Lutherans Attempt to Ease Discord Over Worship Styles

The division in churches over worship styles and forms is sinful, say leaders of a conservative Lutheran denomination.

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod recently adopted the "Theses on Worship" to address the diversity of worship practices as well as resulting conflicts in Lutheran congregations.

In an effort to assist the nearly 6,200 congregations in the second largest Lutheran denomination in the country, the LCMS Council of Presidents – which includes the Synod's 35 district presidents, the president and the five vice presidents of the Synod – developed an eight-page document to foster "God-pleasing harmony on this matter."

"[T]he Council of Presidents ardently desires to assist our Synod in every way possible to achieve harmony and concord in the theology and practice of worship," said Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, president of the synod. "We recognize that different affinities in music and worship expressions exist among us."

The theses, adopted last month, come two years after the 2007 LCMS Convention voted to foster greater understanding of worship through theological conferences and to provide guidance and direction for use of diverse/contemporary worship resources.

The debate over traditional vs. contemporary worship styles has been ongoing in congregations across all Protestant denominations, especially as more churches have made the transition to the latter. Some debates have ended in church splits.

Acknowledging the disharmony, Lutherans state in their theses, "The polarization that is affecting the Church concerning the issue of forms, rites and ceremonies is sinful and hinders the proclamation of the Gospel."

"We believe, teach, and confess that no church should condemn another because it has fewer or more external ceremonies not commanded by God, as long as there is mutual agreement in doctrine and in all its articles as well as in the right use of the holy sacraments, according to the familiar axiom, 'Disagreement in fasting does not destroy agreement in faith.'"

Imposing a certain form on the Church "burdens men's consciences, thereby militating against the Gospel," the Council of Presidents maintain in the theses.

"[W]e reject and condemn as false and contrary to God's Word the following teachings: . . . 2) When such ceremonies, precepts, and institutions are forcibly imposed upon the community of God as necessary things, in violation of the Christian liberty which it has in external matters."

Addressing those who hold on to traditions, the Lutheran leaders acknowledge that traditions are "real snares for consciences" especially when they are enforced, or required as necessary. At the same time, abolishing traditions also poses problems.

Nevertheless, the Scriptures and Confessions give "considerable freedom in choosing those forms, rites, and ceremonies that aid the worship of God," according to the theses.

Differences in rites and styles of worship should not harm the unity of the Church. Uniformity in such areas is not essential to unity, the Lutheran leaders maintain. As long as the diverse forms of worship across churches are in accord with the Word of God and the Gospel is preached, "it is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places."

"The purpose of observing ceremonies is that men may learn the Scriptures and that those who have been touched by the Word may receive faith and fear and so may also pray."

And worship, the document declares, is not an adiaphoron, or a matter of indifference. Worship is commanded by God and Lutherans should avoid what is contrary to the Word of God and choose styles and forms with great care.