Category Archives: Lucas Woodford

Liturgy: Lighten Up/Tighten Up

In the context of the Lutheran “worship wars” the word [liturgy] has positive and negative associations with it. Some esteem it and some despise it, pastors and parishoners alike.

Further, each person may have a different connotation of what the word “liturgy” actually means, particularly as it pertains to Lutheran liturgy. To be sure, Word and sacrament need to be at the center, but what each person specifically understands “liturgy” to imply can vary unless specified….

[T]he specific contents and order may not be common reference points with a generalized use of the word “liturgy.” The word can be used to refer to a general framework, but also to a specific prescribed order. As such, given our “worship wars” context, care should be taken when speaking about liturgy, so that our assumptions do not make out of us, what we tell our children they will….

[B]oth the “Liturgical-Repristination” and the church growth imperatives on the worship service of the church are objectively evaluated [by James Alan Waddell] in light of the Lutheran confessions. He considers them both illegitimate based upon the scriptural and confessional standards adhered to by our church body.

Summing it up, there is flexibility, within limits, where uniformity cannot be legislatively imposed, but where there are indeed non-negotiables (both theological and structural) to Lutheran liturgy. In short, Waddell puts it this way, “Lutheran theology is for Lutheran Worship.” It is specific to my tradition, but it’s helpful to our greater dialogue because of the emphasis on the theological thoughtfulness that is significant for the church and her worship to consider.

Thus, the liturgy, regardless of the variable forms it takes, it’s still the story of the church. As the third article reminds us, it’s about the “community of saints” gathered around the Gospel of Jesus Christ for “the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” It’s the same story that the first disciples gathered around, the same message they taught, and the same Gospel they proclaimed.

– Rev. Lucas Woodford, “Great Commission, Great Confusion, or Great Confession?”, pages 180-183

As a pastor who uses the liturgy exclusively in a parish setting, I am willing to allow my more “contemporary” brethren some flexibility within limits. It would be pleasing to have my brothers using a service book of our synod on an exclusive basis, but barring such desire I would like to see Lutheran theology in Lutheran Worship among all my brother pastors in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

I am willing to lighten up. Are others willing to lighten up with me? Are other brothers willing to tighten up their practice in kind?


Church Growth or Theological Decline?

Mark Noll begins his 1994 book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind with a piercing diagnosis: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is there there is not much of an evangelical mind… Notwithstanding all their other virtues, however, American evangelicals are not exemplary for their thinking, and they have not been so for several generations.” Though his endeavor has the intent to survey the broader intellectual landscape of evangelicals, it remains insightful considering the confusing use of the Great Commission and the resulting church growth movement.

One point in particular seems prudent to our conversation. Noll states, “To put it simply, the evangelical ethos is activistic, populist, pragmatic, and utilitarian. It allows little space for broader or deeper intellectual effort because it is dominated by the urgencies of the moment.” Consequently, when the urgency of seeking and saving the lost is repeatedly cast as the sole purpose of the church, it seems that healthy theological discernment and discourse is often trumped by that urgency. Unbalanced and unchecked methods, strategies, and tactics that want to “connect people to Jesus” become the preeminent purpose and reason for the church to exist.

But once again, please understand: I am not disparaging the desire to seek and save the lost. Of course we need to do things like this! And certainly the mission of the church obviously includes “calling people by the Gospel” to “connect them to Jesus”…. My point is that we need to be able to have an honest conversation about the theological integrity of how we seek and save the lost.

Lucas Woodford, Great Commission, Great Confusion, or Great Confession, p. 98-99