Dear President Forke,
Let me respond to the five assertions you made in your most recent letter.
1. Since the Scripture and the Confessions do not prescribe a form of liturgy, (my definition) I think it is appropriate to admit that all liturgies are manmade.
Your definition of the word liturgy is “a man-made order for the public service of God to men, through the Word and Sacraments.” This is a fine definition for the sake of discussion. But, for you to conclude on the basis of this definition that “all liturgies are manmade” seems to be a bit circular to me. This is especially so since the definition of the word Liturgy in the Scripture is different from popular usage. Let’s say that the orders of service we employ are manmade in the sense that they neither dropped in one piece out of heaven nor are they in their entirety prescribed in the Scriptures. Still both the verses which make them up and the gospel direction of their order are from God and are from His Holy Word. So perhaps another distinction that we need to make is between those “liturgies” which are derived in their parts and in their function from the word of God and those which are not.
2. Since the Scripture, in the context of worship, enjoins us to do all things in order it is appropriate to acknowledge that there should be order to this service. (Something that appears to be lacking in what passes for “worship” in many places.)
OK, I would agree with this. Additionally, in I Corinthians 14 the word “order” is deeper and broader than a simple suggestion that there be an order where one thing follows another in a sensible or predictable way. It also suggests that the “orders” of the church ought to reflect the “orders” of creation and the offices of the church which God has established and ordered. Further the word “decently” suggests a nobleness and decorum to the service.
3. Since we are talking about what takes place in the context of the congregation I acknowledge that this is a public, and not prescribing private devotionals.
Yes. Private devotions have a different purpose and different set of criteria. Anything said in the public Divine Service should apply to all Christians whereas private devotions or prayers can be much more specific both about the law and the Gospel. For example, all Christians can call themselves sinners who would be justly condemned without the mediation of Christ. But in his devotions a man might confess an extramarital affair which would not be appropriate to confess in the public confession of sins.
4. Since God is always the giver and we are always the receiver it is essential that we acknowledge the service rendered by the use of a liturgy as God’s service to us. This little detail, if admitted by all would help carry the conversation past many disagreements. I am afraid that a large part of the LCMS would be unwilling to confess this. (I fully aware of the argument that we respond to the service of God with prayer and praise. This too we receive, but it is not primary.)
I think that in this point you have hit upon a big issue among us and one that is deeply theological. Apart from questions about Adiaphora, uniformity, tradition, etc. if we could at least agree here two salutary things would happen. 1) A gradual uniformity would ensue as people sought to use forms which communicate God’s grace toward us rather than our to Him praise most clearly. 2) The acrimony would decrease as we could have a common starting point in our discussions.
5. Since God has bound us to receive His gifts through the Word and Sacraments it is fitting to confess that the liturgy is also bound to His means of grace for the sake of its purpose, that is proclaiming the Gospel.
This follows from your point 4. And this point is crucial not only for our understanding of Worship but also for our understanding of Grace which is always mediated through the Gospel and Sacraments. What makes worship uniquely Christian is that worship is essentially the gospel and Sacraments given to us. The expressions “Gospel” and “means of grace” are synonymous. We do not exercise the means of grace for the sake of the gospel. Rather we give the means of grace because they are the gospel.
Again, Brother Forke, thank you for the dialog. I pray that it can continue not only between us on the BJS site but that somehow these conversations can take place all over the synod and the entire church can come to a common understanding of what is our confession and what is not.