Thursday, September 23, 2010

Liturgical Antinomians

Those who grew up learning curb, mirror, and rule/guide should know that Lutherans have not discarded the Law.  Those who are heirs of CFW Walther should remember that the proper distinction between Law and Gospel remains a current issue and need in the Church today as it was so long ago.  Yet when it comes to things liturgical or having to do with worship, we act pretty antinominan.

If you recall, Agricola, Luther's former student, had followed grace to a logical but irrational and unBiblical end.  He sought to guard Christian freedom by eliminating the proclamation of the Law entirely.  The Law, since it does not bestow the Spirit nor bring about repentance, is left to city hall and is banished from the Church.  Of course, Luther's answer reminds us of the paradox of life in the Spirit and yet in this sinful world.  As long as man lives in this mortal flesh and sinful world, the Law has dominion over him.  Agricola was an antinomian who fell victim to enthusiasm and pietistic moralism.

There are those who insist that there can be no rules when it comes to worship and things liturgical.  Rubrics may be offered as helps, convention resolutions may adopt positions (for weekly Eucharist, for example), and church bodies may produce hymnals, agendas, and liturgies approved for usage BUT... the congregation and its Pastor are bound by none of this and freed from legalism to do what seems good and right in their own eyes.  In other words, liturgical antinomians resist in principle the idea that any one can say what must or must not be done within the worship of a Lutheran congregation and seem duty bound to exercise their freedom almost to the absurd in order to prevent such legalistic requirement from taking hold.

Baloney!  As long as man lives in this mortal flesh and sinful world, the Church can and must have rules.  These are not the rules that require this or that for salvation but are the ordinary boundaries that define what is consistent with our Lutheran confession and identity and that which is not.  The congregation and its Pastor are NOT free to do as they choose unless they choose NOT to be Lutheran.

It is as much as scandal to our confession and identity that we have hymnal using Lutheran congregations without a weekly Eucharist as it is that we have contemporary worship Lutheran congregations with nothing even close to a Mass in the Lord's House on the Lord's Day.  Both are "against the rules" of our confession and our identity.  Now, it is true that these rules are not enforced in the way the secular realm enforces legal code or ordinances (with punishment, fine, or other punitive measures).  But the Church IS a Church of order and identity and the Church has the ability to hold up the rules as those boundaries which indicate where Lutheran identity and confession are compromised and even sacrificed in the vain pursuit of what the congregation or Pastor desire.

I think it is time we call the antinomians out for what they are and challenge them to heed the good counsel of the Church's confession and mark their practice with the identity that flows from this confession.  Not all things possible are beneficial and each congregation is not the whole Church nor is each Pastor its supreme Bishop, Patriarch or Pope.  We live in a relationship together in which rules and rubrics are for the common good even when it may seem they are not for the individual good.

Do the red.  Say the black.  (corrected)  This is not some appeal to a slavish uniformity which ignores all things local but an appeal against the dictatorship of freedom exploited for the sake of freedom alone that ends up exploiting people and our common life and identity for the sake of things some claim are indifferent anyway.  (And if indifferent, then why insist upon no order -- what is the big deal about giving in on this point?) The liturgy is not indifferent.  It is a mark of the Church and the Church's catholicity -- and this is not incidental but urgent and essential.  Without this catholicity we are but a sect and our confession is only as wide and deep as a moment.  This is far removed from the words of Jesus about a Church against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.

What we see manifested in things liturgical and in worship is an antinomian spirit, thoroughly in sync with the spirit of the age but thoroughly out of step with Scripture, tradition, and the Lutheran Confessions.  The Confessions are replete with reference to our unwillingness to abandon the tradition of the Church when it comes to the Mass, ceremonies, usages, and rituals that do not conflict with the Gospel but actually support that Gospel.  Why do we spend so much time explaining these away so that one parish may keep the dry mass (old page 5) with an occasional Divine Service and another can turn Sunday morning into a pentecostal free for all?  There can only be one reason, more important to us than anything else (as congregations and as Pastors) is the idea that nobody can tell me or force me to do anything I don't want to.  And that, my friends, is as dangerous to the faith as those who worship the form instead of the Christ whom the form proclaims.


Anonymous said...

Why you are not on the roster as a professor at Concordia in St. Louis still boggles me ...

Master of None said...

I was going to say Ft Wayne, but I think St Louis needs more assistance in this area.

Pastor Marcus Mackay said...

I had never considered this angle before . . . well said and very apropos.

Anonymous said...

"Say the red. Do the black." ? Isn't it the other way around.
I knew of a pastor who didn't know German very well, leading a German service. He said in booming pastoral voice and poor accent "Der Pastor wendet sich zum Altar," (The pastor turns toward the altar)and the organist, who didn't know German either played "Amen."

Maanum's Meandering Musings said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Birkholz said...

I agree with you in principle, but I'm curious how you would see this happening practically.
I don't remember all the details, but I seem to recall in Minnesota South the Board of Directors tried to require mission starts funded by the district to use the LSB. Not only was this reversed by the district convention, but those on the board who favored this position were voted out of office. (Someone please correct me if this is incorrect.)
In any case, we have a long way to go.

boaz said...

I think the liturgy pietists need to be called out for their misrepresentations about the confessions. Liturgy is not law! How terrible.

Nothing in the confessions requires following traditions in rites and ceremonies. This point keeps getting misrepresented in confessional Lutheran circles. Is this not a "doctrine of devils?" Are you reading AC XVIII?

Here is the Lutheran rule on rites and ceremonies:

It is proper that the churches should keep such ordinances for the sake of love and tranquillity, so far that one do not offend another, that all things be done in the churches in order, and without confusion, 1 Cor. 14:40; comp. Phil. 2:14 . 56] but so that consciences be not burdened to think that they are necessary to salvation, or to judge that they sin when they break them without offense to others; as no one will say that a woman sins who goes out in public with her head uncovered provided only that no offense be given.


Note, there is nothing there about tradition, only about love and avoiding offense. When superstitions and customs change, ceremonies can change. We no longer avoid blood sausage and we don't make women cover their heads.

It is not sin to make new rites and ceremonies when no offense is given. Those teaching liturgy as law are creating weak pietist Christians who don't understand Christian freedom.

Insisting that those with rites and ceremonies that teach the Gospel change them to follow tradition are just as much at fault for causing offense as those who insist that traditional rites and ceremonies be abandoned.

Anonymous said...

@ Master of None ... That's why I said St. Louis ... I was thinking Ft. Wayne too, but realized St. Louis sounds like it needs more help in this area ... what with the start of the new chapel band and all ...

Paul said...

Boaz et al, is it love to abandon what we have received from the prophets, spostles and martyrs, whose bloody confession makes possible our own reception of the gifts today? The church in America has no sense of history, mostly since it hasn't been here long enough to grasp its significance. Why bother having our own publishing house, approving our own hymnal, if we are free to disregard them at will?

Anonymous said...

I am a modern nomad--an active-duty military officer. Each time I move it is difficult to find an LCMS congregation that is true to the Scriptures. Many have gone their own way in their rites. But really--they haven't gone their own way. What they end up with is what we in the military call a "General Protestant Service"--rather a modern Evangelical expression of worship.

At each of the congregations who have developed "their own" style of worship I have given a chance (largely because they were the most convenient in terms of distance from home), I had to leave. These congregations by and large had an open communion table which was symptomatic of not having any substance to their teaching.

I used to firmly believe that form and substance don't necessarily follow each other closely. However, my repeated experience has changed my mind.

If a congregation cannot subscribe to the commonly agreed upon forms of worship as published by Synod, the first question to ask is, "Why?"

Often the answer is that "we are free to do so". Just because we "can" do something doesn't mean we "ought" to do something.

Unfortunately though, worship is only symptomatic. The problem is deeper--pastors and congregations often don't have a firm foundation in the truth.

We need to bolster one another in this area. Here's a good (bad) example. Instead of strengthening church workers in the knowledge of the truth at the District church worker convention, the Texas District is emphasizing evangelical doctrine. The keynote speaker is Don Piper, author of "90 Minutes in Heaven".

Pastor Peters said...

To the nomad... I understand what you are saying. Being next to Ft. Campbell, I hear all the time the trouble military folks and families have in finding a Lutheran congregation in form as well as in substance... Bless you for your service to your country and for your struggle to find a real church homes...

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, we have sent Rev. Harrison out to do battle with an overwhelming force... not having cleaned house at the district level first! :(
[Confessional Texas Pastors don't even try to go to district "educational" meetings any more.]

Re "rites & ceremonies": When an LCMS visitor to another "lcms" church can't recognize what is going on, "offense" is given. People who don't want to be Lutheran should be honestly something else.

Forms of worship were consistent by district or area in BOC times and the differences did not affect doctrine, (more likely, the amount of Latin or German hymns).

People who read what they please about worship will read what they please about Scripture, a la e_ca.
In the Reformation era they would have followed the 'enthusiasts' openly.