“Mirror, mirror on the wall—who is the most Lutheran of us all?”
That was the question raised at a recent Conference of Bishops gathering as we discussed worship practices among our congregations. Now we are presented with a document, The Use of the Means of Grace, that effectively gives us a standard to understand what our church believes to be consistent with our Confession of Faith.
As I move around the synod, I sense that our congregations take great care in their practices of worship. The document rightly points out “that careless practice of rigid uniformity may distort the power of the gift that is the Gospel.”
There is no doubt that worship forms in the Metropolitan Chicago Synod are undergoing dramatic shifts. If there is one obvious change that I observe, it is the growing number of congregations that are introducing some form of alternate worship in their schedules to reach the unchurched community that surrounds them. The primary difference in that new worship format is the music and instrumentation being used.
I have noted that even though “alternative” is being used to describe the worship, the sources for that expression are often With One Voice and the Supplement to the Lutheran Book of Worship. Other significant sources are Marty Haugen’s interpretation and the African American Songbook Lead Me, Guide Me.
Most congregations that have moved to an alternative format from the LBW have informed me that it is through these contemporary expressions that they have drawn most unchurched people into the communities of faith.
The Use of the Means of Grace supports these mission efforts in our congregations when it quotes Article VII of the Augsburg Confession: “It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies of human institution should be observed uniformly in all places.”
It is obvious to me that we have a great diversity among our congregations in the manner in which they celebrate their life together in worship. For that I shout—AMEN!
As someone who started his life in the church as a strong proponent of the now defunct group known as Una Sancta, I give thanks for the diversity present in the synod. My challenge to us all in these days of “worship wars” is to maintain our integrity in a Word and Sacrament theology and to strive to encourage good order without condemning or abusing our colleagues in ministry who may differ from our own understanding of liturgical practices.
My reading of the document suggests that it offers challenge and opportunity for our parishes to bring the Gospel to a new generation. I would hope that all of our pastors would study the document and see the possibilities of enriching the lives of their people. And I would add my own counsel: Hold up these central themes of our faith and life.
- Weekly celebration of the Sacrament.
- Baptism as the central expression of our adoption and forgiveness.
- The gift of Word and Sacrament as “the means of Grace.”
And finally—our worship must lead us out of our buildings and empower us for mission. The document declares our purpose: “The dismissal from the service sends us in thanksgiving from what we have seen in God’s holy gifts to service in God’s beloved world.”