Is a Faulty Understanding of Sanctification at the Root of the Worship Wars? (part IV of VIII)

12 Jan
"Alone together" - An apt description of the church’s worship today?

“Alone together” – An apt description of the church’s worship today?

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

What does it mean to grow in one’s sanctification?  It simply means to grow in fear, love and trust in God and to grow in loving one’s neighbor as one’s self.  And of course here, the most basic and concrete picture of this is the 10 commandments – which our Lord not only perfectly explained, but perfectly lived out.

And of course here, we can talk about this in great concrete and practical detail.  Someone who gets married needs to – out of love – limit even the activities they did as a single person without sin because of their new situation. In like fashion, it does the Christian well to realize that we not only are to avoid evil, but its appearance (as even our Lord Jesus, according to his human nature, seems to have learned – see here).  We also should keep in mind that while any number of activities may be pursued without sin, sometimes one route is an overall better choice than the other (as Paul argues in I Cor. 7).  Finally, we are also to avoid certain activities that we, while free to do without sin we should not do – lest we cause our brothers in the faith to stumble (see Rom. 14 and 15).  Taking all of this into account then, what does it mean for the Church as a whole, the Bride of Christ, to grow in her sanctification… to grow in true love?  Where should we start when we talk about this?

Again, Pastor Holger Sonntag’s words follow.  The bold is all mine, and again, pay particular attention to what I have bolded in blue:

“Church,” as Luther lamented, is really a pretty meaningless word.[1] It would be better to speak of “a Christian holy people” to get to the full meaning more clearly, especially to that other aspect of being church: For by faith in Christ, we’re not only saved. We’re also placed in a new relationship with our neighbor. We’re made members of Christ’s holy people. This new relationship to our neighbors we call “love,” the automatic and necessary fruit of faith in Christ.

In other words, “church” is never just about “me and Jesus.” It is about that first of all, of course. But then it is also about “you and I together.” It’s not just about faith. It is also about love. While we’re saved by faith alone – made members of Christ’s church on earth by faith alone – genuine faith is never alone. It is never without love. So also, we cannot have Christ as our Savior by faith without serving our fellow redeemed by love.

What does this mean for church unity in general and worship in particular? If, as we said, faith is the highest worship and already reading or meditating on the word of God is an act of worship, then there evidently is a kind of outward worship that can be “performed” by an individual Christian for his or her own edification. In fact, we all need to be engaged in this type of worship at all times for our own salvation!

However, as here our focus is more on the joint worship service, we realize that it is an event where more than just Jesus and I are present. Other Christians are there, even if it is just the small communion service for the homebound or hospitalized Christian. We’re doing it together, to put it as simply as possible.

To do one thing together, instead of doing different things at the same time, you need love, because you need the humility to say: let’s come up with a plan of what we’re going to do together. According to the bible, humility is a key form of love: This is how our Savior loved us all the way to the cross. This is how we love one another, just like Christ, not just when it comes to worship. That’s all spelled out in Phil. 2, the epistle reading for Palm Sunday.

This means: we can’t play off faith against love, freedom against service to the neighbor by insisting that we’re justified by faith alone, set free! This is why we need not consider the neighbor when worshiping God or, for that matter, doing anything. Luther said: Not so! Freedom and faith – that’s how we relate to God. Service and love – that’s how we relate to the neighbor. And because in worship we definitely relate both to God and the neighbor, we need to consider both faith and love.

Considering faith, as we’ve already said, ensures that we, first of all, distinguish our human additions from Christ’s means of grace and that, second of all, those additions are of a generally simple form and promote the gospel of Christ. Considering love ensures that our human additions to Christ’s means of grace not only humbly serve the neighbor by promoting the gospel in form and content, but also serve him by not confusing him by offering a bewildering, ever-changing variety of additions that prevent any kind of learning of the faith. In other words, one of the primary considerations of love is: Hey, let’s do this worship thing together lest our people get confused, get antagonized, and ultimately are driven from the gospel.

For this is what the absence of love can do: it can create schisms and heresies out of envy or mistrust. It can also, in the very least, give the powerful impression of schisms and heresies to those on the outside and on the inside. Without love, then, the church’s unity in the faith is doomed.

That’s why Luther, the more experience he gained in leading the church, the more he insisted that churches in one region or area use uniform orders of worship in Christian love. Out of love for his people, not because he was antiquarian by nature, he also kept many of the old elements of worship: People were used to them and there was nothing doctrinally wrong with them. So why confuse them with novelty when they could instead be built up in love?

Traditionally, our Synod has acted on this key insight of the Lutheran theology of worship, even though the insight as such was not always clearly articulated. More recently, that insight has been lost, ignored, or possibly even denied, at least in practice.”

(Sonntag, pp. 48-52 bold mine, non-italicized words originally italicized ; again, 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)

It would not hurt to repeat the Luther quotations from part I here as well…

Again, 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)


Part V


[1] Cf. AE 41:143-144. The context of this reference, and Luther’s teaching on the church and its outward marks, is now available in a popular format under the title, A Christian Holy People (Minneapolis: Lutheran Press, 2012).


Posted by on January 12, 2015 in Uncategorized


9 responses to “Is a Faulty Understanding of Sanctification at the Root of the Worship Wars? (part IV of VIII)

  1. Mark

    January 13, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    First, I’m amused that you begin with a definition of sanctification by saying “It simply…” Once again, any discussion of sanctification will tell you that it is not simply anything.

    As far as the meat of the article goes, the issue of freedom Nathan comes up when one side says “You can’t do that!”

    Or says “You must do this!”

    There is a reason why Paul has some of his proteges circumcized and some not.

    When it comes to worship then, it is the same thing, is it not? If someone says to me “To be a real Lutheran, you must use this particular form of worship” then in my freedom, I can say “No.”

    I also want to point out that the worship service is not just a place where other Christians are. It is a place where non-Christians come as well, isn’t it? We ought to be looking at them with love and asking “How do we share this Good News with them?”

  2. infanttheology

    January 13, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    Pastor Louderback,

    I started by saying, regarding sanctification, this:

    “It simply means to grow in fear, love and trust in God and to grow in loving one’s neighbor as one’s self.”

    Man, I thought that was common ground, to start!

    It’s not always “you can’t do that” – but sometimes its “please don’t do that”, or “why are you doing that?” (or perhaps, sometimes, “Why in the world are you doing that?”) Again, it is not saying an act is necessarily intrinsically sinful, but that, in the context of the situation, going ahead with the act reveals a lack of love and concern (note the whole second paragraph).

    Not sure what you mean by the circumcision point – I agree. He was concerned about causing offense.

    No one is saying that there is only one particular form of worship that Lutherans must use

    (update [should have also said this]: ….in order to be justified before God. The idea here is that believers should agree about a form of worship, not the form of worship – not for the sake of justification but sanctification – see parts IV and V of the series)

    And no one is saying that we should not take concern for the unbeliever as regards some “immediate accessibility” to our worship (just like the NFL explains the rules before each football game, right? : ) ) – but our first concern, as Paul says, always lies with our fellow believers in Christ, ornery and cantankerous lot we may think them to be. We actually don’t show love to the unbeliever when we do not love those we are supposed to be most deeply connected to. It shows disunity, not unity.

    I know that probably seems very hardline – and bordering on unreasonable – to you Pastor Louderback, but after thinking about this for a great long while and trying to hear everyone out I really believe it is true.

    I only ask that you keep talking to me about it, because I want to see eye to eye with you and others as well.

    That’s it from me today. Hope you keep reading. Part V is up.


  3. Mark

    January 15, 2015 at 3:48 am

    “No one is saying that there is only one particular form of worship that Lutherans must use”

    — Say that again. One more time. With a straight face.

    • infanttheology

      January 15, 2015 at 4:35 am

      Pastor Louderback,

      Like I said above, more specifically:

      “The idea here is that believers should agree about a form of worship, not the form of worship – not for the sake of justification but sanctification – see parts IV and V of the series”

      That about sums it up.


  4. Mark

    January 15, 2015 at 3:52 am

    Oh! Right to be justified.

    To be Lutheran: one particular form of worship.

    “but our first concern, as Paul says, always lies with our fellow believers in Christ” <— I'm sorry. Where does Paul say this exactly?

    "We actually don’t show love to the unbeliever when we do not love those we are supposed to be most deeply connected to. It shows disunity, not unity."

    Once again: why did Paul circumsize some then and not others? That shows complete disunity! And what sort of love did it show to all of those believers?

    I think you have just flat got this wrong Nathan.

  5. infanttheology

    January 15, 2015 at 4:56 am

    Pastor Louderback,

    “To be Lutheran: one particular form of worship.”

    No, you aren’t reading carefully enough. Again, see my comment above.

    ““but our first concern, as Paul says, always lies with our fellow believers in Christ” <— I'm sorry. Where does Paul say this exactly?"

    -Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:10)

    I'd say this is relevant to:

    -"But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." (I Tim. 5:8)

    "Once again: why did Paul circumsize some then and not others? That shows complete disunity! And what sort of love did it show to all of those believers?"

    Pastor Louderback, he did it because he had no desire to poke the weak in faith with a stick, to goad them. However, when those in the "circumcision party" – not necessarily just those weak in faith, but made up of those who Paul insisted had fallen away from grace – insisted that someone must be circumcised to be saved, he rightly fought them.

    Have you read Luther's "Freedom of the Christian?" He deals with all this in the last few chapters (they are short – check them out). Also see part V.


  6. infanttheology

    January 15, 2015 at 11:32 am

    Pastor Louderback,

    From part VIII (not up yet):

    In a section of their new book subtitled, “The LCMS Orders of Service Are not the Only Christian Forms of Worship”, Strawn and Sonntag state:

    “It is a standard concern that is raised with regularity against this position by some: “I am not sure if you are saying this but some seem to be saying that the liturgy as it is expressed in the current or former hymnals of the LCMS is the only proper form of worship for Christians.” We are not sure why this concern is expressed. For if we said or believed that, why would TUFOTG contain a lengthy section dedicated explicitly to “devising new ceremonies” (p. 76-86, emphasis in original)? Since this speaks for itself, this cautiously voiced concern almost sounds like the “concern” voiced by others who assert that our emphasis on distinguishing orthodoxy from heterodoxy or our practice of closed communion somehow means that we believe that LCMS Lutherans will be the only people in heaven….”

    (pp. 70-73)


  7. paul

    January 17, 2015 at 7:16 pm

    Interesting quote from the current President of the LCMS. It seems related to me.

    For Luther, unity with respect to the Sacrament meant both doctrinal agreement and love. When the prerequisite to church fellowship is defined merely (however important!) in terms of doctrinal fellowship, it can end in a Platonic pursuit of a frigid and rigid mental ideal. Doctrinal unity, true unity in Christ’s body and blood, is also a unity of deep love and mercy.

    Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, Christ Have Mercy , p. 94

    Harrison’s words follow a citation from Luther on the Sacrament and the body of Christ in his chapter entitled “Christ’s Body and Blood.” It is interesting that in the previous chapter he had closed with a consideration of Christian freedom and its proper emphasis on the fact that freedom in Christ is toward something and not only away from something.

    Freedom in Christ has an object, a result…’That I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Luther adapted the long-standing Augustinian tradition of defining the self in terms of love and the ‘innate directness toward the good.’ By contrast, modernity finds the dignity of the self in terms of power and free will, including ‘the power to impose its will on the world, or to realize its own authentic uniqueness despite the world.’…How completely different is our freedom spoken in Christ. It is not a freedom to become an autonomous, atomized, or socially disaffected self. Rather, Lutheran freedom is powerful as well as free. It is a freedom toward community…it is a freedom toward eternity. p. 82

    I’m not going to gum up your comment box anymore, but this confusion over our freedom in Christ does seem to be tied up so tightly with issues of worship and the Eucharist.

    I’m going to try and get my hands on Christian Worship: the Apology of the Unchanging Forms of the Gospel .

  8. infanttheology

    January 18, 2015 at 1:43 pm


    Thanks for the helpful comment.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Old Life

Reformed Faith and Practice

Zippy Catholic

"This is to show the world that I can paint like Titian. Only technical details are missing." - Wolfgang Pauli, caption for a blank page

The Orthosphere

Wherever an altar is found, there civilization exists - Joseph de Maistre

theology like a child

Just another weblog

Sense & Reference

libraries and philosophy

Reliable Source (This is a)

Overcoming "Fake News" and Beyond

The Jagged Word

"What the Hell is going on!"


Just another weblog

Meditationes Sacrae (et Profanae)

A blog concerning theology, faith, the humanities, and Interesting Things


Just another weblog


Just another weblog


Just another weblog

Blog –

Just another weblog

Worldview Everlasting

Christian Television for an Age in Decay

De Profundis Clamavi ad Te, Domine

Just another weblog

Mercy Journeys with Pastor Harrison

Just another weblog

Abide in My Word

Just another weblog


The Blog of LOGIA: A Journal of Lutheran Theology

Gottesdienst Online

Just another weblog


Just another weblog

Todd's Blog

Just another weblog

theologia crucis

Just another weblog

The Boar's Head Tavern

Just another weblog

Glory to God for All Things

Orthodox Christianity, Culture and Religion, Making the Journey of Faith

Eclectic Orthodoxy

"I'm a blogger, dammit, not a theologian!"

Jonathan Last Online

Just another weblog

Steadfast Lutherans

An international fraternity of confessional Lutheran laymen and pastors, supporting proclamation of Christian doctrine in the new media.

Just another site

Surburg's blog

Just another weblog

Beggars All: Reformation And Apologetics

Just another weblog

Weedon's Blog

Just another weblog

First Thoughts

A First Things Blog

Pastoral Meanderings

Just another weblog

%d bloggers like this: