A Modest Suggestion to the DPs regarding their Theses on Worship, by Klemet Preus

I believe that the Theses on Worship (PDF), produced by the council of presidents, while a very helpful contribution to our ongoing discussion about worship, needs some work. Thesis IV is not quite adequate in its discussion of the imposition of forms and it also lacks a discussion on the relationship between Christian freedom and Christian love.  

A discussion of the relationship between freedom and love is needed. While individual Christians or congregations are free to use whatever ceremonies they wish, they are also bound by the law of love. And love requires at times that we give up our freedom. Luther wrote and encouraged all the congregations and pastors to “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.” [1] This quotation incidentally has been adopted by our synod as informing our ongoing discussions on worship at the 1995 convention.  

Luther understood the quest for uniformity of ceremonies to be an act of love. “For even though from the viewpoint of faith, the external orders are free and can without scruples be changed by anyone at anytime, yet from the viewpoint of love, you are not free to use this liberty, but bound to consider the edification of the common people, as St. Paul says, I Corinthians 14:40, “All things should be done to edify,” and I Corinthians 6:12, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful,” and I Corinthians 8:1, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”[2]

So today we, who are free, live in love and so suffer the imposition of rules and ceremonies. Think of the ordinances, ceremonies or customs that have been imposed upon us and which we all accept even though they cannot be proven from the Bible. We celebrate Christmas on December 25. The colors on the altar and pulpit vary uniformly according to the season. The day of worship is Sunday. Pastors wear certain robes. It’s actually not even in the Bible that pastors should wear shirts and shoes during church but most congregations have an unwritten policy of “no shirt, no shoes, no service.” We schedule the divine service at a certain time and expect people to come at that time. All these are ordinances that have been imposed. Without them there would be chaos.

When you think about it congregational or district constitutions and bylaws are a type of church ordinance that we have all agreed to support. You could not run a church without them. Try making decisions without have by-laws which govern meetings, who votes, who runs the meeting, how and by whom and under what circumstances motions may be made, etc. We all agree to these bylaws and expect others to follow them.

If we can commonly accept bylaws even though we may initially have disagreed with them, cannot we accept a common form of worship especially since the District Presidents have rightly asserted that Uniformity of rights and ceremonies is desirable (although not essential for the unity of the church)?  

What the District presidents should do, in my opinion, is to rethink Thesis IV in light of the humble considerations and comments of these last three blogs. They need to distinguish between imposition of rites and ceremonies from the imposition of these rites as necessary for salvation. They need to discuss the balance between the freedom of the Christian and the law of love which should dominate.

Again, I truly do thank the COP for their contribution to the ongoing discussion on worship and trust they will continue the discussion.

[1] Luther’s Works Volume 53, p. 47.

[2] Luther’s Works 53:47.

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.


A Modest Suggestion to the DPs regarding their Theses on Worship, by Klemet Preus — 7 Comments

  1. You hit the nail on the head! Faith’s freedom is, when it comes to the neighbor, a humble servant of love.

    Also see the study I put together a couple of years ago (a digest of which appeared some time ago in Logia, I think).

  2. ‘What the District Presidents should do…” is to request —even encourage— the theological faculties of our seminaries to address this issue. There’s good historical reason to be uncomfortable with “councils” of administrative officials establishing statements which subtly suggest some aire of ecclesial authority. Historically, even seminaries issue ‘opinions’ on controverted issues, not declarations.

  3. In every instance of “contemporary worship” useage I have seen a drift toward more praise worship has occured and spread to multiple services with maybe one traditional service very early Sunday morning. Most contemporay worship is just that, “worship”, and the Divine Service which is the central focus of God’s gathering together is lost over time. In adition in order not to offend, the word sin and the concept of original sin is also relegated to the back pew; ‘just too offensive to all of those “seekers”. By the way how does a spiritually dead, blind ememy of God seek Him out?

  4. Pastor Preus,
    Thank you for your comments on the Worship Theses. I found them of benefit to the discussion. As a member of the COP I can tell you that this type of conversation is precisely what we had in mind. The Theses, as we tried to make clear, are not a declaration. They are our attempt to start a healthy discussion. We seem to have lost our ability to talk with each other for the purpose of edification. But with help like your blog something very good could happen.

    For the purpose of this discussion I think it is necessary for me to disclose that I wrote the Theses for the Council. I would feel a bit dishonest in making the following comments if I did not tell you that. The COP certainly made substantive contributions, and did a lot of word-smithing. They did adopt the Theses as their effort.

    The Theses are limited by two self-imposed parameters. First, I wanted to use only the Scripture and the Confessions as sources. The intent was to use the solid ground of our common authorities and avoid side arguments about the validity of one Father over another. Second, I wanted the Theses to be relatively short because I was afraid they might not be used if they were too long.

    Both you and Pastor James Waddell have noted that the Theses lack an adequate discussion of the impact love should have on our freedom. (You can find his analysis of the Theses at Worship Concord Journal.) I agree. In this context in particular we are congregationalists and have lost sight of the Church as the body of Christ. I think that theological debate, (i.e. talking with each other under the Word of God, as opposed to defending personal opinions, resulting in power struggles and name calling), is one method of regaining that sight. It is confusing and painful when congregations and Pastors go their own way without thought about how their choices of rites and ceremonies will impact their neighbor. Here we can see the influence of our culture in the forms of independence and choice. If this discussion can gain some traction we may have some impact on exposing that cultural influence.

    With regard to Thesis IV I could certainly have clarified the issue better. However, I disagree with some of your comments regarding the imposition of rites and ceremonies. I understand that a Pastor is making a sort of imposition when he chooses a liturgy and hymns. That is clearly not the type of imposition referred to in the Thesis. The Pastor imposes his “choices” on the congregation for the sake of order, (or in the negative, as you note, so that there won’t be chaos), so that the Gospel may be heard. Yes, we live with impositions for the sake of order. Many such impositions also result from the cherished motto, “We have always done it this way.” I also agree that the Word of God imposes certain forms such as the verba of the sacraments. These exceptions should have been stated.

    You are correct when you state that one sinful characteristic by which erroneous impositions might be recognized is for the sake of earning merit. If we say we must use certain forms, rites or ceremonies because they work merit for us we have sinned. That is not, however, the only way in which we may err by imposing certain forms, rites or ceremonies.
    “True prayer, charity, and fasting have God’s command; and where they do, it is a sin to omit them. But where they are not command by God’s law but have set form derived from human tradition, such works belong to the human traditions of which Christ says (Matthew 15:9) ‘In vain do they worship me with the precepts of men.'” AP XII.143
    Here Melancthon recognizes that when we impose a certain form, rite or ceremony that does not have the command of God we are sinning, we are worshipping in vain. In the present context this happens when brothers imply that their neighbor is sinning when he uses different forms, rites or ceremonies regardless of their theological purity. This was the type of imposition I was referencing in the Theses IV.

    This brings us to the topic of adiaphoron. Waddell rightly chastises me for not having included a clearer thesis on this pivotal element of the discussion. By narrowly defining the highest form of worship as faith I had hoped to convey that worship is not adiaphoron, (Thesis I), that some forms, rites and ceremonies of worship are, (Theses II, & VI) and that many are not, (Thesis V). Still, I think that Waddell is correct. We do not seem to understand what adiaphoron means. Had I included something on adiaphoron I may have precluded the characterization that many have leveled against the Theses that now “anything goes.” That is certainly not the point of the Theses.

    Speaking of definitions, Waddell also suggests a definition of liturgy, (Thesis III). I do not find AP XXIV .80 very helpful because there Melancthon is simply pointing out that liturgy does not mean sacrifice. I submitted a working definition of liturgy for his comments and I would ask the same of you. I think of liturgy as, “A man-made order for the public service of God to men, through the Word and Sacraments.” I would appreciate your thoughts.

    I cannot tell you how important I and the rest of the Council think it is that these kind of conversations take place. I think your blog and others like it can be helpful in this effort. God bless you in your work.

  5. Ah my good district president, thank you for your willingness to discuss these things openly and for the good of Christ’s church. I appreciate you for that and for many other reasons!

    With my tongue partly in my cheek I must ask and comment concerning your definition of liturgy. Why must man make an order so that God can serve him with the His Word and His Sacraments?

    It certainly seems to me as though the Scriptures and our Lutheran Confessions in multiple places teach that at least some of the order (or ritual or form) that we use for worship is instituted and ordained by God, if not explicitly by spoken word and command then implicitly by action and practice.

    First, the office of the ministry for the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments is divinely instituted. “To obtain such faith [as described in AC IV] God instituted the office of the ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the sacraments.” (AC V.31, Tappert) This is not a “man-made” order for the delivery of God’s gifts.

    Also, prayer to God in Jesus Name (John 15:7); the Lord’s Prayer; exercise of the office of the keys – forgiveness of sins; confession of faith (Matt 10:32); enactment of baptism; fellowship (common offering); and celebration of the Lord’s Supper; these aren’t “man-made” things either but are certainly part of our order of worship.

    Should we be doing things in worship that aren’t instituted by God’s Word? “…God is pleased only with services instituted by His Word and done in faith.” (AP XXVIII.70, Tappert) This seems to speak against any “man-made” order.

    Acts 2:42 – “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread, and to the prayers.” This suggests a four fold structure and order of Word and Sacrament worship in the early church that they held in common and that was pleasing to God who added to their number daily.

    1 Corinthians 14:40 – “All things should be done decently and in order” – Kata taxin is not just an orderly way, but a given order; it has a military history concerning the arrangement or order of soldiers for battle, and in LXX is used to describe the station of the priests at the temple.

    We certainly do not create a law to burden consciences or become legalists about this lest we cease to be Lutheran; neither do we so quickly walk away from what we as a Synod have agreed to walk together on and jettison without considering our neighbors what has been handed down to us and is founded on the Word of God and the practice of the apostles, even if people don’t know why we do it. The problem of “we’ve always done it that way” is a problem of poor pastoral teaching on the subject, not a problem with the order.

    I think there is much more that can be said, about what is commanded in Scripture, what is forbidden in Scripture, and then what is neither commanded nor forbidden (adiaphora) by Scripture; as well as when adiaphora ceases to be adiaphora. More can be said about Jesus’ practice and the structure He uses in Luke 24 with the Emmaus disciples, but attempting to also follow your second self imposed rule, I will stop so that perhaps what I have already written will be read.

    I must disclose that while I learned much of this at the seminary, what I have written above is a summary of what came to me courtesy of a presentation in Ainsworth, NE by Dr. Kleinig this past fall. I know this presentation is available on DVD at the Lutheran Catechetical Society.

  6. @Ryan Wendt #5
    Pastor Wendt
    1. I do not say that man must make an order so that God can serve him. Our gatherings for the service of God could consist of nothing but the Words of Scripture. (Even then I suppose we would be guilty of constructing some order by which readings we chose to do first.) God serves us with Word and Sacrament apart from what we do. It is not that man must make an order it is that he does make an order. This order we call liturgy.
    2. Certainly some parts of the order that we construct for Divine Service come from the Scripture. Those we follow to the Word.
    3. Neither the Scriptures nor the confessions impose a specific order for the Divine Service. There is no text that prescribes the order of invocation, confession/absolution, praise, Word, sacrament etc. There is not text that prescribes the versicles, (mostly Word of God), that move us from one part of the service to another. Furthermore, the wording of confession/absolution, (widely varied through the years), the creeds, the collects, the prayers, (excepting the Lord’s Prayer), are not prescribed by the Scripture or the Confessions. These three elements are parts of the so-called traditional liturgy that are man-made. I have already commented on the fact that while this order is not specifically prescribed there parameters outlined in Theses II, III and V.
    4. I think you meant AP XXVII.70. The context is not the Divine Service. The argument in article XXVII on Monastic vows is that such man-made services as the vows, foods, vestments, etc. are unprofitable in that they cannot merit forgivness. The general statement at the end of the text, which you quote, must be taken in the context of Good Works. The text governing this reading is Matthew 15:9, that is, we may up our own idea of good works and then say this is what pleases God.
    5. I find nothing in Acts 2:42 that suggests a context of the Divine Service. This is a description of how first century Christians were living. There is no prescription here. If we are going to pick verses out of context to structure the Divine service couldn’t we pick Romans 6:23 and have a two part service, Law and Gospel.
    6. I Corinthians 14:40 is at least in the context of the Divine Service but the order that is imposed is: 1) Let all things be done for building up. 2) A limitation on the number of tongue speakers. 3) No tongue speaking without an interpreter. 4) A limitation on the number of prophets speaking. 5) Not more than one person speaking at the same time. 6.) No female preachers. The “liturgy” or order that is revealed in this text, (certainly a Divine Service) is nothing like the “traditional liturgy” that we use today. “When you come together each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.”
    7. Your argument that we should be careful about the order that we do use in the Divine Service for the sake of giving offense, (in addition to the aforementioned parameters), is Scripturally and Confessionally valid. That is one reason we are encouraging these conversations. It is essential that the conversations continue. It is my personal conviction that a lot of what passes for Divine Service in LCMS congregations is not within the parameters of the Scriptures and Confessions. As I said in the Theses, there is no neutral form. Forms either convey the Gospel in accordance with the Word of God or they do not. Unfortunately, blogs like this are mostly preaching to the choir. I believe it is essential to take this conversation to those who think differently.
    8. Nothing I have written should be taken to disparage the “traditional liturgy”. It is my personal preference and it does a great job of conveying the Gospel for the sake of faith in its hearers. But it is not prescribed by the Scripture or Confessions. You rightly acknowledge that to prescribe or impose certain forms, (that is to say, “If you do not use this particular liturgy you are sinning.”), is not Lutheran.

  7. and yet, can we not say “If you do not use this particular liturgy you are not Lutheran”? or rather “If you use THIS particular liturgy you are not Lutheran”. (liturgy in the broadest sense of “order of service” i.e. the Methobapticostal pracitice)

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