Adiaphora, The Formula of Concord, Jesus First, and Control in the BRTFSG Proposals, by Pr. Martin Noland

Editor’s Note: Martin Noland posted a wide-ranging  masterpiece of a comment on the Wendt commentary on the  Forke-Worship Theses story. The title above was provided by the editor.

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

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