Wednesday, August 10, 2016

We are our Rites!

I borrowed that line from a Roman Catholic writer but it is a gem.  Lex orandi lex credendi is not so much about which is first or which drives the other but the fact that they are connected.  The face of the Church on Sunday morning is the face of the Church before the world.  The whole premise of worship wars is not about style or taste or preference or feeling or anything like this.  The worship wars cannot afford to be about peripheral things or insignificant things but must always be about the doctrine we confess in the liturgy.  We ARE our rites.

Classic Lutheranism understood this in several ways.  On the one hand, the Augustana is careful to insist that the face of change on Sunday morning could only be made because of the cause of that very Gospel and nothing less.  Any ceremony or words or practices that did not conflict with that Gospel were free to be kept in good conscience.  This is the clear catholic principle of Lutheran confession and practice.

Contrary to this, the radical reformers could not tolerate any such freedom.  It was their conviction that architecture, liturgy, and ceremony had been so polluted and corrupted by Rome that nothing was salvageable and everything must be discarded.  From Karlstadt to Zwingli the building was defaced of images, statuary, and stained glass, the priest stripped of vestments, and the liturgy sanitized to the point where there was a profound disconnect between what had gone before and what would come after them.  Not so with the Lutherans.

The reason was neither taste nor preference but the character of confession.  Ceremonies are never indifferent.  They always confess something.  The ceremonies that confess the Gospel and do not conflict with it could not be discarded as if they were of no consequence.  Ceremonies confess and we are our rites.  So the Lutherans took extreme care in the beginning to preserve as well as reform and produced a conservative reformation of the ordo and prayerbook.

Today we are not so careful.  We have come to redefine adiaphora to mean not things of which there is freedom and no divine mandate but things that do not matter.  They do matter.  Ceremonies always confess.  It is the catholic principle to make sure that they confess truth, confess rightly, and confess faithfully.  We discard the liturgy in favor of homemade orders not because they matter but because they don't.  We use music not to confess but to entertain and inspire as if it were merely a program tool in the hand of the director of it all.  We go from whim to whim to satisfy the idol of taste and preference while failing to care or consider if what we do honors the Lord and the Lord's tradition.  So it is no surprise that not only do contemporary services represent a disconnect between the tradition and witness of the past but with what happened on last Sunday and the guiding liturgical principle being not catholicity but relevance, being contemporary, and touching the heart with all things new.

We are our rites.  Those Lutherans who would ditch the liturgy in favor of their homemade orders are what they do just as those Lutherans who use the liturgy and the full ceremonial are what they do.  Therein lies the problem.  We are our rites and that means those whose rites conflict also have a faith at odds and a confession that speaks this different faith.

Liturgy is important because it confesses.  Ceremonies are important because they confess.  Music also confesses and therefore it is important.  These things do matter and they are not unimportant or without a message.  When Lutherans begin to discover this we may well discover who we are instead of trying to find out this answer by trying on the clothes of others on Sunday morning.

9 comments:

Dave Schumacher said...

Extremely well put.

Dave Schumacher said...

Extremely well put.

Carl Vehse said...

"Any ceremony or words or practices that did not conflict with that Gospel were free to be kept in good conscience. This is the clear catholic principle of Lutheran confession and practice."

In the confessional context of SD.X, of course.

John Flanagan said...

I love the Liturgy. It reaffirms what we believe in word and spirit, and if the liturgy seems too "ceremonial" to some people, that is their problem. I have been in other denominational churches in my past,, and lack of a participatory Liturgy as done in the LCMS made the service incomplete. I would say, however, that some pastors in our Synod rely heavily on the Liturgy to absorb the time of worship, and thus, they give less than stellar sermons. The sermon becomes a 20 minute interlude. I think the LCMS needs to expand the sermon to a a half hour to forty five minutes of solid Biblical teaching and Lutheran doctrinal teaching. Since many Lutherans, to be honest, do not attend weekly Bible studies or Sunday school, it is essential to improve the quality and length of the Sunday message while retaining the Liturgy.

ErnestO said...

I love the liturgy as people describe today as "Old School" and would think that references the last 500 years. With that said the following seems to state we have no stellar traditional Lutheran liturgy:

“We unanimously believe, teach, and confess that the ceremonies or church rites which are neither commanded nor forbidden in God’s Word, but have been instituted alone for the sake of propriety and good order, are in and of themselves no divine worship, nor even a part of it. We believe, teach, and confess that the congregation of God of every place and every time has the power, according to its circumstances, to change such ceremonies in such manner as may be most useful and edifying to the congregation of God.” (Epitome of the Formula of Concord, Article X)

Easy Fashion said...

Of interest is the Historical Liturgy by Pr. Will Weedon:
http://issuesetc.org/historic-liturgy-series/

Rev. Larry Beane said...

One of the key tenets of project management and human relations is that 80% of human communication is non-verbal. Words are very important. But if the way we comport ourselves, our use of gesture and ceremony are not congruent with the words we speak, our confession is muddled, if not contradicted.

Reverence is both confession and proclamation.

William Tighe said...


"Not so with the Lutherans."

Not so with MOST Lutherans. The exception was/is the Lutheran Landeskirchen of SW Germany, which jettisoned the historic Western liturgy entirely, in favor of services crafted de novo (based to a certain degree on the form of the pre-Reformation extra-liturgical "preaching service") and very similar in form to the services devised by the Swiss "Reformed Reformers" such as Zwingli (Zurich), Oecolampadius (Basel), and Haller (Berne), among others (I omit mention of Calvin, although his own "Form of Prayers" for Geneva was very much along the same lines, as he was a reformer of the next generation, and in aspiration sought in some respects a via media between Zwingli and Luther).

Of course, the SW German Reformation's guiding star was Martin Bucer, the Reformer of Strasbourg, whose liturgical and sacramental views were very similar to those of Calvin, who, insofar as he was a disciple of any man, held Bucer for his master. Bucer, however, signed the Wittenberg Accord of 1536, which brought those SW German Protestant landeskirchen into Lutheranism - at first at a purely "abstract" doctrinal level (and with some fudging on the Eucharistic "bodily presence"), but then, from 1547 onwards (when Charles V gave these churches, most of which were in lands occupied by his forces at the time, the choice of either strict Lutheranism or restored Catholicism) into a firmer confessional Lutheranism (but still without any traditional liturgical form of services; Bucer himself fled to England, where he died, rather than accept "strict" Lutheranism). Calvin, on the other hand, signed the "Consensus Tigurinus" with Zurich (and its Chief Pastor, Zwingli's successor Heinrich Bullinger) in 1549 (in which Calvin made far more concessions to Bullinger's views, especially on the Eucharist, than Bullinger did to Calvin) which effectively brought Geneva into the Reformed camp.

I know of no movement among Lutherans of the 16th-19th centuries to "disfellowship" these SW German Landeskirchen due to the "Reformed character" of their worship. (I believe that Lutherans in lands where Reformed Christianity was the dominant and official religion, as in the Dutch United Provinces, also "toned down," if they didn't jettison completely, the liturgical character of their worship, lest they be seen as "semi-papists," which was a not uncommon Reformed gibe directed at them.)

Padre Dave Poedel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.