A Modest Suggestion to the DPs regarding their Theses on Worship, by Klemet Preus

I believe that the Theses on Worship (PDF), produced by the council of presidents, while a very helpful contribution to our ongoing discussion about worship, needs some work. Thesis IV is not quite adequate in its discussion of the imposition of forms and it also lacks a discussion on the relationship between Christian freedom and Christian love.  

A discussion of the relationship between freedom and love is needed. While individual Christians or congregations are free to use whatever ceremonies they wish, they are also bound by the law of love. And love requires at times that we give up our freedom. Luther wrote and encouraged all the congregations and pastors to “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.” [1] This quotation incidentally has been adopted by our synod as informing our ongoing discussions on worship at the 1995 convention.  

Luther understood the quest for uniformity of ceremonies to be an act of love. “For even though from the viewpoint of faith, the external orders are free and can without scruples be changed by anyone at anytime, yet from the viewpoint of love, you are not free to use this liberty, but bound to consider the edification of the common people, as St. Paul says, I Corinthians 14:40, “All things should be done to edify,” and I Corinthians 6:12, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful,” and I Corinthians 8:1, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”[2]

So today we, who are free, live in love and so suffer the imposition of rules and ceremonies. Think of the ordinances, ceremonies or customs that have been imposed upon us and which we all accept even though they cannot be proven from the Bible. We celebrate Christmas on December 25. The colors on the altar and pulpit vary uniformly according to the season. The day of worship is Sunday. Pastors wear certain robes. It’s actually not even in the Bible that pastors should wear shirts and shoes during church but most congregations have an unwritten policy of “no shirt, no shoes, no service.” We schedule the divine service at a certain time and expect people to come at that time. All these are ordinances that have been imposed. Without them there would be chaos.

When you think about it congregational or district constitutions and bylaws are a type of church ordinance that we have all agreed to support. You could not run a church without them. Try making decisions without have by-laws which govern meetings, who votes, who runs the meeting, how and by whom and under what circumstances motions may be made, etc. We all agree to these bylaws and expect others to follow them.

If we can commonly accept bylaws even though we may initially have disagreed with them, cannot we accept a common form of worship especially since the District Presidents have rightly asserted that Uniformity of rights and ceremonies is desirable (although not essential for the unity of the church)?  

What the District presidents should do, in my opinion, is to rethink Thesis IV in light of the humble considerations and comments of these last three blogs. They need to distinguish between imposition of rites and ceremonies from the imposition of these rites as necessary for salvation. They need to discuss the balance between the freedom of the Christian and the law of love which should dominate.

Again, I truly do thank the COP for their contribution to the ongoing discussion on worship and trust they will continue the discussion.

[1] Luther’s Works Volume 53, p. 47.

[2] Luther’s Works 53:47.

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