. The highest form of worship is faith.
C. Worship is Trinitarian, and centered on Jesus Christ.

4. To hear and receive the Divine Liturgy in faith and with thanksgiving is the worship of the Holy Triune God in Spirit and in Truth.

D. The means by which faith is created and nurtured are essential  to worship.

1. The Divine Liturgy, properly speaking (Apology XXIV.79–83), comprises the Ministry of the Gospel, which is the preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, the confession of Christ Jesus, the ongoing catechesis of His Word, and the faithful administration of His Body and His Blood to His disciples. This Divine Liturgy is not adiaphora, but is the Holy Gospel, the Word and work of the Holy Triune God, which is fundamental and necessary to faith and life in Christ.


II. The Scriptures and Confessions give the people of God  considerable freedom in choosing those forms, rites, and ceremonies that aid the worship of God.

5. The freedom of faith in worship, as in all of Christian life, is the freedom of the Gospel.


A.       Neither the Scriptures nor the Confessions prescribe forms, rites or ceremonies for worship.

6. Adiaphora simply are what they are: rites and ceremonies and other practices which are neither commanded nor forbidden by God. The teaching and confession of adiaphora goes hand-in-hand with the Gospel; that we are justified by grace through faith in Christ, apart from works of the Law.
7. The teaching and confession of adiaphora should not be abused (in the service of self-interest); instead, true Christian freedom is rightly used in love (in the self-sacrificing service of others).
8. Adiaphora are rightly used with pastoral care, and as a means of pastoral care. Pastors should exercise discretion and discernment in the use of adiaphora, but pastors should also discipline themselves in doing so, for the sake of faith and love.

13. The boundaries and parameters of freedom in worship are established and contoured, not only by explicit commands and prohibitions, but also implicitly by the constitutive rites and ceremonies of Holy Baptism, preaching and the Holy Communion.

31. The broad latitude of hymnody is necessarily constrained because of its affective power, and because of its vast importance and significance for the catechesis and confession of the Word. Hymns properly serve the freedom of faith in the Gospel when they are selected and used liturgically.
32. It is not an appropriate use of freedom when hymns, or any other practices, are used simply to fill up space and pass the time, or when they are used to entertain emotions instead of edifying the people and glorifying God by the confession of His Word (Formula SD X.1, 7, 9).

25. Tradition is generally more conducive to the Gospel than novelty (1 Corinthians 11:1–2, 16–26); because it is received as a gift from the past, rather than fabricated in the present.
26. There is almost always a good reason for the traditional practices of the Church, even where the purpose behind a given practice may no longer be readily apparent.

27. Catholicity is generally more conducive to love than personal innovation; because it belongs to the entire body of the Church, the household and family of God, rather than an isolated individual.
28. The collective wisdom of the Church is usually wiser than the personal insights of an individual. Nevertheless, the nature and needs of pastoral care require the free exercise of pastoral discernment and discretion, just as the Church in each time and place is free with respect to human customs.

B. The liturgy, a true service, is that which aids both the proclamation and the hearing of the Gospel for the sake of faith, that is, true worship.
2. To be liturgical is not simply to “have” or “do” the Word and Sacrament; but to be liturgical
 is to be defined by these things of the Gospel, to be governed and guided by them, entirely under their sway. To be liturgical, therefore, is to be evangelical; and to be truly evangelical is to be liturgical.


III. The liturgy of the Church builds a framework for the worshiper  to live the life of faith.

A. Liturgy of the Church teaches the full counsel of God.  
B. The elements of liturgy, (ordo), tell the full story of salvation.
C. The liturgy of the Church moves worshipers into the world  to live for and to proclaim the Good News to others.

3. The Divine Liturgy is where and how the Church lives with God in Christ, by grace through faith in the Gospel. The evangelical mission of the Church flows out of that liturgical life in Christ, with the purpose of bringing others into the Liturgy of the Gospel.


IV. Imposing a certain form, rite or ceremony on the Church  burdens men’s consciences, thereby militating against the Gospel.

9. In faith toward God we are free, but in love we are bound to serve our neighbor.

10. All things are lawful, but not all things are meet, right and salutary (1 Corinthians 10:23). Even that which is free and clear can be measured and evaluated according to its service and support of the Word of God, and thus determined to be more or less helpful to faith and love.
11. Love will be ready and willing to sacrifice anything and everything that is truly free, but love will never sacrifice anything of the Gospel. That is to say, love will readily give up whatever may be given up, but love will tenaciously insist upon that which is necessary.
12. Freedom is used rightly, in faith toward God and in love toward the neighbor, when it is used to serve the catechesis and confession of the Word of God.

19. Reverence toward God and courtesy toward the neighbor summarize the criteria of faith and love and thus provide a foundational response to all questions pertaining to the proper use of adiaphora.
20. That which is harmful to faith and love is not free but forbidden. That which is irreverent or rude is likewise not free but forbidden. (Formula SD X.1, 7, 9)

33. The unity of a common confession of the faith is both embodied and substantiated by a unity of practice. Church fellowship does not depend upon a uniformity in adiaphora, but the fellowship of the Church gravitates toward a common and consistent usage of adiaphora wherever it is possible. And the beauty of it is, the Church is free to do so.
34. It is not a violation of faith or freedom when the fellowship of the Church mutually agrees, in love, to order and conduct its liturgical life according to common rubrics, rites and ceremonies.
35. Especially in gatherings of the Church’s fellowship beyond that of a local congregation, the use of commonly agreed-upon rites and ceremonies is most appropriate and beneficial. In general, the same principle pertains to the practices of each congregation as a fellowship of the one Church.


V. Great care is necessary in choosing forms, rites and ceremonies because they either support or hinder true worship. There are no “neutral” forms.

14. The use of liturgical rubrics, rites and ceremonies is fundamental to the pastoral ministry. Rubrics are instructions for the conduct of the Liturgy, mutually agreed upon within the fellowship of the Church. Rites are the words that are spoken in the administration of the Liturgy. Ceremonies are the bodily actions, movements and adornments of the Liturgy. Rubrics are needed for an orderly conduct of corporate communal life. Rites belong to the fact that God does everything by His Word. Ceremonies belong to the fact that human life is lived in the body, occupying space and time.
15. It is not possible to administer and receive the means of grace without ceremonies. However, not all ceremonies are created equal. Some ceremonies are better, and some are worse than others; and some ceremonies have no place in the Church, even if they would otherwise be “free.”
16. Ceremonies powerfully support (or contradict) the confession and catechesis of the Word.

A. Forms of true worship are in accord with the Word of God.
B. Forms of true worship help to preserve order.
C. Forms of true worship do not burden the consciences of the people of God.
D. Forms of true worship are edifying to the local congregation and therefore also to the surrounding community.
E. Forms of true worship teach the faith.

17. The measure of a ceremony’s worth and benefit requires more than the avoidance of overtly false doctrine. The best ceremonies are not only true (as opposed to false) but are positively helpful in confessing the Word of God, and they are beautiful in adorning His Liturgy. Whatever is true, lovely and of good repute, excellent and worthy of praise, dwell on those things (Philippians 4:8).
18. It is appropriate and salutary to adorn the Ministry of the Gospel with beauty, as a confession of faith in the Word and work of Christ, and as a way of catechesis in the hidden truth of the Gospel.


VI. Uniformity in forms, rites and ceremonies while desirable, is not  essential to the unity of the Church.

29. Frequent fluctuations and diversity in practice are unsettling to the people and easily distract from the Liturgy of Christ; they require a level of literacy, attention, energy and effort that tends to frustrate or make impossible the participation of many members in the Church’s worship of Christ.
30. Consistency and continuity of practice are beneficial to peace and rest in the Liturgy of Christ; they allow for the ready participation of the entire congregation in the Church’s worship of Christ.

VII. The polarization that is affecting the Church concerning the issue of forms, rites and ceremonies is sinful and hinders the proclamation of the Gospel.
21. Pastors and congregations, and individual members of a congregation, should set aside their personal proclivities and preferences for the sake of faith and love (1 Corinthians 10:23–33; Romans 14).
22. Making changes in ceremony, including the introduction of new ceremonies, requires a special measure of pastoral care. It also requires the patience of pastors and parishioners for one another.
23. Love will care for the entire body of Christ, for the minority as much or more than the majority, not allowing either the few or the many to lord it over the Holy Communion of the whole Church.
24. Love for the body of Christ — for the Church in all times and places, past, present and future — calls for circumspection and great caution when it comes to the introduction of new practices.

VIII. The people of God are commanded by God to keep talking with each other, under His Word, so that divisions are healed and the Church is united in doctrine and practice.


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.


LCMS Council of Presidents Publishes Theses on Worship; How Do They Compare to Rev. Stuckwisch’s Theses? by Pr. Rossow — 20 Comments

  1. I actually stumbled onto this yesterday and thought “why haven’t I heard of these yet?”

    Initial reactions(re: CoP’s theses):

    Beginning the entire document by placing it systematically more or less under “the Sovereignty of God” is not a Lutheran theological move. It betrays how much we have in fact lost our belief in Gottestdienst. Worship is because God said so? Try “Worship is not an adiaphoran. Worship is *given* by God.” It’s all the difference in the world.


    >>VII. The polarization that is affecting the Church concerning the issue of forms, rites and ceremonies is sinful and hinders the proclamation of the Gospel.

    Fascinating. So…it was sinful for an alien movement to force its way into the Synodical worship traditions, ignoring the protests of the great majority and insisting on its way? The great hinderance to “Mission!” in the last 30 years has been the “new” movement which divided us? I somehow doubt that’s the conclusion I’m supposed to draw. I think I’m supposed to bow my head and feel sorry for critiquing revival practices, and then get back to work growing the search via my own efforts. But if we read FC X carefully, we do in fact find that the “new” movement is always sinful if it divides us, and if in division the headstrong say, “Well, I know better. I can do it right, even if others can’t. I will do it without you.”


    >>>II. The Scriptures and Confessions give the people of God considerable freedom in choosing those forms, rites, and ceremonies.

    Hmmm. “While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab….” (Num. 25 ff).

    “You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and burn their Asherim with fire. You shall chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of that place. You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way. *But you shall seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation.*” (Duet. 12 ff)

    I have trouble finding Biblical rational for stating that we have “considerable” freedom.


    >>>VIII. The people of God are commanded by God to keep talking with each other, under His Word, so that divisions are healed and the Church is united in doctrine and practice.

    I kind of laughed at this one. I have trouble believing that “dialog” is an eternal command of the Holy and Righteous Judge. It’s more a bit of feminist ideology, which, I believe, is once more supposed to make me feel guilty for being divided with those who have caused the division by insisting they can follow Finney and Luther.

    Not only do I regularly talk with such pastors, frankly and in love, but I also must wonder at comparing this thesis to: “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him” (1 Tim 3), or “among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim 1:20), and many other such places. It is a command of God to keep talking?

    Finally, then, this all more or less illustrates the general impression I got from the theses: while there is much to commend, (and I am glad that the CoP is expressing interest in dealing with theology,) this first document (which I get the feeling is supposed to be final and unquestionable) *picks and chooses* its points and verses while ignoring much else. I would hate to hear it come down from the CoP that this statement has settled the matter and now all is well.

    This document is a FANTASTIC *beginning* to a desperately needed Synod-wide public debate. The point of theses is to stir up debate and to have those theses challenged, then to defend them, until we are confronted by the pure Word, against which none of us can stand. We need this in Missouri, and on this issue. But is that the box the CoP really intends to open?

  2. “nothing has been received among us, in doctrine or in ceremonies, that is contrary to Scripture or to the church catholic.” This essential attitude of receptivity and humility (see John Kleinig’s “Grace upon Grace”) seems to be missing in action from the COP theses. Until we can begin with the spirit of St. Paul, “for I received from the Lord that which also I have delivered to you,” I fear that we will only be spinning our wheels in good old Missouri Synod fashion. Joe Sobran has a great piece which begins with the definition of education as joining the conversation of our ancestors. Hopefully Pastor Harrison’s new book on the fathers of Missouri will help move us in this direction.

  3. I may cause Rev. Stuckwisch to blush, but altho I may have met him only once, I have seen him in action at two or three LCMS conventions. He’s a clear thinker, erudite, and chooses his words very carefully. He usually managed to get his thoughts before the assembled multitude in less than the requisite two minutes. That ought to tell you something about him.

    I have yet to read all this stuff, but I think we have been given a great opportunity here. Inasmuch as this is a document generated by 35 DP’s, and who knows how many others, it gives us a window into their collective thinking or perhaps the thinking of a majority. We should investigate these theses thoroughly, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, then formulate a measured response.
    I am looking forward to the excercise, and reading the responses as they flow in to this site. I think that you can expect a plethora of responses, and it’s going to be fun reading them all, and perhaps issuing a few thoughts of my own. Thank you, Rev. Editor, for this posting. You’ve done us all a great service. Happy (or unhappy) reading and blogging!!


  4. Thank you Johannes,

    I think you are right on. This will be a long process. I was impressed with how quickly Revfisk was able to give such an insightful critique.

    BTW – I owe the idea to put the two sets of theses side by side from Rev. John Frahm.


  5. What the COP Theses miss or fail to use are the first lines of both the Augsburg Confession and the Apology, as if Formula X negates the Augustana and Apology.

    Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among 2] us, and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved, save that the parts sung in Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns, which have been added 3] to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned 4] be taught [what they need to know of Christ]. And not only has Paul commanded to use in the church a language understood by the people 1 Cor. 14:2-9, but it has also been so ordained by man’s law. 5] The people are accustomed to partake of the Sacrament together, if any be fit for it, and this also increases the reverence and devotion of public 6] worship. For none are admitted 7] except they be first examined. The people are also advised concerning the dignity and use of the Sacrament, how great consolation it brings anxious consciences, that they may learn to believe God, and to expect and ask of Him all that is good. 8] [In this connection they are also instructed regarding other and false teachings on the Sacrament.] This worship pleases God; such use of the Sacrament nourishes true devotion 9] toward God. It does not, therefore, appear that the Mass is more devoutly celebrated among our adversaries than among us.

    Apology XXIV
    At the outset we must again make the preliminary statement that we 1] do not abolish the Mass, but religiously maintain and defend it. For among us masses are celebrated every Lord’s Day and on the other festivals, in which the Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved. And the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other like things.


    In the COP document there seems to be also a confusion of “ceremonies” with “liturgy” in the definition of the Lutheran Confessions. Liturgy is not the same thing as ceremonies. Note this section of Apology XXIV:
    78] The adversaries also refer us to philology. From the names of the Mass they derive arguments which do not require a long discussion. For even though the Mass be called a sacrifice, it does not follow that it must confer grace ex opere operato, or, when applied on behalf of others, merit for them the remission of sins, etc. 79] Leitourgiva, they say, signifies a sacrifice, and the Greeks call the Mass, liturgy. Why do they here omit the old appellation synaxis, which shows that the Mass was formerly the communion of many? But let us speak of the word liturgy. 80] This word does not properly signify a sacrifice, but rather the public ministry, and agrees aptly with our belief, namely, that one minister who consecrates tenders the body and blood of the Lord to the rest of the people, just as one minister who preaches tenders the Gospel to the people, as Paul says, 1 Cor. 4:1: Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God, i.e., of the Gospel and the Sacraments. And 2 Cor. 5:20: We are ambassadors for Christ, as 81] though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ’s stead, Be ye reconciled to God. Thus the term leitourgia agrees aptly with the ministry.

    That is not an adiaphoron.

    Certain ceremonies might be middle things (mitteldinge) or adiaphora, but not liturgy itself. The Lutheran Confessions are not exactly indifferent when it comes to the catholic heritage and continuity of the Lutheran Church and they aren’t governed simply by pragmatism or evangelism. The Divine Service is chiefly the assembly of the baptized, with the Service of the Word being open to visitors. In the modern LCMS there is often a shift between liturgy being understood in terms of justification by grace to it being understood simply as an implement for recruitment of people into a worship space (enticement, recruitment, attracting a crowd) for a “worship experience” as the Pietists put it.

    Perhaps this might be more accurate for where the LCMS stands today:

    A Proposed, Truth-in-Advertising, Replacement for Augsburg Confession, XXIV:

    Rightly are our churches accused and convicted of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is rarely seen among us, and celebrated so casually one would never know we are dealing with heaven on earth. Nearly none of the historic ceremonies are observed among us. For ceremonies are observed among us for these purposes alone – to draw a crowd, make everyone happy, and convince them we are no different than the Methodists down the street. To paraphrase St. Paul, we have become all things to all protestants, if by some means we may solve our budgetary problems. In some places, the people are accustomed to partake of bread and grape juice together, about once or twice per month. For everyone is admitted regardless of whether they are examined, under the catch-all of pastoral discretion and outreach. The people are rarely taught regarding the sacrament and are pastorally encouraged in the belief that it is more special if it is celebrated less often, and that it is properly there for a warm fuzzy feeling. This kind of worship is more acceptable to the masses and keeps up the church budget and prevents the pastor from being fired. Therefore it certainly appears that the Mass is more devoutly celebrated among our adversaries than among us, but that doesn’t bother us anymore. We do abolish the Mass and religiously purge it from our churches, at first making it only one flavor on the buffet of services, or relegate it to nostalgic Sundays at the very most. Again, almost none of the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, prayers, or the use of any vestments at all, even the black Pietistic sort, in many places. For we confess that the Mass is indeed a sacrifice, a praise service and worship experience designed to generate a certain spiritual mood. We indeed, also shun and persecute those who refuse to abolish the Mass. For ultimately we appear to question whether the Word of God in itself is effective, as it does not appear to produce the results we expect, neither on our schedule nor in the quantity we prefer. Therefore we prefer to trust in personal charisma, entertainment, programs, and liturgical karaoke. For these make for effective, successful, seeker-sensitive, and truly missional experiences, in our opinion. This is hopefully true. This is our abiding confession, which we have no intention of departing from, at least not until the next new big culturally relevant (indulgent) program comes our way.

  6. Rev. Frahm, et al

    I believe the theses kind of almost got at the point you are making about (for a moment), which is really the core issue: the great confusion of our adoption of the methodist word “worship” for the way we speak about Gottesdiesnt.
    Yet, just as the these seemed to get it right, they also immediately demonstrate an unawareness of this status of the controversy shifting away from the distinction:

    To the point:

    >>>II. The Scriptures and Confessions give the people of God considerable freedom in choosing those forms, rites, and ceremonies that aid the worship of God.

    …This thesis rightly distinguishes between man’s additional ceremonies and “worship” through the use of the words “to aid” (which still might be better stated “to adorn” as “aid” does allow for semi-pelegian loopholes). But the immediately following bullet point terribly comingles the whole thing back together and defeats the distinction:

    >>>A. Neither the Scriptures nor the Confessions prescribe forms, rites or ceremonies for worship.

    I almost wrote about this statement earlier because it is grossly false statement taken alone. “Baptize *in the Name of…” “Do *this* as my memorial…” “Preach the Gospel, in season and out of season…” If these are not prescribed forms, rites and ceremonies for worship, then I don’t know what is. However, if the above point A read, “Neither the Scriptures nor the Confessions prescribe forms, rites or ceremonies *to aid/adorn* the worship of God” then the statement maintains a consistency. However, this would not serve the purpose the theses hope to drive home, which is that we have “considerable freedom” to do whatever we like in “worship”.

    The support references listed by the theses (in the document) demonstrate that “worship” is actually not at all what point A intends to talk about Biblically. Rather manmade ceremonies are the point. The problem is that we confess that such ceremonies are *not worship.* (“We reject and concdenm as false the view that human commands are to be regarded in and of themselves as worship of God or some part thereof.” FC SD X 26)

    The theses then quote the Bible to support the worship (which is not worship) by referencing 1 Cor 14 and Eph 5. Interestingly enough, if we take these proof texts as actually being about worship, then the thesis further disputes itself because Paul would in fact be “prescribing forms” for worship (“each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation…” “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…”). If we take these verses as describing “worship” then we have prescribed forms. However, our confession would lead us to understand these verses to describe those things which adorn worship, but this is directly contrary to the point of the thesis.


    The great struggle is what we mean by “worship.” As Kolb/Wengert did a fairly decent job of, I work to refrain from using the term except when in describing Gottesdienst – that which actually is given as ritual to be received through faith. The rest of it is in fact *not worship* and should never be confused as such. The music is not worship. The singing itself is not worship. And even here, we do not have “considerable” freedom, but rather, as Dr. Stuckwhisch theses point out, freedom to exercise considerable hesistency, recognizing that those things we have freedom to change will in fact achieve nothing of salvific nature (quite the opposite of every reason given for changing them these days!), while it certainly can destroy the foundation of those things we must not change by usurping their primacy – say, by claiming to be better able to help us convert, save, etc.

    The great value of the western liturgical tradition as it stands is that it is an order of service which does not destroy the foundation, and it is time-tested and accepted well beyond the Missouri Synod. The truly ecumenical, missional thing to do is to stop wasting time and causing division improving something which we confess bears no power to save. If it actually is adiaphora, it won’t and can’t help the Church for you to change it. At least…NOT BY YOURSELF.

    ….That being, something else this document regular speaks of is “the people of God” who have “freedom.” It is interesting that this seems to imply that “each person” has the freedom to change things…rather than that we, together, as one body, might, altogether, at once, unified, change things.

    Gosh…this is bringing up all sorts of stuff. And I’m supposed to be working! XD

  7. 9] Therefore we believe, teach, and confess that the congregation of God of every place and every time has, according to its circumstances, the good right, power, and authority [in matters truly adiaphora] to change, to diminish, and to increase them, without thoughtlessness and offense, in an orderly and becoming way, as at any time it may be regarded most profitable, most beneficial, and best for [preserving] good order, [maintaining] Christian discipline [and for eujtaxiva worthy of the profession of the Gospel], and the edification of the Church. Moreover, how we can yield and give way with a good conscience to the weak in faith in such external adiaphora, Paul teaches Rom. 14, and proves it by his example, Acts 16:3; 21:26; 1 Cor. 9:19.

    This paragraph applies well in a perfect Lutheran world. (Fort Wayne Seminary maybe? Just joking)

    10] We believe, teach, and confess also that at the time of confession [when a confession of the heavenly truth is required], when the enemies of God’s Word desire to suppress the pure doctrine of the holy Gospel, the entire congregation of God, yea, every Christian, but especially the ministers of the Word, as the leaders of the congregation of God [as those whom God has appointed to rule His Church], are bound by God’s Word to confess freely and openly the [godly] doctrine, and what belongs to the whole of [pure] religion, not only in words, but also in works and with deeds; and that then, in this case, even in such [things truly and of themselves] adiaphora, they must not yield to the adversaries, or permit these [adiaphora] to be forced upon them by their enemies, whether by violence or cunning, to the detriment of the true worship of God and the introduction and sanction of idolatry. 11] For it is written, Gal. 5:1: Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not again entangled in the yoke of bondage. Also Gal. 2:4f : And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage; to whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour, that the truth of the Gospel might continue with you. 12] [Now it is manifest that in that place Paul speaks concerning circumcision, which at that time had become an adiaphoron (1 Cor. 7:18f.), and which at other occasions was observed by Paul (however, with Christian and spiritual freedom, Acts 16:3). But when the false apostles urged circumcision for establishing their false doctrine, (that the works of the Law were necessary for righteousness and salvation,) and misused it for confirming their error in the minds of men, Paul says that he would not yield even for an hour, in order that the truth of the Gospel might continue unimpaired.]

    Questions to be asked.

    Is the Lutheran Church in a state of confession or not?

    Does the Roman Catholic Church no longer exist?

    Does the Reformed Church no longer exist?

    Have all hersies stopped existing?

    I’m glad the COP’s are looking into this, but I am somewhat disturbed by their abuse of the term “adiahora”.


  8. I think that much of the mischief propagated in the name of “contemporary worship” occurs within the music of our worship services. Pastor Rossow is right that “the devil is in the details,” and in addition to working on the overarching issues raised by these worship theses I think we will have to continue to work specifically on matters of music as well.

    One of the theses advanced by the COP is: “Great care is necessary in choosing forms, rites and ceremonies because they either support or hinder true worship. There are no “neutral” forms.” This is a very important principle within discussions of music, and one that I have pushed over the years. Music is not neutral–it conveys associative meanings. Placing a rock band in the front of a church is not a neutral act–it conveys value and meaning as it connects to the entertainment culture around us. Music with a “back beat,” a standard rhythmic practice in pop music (and in Christian pop, or “contemporary” Christian music) is not neutral–it connects the listener to the entertainment culture around us.

    So one hopes that this thesis from the COP document might also be applied when discussing the music of the Divine Service. The last COP thesis statement refers to the church being “united in doctrine and practice.” Understanding that music is not neutral, that music is not merely a matter of style but is in fact part of the substance, might help to move us toward a desirable unity in the musical part of our practice.

    Dan Zager

  9. I’m glad the COP decided to actually spend some time on it. The problem is partially generational. Most of them did not go through seminary at a time when there was much attention to liturgy, and some went through during the 1970s when there wasn’t much sound teaching, period.

    But the bottom line is that liturgy is not an adiaphoron, though certain ceremonies are in certain times when the church in a place is not in a cause or state of confession. Really more reading in Walther could be done and it would address much of this. Walther and Loehe actually had a great deal of agreement on liturgy.

  10. “VIII. The people of God are commanded by God to keep talking with each other, under His Word, so that divisions are healed and the Church is united in doctrine and practice.”

    That thesis stands out the most for me given what we have just witnessed with the ELCA and homosexuality. What was said by many at the ELCA convention was something along the lines that being engaged in loving conversation over doctrinal differences is what unites. If we can just hold hands together and sing “Kumbaya” regardless of our differences, then we have “real” unity. Besides, we are “commanded to keep talking with each other” irregardless of doctrinal division. Right? It would be sinful to mark those who cause division amongst us and to have nothing to do with them until they repent, huh? Is Romans 16:17 an error now? We aren’t to avoid those “who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught”? Nope. Bust out the folk guitar and lets sing together “If I Had a Hammer” and we can talk over our differences after we do something “missional”.

  11. VI. Uniformity in forms, rites and ceremonies while desirable, is not essential to the unity of the Church.

    VII. The polarization that is affecting the Church concerning the issue of forms, rites and ceremonies is sinful and hinders the proclamation of the Gospel.

    While forms, rites and ceremonies may divide, false doctrine always divides. The theology used in many innovative services is not Lutheran and thus it divides.

    The polarization that is affecting the Church is not about forms, rites and ceremonies. The polarization is theological. Christians are truly polarized when we do not share the same faith in Christ and in His work for and presence among us.

  12. “If [Baptsism and preaching the Gospel] are not prescribed forms, rites and ceremonies for worship, then I don’t know what is.”

    I think you got the last part right.

    If you can’t define your terms, you have no business discussing. That is why, I think, Pr. Stuckwisch first defines the liturgy. It is not defined as forms and rites, but as “the preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, the confession of Christ Jesus, the ongoing catechesis of His Word, and the faithful administration of His Body and His Blood to His disciples.”

    Forms, ceremonies, and rites are defined separately: “Rubrics are instructions for the conduct of the Liturgy, mutually agreed upon within the fellowship of the Church. Rites are the words that are spoken in the administration of the Liturgy. Ceremonies are the bodily actions, movements and adornments of the Liturgy.” In these, we have Christian freedom.

    To equate the preaching of the Word and Baptism (and administration of the sacrament), for which we have Christ’s instruction and through which the Spirit operates, with rites, forms, and ceremonies, for which we have Christian freedom and the Spirit has not promised to operate, is a serious error. It binds consciences where we have no Scriptural (or confessional) mandate and causes confusion over the work of the Spirit. It is as gross an error as that made by Pentecostals with tongue speaking.

  13. The polarization that is affecting the Church is not about forms, rites and ceremonies. The polarization is theological. Christians are truly polarized when we do not share the same faith in Christ and in His work for and presence among us.

    This is exactly right. Well said, C.S. This thesis makes all the other theses from the CoP rather useless, since they show here that they fail to understand what is the real cause of the polarization affecting the Church – contradictory confessions of the faith, which is evidenced by contradictory theologies of worship.

    The Divine Service is the the Divine Service (if interested, see a recent post on my blog – Our problem is that we have many among us who want to convince everyone that their “contemporary praise worship” is the Divine Service. Clearly, it’s not. But, to just come out and say it’s not, as I just did, means that I’m the cause of the polarization affecting the Church. It doesn’t matter that I can prove that “contemporary praise worship” is not the Divine Service, I’m already cast off as a “troubler of Israel” for saying it and not to be listened to.

    The last thesis which states that the people of God are commanded to keep talking and trying to heal divisions is meaningless, since before any substantive “talking” and “healing” can truly be done, we would have to agree to take some things off the table (i.e. those “styles” and “forms” which are so obviously not Lutheran), and that’s not going to happen. My point is that fruitful dialogue is simply impossible when we can’t even agree that using songs, styles, and forms from those whom our very own Confessions condemn is off the table.

    So, thanks Pres. Kieschnick and company, but if you’re really serious about fostering greater unity in worship practice within our synod, you’ll kindly discontinue the inclusion and promotion of those congregations whose public worship is anything but Lutheran, and you’ll immediately remove the scandal of offering up “100-plus praise songs,” most of which teach false doctrine, for congregations in our synod to use. Until then, I, for one, can simply not take anything you say about worship seriously.

  14. One issue that I didn’t see addressed, I may have missed it, was the apparent use of worship as outreach. It seems that the liturgy administers the Means of Grace in as scriptural a way as possible. Contemporary worship seeks to administer the Means of Grace in as attractive a way as possible without making glaring theological mistakes that cannot be rationalized away. The focus of one is just bringing Christ to the congregation, the focus of the other is split between bringing Christ to the congregation and being appealing to visitors.

    It always seemed to me that if the Word is properly taught and the sacraments are properly administered then that is as nurturing an environment as possible for the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of both the churched and the unchurched. God really works through His Means of Grace. Incorporating doctrinally impure materials or practices, however well meaning, only mucks it up, even if you think the materials and practices are adiaphora and their doctrine is compatible.

  15. What appears to me is the difference between the production of politicians as opposed to the production of theologians. Is there a “transparency” issue here?

  16. The first president of the Missouri Synod worked long and hard to restore a common historic liturgy to the church when so many churches were following their own devices. C. F. W. Walther’s efforts received some negative feedback. He responded in a publication that he edited for many years: Der Lutheraner, as in this example, translated from the July 19, 1853, issue, volume 9, number 24, page 163.

    Whenever the divine service once again follows the old Evangelical-Lutheran agendas (or church books), it seems that many raise a great cry that it is “Roman Catholic”: “Roman Catholic” when the pastor chants “The Lord be with you” and the congregation responds by chanting “and with thy spirit”; “Roman Catholic” when the pastor chants the collect and the blessing and the people respond with a chanted “Amen.” Even the simplest Christian can respond to this outcry: “Prove to me that this chanting is contrary to the Word of God, then I too will call it `Roman Catholic’ and have nothing more to do with it. However, you cannot prove this to me.” If you insist upon calling every element in the divine service “Romish” that has been used by the Roman Catholic Church, it must follow that the reading of the Epistle and Gospel is also “Romish.” Indeed, it is mischief to sing or preach in church, for the Roman Church has done this also . . .Those who cry out should remember that the Roman Catholic Church possesses every beautiful song of the old orthodox church. The chants and antiphons and responses were brought into the church long before the false teachings of Rome crept in. This Christian Church since the beginning, even in the Old Testament, has derived great joy from chanting… For more than 1700 years orthodox Christians have participated joyfully in the divine service. Should we, today, carry on by saying that such joyful participation is “Roman Catholic”? God forbid! Therefore, as we continue to hold and to restore our wonderful divine services in places where they have been forgotten, let us boldly confess that our worship forms do not tie us with the modern sects or with the church of Rome; rather, they join us to the one, holy Christian Church that is as old as the world and is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.

  17. More thoughts from C.F.W. Walther:

    “We know and firmly hold that the character, the soul of Lutheranism, is not found in outward observances but in the pure doctrine. If a congregation had the most beautiful ceremonies in the very best order, but did not have the pure doctrine, it would be anything but Lutheran. We have from the beginning spoken earnestly of good ceremonies, not as though the important thing were outward forms, but rather to make use of our liberty in these things. For true Lutherans know that although one does not have to have these things (because there is no divine command to have them), one may nevertheless have them because good ceremonies are lovely and beautiful and are not forbidden in the Word of God. Therefore the Lutheran church has not abolished “outward ornaments, candles, altar cloths, statues and similar ornaments,” [AP XXIV] but has left them free. The sects proceeded differently because they did not know how to distinguish between what is commanded, forbidden, and left free in the Word of God. We remind only of the mad actions of Carlstadt and of his adherents and followers in Germany and in Switzerland. We on our part have retained the ceremonies and church ornaments in order to prove by our actions that we have a correct understanding of Christian liberty, and know how to conduct ourselves in things which are neither commanded nor forbidden by God.

    We refuse to be guided by those who are offended by our church customs. We adhere to them all the more firmly when someone wants to cause us to have a guilty conscience on account of them. The Roman antichristendom enslaves poor consciences by imposing human ordinances on them with the command: “You must keep such and such a thing!”; the sects enslave consciences by forbidding and branding as sin what God has left free. 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 difference between Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism in outward things. It is a pity and dreadful cowardice when a person sacrifices the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American denominations just so they won’t accuse us of being Roman Catholic! Indeed! Am I to be afraid of a Methodist, who perverts the saving Word, or be ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather rejoice that they can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them?

    It is too bad that such entirely different ceremonies prevail in our Synod, and that no liturgy at all has yet been introduced in many congregations. The prejudice especially against the responsive chanting of pastor and congregations is of course still very great with many people — this does not, however, alter the fact that it is very foolish. The pious church father Augustine said, “Qui cantat, bis orat–he who sings prays twice.”

    This finds its application also in the matter of the liturgy. Why should congregations or individuals in the congregation want to retain their prejudices? How foolish that would be! For first of all it is clear from the words of St. Paul (1 Cor. 14:16) that the congregations of his time had a similar custom. It has been the custom in the Lutheran Church for 250 years. It creates a solemn impression on the Christian mind when one is reminded by the solemnity of the divine service that one is in the house of God, in childlike love to their heavenly Father, also give expression to their joy in such a lovely manner.

    We are not insisting that there be uniformity in perception or feeling or taste among all believing Christians-neither dare anyone demand that all be minded as he. 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 lecture halls in which the hearers are merely addressed or instructed, while our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which Christians serve the great God publicly before the world.

  18. The main problem with the COP worship paper: It has nothing to say about Christian love that manifests itself in submitting to the brethren united in the same confession of the faith by following uniform orders of service.

    There’s all but exclusive talk of freedom, but no talk of service (as in Luther’s booklet on Christian Liberty). But freedom without service cannot be had in a Christian way. Just as faith without love cannot be genuine.

    Without being reinforced by the bond of love, the bond of faith will soon be broken, as Luther and early Lutherans (and Missourians) knew all to well from personal experience. And we too can only agree with them.

    The paper fails to state clearly why it is “desirable” to have uniformity in ceremonies (part VI). The brief reference in a quote from Apol. VII/VIII, 33 to “tranquility” could have been expanded on. After all, is this not what we’re lacking in our church — tranquility?? Simply insisting and repeating ad nauseam that uniformity is not essential for church fellowship is not helpful and does not avail itself of the assistance offered to us in our crisis by the Lutheran confessions.

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