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A Review of 

God’s Grace in Liturgy and Life

(First Edition)

From: Liturgy, Hymnody, & Pulpit Quarterly Book Review
A publication of the Wyoming District of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
Volume 1, Issue 2, Eastertide, 2007, p. 31–33

Pastor Eric Stefanski, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Harrison, Arkansas is to be commended for his efforts in producing Gottesdienst: God’s Grace in Liturgy and Life. The twenty-two catechetical lessons and three review lessons reflect both a genuine pastoral care for God’s baptized people and a mind that is captivated by God’s Word and Lutheran confessional theology. On these counts alone, Gottesdienst is to be commended for use in any Evangelical Lutheran Congregation that desires to be faithful in both doctrine and practice.

In the preface, Stefanski recounts the catechesis he received from a faithful pastor who used the classic What Does the Bible Say? by Rev. Oswald Riess. Stefanski continued to use the same material as a new pastor but began to notice that his students needed more instruction in Lutheran liturgy “especially when it came to the instruction of those who were new to liturgical worship.” Thus, he began to supplement Riess’s workbook with additional material that he produced himself. Stefanski eventually came to the conviction that it was necessary to write his own catechetical material for both junior and adult instruction that combined the format of What Does the Bible Say? with liturgical instruction. Gottesdienst is the result of fifteen years of editing and rearranging Riess’s classic work.

Stefanski’s stated goal is that “each article (i.e., lesson) is treated by means of the main Scripture verses speaking to it (the sedes doctrinae), its connection to the liturgy, and its appearance in Bible narrative, so that a comprehensive understanding of doctrine and practice and a pattern of seeing how to read Scripture begins to take root.” Such a goal is laudable and worth emulating as it reflects the symbiotic relationship between doctrine and worship – the lex orandi lex credendi maxim – theology forms and shapes worship while worship reflects the content of faith.

Each lesson of Gottesdienst begins with a liturgical section taken from the Common Service as found in The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH) page 15. Several questions about the liturgy and rubrics as found in TLH are provided with appropriate Bible passages. The questions are succinct and helpful in creating a deeper appreciation of Lutheran liturgical worship. Catechumens will have studied the entirety of the TLH Common Service upon completion of Gottesdienst.

The lesson continues with the study of Lutheran doctrine following a similar structure found in What Does the Bible Say? Biblical and doctrinal questions are asked with copious Scriptural references provided to guide the catechumen to a correct understanding of the particular Lutheran doctrine at hand. Stefanski renames the “From this we learn...” found in What Does the Bible Say? with “These words of God teach us:...” Unlike What Does the Bible Say?, the answer(s) to “These words of God teach us...” are not always provided forcing the catechumen to wrestle with the Biblical text on his own. Stefanski, however, goes to the trouble of highlighting the key words within every Biblical text so that catechumens can correctly answer “These words of God teach us...”

Each lesson also includes: 1) quotations from the Book of Concord that touch on the liturgical and doctrinal material presented, 2) a single, longer Scriptural reference for further discussion, 3) assigned readings from either the 1943 or 1986 LCMS Synodical Catechisms, 4) assigned memory work from Luther’s Six Chief Parts and 5) a short quiz. If catechumens complete every lesson as presented, they will have studied the TLH Common Service in its entirety, covered basic Biblical doctrine using a sedes doctrinae and proof-texting method, read a goodly sampling of the Book of Concord, read all of the questions and answers provided in the LCMS Synodical catechisms, memorized the Six Chief Parts of Luther’s Small Catechism and completed numerous quizzes including a rather helpful exercise on rightly dividing Law and Gospel (p. 22). The education received is thorough, rigorous and most importantly, Biblical through and through.

Stefanski has performed a great service for the Church in compiling appropriate quotations from the Book of Concord that reinforce the Biblical doctrines the catechumen is learning. This is a vast improvement over What Does the Bible Say? and the Synodical catechisms. The quotations place before the catechumen the confessional language of the Lutheran Church, allowing his appreciation for such language to grow and become his own. All confessional quotations, categorized under the catechetical questions used in Gottesdienst, are compiled in review lesson one p. 111–120. This summary alone is worth the price of the material. Review lesson two, p. 121–128 is a compilation of all questions asked at the end of the lessons. Review lesson three, p. 129–138 is a compilation of questions asked in each liturgical section. Many (even non-TLH congregations) will find this section most helpful.

Gottesdienst is faithfully Lutheran and catholic in both the doctrines presented and the worship described. Therefore, the following critiques offered reflect concerns more of 1) emphases, 2) structure and order in which the Six Chief Parts are presented, 3) an omission and 4) limitations on Gottesdienst’s applicability to a wider Lutheran audience, rather than on the specific doctrines presented. [Note: A brief answer to these concerns—and a noting of corrections and enhancements made to the book because of them—is found in the Preface to the Second Edition.]

First, there seems to be an over-emphasis on certain liturgical and theological themes presented at the expense of other key doctrines. In the liturgical sections, for example, the first three lessons (after the introductory lesson) provide questions related to the Invocation; the next six focus on the confession of sins; the next two on the absolution; the final eleven lessons cover the remaining portions of the Common Service, with no part of that liturgy being discussed more than once – with the exception of the General Prayer, chapters 16 and 17. Thus, what has been historically understood as the Preparation for the Divine Service (actually one-and-half pages within TLH) is the focus of eleven lessons, half of the entire liturgical sections presented in Gottesdienst. This seems to give disproportionate attention to the Preparation rather than the actual Divine Service of Word and Sacrament (comprising the final 13 pages within TLH). In the doctrinal sections, the Ten Commandments are covered in six lessons; each article of the Apostles’ Creed receives two; the Lord’s Prayer and Daily Prayer receive one lesson each; Baptism and the Lord’s Supper each receive two, while the Office of the Keys curiously receives three lessons. The question should be asked why the Office of the Keys receives proportionately more attention (three lessons) than, for example, Christology (two lessons).

The second concern is the curious order in which the Six Chief Parts are presented in Gottesdienst especially when compared to the order found in Luther’s Small Catechism and the order of the articles in the Augsburg Confession. The overall organization of catechetical material in Gottesdienst is: Introduction, Ten Commandments, First Article of the Creed, Ten Commandments, Office of the Keys, Second and Third Articles of the Creed, Office of the Keys, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and Daily Prayer. One unfortunate result is that the clear Law/Gospel presentation of the catechism (i.e., the Ten Commandments followed by the Apostles’ Creed, leading to the prayerful life of a sacramental piety in Christians) is obscured. Likewise, the ingenious theological order of the Augsburg Confession (i.e., God the Holy Trinity, Original Sin, Jesus, Justification, Ministry, New Obedience, the Church, the Sacraments, etc.) is lost in Gottesdienst. For example, two of the three lessons on the Office of the Keys, lessons ten and eleven, precede the Christological discussion, lessons twelve and thirteen, centered on the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed. How can the catechumen rightly understand the pastor when he says, “I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins..” when the catechumen has not yet been instructed as to the Lord Jesus Christ whom the pastor and his office represents? Justification in Gottesdienst is presented in lesson ten, while Christology is not presented until lessons twelve and thirteen, the very opposite order found in the Augsburg Confession. The result of Gottesdienst’ organizational structure is that the theologically consistent presentation of doctrine found in both the Small Catechism and Augsburg Confession is obscured to the detriment of the catechumen.

Third, one glaring omission was discovered in Gottesdienst – the Table of Duties was not included in any of the Synodical catechism readings. With confusion abounding in the minds of many Lutheran Christians regarding their various callings and stations in life, the Table of Duties should not only be read but should be included in any catechetical instruction.

Fourth, pastors and congregations that use another Lutheran hymnal may find that the exclusive use of the TLH Common Service to be problematic especially if they use another liturgy(ies) for the Divine Service found in Lutheran Worship and Lutheran Service Book. The possible exception may be those congregations now using Lutheran Service Book Divine Service Three. The primary appeal of Gottesdienst is the inclusion of a liturgical study in the context of doctrinal catechesis. The most natural and convenient use of Gottesdienst is regrettably limited to only those congregation using TLH page 15. One also wonders why catechetical hymns based on the Six Chief Parts were not included as part of the liturgical sections.

In summary, Rev. Stefanski has touched on an important issue in Gottesdienst, namely, the intimate connection between doctrine and practice on one hand, and the content of faith and the expression of faith on the other. Theological and catechetical instruction must find expression in the weekly Divine Service of the Church or it is not being faithful to the Biblical witness. Theology must lead to doxology while doxology must be Biblical. Pastor Stefanski has addressed this issue in a fresh and a doctrinally faithful manner. Although the structural genius of Luther’s Small Catechism and the Augsburg Confession is not followed in Gottesdienst, it is commended for use in any Evangelical Lutheran congregation. KM

God’s Grace in Liturgy and Life

New — Second Edition Now Available!

Updated 2010-06-20