Having praised the council of presidents for their recently released “Theses on Worship,” I now offer one suggestion to our esteemed presidents as we continue our discussion on worship. I believe that section IV needs further discussion. Here is what the council of presidents write:
IV. Imposing a certain form, rite or ceremony on the Church burdens men’s consciences, thereby militating against the Gospel.
This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:9)
And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.” (Luke 11:46)
The Gospel clearly testifies that traditions should not be imposed on the church to merit forgiveness of sins or to be acts of worship that please God as righteousness or to burden consciences so that their omission is judged to be a sin. (AP XXVIII, 11)
Therefore we reject and condemn as false and contrary to God’s Word the following teachings: . . . 2) When such ceremonies, precepts, and institutions are forcibly imposed upon the community of God as necessary things, in violation of the Christian liberty which it has in external matters. (FC Ep X, 8, 10)
See also: FC SD X, 15, 21, 27.
On the face of it the document seems to be saying that any time any rites or ceremonies are imposed then that is wrong even when these rites and ceremonies might, in and of themselves, be benign or even salutary.
But neither the Bible passages sited nor the confessions of the church teach this. Rather, it is not the mere imposition of rites and ceremonies that is condemned, but forcing any ceremonies as if they were necessary for salvation. Listen to the confessions: “traditions should not be imposed on the church to merit forgiveness of sins.” The confessions are primarily interested in protecting souls from the idea that salvation is gained through the observance of ceremonies. After all, know the confessors, salvation was accomplished by Jesus and is imparted by the gospel and sacraments. So don’t make salvation be dependant upon the performance of ceremonies. Notice it is not the imposition alone which is condemned but the imposition of traditions to forgive sins.
When you think about it, the pastor imposes worship forms upon the church every Sunday. If he doesn’t do it then a competent helper does. In my church I choose the hymns with input from our choir directors and music coordinator. I choose the orders of service from the LSB. I am the one who takes flack for it if the people can’t sing the hymns. I’m not sure that anyone has ever said, “Why are you imposing these hymns on us?” But words to that effect have been spoken, “Why do we have to sing these hymns when we want to sing “The Old Rugged Cross?” What happens in my church happens in all the churches. Someone decides and if the people don’t like it they complain. They’ve been imposed upon.
Whenever a decision is made by anyone in the church – whether the pastor or the congregation or a collection of congregations or by the bishop or by a collection of pastors – whenever a decision is made that others must abide there is a type of forced imposition that takes place. We could not function as a church without someone making decisions which are binding upon all – but never for salvation. The question is not about this process but about the value of imposed decisions to our salvation.
For example, our district presidents are chosen by the vote of the convention. Those who may have preferred a different candidate may view the DP as having been imposed upon them. Their views, worthy as they may be, are not considered beyond the election itself. The majority has spoken and a type of imposition occurs. Where we would balk is if, God forbid, someone would say, “You must elect Pastor Smith to be president of the district at the peril of your souls.” In that event the imposition is deemed necessary for salvation and souls are burdened. Such an imposition would be wrong and contrary to the Gospel. The first Lutherans would have abided the imposition upon them of the pope provided this imposition would not have been deemed necessary for salvation or been viewed as a requirement that the church must do to please God.
So we as Christians have willingly accepting the imposition all sorts of things without believing that by so doing we have been wronged. Does the same apply to worship forms? Yes it does.