Great Stuff from the Theologically Deep Fountain Known as the WELS, by Pr. Rossow

A little mouse up Milwaukee way alerted me to some wonderful essays on worship and outreach that were presented at a recent symposium at the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s (WELS) seminary. Here is what he sent me:

The symposium was described by the seminary in this way: 

“Many Christian churches and denominations are involved these days in debates over worship and outreach, and the issues are producing lively discussions in our own congregations as well. We Lutherans are committed to reaching out to the lost in our cities and neighborhoods, although we often struggle to find the best ways to share the gospel in ways that are consistent with Lutheran teaching. The struggle to balance gospel outreach with confessional Lutheranism may be most difficult when it comes to public worship: How do we plan public worship in a way that attracts the seeker to hear the Spirit’s message and at the same time is a faithful proclamation of the Spirit’s message?

There are loud voices on today’s Christian and Lutheran scene that suggest a commitment to reach the lost and a desire to retain the historic emphases of Lutheran liturgical worship are incompatible. The Symposium on Worship and Outreach will explore these issues and offer a perspective that worship and outreach need not be mutually exclusive, pitted against each other, or outside the parameters of Lutheran history and practice. With the Spirit’s guidance, the symposium will offer an encouragement to participants to strive for excellence in both gospel-centered worship and gospel-proclaiming outreach.”

Here are a few teasers:

From the essay by Aaron Christie:

A Clear Confession of the Faith

The Lutheran Church is a church that is not afraid to proclaim what she believes. The entire Book of Concord is a proclamation of the Christian faith which is a gold mine of habitus practicus for outreach and worship. It opens with the Three Ecumenical Creeds, creeds with baptismal roots and rich Christological content. Like Paul before Festus, the Augsburg Confession is not ashamed to confess the faith before kings – confident of God’s blessing. In the two catechisms, Luther teaches the faith to the next generation and their teachers. Paul’s evangelical activity in the lecture hall of Tyrannus comes to mind.84 The Smalcald Articles are Luther’s personal confession of faith. He offers it with a heart rending question: “And yet, neither bishops nor cathedral canons ask how the poor people live or die – people from whom Christ died. And should not these people hear this same Christ speak to them as the true shepherd with his sheep? (SA Preface, 10). Finally, the Formula of Concord stands as the great confession of the theologians.

The confessions of our church are not sophistic ramblings about angels dancing on pin heads, but the clearest testimony to the gospel written by man. The care of souls, the health of the church, and contending for the truth are omnipresent in them. A rich synergy of worship and outreach, if not clearly articulated in the confessions, certainly springs forth from them because the gospel is central in them.

From the essay by Adam Mueller:

It is not enough for us to simply understand the differences between Evangelical and confessional Lutheran theological presuppositions. We must be convinced of the principles of our own theology. If it is true that faith comes from hearing the message, if it is true that the objective promises of Gospel convert rather than the subjective feelings of man, if it is true that the Holy Spirit working through the Word effects faith rather than the conscious decision of a man’s will, then we will invariably be led to forms of worship and outreach that conform to those principles. Rather than gearing worship and outreach methods at a decision of the will, we seek to proclaim the Gospel often and clearly. Unlike the Evangelicals, we do not presume to do God’s work for him. We recognize that God has committed to us the message of reconciliation. As Christ’s ambassadors, we share the message, and then stand down as the Holy Spirit works success as he wills.

Confessional Lutherans have typically followed a liturgical pattern of worship primarily because it so faithfully proclaims Christ. The confession and absolution, the songs of the ordinary, the didactic congregational hymns, the word and sacrament all lead us to see Jesus. What we believe determines how we worship.

From the essay by Jonathan Schroeder:

In worship there is a wide space between what is forbidden and what is commanded: everything between lies in the area of Christian freedom.  Freedom in worship must be balanced by wisdom and love. Freedom that is not normed by love damages the body of Christ. Freedom that is not normed by wisdom fails in the stewardship of the means of grace. You may be free in making changes to worship practices; we will fight for your freedom to do just that.  Do not, however, demand that we always call it wise.

These papers provide a sense of where the WELS is in their approach to worship principles and practice, as well as its relation to outreach and evangelism.  The third paper (written by Pastor Jonathan Schroeder) is especially helpful because it addresses practical issues and dispels some common myths and false arguments.

If you would like to read more of these papers they are available at:

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