Diversity or Uniformity?
In response to the 2007 Synodical Resolution 4-01A, “To Plan a Summit to Restore Harmony,” the Synod in Convention told the Council of Presidents and Board of Directors to: “...initiate a specific plan for the sake of the whole church to restore harmony in our Synod...” and to: “...bring together a representative group of respected leaders throughout this church for a summit, and that at the end of this summit these church leaders present to the Council of Presidents and to the Board of Directors a strategy toward harmony that demonstrates how this great church body can provide a God-pleasing witness of our confession and practice...and...the product of their coming together honor the Scriptures and Confessions and dishonor the work of Satan that diverts us from the ‘way of the Lord.'”
From this resolution the “Harmony Task Force” was established, and on March 2, 2011, they issued their final report to the Council of Presidents and the Synodical Board of Directors. With respect to their identification of one problem as, “The inability to deal with diversity,” they wrote:
“Ask The Commission on Theology and Church Relations to produce a study on “The Theology of Difference.” Our seminaries must continue to implement changes in pastoral formation which prepares our clergy for a diverse church body. Ultimately, each of us, every Synodical entity, and every congregation needs to recognize and celebrate God-pleasing diversity. (Revelation 7:9-10).”
In the first Synodical Constitution, Article IV, “Business of the Synod,” the reader finds a vastly different attitude toward the worship of the congregations of the Synod. “10. To strive after the greatest possible uniformity in ceremonies.”
Additionally, our first Constitution, Article II, “Conditions under which a congregation may join and remain a member.” also said:
“The exclusive use of doctrinally pure church books and school books (Agenda, hymnals, readers, etc.). If it is impossible in some congregations to replace immediately the unorthodox hymnals and the like with orthodox ones, then the pastor of such a congregation can become a member of Synod only if he promises to use the unorthodox hymnal only under open protest and to strive in all seriousness for the introduction of an orthodox hymnal.”
This sentiment of our Synodical fathers was reiterated during our first Synodical Convention.
“Amidst the varied and multifaceted discussion of this issue it became clear that the Synod certainly would like a certain uniformity and agreement in the external divine service within the regions of the Synod, without, however, as is also in 1847-03 expressed in §10, this uniformity of ceremonies being deemed necessary for the true unity of the church or wanting to encroach in the slightest upon Christian freedom.” (Res. 1847-02)
How did we become a Synod which has abandoned its striving for the greatest possible uniformity in ceremonies to one which seeks to “produce a study on the Theology of Difference?”
It happened gradually and incrementally, of course. That is the way of all error. Those of us old enough to remember the 1960’s and 70’s will recall the introduction of “Folk” services, and “campfire” songs into the divine worship on Sunday mornings. It was all done with the best of intentions, but frequently without a judicious eye on the false teaching some of these materials contained nor the offense that such material often brought to the congregation. Then, in 1977, Resolution 2-05A was adopted:
To Implement Church Growth Principles RESOLUTION 2-05A
Cp. pp 116-117 (CW, pp. 32—33; Overtures 2-13, 2-14);(CW, p. 28; Report 2-02,VI,2)
WHEREAS, Scripture teaches that without Christ men will suffer eternal punishment (Rom. 6:23; Acts 4:12; John 3:16); and
WHEREAS, We recognize Christ's command to evangelize (Matt. 28:20; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8); and
WHEREAS, Many retreat from a task which is demanding and difficult; and
WHEREAS, The congregations of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod should receive the benefit of the Church Growth Seminars attended by the majority of the evangelism and mission executives of the Synod and the Districts; therefore be it
RESOLVED, That the Synod and each District of the Synod be encouraged to make a thorough study of Church Growth materials and to organize and put into action the Church Growth principles needed to evangelize the nation and the world.
Action: Adopted (6).
Now being “missional” became the be all and end all of ministry within the LCMS. Now any and every means by which bodies could be convinced to enter our congregation’s sanctuary doors became fair game. Indeed, those who insisted that our Lutheran Confessions obliged us to retain the ancient liturgies of the Church as it says in the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV, “The Mass,”
“Therefore, since the Mass [Divine Service] among us follows the example of the Church, taken from Scripture and the Fathers, we are confident that it cannot be disapproved. This is especially so because we keep the public ceremonies, which are for the most part similar to those previously in use.” (Dau/Bente)
were said to be out of step with the times.
And what has been the fruit within our Synod of our departure from our previous striving after the greatest possible uniformity in worship? It has been nothing less than the greatest fracturing and dividing of our church body that it has ever experienced! Congregations have been divided. Faithful pastors have been unbiblically removed from their offices merely for keeping their ordination vows to conform their ministry to the Scriptures and the Confessions. Such faithful men have been callously described as uncaring about the lost, unwilling to be “missional,” obstructions to be removed from a more progressive, “mission-driven” Synod. Faithful laymen have literally been purged from many congregations which they, themselves helped to establish and build.
In response, the ACELC has rightly written:
“This faith is marked by pastors and laymen who...In accord with the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, retain, honor, and will not dispense with the liturgical worship of the Church and will resist any attempt to conform the worship of the Church to the expectations of the world. This is done so that the unity of the faith and of the Triune God is expressed through the unity of our worship and the faith it conveys.” (Definition of Confessional Lutheranism in Light of Present Day Issues)
Further, the ACELC has also written:
“Holy Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions give witness to the faithfulness of liturgical worship and its power to unify the Church, to faithfully teach God’s people, respect her traditions, and to reflect the unity of the one true God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – whom we worship. Additionally, liturgy serves chiefly for the proper administration of the pure Word and Sacraments (Augsburg Confession and Apology XIV). There the liturgy is confessed not chiefly as our sacrifice to God, but the means whereby He delivers His gifts to us. These same gifts are the marks of the Church (Augustana VII). Some have asserted that the LCMS Constitution Article VI (which reads: “Conditions for acquiring and holding membership in the Synod are the following: 4. Exclusive use of doctrinally pure agenda, hymnbooks, and catechism in church and school”) is nebulous.” We reject this errant conclusion.
“Holy Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions insist that all heterodox doctrine and practice (that is, false teaching) have no part in the worship and life of a Lutheran congregation. Today, however, some LCMS congregations openly and unapologetically employ the teachings of Arminian and Reformed theology by such false teachers as Rev. Rick Warren, Rev. Bill Hybels, Rev. John Maxwell, Rev. Carl George and others. We reject the toleration of these errors and insist that there is no virtue to any false teaching. Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions declare that the primary action in worship is taken by our gracious God who serves His people with His gifts of Word and Sacrament. Today, the liturgical practices of some LCMS pastors and congregations have been predicated on the false belief that worship is primarily the action of men who are present to serve God. We reject the toleration of this error.
“Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions inform us that worship is an expression of the unity of the God who gathers us and the unity of the faith we believe, teach and confess, and that therefore we should “strive for uniformity” in our worship as did the early Lutheran confessors and Dr. C.F.W. Walther in founding the Missouri Synod. Today many LCMS officers, pastors and congregations have insisted that striving for unity and uniformity is an unbiblical binding of the Christian’s freedom and conscience, and that much greater diversity of worship forms would serve the Church better. Unfortunately this has led not to new compositions of Lutheran hymns and liturgical settings but to importing worship forms from alien practices of Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals and others. We reject these errors.” (ACELC Letter of Fraternal Admonition, July 10, 2010)
In response to 2007 Resolution 4-01A, the Harmony Task Force has misplaced our Synodical “roots” with respect to what is desired for our unity in worship in an attempt to reconcile all matter of diversity as a reasonable substitute for the greatest possible uniformity. The ACELC finds that this particular desire to formulate a “theology of difference or of diversity” very troubling. Doubly troubling is the fact that in the Koinonia Project working draft (9.0) posted on our Synod’s website, this recommendation is included in a process that seeks to reestablish our unity in doctrine and practice. We suggest that either we seek the greatest possible uniformity, or we seek to embrace a “theology of diversity” for variant practices, but that the two approaches are mutually exclusive and can only result in further division among us.
It remains the sincere hope of the nineteen congregations (thus far) of the ACELC that the heart of our life together – that is our worship – be restored to the unity that our Synod once knew, valued, and treasured. May God grant that our striving after the greatest possible uniformity in our worship once again be a hallmark of our venerable church body.
Wishing You A Blessed Advent/Christmastide,
ACELC Board of Directors
P.S. We pray that you will be able to join us for our upcoming Theological Conference at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Lincoln, Nebraska, February 7-9. Watch for details coming soon, or visit our website, where Conference details will be posted in the next few days. The topic of this year's Conference will be: "CHRIST FOR US: The Lord's Supper"