Thursday, April 10, 2008


Spring Pastor’s Conference,
South Dakota District, Dakota Dunes, SD


Our speaker, Rev. James Waddell (author of The Struggle to Reclaim the Liturgy of the Lutheran Church in Historical, Theological and Practical Perspective) gave us much to think about. His topic “Clearly Communicating the Good News: Moving beyond Worship Wars,” was insightful. I still have many questions in my mind and yet, much of what he said makes a lot of sense. Now is the time to digest (and re-read the book). He has done an extensive amount of research and much of it very enlightening, indeed the basis for good discussion.

Here is my understanding of several points from Pr. Waddell that I found interesting:

  • We do not serve the church well by confessing the opposite of an error in order to correct an error. As my seminary professor Dr. Paul Raabe used to say, “that’s falling in the other ditch.” (Many “confessionals” are guilty of this practice… me included.)
  • The Confessions do not prescribe what form worship is to take. i.e. , “The Historic Liturgy” is not a “Confession” of the church in the sense that the Book of Concord is a confession of the church. Scripture (Norma Normans) is the only rule and norm for faith and life in the church. The Confessions (norma normata) are the standard that is “normed” by scripture. They accurately reflect the teaching of scripture, but are subject to scripture none the less. Liturgy is normed both by scripture and the confessions. No teaching or practice of the church is “normed” by liturgy.
  • The church cannot pre-scribe a particular form of worship. Waddell believes that some practices and content can be rejected when they fall outside of our confession. (i.e. we don’t sing hymns (songs, etc) that confess false doctrine.) He gave us a useful tool to help evaluate lyrics for use in worship.
  • The Lex orandi / Lex Crendi principal isn’t found in the confessions.
  • Worship Style and substance must be guided by the principal “Lutheran Theology for Lutheran Worship”
Some critique: Waddell claims to be standing on the middle ground and I have great respect for the positions he has brought to the floor. Much of his criticism is leveled at the “confessional” side of the isle and very little at the other. Since Waddell spends little time speaking against the arguments of the “Contemporary Worship” crowd, many “Confessionals” will simply see this as an attack leveled against them. While much of his criticism is in many ways valid it would stand in better stead to have some balancing arguments.

While I may not completely agree with all that pr. Waddell has given us he has sparked a good conversation and thought process. I’ll be processing the presentation for quite some time to come.

Pastor Watt.

7 comments:

Paul McCain said...

Your remarks are quite perceptive. In my public conversations with Rev. Waddell on my blog site it became quickl apparent that Rev. Waddell is not very mindful of either the meaning or the intention of the Lutheran Confessions' comments about worship. You put your finger on it: the amount of time he spends criticizing those who are supporting and defending the historic worship forms and practices of the Lutheran Church is quite revealing. I think his book is a hodge-podge of ex post facto justifications for his own personal choices in tinkering with the liturgy.

Rev. Jonathan C. Watt said...

There are some well thought out arguments, like not falling in the other ditch which I agree with... and did so before the conference... but in general I would have liked to see a more balanced approach. I think some of his crits are valid and those on the Liturgical side would do well to heed them. But like you I'm not sure pr. Waddell is standing in the middle ground as he claims.

James Waddell said...

I’m so glad I stumbled across your blog. You do a fine job of describing my presentation and the work that I’ve done on Lutheran liturgy. But rather than let someone else answer your questions about my work, and define it on their terms, I thought I would answer your questions myself.

One of the issues that has troubled me for a long time regarding the conversation about worship in the LCMS is that we are all too willing to approach this question with oversimplified answers, which also too often spiral into ad hominem attack. You may recall from my presentation how I talked about the state of the conversation in the church today, and how we have reached a point of impasse, where we are unwilling to listen to each other. “I’m right. You’re wrong. End of discussion.”

What I have done is to focus my analysis of the conversation about liturgy in the LCMS on assumptions and methodology. I intentionally avoided ad hominem by focusing my analysis this way. The unfortunate reality is that those who have themselves become comfortable with ad hominem attack in the debate only see ad hominem from others, because they are not open to the persuasion of others. To be open to the persuasion of others is one of the qualifications of the ministry according to 1 Timothy 3.3 (epieikee, “reasonable”). My sainted mentor Dr. H. Armin Moellering taught us this at the seminary.

Why did I pursue this question? Let me answer this on my own terms. As I stated in my presentation and also wrote in the introduction of my book (I hope clearly), I began my study of liturgy with the intent of catechizing my congregation NOT to adopt contemporary forms of worship. I had been trained to accept the assumptions of Liturgical Theology, one of which is to be deeply suspicious of all contemporary forms of worship. The goal of catechizing my congregation was to teach God’s people there that the historic liturgy was a gift from God, and to abandon the historic liturgy would be an unfaithful thing to do, because abandoning the liturgy (or changing it) would damage the pure proclamation of the Gospel and the reception of the sacraments as they are given in Scripture.

The first thing I did to prepare for this catechesis of my congregation was to study the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. Contrary to what some who disagree with my point of view might think, I thoroughly investigated what the Lutheran Confessions have to say about our Lutheran way of worship. My presentation alone should have clearly demonstrated that. The book speaks for itself. As do my other articles on Lutheran worship which are available on line for everyone to read at the CONCORDIA JOURNAL. The amount and the detail of the documentation are what made the study what it is. It isn’t perfect. I don’t have such a megalistic view of myself. I will say, however, that I agonized over whether to publish it. I went back and forth for almost two years. What tipped it for me was the unwillingness of too many in the LCMS to have a meaningful conversation with someone with whom there is disagreement.

(And just to be clear: I am not “selling” my book to gain royalties. I make no royalties from this book. None. It is all gift on my part. If anyone questions this, I am more than happy to put you in touch with my publisher, with whom I am in contact regularly. I give him permission to share this personal information about my contract with anyone who needs to know.)

When I went to the sources (Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions) to clarify for the people of my congregation the blessing of historic liturgy and the curse of contemporary form, what I found was this: What is being written by Lutheran scholars today about liturgy contains subtle contradictions and revisionist readings of the sources, proof-texting, and generally bad methodology driven by wrong assumptions (that have been adopted from Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Liturgical Theology). As I state clearly in my book as well as in my presentation: the goal is correct (to defend and extol historic liturgical forms); but the assumptions and methodology are incorrect.

Once I realized that the assumptions and the methodology I had been taught were incorrect, I was then able to allow my assumptions and methodology to be reshaped by Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions (apart from any intrusion from other faith traditions).

Why do my criticisms seem to be aimed more at one side than another? That’s a fair question, but it’s a question that can only be answered by me, only by asking me. It is not fair play in the discussion for someone to speculate as to why my critical analysis was presented the way it was, and then use that speculation as a means to advance a position that cannot be supported by Scripture or the Confessions.

Remember, I began this whole study where you are, in unqualified defense of the historic liturgical forms published in our hymnals. I still think it is right to defend the historic forms in our hymnals. However, after studying Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, historical writings contemporaneous to the Confessions, Luther, Melanchthon, Chemnitz, and more contemporary authors like Elert and Sasse, I have come to understand that the only worship prescribed in the Lutheran Confessions is the pure proclamation of the Gospel and the sacraments administered in accordance with the divine Word (AC VII), period. Humanly instituted rites and ceremonies in liturgy are not worship ordained by God, as FC X explicitly confesses. Luther, Melanchthon, Chemnitz, Sasse, et al., all consistently made this point, and they made it very clearly.

Why do my criticisms seem unbalanced? Because it is necessary that we get our criticisms of contemporary form right. We do not correct an error by confessing the error’s opposite, something you were correct to take away from my presentation. This is a skewed model of confession (wrong methodology) which skews our approach to almost everything—how we read the Scriptures, how we read the Confessions, how we approach the whole liturgy question.

This was Matthias Flacius’ model of confession, and it was written out of the Formula of Concord. The model of confession the Formula of Concord gives us is this: to confess straight ahead the truth and freedom of the Gospel. We do not correct an error by confessing the error’s opposite. If that is our model of confession, then we should not be surprised to find ourselves stumbling along in the ditch on the other side, or bending the sapling too far (as Chemnitz put it).

I think my work is viewed to be unbalanced only by those who have this skewed model of confession.

Instead of letting those who are unwilling to have the conversation with someone who disagrees with them define my work, let the reviews of my work speak for themselves, reviews that were written by trained specialists in this field and trusted theological leaders of the church.

“I greatly appreciated your book, [and] have heartily encouraged others to read it. . . . it moves the conversation on worship forward in a sound, scholarly, healthy and balanced way.” — Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, Executive Director, LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations

“I was most pleased with the scholarly and theologically balanced approach you took in your book. . . . The theological integrity that you demonstrate is much needed throughout the LCMS. . . . Thank you for writing this excellent book.” — Rev. Dale Sattgast, President of the South Dakota District, LCMS

“Waddell successfully enunciates a Lutheran theology of worship devoid of legalism and license. . . . [and] captures the wonder of being a Lutheran, liturgically speaking . . . . Lutherans neither make liturgical forms necessary nor espouse an anti-biblical, anti-creedal license in contemporary, cultural expressions. That makes this book necessary reading for transcending the traditional-contemporary worship divide.” — Rev. Dr. Kent J. Burreson, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology, Assistant Dean of the Chapel, Concordia Seminary

“This is an important book for our time and context. . . a book of immense importance for our discussion of worship and church unity. It deserves to be widely read and discussed.” — Rev. Dr. Steen Olsen, Former President of the Lutheran Church of New Zealand

“. . . a formidable critique of liturgical theology . . . in the Lutheran Church . . . . he has weighed in on a contentious issue in an impressive way.” — Rev. Dr. Frank C. Senn, Former President, the North American Academy of Liturgy

“. . . provides a distinctly Lutheran Liturgical Theology based on Lutheran Reformation principles and documents, over against a specifically Roman Catholic or Orthodox or Ecumenical approach. This is a major contribution to the wider debate on Liturgical Theology, and would be useful to scholars in this field, and to wider ecclesial debate.” — Dr. Bryan D. Spinks, Professor of Liturgical Studies, Yale Institute of Sacred Music

“Our church is getting caught up again in this issue and any resource which helps us to discuss, instead of merely cuss, our way through is greatly appreciated.” — LCMS Pastor in Kansas

Rev. Jonathan C. Watt said...

Pr. Waddel, thanks for your post. I very much appreciate your willingness to put forward this discussion. Please forgive me if my comments seemed to be ad hominem they were not aimed at your person but only my impression of your presentation at the conference. My discussion here was only meant as reflection on public discourse.

You do imply that I don't understand the issue of how we confess the truth by not confessing its opposite. I do understand that very well. As confessing Christians we confess the truth as a correction to error not the opposite of the error as the truth. Many fall into the trap of confessing in the opposite ditch as a balance to error. We do not balance error with more error. I think this criticism is especially valid of those on the "confessional" side. I myself must guard against this very tendency, as I said. The admonition is appreciated.

My criticism of your presentation not feeling balanced was based on how I thought it would be received. I said:

"Since Waddell spends little time speaking against the arguments of the “Contemporary Worship” crowd, many “Confessionals” will simply see this as an attack leveled against them. While much of his criticism is in many ways valid it would stand in better stead to have some balancing arguments."

I see this as an issue not of confession but presentation.

James Waddell said...

Yes, I take your critique of my presentation at face value. I welcome your critique. I relish your critique. Your critique was not ad hominem. So I was not responding to your own post as such.

One reason my presentation may seem a bit unbalanced has to do with my emphasis on getting our assumptions and methodology about liturgy in line with Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions first. We can’t be getting our critique of contemporary form right, if we don’t yet have biblical and confessional assumptions and methodology about liturgy right.

It’s what others have said before me. The state of our church body’s conversation about worship demonstrates that we are in serious need of vigorous self reflection (Arand, Bartelt, Raabe, Voelz). We can’t be pointing the finger at those who use contemporary forms uncritically, if our own theology of liturgy isn’t based on the only rule and norm for theology and practice in the church: Scripture.

Because the broader spectrum of Liturgical Theology (in both the East and the West) holds liturgy to be normative in both a formal and a material sense (the lex orandi lex credendi principle), somehow this assumption has slipped uncritically into our thinking and into our Lutheran model for discussing liturgical matters. Until we put this foreign assumption aside and allow our assumptions to be shaped by Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions alone, we have no sound basis for critiquing those who use contemporary forms uncritically.

Rev. Jonathan C. Watt said...

One of the things I really appreciated about your presentation was the evaluation tool for music. It is a case of critiquing contemporary forms using good critical analysis. Also, the test of a good tool such as that is does it apply across the board. It works well to analyze not just contemporary work but traditional work as well. Actually I thought it was also well received by those in attendance.

James Waddell said...

Yes, theology AND practice. I have a tendency (I'm sure you noticed) to focus more on theology (theory and analysis). Thanks for pointing out to your readers that there is a strong element focused on practice in my presentation. My wife has a way of keeping me grounded by simply reminding me of Luther's Small Catechism. And you're right, the tool I use in my presentation for critiquing contemporary songs can also be used for critiquing traditional/historic hymns.