Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Listen to the Converts

First, let me address two realities here:

1. Lutherans will never live in isolation. We will always be surrounded by culture, by other theologies, and these will impact us - and in many ways we will want them to impact us, we will want to emulate them.
2. The Law of Unintended Consequences applies to things theological. Even though you see something that X does well, if you just try to adopt it, while you might have the result you want, there will always be unintended consequences.

So, what does this mean? We can be very frustrated with the state of the Church, with the state of the people there in. And, instead of simply seeking to preach the Word of God faithfully, of applying Law and Gospel to the people in our care, we can be tempted to "fix" things - and we can see what other denominations do, and want to adopt their practices and adapt them to Lutheranism.

This happens with adopting Evangelical worship styles (or even high liturgical styles), or with trying to engage social issues and make good Christians like the Evangelicals, or to express more freedom like the mainline folks - adopting a new polity (because having bishops would fix things, or going even more congregational).

Before you go with your scheme to fix the Church, pause, and do something very simple.

Talk to a convert from that religion you want Lutheranism to look more like and see what they think of your plans.

Seriously - you want to have happy, awesome worship - talk to a convert (and not an "Well, my wife was Lutheran so I had to come here" convert, but a legit person who has for simple reasons of faith converted) and see what they think. And then, you may see the unintended consequences of the changes you want to make.

I am told of what one of my dear widow's husband used to say when he was alive (before my time). He would routinely lambaste people when tomfoolery was suggested, saying, "You Lutherans don't know what you have." Listen to the people who know what you have - lest you exchange the Baby for your neighbors bathwater which you happen to think is cleaner than yours.


Zach said...

Great post! Me and my wife are in the process of becoming a member of a very confessional LCMS church. We left the evangelical circus about 3 years ago. And only until recently when we discovered confessional Lutheranism, did we realize why we were so turned off by the teaching and events happening on the evangelical side of the church. We are getting to know people in our new church, but none, thankfully, have come across as wanting to go to the dark side, so to speak.

I would be more than willing to share with those want to understand evangelicalism and how on the surface it looks tempting, but doesn't offer the substance that Lutheranism does.

Great thoughts!

in situ said...

Well put. As I am one of those "converts", I could say "bunk" to a lot of happy-clappy plans people have for the church.

Excellent post

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

The problem with your mention of "high liturgical styles" in this argument is twofold.

1. You are thereby claiming that high liturgical style is employed in order to "fix" things in the Church. In fact, it is employed in the church because it befits the dignity and beauty of the gospel, and because I owe more to it than it owes to me. The liturgical tradition of the Lutheran Church is my heritage, and deserves some respect. Also, I firmly believe that, instead of implying that it is the equal and opposite problem of evangelicalism, we should see it as one of the geniuses and jewels of the Church, which we should be striving to impart and inculcate in our children and youth. They deserve nothing less.

2. And you also thereby claim that "high liturgical styles" have some unintended and unLutheran consequences. Please name them.

You also deride the notion that having bishops would fix things. Actually, one of the purposes of a bishop is to fix certain things. He could indeed fix some things. That, however, does not mean that those who like the notion of classic episcopacy think that the state of having bishops would "fix the church."

And when you likewise dismiss those Lutherans who would become more congregational than we are now, your whole argument begins to resemble nothing more than an apologia for the exact way things are done, from the top of the Synod. Are you now a front man for the Synod?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Deacon Gaba,

I'm not a front man for the Synod - I am simply saying this. Be wary of trying to "fix" things - be wary of thinking that if we just look a little more like X, that this will fix things - because X has its own problems.

If you want bishops because you think that will fix problems - talk to someone who had bishops, because there are a whole slew of problems that live there that in our zeal to fix problems, we don't see.

Likewise, if you want to do the whole "utlra-congregationalist" approach, while that might avoid some of the problems with our synodical structure, it will open the door to a whole slew.

Rather than being an apologist for the Synod, think of me as one who advocate caution in reform, retaining what can be retained of the current state, rather than desiring radical change in any direction.

Also, I am saying that perhaps what we view as major problems that need to be addressed are not central - that in our zeal to correct we can make primary that which is only supportive, and lose focus.

+ + + + + +

As for unLutheran consequences of a high liturgical style I am not meaning to say that Lutherans cannot be "high church", but rather when one thinks that the cure for what ills us is to become high church, there are often unintentional consequences.

There can be intense discussion and disagreement over things that ought to be free (arguments over calendars and the like, or proper postures), that can lead to a lack of love. There can be a dismissive of those who are not as high as they are. There can be the notion that if we all just do the same thing and look the same on Sunday that we have unity - which leads to a false sense of security.

I would say that sometimes the focus on a high liturgical style can contradict traditional Lutheran themes. For Luther, the focus was preaching. That can be lost or diminished. Or the Lutheran idea of the service being continual forgiveness can be overshadowed and neglected.

The Church is not the Liturgy. The Gospel is not the Liturgy. The Liturgy serves the Church by holding, containing, and proclaiming the Gospel. If the liturgy, and the liturgy being done well takes the center stage, then the proclamation of the Gospel will move aside, and we will be more concerned with those who look like we look in Worship rather than those who believe, teach, and confess as we do.

If you have questions as to what I mean - go talk to some solid converts from Rome or from the East. Listen to their insights. You will find they love the liturgy - but love it whether it is high or low.

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

You write: "There can be intense discussion and disagreement over things that ought to be free (arguments over calendars and the like, or proper postures), that can lead to a lack of love. There can be a dismissive of those who are not as high as they are."

A few thoughts on what you have written.

1. The freeness of liturgical matters should mean that those who choose to practice certain postures and gestures are not shown a lack of love, or dismissiveness. Yet I have seen much more unkindness shown to practicers of liturgical postures than against those who eschew the liturgy.

2. Christian love is sometimes appropriately shown not merely in exercising liturgical freedom, but in submitting to the liturgy of the Church, for the sake of the common life of the Church. See, for example, Luther's arguments in his letter to the Livonians, or indeed, his 1522 Invocavit sermons.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Deacon Gaba,

To put it this way - you say, "The liturgical tradition of the Lutheran Church is my heritage, and deserves some respect. Also, I firmly believe that, instead of implying that it is the equal and opposite problem of evangelicalism, we should see it as one of the geniuses and jewels of the Church, which we should be striving to impart and inculcate in our children and youth. They deserve nothing less." I agree completely.

Now, consider my congregation. They use the liturgy, common service even. However - they have no history of chanting (except for the first line of the Gloria - odd). They do not kneel for the reception of the Supper.

I find chanting and kneeling to be good, pious, beneficial things. However, does my congregation, because it neither chants nor kneels, lack or despise our liturgical heritage? Are they not taught to value the liturgy?

I would say no. The response to the disdaining of the liturgy isn't necessarily to advocate a high church forms within the liturgy, but to advocate the Liturgy - and to understand that even approaches that are not as high as others are indeed still reverent.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


Let no one condemn you for your liturgical piety! It is something that I greatly appreciate about you. However, the dangers that often arise with liturgical reform movements (and I am speaking in general - I would hope that this does not apply to you) is that it can make "my standard" as the baseline for what piety is - it can lead to a disdaining of the neighbor which in fact detracts from a proper focus on the liturgy.

2. You are frankly right - and sometimes that may mean adopting a liturgical style that is lower than one would like.

My congregation is not as "High" as I would like. Will she ever be? I don't know - but I won't try to make her be, lest I detract from the Gospel.

Unknown said...

Loved the post. Thanks.
Take a pill. I love High Liturgy by the way. I miss many of the aspects of worship I was introduced to in Ft. Wayne.
But I remember Masaki even criticizing aspects of what went on at Zion. Mostly not using the hymnal, but still.
And there are things considered to be aspects of High Liturgy that we would not want to adopt, say from the Roman Catholics or Anglicans.
So please, take a pill. Consider when Eric says something that his perspective might have merit, and maybe he isn't talking about the exact same high church liturgy you are thinking of.

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

Bror & Eric:

I would need to take a pill if my tone were out of line, or if I were somehow making outragious claims. We can all handle the fact that we are grown up men, who can respectfully challenge each other, position for position, claim for claim.

It is not my job as an interlocutor to just accept what one says, and trust that "maybe" Eric's perspective has some merit. If the hidden meaning of his terms have merit, then it is up to him to express and explain that. I am responding reasonably to his stated claims.

By the way, I am unfamiliar with Masaki's complaints, and will not accept their merit just because they came from a beloved professor.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

A few things:

1. Bror - While I think you were quite observant that Latif may have been personalizing things, telling him to take a "pill" will not help him depersonalize things.

2. Latif - why did you address the line "I would need to take a pill..." to me?

Also - I would like your evaluation - My congregation does not kneel during the service - neither during confession (although I do) nor during the reception of the Sacrament. Thus, in this practice, they are not "high". Does this lack fundamentally mean, in your estimation, that my congregation has a lack of respect for the liturgy?

One other - you say, "Christian love is sometimes appropriately shown not merely in exercising liturgical freedom, but in submitting to the liturgy of the Church, for the sake of the common life of the Church." To what extent might this also involve the curtailing of liturgical practices and/or observances which, while having some historical appearances in Lutheranism, yet is not well and present here?

Mike Baker said...

You have touched on one of the real strengths of authentic Lutheranism: that--at its core--the church is pastoral instead of institutional... ministerial over magisterial. It has "marks" instead of on-size-fits-all methods and systems of doing things.

In my experience, Lutheranism does not have a monopoly on the truth, but it sure does seem to care more about getting to the very essense of it when compared to most church bodies.

Rather than trying to meet felt needs of all various stripes, Lutheranism seeks to meet SPECIFIC needs. There is a difference.

Sheep are different. Flocks are different. Perceptions are different. That's okay... but the truth of the Gospel is always the same.

Phillip said...

Fr. Brown,

How then, are we to properly attempt to reform a mainline evangelical/ protestant "Lutheran" church? How do we respond to the Gospel being obscured by a lack of liturgy?

Mike Baker said...

Philip, clearly presenting the Gospel.

(Sorry for attempting to respond to a question that was not addressed to me. :P)

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

Fr. Eric:

You write:
"Bror...I think you were quite observant that Latif may have been personalizing things."

This is an implication I just can't buy. I do see these issues partly through the lense of my own life situation, true, but I think we all do so. That is not the same as saying I am "personalizing" matters. It sounds more like a convenient way to get out of addressing, reasonably, the points I have made.

You then write: "why did you address the line "I would need to take a pill..." to me?"

Sorry to report there is no significance to this. I addressed that comment, for some reason, to the two other guys who were in the conversation at that point.

You write, of your parish's lack of a kneeling practice: "Does this lack fundamentally mean, in your estimation, that my congregation has a lack of respect for the liturgy?"

It does not, nor has anyone I know of said or implied as much.

Finally, you quote me thus: "Christian love is sometimes appropriately shown not merely in exercising liturgical freedom, but in submitting to the liturgy of the Church, for the sake of the common life of the Church"

and you ask, "To what extent might this also involve the curtailing of liturgical practices and/or observances which, while having some historical appearances in Lutheranism, yet is not well and present here?"

My response:
First, before asking a question based on that statement of mine, you should tell us if you agree with it. If you and I agree on that principle of the relationship of love and freedom, then we will have made some real progress, and should perhaps then agree also that too often "lack of love" in the Church is identified only with those who advocate the traditional liturgy of the Church. If you will permit me to get "personal" again, I might say that my unabashed advocacy of the liturgical tradition of the Church flows, in fact, partly out of a deep love for people.

Second, your question assumes that "high liturgical style" (which you still have not defined) includes practices and observances that have only made "some appearances" in Lutheranism. That may be, but I'd like you to enumerate them, so we could discuss them more intelligently.

Third, I will answer your question. It could indeed mean curtailing certain practices. Such scenarios are evaluated subjectively, on a case to case basis, with many proper factors coming into play.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


To explain my initial post and it's mention of some who are high church - I have been told that I really need to get my parish kneeling for communion because they aren't doing it right. This is the sort of misguided focus that does some out from time to time.

I totally agree that for the sake of Christian love, you curtail your freedom. The place where this most obviously happens for me is within my own parish. I love chanting - I would do it in the heart beat if I had my druthers... but as I know it would be distressing to many members, I do not chant as an exercise of Christian love.

This same approach should be applied to a Synodical level (although I do think any Synodical standard needs to be flexible enough to allow for differences in custom. "Say or chant" works well enough - but say or chant that liturgy... or one of the other approved ones).

As for the specifics, I am not trying to delineate a list of practices that are or are not acceptable (either in terms of what gets added to the liturgy by some or in terms of what is omitted by others) - three words in a parenthetical expression don't form the focus of a post. In fact, I tend to think more of the approach when it becomes, "we must do this to be better Christians" -- and here, I will jump to my next comment to Phillip.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


A lack of liturgy is a difficult thing. The fact is, no Lutheran Church has a "lack" of liturgy - we aren't Quakers when we go contemporary - we end up having gutted and weakened liturgy.

To someone who is at a Church that has disconnected itself from the historic liturgy, there would be a few moves that I would suggest.

1. Take over writing, and in your writing move closer and closer to that which is historical. Now, while I think it is foolish and unwise for any pastor to simply say, "Ah, I can write something better than the liturgy" - if the congregation is already running liturgically a-muck, then the pastor needs to take charge lyrically and start inserting doctrine that is at least sound. Sound doctrine has to be the first priority.

2. Next would be a move to minimize the individualism that often lies in the background of contemporary worship - of how we do our own things. This might begin with the introduction of specific hymns or canticles... because our kids need to know these so that they know them when they hit other congregations. (If the attitude is, "Who cares if our kids stay Lutheran when our kids move away" you are not ready to make this emphasis yet.) Or you can do the appeal to Synodical unity - these books are what the Synod has said we can use, why don't we use them (yes, the release of a contemporary worship book will not let this work as well for restoring a congregation to the practice of the church -- but at least it should curtail the most egregious things).

3. Great patience will be required. This means that if you show up a Church that has abandoned the Liturgy, you probably will have to put up with it for a long, long time. Years. . . probably a decade. And simply work on moving them to within the fold of liturgical Christianity.

Other thoughts - In this situation I probably would do a bit more deliberately what I do in passing here - put good Lutheran Hymns before the sermon (and if you have to get folks to do a horrid arraignment of it - suck it up) and use the words of the hymn as support and explanation of what you see the text -- when you can start showing people that there is depth and richness and meaning and emotional power there, naturally they will begin to make comparisons.

And also, don't be afraid to throw people a sop now and then. I have a list (I no longer need to look at it) that I call "Desert Hymns" - hymns that my congregation likes... and are in the hymnal, even though some of them wouldn't be my favorite ones. Try to have one or two each service - and end with one.

Yes, I'll end service with Amazing Grace if it means I can get a good solid hymn as the hymn of the day. The same principal would be applied elsewhere.

And even with this - the goal should simply be to preach the Gospel faithfully -- and the historic liturgy is the safe and sure way to know that the Gospel is proclaimed, even if your sermon is a dog. Move that way with patience.

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

The notion that no Lutheran church is without liturgy may be a clever academic thesis, but even you don't agree with yourself on that, since you go on to refer to a church having abandoned the liturgy. Your latter claim is right. It is possible for the liturgy to be diminished and destroyed beyond recognition.

Also, in your response to Phillip, you give a lot of imperative instruction to pastors on how to go about reform. You've been out there for what, five, six years now? I also am at a loss as to how this conforms with your view of the 3rd use of the law?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


Pay attention to the articles. No Church is without liturgy (no article). Many, though, have abandoned the Liturgy.

My point is that while there may be in many an instinctive dismissiveness of the historic liturgy for whatever foolish reasons, even the most contemporary setting in our midst has some sense of "order" - have their own "liturgies". We aren't dealing with total enthusaistic "let's just sit here until the Holy Spirit tells one of us to speak" Quaker style meetings.

As such, if one wants to re-introduce THE liturgy in a congregation where it has been abandoned or highly distorted, one should take advantage of the simple presence of any liturgical structures (even the fact that we stand for the national anthem at sporting events).

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


I don't see how what I say above fails to conform with what I have said about the 3rd Use. I say that we ought be moderate in our use - that we should give guidance rather than set up artificial demands of "this is how you MUST do it."

I say that if new stuff is written, let the pastor write it and see that it is Gospel oriented. I don't mandate words - I call for the idea that the Gospel should be the focus to shape. That's 3rd use. That's good.

Something that I would oppose would be saying, "You need to use the word "Justification" at least 5 times to make it Lutheran." That would be foolish and arbitrary.

Likewise, I say that the individualist nature of contemporary worship should be minimized. Note the second sentence of point 2 - "This might begin with the introduction..." I don't profess to give specific instructions (a la - Introduce the Te Deum first) because I won't know the specifics of the congregation. If that congregation would probably be able to learn "This is the Feast" - knock yourself out, even though I don't know if its ever been sung here.

Likewise, my third point - Patience will be required. That is not a command that tries to micromanage, nor do I say, "You must be patient with your brother at least 14 times but no more than 17."

Again - the 3rd use is to be a pattern which one can apply to one's self - not at attempt by another to micromanage and say, "You must do it this way."

I fail to see what is so confusing or seemingly contradictory about this. Because I believe that too many people confuse the 3rd use of the law with the 1st, or I think that too many people try to manage people's lives instead of give Christian advice does not mean that I deny the existence of the 3rd use.

Rather, think of it this way - my main qualm with how many can deal with the third use is that they don't trust other people to act in a Christian manner. In what I say to Phillip, I trust that someone reading this would apply it - I wouldn't try to make them apply in a specific way.

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

I see the articles. I disagree with the wisdom of loosening the term "liturgy" to the degree that evangelicals, and coffeehouse ministries, and charismatics, etc (all LC-MS phenomena) can be said to have it. Since you bring up articles, you are quite emphatic in your use of the definite article, so I wonder what your definition of "the liturgy" would be.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

One needs to make a distinction between the simple idea of order that is present in virtually every human interaction and the orders of service used throughout the Church. And while I would not look at a full blown contemporary service and say, "a ha, the liturgy is still there" - I would use the fact that there is an intrinsic sense of order to break down the false and foolish oppositions that people raise to the particular order that has arisen within the Church Catholic.

Actually, to be totally accurate, it would be the "liturgies" - for there are several orders of service that have come into acceptance and common usage in the Church Catholic. You have things like the Liturgy of St. James and other Eastern orders. You have the standard Western Liturgy (although Lutherans have excised parts of the Canon of the Mass). Among Lutherans, I think a simple example would be Luther's German Mass - amongst English speakers you have the Common Service.

Do you view these as distinct Liturgies or one over arching pattern of a Service of the Word with a Service of the Sacrament, each with variations that have become standardized.

Practically speaking, as one in the LCMS, I would say that the Liturgy should be understood as those orders of service established by the Synod (LSB, LW, TLH, the ones before that) - although I would also say that we have a claim to those orders which came from our predecessors in Germany.

I would suggest that congregation stick to the services found in these hymnals and their accompanying agenda... or if there is modification to stick closely there to. As an example - when one of the sons of our congregation went off to the Seminary, I modified the "Farewell and Godspeed for a Candidate for Ordination" to a "Farewell and Godspeed for a Seminarian."

While this farewell is not present in the agenda, it was done in such a way that it would be instantaneously recognizable (it's a prayer for a person and a blessing - these are standard things) to those who use the Lutheran Agendas.

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

Touching on something else in your argument, you write:

"If you want bishops because you think that will fix problems - talk to someone who had bishops, because there are a whole slew of problems that live there that in our zeal to fix problems, we don't see."

If my dear brother, Bror, was so sure that in your reference to "high liturgical style" you had in mind things foreign to Lutheranism, is that the case here as well? Is an episcopal form of church governance something foreign to Lutheranism (or to use your phrase, "adapt to Lutheranism") ? Is the Church in Siberia, or Kenya, or Latvia unLutheran? And what are the "slew" of problems they have because of their bishops?

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

By the way, if it seemed as though I jumped away from the liturgy topic, I am just trying to touch upon as much of the ground you covered in your argument, with the little time I have, and I fear we may be at a sort of impasse on the liturgy.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


You are missing the point. I am not saying that bishops (that oversee a large number of parishes) are bad. If a Church has that - wondrous - use it to the glory of God.

At no point do I say that having bishops is "unLutheran" - that is an utter red herring.

However, simply having bishops won't fix things. You want proof of that - go talk to someone who used to be in the American Lutheran Church 30 years ago - they got bishops (of sorts) in the ELCA - has that improved things?

Again, let me reiterate - there is nothing wrong with an Episcopalian Structure. However, if we think a simple change in structure will fix problems, we only say that because it may fix some of our immediate problems, while ignoring other problems that can show up in such a system.

And if I want to know what abuses can come with a system of bishops, I simply look at the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, I look at AC 27, I look at the Episcopalian Church (for faithless bishops are a horrid thing).

Talk to one in the NALC and see if they think that Bishops are the solution to problems.

(Also, I would contend that we do have bishops. I'm one. I'm the bishop of Lahoma. Bror is one. He's the bishop of Toole. The problem is too often a call for bishops is a call for someone else to fix problems - to have some other authority figure tell my congregation things because they won't listen to me. A bishop might do that - but they might also tell your congregation utter junk).

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

What impasse are we at on the Liturgy. What have I said that is false, wrong, or lacking in understanding?

What do you seem to think that I am advocating that would be described as an "impasse"?

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

"At no point do I say that having bishops is "unLutheran" - that is an utter red herring"

That is not the case. Notwithstanding the fact that this is not the main point of your argument, it is clear from your words that having bishops (of course we are referring to the classic transparochial episcopacy) is to go to system that is outside Lutheranism. Read your post over again.

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

As I said, I have little time to be as in depth with you on the nature of our differences. If and when I can do so, I will.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


Context. Pay attention to context. I am addressing how we relate to the environment in which we find ourselves.

In the LCMS, we do not have an episcopal system. There are those who would think that if we were to have such a system, it would fix what ails the LCMS. I contend that even if we had bishops, we'd just end up with other problems.

Also, why, if you thought that I condemned bishops as unlutheran, why did you couch it in terms of Bror's comments? I'm getting really confused here - so much of this looks to be "there! I Gotcha!"

If you want to argue that I am flawed in my logic - make the argument. Show, demonstrate. But right now, this is just - I don't know what you are trying to do.

It's as though you are trying to treat me as every stereotype of the Missouri Synod rolled into one. I don't know you to be disingenuous and I don't know why you are importing and reading such things into what I write. From your first comment where you insinuate that I am just a "front man" for the Synod, you seem to be just off in your read of this post and missing the point entirely.

This is very odd behavior, Latif. I'm not sure if I should ask about our differences, because I don't think I hold the positions you assume I hold.

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

"Context. Pay attention to context"

I am not going to repeat a hundred times that I know your context, your point, your main argument, etc, just because you keep using that as an excuse for your poor choices of words in the forming of that argument.

"There are those who would think that if we were to have such a system, it would fix what ails the LCMS"

Name them. Let's have an open discussion about these matters. Ask Paul McCain if I am someone who is shy about naming people with whom I disagree. If I can do it, so can you.

Bror has nothing to do with my reaction to your argument. Sorry if you're confused about that.

I have clearly laid out problems with your argument. You could admit them. But observing your writing lately, I doubt you will.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


Why in the world should I name anyone.

Don't you get any of my points? This is the same think you don't get about when I talk about the third use - I'm not trying to sit in judgment and look at people and say, "Ah, person X, you must change a and b. Person Y, you must change b, c, and e."

I don't take tabs on people - I don't take notes.

Am I thus merely creating a false straw man for myself to rant and rave against? No. I am speaking to generalities.

If anyone, whomever they are, thinks that simply instituting bishops would fix problems, they neglect or ignore that other problems can and will arise, even with bishops, for we are sinners living in a sinful world.

It's as simple as that. This isn't some glorious crusade to say, "Ah, look, so and so is wrong" - neener neener neener. In fact, any specific name would have no bearing on my contention what so ever.

"Name them. Let's have an open discussion about these matters" - THERE ARE NO SPECIFIC PEOPLE I AM ATTEMPTING TO WAG A FINGER AT. This is abstract - a rule of thumb. That's it.

Phillip said...

Fr. Brown,

Define what exactly you mean by the 3rd use of the Law. I'm getting the perception from your comments that it seems you view it as suggestions not a binding rule. I'm sure that is not what you mean, but from this and previous posts, it seems as though you're treating any instance of the the third use as a nice suggestion if it goes beyond the injunction to show love. Certainly we have freedom in the Gospel, but where are you drawing the line between Christian freedom and antinomianism in regards to the third use? The only binding case of the third use I've seen from you is the generic show love and an implied acceptance of the guide in Luther's explanation of the Commandments. I'm afraid I've missed something in your point here.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


The third use of the Law is the Law being used in such a way as to show Christians how they ought to live and in what ways they can use their God given freedom.

I can and must encourage people to act in God pleasing ways, I can provide examples of actions that are good and God pleasing - however, I cannot say, "You must do X" unless God clearly says "Thou shall do X". What business would I have commanding you to act in a specific fashion unless we both have a clear command from God that we must act in said fashion.

Let's take an example. I can rightfully say, "You are to love and care for your spouse." Do I have any business saying, "This means you (plural) all need to make your wife dinner tonight." While it may be loving to cook for your wife... you are bound to show love, not necessarily cook a meal for her this night.

Now, if I am talking to a specific person, I might be more direct in the guidance I give. If I know that your (singular) wife loves it when you cook dinner, and she is feeling down, I can say, "It would be good for you to make her dinner tonight." But even then, I can't say, "You need to make her dinner tonight."

I am hesitant to bind anyone with advice. It is advice - not a command. Who made me judge, who made me king that I have God given authority to tell you how to live your life.

While I know that this is just another "love" example -- how does Christ sum up the entire law? Love. Love God. Love your neighbor. That's is the Law, when it all boils down to it.

Okay - here's an example - we are to help improve our neighbor's property (because we are to love him, but that's neither here nor there). I can rightfully encourage people to care for their neighbor, to help them improve their property and possessions.

Can I say, "Get your hammer and nails, for you must build your neighbor a porch"? Well, it might be a very good thing to build a porch - but how are you at construction? What other responsibilities do you have? Does your neighbor even want a porch?

We are new creations in Christ, we have works prepared for us to walk in - trying to divine those specific works isn't the purpose of the 3rd use of the Law.

Or to finally put it another way -- the 3rd use of the Law brings with it no fear punishment -- love casts out fear, fear has to do with punishment. If I can assign a punishment, it's not 3rd use anymore.

On this, consider 1 John (especially chapter 4)- which I think is the book about all others on this. John doesn't focus on specifically how you MUST love your neighbor - simply love your neighbor.

Mike Baker said...

Rev Brown,

As a convert and a former contemporary worship musician, I can tell you that your general approach in this area is the correct one in most cases. People rarely win individuals over to their way of thinking by owning words and framing debate according to their definitions of terms.

Presenting "the liturgy" to someone like me did not help. I had no respect for "the liturgy". I thought it was dead, old, and out-dated. Defending "the liturgy" was a pointless endeavor and would have never changed my mind regarding worship styles. "The liturgy" is a weak arguement. It's a piece of linguistic bulwark that defeats all discusssion. No one who ever talked to me about "the liturgy" did the liturgy a favor because it never got me to change my mind about it. It just confirmed my false impression of liturgical people as being closed-minded and unwilling to adapt.

Now "a liturgy" on the other hand is different. Once you can convince me that I already have "a liturgy", then we are past all the buzzwords and jargon. Then we can have a discussion about what way of doing things is the best. Once everyone is on the same sheet of music, we can start talking and educating people about what we SHOULD do instead of what we CAN do.

The purests are always going to hate the linguistic compromises that we will have to make, but you won't change post-modern, contemporary minds by sounding obsolete. You have to be all things to all men.

...and once you win this common ground, you can't argue history or heritage or anything like that. If we cared about that kind of thing we would already be on your side. You have to go to the Word and demonstrate that the strength of "THE Liturgy" over any "other liturgy" is it's clarity of communicting the Word in abudance.

You demonstrate the Biblical strength of the lectionary. You demonstrate the educational treasure of the hymnody. You show the weakness and foolishness of enthusiastic, mystical worship. You drive home the means of grace. You analyze the two side by side and say, "When you do this [insert shallow emotionalism], we are doing this [insert sound Biblical teaching and Gospel presentation]. When you do this [insert singing about yourself], we are doing this [insert singing about Jesus on the cross]. When you do this [insert mystical nonsense], we are doing this [insert looooong text of publically read Scripture.]"

That is the battle that no contemporary style can win and no sincere Christian would defend a recognized weak worship practice if it is found to obscure the Bible.

That's what won me over to the liturgy at first. It's a gradual process and you don't get there by sticking to your guns. You get ther by getting the other guy to put his gun down. You have to find the common ground and that is found in the Word. The appreciation of history, form, reverence, and heritage can come later... but I have never seen that as the first step.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


I have been giving thought to this discussion and how it has moved, and I think I see the main problem, and it appears with with your very first words. You write:

"The problem with your mention of "high liturgical styles" in this argument is twofold.

1. You are thereby claiming that high liturgical style is employed in order to "fix" things in the Church. In fact, it is employed in the church because it befits the dignity and beauty of the gospel, and because I owe more to it than it owes to me. "

Point 1 is false, and two fold.

A. I am saying that if one attempts to invoke a restoration of high church forms as a corrective to the ills of the Church, that this is off base. Now, note, I do not say that this is the only reason one might do such a thing. I say that if ones reasoning is this, then it is wrong.

B. Just because you do not follow the liturgy to improve or fix things does not mean that others do not. Now, I am not going to scour and think and find all the people who have ever made such mention - frankly, I don't care. But surely you can conceive that some people would seek to use religious piety as a stick with which to beat people into shape (for that is the way piety is abused)?

Likewise - I do not say that having bishops is bad or unlutheran - rather simply that having bishops to fix current problems (say of diversity, if that is what one would like to fix), may fix the problem in hand, but it can lead to other ills.

There is no simple fix. There is no magic bullet where by if we just do X, Y, and Z, then all things will be fixed.

That is my point. And it holds true whether it is the person who thinks that if we just had better music we'd have more people or the person who thinks that if everyone just used the same hymnal he used (or even just said the black and did the red) that all things would be better.

If you do not approach issues in these ways - I commend you, congratulate you, and say then that you need not worry about my post. As I said before, I commend you to your piety - enjoy its depth and delight in its riches to you. Teach others its value as well. Go and be well. Rejoice in the treasure it is.

But never forget that there is no blessing, no good thing that sinful man cannot twist and deform. Man can turn every blessing into an idol and false savior - this is what I am speaking against, no more, no less. If you have not made an idol the things that you love, worry not about them.

Mike Baker said...

There is nothing we can do to render the proper dignity to the beauty of the Gospel. The debt that we owe Christ and the Gospel is immeasurable and cannot even begin to be paid. How we, horrible wretched sinners, are even allowed to look upon these holy things and live is beyond my comprehension. How we are allowed to hear the Word when we despise it the way that we do is amazing in itself. The fact that we are able to speak the name of God with our filthy lips is a scandal and a miracle of divine mercy. The reverence, awe, and love that we render to God is imperfect, inadequate, and twisted by sin to a degree that none of us can fully comprehend. Our good works are bloody rags. Our sacrifices are presented with murderous hands, adulterous hearts, and idolatrous minds.

This is where the two extreme ends of the worship spectrum come together: They can be influenced easily by legalism because the Law is too muted among them. In both cases, they can easily forget that sinners in the presence of a holy, glorious, and righteous God are undone and fall down like dead men.

We must never forget that we are not glorifed yet. We must never lose a sense of great humility and inadequacy. We must never forget that our answer to the demands of the Law is always "Then who can be saved?!?" and "LORD! Increase our faith!!!" What we do in worship is always flawed... and covered by grace.

The fact that we are even permitted to worship is due to God's mercy. Worship... the liturgy... is gift. With that knowledge, we can finally ask what that gift SHOULD look like among us.

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

Now that I have a moment to sit down, let me try to let a little fresh air into the room. You know how at Worms Luther admitted that in some of his discourse his tone was too harsh? Likewise, I must say that the brusqueness of some of my comments have no doubt contributed to the problem of our talking past each other. There is a Great Conversation going on (or ongoing, for those who hate clauses that end in prepositions), and my tone sometimes is unworthy of it.

Now, let me try to encapsulate issue here. My concerns or critiques on this post have not pertained to its thesis, but rather with infelicities I noticed within the expression of your thesis. They are worth calling a brother on, though I might not have the ability to sufficiently explain that here. I will do so, here and/or at my own blog in the coming days, as my time and energy afford.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


Does it fix and allay your concerns if I insert the words "our particular brand of" in front of Lutheranism?

There is no one "This is Lutheran" as regards polity, structure, or liturgical practices. Which is Lutheran, to be high or low church? Yes - either. Which is Lutheran, to have bishops or a consistory or a congregational polity? Yes - any of them.

These things are not definitional of what it is to be Lutheran - the Confessions do not mandate a polity, they do not mandate specific forms (we retain the mass, but how high or low that mass must be is never said).

As such, changes in these things - in structure, in liturgy, in what auxiliary organizations are present, in what political structures rule the day - are never the Lutheran solution. What is needed, from the perspective of the Confessions, is never simply a change in the above, but rather repentance and a focus upon Christ and His Gospel.

Luther was willing to say he would return and submit to the Papacy... if only the Gospel were to be freely proclaimed. That's the point, as I drive to it.