Evangelism vs. Classical Christian Worship — A false dichotomy

I’ve been struggling of late with the question of whether using ‘traditional’ worship is at odds with saving the lost. The premise seems to be that the lost are in a culture, and those coming from this culture will be hindered by our worship form.

This premise seems to be widely accepted, with various resulting actions. One option is to have multiple worship services, ‘contemporary’ as a service which is more casual and friendly — theoretically more welcoming to ‘seekers’ — and ‘traditional’ for those who prefer it. Another option is to try and blend the old and new into a hybrid worship which is hopefully more welcoming to the lost, yet retains what we see as good in the liturgy.

However, I wonder if this premise assumes bad doctrine. That we can do something to affect the salvation of an individual beyond that which God has promised.

God promises to work through His Word and sacraments — earthly means combined with the Word and connected to a promise. These are what save. Is not evangelism simply preaching the Word, in season and out of it? Do the lost need something different from the saved? I think not. God saves sinners through His Word. This Word needs to be preached to the lost and the saved.

So isn’t classical Christian worship and liturgy what the lost need? Because where better is God’s saving word delivered to you? Evangelicals worship like evangelicals because they believe what evangelicals believe. Namely, that you need to make a decision for Christ. By utilizing their logic, methods, and ideas for evangelism, are we not accepting their premise?

Scripture described the fallen state of mankind as completely and utterly opposed to God. This individual will not suddenly be interested in God’s saving Word because the music is what he likes. This individual will come to church because the Holy Spirit has worked in him. At which point, what he needs is clear, sound truth. Confession and absolution. Law and Gospel. Not some fluffy ‘praise song’ to make him feel better. He needs liturgy.

So perhaps the solution to our woes of losing existing members and not bringing in new ones isn’t to double down on techniques founded in heterodoxy. Perhaps we simply continue to preach the Word.

Luther once stated that:

For you should know that God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been. It has been with the Jews, but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have nothing. Paul brought it to the Greeks; but again when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the Turk. Rome and the Latins also had it; but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the pope. And you Germans need not think that you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay. Therefore, seize it and hold it fast, whoever can; for lazy hands are bound to have a lean year. — LW 45:352

We in America may be watching the shower pass on. There is only one thing we can do about it. Preach the Word. Teach the Word. Catechize the young, old, and everyone in between. Never let go of the truth which we have. No amount of ‘new methods’ will cause it to return.

Further thoughts on the WELS translation decision

I wonder whether the move to allow NPH to use an eclectic approach will simply result as a backdoor into using the NIV2011. And isn’t it totally unfair to NPH that the broader synod would cop out of making a decision here by simply placing it on NPH? So instead of the decision of the synod being criticized, the decisions made by NPH would be criticized.

And why can’t we make a decision? From the perspective of a layman, it sounds like the decision comes down to the ESV, NIV2011, and HCSB. NKJV has also been put forward as an option, although it seems to have been eliminated out of hand for some reason. The HCSB seems to have been eliminated, leaving the NIV2011 and the ESV. The NIV2011 has baggage, whether fairly or unfairly, and an adoption of it will likely be seen as evidence that the WELS is a pietistic, heterodox synod. Our synod president has expressed similar concerns. So we are left with the ESV, which comes with the full resources of CPH behind it. Why can’t we say that this is the best option available to us at this time and place our support behind its adoption?

WELS Synod President weighs in on translation question

The WELS Synod President has weighed in on the translation question. I hope that the project of a confessional Lutheran translation comes to fruition. I was quite concerned with the idea of just placing the decision in the hands of NPH as to which translation to use, and I’m concerned about the potential of a diversity of translations, but if NPH is essentially directed to use the NIV84 for as long as possible until this new translation becomes available, it could be a good solution.

A layman’s defense of the ESV for recommendation as the primary translation in WELS congregations

I personally recommend the ESV be used as the primary translation in WELS congregations, much like the NIV84 is today.

I am not a pastor, nor do I understand Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic. As a layman, I have picked up from my faithful pastors a smattering of some of the above for use in understanding turns of phrase which do not translate well, as well as important terms on whose proper exegesis crucial doctrine hangs. However, I have no credentials whatsoever for comparing the available translations as they relate to the source text. I must depend on the wisdom and experience of those in the ministry with such gifts and training.

I am not arguing for the ESV from a translation perspective. The arguments I have heard regarding translation seem to say that the NIV2011 and ESV are close enough for the argument to be which weaknesses one holds in higher relief. To put it colloquially it is six on one hand, half a dozen on the other. My argument is different and does not encompass this. There are three parts: catholicity (not Roman), textual tradition, and consistency.

Catholic is a term which the church has used to refer to the ‘One holy Christian (orig. Catholic) and Apostolic church’. We use catholicity to refer to unity in doctrine and practice within the church across the centuries. Catholicity refers to our continued use of the Kyrie, Gloria, Creeds, and other universal, orthodox texts. Catholicity also refers to unity in the present day. We are embracing catholicity when we publish a common hymnal and follow it closely across our churches. We are embracing catholicity when we use a common lectionary and synchronize the church year. Catholicity in practice proclaims catholicity in doctrine.

The other major confessional Lutheran synodical bodies (LCMS and ELS) have either rejected the NIV2011, embraced the ESV, or both. For us to then adopt the NIV2011, even if their concerns are ill founded, would be to create a major difference between our churches. We no longer would have a common vocabulary of Holy Writ, and our capacity to worship together would be hindered. A barrier to sharing materials, books, curricula, et cetera would be erected. We in the WELS would be unable to use CPH materials freely. In the ELS, they would be hindered from using NPH materials.

Perhaps this could be overcome. However, why cause this division in the first place. Given two equally good options (which I am not sure they are, but for the sake of argument), why would we choose the option which is not the choice of our sister synods. This is the argument from catholicity. Where doctrinal issues are not present, let us strive for uniformity so that we may better work together towards the goal of confessing the Gospel in this dark world.

Sidenote: Yes, I am entirely aware of our lack of fellowship with the LCMS. It is my prayer that we may come to agreement on doctrine and rejoin fellowship. They have much which would strengthen us. They have been fighting enthusiast doctrine and practice in their midst for many years, a fight on which we are newly entered and I fear are losing the initial salvos. We would be stronger together. Not by glossing over the doctrinal difference. But with mutual study and agreement on the clear Word of God. With this goal in mind, why would we not utilize the excellent resources which they have made available, especially The Lutheran Study Bible.

Textual tradition is the argument that since we have used the NIV84 for so many years, our best option is to continue in that tradition with the adoption of the NIV2011. I personally believe that textual tradition is an excellent argument for abandoning the NIV. The NIV84 got lucky in being adopted by many churches after concerns were raised regarding the NIV78. There are still those who believe that the NIV84 was a poor choice at the time, and that the NKJV or some other translation would have been better.

What has happened since? Three incidents in particular come to mind. The release of the NIVI, the TNIV, and the copyright withdrawal of the NIV84 after the release of the NIV2011. The International Bible Society/Biblica has evidenced in the NIVI and TNIV a clear preference for imposing cultural norms upon Scripture, even when Scripture stands opposed to these cultural norms. The doctrine most in question is the roles of men and women. This is continued, although improved in the NIV2011. Even if the NIV2011 is a good translation in and of itself, is this something we should trust? Or would it be more prudent to cut our ties to the NIV entirely at this time. The ESV is of a different textual tradition going back to the KJV. It is likely to be familier to those who grew up with the KJV. It is also probably a better textual tradition going forward due to the non-ownership of the tradition by an individual group.

Biblica has also shown a willingness to withdraw the copyright when they release a new version. If we were to adopt the NIV2011 as a satisfactory translation, what happens when a theoretical NIV2020 is released as a ‘minor update’ and the copyright to the NIV2011 withdrawn? The ESV does not help the copyright issue. I would highly recommend that if NPH is directed to utilize the ESV, they attempt to secure a license which cannot be revoked. If this can occur, it is my hope that the ESV can serve for many generations as the de-facto Lutheran translation. A translation which I can memorize and teach to my children and grandchildren.

Issues remain with the ESV. There are questionable passages, and some concerns about the flow of the language. For this reason, the question has been raised as to whether we can create our own translation. I would highly support such an effort. I believe that fellowship with the LCMS should be restored first, as we would want their best scholarship in the effort. The goal of such an effort would be the creation of a Lutheran translation which stands for the ages as an example of good translation practice with scripture interpreting scripture and which could be used for public reading, private study, and family instruction. This is a massive undertaking. But it would be one of the greatest accomplishments of the English speaking Lutheran church.

Regardless of the choice, I would submit that an eclectic approach is the worst possible option. Even if we went with a mess like the ‘Message’, we would have the capacity to catechize our members as to its weaknesses. With an eclectic approach, each congregation is entirely at the mercy of the pastor and his language skills. I would hope that every pastor is skilled and faithful such that this would not be an issue. However, history teaches us the importance of a trained and catechized laity to keep the torch of doctrine alive. The laity needs a consistant, reliable text. If the pastor is constantly switching texts, even assuming that the pastor only switches when the text is actually better, how will the laity trust the written word? There will always be a question of whether what I am reading is actually worthwhile. And why would we expose the Lutheran pastor to the temptation to which many Evangelicals have fallen, that of utilizing translation flexibility to twist God’s Word to their own ends.

Luther’s Sacristy Prayer for Laymen

It struck me today how appropriate this prayer would be to another vocation. For my future (hopefully) reference with slight modification:

Lord God, You have placed me as a father and leader in a family, but
you see how unsuited I am to meet so great and difficult a task. If I had
lacked Your help, I would have ruined everything long ago. Therefore, I
call upon You: I wish to devote my mouth and my heart to you; I shall
teach my children. I myself will learn and ponder diligently upon Your Word.
Use me as Your instrument — but do not forsake me, for if ever I should
be on my own, I would easily wreck it all.

“Jesus Take Us To The Mountain” for TTBB

Here is a rearrangement of hymn 712 in Christian Worship: Supplement for Men’s Chorus. Carl Shalk’s setting of Jaroslav J. Vajda’s text for Transfiguration.

Copyright issues might apply here, so if anyone complains I’ll take this down. Hopefully everyone looking for this would already have a copy of CWS or another hymnal with this hymn and thus has covered copyright.

Hopefully this is useful to other Men’s Choruses in confessional Lutheran circles. I know that I struggle to find good Men’s Chorus music that isn’t of a revivalistic, hetrodoxical, semi-pelagian bent.

Jesus Take Us To The Mountain (PDF)

Jesus Take Us To The Mountain (Finale 2012)

The pertinent law to the David Gregory high capacity magazine kerfluffle

Posting this just because I spent the time to look it up and it is a pain to find.

The pertinent law is District of Columbia Official Code, Division I, Title 7, Subtitle J, Chapter 25, Unit A, Subchapter VI, § 7-2506.01:

(b) No person in the District shall possess, sell, or transfer any large capacity ammunition feeding device regardless of whether the device is attached to a firearm. For the purposes of this subsection, the term “large capacity ammunition feeding device” means a magazine, belt, drum, feed strip, or similar device that has a capacity of, or that can be readily restored or converted to accept, more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The term “large capacity ammunition feeding device” shall not include an attached tubular device designed to accept, and capable of operating only with, .22 caliber rimfire ammunition.

The penalty (if I understand how the law is laid out correctly, I am not a lawyer), is in District of Columbia Official Code, Division I, Title 7, Subtitle J, Chapter 25, Unit A, Subchapter VII, § 7-2507.06:

Any person convicted of a violation of any provision of this unit shall be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned for not more than 1 year, or both…

The full text is found here.