Worship in Spirit as Free from Ritual – A Letter from the Michigan District President, by Pr. Rossow

President David P. E. Maier invited the pastors of his district to their 2011 theological conferences on worship with a letter that includes an interesting theology of worship. I will let you chew on it and provide your comments below.

I commend President Maier for starting out by quoting confessional hymn writer Stephen Starke and for other helpful thoughts such as the distinction between sacrificial and sacramental, but beyond that it appears to me that there is a subtle and constant undercurrent that falsely equates “worship in spirit” (John 4:1ff) with an anti-ritual bent. Maybe I am reading it wrong but if not, we can now add this to the theology of contextualization coming out of the St. Louis Seminary as another attempt to justify the worship innovations of the late 20th century.

When Jesus says true worship is in “spirit and truth,” the “spirit” part of that refers to the Holy Spirit. You may be able to offer more theologically subtle explanations below in the comments but let me open the bidding by stating that “worship in spirit” means worship in, by and for the Holy Spirit which would bring us back to Pastor Wilken’s riddle from the other day. True worship is scriptural since the Holy Spirit inspired the doctrine of Holy Writ.

Here is the text of the letter. Let me know what you think.

Come, Let Us Worship the Lord Our Maker

An Introduction and Invitation to the Michigan District Theological Conferences on Worship in early 2011

In the first stanza of a hymn recently penned by Rev. Steven P. Starke of Michigan, we read these words:

O sing of Christ, whose birth made known
The kindness of the Lord,
Eternal Word made flesh and bone
So we could be restored.
Upon our frail humanity
God’s finger chose to trace
The fullness of His deity,
The icon of His grace.1 (LSB, #362)

Having come to know the Word made flesh by God’s grace through faith, we joyously sing, prais­ing our God for His great kindness in giving us a Savior from sin. We read the Christmas accounts in the Gospels, marveling at the angelic announcement to the shepherds and their response of wonder, joy, and proclamation. (Lk. 2:8-20) We celebrate God’s leading of the Magi by star which enabled them to see God, worship the Word made flesh, and present Him with gifts. (Matt. 2:1-12)

These familiar pictures of the bestowal of God’s grace to the shepherds and Magi, and their response, illustrate what Paul Z. Strodach defines as worship. Strodach states: “Worship is seeking and apprehend­ing the Presence of God.” It is “the bond of meet­ing”2 with God Himself. This may seem a simple view of worship, especially since in recent years worship has become a topic of diligent study and, at times, a point of conten­tion. I firmly believe, however, especially when we turn to the Holy Scriptures and the Lu­theran Confessions, that definitions and pictures of worship are graciously simple and descriptive rather than being detailed and prescriptive.

The Sacramental and the Sacrificial

The joy of the shepherds and the worship of the magi remind me of another incident, a remarkable three-day event detailed in Matthew 15:29-39. In verses 30 and 31 we are told in brief, partial sum­mary what transpired: “Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.”

Considering the fact that most of these people were Gentiles, how can it be said that “they glorified the God of Israel?” They didn’t have a build­ing in which to do this. They didn’t have a published hymn book to pass out and use. They didn’t have any set, inherited liturgical forms to follow. Without using the word “worship,” that is what occurred. For these healed people to glorify “the God of Israel” was to offer praise for, to be thankful for, to acknowledge the attributes of the 5 Michigan District www.michigandistrict.org

God that they now knew, and to recognize the healings and other blessings they had received as prompted by and stemming from His attributes: His love, mercy, care, kindness, compassion, omniscience, omnipotence, and the like.

If one looks closely at this passage, the two sides of biblically enjoined worship can be clearly seen:

(1) the “sacramental” – that is what God gives during worship to His people in His grace and love, because of the saving merits of Jesus, through His Word, and the Sacra­ments; and

(2) the “sacrificial” – that is our Holy Spirit induced (cf. Phil. 2:13, 14) response to the received convicting, saving, strengthening, and equipping gifts of God.3

These people, having been served by Jesus, ex­perienced His healing in their lives, undoubtedly listened to His words, and received what He gave, could not but respond in the joyful way in which they did: “and they glorified the God of Israel.”

In Spirit and Truth

I am also reminded of Jesus’ encounter with another Gentile, the Samaritan woman, in John 4. Jesus comments to this woman in verses 23-24: “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Jesus here explains to the adulterous woman what true worship will be, and what the param­eters for all true worship will be, once Jewish ritualism disappears. He describes how true worship centers in the worshipper’s own re­generate “spirit” (Rom. 1:9) propelled by God’s Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:14, 16, 26). But this is not enough. Many put all their heart and soul into a worship “experience” and yet may be worship­ping what is false. “Emotionally charged” wor­ship cannot automatically be equated with right worship. To the subjective feature of worship – “in spirit” – Jesus adds the important objective counter part – “in truth.” “Truth” means real­ity; and there is no greater reality than God’s own revealed truth, the inspired Word. (John 17:17)

The worshipper’s own “spirit” and God’s own revealed “truth” together form the sphere in which all true worship necessarily takes place.4 These are the essentials. R. C. H. Lenski gives a particularly succinct and excellent summary regarding Jesus’ words about worship to this Samaritan woman:

“Omit the spirit, and though you have the truth, the worship becomes formalism, mere ritual observance. Omit the truth, and though the whole soul is thrown into the worship, it becomes an abomination. Thus ‘spirit and truth’ form a unit, two halves that belong together in every act of worship.”5

For the Samaritan woman to worship “in spirit and truth” meant that she did not have to wait to go to the Temple in Jerusalem. She didn’t have to offer a sacrifice or follow a prescribed order to worship rightly. She could then and there perform the very highest act of worship, that is, to receive and accept by grace through faith the Father’s pardon – the forgiveness of her sins – and then return to Him her spirit’s thank­ful praise. Instead of condemning ceremonies and ordered forms of worship, Jesus demonstrates that it is not in ritualism or things done by rote (cf. Is. 29:13) but “in spirit and truth” that the true wor­ship, which the Father desires, is rendered.

Remembering Our Rich Heritage

The Formula of Concord says: “… we be­lieve, teach, and confess unanimously that the ceremonies or church usages which are neither commanded nor forbidden in the Word of God, but which have been introduced solely for the sake of good order and the general welfare, are in and of themselves no divine worship or even a part of it. ‘In vain do they worship me, teach­ing as a doctrine the precepts of men’ (Matt. 15:19).”6 Even Luther urged that “a preacher must watch and diligently instruct the people lest they take such uniform practices as divinely appointed and absolutely binding laws.”7

With the God-given directive of reaching the lost and discipling the saved (Matt. 28:18-20) in every generation’s contemporary context, wor­ship orders and ceremonies, hymns and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16) will undoubtedly change. The Michigan In Touch December 2010 / January 2011 6

task is to preserve the indispensable “sacramental” (the gifts God gives) and the “sacrificial” (our faith-inspired response) aspects of worship, ever alongside the “in spirit and truth” principle. Our task, today, is to remember our rich heritage that we have in liturgy and hymnody and to continue to build our worship and faith life with it and on it.

The Solid Declaration gives elucidating coun­sel when it states: “We further believe, teach, and confess that the community of God in every place and at every time has the right, authority, and power to change, to reduce, or to increase ceremonies ac­cording to its circumstances, as long as it does so without frivolity and offense but in an orderly and appropriate way, as at any time may seem to be most profitable, beneficial, and salutary for good order, Christian discipline, evangelical decorum, and the edification of the church.”8

God is Really Among You

As God’s people, we are to reach out to a dying world in love as did our gracious God at Christmas. This is even to be true in our worship services. In 1 Corinthians 14, where we are given a glimpse of an early Christian worship service, the Apostle Paul, in correcting the worship practices of the Corinthians, states the principle that their worship should be done so that when “an unbeliever or someone who does not understand” (a visitor; cf. 1 Cor. 14:16) comes in, “he will fall down and worship God, ex­claiming, ‘God is really among you!’” (1 Cor. 14:24, 25) Here, then, is displayed the concepts of cultural sensitivity, relevancy, and love, especially for unbe­lievers and new Christians.

The Commission of Theology and Church Rela­tions (CTCR) in its document entitled “Racism and the Church – Overcoming the Idolatry,” shares some insightful thoughts regarding cultural sensitiv­ity, love, and change:

“When a Christian congregation includes new members of differing backgrounds, it will do all in its power to make them feel that they are truly wel­come as members of that family … When a congre­gation under the guidance of the Holy Spirit genu­inely welcomes new members, changes will take place. These changes will reflect the full range of cul­tures represented in the Christian family. Openness to change in such things as the order of worship, the hymnody, the expressions of love and friendship, as well as the recreational life of the congregation, will reveal the congregation’s eagerness to embrace all people in the love of Christ. Changes grounded in the truth of God’s Word and motivated by love for His people will enhance every aspect of the life and work of the congregation.”9 (Emphasis mine.)

Theological Conferences of Worship

In light of the above, I want to share with you that in August of 2009, the District Presidents of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod received a letter of invitation to, and explanation for, a Model Theologi­cal Conference on Worship. The letter was from Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, Executive Director for the Com­mission on Theology and Church Relations, and Dr. David Johnson, Executive Director on the Commis­sion for Worship. An excerpt from that letter follows:

For some years, worship has been a topic of debate, dissension, and some ill will in our Synod. We are all too familiar with “worship wars.” While it may be tempting to resign ourselves to a polarized status quo, we all know that such division is not pleasing to the Lord whom we serve and that we sorely need – under God’s blessing – renewed unity in this vital area of our life of faith.

The 2007 convention resolved “that the Commis­sion on Worship and the Commission on Theology and Church Relations organize a model theological conference … in order to ‘build greater understand­ing of our theology of worship and foster further discussion of worship practices that are consistent with that theology,’” (2007 Res. 2-01).

That Model Theological Conference took place in early January of 2010. Such conferences in our Synod have been called “Model” so that they can be ‘modeled,’ that is, duplicated in some fashion, within the Districts of our Synod.

The Michigan District will be hosting Come, Let Us Worship the Lord Our Maker – the title for our Theological Conferences on Worship. These confer­ences will be held on three different Saturdays to facilitate attendance by church lay leaders, as well as by professional church workers, at three different lo­cations within Michigan. The dates and locations are:

  • January 29, 2011 Holy Cross, Jenison
  • February 12, 2011 Our Shepherd, Birmingham
  • February 26, 2011 Holy Cross, Saginaw

Each Conference will begin at 9:00 a.m. and end at 5:00 p.m. Each will have the same Agenda and the same keynote speakers (presentation titles are found in parentheses):

  • Dr. David Johnson, former Executive Director of Synod’s Commission on Worship (Towards A Theology of Worship: The State of Worship in The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod).
  • Dr. James Waddell, one of our Michigan District pastors who spoke at Synod’s Model Theological Conference (Towards A Theology of Worship: A Bibli­cal and Confessional Understanding and Approach).
  • Rev. Larry Vogel, Assistant Director for the Commission of Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) (Towards A Theology of Worship: Contextual Worship: Glorifying God, Proclaiming Christ).

Each conference will also provide ample opportunity for meaningful dialog, questions and answers, table talk, fellowship, and of course … worship.

In closing, let us meditate together on the words of another Christmas hymn penned by Martin Luther, We Praise You, Jesus, at Your Birth (LSB, #382).

In poverty He came to earth
Showing mercy by His birth;
He make us rich in heav’nly ways
As we, like angels, sing His praise.

All this for us our God has done
Granting love through His own son.
Therefore, all Christendom, rejoice
And sing His praise with endless voice.

Merry Christmas to you all! In the Name of Jesus, may you have a most blessed New Year as well! I look forward to seeing you at one of our Michigan District Come, Let Us Worship the Lord our Maker Theological Conferences on Worship.

Grateful for the opportunity of worship,

Rev. David P. E. Maier


  1. Lutheran Service Book: Pew Edition; (Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO, 2006) p.362
  2. Paul Z. Strodach, A Manual on Worship; (Philadelphia, PA: Muhlenbberg Press,1946), p. xix.
  3. A wonderful example of this “sacramental” (what God gives), and “sacrificial” (our response) aspect of worship can be seen in Martin Luther’s great Christmas hymn(s) From Heaven Above to Earth I Come / Welcome to Earth, O Noble Guest. In Lutheran Worship (LW, #37 and #38) the hymns are literally set up as Part I – The Angel’s Message and Part II – Our Response. Lutheran Service Book (LSB, #358) combines the verses from both hymns into one with this annotation: “The first five stanzas declare the joyful words of the angel proclaiming the wondrous news of Jesus’ birth. The remaining stanzas declare the response of the shepherds and the meaning of the Savior’s birth for all the world.”
  4. “… in spirit and truth” ( ), John 4:24, is one concept as the one preposition “in” ( ) governs both nouns.
  5. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943), p.323.
  6. The Book of Concord, ed. and trans. by T. G. Tappert (Philadelphia, PA: Muhlenberg Press, 1959), Formula of Concord, Epitome, Art X, Church Usages, 3, p.493; Cf. Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Art. XXIV, The Mass, 33, pp. 255-256; The Augsburg Confession, Art. XXVII, 40-44, pp.69-70.
  7. “A Christian Exhortation to the Livonians Concerning Public Worship and Concord, 1525,” Luther’s Works, Vol. LIII: Liturgy and Hymns, ed. By Ulrich S. Leupold (Philadelphia, PA, Fortress Press, 1965), p. 48.
  8. The Book of Concord: Kolb Edition. The Solid Declaration, Article X, paragraph 9, p. 637.
  9. Racism and the Church – Overcoming the Idolatry”, A Report of The Commission on Theology and Church Relations of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (February, 1994), pp. 53-54.
  10. Lutheran Service Book, op.cit., p. 382

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.


Worship in Spirit as Free from Ritual – A Letter from the Michigan District President, by Pr. Rossow — 71 Comments

  1. Pastor Russow,

    Both the DP article and the comments here seem to perhaps miss the point.

    The Lutheran Confessions: “True worship is faith in Jesus Christ.” Period.

    Fact: everything we can see and do in our bodies in the Holy Liturgy, the Holy Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, Holy Absolution, the preached word, and even the Law and the Gospel are all Earthly Kingdom things. ie they are of the Romans 8 “flesh/body” that will perish with the earth. They are things we do because we are commanded to do them!

    Now then: In, with and under these visible things, that we do indeed DO and are commanded to do (law!!!), the seed that WE plant… the Holy Spirit creates and nurtures and nourishes invisible faith alone, in Christ , alone. alone alone alone.

    We have lost sight of all this because we have reverted to the scholastic view of Romans 8 and the two kingdoms. we view Romans 8 as being the movement from vice to virtue, from the profane to the sacred, and from the secular to the churchly. Romans 8 is from virtue to faith. So both the civil estate and the churchly estate are both in the Earthly Kingdom and will perish with the earth. They are flesh/body.

    This fully includes both the Law and the Holy Gospel, which are of our earthly existence and will no longer exist in the resurrection.

    So first we need this Confessional Law and Gospel contrast. then we can understand what the Confessions have to say about the interaction and interweaving of the outward acts of worship with the inner worship that is alone the true worship, which is alone, faith , alone, in christ alone. alone . alone.

    Here is where we go for this:

    Article III “Of Love and Fulfilling of the Law” . It is instructive to read the entire article inserting Holy Liturgy or Administration of Word And Sacrament wherever one sees the word “Law”. It will fit. Particularly this section is apt for our discussion here:

    ” Therefore it is necessary that faith [alone] reconciles and 30] justifies. And as we do not receive remission of sins through other virtues of the Law, or on account of these, namely, on account of patience, chastity, obedience towards magistrates, etc., and nevertheless these virtues ought to follow, so, too, we do not receive remission of sins because of love to God, although it is necessary that this should follow. 31] Besides, the custom of speech is well known that by the same word we sometimes comprehend by synecdoche the cause and effects. Thus in Luke 7:47 Christ says: Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. For Christ interprets Himself [this very passage] when He adds: Thy faith hath saved thee. Christ, therefore, did not mean that the woman, by that work of love, had merited the remission of sins. For that is the reason He says: Thy faith hath saved thee. 32] But faith is that which freely apprehends God’s mercy on account of God’s Word [which relies upon God’s mercy and Word, and not upon one’s own work]. If any one denies that this is faith [if any one imagines that he can rely at the same time upon God and his own works], he does not understand at all 33] what faith is. [For the terrified conscience is not satisfied with its own works, but must cry after mercy, and is comforted and encouraged alone by God’s Word.] And the narrative itself shows in this passage what that is which He calls love. The woman came with the opinion concerning Christ that with Him the remission of sins should be sought. This worship is the highest worship of Christ. Nothing greater could she ascribe to Christ. To seek from Him the remission of sins was truly to acknowledge the Messiah. Now, thus to think of Christ, thus to worship Him, thus to embrace Him, is truly to believe. Christ, moreover, employed the word “love” not towards the woman, but against the Pharisee, because He contrasted the entire worship of the Pharisee with the entire worship of the woman. He reproved the Pharisee because he did not acknowledge that He was the Messiah, although he rendered Him the outward offices due to a guest and a great and holy man. He points to the woman and praises her worship, ointment, tears, etc., all of which were signs of faith and a confession, namely, that with Christ she sought the remission of sins. It is indeed a great example, which, not without reason, moved Christ to reprove the Pharisee, who was a wise and honorable man, but not a believer. He charges him with impiety, and admonishes him by the example of the woman, showing thereby that it is disgraceful to him, that, while an unlearned woman believes God, he, a doctor of the Law, does not believe, does not acknowledge the Messiah, and does not seek from Him remission of sins and salvation. 34] Thus, therefore, He praises the entire worship [faith with its fruits, but towards the Pharisee He names only the fruits which prove to men that there is faith in the heart], as it often occurs in the Scriptures that by one word we embrace many things; as below we shall speak at greater length in regard to similar passages, such as Luke 11:41: Give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you. He requires not only alms, but also the righteousness of faith. Thus He here says: Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much, i.e., because she has truly worshiped Me with faith and the exercises and signs of faith. He comprehends the entire worship. Meanwhile He teaches this, that the remission of sins is properly received by faith, although love, confession, and other good fruits ought to follow. Wherefore He does not mean this, that these fruits are the price, or are the propitiation, because of which the remission of sins, which reconciles us to God, is given. 35] We are disputing concerning a great subject, concerning the honor of Christ, and whence good minds may seek for sure and firm consolation, whether confidence is to be placed 36] in Christ or in our works. Now, if it is to be placed in our works, the honor of Mediator and Propitiator will be withdrawn from Christ. And yet we shall find, in God’s judgment, that this confidence is vain, and that consciences rush thence into despair. But if the remission of sins and reconciliation do not occur freely for Christ’s sake, but for the sake of our love, no one will have remission of sins, unless when he has fulfilled the entire Law, because the Law does not justify as long as it can accuse us. 37] Therefore it is manifest that, since justification is reconciliation for Christ’s sake, we are justified by faith, because it is very certain that by faith alone the remission of sins is received. ”

    Peace of the Lord be with you all!

  2. We use the confessions as prooftext and a catalog of doctrines, a systematic theology, rather than use them as they ask us to use them: as a demonstration , doctrine by doctrine, and section by section , on how to do Law and Gospel.

    But we do that because we dont know how to do Law and Gospel. We think that Law and Gospel is some sort of Lutheran File System to put every passage in the bible into two drawers, one labeled law and the other labeled gospel.

    The idea is more radical! Lutheran Law and Gospel springs organically from Luthers understanding that romans 8 flesh vs spirit is not a move from vice to virtue, but rather from virtue to invisible faith in christ alone.

    What this means then is that Law and gospel is intended to put EVERYTHING we can see and do in our bodies into the category of law, aka flesh/body, aka earthly kingdom, aka earthly righteousness (that is a TRUE righteousness providenced by God . cf small catechism production of “daily bread”. THIS righteousness = production of daily bread, aka love).

    We put EVERYTHING we can see and do in our bodies into the Earthly Kingdom of the Law . Why? So that we can then understand clearly that there is only ONE thing in the other category, Gospel! And what is the ONE thing in that other category? it is INVISIBLE, faith, alone, in Christ, alone that is meaningless on earth except to God and a troubled conscience , but … as romans 8 tells us, will ALONE continue to exist in the resurrection and will not perish with the earth.

  3. Here is a helpful sermon by Martin Luther that forms a part of our Confessions since it is referenced by FC article VI as it´s template.

    You will quickly see how Dr Luther uses Two Kinds of Righeousness and the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms as simply other Modalities of the Law and Gospel .

    Two Kingdoms and Two Kinds of Righeousness are PURE Law and Gospel. If they are taught any other way, they are not being taught in the Lutheran and Confessional way.

    You will note in this sermon that is part of the body of our Lutheran Convessions, that Two Kingdoms is NOT the civil vs the churchly estate or some Luther-an theory of government. Civil vs churchly estate is not law/gospel. This is law/law. It is part of the Lutheran teaching of vocation. civil vocations, churchly vocations. All law. All part of the earthly kingdom that will perish. These things are about things that we do and are commanded to do.

    We all have been taught that Law and Gospel is the Lutheran key to understanding rightly the Holy Scriptures. What we have not been taught for the past 100 years or so, are these two forms of Law and Gospel AS being Law and Gospel.

    This sermon should be published everywhere!


  4. @Johannes #50
    I disagree. This is not a God is your Boyfriend song. It is a song that seriously, intentionally and openly seeks to undermine the beliefs of other people.

    “Give me rules I will break them” (who is that addressed to? God? “Religious Establishment”?)
    “Show me lines I will cross them” (same as above)
    “It’s more like falling in love than something to believe in” (egregious heresy, and frankly, the times I’ve “fallen in love” it was rather chaotic, impulsive, hormonal, and so far… temporary. Give me belief over that any day.)
    “Give me words, I’ll misuse them” (umm… like the Words of Institution? Great, glad to know words aren’t important.)
    “Obligations I’ll misplace them” (like what? mandatory church or great commission?)
    “(be)Cause all religion ever made of me was just a sinner with a stone tied to my feet” (note this is sung as if it’s a bad thing to be shown you’re a sinner)
    “It was love that made me a believer in more than a name, a faith, a creed” (considering the whole song has been about him falling in love with God this leads me to believe he’s talking about his own love for God, not Christ’s love for him which is never mentioned in the song. I don’t need to explain to anyone here what’s wrong with the last half of that line. Ticked me off something fierce though. That name, faith, creed is more constant than my love. I’ll take the former)
    “Falling in love with Jesus brought the change in me” (Grammar 101: Subject of the verb “brought” is the noun use of the participle Falling… he brought change in himself. Eek)

    I’ll take a Jesus=Boyfriend song over this subversive excrement any Sunday!

    This song is just as POLEMICAL as any hymn Luther wrote! And one of our DP’s LIKES it? Talk about $#!++ing where you eat, wow.

  5. The worshipper’s own “spirit” and God’s own revealed “truth” together form the sphere in which all true worship necessarily takes place.4 These are the essentials. R. C. H. Lenski gives a particularly succinct and excellent summary regarding Jesus’ words about worship to this Samaritan woman:

    “Omit the spirit, and though you have the truth, the worship becomes formalism, mere ritual observance. Omit the truth, and though the whole soul is thrown into the worship, it becomes an abomination. Thus ‘spirit and truth’ form a unit, two halves that belong together in every act of worship.”5

    For the Samaritan woman to worship “in spirit and truth” meant that she did not have to wait to go to the Temple in Jerusalem. She didn’t have to offer a sacrifice or follow a prescribed order to worship rightly. She could then and there perform the very highest act of worship, that is, to receive and accept by grace through faith the Father’s pardon – the forgiveness of her sins – and then return to Him her spirit’s thank­ful praise. Instead of condemning ceremonies and ordered forms of worship, Jesus demonstrates that it is not in ritualism or things done by rote (cf. Is. 29:13) but “in spirit and truth” that the true wor­ship, which the Father desires, is rendered.

    The District President is taking Lenski out of context and making him say what what he wants Lenski to say to support his Theology of Worship.

    After reading Lenski, he says ‘of the spirit’ in the sense that the individual indeed within his/her spirit worship God as he has revealed Himself in the ‘truth’ of the revealed Word of God as Christ has revealed Him.

    Lenski says nothing of Christ looking upon Ritual Formalism and Ceremonies as being a hinderance to worship but only that the worship of the Temple is done away with since He, Christ, has come to whom the whole Temple Worship bore witness to.

    We must do the Ordinances Christ ordained for the New Testament in some way and so a Liturgy must be enacted to affect these ordinances in the Church of God, the Congregation assembled for worship, to worship the Father ‘in spirit and truth’.

    Though this Liturgy is adiaphora, what Litugy you do use must conform to and teach the substance and ‘truth’ of said ordinances of Baptism and Lord’s Supper and incorporate Sermon and the Word of God.

    I submit this District President, however a nice man he is, has muddled the water as to what a true Lutheran Theology of the Cross is and so what a true Lutheran Theology of Worship should be.

  6. @young blood #54

    You certainly did a more thorough analysis than I–and you made your point–rather you drove your point home with a sixteen pound sledgehammer! I guess I stand corrected–perhaps your comments could better be called a “scathing dissection.” Whereas I viewed its message as “Now that I’m in love with Jesus, I don’t do those bad things anymore,” you’ve reduced the song to its essentials, and dug beneath the banalities to the underlying in-your-face heresy. Scarey stuff, isn’t it?

    But, you and I agree that it is “all about me”–with a vengeance–and I share your credulity that a DP would say he liked it. And I do disagree on one point–God/boyfriend songs are just as dangerous as this one–they turn faith inward on itself.


  7. “Emotionally charged” wor­ship cannot automatically be equated with right worship. To the subjective feature of worship – “in spirit” – Jesus adds the important objective counter part – “in truth.” “Truth” means real­ity; and there is no greater reality than God’s own revealed truth, the inspired Word (from Maiers comments above)

    It is equally wrong to assume that a lack of external emotional expression is a lack of “spirit” nor does it diminish the “worship” of the believer. The culture created by most alternative services are designed to elicit emotion whether one is experiencing it or not. The song leaders put on happy faces and everyone is supposed to follow suit. There are many deeply faithful believers who express more true worship in their manner than those clapping, jumping and singing. “Be still and know that I am God.”

  8. Christopher,
    Discipline Pastors who are members of the Willow Creek Assoc.? CK out Hales Corners Lutheran Church. The thing about that association w/W.C., is unless you have the time to link & then link, you won’t know who in LCMS is or isn’t. If it isn’t in the center of the room, wearing a pink plaid tutu, sings I’m Willow Creek I am, there isn’t a DP, District, or anyone else, who is going to do anything…let alone call anyone out for the doing.

  9. #58

    Discipline? We don’t do no stinkin’ discipline in the LCMS! 🙂 Seriously we do very little if anything to correct wayward clergy but then again how can the errant correct the errant? The Michigan district has a long track record of turning away from discipline, i.e. 3 time adulterer “pastor” now a circuit counselor, a blatant narcissist allowed to go work with a ELCA partner group after ruining 2 congregations, rampant use of annointing with oil and other Evangelicalism nonsense. Many of us wonder if there is a solid confessional church to be found in the district.

  10. Mames,
    I think to be fair, these “actions” who would be daft to call them practices, have been done in LCMS for over 2/3 decades. I know, I saw them (84), and they were brought in in the early ’70’s. Members of my family left, then over them. Divine Shepherd Lutheran Church, Milwaukee WI. Early 1970’s.

    Flash forward to 1984, Divine Shepherd LCMS, Milwaukee. Their Anniversay Service. I was just in HS. My whole family, helped to plant that Congregation, so we all went. Heard about it, was baptized over the kitchen sink 1969 (don’t ask..if ya are in Naperville in Feb, ask me then). But in quite short order, after my parents moved out of the area, my Grandparents, Godparents, & many others, “moved” as well.

    So, back to ’84. So I’m sitting in the pew, w/my entire extended family, and we start hearing “amens” & clapping, seeing upraised hands waving, and hearing weird gibberish. Oh yeah, that would be “tongues”. LCMS 1984-…MILWAUKEE. I know, I was there. Prior to my attendence, I heard about it, the whole 40 min in the car. I chose to sit next to my Godparents (go figure). When this display began, I leaned in & so ever lady-like thru smiling teeth asked my Uncle, “what ARE they doing”? My Godfather replied….
    “Now ya know why we all left.”
    Isn’t not comforting to know, some things haven’t changed. Not.
    And we ask why Willow Creek participation isn’t questioned? Oh please….

  11. @Pastor Tim Rossow #2

    Dear Pastor Rossow,

    Oh, now I see what you are getting at! This is really very significant!! Brilliant insight here, Pastor Rossow!!!

    If we are going to have a productive conversation about worship in the LCMS, your point here, in this post and comment #2 is going to HAVE to be addressed.

    I guess I did not notice it in DP Maier’s article, because this way of talking is so common among us, both among layman and among clergy. I think that your point here gets to the root problem we are dealing with in many posts here at BJS, going back to the discussion about small groups and praise bands at the seminary.

    We have a whole bunch of people in the LCMS who think that liturgy and ritual (i.e., the conduct of rites) is somehow “unspiritual.” You are right that DP Maier’s article appears to express that view, or at least allows that view “working space.” But again, I think he is reiterating what is considered common knowledge, not pushing something new.

    By liturgy, I mean “the practice of using songs, prayers, versicles and responses, Scripture lessons, creeds, sacraments, and other rites that have been: 1) SELECTED IN ADVANCE, 2) REVIEWED, and 3) ORDERED ACCORDING TO A REGULAR STRUCTURE–on THE BASIS OF A CHURCH’S THEOLOGY.” By ritual, I mean “the physical posture of pastor and people in worship, their movements, and THE MEANING ASSIGNED BY A CHURCH’S THEOLOGY to such posture and movements.” Lutheran liturgy and ritual is thus based on Lutheran theology.

    I agree with your penultimate sentence in your post: “True worship is scriptural since the Holy Spirit inspired the doctrine of Holy Writ.” I think this needs to be the way that John 4:23-24 is read. “Worship in truth” could mean anything truthful, but “worship in spirit” means ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES BOTH IN CONTENT AND FORM. “Spirit and truth” does not pose opposites, but synonyms.

    The result of this Lutheran interpretation (using Smalcald Articles III, viii) is that “the true worshippers” will not worship at Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim, but will worship wherever the Holy Scriptures are read, understood, and obeyed, i.e., “in spirit and in truth.” That is what Jesus was telling the Samaritan woman.

    So John 4:23-24 cannot be used against liturgy and ritual, but in fact supports both. The Holy Scriptures are a fixed element. They and their content do not change with history or different cultures. They remain the same until Jesus returns.

    The argument for fixed liturgy is, first and foremost, that it is the best way to ensure that the words spoken by pastor and people are completely Scriptural. When congregations use hymns and agendas that have not passed LCMS doctrinal review, (which happens in many cases of “contemporary worship”) it is impossible, FROM A PRACTICAL STANDPOINT, to ensure that there is “exclusive use of doctrinally pure agenda and hymnbooks” (LCMS Constitution VI.4). That Constitution article intended to ensure that exclusively BIBLICAL doctrine is spoken, sung, and taught.

    Furthermore, if the LCMS doctrinal review process is corrupted by putting in anti-Lutheran reviewers, the whole intent of the synod in preserving BIBLICAL worship is thwarted.

    We have to remind ourselves that Baptists, Evangelicals, Nazarenes, and Pentecostals really don’t know any better. Americans have been on an “anti-liturgical” and “anti-ritual” kick since the Pilgrims came over on the Mayflower. American Evangelicals get a “pass” due to ignorance.

    But our LCMS pastors, synodical officers, and lay leaders should know better. The pastors in particular have been educated in these things. Those who are “anti-liturgical” and “anti-ritual” (as defined above) are actually “anti-Bibical” and “anti-Lutheran” and should be treated as such. They should be told, in no uncertain terms, that they are not Lutheran if they continue in such views.

    This does not mean that Lutherans ape the Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox or Anglicans in anything. Nor do we ape the American Evangelicals in their ways of worship.

    We have our own theology and that results in our own liturgy, ritual, hymns, prayers, etc. The only way that people really know that we are Lutherans, on a weekly basis, is by watching us at worship. For many Lutherans, it is the only regular PUBLIC expression of their PRIVATE religious views.

    The worship setting, including the Word and Sacraments, is the most significant way in which we ARE Lutheran and CONFESS our Lutheran faith.

    “If you don’t want to BE Lutheran, why are you in the Lutheran church?” Many of the advocates of “contemporary worship” and those who oppose liturgy and ritual (as defined above) really need to ask themselves this question honestly.

    Great post, Pastor Rossow! Thanks so much for your Internet ministry for Lutherans and other interested persons.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  12. @Dutch #60
    Discipline Pastors who are members of the Willow Creek Assoc.?

    When our former SP was Texas DP, Texas District was listed on the Willowcreek site as a member of the association. After protests, the Texas District was removed from the site, but not, I think, from membership. The excuse for joining was “to get a discount from a Grand Rapids publisher” … who published Willowcreek materials. It would have taken several thousands in purchases discounted to equal the membership fee for Willowcreek at the time.
    Many of the “us1st” congregations also belonged to Willowcreek.

    Removing Willowcreek members (unionism or syncretism?) and, while you’re about it, PLI graduates?, would certainly clean up the rolls. We might not have a topic here. 😉

  13. @Christopher Greenwood #58
    @mames #61

    Mames, wow, sad, considering some of very historic churches in the district, those which helped found our synod.

    Discipline is so long in coming, probably in the neighborhood of 50+ years. Such a lack of discipline is horrendous, for what do we stand for? If we allow anything and everything to happen, well, I guess we really don’t stand for anything, so why bother? And that is so wrong. I am of the personal opinion that more than a few pastors can and should be bounced. It gets harder for the laity to understand this because too many pastors and not catechizing and teaching people what it is we do and why, and how we get this from Scripture. Even one bad apple can spoils the barrel, because an ineffective DP will lose credibility and no one will trust, believe, or follow him.

    And this is not over adiaphora, because I do subscribe to lex orendi… (sorry I don’t know the Latin well) .. worship as you believe. I find some of the “pragmatic” (it’s always pragmatic arguments) for CoWO to be an abuse of our Christian freedom, trying to get away with what ever we “feel” like.

    There are often mechanisms to remove pastors, but it isnt’ necessarily easy, as well it should not be. But if things get troubling, a lot depends on teh ecclesiastical superiors or the lay congregants to have the courage to say enough is enough. Luther stood up for what he believed was right, knowing a death sentence was likely coming. Most of us just give lip service to being that kind of martyr.

    And I get disgusted with myself for to standing firm in my convictions. I am sad of all the times I have failed to speak up.

  14. @Nathan #66
    Good thoughts on your blog post, Nathan!

    The traditional, though insufficient and incorrect, Lutheran answer to God’s will and worship is: well, there isn’t anything divinely mandated in the bible. Calvinists believe that they must find and follow the biblical-NT pattern of worship like some new ceremonial law. But we Lutherans don’t believe that.

    When you actually look at Luther and the confessions you find that they do speak of rites and ceremonies positively commanded to the NT church by Christ: these are the means of grace. In other words, unlike what Zwingli was getting at when he confessed at Augsburg in 1530 that the Spirit of God needs no (created) vehicle to get to your heart, Lutherans have been saying all along: no, the Spirit chose to use such created vehicles to get his job done.

    The gospel is thus not some formless / ritual-free “message” (or “mess”). It has both content and a specific form. And because by these content-forms we are saved, it’s clear that they must be central for the overall shape and content of the worship service, specifically in relation to those man-made additions to worship of which there are many.

    In other words, the “unchanging forms of the gospel” as they have been instituted by Christ inform everything else, to the point of our own vocational lives in faith and humble love. I’ve tried to flesh this out in the book referenced in post #59.

    One more note on Zwingli and worship: because for him, the Spirit uses no “rituals” to create faith in man’s heart, all the rituals that do exist in the worship service are exclusively man’s sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise to God — including the Lord’s Supper (“memorial meal”). It’s easy to see, once the shackles of somber Puritanism are cast aside, how the exuberant praise services of today could emerge based on this basic theological decision of Zwingli. Praise is then indeed the main thing going on in worship which is exclusively “the work of the people.” Add to this contemporary sloppiness when it comes to the doctrine of justification, then you can see how some churches seem to believe that they need to rub Aladdin’s lamp, as it were, by getting “really” into praising God.

    In other words, our sacrificial action (praise) prompts God’s saving action / presence for us. BTW, I see the same thing happening, on the high-church end of the spectrum, when the presence of Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine of communion is effected by our sacrificial act of eucharistic praying. That’s where the doctrine of justification is no longer the chief criterion also for evaluating worship practices.

    To the general thrust of your blog post, as Luther saw it, especially the young (and children) need strong rituals (and repetition in the study of the catechism!) to keep them in check. He sets this forth in his book on Christian freedom (http://www.lutheranpress.com/htlacl2.htm). I’d think that applies to those new to the faith for whom all this supposedly “non-liturgical” worship practice has been brought up.

    Finally, Luther provides a fine commentary on John 4 in his 1523 book on the adoration of the sacrament (http://www.lutheranwiki.org/Luther_on_Outward_and_Inward_Worship). I wonder why no one has brought this up here! There he carefully relates the heart’s inner worship (faith) to the body’s outward worship (love).

  15. Pastor Sonntag,

    Thanks for the good words. I hope you are doing well in Afghanistan!

    Have you seen this thread as well?:

    At post 107 or so, I mentioned the book that you mentioned on this thread, and asked some questions that I think was in line with what you were saying in your book.

    Thanks for your service – in both ways. : )

    + Nathan

  16. @Jason #65
    I am of the personal opinion that more than a few pastors can and should be bounced. It gets harder for the laity to understand this because too many pastors and not catechizing and teaching people what it is we do and why, and how we get this from Scripture.

    The laity often are not making that much of an effort to understand. It’s easier to just have coffee & gossip, (calling it Bible class) than to learn.
    There are very few Lutheran reasons for “bouncing” a Pastor (though that is often ignored these days). When it happens, often enough, it’s the Pastor who tried to teach Lutheran doctrine who gets the boot.
    The laity would rather not hear that they are sinners! After all, they listen to the likes of Joel Osteen and he doesn’t say that!

  17. @Helen #69

    Funny how it always seems that way in life. The good ones are attacked, because Satan desperately want to destroy the church. Satan works his magic with obstinate laity with itchy ears. Sad. I would like to pray for the faithful ones so that they can preach God’s Word always.

  18. I live in the Michigan District, but there are a couple of good English District churches nearby who haven’t forgotten what worship is for. It’s good to have options, should my current congregation not turn back from its path to feel-good “worship experiences.”

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