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WordAlone awaits the theologians statement on worship

by Betsy Carlson (Editor, WordAlone Network)

October 29, 2003

The Theological Advisory Board of the WordAlone Network, a group of 20 international Lutheran theologians from the Evangelical Church in America (ELCA) and other Lutheran churches met for the third time in two years on Oct. 20-21 in St. Paul, Minn. Their topic was evaluating Lutheran worship practices in the past 50 years and potential changes in liturgy and worship in the ELCA, in light of the Lutheran confessions and Martin Luther’s reforms of the medieval worship service.

As at their first two meetings, the theological board drafted a document. This new document is different in that it is intended to be a teaching document that can be used by congregations as they plan and evaluate their worship services, and respond to the ELCA’s Renewing Worship materials and proposals. Their first two documents were responses to Lutheran ecumenical statements.

The current document is being edited. When editing is finished the document will be posted on the WordAlone website and made available for all who wish to use it. The central theme of their document is that many of the trends and changes in Lutheran worship have eroded Martin Luther’s fundamental reforms. Luther emphasized that God is the primary actor, coming in grace in his Word, Jesus Christ, to give the gathered believers his kingdom. Recent trends and changes in Lutheran worship tend to put the emphasis on the action of the people and their offerings to God.

The overall theme of the theological board’s work also will be addressed at the Reclaiming Evangelical Worship conference, Nov. 16-18 at Zion Lutheran Church in Anoka, Minn. Dr. Steven Paulson, associate professor of systematic theology at Luther Seminary in St. Paul and theological advisory board member will be one of the keynote speakers and will report on the recent work of the theological board.

The theological board also decided that the topic for their next meeting will be “Sola Scriptura: The Authority of Scripture and Human Sexuality.” They acknowledged that this topic will be more difficult than any they have addressed thus far, and they may need to meet twice (spring and fall) next year to complete their work.

The method of this international group of theologians is cutting edge. They all report that it is very uncommon for theologians from multiple disciplines (biblical theology, systematic theology and church history) to meet and engage in extended discussions. They also say that it is unheard of for theologians to meet for two days and hammer out documents as they have done. This new, fresh approach is necessary in the current climate of the Lutheran churches as the Lutheran confessional witness is at stake worldwide, not just within the ELCA.