Another Letter to President Forke ““ The LCMS Leadership has Abandoned the Noble Request for Liturgical Uniformity, by Klemet Preus

Brother Forke,

Allow me a few words about the place of freedom in our discussion.

The idea of “Freedom” is very difficult for us to rise above. Question freedom or threaten to deprive someone of it and watch us squirm.

Years ago I sat down with my daughter and told her what I intended to give her to help with her college education. At the same time my ex-wife went to court against me to require me to pay for my daughter’s education. The requirement she sought was actually less than I had freely promised. My lawyer advised me not to bother contesting the action against me since I would be wasting money over something which did not cost me anything. I replied, “I understand the math of the situation. You need to understand my freedom. I refuse to be forced to do the right thing when I have every intention of doing it without force and I intend to do more than I am forced to do. I will not allow anyone to say that I was forced to do that which I ought to do without force and which I have always done without force.” That principled decision cost me no small amount of legal fees.

So I know what it is to challenge a person’s freedom. I know that others are just as stubborn as I in protecting their free rights either as fathers or as Christians.

But I would at the same time exhort the pastors and congregations who make up the Missouri Synod with the words which Luther spoke to the Christians in Livonia and which our synod approved and accepted by in 1995. “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]

What is encouraged here is not that we deprive others of their rights or freedom but that all of us voluntarily surrender our opinions and even our rights in order to achieve something more desirable than freedom. We attempt to achieve uniformity.

So when the two values – freedom on the one hand and uniformity on the other – are in conflict the church resolves the conflict by leaning in the direction of uniformity.

Elsewhere I have written:

We see the same two principles at work in the thinking of Luther as he grapples with the question of liturgical freedom and liturgical uniformity. On the one hand, Luther clearly asserts liturgical freedom. “For these rites are supposed to be for Christians, i.e., children of the ‘free woman’ [Gal. 4:31], who observe them voluntarily and from the heart, but are free to change them how and whenever they may wish.” [2] Luther does “not want to make a law, but simply to demonstrate a decent and fitting order to be used in freedom by free Christian men.” [3] On the other hand, Luther sees the need for uniformity in liturgical matters and urges a sacrifice of the very freedom which Christians posses. “Let us approve each other’s rites lest schisms and sects should result from this diversity of rites – as has happened in the Roman church.” [4] This “approval” occurs through a process of “common consent.” As with Paul, so with Luther, the principles of freedom and love live in a holy tension in which uniformity in ceremonies is willingly promoted and not forced.      

But this noble quest for uniformity has been largely abandoned by our synod, and, in all due respect, by its leadership. I am under the impression that when pastors or congregations discard or change the liturgy, which until recent times was uniformly used among us, these changers of the liturgy are not admonished with the words of Luther that we sacrifice what we want in deference to the uniformity we all need. I am under the impression that instead those who advocate the changes are put forth as pioneers or change agents especially if their congregations grow in numbers. Conversely, those who do not change the liturgy are called “museum pieces” or “encumbrances to mission,” or worse. I am under the impression that the synod has largely thrown in the towel in the quest for uniformity. A friend recently told me “I appreciate your zeal, Klemet, but it’s too little too late. The synod will never have uniformity again. We will continue to have more diverse worship expressions and you will be frustrated until you accept what has happened and what is happening.” So my quixotic efforts are politely refused. And yours may be as well, my brother in Christ.

My daughter came up to me during my little legal scrap with my ex-wife described above, and said, “Dad, I know that you promised to support me freely. I know that you always will. Why not simply accept the legal imposition so that you can stop fighting with Mom and get on loving me with a bit more attentiveness? Is your freedom worth more than me?” How should I have responded to my daughter?

[1] Luther’s Work 53 p. 47

[2] Ibid  31

[3] Ibid. 34

[4] Ibid. 31

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