Tag Archives: Worship

Contemporary Worship Re-Visited Again: Spending My FiveTwo Capital

If someone says this sums up their thoughts on thoughts on contemporary worship, should you take that as an attack on you?

If someone says this sums up their thoughts on thoughts on contemporary worship, should you take that as an attack on you?

The worship wars rage on. In the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LC-MS), the latest iteration of this conflict seems to have become centered on the presence of the group known as FiveTwo. FiveTwo is a group in the LC-MS that identifies itself with the missional movement* – and music and more bare-bones liturgies are a big part of this.

Simply put, nothing can rile up Confessional Lutherans on the internet like FiveTwo. After all, doesn’t being holy especially mean loving one’s brothers and sisters in Christ the most of all, and to value that which has been passed on from generation to generation?

I’ve tried to step pretty softly in this war, for some good reasons. My posts trying to start a fruitful discussion with “FiveTwo” can be found here, and I even wrote a post on the Just and Sinner blog that FiveTwo founder himself, Bill Woolsey, told me he appreciated (it was titled: “The Plea of a Stubborn “Confessional” Lutheran: Yes, My “Missional” Friend, Please DO Condemn My Lack of Love for the Lost”).

As can be found in that article: my main concern with the “form” or “style” of contemporary worship is that the Gospel-enveloping “culturally savvy tortillas” that persons produce, in the hope that this or that “target [market]” will pick them up, often actually work to mitigate the simple and humble forms of the Gospel (see 2.2 and 2.3 here). Along with that of course, is the concern for proper reverence.

Martin Luther did what when he spilled the cup?!

Martin Luther did what when he spilled the cup?!

That’s what I want to focus on right now.  I understand that we might have different ideas of what constitutes reverence, but just how far can the definition of that be stretched?  I will be honest: it is bits like the following from Pastor Will Weedon that make me think I don’t get reverence at all… Do you have two minutes?  If so, please listen to this clip, titled, “What our actions confess about the Lord’s Supper”. It is pretty mind-blowing stuff.

I must respect that. I must be humbled by it. I am – this is most certainly true. How rich the Father’s love for us that He has had His Son visit us in this most intimate of ways!  It is unbelievable. As Luther said, it is the Gospel. Period. Full stop. This is the show.

That said, I recently read from a missional pastor (whom I have had many pleasant discussions with in the past) the following:

Contemporary worship is here to stay in the LCMS. 30% — 40% — whatever — of the congregations are not going to stop CoWo.

Especially when the arguments are so weak…. I know that many of you have been to bad CoWo services. I have sympathy with that. I’m sorry about that. But, at the core, guys like me see CoWo the exact same way as I see liturgical worship. A wonderful blessing from God.

Some of you don’t. And you push against it. I’m good with that. You want to do what is best for the synod, the church, God, etc. So do I.

But: we have the Koin to handle this. And that is what I am hopeful for and looking forward to.

“The Koin” is the Koininea Project, which is supposed to be an effort for the various factions (two main “sides” really) to get together and honestly discuss their differences in route to finding agreement.

....and the Confessions decidedly do address these issues.

….and the Confessions decidedly do address these issues.

Let me be totally up-front with everyone, as I recently was on Facebook: here is the attitude I have, and would have going into any meetings like this if the issue of contemporary worship was on the docket:

I will maintain that the Confessions are abundantly clear [on the issue of proper worship] and it is absurd to state otherwise. The Luther quote is just a bonus [context: see here]. In a marriage, if one partner starts to do something out of the blue – after being together for several years – that the other partner finds offensive and childish, is that good for the marriage? Obviously not.. Good order in this sense is a fruit of love which restrains its freedom for the sake of the neighbor. And if the innovator feels that the other partner’s feeling limited in this way (think CoWo is irreverent, childish, or worse) is immature, then they ought to be more patient with them, bear with them as one they consider the weaker brother, etc. While there is sin and pride all around, I humbly submit proponents of CoWo especially need to give this some serious thought and reflection.

This goes deep for me.  Years ago, may wife and basically left a congregation that was doing contemporary worship for the sake of the kid(s). Here is an excerpt from the letter, which I know did not move my pastor and will probably move few, if any, others now.  But it is what I said then and continue to agree with now:

“…Speaking for myself here, I used to ask regarding worship, “Why shouldn’t the Holy of Holies become the Friendly of Friendlies?” (Ft. Wayne theologian David Scaer’s phrase).  Was not Jesus kind to all?

This is the answer that has gradually formed in my mind over the last several years due to my reading of God’s Word, listening to many Bible teachers and commentators, and my own reflection:  Jesus, though ever-kind, only shows His “friendliness” to those who take Him seriously (fear of God)—to His own, or to those looking to become His own (if one will argue against this, at the very least could we not agree that [seriousness is at issue] when it comes to the Divine Service, to Eucharistic worship?—see Hebrews 12:22-29 for example).  On the other hand, to those who do not take Him seriously—His enemies—He simply dies for them in all seriousness, with a heart of true love, which is an unpretentious, no-nonsense love, and is pure unsentimental unwavering kindness.  This he does whispering “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”.  There is nothing that could ever possibly be construed as “cheesy” or “gimmicky” with Jesus.  In short, “the Passion of the Christ” [Note: the movie had recently been released] is our theology, or we have no true theology.  It alone is to be the centerpiece of our worship.  And in all honesty, it’s the only way that the books of Leviticus and Revelation even start to make sense to me.

What of the lost?  Well, certainly we are to be about the same business of Jesus, who came to seek and to save them.  The Divine Worship, however, is serious business, and is meant for the people of God—though all seekers and even rank unbelievers may come into the presence of this wrathful and yet kind lamb—if they dare. This is the kind of worship—more—the kind of Catechesis, in which [my wife] and I desire to raise our children.

I don’t really sense much of this approach [here]…. **

To sum this all up, I might put it this way: Yes, his perfect love drives out fear. But if Jesus’ causing you to fall at His feet as though dead would seem “unkind”, check your “worship style”.

Also note this, from a few months ago (click on the image for more):




Note: post updated for clarity.

* For more on this idea of “missional” vis a vis “confessional” see this post, discussing the differences of Lutheran pastor Jonathan Fisk and the Reformed Baptist David Platt.

** The rest of the letter is here. I add: and perhaps they will “fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’” as they hear the one who not only prophesies such that he “strengthen[s], encourag[es] and comforts”, but also such that unbelievers are “convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare.”–I Cor. 14 – in an essay found here, a pastor suggests that “Here, then, is displayed the concepts of cultural sensitivity, relevancy, and love, especially for unbe­lievers and new Christians”… really?

*** One man who says he grew out of contemporary worship has some stronger words: “Having come out of the charismatic extremist end of warfare worship, I can only say….it is childish, pagan at its core, subjectively driven, manipulative by nature, simple songs with no ‘there’ there”.  Many others can say the same, even if they might put it less bluntly.

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Posted by on October 24, 2015 in Uncategorized



How Did Christians 500 Years Ago “Do Church”?

16th c. altar painting in St. Mary's Church in Wittenberg, Germany (by Cranach). The panels show the four primary ways which Christ’s word of forgiveness comes to us (Holy Baptism, Lord's Supper, Office of the Keys, and Preaching).

16th c. altar painting in St. Mary’s Church in Wittenberg, Germany (by Cranach). The panels show the four primary ways Christ’s word of forgiveness comes to us: Holy Baptism, Lord’s Supper, Office of the Keys, and Preaching.

In just a couple of years, the 500-year anniversary of Martin Luther’s putting forth the 95 theses – which launched what is called the Reformation – will be upon us.

As we Lutherans like to say, if Luther’s actions – and those who adhered to his teaching – were rebellious in any sense, it was a peculiar kind of rebellion. These were, as Jaroslav Pelikan put it, “obedient rebels”. Their reformation was, according to 19th c. Lutheran theologian Charles Porterfield Krauth, a “Conservative Reformation”.[i]

As evidence for this claim, we can look at how these early “Protestants” (see here for why I have that in quotes) “did church”. What is particularly interesting is their conviction that it was necessary to preserve all that was good from the church’s history. The Lutherans, in particular, wanted to keep those things that highlighted the Gospel in its narrow sense – the message of Christ crucified for our forgiveness, life and salvation from sin, death, and the devil (see I Cor. 15).

Several of the 16th c. Protestant Reformers largely retained the liturgical forms and words used in the church’s traditional worship service – even as several with more radical tendencies “purged” the churches of images. Here, as a Lutheran, I am keen to emphasize that the services of the Lutheran reformers not only basically looked and sounded the same as those of the Roman Catholic Church, but also that they did not see themselves as innovators in any sense of the word – “re-imagining church” in this or that way.[ii]

In fact, over and against their Roman Catholic opponents, the claim of these “first evangelicals” was that their teachings truly were “holy, catholic and apostolic”: “the churches among us do not dissent from the catholic church in any article of faith”, they said.[iii] If this is indeed true, it would be very “conservative Reformation” indeed!

Using quotes from the 1580 Lutheran Book of Concord (which confessional Lutherans subscribe to) and other sources, let’s quickly look at six aspects of their worship: Preaching, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Confession and Absolution, Liturgy and ceremonies, the Church Year, and Church Discipline.



For Protestants, preaching has always been a primary component of the church’s life together. Two of the main contributors to the Lutheran “Book of Concord,” Martin Chemnitz and Jacob Andreae gave a clear explanation of what sermons should be all about “in our Lutheran congregations”:

“Preachers should be diligent not to preach in generalities, but always to arrange the material according to these parts: sin; God’s wrath and punishment of sin; contrition, remorse, anxiety of the conscience, etc.; the resolve to abandon and avoid sin; the person of Christ; His office and merit; God’s grace; the forgiveness of sin; faith; the good fruits of faith, such as the good resolve to do better, good works, patience in suffering, etc. This is done so that in the sermons, the teaching may always have its application or accommodation to use, as the doctrine should be used in the best way.”

Incidentally, this kind concern for doctrine’s application/use is what encourages Pastor Cooper to ask the kinds of penetrating questions that he does about the pastoral implications of John Piper’s theology of justification. And as for debates among Lutherans themselves, it is true that Confessional Lutherans today are debating about just what sermons should look like[iv], but, not insignificantly, all of them do agree that “the Gospel [that is, the message of Christ crucified for our continual forgiveness, life, and salvation] should predominate!” The church is where Christ’s little lambs gather to hear the good voice of their shepherd. Generally speaking, if you are going away from sermons feeling guilty and uncertain as your status as a Christian, you are missing what God intends preaching to be.

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper:

Philip Melanchton pictured as baptizing.

Philip Melanchton pictured as baptizing.

Regarding baptism, Lutherans have always upheld with the ancient church that baptism – water combined with God’s word of promise – regenerates and brings men and women into Christ’s church. This is true even for the youngest among us (see Pastor Cooper’s very helpful short Bible study on baptism and his three-part response to James White).

Further, also unlike most other Protestants, Lutherans have also vigorously upheld the importance of the Lord’s Supper as a means of God’s grace whereby He visits His people in love and forgiveness (see this helpful short Bible study on the Lord’s Supper from Pastor Cooper). In this sacrament, God’s gracious presence in His true body and blood gives us not only the assurance of His forgiveness, but His forgiveness in fact.

As the Lutheran reformer Philip Melanchton put it in the Book of Concord[v], “we defend the doctrine received in the entire Church, that in the Lord’s Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present, and are truly tendered with those things which are seen, bread and wine. And we speak of the presence of the living Christ [living body]; for we know that death hath no more dominion over Him.” (for more on the early church and the Lord’s Supper see here).

Luther, in his disguise as "Junker Jorge", is being handed the cup.

Luther, in his disguise as “Junker Jorge” at the Last Supper: he is being handed the cup.

And as he put it later on, in language that might shock many of us today[vi], “We do not abolish the Mass, but religiously keep and defend it. Masses are celebrated among us every Lord’s Day and on the other festivals. The Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved.”

Confession and Absolution:

“It is taught among us that private absolution should be retained in the churches and not be allowed to fall into disuse” says Melanchton.[vii] In Confessional Lutheran churches today one will find not only this comforting practice retained, but also find a corporate confession and absolution at the beginning of the service.

In spite of very clear passages found in Matthew 16, 18, and John 20 which deal with just this issue, some Christians are simply scandalized by confession and absolution for all kinds of reasons (for example, “how can a pastor forgive sins?!”), but as I wrote in a previous post:

“Lutherans[, unlike other Protestants,] insist that the Christian faith cannot be based on the individual and his relationship with God. If it were, then in effect there could be no other person who could in real confidence tell you, in your time of despair, that Christ really does forgive and save even you. In other words, they are not only saying to you that “good works are not necessary for salvation” (listen to this podcast by Jordan Cooper on Mark Jone’s book about antinomianism) but that the appropriation of Christian faith does not ultimately depend on you, the naked individual before God.

Rather, it is given [see this post from Pastor Cooper on the “covenant of works” (updated from original post)]. Therefore, we even have pastors – irreplaceable in the church’s structure – who as God’s officially appointed representatives can bring true comfort to even the most authority-minded person:

‘Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins.  As a called and ordained servant of the Word, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’[viii]

Liturgy and Ceremonies:

Right after talking about how the Mass and Sacrament are retained in the Lutheran Churches, Melanchton went on to write: “And the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other such things”.[ix] In his book, Heaven on Earth, Arthur Just says that it is not ritual that is dead; rather, it is we who are dead (insofar as we are sinners, this is evidence of the original sin, which remains in us). What is in mind here is the primacy of the life-giving word of God (the lessons), “at work in you believers” (I Thes. 2:13), and the universal church’s response to that word (the prayers).

Further, from the book of Revelation, one can see that even the multi-cultural worship in heaven includes many liturgical features, which all participate in together. And regarding the broad matter of church ritual, Pastor Holger Sonntag helpfully writes:

“After the end of the comprehensive ceremonial law of the OT, Christians are free to add humanly devised ceremonies (“adiaphora”)[x] to the ceremonies of the gospel Christ has established already [i.e. baptism and the Lord’s Supper, administered by a pastor]. Lest these ceremonies contradict the ceremonies of the gospel itself, they must conform to the gospel in both content and form. This means, they need to proclaim the gospel and be humble and simple in nature. By doing so, they agree with the Christian faith (doctrine) and further faith in Christ as the highest worship. By doing so, they also agree with the simplicity of worship in paradise before man’s fall into sin.” (see here for more)

The Church Year:

Recently, the popular Calvinist professor James K.A. Smith, speaking to a more charismatic church body, said:

“Historically, the church had its own calendar. It actually adopted a way of keeping time that signaled that the people of God, in a way, inhabit the world differently.” Smith further noted that practices like Advent, Epiphany, Lent, etc. are actually able to help form us as Christians in largely unconscious ways (something he notes is also true of the many “secular liturgies” that we participate in – the mall, the academy, sports).

A picture of Bugenhagen (Luther's pastor and confessor) administering the "office of the keys". The impenitent man's hands are bound with a cord.

A picture of Bugenhagen (Luther’s pastor and confessor) administering the “office of the keys”. The impenitent man’s hands are bound with a cord.

Versus pastors who would just “do their own thing” every week, the church year is meant to expose Christians to the “whole counsel of God” every year, even as the message of “Christ crucified” is the overriding theme. As Lutheran pastor Dr. Arthur Just says, exposing the heart of the matter: “The Church year exists for the sole reason of centering the Church’s life in the life of Christ and proclaiming that the historic reality that ‘Jesus died’ is now the sacramental reality that ‘Jesus died for you.’”

Church Discipline:

Churches in America often seem to be in competition with one another today, and therefore administering church discipline often seems an impossible task (as there is always a church eager to receive a new member). An added difficulty is the very real possibility of unjust discipline or excommunication, perhaps administered by persons of questionable authority. As Martin Luther himself was excommunicated from the church and declared a heretic, the Lutheran churches of the Reformation certainly shared this second concern.

That said, in the Lutheran Confessional writings, Martin Luther wrote that proper excommunication “excludes those who are manifest and impenitent sinners from the sacrament and other fellowship of the church until they mend their ways and avoid sin.” (SA III, ix)  For the Lutherans, the goal of excommunication was like that of the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians, chapter 5: that such impenitent sinners be “absolve[d]… if they are converted and ask for absolution.”[xi] Presupposed, of course, is a loving heart that longs for reconciliation with the lost coin, lost sheep, and lost son (Luke 15).

When it comes to granting mercy and grace, the church imitates her Lord.  As Hebrews 4:15 says: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin…” (emphasis mine). In practice, this means that the church should humbly (see Gal. 6:1) call sin “sin”, make it easy for the guilty to confess, and keep appropriate consequences[xii] while speaking well of those brothers and sisters in Christ who repent.



Image credit: complete altarpiece:


[i] For a particularly good take on the Reformation, see Pastor Jay Webber’s article, “Reformations Before the Reformation”, here.

[ii] From John Bugay here:

“Dr. Donald Fortson related the following metaphor for understanding the different groups within the Reformation, which I thought was very helpful.

We all have a “top dresser drawer” into which we throw everything that there’s no other place for. Over time, it just gets full of all different kinds of things.

In church history, “tradition” kind of filled up the way that drawer does. And there were four different ways that the Reformers dealt with that drawer.

The Lutherans went through the drawer, looking for things that weren’t Biblical. Lutheranism took out the things that weren’t biblical, but they left everything else in there.

The Reformed took the drawer and dumped everything out on the bed. Then they went through all that stuff, checked it over carefully, and put back the things that were Biblical.

The Anglicans opened the drawer and took out one thing, called “the Pope,” and put back in one other thing, called “the Archbishop of Canterbury.” (He acknowledged that this was probably the least analogous part of the metaphor, given the 39 articles and all.)

The Anabaptists took out the whole drawer, dumped everything in the trash, and lit the trash can on fire.”

[iii] Phillip Melanchthon, in the Augsburg Confession.

Lutherans meant for that Augsburg Confession to be a confession of the universal (“catholic” with a small “c”) church. Unfortunately, it was not to be the case: it was disputed by Rome (and other new Protestants) and more confessional documents followed.

[iv] This smart post from Trent Demerest does a nice job of laying out the debate in a thorough and light-hearted way.

[v] Apology to the Augsburg Confession, X, “of the Holy Supper”.

[vi] In Apology, Article XXIV, “The Mass”. In a later Confessional document called the Smalcald Articles (written by Luther), the Roman Catholic interpretation of the word mass was directly countered. For example, “since the Mass is nothing else and can be nothing else (as the Canon and all books declare), than a work of men (even of wicked scoundrels), by which one attempts to reconcile himself and others to God, and to obtain and merit the remission of sins and grace (for thus the Mass is observed when it is observed at the very best; otherwise what purpose would it serve?), for this very reason it must and should [certainly] be condemned and rejected. For this directly conflicts with the chief article, which says that it is not a wicked or a godly hireling of the Mass with his own work, but the Lamb of God and the Son of God, that taketh away our sins.” (italics mine)

[vii] In the Augsburg Confession, XI

[viii] “To even the most authority-minded persons” – yes, that would be Martin Luther, as I argued in my series “The Coming Vindication of Martin Luther”. Luther realized that this kind of thing needed to happen in institutional of Christ’s church, where the means of grace were to be delivered in all of their richness: the regular preaching of the Word and the administration of baptism and the Supper (see here if you are Reformed) – really and truly for forgiveness, life and salvation.

[ix] I recently read an article from Pastor Jordan McKinely in which he said the following: “Dr. Naomichi Masaki of the [LCMS’s] Fort Wayne seminary asked the question in one of my classes, ‘Whose liturgy is it?’ If it’s about preference, it’s yours and mine to do as we see fit. If it’s the church’s liturgy as it has developed from the time of the Apostles (Acts 2:42)–and even from the time of the Old Testament prophets (Psalmody, anyone?), we really should show greater restraint in changing what is done. After all, don’t we say in the creed, ‘I believe in one, holy, Christian [catholic] and apostolic church?’ The liturgy is the possession of the whole church. Who am I to exercise my preference in the matter? Yes, it has room to shrink, grow, or change, but it shouldn’t be based on preference. I suppose I don’t get much of a voice because I’m white and married to a German (being of Scottish heritage doesn’t gain me any points, does it?), it’s going to sound like I’m advocating an emotionless, Germanic traditionalism. You don’t have to listen to me, but you should listen to Dr. Masaki, who isn’t German, nor is he emotionless.” (see here)

[x] Here are some more thoughts about the matter of “adiaphora”, from the current LC-MS President Matthew Harrison: “….we note an unpublished study conducted in the early 1990s by Pr. Brian Saunders, formerly of Holy Cross Lutheran in Ft. Wayne. Pr. Saunders surveyed some 300 who regularly attended a “contemporary worship” service at Holy Cross (with rock band, testimonies, “liturgical” dance, etc…). One question asked: If you were to move to another community where there was a church which did not confess the true bodily presence of Christ in the Sacrament, nor baptize babies, but did worship in the way you do now; and there was an LC-MS congregation which used the liturgy/hymnal, which church would you join? 74% said they would opt out of Lutheranism. It has been said that historical-critical theology is merely a way for unbelievers to find haven in the church. I would suggest that much of “contemporary worship” is simply a way for the weak to be robbed of Lutheranism, yet remain within the Lutheran church.” (Matthew Harrison, “Martin Chemnitz and FC X,” in Mysteria Dei: Essays in Honor Kurt Marquart, ed., Paul McCain and John Stephenson (Fort Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1999), 98-99, n. 31., quoted here).

[xi] See Ap XXVIII. 13-14 ; also see Treatise [the Tractate on the Power and Primacy of the Pope], 74. Regarding re-conversion, the Lutheran confessions say: “But when the baptized have acted against their conscience, allowed sin to rule in them, and thus have grieved and lost the Holy Ghost in them, they need not be rebaptized, but must be converted again, as has been sufficiently said before.” (In the Formula of Concord, Article II, under “Free Will, or Human Powers” [see paragraph 69]) Also see my post: Judging Jesus stye?: the real reasons for discipline in the church.

[xii] For example.



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Posted by on October 8, 2015 in Uncategorized


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

Worship as Repentance?!

Worship as Repentance?!

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII


in their new book, Christian Worship: the Apology of the Unchanging Forms of the Gospel, Pastors Paul Strawn and Holger Sonntag give current examples of “When Different Ceremonies Give the Appearance of a Different Theology”:

What instances of current worship practices did we have in mind when we wrote that changing the forms, rites, and ceremonies gives the appearance of a different theology? Obviously, there are first and foremost the divinely instituted forms, rites, and ceremonies: If these are changed, then definitely the appearance of a clearly different theology is given. Examples include women’s ordination; open communion (often made worse by weak or wrong communion statements in the worship folder); “lay ministers;” the use of juice in the sacrament; changes in the formulae of administration of the sacraments; the omission of the words of consecration in the Lord’s Supper; the mere “blessing” of infants; a service without preaching.

Then there are ceremonies that in and by themselves militate against the humble nature of the means of grace by offering a dazzling spectacle to those in attendance. Here one might think for instance of major musical productions during the service (regardless of the preferred style used) that for some, at least in part due to the major emotional “lift” derived from them, have come to be the only reason why they attend church, and have come to be what they seek in a church, regardless of that church’s actual teaching and confession (which is then why they, when they move away, do not necessarily rejoin an LCMS congregation). Furthermore, the usage of praise choruses to begin the service, or to introduce a sermon, “to pump up” the crowd.

Then there is also the usage of “worship leaders” who do not simply sing, or lead singing, but must speak as well. And these “leaders” (they are not pastors) and musicians – all of them preferably young and esthetically pleasing to the eye to communicate the vitality and viability of a given congregation to prospective new members – are placed in the front of the church to be seen by all (and thus quite in keeping with Luther’s diagnosis of the appealing services of the papacy that belong to the visual kingdom of the world, not to the aural kingdom of God). However, one also needs to include elaborate vestments at variance with the customarily simple ones in current use among us as another example.

What perhaps best captures this “progress” from simple and insignificant to elaborate and pompous is the simple yet odd example of the simple hymn, which was first sung from memory, then from a hymnal, then printed in a bulletin, then projected on a screen, then projected line by line on a screen, then projected line by line on a screen in front of a beautiful picture. And now it is displayed on a large digital television line by line in front of a movie or video of whatever else is deemed to capture the attention of those singing long enough to get them to the end of the hymn. In keeping with this visualization of the hymn’s words, a more emotionally appealing arrangement of the hymn’s tune is often used as well.

Clearly, these and other things seem to be introduced mostly with the casual visitor or the lukewarm Christian in mind, not with what Christ has given his church in the means of grace as standard. At any rate, the impression is given that a different theology is driving these decisions: After all, why do other pastors / congregations not do things in this way? Perhaps because the changes betray a different theology not shared by those other pastors and congregations?

There are other ceremonies that, today, have taken on the character of “confessional ceremonies,” that is, of ceremonies that, while free in and by themselves, have come to be perceived as being associated with a certain controversial theological position. Observing them or not observing them is a case of confession, as outlined in FC X. Examples include the omission of the general confession and absolution at the beginning of the service; the removal of the pulpit and preaching from the aisle; the removal of a fixed altar; the removal of a baptismal font; the refusal by the pastor to wear any traditional vestments. Again, the impression of a different theology is given, here even to the point of suggesting far-reaching agreement with those who clearly do not believe as we do.

Then there are, as a general violation of Christian love, major changes that are introduced here and there without seeking agreement with (at least) the neighboring congregations of our Synod. Is this not also indicative of a different theology, one which no longer teaches, let alone practices, loving concern for the fellow believer?

Given that for Luther and the Lutheran Confessions, doctrinal agreement should ordinarily be expressed by uniformity in worship, it seems to us that the burden of proof lies with those who wish to deviate from the once-enjoyed uniformity in our Synod. They need to show not just that doing things differently is theologically possible (the Theses do offer a rationale for this), but that what they are doing differently is actually theologically warranted, i.e., necessary and not just possible. And if they are right, then all of us should do likewise! In most cases, however, a clear public theological justification is not provided. Requests for such are regularly denied with an attitude of “well, who made you my keeper?” or “the Confessions aren’t the Bible.”

In summary, it is clear that the technological possibilities that are readily available at the local parish level today (internet, computers, printers, copy machines, large screens, projection devices, stage lighting, etc.) facilitate and accelerate change in an unprecedented way. However, this acceleration is not just a result of technological change. To us, it appears to be driven chiefly by a theology that is markedly different from that of our father and mothers in the faith. Having pondered these issues for several years now in light of the Scriptures, the Confessions, and Luther’s pertinent writings, it seems to us that one of the major factors in the current proliferation of change is indeed a lack of understanding of the importance of love when it comes to worship in particular and being the church in general.

In this, to be sure, our time is no different than Luther’s or Paul’s: we know freedom but we, puffed up by this knowledge, do not use it properly in our relationship with fellow Christians, that is, tempered by love and for their edification.

We believe, however, that the problem today does not simply lie in not translating what is clearly confessed and believed by all into an equally clear practice. Lutherans have always acknowledged that there will always be unfortunate shortcomings of this practical kind in this life (cf. only AE 41:216-217). Consequently, also the uniformity in our worship practices will never be complete on earth.

Yet when reading through various materials on worship, the glaring absence of any mention of love in this context (that is, on a theological/doctrinal level) points to a different theology that is afoot among us. This theology allows the resultant absence of uniformity in worship to be affirmed. In this sense, then, we must say that the Theses, even though there naturally was “no desire” to do so, do provide or at least strongly endorse “a new theology of worship.”

They then immediately go on to say, in the following section, “The LCMS Orders of Service Are not the Only Christian Forms of Worship”, that:

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, all unitalicized words italicized in original ; all bold mine)

To close this series, I will leave you a couple final important thoughts from Pastor Sonntag:

In other words, only if we properly love the members of the household of faith who believe as we do and present a unified “front” to those on the outside can we also properly love those who are not yet members of our churches and call them to repentance, without giving them some mixed message culminating in “open communion.”….

… some might think today, if we could only go along with what everybody, or at least almost everybody, else is doing in worship, would we then not have ended the “worship wars” in our denomination? We might have done so but, according to the Christian Book of Concord, we would also have betrayed Christian faith and Christian love. Both faith and love compel us to express simply, clearly, and accurately our Christian confession by means of our worship service for the glory of Christ our one Redeemer and for the salvation of those who believe like we do and of those who believe differently.

(From materials received at 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) ; pp. 102, 103 ; all unitalicized words italicized in original ; all bold mine)



Posted by on January 16, 2015 in Uncategorized


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

Picture of the Pantocrater…. “Christ in worship became less the Lamb of God, and perhaps, more, Christus Pantokrator (Παντοκράτωρ), Christ the “All-Powerful” or “Lord Almighty” (Cf. 2 Cor. 6:18) or “Ruler of All”.” – Paul Strawn

“Christ in worship became less the Lamb of God, and perhaps, more, Christus Pantokrator (Παντοκράτωρ), Christ the “All-Powerful” or “Lord Almighty” (Cf. 2 Cor. 6:18) or “Ruler of All”.” – Paul Strawn

Part I

Part II

The following quotation shared is from Paul Strawn, as he speaks about the profound influence the Emperor Constantine had on Christian worship. Here, we can see a clear move away from the humility and simplicity of the primitive Christian worship described by men like Justin Martyr:

“With the advent of Constantine in the 4th century, and consequently, the governmental and public support of Christianity, what had been occurring in private homes, could now occur publically and in a much grander scale. In that Christ was believed to have brought Constantine to power, Christ in worship became less the Lamb of God, and perhaps, more, Christus Pantokrator (Παντοκράτωρ), Christ the “All-Powerful” or “Lord Almighty” (Cf. 2 Cor. 6:18) or “Ruler of All”. Depictions of Christ, his chest and his head with right hand raised symbolizing his right to speak, his left hand holding the Scriptures, would come to dominate the half-domes of the apses of the churches in the eastern Roman Empire. In the west, in Rome, Majestas Domini, “Christ in Majesty”, Christ sitting on his throne as the ruler of the world, would become similarly ubiquitous. The effect on worship must have been dramatic, as the government-backed bishops, standing in front of and under the image—reminiscent of the images of Greek gods and goddesses in pagan temples—would have been view as possessing much of the authority and power represented by it. In the East, the concept of Christ as the not just the power of God, but also the “wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24,30) would also gain import, as the church in Constantinople would be named “Hagia Sophia” “Holy Wisdom” referring to Christ himself as providing true knowledge of God. This occurred as the Eastern Church took a decidedly mystical turn in the 6th century due to the popularity of the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. In the west, the image of Christ as judge emerged at the end of the Middle-Ages, sitting on a rainbow, the sword of Revelation 1 protruding from his mouth. It is this image in part, that caused Martin Luther to seek the righteousness of God in Scripture. And not surprisingly, the worship of Luther’s day had become one of appeasing the righteous judge Christ. Mass was attended, but being in Latin, not understood. The Lord’s Supper was received, but as the highest and best work for which man could gain credit before God. Supplication was made to the saints for their good favor and credit, while their bones—relics—were venerated for the same purpose. All was overseen by priests, making sacrifices—the sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ on the cross.

The argument could be made, that the gutting of the churches during the Reformation of such images of Christ provided a proper corrective, of ridding the churches of images of Christ which were accurate, but came to overshadow the proclamation of the gospel itself. But in view of Christ, what ultimately did barren worship spaces represent? What was proclaimed to the Christian in a room where no image of Christ was present? Well for the followers of Calvin in Geneva and Zwingli in Zurich it was clear: Christ was not present within them, at least, according to His human nature—the nature that could be represented artistically. Christ was, after all, in heaven. The only representative of the Christ was the Christian. And the only way that the Christian, who had been directly illuminated by God, could be known, was by 1) how they lived, or 2) how they felt. So the two strains of Calvinism that dominate the Evangelical (Baptist) mega-churches devoid of any images of Christ, offer (almost in gnostic type fashion) assurance through the action of a Christian (Calvin), or assurance through the feeling of the heart (Arminius). Worship services therefore concentrate not on preaching and sharing Christ the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, but right-action (by doing the right thing) and right feeling (through the usage of music, and light, and now modern imagery!). Eastern orthodoxy has gravitated somewhat away from Christus Pantokrator just as Rome has moved away from Majestas Domini, “Christ in Majesty,” embracing instead Mary, who since the Vatican I council of 19th century is proclaimed to have ascended into heaven. Anglican worship seems to take place in ornate settings, often void of images of Christ, presumably evoking the idea of a realized presence in heaven by the congregation. And of course, Pentecostal worship hearkens back to that of Montanus, of the awaiting of divine utterances from inspired leaders in barren facilities.”

(Strawn 46, 47, bold mine, non-italicized words originally italicized)

Read along with this what Pastor Sonntag had talked about earlier in their presentation, about the real focus of Christian worship:

“Simple words are spoken: “Your sins are forgiven.” And it is so – by virtue of Christ’s institution. Simple words are connected with simple visible, every-day elements, with water, bread, and wine: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” And it is so – by virtue of Christ’s institution. “Take, eat. This is my body which is given for you. Take, drink. This is my blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” And it is so – by virtue of Christ’s institution.

As we know, just from the history of the means of grace within the church itself – this earthy simplicity is perceived by a vast majority of Christians as scandalous and foolish. There are the fast growing churches that are growing on the anti-creational heritage of Zwingli and Calvin, ranging from Congregationalists and Presbyterians to “flaming” Pentecostals. They all uphold Zwingli’s assertion that the Spirit needs no created vehicle, that it is, in fact, “below” the Spirit as uncreated God to use created stuff to accomplish his saving purposes.

Yet, also those churches we typically describe as having “sacraments” as God’s tools in this world – we typically feel some affinity to them, especially when confronted by massive amounts of folks getting their marching orders from Zurich or Geneva. But, really, what do we see there? Some type of operation by God through these means, even some sort of “presence” of Christ in these means is affirmed. However, this presence is no longer affirmed as a gospel presence, but only, in the case of the Lord’s Supper, as something to heighten the value of our sacrifice to God. This turns the whole purpose of the means of grace on its head.

Full pardon of all sins, even salvation itself – the near-total agreement in Christendom seems to be that these precious gifts must not be contaminated by being issued by God through such humble means of grace. It can’t be that easy. It can’t be that simple. It can’t be that humble. After all, then everybody could get saved!

Apparently not everybody will get saved – not those who maintain: salvation needs to be a more glorious, less mundane, more complicated process that involves feelings of rapture, hard labor, or something similar on man’s part – something that all world religions could identify as “religious” or having to do with God.

This “something” would be something the old Adam, religious as he is in the ways of the law, could identify as such. The history of Christian worship can also be described as the attempt to cover up, make palatable to natural man the very gospel Christ established in an embarrassingly simple, “unreligious” way.

The bible never said the gospel would be, or should be, recognizable to natural man without the Spirit. It does say that the gospel in the humble forms in which Christ willed and instituted it would be foolishness to those without the Holy Spirit (cf. AE 5: 42-43; 36:336-337; 40:197, 258-259), that it would be known as gospel only by the Spirit working through that very gospel – that only the new man would know: While the external form is humble, simple, mundane, here the almighty, living God himself is at work, rescuing sinners from the depth of hell…..”

(pp. 36-37, bold mine, non-italicized words originally italicized)


Part III

Image, Jesus Christ Pantocrator (Detail from deesis mosaic) from Hagia Sophia: Wikipedia


Posted by on January 8, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Thoughts for FiveTwo folks to consider: creating a new Synod?

A new Synod?

A new Synod?

Yes, another post for the FiveTwo crowd.  For more context (I know many of those who read this blog are not Lutheran), just search for FiveTwo in the search box.

You might be interested in listening to the Issues ETC show where Chris Rosebrough, of the Fighting for the Faith podcast (and not in the LC-MS, but the AALC), critiques your movement.  You may not agree with much of what he says, but I think he certainly makes some arguments worthy of consideration.

Most interesting to me is when he contends that FiveTwo is basically creating a new Synod.  Now – I don’t doubt that many of the FiveTwo folks would object to that, but here, I think, is the crucial question: even if you are not trying to create a new Synod – because you really would like to continue in fellowship with your more traditional brethren – do you think that that could indeed be the practical effect of your actions?

And one more thing: what do you think of Eastern Orthodoxy?  I know that might seem a rather random question to ask, but there are a good number of young people who find Eastern Orthodoxy fascinating, intriguing… even compelling.

I was one of these (I’ll admit that I was also attracted to the Evangelical Free Church, Calvinism, and Roman Catholicism for a while to – and dove in rather deep each time – so discontent was I in the Lutheranism I knew). Anyway, I read the blog of probably the biggest Eastern Orthodox evangelist in America, Father Stephen Freeman.  I think he is sometimes very insightful and right, and other times very wrong.  When he’s right he’s really right and when wrong, he is really wrong (here is a recent post where I challenged him about some of the incorrect things he said, by implication, about Lutherans ; I’ve also currently got a tough question I’ve posted here that I hope he will make the time to answer*).

One of the things that he points out well is how everything we do and choose to do says something… communicates something… embodies something… things we have learned and come to know.

For example, in a recent post titled “The Grammar of Faith” he first grabs your attention with this (all the bold are mine):

“Recent studies have documented the fact that we begin to acquire language from our earliest moments. Even the babbling of infants plays a role. Sounds, words, facial expressions – all have a part in perhaps the most complex of all human activities. As we learn to speak, we not only learn words and sounds, but we simultaneously learn the unspoken rules that govern every language – the rules of grammar.

I recall long, tedious lessons in elementary school surrounding the rules of grammar. We diagrammed sentences, made distinctions between direct objects and indirect objects. We learned to name everything and to describe the rules by which we spoke. We labored long to learn something that we already knew. My sense of grammar increased greatly when I studied my first foreign language – Latin. There the rules were magnified with declensions, conjugations and pages of memorized and recited inflections. In all of these academic exercises, I was learning to talk about things that any five-year old knows intuitively. Grammar is how we speak – and if we have to think too much about grammar – then our speech is halting and tortured. Fortunately, human beings are wired for grammar.

This insight has also been applied to theology. For though the faith can be articulated, it has an underlying grammar that allows it to be spoken – and to be spoken correctly. And like the underlying rules of language, the grammar of theology is often unspoken. It is acquired rather than taught” (the non-italicized words here are the italicized words in his original post)

Pretty good huh?  I think he’s right on.  It’s not just the Suzuki violin method that is like this.  : )

He then talks about the early church and how its “grammar” was different than that of the gnostics:

In the Apostolic Teaching,  St. Irenaeus… lays out in great detail and commentary pretty much the content of what today we would call the Apostles’ Creed – the Symbol of Faith used in the Church at Holy Baptism. This is elsewhere described by other writers as the regula fidei (the rule of faith).

This hypothesis is the grammar of the faith. In refuting the Gnostics, for example, the grammar would insist upon the Crucified Christ and the pattern of salvation as taught in the Scriptures. This was often completely discarded by the Gnostics. At the time of Irenaeus, the heresies refuted by the Church’s grammar were large, even easily discerned.

But as time went on, the need repeatedly arose for the grammar of the faith to be stated explicitly rather than simply inculcated within the Church’s life. The statements, affirmations and anathemas of the various Councils represent not new doctrines, but explicit statements of the implicit grammar (hypothesis) of the faith.

Again – very good stuff.  He then makes his move to argue for Orthodoxy as the True Church, the embodiment of the Christian faith:

The Orthodox Church, however, speaks the language of Christ in all its life. The grammar of the faith is by no means confined to Conciliar proclamations. That would be the way of death and forgetfulness. In Orthodoxy, the whole of the Christian life gives expression to this eternal grammar. It is why Orthodoxy is described as a way of life and not a set of ideas.

Nothing embodies this more fully than the liturgical cycles and practices of the faith. For we pray what we believe and believe what we pray. Icons, for example, are not just theoretical portrayals of dogmatic content – believers kiss them, burn incense and bow before them, giving “honor to whom honor is due.” Believers live the 7th Council. This is true for the whole of the Orthodox faith – for nowhere is Orthodoxy an isolated idea or notion – it is always an embodied, integrated whole that is lived by the believer. And this itself is part of the grammar of the faith.

The loss of such a grammar in most forms of Christianity is more than a diminishment of the Church’s teaching life. For human existence always has a grammar.  The loss of a specifically Christian grammar represents the greatest tragedy of Reform in all its guises. The grammar of believing is generally so embedded in the faith that its presence is unnoticed. Reforms uproot and destroy the fundamental grammar of the faith in massive exercises of unintended consequences. It is for this reason that Christians today live in a Two-Storey universe – with the teachings of their faith divorced from the grammar of their lives. They live like secular atheists and wonder why believing is so difficult. Foreign languages are always like that – we struggle to remember the words and constantly say things in a broken and mistaken manner. We imagine that reciting the Creed makes us fluent in Christianity while we have no feeling for what it truly means or why it should matter.

Here is what I think about this: he is right about the importance of embodiment of truth, even if he is wrong that this means that all of the 16th c. Reformation is invalid (as he goes on to assert…)

He goes on to state the following, and here we get into where his critique of all post-Reformation spirituality (again, I strongly disagree – the previous FiveTwo post where I urged listening to Pastor Stuckwisch should put this claim to rest) dovetails perfectly with one of Chris Rosebrough’s main points about the FiveTwo approach: 

Contemporary Christianity speaks the language of its consumerist culture and has reframed the gospel itself into a marketed concept. It does not and cannot sustain the fundamental life of the Christian faith. Its continuation represents the progressive destruction of the grammar of the gospel.

Orthodoxy in the modern world is indeed a foreign language (sometimes quite literally). I watch the faithful struggle week in and out to live and speak a grammar contrary to the majority consumerism of the surrounding world. There are subtle pressures to adapt. Those who have united themselves to holy Orthodoxy often feel like they have made themselves strangers in their own land, unable to speak easily with family and friends. The same experience was probably common in the First Century as well.

The experience of the faith as an embodied whole is almost impossible to describe to those outside. For the experience of non-Orthodox Christianity has become so accustomed to the grammar of secularism that their perceptions are deaf and blind to the Orthodox witness. “We believe the Scriptures!” is doubtlessly true. But you believe them in a manner that is contrary to the faith. Your Christ looks like a fox and not a king. Where are your saints and images? Why do you smell like that? Where is the altar? Why do you not face East when you pray? Why don’t you cross yourself when you pray? Why do you say such terrible things about the Mother of God? What did you do with Holy Week? Where are the holy monks and the nuns? Who will teach you how to pray?

For those who think such things are “adiafora,” I say: “Apparently so.”

Father Freeman assumes that E.O. is the True Church and is not inclined to question the necessity of any of these practices: believing in them and doing them is something necessary for the True Church.  We Lutherans do not insist that things in the church can’t change, but there are core, constituitive things we assert must not change and are traditionally cautious when it comes to even questioning non-constituitive things…  Luther’s reformation, of course, was not a radical one – but an attempt to go back to the truth that the truth would continue to go forward.

I hope all of this gets you thinking – particularly about the importance of embodiment in the Christian life… how doctrine and practice seem to go hand in hand…


 *He says

“Orthodoxy is truth-embodied. And though this can be described, no description is the same thing as the truth-embodied. An argument never approaches the true question of authority – it ultimately only distracts the soul and disguises the true and appropriate questions. The dogged resistance of Orthodoxy to various ecumenical overtures are found precisely in this organic instinct for the truth. For there are no propositions that can be accepted that would, in fact, make one Orthodox. And even accepting all so-called Orthodox propositions still fall short. For it is only the self-emptying life of repentance that has any standing. Its proof is found in a deified life.”

And so I say/ask:
I really do think I get the idea of Orthodoxy being truth-embodied and how no description can capture this. I believe I am someone who thinks more or less in the same way about my Confessional Lutheranism (who as you know, also have a reputation for dogged resistance to various ecumenical overtures, stubborn lot we are). The issue that perplexes me is this : are you not an authority making *an argument* about why we, for example, lack true authority? And if I listened to what you said and, by the power of the Holy Spirit turned from my Lutheran errors, how would I not become [Eastern] Orthodox?

I am guessing that I am not the only person thinking about questions like this. Or perhaps this is one of the first keys in helping me and others to understand our own captivity to the Rationalism you speak of? I am guessing that the word “understand” is not part of what you would say the problem is.

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Posted by on October 23, 2014 in Uncategorized


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To Those Who Confess “I Am a Lutheran!” (One More Appeal to My FiveTwo Brethren)

Thanks so much to those who have taken the time to look at my posts to the FiveTwo crowd (here and here)  Especially the person I met with personally who attended the FiveTwo Wiki2014 conference and told me her answer to my question “why do you want to be a Lutheran?” was “I am a Lutheran!”

That made me realize I need to say this: for those who have a strong sense of being Lutheran my question can also be understood as: “What keeps you Lutheran?”  “Why, particularly, do you want to stay Lutheran?”  

OK, here is my new appeal: Please prayerfully consider exploring what you might have in common with Pastor Richard Stuckwisch.  Spend a little time with this man by listening to him talk about living a “sacramentally-shaped life” (I myself plan on listening to all the FiveTwo lectures I can find that are free online).

Not only is Pastor Stuckwisch unrelentingly kind, patient and passionate about Jesus, but he to says “we become a living sacrament for our neighbor”.* And more: he talks about how worship in a church is not about strict uniformity and elsewhere notes that there is a lot of freedom in worship… what works well in one place may not work well in another

Now here is a traditional Lutheran you can really identify with, right?

Seriously though, before you are tempted to quote him as a “paradigm-shifting” “sacramental entrepreneur”, make sure you listen to him share those remarks in the context of his amazing talk.


Another note on my last post: a commenter there was under the impression that I thought that those who resonate with FiveTwo do not want to be Lutheran. That is not the case – as I said, I really do believe that many FiveTwo-ers do want to be Lutheran.  I don’t doubt that that desire is there – I just wanted to learn more about why they want to be, or to stay, Lutheran.

If my post did not make you question in the least whether or not you wanted to be Lutheran, I rejoice to hear that!

You see, I want to be faithful in the word – and that means the Lutheran confessions (I actually dropped out of seminary years ago because I did not know at the time whether or not I could, in good conscience, subscribe to them). I also want to be faulted for putting the best construction on things – as much as I feel my conscience will allow me to do that.  

I feel like it is responsible for me to do this because I do know more missional people who, when I ask them tough questions about the sacraments, for example, give me good, solid, Lutheran answers.  I do not think they are lying.

That said, I do think they should take very seriously the questions that many of the converts to confessionally-riveted Lutheranism have for them: why do you want to worship more like Baptists, evangelicals, charismatics, etc?  (see here again and comments, for example).  Whether these converts are conscious of it or not, are they not in fact stating the principle “Lex orandi, lex credendi” (the Latin loosely translated is “the law of praying [is] the law of believing”)?  Is that observation that our practices of prayer (and worship in general) affect our beliefs, so rooted in Christian history, to be quickly dismissed?**  

Note: I am still not sure if I want to do a thread dedicated to giving persons a chance to respond to the responses I received from that last FiveTwo post.  I really would like to have had more persons to have answered there before doing that.


Now, I don’t think I should discount the possibility that my last post might have made some persons question whether or not they did want to be Lutheran. In the event that that is the case, I again say this:

Please listen to Pastor Stuckwisch’s talk about “the word that sanctifies your days…”. (from the link supplied above: either one of his “Living the Vida Sacramenta” talks [mostly same talk for different audiences]).  I’ll be very honest: I can’t conceive that any Christian not listening to this would not want to embrace most all of what Pastor Stuckwisch says. This is some rich and beautiful teaching!  It sets my heart on fire! It makes me want to love all with Christ’s strong love.  To embrace any “interruption” – any neighbor – he might throw in my path!

I used to be pretty opposed to Lutherans who seemed to me overly concerned about traditional and historical stuff.  I rebelled against them.  I did not really understand the things Pastor Stuckwisch talks about much at all.  I think the kind of thing that really helped me is meeting pastors like him.  I realize some tend to think of confessional Lutherans as always veering towards “legalism” – I am afraid I once did to – but I think he truly defies such labels.  He, like many other good men, has clearly embraced with joy what he believes and lives it to the hilt. As such, he teaches with some real authority. He’d no doubt agree with this statement:

Doctrine is life because that just means living from the precious words that come from Christ’s lips!

If you can’t find yourself loving Pastor Stuckwisch and most all of his heartfelt message, that would make me very sad to hear, because it would be very hard for me at that point to have any idea about where to go from there….


Final food for thought….

At the FiveTwo conference it was talked about how each one of us had a “unique sacramental identity”.  This might sound  appealing, but let me share a quote with you from a friend that seems very wise to me now, but may very well have likely rankled me just fifteen years ago:

…if we want to speak of Christians having “sacramental identities,” it should be in the singular—”sacramental identity“—for it must be recognized that this identity is anything but unique, and that this is a good thing. We all share the name Christian, because all of us are being conformed to the image of the one Christ—yes, we are all being Christified, truly. It’s the same mould. It’s that lesson you learn in high school: you don’t have to try to be unique; you simply are unique, so get over yourself; no, the thing you have to try to do is be normal (i.e., conform to salutary norms).

Does that sound depressing to you? The “normal” or ordinary Christian life?  (new book by a non-Lutheran often thought to have Lutheran sympathies).  Or is there something wonderful about simple, humble, weak, and quiet (and perhaps sometimes boring)?

Get this: another more traditional pastor, Greg Alms, perhaps helps us to better understand how for some believers in particular, this is literally their life line… Speaking of his teenage struggle to have a “personal connection with Jesus”, he writes “I could never quite get there. As I struggled to establish a rapport with this Jesus who seemed to want me to be emotional and talkative, I recall a distinct feeling of not getting it, of missing something”…. He goes on: “Most of the time, I didn’t feel elated or close to Jesus. Mostly I felt guilty for not being a better follower…”  He went off to college, and drifted away… What brought him back?

“I only found Jesus to be meaningful and real to me individually when I looked for him in the shared experiences of “church.” I “experienced” Jesus in the voices of shared hymns that had been sung for centuries. I “felt” the presence of God amidst my personal inner struggles and hurts in the prayers I knew by memory, in doing the same things over and over, in things with little or no immediate emotional content: chewing bread, making the sign of the cross, hearing a formal, recited absolution of my sins. What became important to me as a Christian were these outward formal things. My personal relationship with Christ became rooted in the moments when I found myself surrounded by countless hosts of Christians in heaven and on earth, singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.” (read whole post here)

Note that Pastor Alms also says much more, including “There always has been a tension in Christian experience between the individual and the group”.  I hope his words about the importance of his experience of God make a bit of sense for you as they do for me. I know they would make sense to some young twenty-something Christians I talked with recently – two who can identify with some or all of Pastor Alm’s experiences.  

The article from Alms might be a good place to start to, but again, I really recommend Pastor Pastor Stuckwisch’s talk first…. Again, please consider giving the man a listen.



*So is Pastor Stuckwisch saying that we really are sacraments?  I’d suggest this a figure of speech…. metonymy, meaning “a figure of speech that replaces the name of a thing with the name of something else with which it is closely associated. We can come across examples of metonymy both from literature and in everyday life.”  Or, “the substitution of the name of an attribute or adjunct for that of the thing meant, for example suit for business executive, or the track for horse racing.”

**Why the almost visceral reaction that so many converts to confessional Lutheranism have when they see Lutherans worshiping more like evangelicals, charismatics, etc?  I wonder if it has to do with something Pastor Stuckwisch talked about in one of his talks about freedom and responsibility (the second one): the sacraments (as well as the Word of repentance and faith in Christ) are not just a part of worship – included in worship – but are actually constitutive of it.

Of course as many veterans of the “worship wars” know it is not only converts to confessional Lutheranism that are dismayed but confessional stalwarts themselves.  Pastor Peters, at his very popular blog Pastoral Meanderings, offers less combative and more thoughtful commentary here in a post titled “Cross Pollination”.

“…we are told over and over again a Lutheran can be in fellowship with people who do not believe exactly as we do, a Lutheran can use worship formats that have no basis in our Confessions, a Lutheran can sing hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs written from vantage points vastly different than our Confessions (including here the Creeds) and it does not dilute or diminish the Lutheran distinctives at all.  But how can this be?  How can it be that we practice a communion discipline at odds with our own Confessions, we worship like people of other confessions, and we sing hymns and songs that do not adhere to the Lutheran practice of singing the Gospel and the faith, and NOT be affected by it all???

Cross pollination is not always a good thing.  In this case [NOTE: he is writing about ELCA agreements with its ecumenical partners] the Lutheran angst about requiring baptism (at least) of those who commune is occasioned not by a dispute with Lutheran doctrine and practice but a queasiness over how it goes down with ecumenical partners who do not have such a requirement.  In other words, our acceptance of a diversity of confessions that do not parallel or agree with our own is okay but not practicing a different requirement for admission to the Lord’s Table.  The inevitable conclusion is that what is always on the table for discussion and review is NOT the stance of others but our own historic and confessional identity — one that seems ever ready for surrender by those who care more about a supposed conflict with the Methodists rather than conflict and disconnect with our own theological tradition and historic practice (and that of the church catholic we claim to preserve in our Confessions).”

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Posted by on October 7, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Worship wars conversations: no power dressing, speaking, or singing?

worshipandpraiseiiNote: Today’s post has nothing to do with yesterday’s post: Regular warship time. 

Music in church is on my mind again this morning because it is one of the things that we are discussing in class this week.  Here is, I think, one of my best short posts on the subject:

And then there is the following, which I am quite proud of, and which appeared on this blog a couple years ago in five parts (all five parts are below, bold has been added):

Part I

Also see this post, as this series leaps off from this foundation.

As I was recently preparing for a class, I was reading through portions of the Zondervan Handbook of the Bible (1999 – 3rd ed.).  Commenting on Elijah’s simple dress noted in 2 Kings 1:8, it notes “The prophet’s clothing was rough and basic.  He had no need of “power dressing” to impress his audience.  The message was sufficient” (p. 293)

I had not heard that term before, but I like the picture this non-Lutheran handbook painted there.

And this gets me thinking:  likewise with preaching or the music we play!  With preaching, why should we not, like Paul, fast from eloquence, rhetoric and the felt need to plead, to convince, to impress (PowerPoint and video clips?  Really?)?  With music, why would we not let the words of our simple poetry (which of course makes reading and learning the words of the hymns easier) call the shots – and shun all attempts to produce “the feeling” through just the right musicians, choice of songs, lighting, and of course, the repetition of praise choruses, etc.?

In other words, it is like Gideon’s army being cut to 300 men, lest we forget “not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit” (Zech 4:6)!

We should never think of the proclamation of God’s Word – or prayer to God – in terms of a  “performance” that will be dramatic enough to impact, to move, or to overwhelm the “audience” – whether by us, the Spirit, or both of us.  Whether “new measures” (a la Charles Finney of the 19th century up to today) or old (did you know that the Lutheran orthodox theologians – the non-pietists! – used to argue for “moving” opera music in church?), we shall not be “moved” by these!

Does this mean we don’t “perform” at all?  Well, it all comes down to what we mean by perform.  We should only do this in the sense of simply executing that which we have been given to do – corum Deo (before, in the presence of, God).

It seems to me that really young children just enjoy wearing simple clothes (OK, this is true for boys, of which I have five… and granted, dinosaurs on the clothes are appreciated), listening to simple stories (Bible stories and such, especially about that Jesus guy), and singing simple songs (yes, they do like hymns).  We don’t need to “add power” to these things – these things are already plenty interesting as they are, right?

But alas, yet again, this is something kids get but adults forget.  What we see all around us in the Church is evidence of this fact.



Yes, let me nevertheless play devil’s advocate… for the sake of argument, try to present things from a different perspective.  Not only this, let me try to present what I see to be the best alternative argument in the strongest and most compelling way possible.

This means that you will need to read this post to the very end, because I’m going to sound like a serious contemporary Christian music advocate for a while.  Hang in there.

Part II

Before I jump into my main argument, there are some preliminary issues that I think should be addressed.

Recently, Issues ETC host Pastor Todd Wilken, in discussing the practices of megachurches, said that those who tell people that they are experiencing God in those places – as opposed to experiencing the results of human efforts and manipulation – are charlatans, and that what they are saying here is evil (10/5/12, listener email and comment line)

I think these words are too strong.  After all, more traditional folks would likely not say this regarding those who think that we should use the best art possible in our stained glass windows, sing hymns set to the songs of the best secular composers, preach messages utilizing the best rhetorical techniques, and think that some measure of pageantry and smells and bells are wholly appropriate for worshipping and revering the Lord.  I know that one can argue that those who do these things want to glorify God first and foremost, but does such a person also not think that God will “move” others by using the works and efforts of these human creators?  Do we not experience God and the eternal life that is in His Son through the actions and activities of others?

I will admit that it seems that what happens in the megachurch is more crass, and given over to every excess (and issues involving money can be more clearly linked as well). Nevertheless, how would we, for instance,  somewhat objectively distinguish the efforts to “move” persons that happens in a megachurch vs. a cathedral?  Do we deny that there is any effort on the part of those constructing the cathedral that the “cathedral experience” is something they have in mind at all?  In any case, the argument that I will put forth here does not deal with the megachurch practices per se, but rather, the more “emotional” music of the “folk” variety.

In other words, it seems to me that there is indeed some difference between a black Gospel choir or Gospel songs of the Appalachian bluegrass variety, for instance  – where persons are singing their hearts out to God in a very emotional way – and the megachurch praise band where proper ambiance (perhaps smoke machines and lighting, excessive amplification, a focus on the singers and the excessive “jumbo-troning” that often accompanies this…) and well-played, highly repetitive music all come into the mix (knowing that hymns sung by large traditional congregations can be very moving, I don’t bring up congregation size here).

Why do I go this route?  Well, where the worship of one seems more like the way Paul describes the simple and inner beauty of a godly woman, for example, the other certainly seems more adorned (complex), or, if you are a high culture afficianado, contrived (bread and circuses come to mind).  Nevetheless – and this is an extremely important nevertheless – the roots of most all the music played in the megachurch are largely from more Baptist and charismatic (Pentecostal) contexts.  The real argument here, I suggest, is over what kind of music is appropriate and how God would use music.  After all, not every large congregation that utilizes rather emotional contemporary Christian music (surprisingly, many large Roman Catholic parishes do this – I’ve been to one that did so quite impressively) is given to the excesses found in some of the larger megachurches.

So, this is all preliminary to my argument, which will I will now begin.

Part III

First, a reminder: At this point in the series, I am trying to put forth the most compelling argument that I can think of for the use of emotionally powerful music in worship, which is most often associated with “contemporary Christian music” (kind of a “best construction +” kind of thing).

I said before that we did not need power dressing, preaching, or music.  I said that we don’t need to “add power” to these things because they are already plenty interesting as they are – something little children get but adults forget.  But now: what if all the things that happen when a simple black Gospel choir sings, for example, actually has nothing to do with adding power, but is simply about receiving all that God has to give us and would have us use?

All of this is a theological argument of course.  We know that in the beginning was the Word – the Logos – and yet, this is not simply synonymous with rationality, logic, and the life of the mind, but contains so much more.

Let me explain, starting with more simple things.  First of all, I think we can all agree that the real thing that has the power to transform human hearts is the Word of God.  That said, when God gives us the word for us to speak, He gives us not only the message but also the power to say it rightly (i.e. “gentleness and respect”, the “truth spoken in love”, etc – in other words, with the corresponding attitudes and emotions that properly go with these words).

In other words, God means to fill and move us by His Spirit to do this.  And this of course means that this is not about “adding” anything on our own – like “our passion” for example – but simply receiving all the passion that He means to create in us when we not only hear words from Him but speak words to Him and words of Him to others.   This means that we can “quench” the Spirit’s activity here via our sin – which means that in our sanctification we fail to grasp hold of all God means for us to have.

Now that this has been established, let us add music to the mix.  Here, something similar would occur: God provides some persons – musicians – to accompany His words that are spoken, and the music – like the speaker’s emotions – should be fitting and appropriate to those words.  We can be sure that such was the case when Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon break out into song in the Gospel of Luke (the first musical!), for example.

This statement would seem to be uncontroversial on the face of it, but we can all see where this is going: now we further propose that persons rejecting much (not all) of the more “contemporary” Christian music are rejecting that which God really does mean to give them for their proper use.  In other words, while they are rejecting the music because they consider it too emotional and affective, the reality is that here to, the Spirit is being quenched.  They do not want to consider that God’s words might be “properly enhanced” by emotional music that goes with what, in fact are, very emotional words, and should be recognized as such.

In other words, the Christian says “what do we have that we have not received” while simultaneously recognizing that we do not receive much of what we should due to our sin.  We not only do not ask for things, as James says we should, but we even reject gifts from God he gives to us apart from our asking!

Part IV

Again, there are some who are not even willing to consider that perhaps some contemporary Christian music really is appropriate.  The argument here is simply that those who consider particular songs overly emotional are often wrong about this – simply because they are not comfortable expressing their emotions in that way when they should be.  Yes, they may be the bride of our husband, Christ, who woos His people, but even the idea of singing “Jesus is our husband love ballads” (note: not my boyfriend songs, or ditties) is anathema to them.  God is to be loved – but simply not in a way that is too personal, emotional or “passionate”.

Now, let us take things one step further and ask the inevitable question, and this is where things get more challenging for the proponent of much contemporary Christian music.  If the above is true, might the music itself be able to carry God’s message to us – communicate it to us? (some more liturgical folks actually claim this for Bach, for example – they say that the music itself “preaches the Gospel”!).  Might there be music that, coming from Christians, is actually “Christian” music – even without the words?  (perhaps then, even a non-Christian could pick up and play this music which is distinctively Christian?).  Not long ago, I had the pleasure of teaching an African American woman who came from a charismatic background, and in spite of her clear biblical knowledge, she once told our class that the best worship experiences she had had – those times when she felt the closest to God – were ones that were “wordless” – when only the music was playing. 

Given that we will consider the times we feel closest to God as the source of our strength and security, the practical effect of this view would be that the spoken word (and given the song, this spoken word will be more or less – perhaps much less – in conformity with the Word of God) that the music normally would accompany takes a back seat as the music itself that supposedly “preaches” – comforting, nurturing, encouraging – takes center stage.

Now, all of us might get a bit nervous here when we think about this.  And yet, given what we have talked about above, does not all of this make good sense?  After all, in our lives, so much communication that occurs is non-verbal.  Do we limit the idea of what the Word means – do we take this passage from John too literally?  If we insist only that literal words can communicate God’s message to us – that only they are the Word of God – are we perhaps limiting God’s power and what He desires to do?

So what does this mean?  What if this is true about music being just another way that God shares communicates with us – shares His “Word” with us?  Well here is a preview of where I am going: the problem with this is the “What if?” question itself.  As theologians – especially pastors – we do not operate in this realm, nor should we want to.

Part V

Still , let us go on – so that we can see where all of this goes logically.  Let me concede for the sake of argument that this may indeed be true – that God does share His life-giving Word with us via the “language” – the “emotional language” of music.  The point is simply this – we can’t have certainty about any of this!  We are back with Luther and the “monster of uncertainty”.  After all, we know for a fact that music, being a gift that God gives all of His human creatures, can be used to powerfully affect anyone – Christian or not – emotionally.  How are we to distinguish a simple human experience from music from a distinctly Christian experience, where one can be confident that they are really experiencing a secure relationship with the Lord?  If we feel we are close to God during a powerful worship chorus how do we know that it is really God, and not just the musicians, atmosphere, etc., which is affecting us?  Of course, not everyone will ask these kinds of questions, but there are many people who can’t help but ask these kinds of questions!

And perhaps more persons than you think will ask these questions.  What if your world comes crashing down and then you start asking these kinds of questions?  Am I really connected with God?  Does He really love me?  Does He really forgive me?  Is this really Him that I feel?  In times like that, do we really want our answer to that question to depend on whether or not we get the “feeling” when musicians in Church try to “lead us into the Presence of God”?  Even if we ourselves feel secure in our faith – because perhaps we come into that “worship experience” already seriously grounded in God’s Word – what about our family and friends?  After all, do we not believe that their spiritual growth is predicated on their knowledge – heart knowledge if you prefer – of the Word of God? (incidently, just the other day I heard from a very theologically astute layman that the only theology classes that he had had were the great hymns… I had thought he must have gone to seminary)

Doesn’t the question ultimately come down to what God has promised?  When, where, and how He has given us certainty that He meets and comes to us?  This is the main point, right?  We can have absolute certainty about the Word of God!  For example, when the pastor baptizes, gives the Lord’s Supper, or pronounces absolution, because of the promises that we can find in the Scriptures, we can have certainty that we are “experiencing” God and His presence – even if we don’t really feel like that is the case.  The Gospel is even for people who strongly sense that they don’t – and never will – love Jesus and His people quite like they should.

The Lutheran blogger Scott Diekmann quotes Pastor Jon Sollberger shared his experiences while in a church praise band (from here, at the 31 minute mark).  Its powerful, and is a story I have heard from many others as well:

“This was a couple lifetimes ago, and I was very much involved in the church where I grew up – that church was all about the show and how it made you feel. And so I was a guitarist and I got into that, and we really did the whole thing where we got everyone going via the music, the beat, the feeling, the great progression of the music. That’s how we equated successful worship. And then I took my act out on the road, I traveled all across the country, I did recordings of this so-called Christian contemporary music, I lived it, I performed it, I produced it, I recorded it, and spent a good decade doing this until I actually found out that I was burnt out on it. …It’s a very successful thing outwardly speaking. I mean, all we had to do was show up, plug in, and play, and we had an instant reaction and enthusiasm from all the people, young and old, both, and it was really something. But then you start to – it becomes normal to us, all the music and the generational feeling that it creates – and we started evaluating our worship experience on how the people were reacting to what we played. I mean we could get ‘em up there with some fast paced high energy music, we could get them to be very very mellow and contemplative with some slower, more heartfelt type of music, and when we didn’t get those reactions we didn’t feel that the Holy Spirit was at work because obviously the people weren’t reacting – there was no “success.” After a while you kind of just get burnt out on this sort of thing and that’s when I kind of quit the whole church thing for quite a while and my wife dragged me, kicking and screaming, into a Lutheran church, and I really saw that there was a difference there. I thought it was a cult. I thought it was spare, Spartan. I didn’t think there was any spiritual energy there. I thought it was way too formal, and I could not wait to get back for the next service. And I didn’t know why obviously, but it was because the Gospel had been not only preached, but presented within a context and in such a manner that nothing else got in the way, not my feelings, not how I was doing, not how well dressed the people up front were or anything like that, or how impressive they were to me, but simply the Gospel – that I was a sinner who had been saved by the grace and merit of Jesus only.”

Diekmann sums this up: “This is a powerful quote, because it contrasts the often un-evangelical emotional roller coaster ride that you’re treated to at many “contemporary” church services with a doctrinally sound proclamation of the Gospel, in which the Word does its work.”

It is instructive to see what the Apostle Peter, who really could have assurance that he had felt the positive effects of God’s presence at the Mount of Transfiguration – a “mountaintop worship experience” if there ever was one – had to say his hearers about the sure and certain experience of hearing God’s very words:

…. we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.   And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…”  (2 Peter 1)

Surety and certainty that lasts a lifetime!

Especially for those who remain unconvinced, there is one other matter I must also bring up: we are all to be concerned not to offend those we consider the weaker brother – for the one who feels constrained, or limited in one area or another (perhaps you think this is me – that in spite of my evident concern that God’s people be healthy and vigorous in their emotions towards Him, my concerns are nevertheless overkill, overly scrupulous, or perhaps too intellectual).  Further, in a healthy marriage, both partners will limit their freedoms out of love for the other.  When one fails to do this, the marriage will inevitably weaken, face strain, and be in danger of breaking apart.   I think that this is where we are : some believe that there is an advantage here in using this kind of music that must trump the love and public harmony of the church.


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Posted by on June 17, 2014 in Uncategorized