Some Thoughts on Synod, Mercy, the Divine Service and a Restored Church, by Pr. Rossow

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Hamel, Illinois dedicated its restored sanctuary on Sunday. It was devastated months ago by a fire in the church basement. The smoke from that fire ruined the sanctuary. (You can see some pictures of the restored sanctuary here on the blog of former St. Paul Pastor William Weedon.)

I learned of the dedication when Pastor Ben Ball sent out a message to the email list of the Northern Illinois Confessional Lutherans. He mentioned that the redo would be highlighted in LCMS communications. I emailed him back congratulations on the dedication and also mentioned that it is too bad that the LCMS would turn the story into a mercy thing.

I was just making an educated guess. Pastor Ball responded by saying that I was right. They are talking about using the event to highlight the smaller disaster relief things that the synod does since Hamel got a $25,000 grant from synod.

This is not a story about mercy. This is a story about the liturgy and is a golden opportunity for the synod to highlight how a country church, complete with a blue neon cross on its peak, learned of the church fathers and the historic liturgy through its former pastor and how that appreciation is being furthered by its current pastor and has been increased with the restoration of the sanctuary.

One of the new liturgical features of the restored sanctuary in Hamel is the baptismal font being placed in the center of the sanctuary. (You can see more of the liturgical aptness of the sanctuary in the photos noted above on Weedon’s blog.)

There is nothing wrong with mercy. However, the Divine Service is the delivery point, mercy is one of the many effects of the liturgy. The LCMS has plenty of mercy going on but it has the delivery point screwed up with rampant Methobapticostal practices in countless parishes.

Our synod leaders have chosen to lead with politics instead of theology. On a certain level that is understandable. The power given them by the synod is a political power. Like mercy, there is nothing wrong with politics. The problem is that our synod leaders also have the power of teaching the Gospel, openly. It is fine to use what political power one has but the teaching of what is right needs to be outpacing the politics.

Maybe this teaching is going on behind closed doors. I don’t know. Why are there closed doors in our synod? Why is this teaching not front and center? What is there to be ashamed of? What is there to lose, votes? If the synod is shown true doctrine and practice after teaching, teaching, teaching and it rejects such by a vote then the synod can have its votes. I will stick by the Gospel. But where is the teaching?

It is wrong for a pastor to start making wholesale changes in his parish when he first arrives. If change is needed, he needs to teach and teach and teach. I see lots of mercy being promoted but I don’t see lots of teaching going on. I understand that the president of the synod is president to everyone whether they have embraced the historic liturgy or not, but that does not mean that we should be silent on what is best for the Gospel.

The liturgy is best for the Gospel. Following the fads and teachers of evangelicalism is not good for the Gospel and this is going on all over our beloved synod.

Here’s to Pastors Weedon and Ball and all the other pastors in the LCMS who are doing the work in the parishes to promote the historic, Christ-centered liturgy. We look forward to the day when the synod leaders will also make this work front and center.

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.


Some Thoughts on Synod, Mercy, the Divine Service and a Restored Church, by Pr. Rossow — 33 Comments

  1. I still don’t understand how blatant methobapticostalism can be squared with the Synod’s constitution which still requires doctrinally pure hymnbook and worship resources. The Lutheran Service Book can be used with great effect and for great unity if only we would use it.

  2. @Paul Becker #1

    With great respect to both yourself and Pr. Rossow, I don’t think the term “methobapticostal” is helpful. It’s a condescending term with no particular definition, and can be discarded by those who hear it as mean spirited gibberish.

    I prefer to use the term our Confessions use, which is Enthusiasm. That term has a definition, and theological history, and can be easily refuted as error (without evoking the emotional baggage of poking at Methodists, Baptists, and Pentecostals, who are themselves very different to each other, and have great differences even within themselves.) Every member of Synod has sworn, in their subscription to the Lutheran Confessions, to condemn Enthusiasm. Every member of Synod can be given a clear mandate to let go, either of their Enthusiasm, or of their Synodical membership.

    That’s a teaching point that I think needs enormous emphasis. Lutherans are not Enthusiasts. One cannot hold both a subscription to Enthusiasm and the Lutheran Confessions simultaneously (or, by extension, the Holy Scriptures.) Until we can put that in resolutions to District Conventions / Synod Conventions / CTCR / CCM/ general pronouncements of our seminaries and Synodical leaders, etc., we’re just playing patty cake with the enemy.

    I say we call the error what it is, then make a call to faithfulness in word and deed. Let the chips fall where they may. No one can serve two masters– we cannot serve both God and Enthusiasm.

  3. LSB is not the only source of ” doctrinally pure hymnbook and worship resources”. If you like the LSB and feel good using it, great! For some people, LSB may not be the best way to teach or worship.

  4. Jim,

    What would you recommend?

    Are you LCMS? What do you think of the notion that synod, which means walking together, and as Paul points out, part of that is using the same worship materials?

  5. @jim #3

    No, but the LSB has the approval of Synod, and the best Lutheran theological minds of our seminaries, in continuity with orthodox Lutheran theologians of the last 500 years, and the Church Fathers of the last 1900 years. If you have something else that also bears that level of approval, rigor, historical continuity, and review, then we can compare apples to apples. Otherwise, the private judgment of individual pastors or congregations (or of the modern vapid quasi-Christian music industry) falls way short of reasonable comparison.

  6. Brad,

    I get your point, however…

    Luther used “enthusiast” in a condemnatory way. If that was condescending then so be it. The German for it is Schwärmerei which comes from the root word for the swarming of buzzing bees, a very apt condemnation for enthusiasts (Pentecostals) and if that is condescending then so “bee” it.

    So, I use Methabapticostal as short hand for the condemnation worthy teachings/practices of Methodists (the use of methods to climb the ladder of holiness), Baptists (making a decision for Jesus – something the Bible does not say and instead says is impossible, apart from the Holy Spirit) and Pentecostalism (what you refer to as enthusiasm which refers to basing the faith on emotion).

    I do not using it in a condescending way but as short hand to condemn all those in the LCMS who make use of these measures to the detriment of the Gospel. It is nice short hand and encapsulates more than than just enthusiasm.

  7. Pr. Rossow,

    Fair enough. I use the term for Enthusiasm in the sense of seeking God apart from His Word and Sacraments. The charge leveled against the Pope, as well as against the fanatics / schwarmerie, who imposed some human action or event over Scripture. To my mind, that addresses the error that is most condemnable, whether it be in the methods of Methodism, the decision theology and anti-sacramentalism of the Arminian Baptists, the rationalism of Calvinists, the charismatic excesses of the Pentecostals, or the infatuation with the Pope amongst the Romans– or the weird blends of Enthusiasm found in the “non-denominational” and “emerging/emergent” churches. Wherever heterodox Christians attempt to find God apart from His divinely established Means, there is Enthusiasm.

    The tools of Enthusiasm and its fruits can be easily identified, from teaching materials to hymnody to liturgy. That’s why I use it. Someone can always find something nice to say about those pleasant Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals, Calvinists, and Romans down the street… and probably should, as we try to put the best construction on our various neighbors. Heck, they’ve even had positive contributions to various things over the centuries. But all should be able to address the error of Enthusiasm, and attack it as the danger it is, regardless of the fellowship in which it is found.

    My humble thoughts, anyway. Cheers–

  8. @Brad #7
    My apologies for failing to make reference to my use of the term. I use it as I understand it in the Epitome, II, Free Will::

    “Also, we reject and condemn the error of the Enthusiasts, who imagine that God without means, without the hearing of God’s Word, also without the use of the holy Sacraments, draws men to Himself, and enlightens, justifies, and saves them. (Enthusiasts we call those who expect the heavenly illumination of the Spirit [celestial revelations] without the preaching of God’s Word.)”

    and the SA, Part III, Article VIII:

    “All this is the old devil and old serpent, who also converted Adam and Eve into enthusiasts, and led them from the outward Word of God to spiritualizing and self-conceit, and nevertheless he accomplished this through other outward words. Just as also our enthusiasts [at the present day] condemn the outward Word, and nevertheless they themselves are not silent, but they fill the world with their pratings and writings, as though, indeed, the Spirit could not come through the writings and spoken word of the apostles, but [first] through their writings and words he must come. Why [then] do not they also omit their own sermons and writings, until the Spirit Himself come to men, without their writings and before them, as they boast that He has come into them without the preaching of the Scriptures? But of these matters there is not time now to dispute at greater length; we have elsewhere sufficiently urged this subject.”

    Blessings to you.

  9. Dear BJS readers-
    Our country parish is richly blessed. We have been imploring the true and living God for His mercy and has given it to us. Our glorious Church has been restored and we are full of thankfulness. We are the recipients of Divine Mercy. Divine Mercy is precisely what the Divine Service is there to deliver: mercy for us and so much mercy that it abounds and overflows out into the Church and the world. It really was a good thing for the Synod to stand beside the members of St. Paul and her pastors as we suffered through this trial; even more beautiful than the restoration of the sanctuary is the fulfilling of the law of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens.

    There is something that Pastor Rossow left out though, and because he is my friend he won’t mind that I point this out. It was the Synodical leadership that asked Pastor Weedon to be director of worship for the Synod, precisely to further the work of our Synod in rejoicing in the mercy that the Triune God dishes out to us in the Divine Service. It is his task to teach the Synod all that the we have received from God and from the Church in the Holy Liturgy. We need him to teach and we need the leadership to teach too, that real mercy comes from the Blessed Trinity, and it does get delivered to us through men.

    So Rossow don’t be too hard on our synodicrats. I’m anxious to see the synod’s photographer’s work; I hope they write an article where pictures and words show the Divine Service with all its ceremonies, ceremonies extolling Christ, the preaching of His Gospel, (the pulpit was elevated in the renovation!) Holy Baptism and His Body and Blood. These gifts of Christ are to be extolled and let’s hope that our rededication helps in some small way for the Synod to see that the Divine Service and the gifts of Christ delivered in the Divine Service give life to the Church. And it is good for us to assist each other when we are knocked down so that the Divine Service may continue in a place set apart for Holy Things.

  10. Thanks for your comment Ben. I agree with you completely that it was good for synod to stand with you, I don’t think I ever said differently. My point is that there is a more important story to tell here than one of mercy, a story that if not told, spells the slow death of our synod.

    I seek to be very fair with our synod leaders. I call ’em like I see ’em.

    I have yet to see any statement by any synodocrat in a visible public place that speaks against the horrors of bad worship and bad theology (with specifics – and that is a key, if it is not specific it is a mere platitude) that abound in our synod. There is nothing holding them back from such that I can see, except for a chosen political approach.

    If I am wrong I will be the first to trumpet such here on BJS. Please tell me and prove to me that I am wrong. Again, thanks for taking the time to comment.

  11. OK Ben, that’s a good start but that was among friends at the Issues, Etc. conference. I look forward to that sort of talk coming directly out of St. Louis and directed to the synod via its official communication vehicles.

    Where is it? What is stopping it from happening? We get tons of mercy stuff from the official vehicles but we do not get the sort of stuff you cited from the official vehicles.

    Again, I am glad to hear (read) it. In the next few months lets start to see it coming from President Harrison and the others. They are doing great stuff and work very hard but this is the sort of stuff I just don’t see. Walther did it and all the boys Harrison cites in The House of Our Fathers did it but I don’t see it coming from him and he has the bully pulpit to do it.

  12. If anyone is interested here is the St. Louis News Channel 5 (NBC affiliate) spot. The link is below. They ran with a question I didn’t expect. “How has this rededication effected the Hamel community?” So that was my answer.

    I am telling the folks after the recessional how we are going to go out and take the big church picture, and then my youngest daughter ran up to me so she got a dad ride out of church.

    And here is the write up from the St. Louis-Post Dispatch – you might have to answer a survey question to read the whole thing.

    Rejoice with us!

  13. @Pastor Tim Rossow #10
    I attended the Good Shepherd Institute last year and asked a specific question about some of the songs that were sung at my congregation’s ‘celebration’ service. There were at least five people on the stage either from CTS or CS. The only one who responded was the Dean of the Chapel at the seminary in St. Louis and he wanted me to go ask my pastor. When a unknown layperson like myself asks a specific question, I believe the public people in charge are very, very reluctant to criticize in public. I asked another specific question to a ‘synodocrat’ at the Making the Case conference in June. He didn’t answer my question. I think it’s okay for pastors to challenge other pastors, but it’s off limits for laypeople to criticize. At least that’s been my experience.

    In Christ,

  14. A few years ago I went with my son on a college visit. We stopped overnight in a major Midwestern city and worshipped in the congregation of a well-known confessional leader. I was surprised that the order of service was a setting by Marty Haugen, which apparently this congregation uses regularly, though they have Lutheran Service Book in the pews. Also one of the hymns during Communion was “I, the Lord of Sea and Sky,” which likewise seemed to be used there quite frequently, since it is a difficult hymn with what the old hymnals call a “peculiar meter” and the people seemed very familiar with it.

    My son—who is an excellent musician and sang last year with his college choir at Carnegie Hall—was the first to say something when we got in the car: “There’s like five Communion services in the front of the hymnal. Why don’t they just use one of those? I know all of those.” Out of the mouths of babes . . . (well, 18-year-olds anyway)!

    Interestingly, we worshipped at this same congregation again on another trip about a year later—and they again used the same Haugen setting of the service, and again sang “I, the Lord of Sea and Sky”! Quite surprising for the only two times I’ve attended worship at the congregation of a well-know confessional leader, who often expresses concern about worship practices.

  15. @Rev. Kevin Vogts #16

    Well, that hymn is in “With One Voice”, the ELCA/LBW supplement. Before our “Supplement 98” came out, Concordia-St. Paul had it, as well as a former congregation of mine. I knew of others who had that resource, so I’m not surprised that it is familiar. (and it’s not all that hard to sing)

    Along a similar vein, in my circuit I know of a congregation that for their new hymnal, went with ELW. The retirement age pastors in my circuit are decidedly liberal, Seminex and ELCA friendly. It would be nice for the seminaries to train up more confessional liturgical type pastors. You know, ones that wouldn’t be ashamed of being LCMS.

  16. What surprised me was that this hymn and the Haugen setting were apparently being regularly used in a congregation where the senior pastor expresses concern about such worship practices.

    I had a similar experience several years ago when a member brought back a bulletin from a service he had attended at the congregation of another well-known confessional leader, who is also outspoken about and writes concerning worship matters. The service there has apparently for years been printed out each week in the form of a booklet, comprised of this pastor’s own personal emendation of the Common Service, a pastiche from a variety of sources.

    At another congregation of a famous LCMS confessional leader, the hymnal in the pews was the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary of the ELS. However, we did not use that hymnal’s liturgy, and only some of the hymns came from it, but again the service printed out in the bulletin was an that pastor’s amalgamation from a variety of sources.

    I don’t understand why those who are outspoken about others using the liturgy and hymns of our Synod do not do so themselves in their own congregations.

  17. @Rev Kevin Vogts,

    Perhaps the pastors at the churches in question are teaching the congregation the value of the historic liturgy, but they are not ready to adopt all that the pastors are teaching them.
    Our pastor taught and walked us through the value of weekly communion. It took several months of leadership and listening until we adopted it. Some people were still not happy with the decision but were able to at least see the value it had for the people that wanted it.

  18. Was the Marty Haugen setting “Now the Feast and Celebration”? We used that for weekly communion at CUC during Lent, I think .

  19. @Rev. Kevin Vogts #18
    Pastor Vogts,
    In a LCMS senior-mega church near The Villages FL, there are no hymnals nor hymnal racks in the pews. Everything is printed out in a 26 page booklet every week. Two big screens in the front power-point the texts of the hymns. When I was there, all the hymns were from TLH. You know, the old and familiar hymns like I Am Trusting Thee Lord Jesus, etc. This was the same LCMS congregation that to my mind practiced open communion. When I asked an usher where to go to talk with a pastor about Holy Communion she said, ‘Oh, just go up to the communion rail. We don’t pass the bread and wine down the aisles’. I think the look on my face said it all. I wondered if she thought she was in a Baptist church!

    You just have to travel around the country and visit different LCMS churches and you realize very quickly our practice is all over the map-chaos.

    In Christ,

  20. I believe that the Marty Haugen setting, of the entire “novus ordo,” is one of those found in the ELCA’s new hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

    In these experiences I had, all the congregations are well-known to be confessional and traditional in worship, so I do not believe that the pastors would find resistance to using the liturgy and hymns from our hymnals. Indeed, in the latter two cases it obviously is the pastors themselves who prefer, over the services found in our hymnals, the emended, eclectic orders of service that they have personally created, and which they have introduced into their congregations.

    I didn’t mention the time I visited the congregation of one of the most outspoken conservative LCMS pastors at the time, and before the Invocation he asked the congregation to give the acolyte a round of applause for doing such a good job. This pastor has since left the LCMS (he is still Lutheran) partly over what he considered to be loose worship practices in the LCMS.

    What I can’t figure out is why these pastors are very outspoken with concern about the worship practices of others, but they don’t heed their advice in their own congregations.

  21. @Jason #17
    It would be nice for the seminaries to train up more confessional liturgical type pastors. You know, ones that wouldn’t be ashamed of being LCMS.

    They do. Have you seen the statistics for “clergy leaving the ministry in about 5 years”? Look for them there. I suspect you’ll find them. Not all of them, but too many.

    What I can’t figure out is why these pastors are very outspoken with concern about the worship practices of others, but they don’t heed their advice in their own congregations. –Kevin Vogts

    “Conservative is what I say it is.” 🙁

  22. @Rev. Kevin Vogts #22

    Pr. Vogts,

    Respectfully, perhaps an answer to your question could be made, if you named the pastors you’re impugning, and gave them an opportunity to explain or defend their usages. Otherwise, it seems as if you are implying that all, or some large subset of confessional Lutheran pastors concerned about traditional worship, are being hypocritical. And, since you have not been specific in who you are accusing of hypocrisy, it seems as if you’re inviting people to pile on with the sentiment rather than deal with a particular issue.

    If that was not your intent, please forgive my misreading of your post.

  23. I apologize if I gave the impression that I visit congregations looking for things to criticize! I have had many, many more wonderful rather than disappointing worship experiences visiting the services of sister congregations and brother pastors! However, these few were so surprising and stuck in my mind because of the pastors involved, men I respect, but I cannot reconcile their stated position on liturgical matters with what I experienced in their own congregations.

  24. I’m kind of a curmudgeon about announcements of any kind before the service—though I realize I’m apparently fighting a losing battle on this, even among those who consider themselves conservative and liturgical. To me it interrupts and detracts from the worshipful atmosphere created by the organ prelude and private prayers of the worshippers before the service. In this case, their deaconess who was an excellent organist played a lovely Bach prelude on their gorgeous tracker pipe organ, while the acolyte, in cassock and surplice, reverently lit the candles and sat down, followed by the ringing of the bell. My meditation during this time was fixed on their amazing, life-size carved crucifix above the altar, perhaps especially so because it was the First Sunday in Lent. But then the pastor comes out with a hand-held mike, wandering about the front of the nave telling lame, unrelated jokes for five minutes like a stand-up comic, closing with a call for everyone to applaud the acolyte for doing such a good job. I find such an odd juxtaposition of liturgical with entertainment elements rather jarring.

  25. @Rev. Kevin Vogts #28
    Oh no, I am not busting you, I understand. I think it is a good and solid thing that the service flow well, with that sacred time not being upset. We always have plenty of time after the postlude to applaud, chat, drink some coffee, etc.

    And the more I think about it, I am with you, do the announcements etc., before the prelude.

    Hmmm, I think I will work on that.

  26. My current congregation has a long history of doing it the old-fashioned way, which I think has merit. The worshippers engage in silent prayer—no pre-service music and no general chit-chat in the sanctuary—until the bell rings at the appointed hour for the service to begin. THEN the organist plays the prelude, which properly is the first element of the service, and it flows right into the opening hymn. I can remember in college the organ students lamented having the prelude they worked hard on to coordinate with and introduce the opening hymn and theme for the day being reduced to background Muzak, drowned out by pre-service chatter. I suspect some pastor or organist here years ago felt the same way, because they have been inculcated that the prelude is the first element of the service proper.

    As for announcements, that is why we have bulletins. I only make oral announcements if some item was not included in the printed announcements in the bulletin. Announcements that relate to the service, perhaps some change the worshippers need to be aware of, are perhaps necessary before the service begins or at some point during the service. Likewise announcing prayer requests before the prayers. But otherwise, if the announcements don’t have to do with the service itself, but some event occurring after the service, then doesn’t it seem logical to give them after the service concludes?

    But, as I say, I realize I seem to be in the minority. Perhaps I feel strongly about this because my home church once had a pastor who every Sunday would begin by spending ten minutes going through all the bulletin announcements, reading them with commentary, and then AFTER the service he would spend 20 minutes going through them all over again, reminding us “not to forget” such and such, during which time he would basically repeat his sermon. “As I said in the sermon, we need to get out and share Jesus, and one way to do this would be helping with our food booth at the county fair, so see Loretta about that after church today. Like I said in the sermon, we all have different gifts, so maybe your gift is cooking hot dogs, or making the homemade ice cream that everyone loves so much at our booth every year. Like I said in the sermon, God will bless our congregation with growth if we entrust it to him. So let’s not forget to pray for the success of our booth at the fair. Like I said in the sermon, prayer changes things . . . ” and on and on and on, every single Sunday. Five years of that made me averse to all but the most necessary announcements in the service.


    I was taught by my parents and grandparents that when one enters the pew before the DS begins, you bow your head and say a short prayer. My husband and I probably stand out like a sore thumb in my congregation because we do this or use one of the prayers in the front of LSB. The majority of other people are talking rather loudly to their neighbors. It is very distracting. Reverence is taught. It is not an innate thing we humans do. People praying before the service begins is about as unusual as individuals making the sign of the cross at the appointed times during the service. Yes, these things are adiaphora, but are not unimportant. They fall into the category of Lutheran piety. The culture has been sticking its’ nose under the tent of the Church for a long time.

    In Christ,

  28. @Diane #31

    Great points Diane. I’d like to expand on your thoughts. I fear that the non-confessional crowd that dismisses the historic liturgy has perverted the notions of “come as you are” or “we welcome all.” In all honesty, we OF COURSE “welcome all.” In all honestly, we OF COURSE want people to “Come as they are.” The reality is that we are all poor miserable sinners and are in great need of hearing the pure Word and to be administered the Sacraments rightly. However, THAT’s not what so many of these churches mean when they make these statements. Instead, they pervert those two notions by implying that what is being done in Confessional/Liturgical churches is stuffy, arrogant, and unloving. Nothing could be further from the truth, yet they continue to commercialize what they do. It’s a sales tactic that’s often pushed and promoted by districts. Unfortunately, one of the casualties of such a mindset is REVERENCE.

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