ELW critics: what would you do?

Dwight has continued the Lutheran blogosphere’s discussion of The Rev. Dr. Philip Pfatteicher’s article critical of Evangelical Lutheran Worship, particularly the Daily Offices contained therein (see my previous post on this issue).  Dwight, among others, is critical of the ELCA and Augsburg Fortress for abandoning the riches of the Lutheran Book of Worship (and the Service Book and Hymnal, for that matter), and creating a book that, in their collective opinion, plays fast and loose with established liturgical traditions.

So let me ask a question of you who are critical of our church for creating Evangelical Lutheran Worship . .

When large numbers of congregations reject the beloved traditions enshrined within Lutheran Book of Worship (and Service Book and Hymnal), what is the ELCA to do? 

  • Should the ELCA just sit there and do nothing while an increasing number of congregations fish around for worship resources from other traditions? 
  • Should the ELCA whip these congregations into Latin-rubric submission and simply give them more of the traditional liturgies that they are already rejecting?
  • Or should the ELCA venture to create liturgies that embrace the spirit – if not the letter – of the church’s grand liturgical tradition, while simultaneously welcoming new language, tunes and theology?

The ELCA had to create a book for the church we have – a diverse church whose identity 20 years post-merger is not yet formed – not for the church some of us wish we had.  We’re a church, for better or worse, with a congregational polity, freedom in matters of worship, diverse heritages, and pieties that range from evangelical catholic to haugian.  Would a Lutheranized Book of Common Prayer be the prescription for this church?  That seems to be the answer Pfatteicher and others would provide, but it is not the right answer for our church. 

ELW may not be the perfect answer, but it offers congregations a worship practice that is rooted in tradition, that honors our Lutheran respect for diversity in worship practices, and which provides congregations a mix of traditional, contemporary, multicultural, and even postmodern resources – the kind of things for which our congregations are already looking elsewhere.


  1. Derek the Ænglican · September 20, 2007

    I’ve responded on my blog–not to the specific question that you raise but to the larger question about identity and purpose that I see in the background behind it.

  2. LP · September 20, 2007

    I weighed in on this as well in a more general way. I like the way you re-frame this question, and I have used it as a jumping off point.

  3. Dwight · September 21, 2007

    I’m willing to be convinced that the AF crowd in the ELCA had the “needs of the congregations” in mind when it created ELW. But I’ve not seen the evidence. What was the ELCA to do when people were supposedly dissatisfied (as is evidenced in its increasing amount of red ink because it didn’t have a “new” worship book to promote)? Try to be churchly about it, at least: That’s my answer. My guess is that most of the suppposed demand for a new book came from groups, congregations, individuals who won’t buy the book: They don’t want a book; they want “resources” that can be flashed on screens to accompany the praise band (and yes, I think that’s the correct order: singers accompany praise bands, not the other way around). Most of the sales of books are to congregations like mine that had virtually no complaints about (and a whole lot of confidence in) the LBW, but feel the need to be “with it” and support the ELCA. The ELCA fed and was fed by the American appetite for something new and a distaste for anything aging or old (whether there’s anything wrong with it or not).
    If the ELCA wanted to offer a winning proposition to churches that wanted something new, it ought to have bought a happy-clappy music house and provided “resources” that way, not replace a wonderful and venerable book with something as schlocky and misdirected as this one.
    Now I don’t have to say this on my blog. 🙂

  4. David · September 22, 2007

    Well said Dwight. Where is your blog?

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