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

13 Jan
Is this the most misunderstood article in the Lutheran Confessions?  Read Article X of the FC here.

Is this the most misunderstood article in the Lutheran Confessions? Read Article X of the FC here.


Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Today, an extended quote from Pastor Paul Strawn and Pastor Holger Sonntag’s new book “Christians Worship: Apology of the Unchanging Forms of the Gospel” (CWAUFOTGJ), where they deal with Article X of the Formula of Concord, on the topic of Adiaphora:

There are certainly those who use Luther in support of opting for much freedom when it comes to devising new ceremonies. However, Rev. Sonntag, in his 2009 piece on Luther’s distinction of faith and love in liturgical matters (a printed version in LOGIA is referenced in footnote 14 on p. 79 of TUFOTG….), provides a much more nuanced reading of Luther on forms of worship because it is based on a more representative sampling of texts, some of which were reprinted in TUFOTG, p. 80-85.

Sonntag demonstrated the following: Luther, beginning with his foundational 1520 treatise on Christian liberty, assigns freedom to man’s relationship to God (faith), while bondage is what characterizes man’s relationship to his neighbor (love). And, also beginning with that treatise, matters of creating and observing ceremonies are handled according to love, not faith. This means that, of course, Luther articulates freedom in worship forms in a very vocal manner when it comes to man’s relationship with God – in other words, when their observance is made a matter of meriting one’s salvation. But he is also quick to temper this freedom in man’s relationship to his neighbor by love.

Luther wrote to the Livonians in 1525 (AE 53:47-48):

For even though from the viewpoint of faith, the external orders are free and can without scruples be changed by anyone at any time, 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.” Think also of what he says there about those who have a knowledge of faith and of freedom, but who do not know how to use it; for they use it not for the edification of the people but for their own vainglory.

Now when your people are confused and offended by your lack of uniform order, you cannot plead, “Externals are free. Here in my own place I am going to do as I please.” But you are bound to consider the effect of your attitude on others. By faith be free in your conscience toward God, but by love be bound to serve your neighbor’s edification, as also St. Paul says, Romans 14 [15:2], “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him.” For we should not please ourselves, since Christ also pleased not himself, but us all.

Is this not exactly what SD X, 9 says?

We further believe, teach, and confess that the community of God in every place and at every time has the right, authority, and power to change, to reduce, or to increase ceremonies according to its circumstances [“from the viewpoint of faith”], as long as it does so without frivolity and offense but in an orderly and appropriate way, as at any time may seem to be most profitable, beneficial, and salutary for good order, Christian discipline, evangelical decorum, and the edification of the church [“from the viewpoint of love”]. Paul instructs us how we can with a good conscience give in and yield to the weak in faith in such external matters of indifference (Rom. 14) and demonstrates it by his own example (Acts 16:3; 21:26; 1 Cor. 9:10).

It seems to us that too often, SD X, 9 is quoted only with a focus on “the viewpoint of faith,” because freedom (and change) is what is to be promoted today. The [Eight] Theses [on Worship] [see part I], unfortunately, perpetuate what clearly seems to be a misuse of this fine text because they quote it under thesis II.A, which, according to the flow of the theses, is about “freedom.”[1]The viewpoint of love” is left unmentioned, perhaps because it would truly get in the way of providing a rationale for freedom and change, but also perhaps because it does not seem to be very specific here in SD X. However, when read in the context of Luther’s very clear advice to the Livonians, it truly regains its original depth for us today.

In other words, hearing Luther out helps us to understand certain abbreviated expressions in the Confessions which were understood back when they were written, but which, due to their short-hand nature, are easily misunderstood today when we read them without their original theological context in mind.

It is typically granted that men abuse freedom when it comes to matters of worship (e.g., by holding that “worship is an adiaphoron”). This, perhaps, is the particular burden we as the church of Jesus Christ in the “land of the free” have to bear. Now, the solution is not to eliminate freedom altogether, but to define its meaning and use carefully: in what relationships does it exist? Where does it need to be tempered by love’s willing bondage of service and humble restraint? Here Luther and the Lutheran Confessions are our allies, because such abuses of freedom are really nothing new in the history of the church of children of the free (cf. Gal. 4:31; 5:1, 13).

if we can’t even agree upon and abide by common, uniform orders of service in the realm of love, how much do we really care about one another in Synod (cf. Matth. 24:12)? Do we care that our worship practices might negatively affect our neighboring congregations, even to the point of luring away members or driving out faithful pastors? Do we also care that members are confused when they visit LCMS congregations in the same circuit or district, or when they, perhaps to visit family or to spend the winter, attend congregations in other districts where they encounter markedly different worship practices?

In general, this seems to raise the question of what it means to follow humbly the humble Christ according to Phil. 2. Based on the work we did in TUFOTG, it is not surprising at all that Luther uses this text – the traditional epistle lesson for Palm Sunday in the West – both in his booklet on Christian freedom (cf. AE 31:365-367) and to open his admonition to the Livonians to come up with uniform ceremonies in all humility (cf. AE 53:46-47).

(pp. 44-46: CWATUFOTG, bold mine)


Part VI


[1] Thesis II and sub-thesis A read: “II. The Scriptures and Confessions give the people of God considerable freedom in choosing those forms, rites, and ceremonies that aid the worship of God.

  1. Neither the Scriptures nor the Confessions prescribe forms, rites or ceremonies for worship.

Posted by on January 13, 2015 in Uncategorized


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

  1. Mark

    January 15, 2015 at 3:55 am

    “… if we can’t even agree upon and abide by common, uniform orders of service in the realm of love, how much do we really care about one another in Synod (cf. Matth. 24:12)?”

    A great deal. Doctrine, not how we worship, is the key aspect.

    After all, Paul didn’t see it necessary to agree upon one common, uniform position on circumcision. Did he not care about the others in the church at the time?

  2. infanttheology

    January 15, 2015 at 5:12 am

    Pastor Louderback,

    Doctrine and practice go hand in hand though.

    Paul did have a position. Circumcision had passed away. It was a nothing. If someone wanted to continue to practice it they could but it needed to be held lightly, not thought to have theological significance, and certainly not imposed on other as if it was necessary for salvation. The weak in faith did not fully comprehend that.


    • Jon Alan Schmidt

      January 15, 2015 at 2:32 pm

      As a thought experiment, suppose that an advocate of contemporary worship were to say the following:

      “If someone wants to continue to practice traditional liturgical worship, they can; but it needs to be held lightly, not thought to have theological significance, and certainly not imposed on others as if it is necessary for salvation.”

      How do we respond? I can offer a thought or two, but would like to get your take first.

  3. infanttheology

    January 15, 2015 at 4:00 pm


    Thanks for your comment. I’ll give you my gut reaction.

    Circumcision was an Old Testament ceremony that had passed away. It was a shadow. It was irrelevant and is irrelevant for the Christian life, for the Reality has come. Its relevance always had to do with pointing towards the promise.

    But now, we have N.T. ceremonies given to us in specific form – ceremonies we are to proclaim until the end which continually point us to the death of Christ and its meaning and power for us (and deliver to us Christ’s forgiveness as He becomes present for us in a special way, in communion in his own body and blood!). Liturgical worship need not take any kind of specific form other than the unchanging forms of the Gospel Christ has given, but there are all kinds of reasons that we want some kind of robust hymnody and liturgical worship, which we know from the Bible (all over, especially in Rev) is the way our fathers did it.

    For other reasons I can think of (subsidiary to the main points and outline in this eight part series) see the long list in this post:

    No more time for me to comment today – thanks for stopping by.


  4. infanttheology

    January 15, 2015 at 4:04 pm


    I don’t think if someone wanted to practice circumcision – or any other Jewish ceremonies – in their family as a reminder of Christ and his fulfillment, that would be fine. Perhaps they really enjoy doing it. They don’t think it will justify them and they don’t insist others need to do it (I don’t know what Jews for Jesus, for example, teach on all this stuff). I think that is fine.

    But if they wanted to expand that to a congregation – and then they wanted to be in fellowship with confessional Lutheran congregations/synods, this would only cause confusion. Love here, would demand, I think that one refrain from doing those practices corporately, as a church. Like the single man who gets married and must stop doing certain things that he did in the past without sin.


  5. infanttheology

    January 15, 2015 at 4:16 pm

    One more…

    Pastor Louderback,

    Not sure if you saw my question to you in part 1. Here it is, basically:

    You said: “In the age of the New Testament, the Gospel is given to us by Christ with great freedom, removed from any specific commands, rites, ceremonies, or even many vocables”

    ….what you say here and S and S say contradict each other (even though you say what S and S say is true). They say that the Gospel is not given to us removed from any specific commands, rites and ceremonies.


  6. Jon Alan Schmidt

    January 15, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    We indeed believe, teach, and confess “that all the ceremonies and Sacraments which God instituted in his Word, should be maintained” [Ger Ap XIII(VII):2]; but that primarily refers to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, not other aspects of worship. We also believe, teach, and confess that “for the true unity of the Christian church it is not necessary, that uniform ceremonies instituted by men, should be everywhere observed” [Ger AC VII:3]. I agree that “there are all kinds of reasons that we want some kind of robust hymnody and liturgical worship,” but that is not the same thing as mandating it.

    My initial response would instead point to Ger Ap XV(VIII):51: “Our preachers teach therefore, that without special and urgent cause, no change should be made in church usages, and that for the sake of peace and harmony we should observe the customs that are not in themselves sinful or oppressive.” This sentence twice includes the word “should” (soll), which can also legitimately mean “shall” – e.g., in the Ten Commandments – and the word “urgent” (bewegend) has the sense of something that moves, affects, or even forces; mere preference would not qualify. The second part is more literally rendered as: “Rather, for the sake of peace and unity, one should [or shall] keep those customs that one can keep without sin and without burdening of consciences.”

    Thus, as Lutherans, we believe, teach, and confess that – for the sake of peace and unity – church usages should/shall not be changed unless there is a truly compelling reason, such that maintaining them would be downright sinful or at least conscience-burdening. Liturgy certainly seems like something that would fall within the category of “church usages,” so the burden is really on those who want to change them to demonstrate that it would be wrong to maintain them – not the other way around.

  7. Mark

    January 16, 2015 at 12:41 pm


    Well, what are those commands, rites and ceremonies?

    Lay it out for me and we’ll see how much it is.

    Here is what I think it is:

    The Gospel
    Words of Institution
    Baptismal Formula

    That. Is. It.

    Am I wrong? Show me the Scripture passages.

  8. infanttheology

    January 16, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    Pastor Louderback,

    That’s basically it. Exactly what Strawn and Sonntag are saying. The Lutheran understanding of those things though – not others. And of course, you do need an office of the ministry, stewards, to administer those things.

    This is talked about more in parts II (second part), III, and of course in the theses summaries (in part VI).

    That is the unchanging forms of the Gospel. Then, when, the idea of change does come up, we talk about all this in the context of Christian love, not justification.


    At some point, people probably do have to mandate. Pastor S and S, it seems to me rightly put the focus on the freedom that we have as Christians to work together on these issues with love of our brethren (present, but past as well, of course) being a very necessary consideration. That said, at some point, decisions do need to be made and someone needs to make the decision. Kind of like in the home. We can’t avoid this, which, again, I contend goes hand in hand with the article on the third use of the law as well.


    By the way, part VIII just published:



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