Have recent changes to the Service followed the example of the Confessions of the Church? By Klemet Preus

President Al Barry is perhaps best known for his pithy aphorism: Keep the message straight Missouri, Get the message out Missouri.

These two imperatives were clearly seen as inseparable. Why keep the message straight if you don’t intend to speak it to anyone? And what is there to speak if not a clear message? I believe that the rank and file of the LCMS still holds to this aphorism and still strives for both orthodox expression and a vibrant missionary zeal.

While we cannot separate these two imperatives there is great value in distinguishing them. My biblical study as a pastor, my sermon or Bible class preparation, my insistence that my own doctrine be pure based on the Bible and the Confessions, even my seminary education – these tasks fulfill the imperative to keep the message straight. At the same time, my desire to make the sermon comprehensible and winsome, my training of my people to be capable and eager to confess the faith to others, my adamancy that my congregation generously and prayerful support responsible mission endeavors, my encouragement that my members invite their friends to Bible class – these tasks fulfill the imperative to get the message out.

So let me ask a question about the Sunday morning service. As we prepare the service – put it together by choosing hymns, composing prayers, working with the musicians, even deciding upon a hymnal or whether or not to use a hymnal – are we involved in a task whose criteria are primarily those of “keeping straight” or “getting out?”

What criteria do the Confessions of the church use as they anticipate or justify changing the worship of the church?

“We say that we should observe those ecclesiastical rites which can be observed without sin and which are conducive to tranquility and good order in the church.” [1]

In other words, even if a tradition or rite is of completely human origin, we keep it. We do not change traditions for any reason than that they cause sin or intranquility.      

 “People are drawn to Communion and to the Mass. At the same time they are also instructed about other false teaching concerning the sacrament. Moreover, no noticeable changes have been made in the public celebration of the Mass…For, after all, all ceremonies should serve the purpose of teaching the people what they need to know about Christ.” [2]

In other words, Lutherans don’t change ceremonies or liturgical rites unless they promote false doctrine. The criterion employed by Lutherans when it comes to worship is “Keep the message straight.”

Let’s ask another question. I think we could all agree that a generation ago there was a higher degree of uniformity between the congregations of our church body when it came to worship than there is today. Something changed. Some hail the changes in worship as good. Others deplore them. Were changes made in order that the Sunday Service communicate the gospel more clearly – keep the message straight? Or were changes made in order that the Sunday Service be a more effective tool of getting the message out?

Contrast what the confessions say with the criterion employed by some in the synod.

Kent Hunter says:

“To bring the Gospel to Americans on their level, the communication path will have to take the form of the country-western culture, including country-western songs with Christian content.” [3]

 “Our pastor started what some might identify as a contemporary worship service….It was the perception of our pastor that there were many people within the community who would feel intimidated and overpowered by the structure and formality of our sanctuary and the style of the more formal worship service in our church.” [4]

 Notice that the criterion employed by Kent Hunter is not “Keep the message straight” but “get the message out.”

Obviously Pastor Hunter’s motivation to get the message out to the community is praiseworthy and a motivation which every member of the synod shares. It is just not the proper criterion to apply to the worship service. Changes to the service should not be made based on this motivation laudable as it may be.

Or consider the words of another LCMS pastor as he discusses the question of who should be welcomed to the Sacrament. “Excluding guests will turn them off. It destroys the welcoming environment that the Church tried to create.” [5]  

Notice again that the criterion is not “keep the message straight” but “get the message out” even if it means changing the cherished and biblical practice of closed communion.          

Or consider the advocacy on the part of Pastor David Luecke to allow decision theology into the service so as to attract Americans to it.

One other ingredient (which formed Evangelicalism) was in the blend that shaped Evangelical style….Decision orientation is a good name for this style. Its distinctive flavor goes back to Dwight Moody, the dominant late-19th century influence in American Evangelicalism….Billy Graham epitomizes this orientation today, and he is known by many as Mr. Evangelical. His message is simple and basic, yet told in a way that engages the attention of millions a year. The style is focused on putting salvation within reach of those who can be moved to make a decision for Christ. The decision orientation is distinctly modern American. Graham keeps his approach centered on it by featuring the term in his “Hour of Decision” broadcast and Decision magazine. [6]

To David Luecke “style” in an adiaphoron [7] so the Baptistic worship style of Billy Graham is extolled as permissible provided outreach can be more effective.

Hunter and Luecke are the pioneers of liturgical change in our church body. The criterion which they use to determine what changes to worship should be advanced and extolled is not the criterion employed by the Confessions of the church.

Obviously most of the pastors and congregations in the synod who have changed the divine service are not as radical as the pastors cited above. But as changes are made to the way in which worship is done in our synod we need to ask whether the criteria of the Confessions are employed (“the message straight”) or if new criteria of “get the message out” are invoked.

Just as obviously the church needs to devise as many ways as possible to “get the message out” but changing the worship is done is simply not one of these ways.      

As we discuss the way in which we can end the worship wars we must acknowledge the criteria that Lutherans have historically employed as they determine the content of the Worship Service. We further must recognize that these criteria have been abandoned and replaced by those who advocate change in the church. This advocacy is the cause of the ongoing debate in the church. The worship wars cannot end until this change in criteria is recognized by all parties in the conflict.  


[1] Apology XV 1

[2] Augsburg Confession Article XXIV paragraph 1-3.

[3] Kent Hunter, Confessions of a Church Growth Enthusiast (Corunna IN: Kent Hunter, 1997) p. 175.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Sited by Ernie Lassman “The Church Growth Movement and Lutheran Worship,” Concordia Theological Monthly, Volume 62, Number 1 (January 1998) mp. 52.

[6] David Luecke, Evangelical Style and Lutheran Substance (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1988) 78.

[7] Ibid. 21


Comments

Have recent changes to the Service followed the example of the Confessions of the Church? By Klemet Preus — 11 Comments

  1. The “criteria shift” Pr. Preus describes is a logical consequence of the Enthusiast tendencies of the movement (CGM, et. al.). The Lutheran confession that the Holy Spirit comes by the Means of Grace requires the “straight”ness of preaching and the administration of the Sacraments. This concern is unnecessary if the Spirit comes apart from the means, and the purpose of the church is merely to facilitate a connection to the Spirit by any means necessary–after all, the Spirit *cannot* get the message “wrong,” and the Spirit can therefore *fix* any errors in the presentation.

    It’s as if the “felicitous inconsistency” (that one could, by the Spirit and remnants of the true means of grace, believe the true faith even in the midst of a congregation of a heterodox confession–although it’s not recommended) becomes the modus operandi rather than an emergency backstop.

    If one can’t get it wrong, then all that’s left is to “get it out.”

  2. I don’t know many people who like C&W, it’s not the most popular style of music in the US so Hunter must be targeting a fairly small subset of Americans for his church. Even currently popular C&W artists like Taylor Swift are more pop than country. To me this is the built-in flaw of contemporary worship. There is no particular musical style that appeals to all Americans of all cultural heritages and all generations. To build a service around a musical style is not broadening the reach of the church, it is inherently narrowing and fragmenting the Christian family that is a congregation. There is no way around that if one designs a worship service around entertainment appeal to audience instead of communication of the Word and delivery of the Sacrament to a congregation.

  3. “In other words, even if a tradition or rite is of completely human origin, we keep it. We do not change traditions for any reason than that they cause sin or intranquility.”

    No, the Apology really doesn’t say that. What Article XV says is:

    “In Article XV they accept the first part, where we say that we should observe those ecclesiastical rites which can be observed without sin and which are conducive to tranquility and good order in the church.” [Tappert]

    “In the Fifteenth Article they receive the first part, in which we say that those ecclesiastical rites ought to be observed which can be observed without sin, and are of profit in the Church for tranquility and good order.” [Triglot Concordia]

    The context is, from AC XV:

    “With regard to church usages that have been established by men, it is taught among us that those usages are to be observed which may be observed without sin and which contribute to peace and good order in the church, among them being certain holy days, festivals, and the like. 2 Yet we accompany these observances with instruction so that consciences may not be burdened by the notion that such things are necessary for salvation. [Tappert]

    1] Of Usages in the Church they teach that those ought to be observed which may be observed without sin, and which are profitable unto tranquillity and good order in the Church, as particular holy days, festivals, and the like.
    2] Nevertheless, concerning such things men are admonished that consciences are not to be burdened, as though such observance was necessary to salvation. [Triglot Concordia]

    So yes, we may keep a tradition or rite if it can be observed without sin. But neither Augsburg Confession XV nor Apology XV hold that we may not change traditions for other reasons, so long as they can “be observed without sin” and “are profitable unto tranquillity and good order in the Church.”

  4. Anon,

    Would you define what you mean by your use of the confession’s quote: “be observed without sin” and “are porfitable unto tranquillity and good order in the Church.” [or] what these mean to you?

  5. I simply observed that the statement:

    “We do not change traditions for any reason than that they cause sin or intranquility.”

    overstates what the citation maintains.

    Neither Augsburg Confession XV nor Apology XV holds that we may not change traditions for reasons other than they cause sin or intranquility. I simply wanted to emphasize that I was not suggesting that we could or should change traditions for ANY reason, including a reason that might cause sin or intranquility.

  6. Kent Hunter says:

    “To bring the Gospel to Americans on their level, the communication path will have to take the form of the country-western culture, including country-western songs with Christian content.”

    Wow, I can hear it now, A Mighty Fortress set to the tune of Conway Twitty’s “Tight Fittin’ Jeans”

    Eek-gads, this nonsensical reasoning boggles my mind!

    Kiley Campbell

  7. Actually, I think A MIghty Fortress would fit better with Hank Williams Sr.’s “Your Cheating heart”

  8. “The worship wars cannot end until this change in criteria is recognized by all parties in the conflict.”

    I would add that the worship wars cannot end until all parties recognize this change in criteria and those who have changed the criteria are ready to return to the proper criteria or join another synod.

  9. I think the underlying theme here should be that no matter which way the Gospel is presented the results may not be what we would like them to be. Even “getting it straight” might reduce the “numbers” but at least we would have a clear conscious knowing that what we did was God pleasing. Fortunately or unfortunately the “getting the message straight……….getting message out” is intertwined since God says that the end of times won’t arrive until everyone has heard His Gospel. The message might be out and accomplished then but the number count might not be there. The problem is “doing it” which should be the mandate of all Christians.

  10. Philippians 4:8-9 deserve to be reviewed and prayed over, then acted upon, in this context, as well as for all aspects of life:

    “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

    This is not a restaurant menu, “one from column A, one from column B”, but instead is worthy and clear instruction to us. And, the instruction of verse 8 is unfortunately cut off at the end of the verse. Verse 9 is quite clear – “practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you”.

    Action is the new competence, based upon competent and intent comprehension of Christ’s great work for us and our correct response to His work and Word.

    No more man-made, strife-intended false dichotomies! “Get it straight” and “get it out” clearly needs to include “including in the teaching and practice of God’s Word WITHIN the LCMS”.

  11. I can understand wanting outreach efforts to be attractive to those you are trying to reach but what does that have to do with worship? Paul certainly tried to present the Gospel in culturally appropriate ways but I don’t recall him suggesting or implementing any changes to worship services in order to reach more people. I am not familiar with any such tactics in the early church or the reformation but perhaps those more knowledgeable than I could provide insight.

    Certainly the exact words and music that are used now are not identical to what was used in the early church but it seems to me that any changes were done to better accomplish the purpose of worship, which is to bring Christ to His church through the Means of Grace.

    Among American Evangelicalism it is common to imitate the culture so that visitors will come to church without it actually feeling like church. However, using worship as an outreach tool gives laymen an excuse to avoid studying the Bible. Any question someone may pose to them can be answered by inviting that person to church. All they need to know is that they should invite people to church. I think some in the LCMS have become hooked on this “worship as outreach” concept. I haven’t found a basis in the Bible or the BOC for such a practice but maybe others have and could help me out. Besides causing a division in the congregation by having members who came for Word and Sacrament and members who came for fun music and a soothed conscience for having done good by attending “church”, what may have started as worship as outreach quickly becomes what is expected by the members who joined due to the new service. Now if a member complains that worship as outreach isn’t right it can be said that now it is not for outreach but to provide for the needs of newer members and they should respect the preferences of others.

    The Lutheran tradition has long had proper catechesis of members as one main focus. Sadly that seems to be on the decline in the LCMS. Instead of inviting someone to a worship service they may be unfamiliar with or having a service that feels like the world, a better introduction to the church might be done by inviting them to a Bible study you attend. That would allow them to learn the doctrine behind the practice and provide a welcoming and casual atmosphere. It would also promote proper catechesis among laymen and correct information for visitors, providing the Bible study has good oversight or is lead by the pastor. There is also no concern about alienating them with closed communion.

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