Wednesday, August 10, 2016
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.