Unity in Worship

         There was a time in the not so distant past when one could step into any Lutheran church in the United States on Sunday morning and know what to expect: the familiar common order of service.  Now this is no longer the case. Even within various Lutheran denominations one can no longer expect that the service will be the same from congregation to congregation.  This is true even within the confessional and conservative synods.  It is especially true in home mission congregations.

A memorial was brought before the ELS at convention in 2010 urging our Board for Home Missions to bear in mind the by-law regarding worship in the ELS Constitution and it application for mission congregations.  Three reasons were given for the memorial: “1) The synod from its earliest days sought unity of liturgical form by its member congregations; 2) Liturgical forms are to be orthodox; 3) There is confusion regarding the meaning and application of Bylaw Chapter I of the 1986 E.L.S. Constitution” (2010 Synod Report, pp. 153-154).

The particular bylaw under discussion states,  “In order to preserve unity in liturgical forms and ceremonies, the Synod recommends to its congregations that they use the Order of Worship based on the Danish-Norwegian liturgy of 1685 and agenda of 1688, or the Common Order of Worship, as each congregation may decide” (Chapter 1—Liturgical Forms and Ceremonies, 1986 By-laws of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod).

In answer to the memorial, an ad hoc committee was appointed by the ELS Presidium to study  and clarify the bylaw, its scope and implications.  The report of this Committee on ELS Worship (CEW) was well received by  the 2011 ELS General Pastoral Conference and is being presented to the 2012 ELS convention in June in answer to the 2010 memorial.

The CEW report begins by noting the significance of this bylaw as demonstrating a distinctive feature of the ELS: “Historically, and in contemporary American Lutheranism, the governing documents of other American synods usually do not recommend specific orders of worship for use by their congregations. In contrast, a feature of the ELS—and of its predecessor body, the old Norwegian Synod—is that we place a high value on fostering and maintaining liturgical unity. This is seen in our bylaw concerning Liturgical Forms and Ceremonies, Chapter 1, which recommends specific orders of worship for use in our congregations.” (Introduction, Report of CEW) 

         The report of the Committee on ELS Worship (CEW) then briefly summarizes the theology of worship in the Lutheran Confessions: “Confessional Lutheranism’s balanced approach toward such matters is evangelical and pastoral in motivation, while also being generally conservative in application. The Apology bears witness to this defining trait of the Church of the Lutheran Reformation when it states: “We believe that the true unity of the Church is not injured by dissimilar ceremonies instituted by humans… However, it is pleasing to us that, for the sake of peace, universal ceremonies are kept. We also willingly keep the order of the Mass in the churches, the Lord’s Day, and other more famous festival days. With a very grateful mind we include the beneficial and ancient ordinances, especially since they contain a discipline. This discipline is beneficial for educating and training the people and those who are ignorant” (Ap VII/VIII:33, CTLC p. 149; cf. 1 Thess. 5:21-22”

[The entire report, which includes a detailed  exegesis of the 1986 Bylaw  can be found here]

The CEW report concludes by bringing out the benefits of Lutheran liturgical worship: “The two orders of service that are mentioned in the bylaw, in their received texts, faithfully offer and facilitate the following benefits: 1. They conserve and testify to “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), as they set forth without ambiguity the changeless Gospel of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:7-9). 2. They establish a framework for a clear proclamation of the Gospel and a reverent administration of the Sacraments (Hebrews 12:28,29). 3. They serve a proper catechetical purpose, in that they instruct God’s people even as they guide them in prayer, so that they are led to desire the Sacrament of the Altar, and to desire an ever fuller participation in and with Christ and His church, in heaven and on earth (Colossians 3:16).”

“Worship forms that are based on or derived from the received text of these recommended orders of service—even if they do not reproduce these orders of service in an exacting manner—would still be expected to retain in a clearly-recognizable way these three Biblically-based features of Lutheran worship.”

In the sea of Lutheranism, the ELS remains a place where a haven of confessional unity and liturgical uniformity has generally prevailed.  While occasionally, pockets of contemporary worship are reported, they are usually confined to isolated areas and Monday night services. Recent decades have shown how an excess of liturgical variety has been damaging to the unity of the Lutheran church, across denominational lines.  The report of the CEW presents the blessings of liturgical worship in an evangelical manner. May the ELS be one place where the confessional and liturgical heritage of the Lutheran church wins the day in the “worship wars,” not by force of compulsion but motivated by the Gospel in loving service toward our brothers and sisters in Christ.


Unity in Worship — 16 Comments

  1. Good stuff. Our LCMS constitution has at least a similar provision, to retain orthodox agendas and worship liturgies in our congregations… but I don’t think a memorial in that regard to our Convention would amount to a hill of beans.

    There comes a time, when dialogue with cancer must give way to compelled erradication. To be sure, unity in worship based on common perspective and motive are wonderful… but if that cannot be achieved through submission to Holy Scripture and the Confessions, compulsion must eventually be enjoined.

  2. The LCMS embraces and enjoys its diversity, to the detriment of our unity. But hey, we have lots of people who really enjoy their worship according to the Old Adam!

    The Lord bless the ELS. If the worship fight is going on for you, win the fight now in the first generation. Do not let it in the door, and if it is already in, kick it out as the soul-destroying, unity breaking monster that it is. Once it makes it past the first generation the worship war has been lost because you will have “lifelong Lutherans” claiming that this is what Lutherans do.

  3. Pastor Joshua Scheer :
    Once it makes it past the first generation the worship war has been lost because you will have “lifelong Lutherans” claiming that this is what Lutherans do.

    This is sad but true. I grew up with TLH, but my sons, ages 39 and 42, grew up with LW and “blended” services, which now seem”traditional” to them. All the changes were small and gradual, but now it seems to be anything goes, especially in my district.

  4. I appreciate the thoughts of the author and generally agree with him, but I urge caution that for the sake of unity we do not fall off the other side of the horse.

    How little diversity must there be for there to be unity? In other words, how small must the corpus of our liturgical knowledge/usage be in order for us to be considered united? I am familiar enough with the liturgies in the Lutheran Service Book to participate (from memory) as a congregant in four of the five settings of the Divine Service and all five of the liturgies for the daily office. (I still need to look at the book for DS5 and would never consider leading the liturgy without the order of service in front of me.) I would consider myself at unity with a congregation that uses any of these liturgies.

    The congregation I serve, on the other hand, was a vastly different story. When introducing the possibilty of changing hymnals (a process that began nearly four years before the release of the hymnal in 2006), several in the congregation had expressed a willingness to compromise – allowing the “contemporary worship” service (their term for LSB Divine Service, Setting Three) once a month provided that we maintained the “real” service (TLH p. 5/15) the rest of the time. For them, the 17 words that changed from TLH p. 15 to LSB p. 184 were a dis-unity. And forget about Matins or Vespers. This from the congregation that told me they knew everything there was to know in TLH (except for Matins, Vespers, the Confessional Service, Sufferages and about 500 of the 660 hymns and canticles contained in TLH). We have come a long way since then in recognizing the diversity that is inherent in well rounded liturgical worship, but we still have quite a ways yet to go in our practice.

    So my word of caution is this: as we celebrate and strive for unity of worship, let us not use that as an excuse to fail to teach the full breadth of our liturgical heritage or to become lazy in our liturgical practice. Unity does not mean a lack of diversity.

  5. @PPPadre #4
    I think that calling DS3 in LSB contemporary is a bit of a stretch. I’d rather sing the one in LSB than TLH due to the fact that some of the keys are lowered and easier to sing. An honestly I don’t see a problem with the other Divine services in LSB. They pretty much retain the historic liturgy, and as my church does it, we switch up every so often to provide variety.

  6. @David Moseley #5

    I totally agree that there is a great treasury of historic, liturgical resources in our hymnal. That is why I posted my caveat about unity not being a lack of diversity/variety.

    I think that calling DS3 in LSB contemporary is a bit of a stretch.

    I was pretty much floored when I received that letter that referred to what would become DS3 as “contemporary worship.” But the congregation had become pretty set in its ways – my predecessor was more than three times my age and had been here longer than I had been alive. Some in the congregation were extremely guarded against any attempts to adopt any kind of contemporary worship (especially with a newly minted pastor fresh out of the Seminary coming their way), so even any personal differences between myself and my predecessor were viewed as “contemporary worship.” I vested in an alb for communion services and wasn’t opposed to chanting = contemporary worship. I wanted to use Matins at least once per month = contemporary worship. My sermons were 15-20 minutes long = contemporary worship. I gave a blessing to children who came forward with their parents during distribution = contemporary worship. One of my council members became so frustrated with the knee-jerk, “contemporary worship” reaction that he suggested the next time I go on vacation that the council hire in the praise and worship band from a neighboring Lutheran congregation to demonstrate to the congregation what “contemporary worship” truly was.

    We opted for a gentler approach, and after a half dozen or so years, the congregation is starting to appreciate the broad liturgical diversity that is our heritage as Lutherans.

  7. There is plenty of blame to go around when it comes to LCMS disunity about worship. Do we honestly expect our parishioners to check their brains at the door? Because that’s how the CoWo proponents feel. They do not hesitate to throw away the Divine Service because they have no clue what it is. Who has failed to teach them? Seriously, I have life-long Lutherans in my church who could chant DS3 from memory that have no idea why we worship like that. When something new comes around that gives them a heightened emotional rush, they have no rational tools through which to process it, so they just adopt it. Why not? At this point, we have to admit that the battle was completely lost decades ago. But it’s not too late. We can still teach our congregations what it means to worship as Lutherans. We can also work to leverage the compromise that we find ourselves already in as a means to reintroduce forgotten traditions in ways that endear their significance to our people. But a top down proclamation won’t fix the mess we’re in, it will only fracture us.

    I’ve proposed this before, but let’s start with the basic outline of the Divine Service proposed on p. 534 of “Gathered Guests” as a starting point to begin discussing what worship is, what happens durring, and how it should be done. CoWo proponents do not have to relinquish their electric guitars, or even praise choruses, to adopt this, but it will be a strong first step towards bringing contemporary trends into alignment with the historic liturgy. Step 2, begin reintroducing the hymns. Take a few notes from our Reformed brethren on this, they are having widespread success there. Step 3, return the ordinary of the mass with metrical versions, which can be done by guitar based groups. At this point, all you’re missing is the organ, which is actually optional. And the chanting, but spoken responses and versicles are certainly better than none.

  8. @Miguel #7

    Why are you not on the synod Commission on Worship? Very well reasoned and thought out. I am very happy you have found our church and joined it. I think you add important and needed thought to our problems. I hope you are doing well in teaching the laity what worship is at your congregation.

  9. @Miguel #7
    Miguel, I appreciate your comment, but you say it best when you said that the battle was completely lost decade ago. Your proposal is good, but it will not be received by the loveless libertines of CoWo because a) they don’t care about what is traditional [they actually despise it and believe it is a hindrance to people believing in Jesus] b) they would claim their freedom in adiaphora to the bitter end [thinking that is Lutheran] c) they do not want any constraints put on their Old Adam feeding frenzy called worship d) what you suggest is not relevant in their minds to their “mission” whereby they seek their righteousness [the divine service for them is not about who is in church normally, but who is there this week as a visitor, a potential unchurched convert] e) even going in the direction of the traditional liturgy would be for them a declaration of defeat [and they are too proud for that since their worship builds their ego up and has conditioned them to be proud designers of worship, aka manipulators of people] f)it would mean emphasizing the means of grace again [and the very adoption of CoWo is usually an indicator that they believe that the means of grace are not enough to build, maintain, or grow a church.]

    Sure, I am painting with a broad brush there. Frankly there is no other way with CoWo because the spirit of it means that it can mean anything, and some men depart 10 feet from Lutheranism and some depart 1000 feet. The departure is telling of their intent though. When they depart even a little, they are showing their departure from Lutheranism. Liturgical worship emphasizes God’s gifts and the reception of them [and also facilitates our praise in response to such great gifts]. CoWo emphasizes our praise and thanksgiving [and lets others know what the service is “really” about]. It is the change from sacramental worship to sacrificial worship, and when that happens Article IV of the Augsburg Confession will eventually suffer. It is no wonder it ends up in works though, because for a lot of folks it was introduced because it is what their itching ears wanted to hear (the preferred form of worship in the church of the Old Adam).

  10. @Pastor Joshua Scheer #9
    Rev. Scheer, those are good points for thought, though I would also agree you are painting with a rather broad brush. Don’t underestimate the powerful force of the confessional movement we are a part of, because believe it or not, many of the younger generation actually do want to know what they believe and why they believe it. Those who do not won’t touch the LCMS with a 10 foot pole anyways. The thing is, all worship has both sacramental and sacrificial elements in it, across all traditions (what shall I render to the Lord… ring any bells?). The key is context. Zwinglian and Sacramentarian churches, since they have no sacraments (at least, according to their theology they don’t), then there is nothing left to emphasize in worship beyond the sacrificial. This worship is simultaneously dull and emotionally exhausting, I led it professionally for 6 years before I just couldn’t take it anymore.

    The problem isn’t that Lutherans have completely abdicated all sacramental understanding. The congregation I serve is truly a microcosm of the Synod: We have confessionalists, the “bronze agers,” Charles Stanley fans (generic religious right), Andy Stanley fans (fog machines and light shows), crypto-Calvinists, and former Catholics who don’t realize the difference. But for some reason, the vast majority hold quite tenaciously that Christ is physically, objectively present in the sacraments. I propose that perhaps the issue is more of focus than dogma. They believe in the sacraments, but they are just soaked in the toxic atmosphere of evangelical sub-culture, from which we can’t escape. They can be taught to think through this, and I am a firm believer that the younger generations are going to either demand this or leave.

    The thing is, for the more progressive service programmers, we have to ask ourselves: Why are they in the LCMS at all? I’ve met some of them, and they will sign their name to the Book of Concord. Now obviously they don’t have what I would consider to be the correct understanding of it, but many of them are open to learning. The fact that they are still here means that dialogue and progress is possible. I’m not denying that there is a dogmatic fringe to the CoWo movement that wants to shove chronological snobbery down the throats of every Christian, but the movement is diverse enough that if they see a conversation being started and their control thereby weakened, they’ll simply jump ship and join the Calvary Chapel/EV Free/Baptist-in-denial churches where they belong.

  11. @Pastor Joshua Scheer #11
    Oh, come on. that’s harsh. It’s not as if other denominations can’t compete with that, or throw a ton more money into “innovative” church plants. We can’t pontificate on the motives of others so concisely. We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way. Like I’ve said, I’ve spoken with a small number of these guys, and they explicitly confess that they LOVE Lutheran doctrine. They just don’t understand Lutheran practice. Again, there is blame to be shared there.

  12. @Miguel #12
    That is harsh, it was meant to be. You are right, we can’t find the motives so concisely. My intent was to draw attention to one possible motive by using my concise answer as a sharp point. It was meant to be snarky, and if that offends you, I apologize.

    Words and deeds speak volumes, for someone to advocate loving Lutheran doctrine and embrace non-Lutheran practice there is really no love for the doctrine or a great delusion about what that doctrine actually is. The first delusion that person has fell under is that doctrine and practice are divided things. And since our LCMS problems with worship are over a generation old, the delusion is embedded, enshrined, and a tradition of its own now.

    Never forget that the devil loves to insert leaven into a lump. He doesn’t seek to have a pure lump of leaven only, but he is always in the business of getting the leaven in and keeping it in the pure lump (thus making it impure).

  13. Would Lutheran practice always have an atmosphere of reverence, rather than a down-home “glad-you’re here” informality that includes jokes to start a sermon that is preached from in front of the altar? Sorry if this is off-topic, but it is a big problem for me.

  14. @Pastor Joshua Scheer #13
    It’s not offensive at all to me, I actually appreciate a little snark. I think you’re right on the money with how the devil works. However, when we find ourselves in a situation where our synod has not, as a whole, heeded Jesus’ advice to beware yeast, where do we go? We can still teach our people to 1; See it for what it really is, and 2; Resist it from conviction, not mandate. The denomination mandates may reflect the conviction of its members eventually.

    Your points in comment 9 have got me thinking:
    a, Most of them will at least admit that they can’t argue with this logic: Their hatred of tradition is not of tradition generally, but of tradition that is not their recent innovation. Once they see themselves as traditionalists of a different stripe, they can admit that all traditions are subject to “sempre reformanda,” and thus the dialogue has begun.
    b, Free to do whatever doesn’t mean that “whatever” is necessarily edifying. Engage them not on the grounds of what they should to or else, but rather, let us consider the spiritually formative effect that our traditions are having on worshipers. That puts the ball in our court.
    c, Let’s direct this conversation to the teaching of Charles Finney and whether or not it truly lines up with either scripture or the confessions. Finney is the extreme charicaturization of this philosophy, and most Lutherans would be far less comfortable with it if they could truly see it for what it is. It’s not that CoWo leaders are hell bent on promoting Revivalism: They just don’t see that they are moving that direction, because yeast is subtle.
    d, Actually, liturgy is back “in” with the “relevance” crowd, and nothing is becoming more off-putting to the alleged “seekers” than extreme irreverence for God. “What the pastor thought up yesterday” is rapidly loosing its market appeal, and skeptics are wary as ever of the dog and pony show. The only ones falling for it are members of other churches.
    e, If it’s manipulation they want, then let’s agree to manipulate the attention of our congregation toward Christ. That’s an easy enough sell. Follow up by explaining how the liturgy does this.
    f, Unbelief in the means of grace is certainly behind modern worship trends, but as Lutherans we all know that unbelief comes in degrees, where we are simultaneously doubting and believing. Let’s focus on the topic of what the Word and Spirit ARE actively doing in worship, and then compare that with the marketing tactics of the corporate world. It doesn’t take a ton of cynicism to question the corporate model of ecclesial imperialism.

    The REAL challenge, IMO, is getting these conversations to happen at all. Those being led around by the nose by evangelical trends are seldom interested in taking the time to think about the doctrinal significance of their methods: “Deeds not creeds” is still the ethos of the masses.

  15. From the main post: “In order to preserve unity in liturgical forms and ceremonies ….”

    To my way of thinking, the better word here is uniformity or perhaps similarity. It seems to me that unity is about the disposition of people. It is not mandated, but rather cultivated.

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