Last week I had the great joy of attending the 3rd Annual Free Conference of the ACELC. The theme this year was on worship, and in the group's earnest desire to restore unity and concord within Lutheranism they attempted to do something great – a grassroots effort to gather all sides to the table to discuss the disputed points of theology under the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions. This of course being a grassroots effort means that it is not troubled by bylaws, resolutions, candidacies, longstanding personality feuds, or politics for that matter.
What I heard was a number of pastors give presentations from various positions on worship. I heard one of the finest presentations I have ever heard when Pr. Richard Stuckwisch spoke on high church liturgical worship. His entire presentation was so seasoned with Scripture, Confessions, and especially Small Catechism language that it sounded like Revelation does to someone well versed in the Old Testament prophets. It was remarkable. I also heard a great presentation on the "concordist" position by Pr. Bryan Wolfmueller. All of the presentations can be read here.
One honorable mention should be given to Pr. David Langewisch who presented on Contemporary Worship. I applaud his desire to come and present and interact with the other pastors of more "traditional" worship. One of the principle things taught to me in seminary by Dr. Masaki was the idea of starting points in theology. He preferred us to always start with Christ, whether you were talking about the Sacraments, the Office of the Ministry, the End Times, or whatever. Pr. Langewish started with "freedom". With such a starting point it did not take a special revelation to see where the presentation would go. Although he did have a more "moderated" contemporary position, his theological underpinnings started at the wrong point. Diversity was a good thing for him and he argued for a very "lowest common denominator" (as I would call it) form of uniformity. But again, the starting point was all wrong. For an awesome example of a proper starting point for any theological discussion see Pr. Stuckwisch's paper.
Freedom in Lutheran theology (our very name reflects the freedom given in the Gospel) is not what some folks would like to make it. In a manner which would make the Corinthians blush, many Americans use freedom to embrace selfish forms and snub the nose at the neighbor (I did it my way! Tolerate me!). This selfishness is usually masked with some evangelistic motivation for pious veneer. This is license, not freedom. And in the end, this embrace of a self-declared freedom is actually slavery to self and the selfish whims and fads of the Old Adam and his sensual desires and needs. This slavery is to be shackled to the ever changing culture which according to our Lord's words about the end of all things will be getting worse and worse. As one father in the faith taught me, a church which marries the culture of its day will soon find itself a widow (wasn't the Church supposed to be the bride of Christ?).
The conference had a couple free conversation sessions, one designed to find where we agree, and one to bring out the points of disagreement. Of particular note I found a point made by Pr. Wolfmueller to be very remarkable – that contemporary worship by its nature is impossible to pin down and is not be able to be handed down. The moment that it begins to be handed down is the moment it is no longer fitting with the theology and reasonings of Contemporary Worship. It is anti-catholic (that is anti-universal) by its very nature (going against what the creeds confess about the church).
In the end, concord could not be found among all of the speakers – a sad statement of just how far apart we have sought and been allowed to drift apart. Lovelessness and its love-child of innovation are killing us. But still, it can be said that this was an honest attempt to find concord at the grassroots, free of the trappings so commonly found in a political environment, especially in an election year. Congratulations to the ACELC for making such a valiant effort. This conference accomplished more in two days that any other effort in recent memory.
My question for those who advocate contemporary practices – what is so deficient in Lutheran Service Book? What in it makes it unable to be used? In the end I believe there is nothing in LSB that makes it unusable by the practitioners of Contemporary Worship, but the dividing point is found in the theology of those practitioners. Their theological foundations will not accept such a loving book designed to serve the Church. Their theological foundations will not strive for uniformity or humbly accept that which has been given to them from our fathers (including our fathers in the Scriptures). Instead they will seek to redefine uniformity to mean diversity and in the end leave nothing but generational chaos and poor souls who never know what to expect when visiting a "Lutheran" church. Papers like that of Pr. Wolfmueller, Pr. Sawyer, Pr. Poppe, and Pr. Stuckwisch give me hope for the future of concord under the Scriptures and Confessions for the Evangelical Lutheran Church wherever she is found.