Sunday, June 27, 2010

What is REAL Lutheran Worship anyway?

Now and then in my discussions with those who favor sectarian worship, or even so called "blended services," I hear comments like - ". . . the service had everything that Lutheran worship should . . ." And this, I think, is the main problem with this issue today.

I believe what these folks mean is that a particular worship service definitely seemed to be a Christian worship service, and also with a dose of Lutheran theology thrown in. But is that all a Lutheran worship service should be – worship with some Lutheran theology? No, it's more than that. Allow me to explain.

I would not say that sectarian worship was totally unchristian, anymore than I would say my grandmother's First Christian worship was, or my sister-in-law's Roman service, or my nephew's Pentecostal service. I know they appreciate that. They, on the other hand, would not claim that their services were "Lutheran." And I appreciate that.

To be absolutely clear, let every reader please understand – the issue is NOT – repeat NOT – all about what kind of instruments are used, or the style or tempo of music, or the even the order in which things are done in a worship service. Can we all just put these things aside for the most part? They may have a role at some point. But right now, let's just concentrate on the main issue. And as the Intrepid Lutheran blog has been valiantly trying to point out, this is not about "contemporary" worship. Using contemporary forms is NOT the problem. Using non-Lutheran forms IS the problem.

It all comes down to exactly what "Lutheran" worship is, and also what it isn't. I'm not going to argue whether or not the way Lutherans have worshipped in the past has "turned off" some people, or that some people don't like it or that some feel it's not the most "effective" way of attracting new members, or whatever. That's simply not at all the point. I don't happen to think it's true anyway. But, again, that's not the point.

It's really very simple: If you say you're a confessional, orthodox, historic, evangelical Lutheran, then act like it; preach like it, teach like it, live like it, speak like it, think like it, and yes, worship like it. Be consistent. Be honest. Say what you are, and be what you are, and be what you say you are. This is especially true in our public worship.

Luther could have made huge and gigantic changes in worship – other Reformers of his day certainly did. But the fact is he didn't. His was a "conservative" Reformation, not a "radical" one. It seems that some of our brothers in the ministry must think that Luther made a big mistake in continuing to follow, by in large, the outlines of the (c)atholic worship service.

And why did Luther do this? Because, in the end, even the Reformation wasn't all about worship. It was, and still is, about the way to heaven – salvation by grace alone through faith alone given through the Means of Grace alone; the Gospel in Word and Sacraments.

And as we here at Intrepid Lutheran have said from the beginning, and will continue to emphasize; our concern with other worship forms is not about hanging on to the trappings of the 16th century, it's about preserving and promoting the Means of Grace as the focus of all worship. These Means alone are the only way whereby faith can be created, preserved, and strengthened. And that's what all people need. And that's what confessional Lutherans want people to have, especially in worship!

It also seems some want to "have their cake and eat it too." They want to be conservative Lutherans, and members of a solidly Bible-based church body, but they also want to look, and sound, and have fun, be entertained, and maybe even grow, like a lot of our protestant or "evangelical" neighbors. That's just not honest, plain and simple.

I'm sure there will be a lot of Romans, and Baptists, and Methodists, and charismatics, and Pentecostals, and all kinds of other Christian believers in heaven. I'm also sure that Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell, and even old Bob Schuller have been tools for the Holy Spirit to lead some souls to eternal life. Good for God! But I don't want to BE in one of those churches, or even be affiliated with them. I don't want all the various false teachings they have. And I don't want the sometimes trite and vapid worship they have, not just because I don't like it, but because it does not serve the true needs of my soul.

Truth be told, there are dozens of churches in every city in America where one could get the exact same kind of service that you find at any one of the sectarian-type services taking place in some WELS congregations. So, one more such church isn't going to make much of a difference. But a thoroughly confessional WELS church, promoting the true Means of Grace will make a difference. We need to face up to the reality that some churches in our midst just don't seem to want to be Lutheran anymore - at least not confessional Lutheran. And that's not name-calling. That's just the way it is. Why? Because the kind of worship service they support is not Lutheran.

Back to what makes a Lutheran worship service again: The biggest, most noticeable thing is not the hymns, or the chants, or even the order of service itself. The biggest thing is the focus on the Means of Grace alone to bring people to faith and keep them in the faith. Confessional Lutheran worship is not music, not show, not plays or skits, not lighting, not "talks," and not simply even the Word either in readings and sermon, but the whole package of the Means given to us by Christ – the Word, and Baptism, and Confession & Absolution, and the Lord's Supper. What is so telling about these sectarian or mock-Lutheran services is often the absence of these last three items, at least quite often and much of the time.

- Baptisms are done, but in almost all of the sermon pod casts and such I have listened to, reliving ones' Baptism is seldom, if ever, mentioned.

- Confession and Absolution takes place, usually only once in a while, and in some places not at all. And the "made-specially-for-this-service" confessions and absolutions are much poorer theologically than those used for hundreds of years in the confessional Lutheran church. Quite often the Biblical doctrine of "Original Sin" is either watered down or missing entirely. Now it's true, confessional Lutheran services didn't have public confession/absolution during the years right after the Reformation and throughout the period of orthodoxy, but that was because they retained Private Confession, as Luther himself desired.

- Some of these churches observe Holy Communion, but often infrequently, and when they do, most do it behind closed doors, or out of the view of most who attend the service. Again, it is true that such was the practice in Apostolic times, but I doubt anyone today is going to accuse us of cannibalism (unless we're in a Muslim country)! The Pastors of these "different" churches claim that they can't have open and public communion services because the kind of people they attract "wouldn't understand" things like "Closed Communion." That's just not "Lutheran," again, at least not historically and confessionally Lutheran.

These Pastors and their people must like the way they worship. I'm sure some people get saved through their work. That's fine. God does indeed work in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform! But I wish they wouldn't call it Lutheran worship, because it's just not!

And that's the issue at hand. Does sectarian/mock Lutheran worship really have "everything a Lutheran worship service should have"? Certainly not by historic Lutheran standards. Some, it seems, want to change those standards. Intrepid Lutherans want to preserve them. Aye, and there's the rub!

Pastor Spencer


David Jay Webber said...

Now it's true, confessional Lutheran services didn't have public confession/absolution during the years right after the Reformation and throughout the period of orthodoxy, but that was because they retained Private Confession, as Luther himself desired.

Actually it's not true. See section VII of this essay - including the footnotes.

Intrepid Lutherans said...

Thank you, Pastor Webber. Your knowledge in this area is always welcome. I was perhaps reading too much into Luther Reed's comment that, "Luther in his orders omitted all reference to the Confiteor." My point was that if churches wish to leave out a public confession/absolution, they should at the very least provide a regularly scheduled opportunity for private confession and absolution. Again, thank you for your comment.

Pastor Spencer

Lisette Anne Lopez said...

It is at times like these that I wish I had a printer.
This message says it all!
Fact not fiction!

Mr. Daniel Gorman said...

Pastor Webber,

Please name one true, confessional Lutheran service during the years right after the Reformation and throughout the period of orthodoxy that featured a general public confession/absolution equivalent to TLH, 1941. General public confession/absolutions before 1941 were either conditional or they included a retention of sins for "unbelievers, fanatics, impenitent persons, adulterers, licentious usurers, drunkards, murderers, none of whom wants the absolution, and much less has an earnest purpose to reform his life" (Footnote 82 of your essay).

David Jay Webber said...

Mr. Gorman,

I didn't say that the public confession and absolution rites of the 16th century were exactly like the rite in TLH. But there were rites of public confession and absolution. As you mention, there were also rites of public retention, coordinated with the public absolution.

The public absolution in TLH is also "conditional" in a sense. It is explicitly offered "upon this your confession," that is, as a response to the penitents' immediately preceding confession of their sinfulness and their stated prayer for God's mercy. The absolution is therefore offered precisely to those confessing and praying people and is not just thrown to the wind, to anyone and everyone.

Even in private confession and absolution, the absolution is offered in response to the penitent's outward confession, and not on the basis of the pastor's ability to perceive that the confession is sincere and genuine. Pastors cannot read hearts - not in public confession and not in private confession either.

A person says that he is sorry for his sins and that he desires forgiveness, and a pastor absolves him in response to what he says. What the person actually believes is another matter - a matter that only God can ultimately deal with.

Mr. Daniel Gorman said...

The TLH absolution is pronounced unconditionally upon all the unbaptized and unbelieving in the church who say the words in the hymnal (no mention of faith apprehending forgiveness of sins; no mention of the hardening of the impenitent). By contrast, Luther's private absolution to baptized penitents (who have actually sought out forgiveness) teaches that faith is required in the use of the Sacrament (AC, XIII):

"Dost thou believe that my forgiveness is God's forgiveness?
Answer. Yes, dear sir.
Then let him say: As thou believest, so be it done unto thee. . ."

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