Life Together: Luther on discussing Worship

Koinonia. This word can be translated or understood as “Life Together.” How does the Church have life together? The Augsburg Confession answers this question saying, “It is also taught that at all times there must be and remain one holy, Christian church. It is the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel. For this is enough for the true unity of the Christian church that ther the gospel is preached harmoniously according to a pure understanding and the sacraments are administered in conformity with the divine Word. It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that uniform ceremonies, institutued by human beings, be observed everywhere. As St. Paul says in Ephesians 4:4-5 ‘There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism'” (Augsburg Confession VII Kolb-Wengert 42).

The cross of Christ Jesus unites the Church. The means by which the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, comes to us in the Gospel proclaimed, Holy Absolution, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper unites the Church. Is it neceesary that we all use the same Hymnal? No. Is it necessary that we all use the same lectionary? No. Are these the right questions to be asking? NO! These questions lead to division and legalism. They are questions designed not to comfort the terrified conscience, but to protectthe complacent sinner.  How much do I have to do to have fellowship with everyone else, says the lazy sinful creature. The better quesitions are as follows. Would it comfort the sinner in his justification if all the LCMS churches used the same Hymnal and liturgies? Would it comfort the terrified conscience if all the churches used the same lectionary?  Let us look and see what Dr. Martin Luther of blessed and holy memory says about these quesions and about the discussion of unity in Doctrine and Practice.

In 1525, Luther wrote a letter entitiled, A Christian Exhortation to the Livonians Concerning Public Worship and Concord. This letter was in response to the divisions concerning public worship practice in Dorpat, Livonia. In the editors notes before the letter it says, “In this exhortation we see Luther applying the basic insights of his treatise on The Freedom of a Christian to the field of worship. He tries to show how the church may tread the narrow path of liberty without falling prey either to license or to legalism” (Luther’s Works 53.43). Is this not our problem today. Do we not abuse the freedom given to us in baptism by making worship either a license to adopt every passing cultural fad, or on the other hand by forcing ceremonies not given by God Himself, but institued by sinful legalistic man?

A few paragraphs into the letter, Luther addresses the brothers in Livonia saying, “First of all, I hope that you still hold pure and unblemished the teachings concerning faith, love, and cross-bearing and the principal articles of the knowledge of Christ. Then you will know how to keep your conscience clear before God, although even these simple teachings will not remain unassailed by Satan. Yes, he will even use external divisions about ceremonies to slip in and cause internal divisions in the faith. This is his method, which we know well enough from so many heretics” (Luther’s Works 53.46).  The devil uses external ceremonies to creep into the church and cause division. His havoc eventually reaches the depths of justification and the church falls. While we debate the externals, the devil plunges his fangs into the articles of faith.

How do we deal then with these divisions in the church? Do we seek the trouble makers out and command them to be obedient little Lutherans or else? Do we send them to a three week training camp in liturgics? Do we call them out in Voter’s Meetings, Circuit Meetings, and District Conventions? No, rather Luther encourages, follwing the example of St. Paul, to “entreat them with friendly exhortations, for people who will not give in willingly when exhorted will comply far less when commanded” (LW 53.46).  Luther concludes this little section saying, “There is no better way to do this than for each not to take himself too seriously and to think little of himself, but very highly of the others, or-as Christ teaches in the Gospel-to set himself in the lowest place among the guests at the wedding (Luke 14:7-10)” (LW 53.47).  How many men have said, “I have the perfect praise service that will really bring people into the church and once their in, I can start working on them with the Holy Spirit.” On the other hand, how many men have said, “The liturgy shall fall when I fall. I shall defend the sacred Divine Service setting III until God calls me home. It shall not pass while I am alive.” We must repent of this self-righteous piety that thinks we somehow control how the Spirit works or how the Church remains whole and united.

What should we do then about this division in the church about worship? Should we ignore it. Let the one LCMS church have only contemporary services (which really means doing it 10 years after the Mega Church down the street has already done it).  Lets let that little bitty church in the country keep their TLHs or let that hyper liturgical church downtown keep kneeling every five seconds. I’m happy with my church becuase we have it all, a traditional service for the older folks, a blended service for the boomers, and a contemporary service for the younger crowd becuase that is what really draws them in, not the power of the Holy Spirit who blows when and where HE wishes (John 3:8). Should we just agree to disagree and talk about those articles that really matter?

Luther says that we have the freedom to do so, but it is not beneficial for the life of the church. Luther continues saying, “We should consider the edification of the law folk more important than our own ideas and opinions. Therefore, I pray all of you, my dear sirs, let each one surrender his own opinions and get together in a friendly way and come to a COMMON DECISION ABOUT THESE EXTERNAL MATTERS, so that there will be ONE UNIFORM PRACTICE THROUGHOUT YOUR DISTRICT instead of disorder-one thing being done here and another there-lest the common people get confused and discouraged” (LW 53.47). As Luther says, from the viewpoint of faith we are free to have the division, but from the viewpoint of love we must seek unity for the sake of the common man lest he get discouraged and begin to doubt the faith.

We should seek unity in doctrine and therefore in pratice. Lets be Lutheran about our worship. We are not descendants of Rome or Geneva, but Wittenberg. We should, in the words of Luther, “diligently seek to promote unity and to hinder this work of the devil, becuase God appoints the devil to do this in order to give us occasion to prove our unity and in order to reveal those that have stood the test. For in spite of all our efforts, enough factions and disunity will remain” (LW 53.49).

Let us learn from Luther about our Life Together. It will only happen when we abandon our preconceived notions about one another, stop acting like we know the hidden will of God, and open the Scriptures and the Confessions and have a true dialogue about the externals.  It doesn’t matter what we think, nor what some 8th century Pope said about worship, nor what some Spray taned Mega Church Guru thinks about church growth.  What matters is that we receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit as He comes to us in the Word and the blessed Sacraments, for in this do we have true and lasting unity. Let us live our Life Together by bearing the cross of the consolation of the brethern. Let us hear the words of the Blessed Doctor and continue our Koinonia.


About Pastor Chris Hull

Chris Hull is the Senior Pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tomball,Texas. He was married to Allison Desiree Monk on June 3rd, 2006. They have been blessed with four boys, Lochlann Richard Patrick, Eamonn Julius Luther, Tiernann Thomas Walther, and Jamesonn Frederick Flacius. Pastor Hull graduated from Concordia University in River Forest, Il in 2006. He received his Master of Divinity from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 2010. He is currently in the STM program at CTSFW.


Life Together: Luther on discussing Worship — 14 Comments

  1. Parishoner here. By the way, I’m under 40 and have only been a Lutheran for 13 years. I can’t understand why the entertainment enthusiasts believe that praise bands bring young people into the church. Even back in my early 20s in the late 90s, I found the praise band concept extremely unauthentic. In fact, I was halfway offended that someone thought that’s what people my age wanted. Thankfully I went elsewhere.

    The history, mystery, and beauty of the ancient liturgy is what draws folks in. Contemporary worship is unauthentic and a terrible invention!

  2. Of course, we would need to recognize that Luther’s counsel applies to the “high side” of these issues, as well as the “middle” and “low side.”

    Say the black.
    Do the red.

    Simple enough, but…. everyone seems to want to say their own “black” and do their own “red.”

  3. Rev McCain. I agree with you. Presuppositions are the biggest problem. Scripture is not the guiding principle at our meetings, but the preconceived notions of individuals. I continue praying that God work on us in His Sacred Word. We grumble like the disciples. Let’s let Christ talk a little before we give our nuggets of eternal wisdom. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #2

  4. “We are not descendants of Rome or Geneva, but Wittenberg.”

    What about Jerusalem?

  5. Carl. We are descendants of Jerusalem concerning our faith and therefore pratice. What I mean by the quote is that we don’t seek assistance from the Pope concerning Worship pratice, (example: The mass), nor do we seek help from the reformed concerning our worship practice (example: baptistic hymnody that doesn’t properlu assert the article of justification). Thank you for the comment. @Carl H #4

  6. Rev. McCall :
    @fws #5
    I will admit I am overwhelmed by your response. I am not sure where and/or if we disagree and where that/those point(s) of disagreement are to be found.
    I would ask “why” one is to come to church. The answer is, because that is where Christ crucified and risen for you is preached. That is where Christ is present in the Word and in the Sacraments given for you for the forgiveness of sins! To tell one to return to their baptism or repent is to do nothing else than to point them to Christ! Its purpose is to provide comfort for the terrified conscience! We can always turn these things into the Law, which is what I think you may be unfairly assuming I am trying to do. Yet even your example of “Go to church” can be seen as a Law that any good Pharisee can observe and soothe his conscience with based on his obedience/attendence. or we can look at these things (church, baptism, Lords Supper) as directing people to Christ. (Which is what I intended and perhaps did not make clear) So what is the sinners response? The Holy Spirit works repentance and that person runs to church! Runs to the altar! To gladly hear, taste, see and be washed over with the forgiveness of sins Christ so freely offers!
    The Law must do its work. It must terrify. and then…
    “Upon this your confession, I by by virtue of my Office as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I forgive you of all of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
    “Take and eat/drink. The true body and blood of Jesus Christ, shed for you, for the forgiveness of all of your sins.”

  7. I am commenting on this post. The quote I posted above defines purpose of the Historic Lutheran Church defined by the BOC and creeds. This is the Reason for the Lords Congregation to exist. The thrust of your post is to ask what is to be done about LCMS practices that destroy Rev McCall’s defining purpose of the visible Lutheran / Christian Congregations. You have to have a visible defined “Church” objective before you condemn any practice that does not produce the results that are required by the defined reason for the Churches existence. If a church service does not produce the above result than that church is not of the Lord. If people are not coming to a church for the reasons stated above than that is not the Lords church. Frankly the reason for the ULC “incident” is that the force that attacked the ULC church was not of the Lords church or Representative. This is your problem, any practice that leads to results other than those defined by Rev. McCall’s definition are Anathema! You are fighting the Devil and his forces. The Devil fights for keeps! See the ULC building destroyed! You and your little LCMS are next! The same forces that attacked ULC so brutally are not stopped easily. These forces do not “play fair”. Ultimately you will have to purge again. Seminex. I lived through that and here you have the same thing in different clothes but just as dangerous. Crying and hand wringing will not make the problem go away. I am saddened to see this come to pass but this fire is already out of control and will only get worse. I did not want to say this but you pushed me, I had hoped someone would put my thoughts more softly Pastor Hull. So here is your clarification, I know it is not what either of us expected!


  8. @Mark Huntemann #8
    Mark. Thank you for the clarification. I don’t believe that a purging is absolutely necessary at this point. Christ Himself sorts out the faithful. However, we are called to be faithful to Sacred Scripture. We are called to confess the clarity of justification by faith in Christ Jesus alone. This doctrine is asserted clearly in the Book of Concord as it is in full agreement with Scripture. We confess the Book of Concord because it is in agreement with Scripture. I believe, as guided by Dr. Luther, that we must seek concord in both our doctrine and our practice. Both sides must stop the finger pointing and the assumption games. Liberals think confessionals are closed minded and only care about doctrine. Confessionals think liberals are weak on doctrine and only care about putting posteriors in the pews. These assumptions must end in order that we can proclaim the gospel together against the snares and wickedness of the devil. Even though other forces don’t “Play Fair,” that doesn’t mean that we have the license to do so. Let us preach as Peter, Stephen, and Paul did. Let us proclaim Christ crucified until the last stone strikes us dead. We are guided by Scripture. Only in Christ will we have unity in the forgiveness of sin.

  9. I cannot disagree with your statement of truth. The divisions have gone beyond mere words to concrete destructive actions. I am at the head of the line to put your ideas into substantive action: Except the destruction of the ULC campus raised the problem from differences of worship to destruction of one of the Lords Holy Places. The problem has gone beyond worship differences to the attempted destruction of one of the Lords Congregations. The problem is so overarching that the culpability reaches into the heart of the LCMS. These persons and institutions are actively trying to change the very fabric of the LCMS. This has gone beyond Koinonia to active destruction of your Brothers In Christ.

  10. The destruction of the ULC campus is a desecration of every person who gave funds and worked to make their dream a reality. Both the Lords visible Congregation and the communion of the saints past who worked on that dream were stomped in the dust! they just did not care! If it walks like a duck!

  11. “The church is healthy where the gospel is rightly taught.” Elert

    In this respect the early church thought and lived not as independentistic [congregations] but as a total church. The church lives from the gospel. The church is healthy where the gospel is rightly taught. It is ill where the gospel is adulterated. If poison forces itself into a congregation, it proceeds to infect the body of the whole church. In the heresy of one pastor the unity of the entire church is broken. This obvious insight is already presupposed by the polemical letters of Paul, especially the pastoral letters, and 1 John, 2 Peter, and the Book of Revelation. Conversely: the sick member can only become healthy, if powers of healing flow to it from the whole. Luther became not only the Reformer of the Wittenberg congregation, but of the entire church. The presupposition is always the communication of all congregations with each other, just as was doubtless the case in the early church. There is no congregationalistic, independent existence, concerned only for itself in the individual congregation. 

    The Visitation Office, Werner Elert 1948, translated by Matthew C. Harrison
    Posted by Rev. Matt Harrison at 9:54 PM

  12. I’m happy with my church becuase we have it all, a traditional service for the older folks, a blended service for the boomers, and a contemporary service for the younger crowd becuase that is what really draws them in, not the power of the Holy Spirit who blows when and where HE wishes

    I do hope this was a typo!!! (TWO typos!)

    IMHO: It doesn’t make any sense to have three different churches in one building.
    As you will find out, the bad will drive out the good, the one that allows the most ignorance will prevail, e.g., the choir will learn a mushy anthem for the contemporary service; they won’t have time (or inclination of the director) to learn a solid piece for the traditional service, so the traditional service will go without choir, or more likely, be “treated” to the mushy anthem with the catchy tune.

    Sooner or later, you won’t have a traditional liturgical Lutheran service. [Those who preen themselves on “having it all” usually can’t wait.] If the traditionalists don’t die off, they’ll “go find someplace else” (and who cares where?) Traditionalists are NOT all “oldsters”, BTW.

    Know what else? Your membership will decline.
    “Relatively new Lutheran” can see better than you can!

    Enough already! I’m going to church!

  13. I go to a Pentecostal church that has deep roots in the Jesus people movement, we have recently discovered Luther and it would take way more time than I have now to tell of the blessings that we have received from Luther and lutherans. We have only 1 service on Sunday for everyone, that is where the word is preached in all its truth and purity (law and gospel) and the sacraments are given. Are we a church?

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