Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Uniformity in worship/Preus

I went to the Wittenberg trail today because of a friend invitation of someone whom I did not know and decided that was a ruse.  The picture was of a lovely young female without terribly much clothing wishing to learn about the Lutheran faith.  O-K.

I did end up printing off a document from a link and read it already while my young bride in the house was sewing pillows under my minimal supervision.

Below is the document on "Uniformity in worship" is by Klement Preus, which I just read,  whose book we read not too long ago.  He is explaining why he support the move that mission congregations be required to use the LSB.

Here you find pasted some highlights.

...Recently the Board of Directors of the Minnesota South District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod passed a resolution which requires new mission starts of the district to use the liturgical forms of the Lutheran Service Book. Since I helped author that resolution and since I strongly supported it some of the arguments in the second half of this paper will respond to objections to that specific resolution as well.  

Today we are not being asked to be patient with congregations as they learn the liturgy. Today we have the phenomena of many of the new congregations in the district being founded with little intention of ever using the historic liturgy. There is no desire to be instructed. Further, these new congregations are asking for large amounts of financial support from the rest of the congregations with no assurances that the most obvious manifestation of our unity will ever be apparent in these new congregations – the use of a uniform liturgy. It might be coercive to deny the hand of fellowship while congregations are trying to change through teaching the word. It is certainly not coercive to insist that congregations, before they even exist, live up to certain standards. And it is not coercive to tell our district what type of congregation will receive district funds and what will not.

We insist that subsidized congregations practice faithful stewardship, work hard in the community, preach the gospel faithfully, subscribe to the confessions, follow the bylaws of the synod, have services and Bible classes etc. before we give them money. We even insist that subsidized congregation limit their financial need to three years and $150,000. No one calls these expectations “legalistic” “an imposition” or “coercive.”  Do we not have the right to insist that they teach the liturgy and use it as well? Such expectations are not coercive. They are prudent.

I have four children who went away to college. I helped pay for their education. It was understood that they would perform in a certain way. They would go to class, study, hand in their assignments, abstain from drugs, refrain from moving in with their girl friends or boy friends and be relatively transparent with their lives as far as I was concerned. If they did not do these things they would jeopardize my financial support. Never did they call me coercive because I actually had expectations of them that they behave like I expected.  And my expectations were not unreasonable. I had a friend whose father paid for a year’s study in Germany provided the young man would quite smoking. Never did he call his father coercive. He thanked him for both the financial support and for the incentive to quite smoking. To place standards upon subsidized congregations which reflect the common heritage of the congregations which support them is not coercive. It is good stewardship. 

But shouldn’t we reach out to culturally diverse situations
In culturally relevant ways?

Probably the most significant argument for the use of diverse worship forms is that these forms are more effective in reaching people who do not know Jesus. It is argued that the historic Liturgy is culturally irrelevant to the many peoples who we are commissioned to reach with the Gospel and Sacraments. When people bring their unchurched or dechurched friends to Sunday services these people simply do not understand and do not relate to chanting, vestments, traditional hymns, the standard ordinaries and many other accoutrements of historic worship.

Possibly the most formidable defense of this position in our circles was produced in 2006 by a synodical task force called the “Church Planting Task Force,” appointed by Bob Scudieri, executive director of North American Ministries for the LCMS. That task force issued a report entitled, “Toward Planting Large Churches: The Summary Report of the Church Planting Task Force.” This report concluded that an effective new mission start needed three ingredients; the right person, the right place and the right plan. The right person, predictably, is a strong preacher and a good communicator with good people skills. He is a good systematic thinker and “has a certain amount of magnetism that compels quality leaders to follow and contribute to the cause.” [40] The right place is “growing communities with a high percentage of unchurched people that can fuel the fast growth of a new church start.” [41] In its discussion of “the right plan” the report relied heavily upon the work of Edward Stetzer [42] who reported on “A landmark study conducted by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist church of over 600 church plants.” [43] The Southern Baptists and the LCMS task force agreed that:

An effective plan for planting large churches must readily engage the culture it is aiming to reach—specifically by offering culturally oriented programming from the earliest stages, through launch and into the life of the church. Indeed, allowing ministry programming to be shaped and stylized by the findings of the planter’s cultural exegesis needs to be a prominent piece of any strategic plan as well as a core value in the ongoing life of the new community of faith. [44]

Given its “culturally oriented programming,” (and that includes worship) shaped by the “cultural exegesis” of the “planter,” the congregation’s “style” of worship will reflect neither the church’s catholicity nor the theological unity which a group of congregations may have historically enjoyed. Rather, effective starts must involve a consideration of “the unique cultural needs, values and lifestyle of the right place.” [45] So, Stetzer also concluded, among other things, that, “Contemporary or ‘seeker’ worship styles led to significantly larger church starts. Contemporary worship style led to a mean attendance four times larger than those with a liturgical worship style by year four.” [46] With the use of this kind of data, it is understandable that many congregations and particularly mission starts are encouraged by synodical or district leaders not to use the hymnal in their worship, but to favor rather strongly a “contemporary worship style.” The sentiment is articulated nicely by Michael Ruhl, Director for the Center of United State Missions of the LCMS,

Worship is the response we make to God within the relationship that God initiates with us in Christ…People yearn for a worship experience that is pure and simple worship…worship that is focused on God and is expressed in the heart-language of their culture. Such biblical, authentic worship in Spirit and in truth, rich in diverse expression, will then “fuel” the church in its mission of making disciples in the mission field. [47]

Elsewhere in our synod it is argued that that there are two kinds of congregations and two kinds of pastors in our church. Traditional or “village churches” are fine for established traditional Lutherans but a “camp church” approach is more appropriate for new missions since these “camp churches” will be more open to the cultural desires of a given “place.” [48] Similarly pastors are often divided into the categories of “guardians” and “missionaries.” [49] The former are fine for the task of pastoring “village churches.” The latter, admittedly a “very small subset” [50] of all pastors, are needed for new mission starts.

How are we to respond to this argument?

The implications of this view 

We need to consider the implications of this view. First, those who advocate this view are sincerely motivated to bring people into the kingdom of God. I can’t imagine anyone criticizing the desire that many, new, large, Lutheran congregations be established nationwide. So commendations are in order to those who are thinking and strategizing about how such a desire might be realized. As I offer some criticism below I trust that no one will conclude that I am any less ardent in my desire that new congregations be formed and that the church at large reflects a mission zeal with all her life and breath:

That we his saving health may know,
His gracious will and pleasure,
And also to the nations show
Christ’s riches without measure,
And unto God convert them. [51]

Second, how extensive is the use of hymnals in this paradigm? The rejection or disuse of the historic liturgy or the LSB, in this paradigm, is not the idiosyncratic choice of a couple of cutting edge congregations. Rather, most if not all of the congregations begun with this paradigm will not use the hymnal at all unless its use is deemed culturally relevant to the unchurched in a given place. And since the purpose of starting a new mission is to reach the unchurched - people who have no disposition toward or understanding of hymnals or the historic liturgy - few if any mission starts will use the hymnal.    

Third, how often will hymnals be used by those who employ this paradigm? The answer appears to be, “not at all.” The cultural liabilities of the hymnal, in this view, do not change from week to week. Once the historic liturgy is deemed culturally irrelevant to a new mission its use will be precluded altogether. Perhaps certain hymns or songs from the hymnal may be used in such a context but the LSB as a book and the historic liturgy will go unused.

Fourth, of late, quite a bit of discussion has surrounded the word “consistently” in our discussion of liturgical usage. This discussion has occurred because the December 2006 motion of the BoD of the Minnesota South district of the LCMS regarding use of the LSB in mission starts stated, “Resolved that all new congregations be asked to assure the district that the LSB is being used consistently in the services of the congregation.” While the word may be open to various nuances it seems to me that the discussion misses the point. When the liturgy is never used, it matters little whether “consistently” means “all the time,”  “frequently,” “time after time,” “most of the time” or “a certain percentage of the time.” New mission starts are frequently begun with the intention of not using the LSB or any hymnal at all. The discussion should not be about the nuances of a single term. The BoD could have said “frequently,” “regularly,” “faithfully,” or “often” and we could have had the discussion as to the precise nuances of these words. What we need is a discussion about the issue of the relationship between starting new missions and the use of the historic liturgy as contained in the LSB. That discussion follows.

In response to the “Effective Mission” argument

I believe that the argument that the mission of the church is more effectively carried out by discarding or minimizing the use of the liturgy in certain cultural contexts fails.

The Divine Service and American Evangelicalism

First, the argument is based on the presuppositions of American Evangelicalism. One has to question wisdom of relying upon the research of Southern Baptists in drawing conclusions about the relative wisdom of using historical liturgical worship to start Lutheran congregations. Southern Baptists are non-creedal and typically non-liturgical. Baptists believe neither that the Body and Blood of Jesus are truly present in the bread and wine of the sacrament nor that forgiveness of sins is imparted to people through the sacrament. Further, Baptists do not believe in the inherent power of the Gospel – that the word of God has power apart from its speaker, the hearer or the cultural context in which it is spoken. Finally, Baptists typically have themselves been deeply entrenched within the broad confines of American Evangelicalism discussed above. Recall that the purpose of worship within American evangelicals is to be “moved physically, emotionally or intellectually by the worship experience.” [52] By Baptist/American Evangelical standards the use of the liturgical divine service would be completely ineffective. If the purpose of worship is to move people emotionally and to provide a culturally relevant experience then the historic liturgy probably is not the best choice. Unfortunately it is precisely this Baptistic theology which drives the argument against the use of the liturgy even when Lutherans do the talking. Notice that in the argument above Lutherans have misdefined worship as, “the response we make to God.”

Of course, that is not the purpose of worship among Confessional Lutherans. To Lutherans “The service and worship of the Gospel is to receive good things from God.” [53] These “good things” are precisely the things Baptists disparage or deny – body and blood, a powerful gospel, and the forgiveness of sins. The question becomes one of theology and not merely of culture. Should we give that type of service which Baptists and American Evangelicals would like or should we use a service more consistent with our Lutheran theology? And remember that the historic liturgy is precisely that unifying agent which distinguishes Lutheranism from American Evangelicalism.

The Divine Service in the life of the congregation

Finally, the “mission argument” misunderstands the use of the Divine service in the life of the congregation. The people of the Christian congregation are a royal priesthood. As such, among other things, they proclaim the glories of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. (I Peter 2:9) This proclamation takes place in a thousand contexts. Christians confess their Lord to family and friend, to their children and to strangers, to co-workers and even to each other. This royal priesthood needs both the encouragement and the knowledge of the faith to speak God’s word as their various vocations, circumstances and opportunities warrant. This constant and endless confession of the faith takes place in coffee houses and at workplaces, at block parties, on airplanes and at family gatherings. It happens everywhere. Pastors provide opportunities for the royal priesthood to bring their friends to learn more about Christ at the various Bible classes which congregations offer. These Christians speak God’s word in jargon and vernacular which is laced with expressions unique to specific and unique cultural settings. That’s the way we communicate. And, typically, these conversations take place everywhere – except the divine service.

All Christians should invite their friends to learn about Jesus. Invite them to Bible class. Invite them to your homes for dinner and have devotions. Just talk to them. These conversational confessions of the faith occur 24 hours a day 6 days a week and 23 hours a day one day a week. For a single hour of a single day each week all the Christians in a given place stop the work of making a confession out in the world – the world with its various languages, cultures, heart languages, felt needs, sorrows, false hopes, and diverse antagonisms against God. Christians take this brief time each week to celebrate what they and only thy have – the gospel and the sacraments. These gifts from God are bestowed through the divine service. Its language is not the language of the world or the culture. It’s language is not intended to be understood by “seekers” or the uninitiated. Its language is understood and shared by all Christians. They speak from God and to each other for that brief and blissful hour the language of the liturgy.

The Liturgical divine service should not be altered to appeal to the world. When Paul claimed to be all things to all men he was not speaking about worship. He was speaking about the manner in which he as an individual confessed the faith outside of the worship context. And we should do the same. In all contexts and all cultures be all things to all men – except that context where all people are united by that which transcends culture – the Divine Service. The Divine service is not primarily an evangelistic “outreach” tool. It is the time and place where God feeds his people. 


The reasons which commend a consistent and uniform use of a common divine service are compelling. The reasons which have been marshaled against a uniform divine service are not. They may be offered by sincere people who have a sincere conviction and they may appear to be winsome and even Lutheran. Upon examination these arguments are simply not strong enough to overturn a pattern and custom which, until recently, has been held by our churches for more than a millennium.

Rather than argue about ways in which we can somehow not use the divine service we should heed the words of Charles Porterfield Krauth the great nineteenth century Lutheran theologian of America. He lived at a time in which the historic liturgical services of the Lutheran church were being discarded by many American Lutherans in favor of “New Measures.” The “New Measures” were considered cutting edge practices which would renew the church and appeal to the unique American culture in which the Lutherans found themselves. Krauth pleaded, “Let us not, with our rich coffers, play the part of beggars, and ask favors where we have every ability to impart them.” [59] So today, let us not seek to devise ways in which we can look less like Lutherans. Rather, having the wealth of the Liturgy and having been blessed by God with such rich coffers, let us seek to impart these favors to our friends, our progeny and our mission congregations.

Klemet Preus
Easter 2008


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