In this eight-part series, I am mostly going to present quotations from the good work of Pastor Paul Strawn and Pastor Holger Sonntag regarding this issue of “the worship wars”. I will try and post new parts each coming weekday for the next seven days.
Of course, these pastors are addressing the “worship wars” in the context of the LC-MS, the Lutheran-Church Missouri Synod, a confessional Lutheran Church body that historically has valued the Church’s liturgical heritage (for more specifics addressing some the variety of views in that church body see the beginning of this post [probably my most-read post ever], this post about a local matter [in Minnesota], and my four posts on the group known as “FiveTwo”).
That said, I am confident that what these men have to say will be of great interest to many of the thoughtful saints scattered throughout Christendom…
If you are Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Reformed or of the American Evangelical variety, I hope you will nevertheless give these men your ear…
Some quotations will be from the 27th Annual Lutheran Free Conference: “The Character of Christian Worship: It May Not Be What You Think”, which took place on Saturday, October 25th, 2014 at Redeemer Lutheran Church in St. Cloud, MN (full audio available here). Other quotations will be from their new book, “Christian Worship: the Apology of the Unchanging Forms of the Gospel”, which follows up “The Unchanging Forms of the Gospel: a Response to Eight Theses on Worship” (you can read a review of that first book, along with some helpful contextual information about the ‘Eight Theses’ [more specifics on this in part VII coming up] here on Scott Diekmann’s blog). Both books are published by the publishing house Pastor Strawn and Pastor Sonntag founded, Lutheran Press (again, the main reason I go to Facebook – namely, to get their freshly translated Luther devotions each morning)
Let’s get started. First, what is Christian worship in the first place?
Strawn and Sonntag offer this definition:
Christian worship – that is, worship after man’s fall into sin and after the giving of the promise of the Savior in Gen. 3:15 – is fundamentally rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. For every Christian activity, in order to be truly pleasing to God despite man’s sinfulness, must flow from faith in this gospel. Such faith is created by this gospel itself. In that this faith rightly acknowledges God as truthful and Savior, and thus lets God be God, it is the highest worship (First Commandment). Genuine faith is active in love of God and neighbor. Praying to God as well as praising and thanking God in worship, as well as studying and following his Word, are the chief works of love of God after faith itself (Second and Third Commandments). Serving the neighbor in one’s vocations according to the remaining Ten Commandments is, because it is a fruit of faith in the gospel, also part of the Christian’s worship and thanksgiving to God.
(All bold here are mine, as will be the case throughout the series unless otherwise noted)
And how do Christians worship? Again, Strawn and Sonntag explain:
In the age of the New Testament, the gospel has been instituted by Christ in the specific forms, rites, and ceremonies of the NT’s specific ceremonial law, namely, the means of grace: the word, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. The pastoral office has been established by Christ to administer the gospel in these forms also in the public worship service. Administering and partaking of the gospel according to these forms are acts of love which, when proceeding from genuine faith in the gospel, are also acts of worship pleasing to God. When considered as God’s saving work for us, the means of grace take on a “sacramental” meaning. When considered as our serving actions for God and neighbor, the means of grace take on a “sacrificial” meaning. Due to the alone-saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, the only legitimate function for sacrifice in the Christian worship service is to express the Christians’ praise and thanksgiving for their being saved by Christ.
Quoting the late Lutheran professor Kurt Marquart saying that “justification is not a principle of elimination… but illumination”*, one of the most powerful things that these men talk about is how for Luther, doctrine could not be kept pure without love, or, sanctification. Justification may be the doctrine on which the church stands or falls, but simple love is said to be necessary to keep the Church teaching rightly. I noted this, with some powerful Luther quotations these men provided at the conference**, in a previous post.
Let’s start by repeating those Luther quotations…
In one his last sermons, on Rom. 12:3, Luther stated about a month before his death (AE 51:376-377):
“Therefore, see to it that you hold reason in check and do not follow her beautiful cogitations. Throw dirt in her face and make her ugly. Don’t you remember the mystery of the holy Trinity and the blood of Jesus Christ with which you have been washed of your sins? Again, concerning the sacrament, the fanatical antisacramentalists say, ‘What’s the use of bread and wine? How can God the Almighty give his body in bread?’ I wish they had to eat their own dirt. They are so smart that nobody can fool them. If you had one in a mortar and crushed him with seven pestles his foolishness still would not depart from him. Reason is and should be drowned in baptism, and this foolish wisdom will not harm you, if you hear the beloved Son of God saying, ‘Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you; this bread which is administered to you, I say, is my body.’ If I hear and accept this, then I trample reason and its wisdom under foot and say, ‘You cursed whore, shut up! Are you trying to seduce me into committing fornication with the devil?’ That’s the way reason is purged and made free through the Word of the Son of God.
So let us deal with the fanatics as the prophets dealt with the spiritual harlots, the idolaters, the wiseacres, who want to do things better than God does. We should say to them, ‘I have a Bridegroom, I will listen to him. Your wisdom is utter foolishness. I destroy your wisdom and trample it under foot.’ This struggle will go on till the last day. This is what Paul [in Rom. 12:3] wants; we are to quench not only the low desires but also the high desires, reason and its high wisdom. When whoredom invades you, strike it dead, but do this far more when spiritual whoredom tempts you. Nothing pleases a man so much as self-love, when he has a passion for his own wisdom. The cupidity of a greedy man is as nothing compared with a man’s hearty pleasure in his own ideas. He then brings these fine ideas into the Scriptures, and this is devilishness pure and simple. This sin is forgiven, but when it reigns in one’s nature, not yet fully purged, then assuredly the true doctrine is soon lost, however willingly one preaches and willingly one listens. Then Christ is gone. Then they fall down before the devil on the mountain and worship him (Matt. 4 [:8–10]).”
(italics Pastor Sonntag’s)
Also note this quote:
AE 24:246: “It does not require such great skill to begin to love; but, as Christ says here, remaining in love takes real skill and virtue. In matrimony many people are initially filled with such ardent affection and passion that they would fairly eat each other; later they become bitter foes. The same thing happens among Christian brethren. A trivial cause may dispel love and separate those who should really be bound with the firmest ties; it turns them into the worst and bitterest enemies. That is what happened in Christendom after the days of the apostles, when the devil raised up his schismatic spirits and heretics, so that bishops and pastors became inflamed with hatred against one another and then also divided the people into many kinds of sects and schisms from which Christendom suffered terrible harm. That is the devil’s joy and delight. He strives for nothing else than to destroy love among Christians and to create utter hatred and envy. For he knows very well that Christendom is built and preserved by love. In Col. 3:14 Paul speaks of love as ‘binding everything together in perfect harmony.’ And in 1 Cor. 13:13 he calls love the greatest virtue, which accomplishes and achieves most in the Christian realm. For in the absence of love doctrine cannot remain pure; nor can hearts be held together in unity.”
(italics and bold mine)
As we begin this series, my prayer and hope for you is that you will let those quotations sink in a bit, and to reflect on them in your heart.
*p. 91, from the materials provided at the conference:
So, here again we see the truth of what sainted Dr. Marquart’s said in class at CTS [Concordia Theological Seminary, in Ft. Wayne, Indiana]: the doctrine of justification is not a principle of elimination; it is a principle of illumination. In other words, it’s not an axe to chop down things we don’t like. It is, rather, a powerful light that lets us see how those things should be taught and used properly, that is, without contradicting the article by which the church stands and falls, that is, justification by faith alone through grace alone.
Accordingly, the doctrine of justification correctly understood is also not the royal highway to church unity and peace in the “worship wars” which would elegantly allow us to bypass doing the hard work of love, as in: “if we could just agree in this doctrine, everything would be great” or as in: “since we already agree in this doctrine, nothing else really matters – aren’t we free?”
**Quotes obtained from the materials given out at the 27th Annual Lutheran Free Conference: “The Character of Christian Worship: It May Not Be What You Think” – Saturday, October 25th, 2014 at Redeemer Lutheran Church in St. Cloud, MN. Full audio available here.