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

15 Jan
The best answer for CCM?

The best answer for CCM?

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII

So what prompted all of the theological reflection from the previous six parts of this series?  This is what will be addressed in the final two posts of this series.

Below, Pastor Paul Strawn gives us a brief history of recent developments in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod regarding the issues surrounding worship (from the introduction to Christian Worship: Apology of the Unchanging Forms of the Gospel ; to order e-mail at  All the bold is mine:

Do the Lutheran confessions—the documents contained in the Christian Books of Concord—have anything to say about Christian worship? This was the question raised in September (19-22) of 2009, by the Council of Presidents (CP) of the 35 districts of Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), meeting in St. Louis, when they made the unprecedented move of unanimously approving[1] and then making available electronically to the over 8000 pastors of the synod, a theological statement addressing Christian worship.[2] There the impression was created that what was approved by the CP was in fact understood to be an accurate description of the theology of worship of the Lutheran confessions.[3] The appearance of the statement was followed quickly by a theological conference four months later (January 11-13, 2010), also in St. Louis, sponsored by the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) of the LCMS, and the Commission on Worship (CW), to which the CP was invited.[4] And later that same year, a resolution (2-05) to the synodical convention convened in Houston was passed, commending both the statement of the CP and the conference of the CTCR and CW, and encouraging further study of the issue.[5] So within less than a year, a document was created, approved by the CP, and recommended for further study by the synodical convention, which purported to represent the theology of worship within the Lutheran confessions.

Of course, the document of the CP was not created on a whim, but came at the end of almost a decade of discussion, occasioned by the anticipated publication of a new synodical hymnal in 2006. Already in April of 2000, Concordia University, Wisconsin, had publicized in the synod’s official newspaper The Reporter, a statement approved by its Board of Regents governing the practices of worship in its daily chapel services.[6] This statement was doubtlessly shaped by the massive (605 pages) textbook Gathered Guests: A Guide to Worship in the Lutheran Church, written by one of its professors, Dr. Timothy H. Maschke, and published by the synod’s Concordia Publishing House (CPH), in 2003 (and then again in 2009). Also in 2003, CPH reprinted the English translation of the Heidelberg systematician Peter Brunner’s (1900-1981) Worship in the Name of Jesus, a work originally appearing in 1954,[7] and then in English translation in 1968. In 2005, a parish pastor in Michigan, Dr. Alan Waddell, published The Struggle to Reclaim the Liturgy in the Lutheran Church: Adiaphora in Historical, Theological and Practical Perspective (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen), and followed it, also in 2009, with an overview of the work entitled A Simplified Guide to Worshiping as Lutherans (Eugene: Wipf and Stock). In 2006, Lutheran Service Book (CPH), the newest hymnal for the LCMS was published, having been prepared by the CW, with its theology more completely explained two years later (2008) by Arthur A. Just, professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, under the title Heaven on Earth: The Gifts of Christ in the Divine Service (CPH). So by the time the CP of the LCMS disseminated its statement on worship in 2009, various individual members and entities of the synod had weighed in on the matter in one form or another.

By publishing its statement, and linking its content to that of the Lutheran confessions, the CP had hoped to provide a theological framework within which the topic of worship could continue to be discussed throughout the synod.[8] This does not appear to have happened. Instead, subsequent theological conferences addressing worship (Michigan 2011,[9] Texas 2013[10]), as well as the first sponsored by the CTCR and CW in St. Louis in 2010, ignored the statement of the CP altogether.[11] In fact, since the appearance of the statement, somewhat of a framework-less theological discussion has ensued in which the theology of worship within the Lutheran confessions has played little or no role whatsoever. Yes, the confessions are referenced, but only to demonstrate support for conclusions reached on the basis of assumptions foreign to the confessions themselves.

Still, a careful reading of the books and presentations that have been published in one form or another since 2009 reveals that three schools of thought, each with a starting point other than that of the Lutheran confessions, have gradually emerged. The first seems to be somewhat of a pragmatic approach, which asks the simple question: “What kind of theology of worship can be created to prevent the congregations, colleges, seminaries, pastors, teachers and missionaries of the synod from being driven apart by their various worship practices?” In other words: How can the diversity of worship practices within the synod be reconciled theologically? This was the question behind the statement of the faculty of Concordia Wisconsin, the statement of the CP, the title of the conference on worship sponsored by the CTCR and CW, the convention resolution, and the works of Maschke and Waddell. Simplified even further, it is the quest for a theology of worship which will maintain the institution which is the LCMS, its entities such as its colleges and seminaries, and chiefly, the relationships of its congregations and pastors with one another.

A second school of thought is that borrowed initially from modern Evangelicalism, and more recently from the so-called emergent church movement. It asks the question: “How can Christian worship be shaped to reach out to non-Christians?” Put another way: How can the setting aside of traditional Christian worship forms be reconciled theologically with the assertion that what is being done in a particular worship service is, in fact, Christian? Such a theology of worship is being forwarded by pastors and congregations, and seems to be based, ultimately, on the assertion that since pastors and congregations are in fact actively seeking to reach out to non-Christians in such a way, what they are doing must be considered by others within the synod to in fact, be Christian, and in agreement with the theology of the Lutheran confessions. Unfortunately, this school of thought is not represented with the same frequency as the others in print-matter and at conferences, as the theology itself promotes a reluctance to participate in academic introspection.

The third school of thought also promotes a theology of worship based upon how Christians worship, but Christians who have lived in the past. This theology of worship is driven chiefly by professors at seminaries who have been called by the synod to do just that: To teach future pastors what in fact Christian worship has been in the past (Cf. the work of Just). Here the concern has more recently become the theological justification for remaining with what is known as the historic liturgy. Extensive theological support for such a position, however, must be found outside of the Lutheran tradition, in Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox liturgical theologies. Why? The shape of Lutheran worship is not based upon church tradition, but upon the theology of the Lutheran confessions, that is, the theology of the Lutheran reformation.[12]

So in summary, it could be asserted that these three schools of thought—these various theologies of worship—present within the LCMS that have now been articulated in one form or another, are driven by either the need to maintain the entity which is the synod, the need to reach the lost, or the need to retain what is thought to be what the church has always done. None, however, begin with the question: Do the Lutheran confessions have anything to say about Christian worship?

Why is this such an important question? The simple answer is that members of the Missouri Synod, that is, its congregations and pastors, have

sworn to uphold, that is, to live by, to believe, teach and confess the theology of the Lutheran confessions. The existence of the synod itself is based upon that oath. It would therefore stand to reason, that the worship of the synod should be informed and shaped by the theology of the Lutheran confessions, and not some other primary concern, no matter how profound that primary concern may seem to be. As stated above, the

statement of the CP seems to have had little effect. But the reason that is so is not because it sought to represent the theology of worship as it is found in the Lutheran confessions. Indeed, if it had actually done that, something truly monumental and unifying may have occurred. For if anything, the presence of multiple theologies of worship within the synod has caused confusion, resulting in a situation where Lutheran worship has become a cacophony of “indistinct sounds”, reminiscent of that referenced by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 (7-8).

This was the impetus for the work written by theologian Holger Sonntag soon after the appearance of the worship statement of the CP entitled The

To order, email at

To order, email at

Unchanging Forms of the Gospel (Minneapolis: Lutheran Press, 2010). There Sonntag briefly and clearly demonstrated the shortcomings of the statement of the CP in view of the Lutheran confessions. Privately, the publication of The Unchanging Forms of the Gospel precipitated a highly beneficial fraternal exchange between Sonntag, myself, and the author of the statement of the CP, Rev. Terry Forke, president of the Montana District of the LCMS. That exchange allowed us to refine and sharpen Sonntag’s original critique, and offer in the place of the statement of the CP, a set of 46 theses which we believe more accurately reflect the theology of worship within the Lutheran confessions.

So that is the content of this work. First, a refined explanation of the argument of The Unchanging Forms of the Gospel, and then 46 theses which we believe represent the theology of worship of the Lutheran confessions. We offer them here to both the members of LC-MS, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church at large for further discussion.

Paul Strawn

Minneapolis, Minnesota

June 5th, 2013

(unitalicized words italicized in original; bold mine)

Again, those 46 theses described above were the content of yesterday’s post (sections 1.1-3.3)


Part VIII 


[1] “COP adopts worship ‘theses’”, posted Oct. 6, 2009 at

[2] Available at

[3] The very first thesis (“Worship is not an adiaphoron”) directly references the category of “adiaphora” established by the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration X, “The Ecclesiastical Rites that are Called Adiaphora or Things Indifferent” (cf. The Book of Concord, Trans. and Ed. by Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), p. 610 ff. Then thesis II is the sweeping statement: “The Scriptures and Confessions give the people of God considerable freedom in choosing those forms, rites, and ceremonies that aid the worship of God.”

[4] Cf. “Worship conference planners seek ‘collegial’ input,” posted on Nov. 11, 2009 at, and Joe Isenhower Jr., “Response to model theological conference on worship ‘positive’,” posted on Jan 27, 2010 at

[5] “LCMS delegates adopt worship, reformation study and compensation resolutions,” posted July 17th, 2010 at

[6] “Worship Theses in a Collegiate Setting” in Timothy H. Maschke, Gathered Guests: A Guide to Worship in the Lutheran Church, 2nd ed. (St. Louis: CPH, 2009), p. 540 ff.

[7] Brunner’s work first appeared in 1954 within the first volume of a series of tomes on the liturgy (Leiturgia; Handbuch des evangelischen Gottesdienstes, ed. by Karl Ferdinand Müller; Walter Blankenburg, Kassel: Johannes Stauda-Verlag: 1954-70, Vol. 1, pp. 81-361) in connection with the publication of the Evangelisches Kirchengesangbuch (EKG) in 1950.

[8] Larry Stoterau, “Theses on Worship: Dr. Larry Stoterau”, digitally recorded remarks made January 11th, 2010 in St. Louis at “A Model Theological Conference: Toward a Theology of Worship That is…”, available at

[9] “Come, Let Us Worship … the Lord Our Maker,” Jan. 29: Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Jenison, Michigan; Feb. 12: Our Shepherd Lutheran Church, Birmingham, Michigan; Feb. 26: Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Saginaw, Michigan, 2011.

[10] “Christ For Us: The Divine Service, ” April 13-16, 2013, Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas.

[11] In the six presentations given at the conference, the CP’s statement on worship was mentioned in passing only twice. For more on this conference in relationship to the CP’s statement see Paul Strawn, “A Response to Resolution 2-05, “To Commend Theses on Worship and Model Theological Conference on the Theology of Worship,” Adopted by the 64th Regular Convention of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Houston, Texas, July 10th-17th , 2010,” in The Lutheran Clarion, Vol. 4, Iss. 1, Sept. 2011, p. 2 ff.; Iss. 2, Nov. 2011, p. 3 ff.

[12] This point is made elegantly by Walter Sundberg, Prof. of Church History at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, writing in the preface to Oliver Olson’s Reclaiming the Lutheran Liturgical Heritage: “More than thirty-five years ago, Oliver Olson defended an interpretation of liturgy that grounded itself in the principles of the Reformation. Olson called into question the then dominant trend to privilege liturgical practices of the fifth and sixth centuries as filtered through the specious historical and theological arguments of scholars motivated by an anti-Protestant ideology. A few years later, his arguments were recognized as valid by a preeminent Anglican liturgical scholar, Bryan Spinks of Cambridge University; not that it made any difference to those Lutherans who have controlled the preparation of worship materials for the ELCA and its predecessor bodies.” Blue Papers, vol. 1, ed. by Mark L. Johnson (Minneapolis: Reclaim Resources, 2007), p. 1.

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