Preus and Forke on Worship – Four New Posts, by Klemet Preus

(For the previous posts in this discussion go to the Brothers” Cafe on the homepage and click on Pastor Klemet Preus or click here.)

Brother Forke,

At long last I respond to your letter of December 9. Having finished all my Christmas sermons I turn my attention to you.

I won’t even bore you with the reasons for my delay in writing except to say that, with the exception of your hunting trip, they were more enjoyable than the reasons for a tardy response that you gave in your last letter – one not nearly as tardy as this.

Let me respond to you in four letters. This first will deal broadly with your definition of the word Liturgy. The next will talk more of freedom. The third will respond to the five statements of your most recent letter. The last will address the questions of Adiaphora as they might apply to today.

I think that we have gotten to the point where we acknowledge that the word “liturgy” has more than one meaning. If “liturgy” means “God’s obligation to us in Christ” then I think we would both confess that we don’t have the right to adjust, play with or modify this. If “liturgy” is “a man-made order for the public service of God to men, through the Word and Sacraments” then we have a different situation.

I remember vaguely the words or Rev. Arthur Just in his video series when he asked where the Divine Service came from and answered his own question with whimsical sarcasm that God had dropped TLH p. 15 out of the heavens in the fourth century. Such a tongue in cheek answer shows the silliness of asserting that somehow what a Lutheran congregation did or does in church on Sunday morning in the 20th or 21st century is normative for the Church catholic.

TLH p. 15 is mostly a string of Bible verses arranged in a way that the way of salvation is made apparent. It is further an opportunity for God’s people to observe and celebrate, on a weekly basis, the great events of Christ’s atoning work. So we celebrate Christmas through the Gloria, the teaching ministry of Christ through the creed, Palm Sunday through the Sanctus, Maundy Thursday through the Verba, Good Friday through the Agnus Dei and Easter through the Nunc Dimitis. Further it is the vehicle through which the Word and Sacrament are given to God’s people. That’s what all the services are in the Lutheran Service Book.

But I don’t think anyone would say that such an order is prescribed in the Bible. And I would grant that other Bible verses may function just as nicely or nearly as nicely as the ones used in TLH 15 – setting aside for the moment the deep historical value of this service. And certainly I don’t think anyone would suggest that the music in TLH 15 or any other man made public order of service is mandated in the Scriptures      

So there is freedom for the church to sing or say different passages, paraphrase them differently, place them to different musical tone or tunes, rhyme them differently (and any time a passage is rhymed it is altered at least slightly), place them in a different order, turn these or other passages into hymns and make a host of other changes to what is “normally” done on Sunday AM. Of course all this is subject to the authority of the Scriptures. I think that all sides in the discussion need to concede that it is the “right” of the church to exercise such freedom. And I think that this is the “concession” you are looking for from me. At any rate it should be conceded by all at least for the sake of discussion.

There may have been expressions in our circles of late which seem to deny this “freedom.” If someone suggests that the liturgy is itself a norm of theology equal to the scriptures then, of course, that is wrong, although certainly the historic liturgy is and has been used as a type of norm. Or if someone suggests that it is in inherently sinful to deviate from accepted liturgical forms even if the Holy Scriptures are not violated then that is saying too much. If anyone would say that “praise songs” (whatever that expression means) are wrong, then such a judgment needs to be tempered considerably. It is not helpful. So when it comes to man made liturgies we need to acknowledge the freedom which God has given the church.        

But there is more to be said.

Many congregations of the synod engage in the activity of changing the accepted liturgies of the church or of discarding them altogether. This is done in the name of freedom. And it has lead to the current scene where thousands of churches have thousands of liturgies all of which are claimed to be faithful to the scriptures. In our circles we have “freedom of worship.” This “freedom” is tenaciously guarded by the church today with ferocity consistent with the American ideals which our congregations typically crave.

Against this scene – freedom to some and chaos to others – there are criticisms.

Some say that the freedom needs to be tempered by love. Freedom need not be grasped as if it were the highest of all Christian virtues even though it is precisely what which was sacrificed by our Lord in order to bless others.

Some say that the local congregation is acting irresponsibly if it changes the liturgy without conferring with the pastors and congregations in their area or territory.

Some say that the changes being initiated all seem to be in the direction of aping American Evangelicalism and should be avoided. These changes are divisive either because they are inherently false doctrine or because they seem to promote a theological movement which is harmful to faith.

Some say that the Confessional statements about Adiaphora apply to these changes just as much as they applied to the Romanizing suggestions or impositions of the 16th Century. More on this later.

Some say that uniformity between the congregations is both desirable and necessary for the united confession that a synod must give. More on this in my next letter.

I must confess that I am among the “some” who have offered these criticisms. I do so not to deprive others of their freedom but to encourage them to set it aside in deference to something more valuable.

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.


Preus and Forke on Worship – Four New Posts, by Klemet Preus — 4 Comments

  1. Dear Pastor Preus,

    This is a superb summary of the issues and a perfectly balanced position, if one wants to be a Lutheran according to our Confessions and the Scriptures. I hope the District Presidents will especially consider this post of yours.

    Regarding the “Some say that” points:

    Point #1 – “freedom tempered by love” is what our confessions say about worship when they say “without frivolity and offense but in an orderly and appropriate way . . . Paul instructs us how we can with good conscience give in and yield to the weak in faith in such external matters (Romans 14) and demonstrates it by his own example (Acts 16:3; 21:26; I Cor 9:10)” at FC SD X, 9.

    Point #2 – “without conferring with the pastors in their area” has been Lutheran practice for four hundred years. Your uncle’s book on Chemnitz’ life shows how that was done in a Lutheran diocese. Basically, whatever organizational unit (circuit, consistory, diocese) has been in place has been the proper place for discussions in change in liturgy, so that the “region” is united, and the lay people do not switch churches because of liturgical innovations. Failure to work with the brother pastors in your area is schismatic, and schism is condemned by the Scriptures, Confessions, and LCMS Constitution.

    Point #3 – “aping American evangelicalism” is condemned by the confessions, which say that worship practices “designed to give the impression that our religion does not differ greatly from that of” other faiths or “that we are not seriously opposed to” them are not adiaphora (FC SD X, 5).

    I think where the discussion needs to happen here, at point #3, is what qualifies for “aping American evangelicalism.” Lutherans have freely borrowed hymns and prayers and tunes from every church (ancient, medieval, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Calvinist, Methodist, etc.), so long as the doctrinal content is acceptable. We can’t say that just because something is written by an Evangelical that, therefore, we cannot use it. It may be totally Christian!

    So I think the question comes down to “What qualifies as aping American evangelicalism?” and “What practices, aspects, or qualities of non-Lutheran worship are not acceptable to Lutherans?”

    You say you will expand on points 4 and 5, and I look forward to those comments.

    Again, excellent post, Pastor Preus!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  2. I would wish to offer a slight corrective, and this may be something to which we are going to elaborate at a later point. Experience has shown, as has Scripture, that “freedom” in itself is neither virtue nor vice… it just is. We rightly confess that in terms of things above us, we cannot by our own reason or strength “choose” God. Thus freedom is inadequate, in fact, freedom apart from the work of the Holy Spirit chooses self above God. But in terms of things where we say there is freedom (and this is where my corrective comes in), where the useage is “Christian freedom,” the norm of using this freedom is deference. For instance, in undergrad at CUW, the Kammerchor on their tour to Brazil was asked to “use their Christian freedom” when it came to the consumption of alcohol (as it certainly would have been legal for the entire choir) and to use this freedom by not drinking. Likewise, it could rightly be said that one is using their Christian freedom that they have been given in terms of “worship” to maintain the rites, ceremonies, etc. that have been received. It’s a small corrective… and yes, a bit of a quibble… but I think it is helpful, especially for Americans who have been under the influence of Arminianism in our society to re-adjust our understanding of “freedom” that is in line with the Lutheran understanding of freedom.

  3. That is a very good point Rev. Lorfeld. I have a hunch that Pr. Preus will be agreeing with you. I have his next two posts on this topic but have not read them yet but get the idea he will end up where you are.

    I had that same frustration you had with this post but as I thought about it, I got the impression that Preus is at this point concerned about creating a level playing field on which to have the discussion. That level playing field takes the advantage of freedom away from either side, but of course such a level field hurts the CW cause because freedom is such a great part of thier argument.


  4. Regarding freedom, note that (1) it is paradoxical, not just existential — Luther’s “Freedom of a Christian,” and (2) it does not stand apart from love — Luther’s Letter to the Livonians concerning public worship and concord.

    Regarding the discussion of worship in the LCMS generally, the arguments have been formed around “freedom,” when in truth it is not freedom with which we should be concerned but rather “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.”

    One will never get far with those who disparage the historic liturgy by playing on their “freedom” turf. The discussion needs to be founded upon the cross. The question is not “What am I free to do?” but rather, “How does the cross address the devil, the world, and my flesh?”

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