Indifferent Things in Worship

In the mid-16th Century, Lutheran churches were pressured by force to reincorporate certain Papistic worship practices into their services. Those pastors who refused were deposed in many places. Others accepted the changes, saying those changes were really indifferent to the doctrine we teach and believe. The problem, as the Formula of Concord describes, was that these changes were commanded as an exercise in obedience to the special, divine authority of the Pope, and an admission that the papal doctrine is true. The Lutherans who objected were right to do so.

Today, Lutheranism is again split between those who want to change worship practices and those who do not. These days, the changes are innovations determined not by papal authority, but by the trends of worldly culture. They are not intended to be a form of submission, but a means of bringing the lost into contact with their Savior at church. The changes today might be characterized as a shift in focus from sacramental events (God coming to us, bringing His spiritual gifts) to sacrificial (We bringing our spiritual offerings to God), while also utilizing the entertainment emphasis in our culture to attract those who are drawn to such things.

The typical example of this shift is the incorporation of so-called “contemporary Christian music” into the liturgy. This category of music can be hard to define. Some try to define it by the instrumentation, but I think that’s really only one aspect of its character, and not essential. I would distinguish it by its entertainment-focused style, mimicking the various popular styles of music that play on the radio or that are downloaded from iTunes. This entertainment-focused style involves melody and harmonies, but especially rhythm and lyrics. It makes the musical experience into a performance for human consumption and appreciation. Spiritually, the music becomes a completely sacrificial event (see above) on the part of the performer, and very little — if any — sacramental value remains for the congregation. Instead, the congregants are asked to observe and enjoy the music as entertainment, the way they might enjoy a concert. Easily-felt emotional manipulation replaces sacramental significance, which can only be discerned by faith in God’s Word. Contrast this with traditional Lutheran hymnody and liturgy, in which everyone is a full participant (rather than being entertained), and where sacramental and sacrificial aspects exist in more or less equal proportions.

Thankfully, the same article in the Formula of Concord has something we can apply to these changes to our worship practices.

Likewise, when there are useless, foolish displays that are not profitable for good order, Christian discipline, or evangelical practice in the Church, these also are not genuine adiaphora, or matters of indifference. (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, FC, SD X, 7.)

If you would like to defend the present-day innovations generally called “contemporary Christian worship,” then I invite you to show how they are profitable for good order, Christian discipline, or evangelical practice in the Church.

The Price We Paid for Proficiency

I’ve posted several times about the trip my wife and I took to Front Sight near Las Vegas while we were on vacation in Arizona. I was skeptical that a 2-day course would be worth the going rate, which is $1,000. We both went after responding to one of many special deals that Front Sight’s founder, Dr. Piazza, offers online. Now the same deal that enabled us to go is available via a web page, where Dr. Piazza makes a case for giving it a try. At this special price, the course costs $100 per person. Having taken the course, I can say without reservation that $100 is a small fraction of the value in two days of Front Sight training. It really is all that. Prior experience doesn’t matter. You will learn more than you thought possible in that amount of time. Even if you’re uncomfortable around guns, the class will still help you become proficient.

If you anticipate being able to get to or near Las Vegas at some point for three or four days (including travel time), then I recommend that you give it a try too. There is a criminal background check to pay for, and you will need a weapon and ammunition, which you can rent and buy on site, respectively, if you need to. Beyond that, the cost is just travel, lodging, and food. For better convenience, I recommend a room at a hotel in Pahrump, but we managed just fine with Microtel toward the south end of Las Vegas Blvd.

Here’s Dr. Piazza’s advertisement page. There is an expiration on this offer of Friday, August 6. Don’t beat yourself up about it if you need more time to think about something like this. Dr. Piazza is an accomplished promoter; he’ll have many other kinds of special deals. This is the most affordable one I’ve seen.

Luther Said it Too

I’ve maintained for some time now that if Lutherans would only plug into our Catechism (Small and Large) then we’d not feel a need to borrow from sources that are not so scripturally-based. Case in point: ponder these words from the Large Catechism on the Lord’s Prayer, Seventh Petition (Deliver us from evil). This is the translation from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, found on p. 422.

You see again how God wishes for us to pray to Him also for all the things that affect our bodily interests, so that we seek and expect help nowhere else except in Him. But He has put this matter last. For if we are to be preserved and delivered from all evil, God’s name must first be hallowed in us, His kingdom must be with us, and His will must be done. After that He will finally preserve us from sin and shame, and, besides, from everything that may hurt or harm us.

When someone says, “I’m not going to attend church or otherwise bother to conform my life to God’s will, because I don’t see where He has ever done me any good,” it’s the height of foolishness. Worse yet, someone may say, “I see that God has allowed all of these evils to befall me, and now you suggest that I should trust in Him?” That puts the cart before the horse.

The very order of petitions in the Lord’s Prayer teaches us what must come first: that God’s name should be hallowed, His kingdom come, and His will be done — all among us, personally. Daily bread (i.e. the needs of life on earth), forgiveness of sins, protection in temptation and deliverance from evil all come later in importance. Expecting God to invert the order is like expecting the sheriff in the next county over to respond to your 911 call. God will hear your prayer when you acknowledge that He is truly your Father by both creation and redemption.