Editor’s Note: Pastor Klemet Preus posted “A Modest Suggestion to the DPs regarding their Theses on Worship” last month, and the author of the Theses, DP Terry Forke, has replied in the comments section. That reply is posted below. We thank President Forke for gracing our blog with his comments. This is a rare act of courage by a synodical official that we hope will become more common. President Forke’s thoughtful response is an excellent opportunity for more discussion on this important matter. The Theses on Worship are available here (PDF).
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(XIIb para 46)
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.80very 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.