As Goes The Agenda So Goes the Church

               At one time, the Missouri Synod understood this. It was the issue of the Prussian Agenda that led ultimately to her forefathers being dissatisfied with the German state church. The Prussian Agenda, seeking to unite the Reformed and Lutheran, called for Communion to be distributed with these words: “Jesus says, ‘This is My Body; This is My Blood.’” The Confessional Lutheran divide with the Reformed to this day is what does Jesus mean? Does He mean what He says: that these elements are His body and blood (Confessional Lutheran) or, that these elements symbolize, reminds us of His body and blood?

               When The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH)was replaced by Lutheran Worship (LW) few realized that we stopped having confirmands vow to remain faithful to the confession of the Evangelical Lutheran Church even unto death. See for yourself: TLH asks the confirmands this: “Do you also as a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, intend to continue steadfast in the confession of this Church and suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it” (34)? LW asks the confirmands this: “Do you intend faithfully to conform all your life to the divine Word, to be faithful in the use of God’s Word and sacraments, which are his means of grace, and in faith, word, and action to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death” (112)? Aside from accepting contemporary style guides which say pronouns referring to God need not be capitalized, that is so 1950’s, removing the definite article in front of the Persons of the Trinity speaks (and thinks) in a way neither Scripture, Church, nor the Lutheran Confessions do. But the biggest error is the vow leaves room for being considered faithful in the use of God’s Word and Sacraments outside of the confession of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

               Not to worry. The Lutheran Service Book (LSB) rights this wrong. Well, not the running together of the Persons of the Trinity, but that is so 4th century to notice that. They do right the other wrong. They do ask confirmands: “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession [named before as the Evangelical Lutheran] and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it” (380)? But this Agenda has another item that is in lock step with the world.

               However, the authors, editors, publishers, or maybe just one guy, is sneaky. This item isn’t found in the Funeral Service in LSB. It’s not even in the rubrics of the Agenda. It’s in the General Notes on page 391. First, in good Christian tradition, LSB eschews eulogies. It allows, as has always been the case, for the reading of an obituary that doesn’t focus on the persons good works. That’s all in Note 8. Then Note 9 slips in: “Appropriate messages of Christian condolence may be given after the Lord’s Prayer.” Coupled with the fact that LSB leaves out TLH’s rubric that it’s also not in the best Christian tradition “to have the funeral service interrupted by the exercises of any secular organization” (80) and LW’s, “The ceremonies or tributes of social or other societies have no place within or after the service of the Church” (169), you know what this mean.

               Unless, that is, you haven’t been to funeral in the last 20 years, unless you haven’t seen one on TV or in a movie. LSB permits grandkids, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, you name it, to share their feelings about the deceased. The more emotional the better. I know, I know. Holy Scripture pays little attention to burial or marriage rites – the two things that will get a pastor in trouble the fastest and deepest. However, Lutheran funeral services have always been Divine Services. Does anybody who wants to speak at your Divine Services? General Note #9 at least says it’s a “may” not a “shall”. (Video you trying to explain this distinction to a grieving family member with a poem clutched in their hand.) Still, a door has been opened with the LSB Agenda and it fits the agenda of the world as evidenced in popular culture not that of Confessional Lutheranism.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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