The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, is never present where lies are told. And there is actually more unity of the church present where Christians of differing confession honorably determine that they do not have the same understanding of the Gospel than where the painful fact of confessional splintering is hidden behind a pious lie.
– Herman Sasse, “Union and Confession,” The Lonely Way, Volume 1.
It seemed the overall intent of the conference was to unabashedly state that even though people may disagree in the practice of worship services, we share the same theology. Our Synodical President, the Rev. Dr. Gerald Kieschnick, addressed areas where we were united and where we were divided in a paper (PDF) available at lcms.org.
Pastor Ben Ball asked a question on Tuesday about practices which communicate theology to the observer. He noted that there were wooden containers at the front row of the worship center which seemed designed to receive individual cups after communion. He asked what happened to the plastic individual cups that were put in the “sacred trash cans.” The pastor of Concordia-Kirkwood, Pr. Scott Siedler, responded that the cups would be moved into larger trash bags and put into the trash.
This was a scandal. Lutherans believe, teach, and confess that after the Words of Institution are spoken the bread and wine are not merely bread and wine but the body and blood of Jesus Christ, broken for us and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins. In the accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus never says that the bread and wine are no longer his body and blood. Respect for the body and blood, then, usually prescribes that all of the elements are consumed as is commanded: “take, eat”; “drink of it, all of you.” When this is not possible, the communion ware is rinsed of wine/blood and returned to the earth, rather than dumped in the sewer or the trash.
The issue was followed-up to Pr. Sielder by Prs. Ball and Weedon. To Pr. Siedler’s credit, he announced before the Eucharist that the individual cups would be handled differently this time so as not to give offense. After the service, Prs. Ball and Weedon made sure the cups were rinsed and the residual elements were handled appropriately. I would like to thank all three pastors for their actions.
Another issue was a female worship leader leading the assembled in a litany of repentance, singing “Lord Have Mercy” by Steve Merkel (lyrics). The worship leader sang the verses, and the congregation sang the “Lord Have Mercy” refrain. In the Evening Prayer service the first evening, the pastor prayed the petitions in the litany setting, and we answered, “Lord, have mercy” (p. 22 of the convention worship book). During the contemporary morning prayer, the role is assumed by the worship leader with this song on p. 33. Did the woman assume the pastoral office on Tuesday? President Kieshnick said that the LCMS is united in confessing, “That the Scriptures clearly teach that women are not to hold the pastoral office.” (p. 3 of the above PDF). To be fair, when I open my Treasury of Daily Prayer to the service of the Litany (p. O-53), the parts of a pastor are marked with a red L for leader rather than a red P for pastor.
Other issues were caught more in conversation than in the worship practice. There was critique that some were elevating the Mass over the Word. This is a strange charge, since the Mass for the most part is Word, but I think the person was arguing for more freedom from the form. There was disagreement over whether church was primarily for Christians or whether worship’s main goal was to convince and convert, like Billy Graham’s services.
I kept listening for theological bounds in contemporary worship. Professor Arand’s presentation got close, but no guidance was suggested.
These are theological differences that should have been handled at a Model Theological Conference, and I was concerned that these kinds of issues were not addressed. Then again, we only had 2½ days.
Still more to come, but we have rounded the corner and will finish on more positive notes.