Adiaphora Does Not Characterize Worship As COP’s Theses Imply, by Ryan Wendt

Editor’s Note: There is a good string of comments still  going on  District President Forke’s thoughts on the Council of Presidents’ (COP) theses on worship. Pr. John Frahm asserted that the Lutheran Confessions do more to define “liturgy” than the theses allow. Pastor Wilken has also added helpful insights. Pr. Ryan Wendt who serves under President Forke’s supervision in the Montana District, has entered the following comment on the original post where Forke made his comment. Here is that comment. The title above is ours and is not from Pr. Wendt.

November 17th, 2009 at 20:24 | #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.

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.


Adiaphora Does Not Characterize Worship As COP’s Theses Imply, by Ryan Wendt — 6 Comments

  1. Rev. Wendt has made some wonderful points, especially the importance of teaching why we do what we do. I would like to comment on the title of the piece…concerning adiaphora. I think Rev. Pres. Forke mentioned Rev. Waddell’s insistence on a more forceful presentation of adiaphora within the theses. However–adiaphora, like missions, must be placed in the correct relationship with justification (namely, a subordinate one–it can’t take on a life of its own).

    One point that I think needs to be borne in mind is that the variety that existed within early Lutheranism followed, to a large extent, on the fact that there were different territories of *political* jurisdiction (Germany was not a unified, modern nation state). There were language differences that played a role in the variety. It also needs to be realized that much of the article on adiaphora deals with forms being imposed upon Lutherans by another church (the papal); can we directly translate the adiaphora argument generated by inter-Church relationships (papal vs. Lutheran) back in the mid 16th century with the issues going on in one church body (the LCMS) between congregations ostensibly united in common confession today? Elements of the adiaphora argument need to be “translated” correctly to bring it over wholesale from its proper historical context–i.e. language differences (what role has that played in our divergences in the LCMS?), different political jurisdictions (when we all live in the same U.S.), and inter-Church relationships (when we are, as earlier said, one church body).

  2. A couple papers that folks might want to read in regard to liturgical variation are as follows:

    Matthew Harrison – “Liturgical Uniformity and Church Polity in the Augsburg Confession and Formula of Concord: Church Orders as Hermeneutical Key”

    The Lutheran Liturgy: An Adiaphoron? Roger J. Humann

    For the Sake of Christ’s Commission
    The Report of theChurch Growth Study Committee
    The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (2001)

  3. Thank you, President Forke, for your contribution to this discussion; and thank you, Pastor Wendt, for your clarity on the issue of adiaphora. Thanks to all of those who contributed on the other post, under Forke’s message.

    Regarding adiaphora, there are two key passages in our confessions that define the Lutheran doctrine of adiaphora. These are very carefully written, with no subsidiary statements or arguments. To omit any part of these statements is to fall into error.

    First, the definition of what is NOT adiaphora, Formula of Concord, SD X, 5 & 6 (Tappert, p. 611). If a case of worship practice is described there, then it is NOT adiaphora and so condemned.

    Second, the criteria for evaluating CHANGE in worship, Formula of Concord, SD X, 9 (Tappert, p. 612). If a case of CHANGE in worship from traditional Lutheran practice does not meet those criteria, then it is not adiaphora and so condemned.

    Part of the difficulty in these discussions is that you can really only judge on a “case by case” basis, using the definition and criteria given above. Judging in cases is why we have District Presidents and Circuit Counselors, so I am glad the COP is beginning their importat work on this.

    A book that is very helpful for this discussion is: James Brauer, ed., “Worship, Gottesdienst, Cultus Dei” (CPH #53-1126G). Brauer has a done a great service by categorizing and quoting all the confessional texts pertaining to worship.

    Much of what passes for “contemporary worship” in the LCMS today is, according to the definitions and criteria in FC SD X, condemned. Now that this “contemporary worship” has become standard practice, with at least one LCMS congregation in every large town or city offering some form of “contemporary worship,” it is going to be very difficult to get congregations and pastors to agree to act in accordance with their promise to uphold the Lutheran Confessions.

    I am glad that the Council of Presidents has realized that the synod is in organizational peril because of this worship situation. I am very glad to have President Forke working on this, and I have to say that the COP theses is REAL PROGRESS! It is not perfect folks, but it is better than what we have had up until now.

    We need to recognize who is to blame here, so that the people who have put us into this organizational peril are no longer allowed to push us into conflict with each other. We need to recognize WHO it is that is causing this division in our Missouri Synod Lutheran church.

    Saint Paul commanded us to do this: “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery, they deceive the minds of naive people.” (Romans 16:17-18).

    First among these, on the worship issue, has been the Rev. David Luecke. His “Evangelical Style and Lutheran Substance” book (CPH, 1988) was full of misinformation about our history and a complete mangling of the doctrine of adiaphora. It deceived a lot of naive people into thinking that all worship practice is adiaphora. Luecke was, by the way, connected in some way to Fuller Seminary, the home-base of “moderate evangelicalism.” I don’t know the details on his connection there.

    Second was the magazine “Worship Innovations,” which was published back in the early 1990s (I think that was the period). It continued Luecke’s errors, and also provided worship resources that made their way into many parishes.

    Third is the organization “Jesus First,” which began operations, campaigns for synodical offices, and publications in 1999 and has been with us ever since. Its original “Call to Affirm Jesus-First Leadership” did not specifically mention worship practices, but it was clear from the related journalistic commentary that “freedom in worship” was a primary thrust of the group. David Luecke was, by the way, on the original steering committee for this organization, and is still on their publications committee.

    A perfect case in point of the Jesus First worship position was the article “Avoid a Nasty Turn in the Way Worship is Done” by Charles S. Mueller, Sr. in “Jesus First” #4 (January 2000), page 3, which was basically a rehash of Luecke’s arguments. Many of the “Jesus First” articles have been cases of the “smooth talk” condemned by Saint Paul in Romans 16.

    Fourth are the members of the original “Jesus First” steering committee (see Jesus First magazine, #1, p. 2) who are now in so many key positions of synodical leadership:
    1) Gloria Edwards, now on the LCMS Board of Directors and Vice-Chairman of Concordia University-Portland;
    2) Rev. Wayne Graumann, now Chairman of the CTS-Fort Wayne Board of Regents;
    3) Rev. Vernon Gundermann, now Chaplain of the LCMS International Center in Saint Louis and LCMS President’s Representative to the CPH Board of Directors;
    4) Rev. Charles S. Mueller, Jr., now the Interim Director of the Board for District and Congregational Services;
    5) Rev. Thomas Zehnder, now the Interim Director for the LCMS Board for Mission Services.

    I am not picking on any of these five persons, it is just that they happen to be in the current Lutheran Annual as a significant synodical officer and were also on the original “Jesus First” steering committee. There are MANY other persons in synodical and district offices that have subscribed to the “Jesus First” organization and its errant view of worship. Many more were elected by the “Jesus First” political campaigns to boards and offices, and so have at least some alignment with its leadership.

    I need to say that I agreed with some of the major points made by the “Jesus First” folks in their magazine over the years. For example, in issue #4, the article “Proposals Infringe on Self-Governance” warned about changes to synod bylaws that would imperil LCMS Constitution Article VII. I agreed with their criticism. I assume that “Jesus First” will now be the first to warn us about the dangerous changes to Article VII being proposed by the current Blue Ribbon Task Force.

    Another example: Jesus First issue #4, p. 5, told about a person who joined Jesus First because of a newly graduated pastor who was a “controlling man.” I agreed with their criticism. I assume that “Jesus First” will now be the first to warn us about the dangerous changes to congregational constitutions mandated by the “Transforming Congregations Network” (under Tom Zehnder’s supervision, by the way) that will make pastors into “controlling men.”

    Many issues of Jesus First over the years have talked about evangelism and missions. I have applauded those articles. But the church-growth programs that the Jesus First people have actually supported have been less about one-on-one evangelism than changing the worship and programs offered by the congregation and building huge churches. In most metropolitan areas, the LCMS mega-churches have grown at the expense of the membership of the smaller churches. I have nothing against big churches at all, and big churches may be our future. But transfer of Lutherans from one church to another is not “personal evangelism” or missions.

    I have discussed the “change in worship” issue with my college classmates at Concordia-Chicago in the 1970s, at CTS-Fort Wayne in the 1980s, and with my fellow pastors, teachers, church musicians, and laymen ever since. That is over thirty years now. For all of their agreement about our subscription to the Lutheran Confessions, I have found few who accept FC SD X, 5-9, as the “sedes doctrina” for this discussion and who understand it well. Mostly I find that people defend what they like, and that applies to both “contemporary Christian music” folks and “high church Roman liturgy” folks.

    My main point here is that we can talk about this all we want, but if we keep electing the Jesus First candidates to offices and boards this problem will not be resolved, but will only get worse. Jesus First has clearly stated their commitment to an aberrant view of adiaphora. Resolution of our division here will only come BOTH through agreement in principles (e.g., the COP theses, further revised) and electing persons to office who will uphold those principles.

    The best possible scenario would be that the persons currently in positions of leadership–who aligned themselves with Jesus First in the past or who were elected by them–would have a change of heart and change of mind on the worship issues. If these individuals don’t change, then the synod will need to find new leadership if it wants to avoid further division and organizational disaster.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  4. Don’t forget about RIM and it’s role in ushering the charismatic movement into the LCMS. If I recall correctly, RIM recently disbanded under the assumption that it had accomplished its purpose, which was to make methobapticostal worship styles common place in many congregations (and they can probably consider themselves to have been successful in some way, given the situation now at hand in the synod). Some of those listed in the previous blog message were closely associated with this organization, as well.

  5. Thank you Pastor Noland for your analysis and for pinpointing how the problems began and why they continue.

    After checking FC SD X, 5-9, I have a clearer understanding of what is and is not adiaphora.

  6. I’d point to—-may-2009/ as a well-developed counterargument to some points made here.

    Lutherans should read counterarguments and especially the confessions and to make sure they encounter more than the strawman arguments that are often presented by both sides of the worship wars.

    Over emphasis of the importance of liturgy is just as destructive to faith as is the pentecostal-revivalist disdain for it, as the stream of Lutherans abandoning justification by faith alone for the Byzantine church demonstrates.

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