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We Should Not Refuse to Walk in our Fathers’ Footsteps

October 27th, 2006
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We like to comfort ourselves these days with the thought that our times are so different and so unique from the times and situations faced by the founding fathers of The LCMS. What utter hubris! Here in America they were outnumbered tremendously by the Methodists and other revivalists. Did they choose to bring into our churches the "style" of popular American Christianity forms? No. Today however it seems to be popular, even "politically correct" to "bless" whatever any congregation chooses to do in their ‘"freedom" when it comes to worship practices. "Missional" seems to be a word used to excuse a lot of sloppy practice these days. Call me "old fashioned" but I want my father and mother, myself, and my children, to be prepared to face their Maker in heaven with the historical Lutheran liturgy and classic chorales on their lips and in their hearts, rather than insipid  ditties like "Shine, Jesus, Shine" and other such pop-evangelicalism banality. Call me an old stick-in-the-mud if you must, but that’s how I see it. A Lutheran pastor I’ve always respected has quite a lot to say about doing away with historic Lutheran worship forms. Tough words? Perhaps. True words? You better believe it!

We refuse to be guided by those who are offended by our church customs. We adhere to them all the more firmly when someone wants to cause us to have a guilty conscience on account of them. It is truly distressing that many of our fellow Christians find the difference between Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism in outward things. It is a pity and dreadful cowardice when a person sacrifices the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American denominations just so they won’t accuse of being Roman Catholic! Indeed! Am I to be afraid of a Methodist, [or a non-denominational Christian, or a Calvinist, or an Evangelical], who perverts the saving Word, or ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather rejoice that they can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them? We are not insisting that there be uniformity in perception or feeling or taste among all believing Christians, neither dare anyone demand that everyone be of the same opinion as his in such matters; nevertheless, it remains true that the Lutheran liturgy distinguishes Lutheran worship from the worship of other churches to such an extent that the houses of worship of the latter look like lecture halls, [theaters or auditoriums], while our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which Christians serve the great God publicly before the world. . . . Someone may ask,” What would be the use of uniformity in ceremonies?” We would answer, “What is the use of a flag on the battlefield? Even though a soldier cannot defeat the enemy with it, he nevertheless sees by the flag where he belongs. We ought not to refuse to walk in the footsteps of our fathers.

Source:
C.F.W. Walther, Essay on Adiaphora in Essays for the Church: Volume I (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1992), p. 193-194.

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  1. October 27th, 2006 at 22:35 | #1

    A Respected Lutheran Pastor on Church Customs (Adiaphora? Perhaps)

    We refuse to be guided by those who are offended by our church customs. We adhere to them all the more firmly when someone wants to cause us to have a guilty conscience on account of them. It is truly distressing that many of our fellow Christians find

  2. Rev. Paul Gramit
    October 28th, 2006 at 14:07 | #2

    I believe that it is the duty of every Lutheran pastor (that is, every pastor who wishes to be identified as “Lutheran”) to foster a proper understanding and use of liturgy, hymnody, worship practice, etc. among those he serves. Over the years, I’ve met too many pastors who were a large part of the reason that their congregations looked and felt “Protestant” rather than Lutheran. I have even met a few who’ve been the inspiration in their congregations moving leftward.
    It’d seem a necessity that a grounded Lutheran would know key Lutheran hymns, parts of the liturgy, etc. FAR better than he’d EVER know “Shine, Jesus, Shine.” In fact, “SJS” is one song I wouldn’t mind never hearing again, formally OR informally sung or played.

  3. S. Bauer
    October 29th, 2006 at 14:04 | #3

    “We are not insisting that there be uniformity in perception or feeling or taste among all believing Christians,[?] neither dare anyone demand that everyone be of the same opinion as his in such matters;”
    *******
    So who is right? Walther or Article VII of the Augustana…”it is not necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies instituted by men, should be the same everywhere.”
    It seems to me that “uniformity in perception or feeling or taste among all believing Christians” is not saying the same as “human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies instituted by men”.
    McCain: Why do you think what Walther says conflicts at all with AC VII or FC SD X, for that matter? The Lutheran Confessions nowhere, if read fairly and consistently, not selectively, would condone any approach to matters liturgical that would be summarized as, “anything goes.”

  4. S. Bauer
    October 30th, 2006 at 12:34 | #4

    I did not say that the Confessions condone an “anything goes” attitude. I am saying that the quote from Walther that you cited approvingly seems to say something different than the Confessions do. Walther uses the words, “perception”, “feeling”, “taste”, and “opinion”.
    McCain: I guess I’m missing your point then. Walther is saying that we can never insist that perceptions, feelings, tastes and opinions be the same. He does however rightly note that a church can insist on the greatest uniformity as possible in worship practices, a point that was made very clearly in The LCMS Constitution.
    The implication of the whole quote is that the outward form of the Lutheran liturgy is necessary for the unity of the church. The Confessions state that outward forms, “rites and ceremonies devised by men” are not necessary for
    the unity of the church.
    McCain: So, your position is that style is able to be separated from substance? That is, as long as we agree on substance, then style matters not?
    This was not the position of Luther, our Confessions, or Dr. Walther. The Confessions assume that territorial churches will not be identical to one another in all respects liturgically, but at the same time assume that they will share much in common and be easily recognized by their outward practices as belonging to the same confession.
    Again, Walther makes the point, “it remains true that the Lutheran liturgy distinguishes Lutheran worship from the worship of other churches to such an extent that the houses of worship of the latter look like lecture halls, [theaters or auditoriums], while our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which Christians serve the great God publicly before the world”. This argument bites both ways, it seems to me (although I’m ready to be instructed in a non-patronizing tone). Does the similarity between Lutheran church architecture and liturgy and Roman Catholic church architecture and liturgy reflect a similarity in doctrine?
    My point is that the Walther quote really begs the question that is troubling our church. Certainly our doctrine informs our practice and is an important factor in shaping how we Lutherans “devise our rites and ceremonies.” There is an “outward reflection”, if I may put it that way, of the spiritual unity of the church that God gives. It is not an “anything goes” situation. Certainly there are pastors and congregations who think it is an “anything goes” situation. But how much uniformity does there have to be before the pure preaching of the Gospel and right administration of the Sacraments is harmed? Truly “rites and ceremonies devised by men”, though not necessary for the unity of the church, can be exceedingly useful, maybe even necessary, for other important aspects of the life of the church. But how far can this be pushed before the demand for uniformity in practice becomes the invitation for misunderstanding the nature of the church (such as the idea that pages 5/15 of the 1941 Hymnal could be what makes the LMCS preferable to Orthodoxy)?

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