Saturday, November 29, 2008

Justifiable concern

Here is any interesting comment from a WELS blog: There is a concern — and I would argue a justifiable concern — that some segments within WELS are flirting too much with methodology that leave the proclamation of the gospel behind just so we get people in the door.

Self-analysis and self-criticism for a church body, LCMS and WELS included, are healthy exercises these days when church growth methodologies abound and the gospel seems to be shrinking out of more and more pulpits and classrooms.

It seems that the concerns pointed out on this blog and elsewhere are justifiable and valid. It is interesting that Pastor's Strey's blog has not received comments about how "unloving" his concerns are. His concerns are shared by many. Yet during this economic crisis Paul Kelm was called back to 2929 as a leading Church growth expert.?. Ed Stetzer is still coming to Milwaukee next November. Mission churches have been asked to not hide their Lutheran identity yet the Rock and Roll churches persist.

It's re-energizing to read Pastor Strey's words and to especially note that Pres. Schroeder is going to make a confessional stand. But I wonder about a house divided.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A time for Thanksgiving

It is time to pause and reflect on the blessings our Lord has graciously given to us. I am especially thankful that our Lord has provided a remnant of confessional Lutherans both pastors and laypeople for such a time as this. It is my prayer that the confessional voices have the courage to speak and those promoting Reformed practices would have the courage to listen. I pray that our church would be "different" than the culture surrounding us: a place of refuge and peace. I hope that those promoting Ed Stetzer might see that to be relevant to this culture we need to be different. We need to be a light shining in darkness rather than blending in with the non-denominational melting pot that Ed Stetzer represents. There needs to be a place for those who desire a confessional, orthodox, and liturgical church.

"And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Growing our churches

This past week a group of individuals from over 30 "growing and thriving" WELS churches met in Milwaukee to discuss the various methodologies and activities that have seemingly led to church growth in numbers.

I'm interested in hearing more about this analysis meeting. What was discovered? What have the rest of the WELS churches been doing wrong?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Freddy says

Thank you for sharing Freddy...well put!!!

Freddy said...


It is good that you are investigating these things. I take your posts to be those of genuine interest (and, I think, from one who has been exposed primarily to Church Growth perspectives). Much of what you bring up in your post has been directly dealt with, relatively recently, on this blog. I’ll briefly answer some of the points you make, and then forward you to several posts that deal with these points more fully. If my tone seems sharp, don't take it personally -- I am speaking to the ideas, not at you.

You Question: Are electric guitars evil? How about drums…

My Answer: In your statement you make the fundamental assumption that forms, including music and instrumentation, are amoral. This is a false assumption, and the liturgical principle of lex orandi, lex credendi informs us of this. You further (apparently) assume no distinction between Ecclesiastical and Secular forms, that they are (or ought to be) equally nothing but worldly reflections of popular culture. This is also wrong. Just as the Church is distinct from the World, so are its forms and its culture, reflecting our true citizenship in and of the Kingdom of Grace. Moreover, under these false assumptions, you draw the conclusion that popular forms taken from Secular pop-culture apply without negative consequence in an Ecclesiastical setting, that lyrical content alone constitutes the “substance” of worship. Again, this is wrong. Forms are of great substance, which is why we confess in AC XXIV that Rites are necessary to teach the people what they believe. The corollary is that we avoid practices that do not teach what we believe, especially those that overtly teach what we believe to be false. The fact is, “contemporary” worship forms, which Lutherans are increasingly guilty of borrowing from Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Pentecostals, including their music and instrumentation, have been carefully chosen and developed by these heterodox to teach their false doctrine – namely, Worship as a Means of Grace, and Religious Experience as Assurance of Salvation. Since, for them, overt zeal in worship is no small factor, the music they have developed for the worship setting is chosen in a calculated attempt to manufacture and manipulate powerful emotions. Worse, under a (now defunct) Church Growth paradigm, such forms have been further exploited to “draw the un-churched” by transforming the Divine Service into entertainment-grade performances, thus taking the focus off of Christ (christocentrism) and placing it on man (anthropocentrism). While many among us are becoming entranced and seduced by these powerful gimmicks, the rest of us are active sounding the alarm and feverishly working to reverse the damage, before we ourselves are compelled run in horror. Here are some previous entries from this blog that you may find interesting: Alternative Missions (or, Tim’s Debut) & Liturgical vs. non-Liturgical

You Question: What about the pure joy that people feel after hearing the Gospel? Is it sinful to express that joy during a service?

My Answer: Of course it is not sinful to express “pure” Joy in the Gospel! By asking this in the context of a defense for contemporary forms, however, you erroneously equate the use of contemporary forms with the expression of “pure” Joy. “Pure” Gospel Joy bubbles uncontrollably out of a true Christian, with or without musical accompaniment. In the context of the Divine Service, such expression is present in his Worship sacrifice (as it would be in all expressions of his faith), as he joins those with whom he shares Unity, and in unison with them confesses his faith and expresses his Joy and Gratitude in word and song. In such a setting, the emphasis in worship expression is not on the individual; rather, it is on the unified and corporate expression in which the individual takes part. This corporate expression, which cannot function outside of the context of unity, is guided by a liturgy addressing two parties, the Minister and the Congregation, and carries them together through the Divine Service, keeping them together centered on Christ, rather than themselves or the antics of others. An orthodox hymnody is essential support to the objectives of the liturgy, likewise is accompaniment to serve the liturgy and hymnody without interfering with it. Accompaniment should not be used as a catalyst for emotions which ought to already be present “purely” as a result of the Gospel, nor should it be allowed to develop into such a crutch for Christians in any congregation. In such a case, accompaniment replaces the Gospel, and is employed to artificially manufacture what true Lutherans place their faith in the Holy Spirit to produce through the Gospel alone. Here is a previous entry from this blog that you may also find interesting: Difficulty in Rooting Out Church Growth

You State: The world is diverse, therefore worship forms ought to be equally diverse (my summary from your first paragraph)

My Answer: You seem to be unaware of what our Confessions mean when they define Lutherans as “catholic.” By this, we certainly do not confess that we are “Roman Catholic,” but that we are a church which “remembers” and “imitates” (Heb. 13:7-9) those who have faithfully served the Gospel throughout the church’s history. Dr. C.P. Krauth describes it best, I think, when he declares that the church catholic thus represents the outflowing of 2000 years of Christian faith and practice into the present, and projects it into the future (in his context, he is speaking of the utter necessity of well-educated Pastors, fully trained in Church History and Classical Studies like Western Civ., etc., and that those without such rigorous training are not fit to be Pastors, because they are incapable of effective catholicity). And so, in terms of our Rites, our Confessions inform us that we use nothing that has not been with us since the earliest of times (and this excludes, of course, what may have existed in earliest of times, but has been since rejected and is no longer “with us” – such as supposed “Apostolic Rites” dredged up by those who despise the Western Rite). In context, this applies directly to the Western Rite, but by extension, also to modified forms of the Eastern Rite (which is also a catholic Rite). In terms of our hymnody, catholicity is an aggregate of expression from across all cultures over the history of the Church. And so, worship cannot be said to be “catholic” if historic forms do not dominate, especially if there is disproportionate representation from strictly “contemporary” sources or modes of expression. Since the heart of Lutheranism has historically been Germany and Scandinavia, it makes sense that hymns and musical settings from these parts of Europe will have greatest representation in orthodox Lutheran hymnody. Over time, this will (and has been) change(ing), as Lutheranism spreads and as influences of orthodox Lutheran expression from a broader cultural spectrum find their way into our hymnody. In short, practices derived exclusively from, or dominated by, either “contemporary” influence or “local culture,” are not catholic and therefore, not Lutheran.

Here is a useful article addressing this topic (along with others): Why is the Lutheran Church a Liturgical Church?Related to this point, you also seem to define “culture” as “what is contemporary” – which isn’t true at all. In fact, the reverse is true. Those who understand and benefit from culture are not so narrow as to insist that “culture” is what’s “contemporary,” but have and express an active knowledge and appreciation for what makes a culture what it is: its history. Thus, a cultured individual can appreciate a performance by local (contemporary) talent at the corner establishment on Friday night, can enjoy a Saturday evening Classical concert, and arrive at Church on Sunday morning eager to engage the Rites of the Divine Service in distinctly Ecclesiastical musical forms. A cultured person is one who understands and appreciates artistic expression for what it is in its native context, but doesn’t demand that all artistic contexts coexist in some sort of shared artistic hegemony, or worse, as a lowest common denominator of pluralistic equivalency. Those who make such demands are neither wise nor “cultured,” but ignorant and narrow.

The point is, the Church is distinct and separate from the World, just as the local bar (and the musical entertainment it provides) is distinct and separate from a concert hall. There is every proper expectation for the Church to have its own “other worldly” culture and forms of expression. On the other hand, it is individual Christians, in the Domestic Estate, who are in both the Kingdom of Grace and the Kingdom of Power, not the church; but, while we are in both Kingdoms, we are only of the one Kingdom, not the other. Our expression, including our forms, ought to represent this fact unreservedly and most pointedly – especially when we are on our home turf (at church, that is). Here is another pertinent blog posting: CG vs WELS ContemporaryIn your final paragraph you make the assumption that the Divine Service is, or ought to be, focused principally on Evangelism and/or Outreach. This is a false assumption and an abusive redirection of the purpose of the Divine Service that is being promoted by C&C Church Growth advocates. Evangelism is specifically not the purpose of the Divine Service, nor should any self-respecting Lutheran allow it to become the purpose of the Divine Service. The Divine Service, as a worship setting, is a forum in which the believer is focused on Christ and His completed work on our behalf, is guided in responsive expression that only believers can offer to God, and which climax’s as Christ is joined with the believer in a most intimate way, as he receives His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins in Holy Communion. Reducing the Divine Service to (the now defunct theories of) Church Growth anthropocentrism, by refocusing the service on the pleasure drives of the unregenerate and concealing the Sacrament to spare them offense, is nothing short of tragedy. If you have followed any of the above links, you, no doubt, have already read the following, but I think it is worth repeating: “‘Any practice which elevates worship experience as an Evangelical tool, to a status anywhere near equal to the proclamation of Law and Gospel, is abusing both Worship and the preaching of Law and Gospel. Worship is a forum in which those with faith in the objective promises of God's Word offer their sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to Him on the basis of His completed work on their behalf. Those without faith have nothing to offer in such a forum. In fact, their offerings are offensive to God -- the Bible states directly that He turns Himself from such offerings, and rejects them. To draw unbelievers into the church on the pretense of worship experience is to sinfully draw them in on the false pretense of the efficacy of their worship sacrifice. The fact is, God hates the worship offerings of the unregenerate...’ Worship is not evangelism. Worship is what those with faith in the objective promises of God do, it is not what the unregenerate do, nor is it a forum which God has provided for them. We should avoid giving such indications in our worship practice.”

Just Trying to Help,

Freddy Finkelstein
November 17, 2008 4:47 PM

Friday, November 14, 2008

Treasure Trove ?

Some of you are new to these parts. I would invite you to peruse through the older posts for some interesting reading, valuable insights, and some worthless comments.

Posted below is just a sampling of the treasure trove hidden inside BW. Of course, you will need to plow throught the muck to find the context of these statements:
#1 : ) I nominated 'Bailing Water' as the 2007 blog of the year. I said that you generated many comments and that you must be read by many persons.

Norman TeigenELS layman(I am not Mr. Anonymous)
RTMM said...
The office is instituted.
C.L. Merts said...
If all of you are so scared of your synod, why are you still in it? "Come to the WELS" to live in abject terror of setting a toe out of line!?
Never, ever read Luther, Chemnitz or the Lutheran Confessions, you will be floored.

With the holidays fast approaching plus a wedding, I'll be brief, but you ask excellent questions. In all seriousness, I would recommend that you read The Motley Magpie (no, I'm not a relative of any of the editors, but I am a reader and really found it helpful personally). The editors dealt with many of the questions you have raised. They use Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions in their explanations and criticisms, which are very helpful to those of us who grew up not really being taught the Lutheran Confessions. Some of the back issues can be found at MotleyMagpie UP

Rev. Fr. John W. Berg said...
Kind bloggers,

And if anyone would actually wish to discuss/refute etc. what we wrote, even show us how nasty we are (which no one has, to date), they are welcome to e-mail me at We will print your letter in our next reissued Magpie, with our reply, of course.
Rev. Fr. John W. Berg, a.k.a.The Most High and Mighty Berg
(but don't look behind that curtain!)
Anonymous said...
The Magpie advocated communing infants.That's false doctrine.Case closed.
September 11, 2007 6:45 AM

A few words for the "brave" soul who hides behind the skirts of "anonymous" and who charged the Motley Magpie with heresy for its advocacy of the practice of infant communion: If you haven't read Fr. James Frey's excellent article on the subject, then shut up.

If you have read it, then grace us with a scholarly rebuttal. Better yet, wait for the two-part article on the subject in the next two issues of the MM soon to be put online (

The piece deals with the demise of the practice in the West, and offers an analysis of the objections to this ancient catholic practice (which are all specious and in the end lead to a denial of infant faith). Incidentally, your namesake did not call the practice heretical, but then again Luther wouldn't pass a colloquy into the wels if he were alive today.

Until then, Anonymous, hoist your skirt and stay off the playing field.

Rev. Peter M. Berg
September 12, 2007 11:51 AM
The inaccurate claim that President Schroeder is excited is now gone from the Church and Change website.
Think Green. Drink Wine. Go to Mass. Read the text. Read a bike -save the world. Vote for me.The B.
Thanks for the compliment. And thanks for all your work running this site--I do appreciate it.
To signatory "Pax,"And shalom to you.

Considering this forum a short answer will have to suffice. The article penned by Fr. Peter Berg was apparently labeled false doctrine by the WELS conference of presidents. Paul Janke wrote to me and said little more than it was not WELS, he did not provide any Scriptural or Confessional proof or analysis, really (You can ask him to see his March 11, 2004 letter to me if you do not believe me).

For example Fr. Berg took issue with the use of the word "public" as it is used in WELS literature. Janke countered that the WELS uses the word, period. (Oh, the Magpie offered him the pages of our journal to respond, he didn't even respond to that offer.) He said it was "classic" Missouri teaching. Good enough, I guess.I was asked to disavow that article and I declined. I repeatedly asked him to show me where the errors were in that paper and in what I personally wrote in the Motley Magpie. He never showed me where I was in error. The Magpie found the soft spots of WELS doctrine and practice and it had to be silenced. There were a couple attendant matters that are really immaterial to discuss at this point and you would not believe it unless you saw all the letters and witnessed the meetings.

Fr. Berg's article as well as his "lutheran lady lectors" and "lutheran lady celebrants" will help you begin to understand. The WELS does not look ontologically at these matters but centers all its prohibitions in the law. As the relationship between Christ and the church reflects the ontological reality of the Holy Trinity, so the Ministry of Christ continues through his called and ordained men who serve His Holy Bride. That Christologically iconic relationship (Christ and his Bride) is created in man, this is a part of the image of God, the husband-wife, giver-receiver relationship. All authority which Christ has, he has given to his church to be exercised through those who stand in his stead and give mouth and hand in service to the church. This is not the authority of the world, to boss about, bind wills and so forth (per the WELS) but the authority to serve with the blessed mysteries.

This a man must do who stands in an iconic relationship to Christ, thus the prohibitions in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2-3. And yes, the women stands in an iconic relationship to Christ, but not in this manner - as husband or pastor as one in stead of Christ in this relationship. Look at 1 Timothy 2. She must be silent for Adam was formed first. Eve's sin was not simply that she got the command wrong, that too, but that she spoke. Pastor Adam had that job, failed and so the second Adam came, and men born of Adam must speak in the stead of the second Adam (no estrogen here) to the Bride, the Church.

The WELS does not understand that these Christologically iconic relationships do not exist outside of these relationships that God has given. Where those relationships exist, the husband or pastor loves his wife or church as Christ the Bridegroom and Shepherd loves the Bride or church. The pastor/Christ serves the church/Bride of Christ with the blessed means of salvation. This is the office. That is the authority. No women. Yet outside of those relationship the law or reason reigns. The WELS sends her women out to be subservient to men with whom they do not have these relationships. The WELS rightly appeals to the order of creation, but they miss the ontological underpinnings of the relationship and they miss the scope of the relationship. In short, my wife gives her submission (which means to receive) to me and to her pastor, oh that would be me, too. She doesn't have to submit to any other man, other than constituted authorities, be they men or women. She is polite and demur and too good for me (like I had to say that), and like many Christian women she has had authority over men, and votes.

The article by Fr. Peter Berg discusses these things and the WELS would have none of it for it saw the implications. This too is the short answer. But it will give you something to chew on. There are other matters that we took issue with the WELS and you can read all about it in the Motley Magpie.
Rev. Fr. John W. Berg
October 18, 2007 9:43 PM


The post receiving the most comments and attention: (316 comments)


Feel free to post your all-time highlights or lowlights...

Traditonal Service - Contempo Service - Rob

This is probably opening up a can of worms here, but isn't that what blogs are all about?

So here goes:

I'd wonder about a pastor who felt comfortable conducting a traditional service and then following it up with a contemporary service. I'd question how true to the confessions the traditional service was if the pastor turned around and did a contemporary service later. It seems to be a contradiction to me - and a "why would you even want to" type of thing.

I guess that hits at the heart of Tim's, JK's and now Ben's argument for the concurrence of both. I haven't had to decide about something like that to date, but we don't have a lot of options around here so I don't know that I'd have a lot of options.

Have at it, fellas.


A few thoughts from awhile back

John 4:24 "God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

Romans 12:1-2 "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship."

Philippians 3:2-3 "For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh."

Hebrews 12:28-29 "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our 'God is a consuming fire.'"

The Augsburg Confession, Articles in Which an Account is Given of the Abuses Which Have Been Corrected also has this to say:

“For Your Imperial Majesty will undoubtedly find that the form of doctrine and of ceremonies with us is not so intolerable as these ungodly and malicious men represent. Besides, the truth cannot be gathered from common rumors or the revilings of enemies. But it can readily be judged that nothing would serve better to maintain the dignity of ceremonies, and to nourish reverence and pious devotion among the people than if the ceremonies were observed rightly in the churches.”

And from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, VII and VIII:

“But just as the dissimilar length of day and night does not injure the unity of the Church, so we believe that the true unity of the Church is not injured by dissimilar rites instituted by men; although it is pleasing to us that, for the sake of tranquillity [unity and good order], universal rites be observed, just as also in the churches we willingly observe the order of the Mass, the Lord's Day, and other more eminent festival days. And with a very grateful mind we embrace the profitable and ancient ordinances, especially since they contain a discipline by which it is profitable to educate and train the people and those who are ignorant….”

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Freedom from debt" Details enclosed

I opened my mailbox today and tossed aside what I thought was another credit card solicitation.
The glossy envelope screamed: "Freedom from debt" Details enclosed..

As I flipped the envelope over I realized it was in fact a mailing from the WELS to its members from the "Ministry of Christian Giving." The giving note is the annual plea from the office of JD.

The letter outlines the need to eliminate $22.4 million in debt during this year of Jubilee.

What is surprizing is the slick "credit card" like mailing. I wonder how many WELS members are going to toss this solicitation aside or how many will view it as a bait and switch.

We all need to look at how we give to the Lord. I just wonder if JD took the right approach with this cheezy mailing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Augsburg Confession on Worship

I would like to point the many readers to this fine article by a WELS pastor on worship (you will certainly note that Rock and Roll is not apart of this WELS view). Yet mission dollars seem to be pouring into the Rock and Roll churches. I wonder if this will stop with the renenewed financial crisis? Is this a call to repentance?

Key Words In Lutheran Liturgical Worship
By Charles L. Cortright

For many of us the study of language and its meaning has been a large part of our education and is a large part of our work. As we gather for this seminar on worship in our Lutheran Church, I would like to focus briefly with you on what is meant by the phrase “Lutheran liturgical worship,” and what it means to appreciate such worship.

Please note that I say “appreciate,” which is not synonymous in every instance with “like.” Appreciation involves awareness and sensitivity towards its subject; it involves recognition of values that have established themselves over time. Appreciation transcends the sometimes narrow confines of our individual tastes. Unfortunately, it happens all too often that people assess the worship practice of the church on the subjective basis of their likes and dislikes with little appreciation for the heritage they have received as Lutherans. But the corporate worship of the church ought not be determined by whim and fad, but upon solid, scripturally consonant, confessionally consistent principles and practices. So we look briefly at the key words “Lutheran,” “liturgical” and “worship” with an eye to being renewed once again in our appreciation of such worship.


Our first task is to understand what we mean by “worship.” Most often we use this word to label the corporate activity of a congregation, but we must remember that corporate worship flows from that worship which encompasses the entire life of the believer: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Thus, our Lutheran Confessions (particularly the Augustana and the Formula of Concord) profess on the basis of Scripture that the true worship of God is essentially faith in Christ. If our lives are not rooted and grounded in this faith, then any corporate worship we do becomes a form of hypocrisy. Remember the Lord’s indictment of Israel’s worship because of hypocrisy: “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies .... Away with the noise of your songs!” (Amos 5:21ff). And so also that of our Lord Jesus: “They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men” (Mt 15:9).

When the Holy Spirit gathers believers together into the Church, he also gathers them as the body of Christ in the outward activity we call worship. It is interesting that we often refer to the corporate worship of the Body as the “service.” But whose service? and for whom? Lutherans use the word “service” in English as a clipped form of the German Gottesdienst, “Divine Service.”

“Divine Service” does NOT refer to a worship service that is sublime in its language, or aesthetically beautiful in its celebration, or emotionally moving in its effect. (“How was the service?” “Oh, it was simply ‘divine’!”) Indeed, such criteria belong to the Reformed concept of worship with its emphasis on the feelings, emotions, needs, etc. of people. Yes, we Lutherans certainly do hope that corporate worship among our people is moving; and we should place a high premium on the competency and grace of the celebrant, preacher, and musician, but these things do not constitute the substance and worth of our worship. Nor is “Divine Service” to be thought of as service rendered to God as something that is owed, a duty exacted by a demanding God, or worse, as something which is meritorious before God. Such is the Roman concept with its emphasis on law works and sacrifice. Yes, we do owe God our heartfelt adoration, this is a First Article truth to us—but that is not the essential aspect of the Divine Service.

Divine Service is rather that service which God graciously gives to us. Lutheran worship is focused on the Means of Grace, on the blessed gospel proclamation in Word and sacrament that comes to us from the holy Trinity. God speaks to us his words of absolution and comfort; he reminds us of the blessed covenant of grace granted through Holy Baptism; he feeds us with the precious body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Lord’s Supper. God comes to us and serves us (!), and only afterward comes our response. So we characterize our worship properly as theocentric as opposed to a focus on ourselves, and as evangelical as opposed to a focus on the performance of certain functions or law duties.


We modify our understanding of corporate worship with the description “liturgical.” What does that mean for our worship? “Liturgical” does not mean simply “having a liturgy” or following a certain so‑called “order of service.” Many Protestant sects that eschew the characterization “liturgical” nonetheless follow a regular pattern or order in their worship. Nor does simply utilizing a form of the historic liturgy necessarily mean one is liturgical.

Lutherans usually understand liturgical worship in terms of following the historic liturgy of the western Church, but liturgical worship especially emphasizes the ecclesiastical year with its cycle of seasons and celebrations. And it needs to be said in this regard that the church year is greater than a mere rehearsal of the life of Christ as we move around the cycle—Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Passion Week, Easter, etc. The liturgical celebration of the church year is more than the rehearsal of history and more than “sanctified nostalgia”; it is walking with Christ via the liturgy: celebrating his grace, sharing in his sorrows, exulting in his victory by means of the rich rites, practices, and propers of the liturgy.

In that connection, and perhaps somewhat tangentially, we should stress how false the notion is which some advance that theological conservatism is best expressed (and preserved) by liturgical minimalization, that is, by ignoring the seasonal emphases of the church year and scorning the rubrics of the liturgy. Proponents of this notion sometimes like to recall a romanticized version of the “primitive simplicity” of the early church’s worship, citing it as the paradigm of “true worship.” Limitations of time do not permit us to look more closely at this notion now; a corrective to this point of view may be found in the first chapters of the Manual to Christian Worship.

But by the same token and for the sake of balance (since we are already on this tangent), equal care needs to be taken lest emphasizing the form and practice of the liturgy becomes an end in itself. The liturgy is rightly treasured as a time‑tested vehicle for celebration, but it is only a vehicle. The proclamation of the gospel through the means of grace is the substance of the Divine Service. If liturgical minimalization is wrongly conceived of as a hallmark of orthodoxy, liturgical maximizing can lead to the sad state of affairs in which form obscures orthodox content altogether!

To return to our main point, in the Lutheran Church worship practice that is determined to be liturgical traditionally conceives of itself in terms of a form of the Common Service of the Western Church. It celebrates the Divine Service of the Lord through Word and Sacrament in accord with the church year and by means of the order and rubrics of the “holy mass” (CA, Art. 23) as developed in history under the Lord of the Church. And it does so in accord with the meaning of the third key word before us, that of “Lutheran.”


Calling our worship “Lutheran,” of course, is not meant by us as merely a label or simply to distinguish our liturgy from that of other traditions (e.g., Lutheran vs. Anglican). We use the designation to mark our worship as being consonant with the Confessions of the Lutheran Church.

In this connection the name Lutheran as applied to the liturgy first denotes a tradition that is free under the gospel. As mentioned earlier, the Lutheran Confessions carefully distinguish the true worship of God—faith in Christ—from the man‑made forms of the liturgy (FC, ThD, Art X, 8). Thus, “the congregation of God of every place and every time has, according to its circumstances, the good right, power, and authority to change, to diminish, and to increase them [i.e., liturgical ceremonies] . . . as . . . may be regarded most profitable, most beneficial, and best for preserving good order, Christian discipline, and the edification of the Church” (FC, ThD, Art X, 9). Lutheran worship is worship undertaken in this gospel freedom. In Lutheran liturgics there is no sense of a “divinely ordained” form of worship as in Orthodox or Roman liturgics. Confessional Lutheranism, in fact, will always strenuously oppose any such notion as being contrary to our freedom in Christ. But having declared and affirmed that freedom, it is interesting to note the example of the Lutheran Confessions with respect to the liturgical heritage which the Lutheran Church holds in common with the Western Church. Indeed, the Augsburg Confession points to the retention of the customary ceremonies of the western mass—purified of Roman dross—as evidence against the charge of sectarianism (CA, Conclusion.) Martin Luther founded no church of his own; by God’s providential grace, he sought to reform the one he loved. As a result, the Lutheran Confessions uphold everywhere the understanding that the Lutheran Church is the purified “Church Catholic” (CA, Art 24, Concl; Ap, Art 24) and points to her liturgy as prima facie [primary fact]evidence of this.

A contemporary understanding of what it means to be Lutheran in terms of the liturgy, then, assiduously arms the freedom that is ours under the gospel on the one hand. On the other, Lutheran liturgical understanding regards highly the liturgical heritage of catholic Christianity, in its freedom adapting it as necessary to the changing exigencies of history and culture, but treasuring and conserving it with all deliberateness for its time‑proven utility and for the continuity it visibly proclaims with the Church catholic of ages past. To borrow a phrase from Charles Porterfield Krauth, the continuity of the Lutheran liturgy is one of the most visible aspects of the grace given the “conservative reformation.”

So, what is Lutheran in liturgical worship? I believe it is precisely the dynamic of this tension: freedom that seeks to celebrate the Divine Service meaningfully, culturally, and relevantly in the context of the liturgical heritage of the historic liturgy. It is this dynamic that has produced the significant and distinctly Lutheran alterations and additions to the liturgy such as hymns, the corporate confession, and the like, all the while preserving the rich, time‑proven order of the service: Kyrie, Service of the Word, Preface, etc. for the celebration of the ecclesiastical year. Speaking of Lutheran liturgical worship in terms of a “dynamic tension” leads us to view the practice of the liturgy as one that demands an on‑going investment of our time, understanding, awareness, and sensitivity. In a word, it means appreciating it!

May our praise in our Lutheran liturgical worship remain a fit response to the One who has served us and continues to bless us through Word and sacrament in Christ Jesus.

When this article was written, Charles Cortright was a professor at Northwestern College, Watertown, WI. In the Summer of 2000 he began serving St. Paul, North Hollywood, Calif.
This is an adapted version of an address given at the WELS Christian Worship seminar at Calvary Lutheran Church, Thiensville, WI, on July 15, 1994.

CA: Confessio Augustana, The Augsburg Confession (1530)
Ap: Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531)
FC: Formula of Concord (1577); ThD: Thorough Declaration (also called Solid Declaration), part II of FC.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

WELS seeking advice from Ed Stetzer

It looks like the scientific results are in: The number 1 issue facing the WELS is the Church and Change group. This is the group that recently sent a group of rogue pastors down to the church planting conference in Orlando, FL. At this conference these pastors sat at the feet of Baptist Pastor Ed Stetzer.

It wasn't much later that the C&Cers contracted Stetzer to present at the 2009 fall conference.

I guess we can all recognize why the C&C group is the synod's number 1 issue (according to the readers of BW)