All the presenters and responders, except for moderator Ted Kober, are ordained pastors. Imply the title “Reverend” unless otherwise noted.
David Johnson of the LCMS Commission on Worship kicked off the conference by asking everyone to be sensitive and showed a video with clips from various church services. Jon Vieker of the LCMS Commission on Worship introduced a select bibliography, and Larry Stoterau, LCMS Pacific Southwest District President introduced the Theses on Worship prepared by the District Presidents.
Dr. Jeff Gibbs, professor of Exegetical Theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, held the first presentation in the gym, so I couldn’t post snippets on Twitter. His presentation, “Worship that is Scriptural and Confessional,” was golden. If the audio is made publicly available, it will be worth your time to download and listen to it. Because I couldn’t Twitter his points, here are some notes:
- Theology is like the first shingle of a house: if it is allowed to be off even a little bit at the beginning, the row of shingles will be completely messed up down the road.
- Christianity is not an escapist religion. Just dying and going to heaven is not the complete story. We also have the resurrection of the body. Death is a separation of body and soul as judgment of the sin still in it. Jesus begins the new creation in his own body. Worship is a piece of God’s story for all creation.
- Corporate worship is inevitably shaped by tradition because our God is the God of history. Corporate worship began in the gap of Scripture between Malachi and Matthew. God did not demand weekly worship, but God used and uses that tradition to build the church.
- We refuse to either be a slave to tradition or despise tradition.
- Worship is not about me; God is not to become part of me, I am to become part of God.
- Conversion happens through the Word, which can be done in or outside worship. Worship is primarily God in service to his Christians, to do what we need him to do.
- Ephesians 4:11 – “to equip the saints” in the Greek context should instead read “to restore the saints”. Instead of giving people tools for a finite job, pastors should be continually restoring the saints.
- We should recapture the hearing of Scripture as God coming down to us. Are we in worship magnificently preaching Christ and His glory?
- The Reformation was won in the printing press and the pulpit.
- Is the gospel only forgiveness? There is more to say. Only some of Paul’s letters mention justification. In every letter Paul proclaims the glory of what has been done in Christ. We need to hear all the glories of Christ and all the dangers that he has saved us from. But our preaching is cliche-ridden and law-based.
- Does preaching fill you with joy and power and courage? We are dead men who have been brought back to life!
Towards the end of his presentation Dr. Gibbs actually did preach a small homily of Law and Gospel, powerfully and emotionally. It was great stuff.
Larry Vogel of the Committee on Theology and Church Relations gave a presentation on worship that is “pastoral and sacramental.” There are some notes on the Twitter feed. He discussed how all religions worship God, but only we do “in spirit and truth.” Worship is not something we do to bargain with God (Psalm 50:7-12) but flows from our reception of God’s gifts. Worship may generate spiritual “highs”, but what is the reason? Where there is faith in God, there is true worship. The heart of the Church’s regular worship is the Word of Christ in reading, preaching, song, and Sacrament. Lutheran worship is evangelically pastoral and catholicly Sacramental.
One major critique I had with Rev. Vogel’s presentation was that he would say he liked one way of worship but then advocate another. It was like a self-denial.
Dien Ashley Taylor, pastor of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Bronx, vibrantly delivered a presentation of “Worship that is Personal and Contextual.” He stated that confession can inform context, and vice versa. Adiaphora is not a free-for-all, but it is a sanctified conversation with brothers and sisters in Christ to keep worship “proleptically and prophetically straight.” We should not be “idiosyncratically contextual for contextual’s sake.” We are the church catholic. “Lutherans, who value the Word, should not abandon the word catholic.”
My take: Contextual, desired to mean that worship was adapting the place and instruments of where the church is, was supplanting “contemporary” in some circles, but it is an equally vague word when proponents want to use it opposite historical or liturgical. Liturgy can be a context.
Rev. Taylor employed a lot of jargon and, as you can tell above, complex vocabulary in his presentation. He also sang pieces of songs as examples of different contexts. Everyone joined in on some songs such as, “We All Believe in One True God,” but not on others.
Mason Beecroft gave “Missional and Vocational (One Approach).” He ran out of time despite cutting and moving some slides, but his thesis was clear: “Retaining the Mass is key to being missional and vocational.” In addition to the points I put on Twitter, he also said that God desires to share holy things with his people through physical means, and we show that through sacred space and sacred ritual. Our nonverbal movements, in addition to spoken Word, also communicate what is going on. Do styrofoam cups communicate that we have the blood of the God-man Jesus Christ? We should communicate that something bigger than us is taking place. Pastors wear vestments and cite liturgy to take the attention off themselves and put it on Christ.
Pr. Beecroft also showed concern about the amount of liturgical instruction taught at seminary. Seminarians receive 3 to 6 hours of instruction. Do we want surgeons going into the operating room with 3 to 6 hours of instruction and practice? How much more should we be concerned when eternal souls are at stake?
Finally, Pr. Beecroft noted that alternative worship forms often tinker or do away with creedal texts. When we lose the common text of what we believe, we have nothing that keeps us believing the same thing.
Jeff Cloeter gave a presentation called “Worship that is Missional and Vocational (Another Approach).” Several good points are on the Twitter list. He identified four principles in worship: good preaching, unity and clarity, bridging worship into the week, and leaders that model. He freely admitted that he have all the answers to practical things like how to be a better father, and he would refer people to those who would have a better idea. He described the mission field as similar to a fort and tepees. We convert people by working in our vocations, animated by the Body and Blood of Christ, shed for our trespasses, showing in a mysterious way that we have encountered God. The Great Commission is not fulfilled by only inviting people to church.
On Wednesday morning, Charles Arand, chairman of the department of systematic theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, gave a presentation of “Worship that is Practical and Theological.” Arand to his credit was the first person to really begin to engage in what is really adiaphora — neither commanded nor forbidden. Practices flow from our theology, so some adiaphora are better than others. Adiaphora gives expression of the theology of the church.
He likened worship to a bicycle with training wheels: the front wheel, the marks of the church, controlling the direction; one training wheel, the contextual principle, using the tools of a particular place to expand the church; the other training wheel, the catholic principle, the unity of the church; and collegiality, the balance between the two training wheels. We dare not lean, Arand argued, either way too far without falling over.
Still more to come.