The Role of Gottesdienst in the LCMS
Most, if not all, pious members of the LC-MS desire a greater degree of liturgical uniformity. This, however, is very difficult to achieve with the advent of CPH’s Lutheran Service Book and Service Builder software. The hymnal itself has five orders for the Holy Communion with completely different texts, different musical settings, and even different orders for the ordinaries. It also allows gives the users plenty of choices that enable, in fact, a service that at least feels very contemporary and isn’t in the least bit liturgical. The rubrics, it seems, and I think wisely, are incredibly sparse. The hymnal also contains another dozen or so liturgies without the Holy Communion. And, of course, the historic worship materials of the LCMS are still with us: TLH, Worship Supplement 1969, LW, various publications of the COW, and Hymnal Supplement '98.
But that is still not enough for the congregations and pastors of the LCMS. CPH has been forced to create and promote the Service Builder software which encourages and enables congregations to modify the liturgy at will and even write their own liturgies or edit existing liturgies. The good news for CPH is that this builder is ongoing source of income since it can’t be purchased outright but requires a yearly license renewal.
Still, even that is not enough, CPH also produces and sells Creative Worship. This ever new quarterly resource provides completely novel ordinaries every Sunday and every Feast, every year.
It might be tempting to blame CPH or to ask its employees to denounce all these products, but the simple reality is that CPH is not underwritten by the LCMS. It must make a profit to keep paying all those employees and to occasionally put out something Lutheran. CPH is driven by the market. The sale of LSB enabled them to stockpile $30 million dollars, but how long will that last?
If you include all the varieties and possibilities that CPH provides for Sunday morning worship, every bit of which has been through doctrinal review and carries the imprimatur of Synod, there are thousands and thousands of liturgies.
In part, then, this is the agenda of Gottesdienst. We seek to provide some guidance, discussion, and consideration of what is the best practice from within our tradition. The editors are not in agreement as to all the details. Most of the time we are discussing relative strength of one practice or rite compared to another, not doctrine. The debate is not whether or not it is allowable to use the songs suggested by and written for the CPH VBS in congregational worship but whether or not those songs, here today and forgotten tomorrow, are really the strongest practice.
What we are interested in, for the most part, is not what is allowable, but what best serves. We are thankful for the work of CPH and we place a certain confidence in the work of doctrinal review. But much of what CPH puts out in Creative Worship, in the bulletin covers, in its VBS materials, and what it enables and recommends with the Service Builder is very weak. It might well have a place and a time when it is appropriate and is the best that some small group or congregation without accompaniment can do. But for the most part it isn’t. For the most part it is free of false doctrine but it is sickeningly weak, a poor choice for most congregations.
CPH, of course, as any marketing-driven institution, can’t provide this discussion or guidance. It places all of its products on equal footing, and, to some degree, wants us to buy as much of it as possible. Gottesdienst, then, is here to help. As far as I know, no one has ever walked out of the seminary and said, “I know everything there is to know about worship and the conduct of the Service.” No, we don’t have rules and regulations. We won’t issue ultimatums or ask you to denounce some CPH product or friend. But we are needed and we are useful for this purpose: thus we will continue to provide a place to discuss the importance in using these resources to best and most clearly confess the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ in an ever-changing, confusing, capitalistic world. And even though we won’t make some absurd rule to bind the consciences of men, you can rest assured that we will continue to advocate mainly for the superior strength and clarity, in our tradition, of the Western Rite as it has come down to us in the form of the Common Service (LSB p. 184), and, though there is some diversity among us on this also, for the Historic Lectionary (LSB 1 Year).
As always here at Gottesdienst, I speak for myself and my views don't necessarily reflect the other editors completely. That being said, I trust that they are in face in the spirit of my fellow editors and that what I have written will resound with them, mostly, if not completely.