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:

http://wlsce.net/symposium/2010-symposium-worship-and-outreach

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.

Comments

Great Stuff from the Theologically Deep Fountain Known as the WELS, by Pr. Rossow — 8 Comments

  1. I am just getting a good skim reading on Pastor Adam Mueller’s essay and it does a wonderful job of giving us the historical context in America for how revivalism and seeker theology has influenced us. I sincerely hope that CoWo folks will take the time to read and think about this important issue.

  2. “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?”

    Why does everyone assume that the purpose of WORSHIP is to reach the unbeliever? There are plenty of other opportunities for that. Worship is where people who are already believers gather together to receive His Word and Sacrament. When we start directing worship services toward entertaining those who are not yet Christians, that is when we put the believers gathered there on a liquid diet: milk. Yes, the unsaved CAN hear the message there, and the Word will do its work, but we need to take the Word to were the unbelievers are, not expect them to enter our church buildings and attend services worshipping a God they do not know.

  3. @Rik #2 I would say you are getting to the meat of the subject. Worship is only one aspect of missions. On the last day I’m not sure if Jesus asks us if we went to or performed the Divine liturgy enough for a witness or if we built a large edifice to house the house the service in. Instead Jesus asks on the last day when we are before the throne of God what Justin Martyr and other church fathers practiced as part of their “service” that they would feed and cloth the hungry, in their midst, that came to the service.

    Mathew 25
    32And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

    33And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

    34Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

    35For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

    36Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

    37Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

    38When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

    39Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

    40And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

    41Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

    42For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

    43I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

    44Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

    45Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

    46And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

  4. @John E #3
    “…Jesus asks on the last day when we are before the throne of God what Justin Martyr and other church fathers practiced as part of their “service” that they would feed and cloth the hungry, in their midst, that came to the service. (Quote Matthew 25:32-45)

    Re: Matthew 25:32-45.
    We need to be careful here–this passage is not about works, but about faith. The sheep were welcomed into heaven because of their faith, the goats sent to hell because of their lack of faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” Heb 11:6.

    Johannes

  5. @Johannes #4
    What an interesting twist and expansion of the word mission.

    Faith in the living God means that we believe God sees both our sins of commission and sins of omission. Part of mission is telling our neighbors what God sees in our and in their hearts and in our lives and their lives.

    I’m looking at Luke 16:19-31 again in this context. Jesus spoke of a rich man who did a poor man no intentional harm. The poor man lived and died at the rich man’s gate longing for a scrap from the rich man’s table while the dogs came to lick his sores.

    Both men died: the poor man died and went to be with Abraham but the rich man found himself in torment. Even in the afterlife the rich man had no way around his inaction.

    Let our mission be spreading faith in God who sets us free from death but who boldly convicts us of our sins.
    thanks
    pax
    john

  6. Pastor, I don’t understand how I am twisting or expanding anything. If the judgment passage in Matthew 25 is about good works getting us into heaven, then what happens to “grace alone?” The rich man in Luke 16, like his brothers, had Moses and the prophets, but he was unrepentant. In fact, his very attitude even while in hell, shows his arrogance: “Send Lazarus, send Lazarus…” but not a word of repentance. The rich man knew Lazarus’ name, so it seems doubtful that his inaction toward Lazarus was unintentional. His wealth had made him uncaring. This parable is spoken to the Pharisees, who “loved money” (Luke 16:14). Like the rich man, their love of possessions was a barrier to repentance. It was too late for the rich man, but not too late for them, even tho they “sneered at Jesus” (Luke 16:14).

    Of course this parable is also preached to the Church. Good works are indeed be preached, as is the Law. But I’m uncomfortable with the idea that this parable would be preached with an eye toward mission. It’s about repentance. Connecting it with evangelism, however one defines it, seems a stretch.

    Johannes, layman

  7. the confessions teach us that the line that cuts between believer and unbeliever and church and unchurch cuts down the middle of each of us. (formula of concord article VI and AC/Ap XVIII etc etc etc).

    divine service then is about slaying each believer and at the same time making him alive. the problem is that evangelical forms of worship imagine that the line between believer and unbeliever is drawn differently.

    it is really that simple. we all need to be constantly evangelized. it is the same law and gospel for believers and unbelievers alike.

  8. @fws #7
    “it is really that simple. we all need to be constantly evangelized. it is the same law and gospel for believers and unbelievers alike.”

    Yes, yea verily, and Amen! “We all need to be constantly evangelized.” I am tempted to make all kinds of comments, observations, and remarks about this statement, but it shines as a beacon here on this thread, indeed on BJS. I offer just this:

    When the worship and the songs and the sermon don’t do this, the gospel is trampeled underfoot.

    johannes

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