Response to “A Tale of Two Synods” has been interesting and illustrative: some people posting comments to the blog, some to the FB repost, and some to the editors via email. Although many of these responders would have no problem identifying themselves, I am protecting their privacy by not publishing their names and geographical clues that might identify them. It is their choice whether they wish to be made known or not. That’s not my call.

Clearly, this phenomenon is not just an American problem, as we received feedback from three countries. The slide of our churches into pop-music entertainment worship and/or a rejection of the liturgy is especially scandalous to those who, like me, converted to Evangelical Catholicism. It is often the convert who has actually studied the Book of Concord, and leaves a service scratching his head, wondering if the Lutheran congregation sold the building to a non-denominational church.

And since the faith is the most important thing in the life of the believer, he and his faithful wife are willing to pile the family into the car, sometimes with several young children, and travel ridiculously long distances to attend an authentically Lutheran Divine Service - often driving right right past several congregations who have traded away the treasure of their birthright for a bowl of junk food.

Maybe such families and individuals can’t do this every Sunday, but they strive to be faithful under trying circumstances.

Others have a similar story. And perhaps for political reasons, their stories are not told in Lutheran WitnessReporter, in the publications of our seminaries, in our district publications, or in our congregational newsletters. It is as though they don’t exist, as they are stifled and hidden under the blare and bombast of the cacophony coming from the speakers of the “successful” church.

It is high time that we acknowledge this massive problem in our synod and in the various church bodies around the world that were either established by, or influenced by, the LCMS. And it is certainly overdue that we begin to push back against those pushing Nondenominationalizing Tendencies in our fellowship wherever that pressure occurs - whether it be in the seminary chapel, in the district office (the MMFs and DPs in particular), or in church publications.

I’ve been considering this issue quite a lot lately, and I believe there are indeed things that we pastors and laity can do together to take practical steps towards a renaissance of Lutheran Authenticity here and around the world. It will take persistence and patience - qualities that our progressive brethren have displayed over the long haul to get to where we are today. The time is long past for the ship to be righted. I’ll be writing more about that in the future.

But the first step is to get the problem out into the open and acknowledge it.

Here is a sample of some of the responses that we have received.

  

I wanted to convey to you the immense encouragement that I received from this post, which might seem somewhat unusual, because I think you wrote it with some exasperation about what's going on the LCMS.

Actually, it was just great to read something that someone had written that is so close to my thinking.... I actually wrote a public statement and left the [church body] in [country], which is much further gone than the LCMS. I can tell you more, but suffice to say, that I couldn't in good conscience remain. I've just started a small congregation here in [city], and I'm hoping to make some contacts with the ILC, and such churches. (I loved the video of Siberia that you posted.)

~ Responder

I also like how the older people tend to think that this is what us younger people want: bands and lights and smoke. Okay maybe it’s true. I want the one man band called the pipe organ, I want the candles, the incense, the liturgy, a meat and potatoes sermon that will feed me through the week. Divine Liturgy that lets me worship God by repeating his words back to him instead of repeating some endless chorus of the same watered down words of a praise song. I want to touch the hymn books and have the full experience. I want to hear the little children that can not read yet but have the Divine Liturgy memorized because church is the same every week instead of some rock concert.

~ Responder

Man this hits home! Okay, so, I live in [place name], which is the "Texas of [country], and the landscape here appears strikingly similar. That is to say, while the area itself is known to be politically conservative, the Neo-Evangelicalism by way of a lack of Confessional integrity, ejection of the hymnal and liturgy in favour of "creative worship" or non-denominational mega-church nonsense, is astounding. Like the LCMS, the divide… here is very real as well (although perhaps easier to navigate geographically as it appears to be east vs. west, generally speaking). I mean, even [among our seminaries], the attitude and emphasis is in such stark contrast that it is exactly as you say where it might as well be two synods (one catering to boomers, or the death of the [Lutheran] church, and the other authentically Confessional Lutheran serving as a beacon for the elect).

The proposed polity solution I could not agree with more and would love to see such a model…. . It would alleviate much of this tension and conflict, and perhaps be the answer to the problem of the microsynods who just can't stand to be in fellowship with a body that allows what it does. It also has historical precedence insofar as superintendents used to be in charge of setting the church order for their region and standardizing practice. Although, on that note, this would also be a good time to revert back to traditional language as Fr. Peterson makes a case for, opting for terms like diocese and bishop instead. Or, at least the Orthodox Lutheran districts can use such verbiage, the rest can continue to distance themselves from anything "traditional", "catholic", or "Lutheran" for that matter. Then if/when a split happens, it'll be much easier as everyone will already be organized and grouped together in their respective camps that honestly reflect what they believe and where they stand.

~ Responder

Anyone whose been around knows that you have to carefully check a church’s website or FB page to make sure they haven’t gone off the rails. “You should try the Lutheran church” could be the best or worst recommendation at the same time.

~ Responder

I want the Pastors, and District President (Bishop) of the Texas district to understand why and what I left. I converted to Confessional Lutheranism as an adult, a few years ago. Converting as an adult I left an American Evangelical church where I had volunteered as a small group leader, musician, and technical service (sound/lighting/projection). I was in a very comfortable position as a volunteer, esteemed by my co-volunteers, appreciated by the church staff. I walked away from it all. The concert sound, the theater lights, the visuals, and a musician I walked away from it all.

I walked away from rock concert church to join a "boring" small congregation with a pianist who doubles as the organist, and seasonally triples as a choir director. I walked away from the exciting flashy rock concert church so I could read the SATB notes in the service book and struggle to sing the bass line. I walked away from one church and don't think I won't walk away from an LCMS congregation that does the same, because I already did. I needed to attend an evening service on occasion and the closest LCMS church has a soft rock band. After posting on Facebook for another evening church I drive double the distance to go to a liturgical congregation.

It angers me to see our fellowship mixed with rock'n'roll, as if we could flirt with the world and not be changed by it. We don't avoid sins by flirting with them, which is what rock and roll church is all about. And on top of this all my wife was watching, and on rare occasion coming with me to see our services. She also left the same American Evangelical church only to find the same problem among us. Can you imagine a life long Baptist in a young marriage seeing what her husband is doing in such a different church and finding the same music that caused her to leave? She's already walked from a second Am. Ev. church! whose pastor she knew! Do you think she'll want to return to a congregation in our fellowship? As her husband I pray one day she does.

~ Responder

There is frustration, disorientation, and even pain in these responses, and in similar personal accounts that I have heard over the years - and yes, experienced myself as a layman who was actually shocked at what I saw in LCMS churches. It seems like our district offices are not listening, and they just down care.

Well, it’s time that they start caring. And the first step is to start listening.


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It all boils down to Jesus, and what you believe about Him.

Do you believe the Bible when it confesses that Christ is present with us?

Do you take Jesus at His word when He says, “Do this in memory of Me?”

Are you humbled at the Lord’s miraculous presence with us?

Do you believe, teach, and confess that the presence of Jesus
is the fountainhead of holiness,
and so our worship in the holy place must itself be holy
- as opposed to common and ordinary?



 

When I get into discussions with people over the liturgy and traditional hymnody (over and against so-called “contemporary worship,”) a lot of the same arguments and assertions pop up.

First is the charge that I just want traditional worship because it is “just what I like.” In other words, it’s a matter of personal preference and taste. This accusation is more a revelation about what the one making the accusation believes, for “contemporary worship” is typically based on pop-music forms that are, well, popular. People want pop music because it is what they like, not because of its theology or particular confession, not because it reflects what God prefers from the Scriptures, or because it promotes the Word of God. No, people like pop music in worship because they like pop music elsewhere. If it’s good enough for listening to while driving to work, it’s good enough to listen to in the church service.

So the charge that traditional church music is “just what you like” sounds like a projection. For are there any people arguing that they don’t really like pop music, but it is the best music for worship? Is there anyone who champions guitars and drums in the chancel who leaves church and turns on the radio to listen to organ music and chorales? Admittedly, this is just a hunch, but I suspect that most proponents of “contemporary worship” actually prefer those music forms, and listen to them outside of the church service as well. In other words, “It’s what they like.”

One finger pointed at me, three fingers pointing back at thee.

To the contrary, my desire to uphold the traditional liturgy and hymnody of the church has nothing to do with my musical tastes. In fact, the vast majority of the music that I listen to is pop music. I like what is today called “classic rock.” I like hard rock and 1980s heavy metal. I do listen to some classical music as well, but the vast majority of my musical tastes are the very types of music that I would loath in the Divine Service, and would consider its use to be blasphemous against the Lord and a degradation to rock and roll. As the cartoon character Hank Hill famously told a Christian rocker, “You’re not making Christianity better, you’re making rock and roll worse.”

I’m a stickler for traditional liturgy and hymnody for several reasons. One of them is that this is what God likes. He is a God of order. He is a God of dignity. He is a God of beauty. He is a God of sacrifice, atonement, and forgiveness. One would be hard-pressed to find the self-serving desire to be entertained in Biblical examples of worship. In fact, after recording God’s worship style preferences over the course of seven chapters (Exodus 25-31): the beautiful tabernacle covered in magnificent fabric, an altar of bronze followed by a courtyard also outfitted with beautiful textiles and precious metals, exquisite priestly garments (as well as rubrics for ordination), the altar of incense, the bronze basin for ceremonial washing, the anointing oil and incense, and specific instructions for fine craftsmanship, we come to chapter 32: the rejection of all of this for a more entertaining worship style around the golden calf, “and the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. (Ex. 32:6)” They played at their worship. There was no indication that God wanted the priests to “play” in the holy of holies, or that the laity should “play” while sacrificing animals as a type of the Lamb to come. Some believe the word translated as “play” may be a euphemism for erotic overtones in this worship service - something that comes to the fore in many popular “praise and worship” songs, many of which that can be embarrassing to read the lyrics out loud or to watch the gyrations of the often-female performers - or “ministers of music", “worship leaders”, or “worship pastors” as they are sometimes called.

By contrast, we see the Israelites who worshiped the true God repeating their ritual and liturgical actions of remembrance each year - and they were commanded to keep various feasts as a memorial. And to be a memorial, there must be continuity, both in ritual, and in the passing along of those rituals through the generations.

Every year, a lamb was slaughtered and it was cooked with bitter herbs. It was eaten on the same day each year, and the same ceremony was repeated again and again, century after century. There were readings, there were hymns, there were psalms to be chanted. Why? Because God commanded that it should be done each year. Why should it change, since ultimately, the Passover meal was a type of Christ, pointing us to the Eucharist and to the cross? The message doesn’t change, and therefore the rubrics of the meal do not change. For if they were to change even a little every year, in a hundred years it would look nothing like what it was supposed to remember.

And when God interacts with mankind, there is a coming of heaven down to earth. Something otherworldly, something holy is happening. “Holy” means “set apart.” So when Jacob saw the vision of the angels ascending and descending on the ladder, he set apart that place as holy, and marked it with a pillar that was anointed with oil. That place was no longer just a spot to bed down for the night, it was the gate of heaven.

God is also a God who is concerned with esthetics. He is the author of beauty. He is not indifferent about matters of style. For again, when God tabernacled with the children of Israel, he commanded a tent to be made up to His standards, with magnificent furniture, with gold and silver and fine-twined linen, beautifully woven fabrics of purple and scarlet. His tabernacle, and later his temple, was epitomized by exquisite beauty beyond what one normally had in his house and daily life. God ordered the priests to be vested, also in beautifully crafted textiles, rare jewels, and fine detailed ornamentation.

This is not my idea or preference. This was not the preference of the priests or architects of the House of the Lord. This was done according to God’s order. And God likes beautiful art - the cherubim above the mercy seat, the intricate carvings of almond flowers, palm trees, and pomegranates. Why? Because God likes this design. It’s what He wanted. It is not because the congregation liked it, or the priests, or the leaders. God also likes bells and incense. Why? I don’t know. He just does. He likes craftsmanship and high art. And this level of ornateness was not how ordinary people lived in their day to day life. The place where God made Himself present for, and with, mankind, this holy place, was set apart and beautiful.

How anyone can actually read the Bible and come away thinking that God prefers people to just “come as you are” and “don’t go to any trouble to make things nice” when they come into His presence? Or how can anyone conclude that God’s attitude is “do whatever makes you happy, whatever you like,” or “do whatever is cheap.” This is not the God of the Bible.

And related to this idea of God becoming present with His people, this is one major difference we have with Protestantism. We, along with the historic communions of Christianity, confess that a miracle happens on our altars when we celebrate the Mass, that Christ, the living God and King and Creator of the Universe, the Man who is perfect, comes to us literally and in incarnate form, as the bread and wine that are blessed by His Word are truly His body and blood.

And so, that Presence takes us out of our ordinary, pedestrian existence and places us at the table with God.

So is informality called for in times like these? Did Isaiah behave casually when he found himself in the throne-room of God, when the angels purged away his sin by bringing him a coal from the altar and placing it upon his lips? Did Peter, James, and John behave the same as they always did when Jesus transfigured before them on the mountain?

Do military men behave differently around an officer than when they are hanging out with their fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen, or marines? What about when a general enters the room? How about the president? Are there different protocols and ways of behaving around one’s superiors? And how would it be received if a soldier did not treat officers differently than their friends? Do these rituals and ways of carrying oneself communicate something? Are they for the good of the entire corps, the whole body of men united in service?

What if you were invited to a banquet at Buckingham Palace? Would you comport yourself the same as if you were at home in front of the TV with a bucket of KFC? Or would you maybe be more formally dressed, perfectly groomed, more aware of those around you, especially those of high social rank? Would you like to know what the rubrics for such an important meal are? Or would you be content to carry on the same way that you do at home?

Our formality in worship as Lutherans is crucial, because it is a confession that we do confess that Christ is miraculously present with us. We do not confess, as do many Protestants, that the Lord’s Supper is a symbol, or that our Lord’s flesh is far off in the heavens, leaving us with mere tokens that are at best some kind of “spiritual” presence. No, we confess that this is the eternal banquet that Jesus is always talking about, or at least a foretaste of it. The Divine Service is eschatological and brings us into contact with eternity. He is present under our roof, though we are unworthy. He says the Word, and we are healed. The King, God Himself, deigns to dine with us! This is not watching TV with KFC eaten out of a plastic container with a spork. Rather, this is the Holy of Holies, and Christ incarnate is present with us. And we not only eat with Him, but we feed miraculously on the true Passover Lamb, even as His blood is poured into us to mark us as His own, protected and saved from condemnation, from the Angel of Death.

And so, our worship is different than our day to day lives.

The hymnody comes from our rich tradition and is unbounded by fads or notions of what is popular today, but may well fall out of favor tomorrow. Our hymns not only praise God, but confess our faith rigorously and boldly. Our worship is dignified, and like the liturgical actions of remembrance of the children of Israel, it doesn’t change again and again, becoming unrecognizable in just a few years. Nor is it play - whether motivated by a desire for fun, or even tinged with eroticism.

Jesus said, “Do this in memory of Me.” He did not order us to change the liturgical action to bend it to our standards of entertainment, or to prevent it from not being “special.” And this is why the Church’s liturgy remains the same. It is a remembrance, just as the liturgical actions of the Old Testament Church were. Any changes are not made to reflect theological change, but perhaps to accommodate linguistic or technological shifts. And over the centuries, we have developed a corpus of the very best that the Church has in terms of liturgy and hymnody, not subject to fads and fashions. Our progressive culture routinely gets rid of the old in search of the ever-new. Our church’s heritage is a blend of the old and the new, not subject to “chronological snobbery” or Critical Theory that denigrates our own forbears.

And as a pastor, I want people to be taught (as ceremonies teach the people what they need to know about Christ, as our confessions teach us). I want my parishioners to have no doubts about what it is that we Lutherans confess about Jesus, and about what He Himself says in Scripture. This is communicated verbally in what is said, and nonverbally in what is done. Research suggests that 60% of what is communicated between people is non-verbal - meaning what we do and how we speak is as important, and perhaps even a bit more, than what is said in words alone.

An informal liturgy belies what is really happening: the miracle of heaven meeting earth and of Christ tabernacling with us. Pop music lowers the level of dignity, perhaps to the depths of frivolity and impropriety. And when we have centuries of magnificent hymnody, to settle for what is sung in Pentecostal or non-denominational churches is like choosing to eat cold Vienna sausages instead of the luxurious spread of delectable delicacies that you have been invited to partake of at the feast.

So far from being a matter of personal taste, the traditional liturgy and hymnody is what God wants, is a confession of who Jesus is and what He does, and is good pastoral care in terms of teaching and confessing our faith.

And this is why our forbears included Article 24. They did not just say, “Do whatever you like.” For while our Roman opponents were lumping us in with radical reformers that abolished the Mass, we vociferously deny such a scurrilous charge. To even suggest it is a gross insult, and resulted in an angry retort by Melanchthon, as well as a master class on what real worship is all about in the Augsburg Confession and the Apology.

It all boils down to Jesus, and what you believe about Him. Do you believe the Bible when it confesses that Christ is present with us? Do you take Jesus at His word when He says, “Do this in memory of Me?” Are you humbled at the Lord’s miraculous presence with us, like Moses, like Isaiah, like Peter, James, and John? Do you believe, teach, and confess that the presence of Jesus is the fountainhead of holiness, and so our worship in the holy place must itself be holy - as opposed to common and ordinary?

Are you willing to sacrifice your own personal tastes and desire to be entertained in the style to which you were accustomed in order to submit to Him and to receive His gifts - and to give Him thanks in return in the setting of His choosing? Do you actually believe what He says, and what the Church says about Him? Or do you hold the faith of another tradition, whose informal and casual worship is more fitting?

  

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When someone posted the above video of the Texas District that was shown at the Texas District Convention, I responded on social media in a tongue-in-cheek manner, saying that Lutherans would do well to have such polished productions as this obviously non-denominational presentation.

I thought about responding here at Gottesblog with satire, sarcasm, and gallows humor. After all, the jokes do just write themselves. The Texas District logo not only appears to depict three martinis, they get increasingly out of proportion and dizzying as you navigate from the first to the third. This could not have been by accident. Some graphic designer was obviously being cheeky. For in a very real sense, this illustrates a practical way to deal with the district - especially at convention. Although the genuine Texas beverage might be a 64 ounce bucket of margaritas, I don’t know how well that would translate to a logo. So the three-martini motif will just have to do.

I thought about comparing the entertainment-based music and emotional imagery in this video - rooted in the spoken word of vague non-sequiturs instead of the incarnational reality of Christ coming to us to forgive us and transform us for eternity by means of His physical presence. And this is manifest not only in His historic enfleshment, His birth, cross, death, and resurrection, but also in His ongoing sacramental presence with us in the miracles of Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist - two themes that, though central to the faith, are pushed to the margins in this video. Instead, this objective ground of faith is jettisoned in favor of emotion and slick production. In this, the comparison to the Texas-sized Neo-Evangelical megachurches of the highways and byways of the Lonestar State - where indeed everything is Bigger - is unavoidable. It is no accident that the Reverend Father Joel Osteen is a Texas pastor with a Texas-sized church that is the envy of Church Growth Movement moguls everywhere. Indeed, the lust of our baby-boomer CGM experts for Bigness and the reduction of individual human souls to a Big number in a ledger or on an annual statistics form is insatiable. No Cialis needed for this passion.

I thought about performing a Rick-roll-like trick by inviting my reader to click on the link to the Texas District highlights, but replace it with the magnificent satirical video called “Contemporvent” or perhaps “The Worship Song Song.” Both make the point well.

I also thought about all the angles I could play because it is Texas. And I do love Texas. I love the history and heritage, the independent streak of the people, the sense of Bigness in everything, a zest for life, the unique foods and cultures and byways. Texas is a quintessential part of the South, which I hold dear. And Texas is (along with South Carolina) a state where you are just as likely to see the state flag as the US flag - and it may well even be flying on a pole of the same height as Old Glory. It is a state where people, following the observation of President Obama, “cling to their guns” and “religion,” not to mention to their Whataburger, beef brisket barbecue, and big honking belt buckles.

When I once traveled to Texas on business in my former life a long time ago, being on a company per diem, I ate a one-pound T-bone for lunch, and a two-pound T-bone for supper. You can get away with such things when you’re in your twenties. I also bought myself some cowboy boots. I did not buy a cowboy hat, but did wear my boots up north. My Texan friend who lives in North Carolina always brought his pregnant wife to Texas to give birth many times in the Lone Star State, thus assuring the transmission of his Republic of Texas citizenship to posterity. And I think that is a good and noble thing. It is part of what makes Texas unique.

These delightful quirks of Texas and Texans could have provided fodder for explaining the quirkiness of the LCMS in the Republic. Lutheranism has a long history in Texas - both in its German and Slovak heritages. But sadly, there is nothing endearing in the modern context about jettisoning the liturgy and our rich theology that are truly evangelical, and trading them for the pottage of non-denominational Christianity.

Besides, those accents in the video suggest that there is a lot of carpetbagging going on.

But after considering all of these angles, I decided to take a different tack. I’m still a big fan of dark humor and throwing stones at the dragon, for if nothing else, it breaks up the monotony, and sometimes gets other guys hurling a pebble or two. And who knows, there might even be a David out there whose stone hits the beast in the right spot. And even if it doesn’t put the monster out of our Missouri, the encounter could end up in a viral Steve Inman video for entertainment purposes. And that’s not for nothin’.

But there is also something very serious and sad about this video.

It shows that Pietism is still very much alive and well in our synod: the ginning up of emotion and the downplaying of the sacraments, the transformation of worship into entertainment instead of the Church’s timeless participation in the eternal liturgy that binds heaven and earth together - that unites the Church Militant with the Church Triumphant, offering a sacrifice of praise to our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the sacrificial Lamb whose blood saves us and who breathes the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, into us. And this is not a metaphor, but rather a flesh-and-blood reality by means of the ongoing miracle of God performing signs and wonders in our midst because His Word is still sounding forth, still creating, still redeeming, still sanctifying - still reconstituting the universe, and still drawing us into the incense-filled inner-sanctum of the very throne-room of God, where Isaiah once lay prostrate in fear, but where he was comforted by the purification delivered to his lips by a messenger bearing a burning coal from the holy altar.

Of course, to the Pietist, this is just boring stuff from an old book. That’s our grandfather’s church. To them, we need music, really exciting, awesome, fist-pumping, epic music - guitars and drums and emoting vocalists and a guy running a sound-board. And that music should be repetitive, it should cause one’s heart to skip a beat, it should tug at the heartstrings, it should induce dopamine so that a proper decision for Christ can be made. It should be the kind of music that fills the modular interlocking church seats the same way that stadiums are filled - thus also paying homage to the CGM Fetish of Bigness.

This is Texas, after all.

According to Pietism, we need pastors dressed just like us, who are excitable, who are dynamic, who are not stuffy and reverent and catholic. We need awesome vision-casting, leadership, leadership, leadership, and apps. We need high-tech. We need screens and PowerPoint. We need passion and programs and fun. Did I mention excitable pastors? We need to use the word “amazing” a lot - and new turns of phrase, like “on ramps for Jesus” (which is perhaps a Texas response to Oklahoman Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel”). We need to de-emphasize “what goes on in these four walls” and focus on drawing people into the church from the world by not only going into the world, but by looking like the world.

The centrality of the Sacrament and the traditional liturgy really just get in the way of being “missional.”

The video had a lot to say about mission work, but it lacked authenticity. It just looked like well-heeled Texas suburbanites getting together with other well-heeled Texas suburbanites for brisket and music. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but that’s not really “missions.” Being missional is a big buzzword, but real mission work doesn’t much resemble watching NFL games while scooping peanuts from a tin bucket at a Texas Roadhouse. One fellow brought up the topic of Christian worship during communism and compared it to using Zoom during the pandemic. As the kids say, “Yeah, no.”

In fact, authentic Lutheran mission work is being done in the former Soviet Union. Here is a video showing how this missionary endeavor is carried out in Siberia, and how it is done in an authentically Lutheran way:

Note the Christological and sacramental focus of Siberian mission work. (Let’s just keep this between us girls, but Siberia is even bigger than Texas). As a bonus, here is a video of Siberian Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin speaking at a faithful Texas congregation, Faith Lutheran Church in Plano. This is quite the contrast to the Texas District video of the Cult of Bigness and the desire to adopt Neo-Evangelical worship.

Sadly, I often hear from faithful confessional Lutherans, seeking authentic Lutheran worship using the hymnal, who drive sometimes up to a hundred miles on Sunday morning, passing a wasteland of non-liturgical LCMS congregations, all in order to find a church that is liturgical, confessional, and reverent. It is a huge sacrifice, but it is worth it - especially to young families who want their children learning the catechism and being formed by the miraculous presence of Christ instead of being molded by vacuous entertainment. Sometimes, people have to face hard choices of either finding a Wisconsin Synod congregation (and promising to break prayer fellowship with the rest of the family and be subjected to a low view of the office of the ministry), or even attending Masses of a continuing Anglican tradition and forgoing the Holy Sacrament for a while. As I noted earlier, this desert of decent LCMS congregations in some places has led some of our laity - often young families with children - to physically move to where the liturgical parishes are. As my colleague Fr. David Petersen advises, there is another option: to start a new church. We need faithful lay people to consider such a drastic step - even if it means foregoing the Bigness and suburban wealth of the Texas-sized LCMS church up the road. For this isn’t about everything being Bigger - in Texas or elsewhere - it is about fidelity to Word and Sacrament, in doctrine and ceremonies. It is about teaching the people what they need to know about Christ.

And even Osteen’s Texas megachurch began very small - as did most of our LCMS church plants. In hostile districts, a confessional and liturgical congregation may well get snubbed by the districtocracy, even as money flows like the mighty Mississippi to church plants that downplay authentic Lutheranism and instead employ gimmicks. But remember, that the confession of the “one holy catholic and apostolic church” is located within the third article of the Creed - as the Holy Spirit is the “Lord and giver of life.” It is not mammon or district bureaucracy that quickens the church. It is not gimmicks or marketing that grows the church. For God Himself “has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.” Man does not live by District alone, and in fact, in our Lutheran tradition, both its history and its confessional writings, church bureaucracy is sometimes a hindrance to the Gospel. And when it is, it is best ignored. Certainly, our sixteenth century ancestors, who were attacked and harried by the worldwide, rich, and powerful church bureaucracy of the day, knew what it was to oppose them and stand as a “little flock” being implored to “fear not the foe.”

The adoption of Neo-Evangelical practices indeed leads to Neo-Evangelical doctrine. Lex Ordandi, Lex Credendi is not just a tee-shirt slogan for seminarians and geeky pastors. It is an ancient and wise observation that bears out our Lutheran forbears’ retention of the ancient ceremonies rather than throwing caution to the wind in search of something new. That is why Article 24 begins with the bold statement:

Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among us, and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved, save that the parts sung in Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns, which have been added to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned be taught [what they need to know of Christ].

~ AC 24:1-4a

One thing that is hammered home by this video is that we are two synods (at least). Can you even imagine one of the pastors in the above video standing in the pulpit and reading the above quote from our confessions to his parishioners? Or how about the Texas District President reminding his congregations that they are committed to this confession.

We can lie to ourselves that we are actually united as a synod. It just isn’t so. There is no way that I would visit and commune at the kinds of LCMS churches shown in this video. Nor would my parishioners. They would be scandalized. And there is no way that most of those folks would ever commune from my hand at the altar that I serve. We have a paper fellowship, at best, and a tenuous unity and koinonia based not on doctrine and ceremonies, but on a common bureaucracy and shared employment benefits. And as more and more congregations jettison Concordia Plan Services, even that link is being weakened. In some cases, the only thing holding the synod together is a sense of nostalgia and branding.

The Rev. Prof. Kurt Marquart of blessed memory suggested that we need a divorce in our synod. That would certainly be more honest than what we have now. And as painful as “The Walkout” and the subsequent breakup of the LCMS was in the 1970s, it was the honest thing to do.

But maybe there is another way that we could order ourselves more honestly. Perhaps what we need is to abolish the districts and circuits as they exist (as they reflect 19th century technological limitations). But why must our districts be geographical today? Why not reorder ourselves according to what we have in common - especially in matters of worship. And if we have two or three, or even five or six, subdivisions of synod, so what?

We currently have two non-geographical districts. We could have non-geographical “districts” where there is genuine agreement in doctrine and practice, and we could all keep the name and the benefits package. And if, down the road, it would be better to actually cut our ties, it would be easier to do in such a system. For right now what we have is not unlike what we have in the United States. Instead of federalism, we now have nationalism. And so US elections become a “winner take all” endeavor. And the losing side, which is typically very near fifty percent of the population - is held hostage to the faction that is bigger by only a percent or two (if that). Instead, we could decentralize our synod and let congregations have closer ties with other congregations that share their doctrine and practice - not unlike the situation in 19th century America, where small synods went into fellowship with one another.

One “district” may specify that only the ordo and hymns in the hymnal may be used. Another “district” may make it all optional. Yet another “district” might compile its own requirements as to what is permissible. Our “district” conventions would be much less the way of power struggles, and the Divine Services at the same would not be places of protest, either against the services with guitars and streamers, or with chasubles and incense. Such a scheme would provide homogeneity in matters of doctrine and practice, while allowing the synod branding and employment benefits to be shared by all. In such a structure, synod would not dictate from above, and “districts” could recognize fellowship with other “districts” based on their own criteria.

There are certainly dangers in such a polity. And there are likely unintended consequences. But what we have now is not working. We are engaging in a Mister Rogers style Land of Make-Believe fantasy that we are not in a state of impaired fellowship, and we are not involved in a power struggle between at least two opposing factions. By decentralizing the conflict, we can encourage church plants by “districts” without regard to geography, and our “district” mission funds could actually go to new congregations that reflect our confession and worship - whether Pietistic or confessional, whether normed by guitar or organ.

For what we have now is 35 civil wars and games of one-upsmanship - where the winners are determined by political means: running for office, navigating parliamentary procedure, and engaging in backroom arm-twisting of the kind we see in the secular political world.

At any rate, though we in The Gottesdienst Crowd are often marginalized and mocked by our Bigger brethren in synod (and sometimes that is a matter of the waistline and not only the waste-land), though our churches are generally smaller and often face financial struggles, let us not lose heart. Let us continue to be normed by the Bible and the Book of Concord, and let us continue to confess in Word and deed not only what Jesus has done for us, but what He continues to do for us in the Divine Service, where He comes to us in a literal and miraculous way that needs no distraction by entertainment or some Big New Awesomer Way of Doing Church.

We don’t need a new way of doing church. We need Jesus. We don’t need entertainment. We need authentic worship. We don’t need gimmicks. We need faith. And for you, dear reader, both layman and pastor, the following video (Have you seen the video?), produced by Gottesdienst, thanks to a grant from the LCMS, is an example of how “ceremonies teach the people what they need to know about Christ,” and how our bureaucracy can indeed teach the ceremonies to the pastors and laity alike. Instead of “contemporvence” grounded in entertainment, you will find reverence grounded in the reality that Jesus continues to join us in the miracle of the Holy Sacrament.

And that reality is even bigger than Texas.

 


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In this episode, we welcome back Larry Beane. He is one of the contributors to the Fritzschrift, Leitourgiae Propria Adiaphora Non Est: Essays in Honor of the Rev. Dr. Burnell F. Eckardt on the Occasio of his Sixty-Fifth Birthday. The essay is entitled Liturgicals, Pietists, and the Kingdom of the Left. Our conversation builds upon what Larry wrote in that article. 

 


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It seems like every generation has had to deal with this question: Why are we losing people? And since Covid, the question is becoming all the more intense. In this episode, Larry Peters (pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Clarksville, TN) discusses what he sees from his vantage point . . . from the pulpit over the past forty years. Peters writes at http://pastoralmeanderings.blogspot.com.


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From time to time, Lutherans mock other Lutherans for being overly careful regarding dealing with consecrated elements so as to avoid their profanation. In one recent discussion, a Lutheran pastor wrote:

I understand being reverent, but some of the specific piety is overkill, to the point where the point of the meal is missed. Do you really think if a morsel of bread is dropped to the floor, God in heaven is angry?

Of course, it’s revealing that he sought to minimize the offense by describing the “morsel” not as the body of Christ, but as “bread.” As if we were talking about an errant crumb from a Subway Spicy Italian six-inch sub instead of the flesh of the Creator of the Universe - well, if you believe that sort of thing, I suppose. And for the record, nobody suggested that this had anything to do with God’s wrath.

I have often read mockery directed toward fastidiousness regarding the consecrated elements, as if such caution was something to be avoided or held up to ridicule.

How different from our fathers in the faith, including Drs. Luther and Bugenhagen (in an incident quoted by Edward Frederick Peters, The Origin and Meaning of the Axiom: “Nothing Has the Character of a Sacrament Outside of the Use” [Fort Wayne, Indiana: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1993], p. 191):

[In 1542, in Wittenberg] a woman wanted to go to the Lord’s Supper, and then as she was about to kneel on the bench before the altar and drink, she made a misstep and jostled the chalice of the Lord violently with her mouth, so that some of the Blood of Christ was spilled from it onto her lined jacket and coat and onto the rail of the bench on which she was kneeling. So then when the reverend Doctor Luther, who was standing at a bench opposite, saw this, he quickly ran to the altar (as did also the reverend Doctor Bugenhagen), and together with the curate, with all reverence licked up [the Blood of Christ from the rail] and helped wipe off this spilled Blood of Christ from the woman’s coat, and so on, as well as they could. And Doctor Luther took this catastrophe so seriously that he groaned over it and said, “O, God, help!” and his eyes were full of water.

I wonder how many modern pastors would mock Luther - or even one of their contemporary brethren - for licking the spilled blood of Christ from the communion rail.

And this was not the only time Dr. Luther licked up the spilled blood of the Lord. As Fr. William Weedon wrote back in 2007, referring to a sixteenth century account by Johann Hachenburg:

Or consider how, when he spilled the chalice and it fell to the floor, he carefully set the chalice back on the altar and got on his hands and knees and lapped it up off the floor like a dog - upon which the congregation burst into tears.

I believe that our sense of the separation between the sacred and the profane has degraded since the days of our fathers in the faith. And this is understandable. For us 21st century Americans, we routinely see churches that look less like churches and more like strip malls or concert halls. Church music is increasingly secularized. Vestments are often downplayed, and the sense that worship is “set apart” from the common, ordinary life is increasingly minimalized and marginalized, if not outright combined and conjoined.

It makes one cringe to hear pastors and well-catechized laity refer to the consecrated elements as “bread” and “wine” instead of what they are by virtue of the miracle of encountering our Lord’s Word: the very body and blood of Christ. Of course, they are also bread and wine. It is a both/and and not an either/or. But in the same way that one would speak of one’s own child as one’s “son” or “daughter” as opposed to describing him as “some kid.” Of course, your own child is “some kid,” but what would cause a parent to speak in this way, ignoring the more sublime reality to settle on a technically-true generality?

But I believe that we are seeing a much more general trend in the failure to discern the sacred from the profane.

I recently had a commenter on my Facebook timeline use a certain expression of profanity that was very crass and vulgar. When I asked him to refrain, given that I’m a pastor and that I do have ladies and children who will see it, he was rather agitated.

What I found most amazing is that he is a proud Southerner. And traditional Southern culture is one of chivalry. Southern men of every socioeconomic level are traditionally raised to show deference to ladies and to children - especially by a desire to assist and to refrain from giving offense. Southern men can indeed curse with the best of their Yankee counterparts - and they do. But it has always been a hallmark of our region to make a distinction in matters of speech and manners. And when a man doesn’t make such a distinction, it is supposed that he “wasn’t raised right.” And of course, I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek, as all regions of the country used to display such deference. It has always been stressed in Southern culture.

And this sense of distinction is what holiness is - to set apart, to remove one’s sandals on holy ground, to bow to the ground before God, and to adorn the places where God physically appears differently than one would decorate a common, ordinary living area.

The distinction between the sacred and the profane has been muddled in our modern age, and especially in the last couple decades. Words that used to be off-limits on broadcast television are routinely used. Topics addressed in commercials are now wide-open, with no sense that some things should not be discussed in front of children.

My Southern friend worded his defense of using any level of profanity whenever and wherever he liked in a curious way. I asked him if he would use such language in front of his mother, or his children, or in church, or at Bible class. His response was telling:

If I had children I would encourage them to speak how they feel not what is excepted [sic], freedom of speech is freedom of speech there is no exception and I would expect my children and grown adults to be comfortable speaking their minds freely!! I’m not for everyone and as far as church is conscerned [sic] wherever my feet are planted is my church and God is always my guide.

Of course, if he had children, he might see things differently, but then again, maybe not. I often hear parents saying the most vulgar things in front of even very small children, and it is distressing that from a young age, children are not learning boundaries. They are taught that the way we conduct ourselves in the gym, the playground, or the locker-room is the same as we carry ourselves in church, at a funeral, or at a formal dinner.

Interestingly, he openly makes no distinction between a holy place, like a church, and “wherever [his] feet are planted.” In his worldview, God doesn’t make such distinctions either.

Moreover, in the larger culture, the way we treat women is the same way that we treat men - because after all, there is no distinction between the sexes. All religions are also the same. To most people, bread that has been consecrated is just like bread that hasn’t been. A church building is no holier than a parking garage (because God is everywhere).

On a side note, this downplaying of, and opposition to, distinctions is a hallmark of Gnosticism. This point is driven home in the Fr. Peter Burfeind’s book: Gnostic America: A Reading of Contemporary American Culture & Religion according to Christianity's Oldest Heresy.

We are increasingly unable to make distinctions and to discern between that which is common and that which is holy. For us Lutherans, as sacramental Christians whose confession is that Christ is physically present in the blessed elements, we really need to double down in what we say and do with regard to that which is holy, lest we contribute to the trend of profanation, and thereby give the impression that we don’t believe what our Lord clearly told us in the Words of Institution.

And if we’re not going to be cautious with the holy things - as much as we would be cautious with caustic chemicals or high voltage electricity - then what do we really believe about what holiness is? Or more basic than that, what do we believe regarding what Jesus teaches us?

Maybe that is the question we really need to be addressing: What do we believe?

 

 


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The Reading of Scriptures Requires Imagination

Rev Fr David H Petersen

Redeemer Gottesdienst Conference 2021 (May 3-5)
Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, Indiana



Rev. William Weedon presents on "Why you should stay Lutheran: It's all about conscience" at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana . January 20, 2014.

Part 1:

Part 2:

 



 

A Reading List for Lutherans (pdf, 2 pages, 119 kb)



 

Pr. Sam Schuldheisz joins the show to discuss four practical ways to exercise the imagination.

Then (begins 22:22), Pr. Bramwell discusses how the bibliographical, internal evidence, and external evidence tests help us know whether or not we can trust what the New Testament says. How does the historical method answer the question of whether or not the New Testament is trustworthy?

 

(mp3, 54:20, 49.7 MB, 2021-Feb-15)

 



 

Part 1

 

Part 2 

In the last episode, we discussed the Wittenberg theologians' (mainly Luther and Melanchthon) gradual shift on their theological stance regarding offering not just disobedience to the governing authorities, but also resistance, and if necessary, armed resistance. In this episode of The Gottesdienst Crowd, we take up part two of what is now a three-part series. Here we dive into the events that happen after Luther's death, focusing on the events surrounding the city of Magdeburg and The Magdeburg Confession

Part 3


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Host: Fr. Jason Braaten



Pr. Sean Daenzer discusses Teaching God’s Word at Home with Pr. Todd Wilken on Issues Etc.

(mp3, 35:24, 32.4 MB, 2021-Feb-05)

 



 

Pr. Sean Daenzer discusses Things We See in Church with Pr. Todd Wilken on Issues Etc.

1.

1. Part 1 (mp3, 57:35, 52.7 MB, 2020-Sept-25)

2. 

2. Part 2 (mp3, 57:34, 52.7 MB, 2020-Oct-15)

3. 

3. Part 3 (mp3, 1:12:08; 66.0 MB, 2020-Nov-05)

4. 

4. Part 4 (mp3, 1:19:48; 73.1 MB, 2020-Nov-19)

 



 

Part 1:

The times we are living in and through have raised a number of questions about the obedience we owe the government. We have begun again to wrestle with similar questions as the magisterial reformers, especially our Lutheran fathers in the faith: Luther, Melanchthon, Amsdorf, etc. To what extent should the governing authorities be obeyed? How are we to make those judgments? Is there a biblical and confessional framework for deciding these things? David Ramirez (pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Union Grove, WI) will walk us through the history.

Part 2

Part 3


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250 This is enough of an explanation of what stealing is. Let the commandment not be understood too narrowly. But let it apply to everything that has to do with our neighbors. Briefly, in summary (as in the former commandments) this is what is forbidden: (a) To do our neighbor any injury or wrong (in any conceivable manner, by impeding, hindering, and withholding his possessions and property), or even to consent or allow such injury. Instead, we should interfere and prevent it. 251 (b) It is commanded that we advance and improve his possessions. When they suffer lack, we should help, share, and lend both to friends and foes [Matthew 5:42]. 252 Whoever now seeks and desires good works will find here more than enough to do that are heartily acceptable and pleasing to God. In addition, they are favored and crowned with excellent blessings. So we are to be richly compensated for all that we do for our neighbor’s good and from friendship.

Luther, Large Catechism I:250-252

 

After my sermon a couple of weeks ago, I was asked why I had referred to the government lockdown of businesses as stealing. To consider that, we must first reflect on the Seventh Commandment. In the Small Catechism, you learned that here God instructs you to protect the possessions and income that He has given to your neighbor. God desires that you be content with what He has given you and not scheme to take your neighbor’s property in a way that may appear right or in any dishonest way. Instead, He commands that you help and be of service to him in keeping it so that you improve and protect them. There are no exceptions to this, even in the case of the government or someone who feels like it is the right thing to do.

What is the connection to the lockdowns? Consider what the lockdowns have done. While large corporations, strip clubs, and casinos were kept open, many restaurants, bars, and small family-owned businesses have been crippled and forced to close. Owners had their businesses taken from them even though there was no proof that they were spreading the disease. They had to lay off employees, denying them wages. It was not the business, but the government that was stealing the wages. This leads to more stealing as taxes are increased on our neighbors. Work is good and holy under this commandment, but more people are once more living off the government instead of working for the good of our neighbors. Meanwhile, the government chooses to print money which leads to inflation and theft from our neighbor as prices escalate. Before COVID we were at record low unemployment, but lockdowns have forced people back under the umbrella of the government, closed legitimate businesses, and punished our neighbors. To quote Luther, the lockdowns have impeded, hindered and withheld our neighbor’s property.

The argument has been made that this will save lives, but the actual evidence is that depriving our neighbor of his business has not in any way slowed the spread or “saved a life.” States where the lockdowns are harshest have not slowed the number of cases. The actual fact is that people’s lives are being shattered, families are being torn apart because of financial tensions, drug and alcohol use has increased, and suicides are rising to all-time highs. Meanwhile, while I give thanks that we have not hindered people from supporting major corporations who employ our neighbors, we cannot condone the stealing from other neighbors. In the church, we must help our neighbor to improve and protect his property and business because it has been given to him by God. Let us speak up for our neighbor and protest the government selectively stealing from him.

Of course, stealing property and livelihoods has been coupled with stealing lives. Who has suffered the most from this? Who has had the most stolen from them?  The elderly, who have had their families stolen from them to “save lives.” Perhaps, the poor around the world who are being neglected while we who have so much are living in fear of a virus that 99+% of us will survive. And what about the children? Young children are not learning anything but fear and trembling as adults cannot smile and laugh with them, hug them, play with them, and when necessary express their disapproval. Children are not benefitting from in-person learning as many schools have closed. We push them into a bubble and forbid their interaction so that suicides increase. Surely, there are countless others who are falling between the cracks. Lord, grant that we repent of this behavior and wisdom finally prevails so that we once again recognize the importance of a free and open society if there is to be good for our neighbor.


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Part 1:

Part 2: 

Who are the men behind the liturgical renewals within our Synod? Who are the men at the tip of the spear when it came to talking about the importance of retaining the historic liturgy, rites, and ceremonies of the Western Church? The next installment of the liturgical biographies we're going to cover is Paul H.D. Lang. Mark Braden (pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Detroit, MI, and Departmental Editor of Gottesdienst: The Journal of Lutheran Liturgy) walks us through his early ministry, highlights some of his writings, and then dives into two of his most notable works: What An Altar Guild Should Know and Ceremony and Celebration.


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In my experience, preaching for the high feasts (Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter) are the most difficult. There is always that pull to bring out the best, to preach so that people will come back the next Sunday, to wow the crowd with your deep theological insights, high-sounding poetic words and rhetorical flourishes. In short, there's a pull to be cute and edgy. But when you read our forefathers' sermons for these days, they don't fall into this pit. They take seemingly simple biblical truths and open them up for the hearer to bask in their simple but profound glory. Dave Petersen (pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, IN, and Departmental Editor of Gottesdienst: the Journal of Lutheran Liturgy with his column "Commentary on the War") shows us how C.F.W. Walther preached one Christmas day. We look at this sermon and see the beauty in simplicity and the glory of God's truth in the well-known Gospel message.


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Divine Service Setting 3

Leading the Congregation

Kantor Kevin J. Hildebrand demonstrates techniques for leading the congregation.



The Bible is rich and deep in meaning. Every detail is important. And even the small details, the seemingly insignificant, one-off, in-passing details, provide insight into the deep truths of God. Larry Beane (pastor of Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA, and Departmental Editor for Gottesdienst: the Journal of Lutheran Liturgy) walks us through the first book of the Bible tracing the steps of our fathers in the faith from well to well. What was the purpose of the well in the ancient world. How did they eventually begin to be seen? What in the New Testament church corresponds to these ancient wells? 


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One of the duties of the priests in the Old Testament was to distinguish the holy from the common, or as we would call it, the sacred from the secular. And they were given the task of teaching this distinction to the people. They did this not only in what they said but in what they did. It was communicated in how the tabernacle and temple were constructed. Everything surrounding the worship and daily life of the people of Israel focused on making this distinction. Fritz Eckardt (pastor of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church, Kewanee, IL, and Editor-in-Chief of Gottesdienst: The Journal of Lutheran Liturgy) takes up a similar task in looking at the sacred and secular at Christmas time. 


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