“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1 NKJV) These are wonderful words! Don’t let anyone steal away your freedom in the Gospel. Paul was speaking about the Judaizers who were trying to require of the Galatian Christians that they be circumcised and observe other tenets of the Law in order to be Christian.
The Lutherans dealt with similar legalism in the 16th Century. The Romanists tried to require of Christians that they do their worship in a certain way with certain ceremonies in order to be considered Christian. The Lutherans objected to this and formulated their objection in the Formula of Concord, Article 10 on Adiaphora. They asserted that ceremonies instituted by the Church are not of themselves divine worship and are therefore fundamentally matters of indifference (adiaphora).
But something sinister is happening today. In the name of Christian freedom, pastors are robbing Lutherans of their traditions in the name of “reaching the lost.” This may sound a bit extreme. Are these pastors who are jettisoning ancient Lutheran traditions really robbing us of our liberty? What about their liberty?
The Formula of Concord rightly says,
“As soon as Christian freedom is weakened and human traditions are forced on the Church with coercion, as though it were wrong and a sin to omit them, the way is already prepared for idolatry. In this way, human traditions are multiplied and regarded as divine worship, not only equal to God’s ordinances, but even placed above them.” (SD X.15)
So, the argument is that since the Bible doesn’t prescribe any style of worship, we are free to do away with any traditions we have and adopt new ones if we think it will serve the Gospel.
The question is, however, why are they doing away with good, evangelical traditions that are useful for “good order” and “to maintain Christian discipline?” (1 Cor. 14:40; SD X.1) And the next question is with what are they replacing the ancient traditions?
Both questions are answered by simply recognizing that they are looking to false teachers for advice on how to worship God. It is really that simple. They constantly make the argument that they have discernment to choose the good and reject the bad. They assert that the style doesn’t matter, and that the words are just as good. They also assert that adopting the worship of the sectarians is good for the Gospel, for “reaching the lost.”
But this is precisely what St. Paul warns us against in Galatians 5. It violates Paul’s words in two ways. First, it steals our liberty. Second, it uses liberty as an opportunity for the flesh. I will begin with the second point, so that the first is better understood.
Galatians 5:13 says, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Let us simply ask ourselves what love is. It is the opposite of the works of the flesh, which include, (Gal. 5:20) “selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies.” Why would we look to sectarians whose theology (and therefore worship) is defined by dissensions and heresies to learn how to worship God? No matter how much our opponents insist that they are doing it for the Gospel, can it be anything other than selfish ambition which points pious Christians to false teachers to learn how to worship God properly?
And what about Christian discipline? The traditions Lutherans have held foster self-control and discipline. People call them boring because they inhibit our desire to relax and let loose with God. But it is precisely this lackadaisical posture towards God that the Formula of Concord condemns when it writes (SD X.7),
“Likewise, when there are useless, foolish displays that are not profitable for good order, Christian discipline, or evangelical practice in the Church, these also are not genuine adiaphora, or matters of indifference.”
Now look at this right here. Who’s going to determine what is good for Christian discipline, good order or evangelical practice in the Church? Sectarians? Pentecostals? Baptists? Non-creedal churches? Non-denominational churches? Chris Tomlin? But these are the very people who don’t understand worship at all, since they don’t understand the Gospel and the sacraments that create faith and thus all true worship! They have a false understanding of baptism, denying that it saves, and so not a single one of their songs will reflect what we confess in Luther’s Small catechism about faith, repentance, and the salvation always waiting for us in this sacrament. They have a false understanding of the Lord’s Supper, denying that Christ’s body and blood are given for the forgiveness of sins to strengthen and sustain faith, and so not a single one of their songs will reflect what we confess from the Bible about our constant need for forgiveness, our union with Christ by means of this forgiveness, and the means by which this forgiveness is given to us. They have false understanding of the Word of God, all of them teaching that the Holy Spirit works apart from the Word, and so not one of their songs will speak of the power of the Word of God properly, but will necessarily exalt the inward experience over the objective means of grace. They have a false understanding of faith, most of them looking at it as a work of man, and so not a single one of their songs will present a proper view of the Holy Spirit’s work in us as we confess in Luther’s Small Catechism. Since they don’t believe the means of the grace, they have no interest in presenting the Gospel purely. They don’t believe that doctrine saves. They look for the Spirit apart from doctrine.
We rejoice that they can be Christians at all, that God spares faith amidst so much false doctrine, while the devil prowls around turning people away from the very means by which our souls are saved and turning them to their own preparations and works and inward experiences.
Here the distinction between the visible and invisible church is good to note. There are Christians among the false teachers, because the Gospel is still preached piecemeal in their churches. There is faith there. And there is only one Church to which all believers in Christ belong. But the visible church we identify by the pure preaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the sacraments. Again, how is it good for the Gospel, for Christian discipline or for good order to ask people who totally botch the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments how to worship God? Just as it is a happy inconsistency when people who hold to false doctrine forget their false doctrine and cling to the true Gospel, so it is an accident when false teachers produce orthodox songs.
It is simply unloving to thrust the worship of false teachers onto a Christian congregation, even if they clamor for it, even if they say they are more comfortable worshipping God this way, especially because when they clamor for it they do not know what they are asking for.
“No, but we’ve cleansed it from false worship, just like the Lutherans did the papist worship in the 16th Century.” The problem with this argument is that 1) No, you haven’t cleansed it. No matter how theologically astute you think you are, you are teaching people to think and pray in a manner that was formed in the midst of false doctrine which is taught by the devil. It is foolish to assume that you can cleanse it, or that their piety and the way they think won’t be transmitted even through what you consider to be orthodox. 2) The worship of the papists had at one time been pure, and the Lutherans simply removed the idolatrous elements that were added to it. They were primarily preserving and restoring what was good, not taking something whose entire source is steeped in false teaching.
It is an opportunity for the flesh to divide Christians from orthodox Lutheranism and make people feel more comfortable with the worship of false teachers. How often have confessional Lutheran pastors met people who move to their town, try out their Lutheran Church and then leave the Lutheran Church and join a Baptist or Non-denominational church because they have been trained to love the worship of the sectarians? They abandon the pure doctrine and Lutheranism over a so-called “style” that was taught them by Lutherans! This is a dissension. This is a work of the flesh. And this is done out of selfish ambition to grow the church without any thought towards the division of the Church it creates over “stylistic” difference.
And this leads us to the first point, why they are robbing us Lutherans of our liberty. It is our liberty to use the liturgy, to sing Lutheran hymns, to display reverence and sobriety during worship. It is based on our desire for good order, Christian discipline and evangelical practice. This is the way Lutherans have done it from the beginning. Is it of itself divine worship? No. Is it good for divine worship? Yes.
But who is saying that it isn’t good for divine worship? Those who promote the worship of the false teachers. They say that in order to reach people we should (some even say must) follow the sectarians in their commercialization of Christian worship. In other words, the minute they say we “should,” they are laying down a law and doing the exact same thing they accuse us of doing.
When you’re talking about love, you’re automatically talking about shoulds and musts. There is no law against the fruit of the Spirit, but the fruit of the Spirit is in conformity with the Law. We should maintain the Lutheran liturgy and Lutheran hymns because they teach and explain our doctrine well. They have served the church well, and there is no reason to get rid of them. The only ones who propose getting rid of them are those who want to imitate the worship of the false teachers.
But the reason people want to get rid of them isn’t because they aren’t good for discipline, good order or the Gospel. It is because some people enjoy the worship of false teachers more than the worship of true teachers. Now, should we use our liberty to give people what they enjoy, or what is good for them? The opponents say we should give up our Christian liberty of using the liturgy in order to reach others, that is, that the Gospel calls for us to embrace the worship of those who pervert the Gospel. And so they posit that the way to reach others is giving them what they enjoy, even when their desire for enjoyment was fostered in an atmosphere where false teaching ruled.
Do you see what they’re doing here? Sneaky, isn’t it? In the name of Christian liberty they steal your Christian liberty. In the name of love, they steal your love away. That’s what the devil does. He divides people by pointing to what the false teachers do and saying it is better. Instead of resisting the clamoring of the people and teaching them to love Lutheran hymns and liturgy and why it is good, pastors are instead embracing some strange kind of view concerning beauty and truth that was foreign to the Lutheran confessors. And they do this in the name of freedom. They are free to reject the good and choose what is not good. This is what we call licentiousness.
The modus operandi is simple. Basically, anything beautiful is entirely subjective. So we need to find what other people think is beautiful. Then we will use what most others think is beautiful. I call this mob beauty. Going to the majority (or those who clamor the loudest) and giving them what they want.
They say it’s about style and giving people what they’re comfortable with. It’s not about style. This is a veil over what is actually going on. It’s about an entire form of worship that is foreign to orthodox Christianity. If we argue about style, then the battle’s lost in this era of neo-gnosticism where there is no such thing as objective beauty, but everything is consumed into a mire of individualism where people will actually argue that it’s possible for flatulence to waft a more pleasant scent than a rose. Such is the beauty of the mob.
But love is not giving the mob what they want. Anybody who has kids understands this. If you give a kid what he wants all the time, he will get sick and maybe even die, and you will be a bad parent. You don’t borrow parenting tips on how to please your kids from people who are bad at raising kids, even though your kids think that it’s pretty cool the way they do it. “Just wait until they grow up,” you might mutter to them when you tell them “no” for the umpteenth time. As the blessed Dr. Marquart used to say, “If you teach your kids Methodist hymns, don’t be surprised if they grow up to be Methodists.”
People love democracy as long as they are getting what they want. The mob invites the demagogue who convinces undisciplined people of the urgency to this or that course of action, and in doing so, the mob always steals people’s liberty in the name of “freedom.” Christians do this when they force the worship of false teachers on our churches just as the moderate Lutherans thrust Roman ceremonies on Lutherans in the name of “freedom.” It is shameful. It is contrary to Galatians 5 and SD X. It is what the Bible calls sin. And it’s time we start calling it such.