Monday, July 25, 2011

LHP Review: Continuing the Worship Discussion in the LCMS

Sonntag, Holger. Edited by Paul Strawn and Scott Krieger. The Unchanging Forms of the Gospel: A Response to the Eight Theses on Worship (Questions in Lutheran Theology and Church, Volume 1). Minneapolis: Lutheran Press, 2010. 129 Pages. Paper. $6.00. (LHP)

Lutheran Press is to be commended for their new series, Questions in Lutheran Theology and Church, and the series' first volume, a response to the LCMS Council of Presidents' Eight Theses on Worship. Much has been said online in variety of forums, but little has found its way into print.

That the CoP has found unanimity should be a good thing for the whole of the LCMS. I pray that their work here may lead to trust, repentance, more study of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, and a wider unity in doctrine and practice in our Synod.

The editor reprints the Eight Theses (10) and proceeds to lay the foundation for Holger Sonntag to carefully and strongly respond where there may be unintended omissions or ambiguous statements or phrases. Consider the history of theological disagreements in Christendom (cf. 18-19). This is a process that will likely take decades.

The author's text begins with page 20, where he lays out twelve tactfully-described "Shortcomings," including six main "shortcomings," four "flaws," and two other considerations. The rest of the volume presents Sonntag's rationale for the shortcomings. In other words, he "shows his work" theologically as one would expect a grammar school mathematics student to do the same. He follows a time-honored pattern of offering support for his position from the Scriptures, Confessions, and private writings of the fathers.

I was particularly helped by the reminder of the Walther reference of the benefit of uniformity in form (68), The Apology's list of sermon topics (113), an assertion in number 11 of the need to get to the "cause of strife, division, and polarization" rather than merely addressing a symptom (120, worship practice), an appeal to a personal favorite part of the AC (121, AC XXIV, 1-9) where it is actually true today that some have "abolished the Mass," a comparison between Reformation-era Roman pressure to conform and similar pressure from today's American Evangelicalism (126), and a call to accurately address the problem in hope of a future satisfying "answer" (128).

At $6, this book is a bargain. Buy in bulk and discuss the Theses and this Response at Winkel.

Although Christians are given considerable freedom in worship, a freedom which is ruled by the humble service of love, there are certain aspects of Christian worship which must remain until Christ returns again in glory. In this response to a set of 8 Theses recently approved by the Council of Presidents of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (USA), Dr. Holger Sonntag raises the question as to the theological limits of freedom in worship which the theses describe. 

This is the first title in the Questions in Lutheran Theology and Church series.

(publisher's website)
We encourage our readers to advance the conversation on worship in the LCMS by sharing constructive criticism on the Theses and further reflection on them since their adoption. 

We look forward to more volumes in this series. Perhaps we could read a future discussion of a variety of topics including: the theology and practice of church fellowship among Lutherans, the implications of cooperation in externals with integrity, removing the 1989 Wichita "asterisk" from AC XIV, dispute resolution, men and women in the Church, calls or contracts for Lutheran school teachers, and rebuilding the Synodical Conference.

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.