Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Liturgy or Confession. . . again. . .

The English Reformation is substantially different from the Continental Reformation in many ways but the most interesting is the way the Prayer Book developed and how it became the glue that bound diverse theologies into one common piety.  Bryan Spinks, someone also known for his liturgical scholarship regarding Luther's reforms of the Mass, has written a short but well written history of that Prayer Book rite from 1559-1906.  He has called it The Rise and Fall of the Incomparable Liturgy.  You can read a good review of the book here.

I have already ordered the book and you may wish to, as well, since the liturgical work of Cranmer and others has impacted the shape of texts for American Lutherans in significant ways.  In any case, I am not going to review the book here.  What I am going to focus upon is how significant the liturgical texts and ceremonies of the Church are.  Some time ago in a conversation with Dr. David Scaer we discussed whether or not a church body was better suited for reform and restoration of the orthodox faith if it had preserved the doctrine but lost the liturgy OR preserved the liturgy but lost the doctrine.  Spinks would probably identify the Anglican position as one in which the liturgy has been preserved (albeit in a variety of forms from 1928 to modern day revisions) but the doctrine has been lost (you can believe just about anything and be a priest in the Church of England these days).

Lutherans typically have placed less emphasis on the confessional and catechetical role of the liturgy and so Lutherans have generally preserved the confession (Book of Concord) but left the liturgy a matter of freedom in which some forms with great catholicity have been retained and in other places evangelical styles predominate.  We could be in a position of a church body that has preserved the doctrine (at least in theory) but have lost some of the battle of retaining the liturgy (again, it depends on where you are at in Lutheranism).  I would add that Lutherans have never completely lost the liturgy and it has always been maintained in form and practice even if it was done so by a minority.  That said, it is not unusual to find a pastor coming to a Lutheran congregation where anything has gone on Sunday morning but they insisted that they have kept the faith in tact at least by confessional subscription.  So would this pastor be better equipped to restore catholic doctrine and practice or would a pastor who found the liturgy in tact but a history of not believing its words?

As long as the liturgy is familiar, it is never far from the life of the people.  It is, in many respects, easier to teach people that what we confess in the liturgy is, indeed, what we believe, than it is to teach people that the liturgy is, in fact, the devotional form of our confession for Sunday morning.  In any case the loss of the liturgy is not without serious consequence for the confession, as Spinks goes on to show in the case of the Prayer Book.  Mess with the liturgy and you mess with the faith, especially in terms of trying to economize on what happens on Sunday morning or abandon it entirely.  We Lutherans have an innate fear of liturgical rules and we will probably never get to the point where, as it was in Germany for so many years, a liturgy is regulated but we could help ourselves out by admitting that the Confession we claim does have a liturgical shape and that Confession expects it even if it does not prescribe it.  In any case, who wants to be in a position in which what we say we believe is distant from how we worship on Sunday morning?  The danger to us for the loss of either confessional certainty and liturgical identity is great and we cannot remain a vibrant communion with the loss of either.


Carl Vehse said...

In his August 16, 2016, blog, "We are our Rites!," Rev. Peters stated:

"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."

Similarly, in his article, "Grabau and the Saxon Pastors: The Doctrine of the Holy Ministry, 1840-1845" (Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly, 62, 1995, p. 93), Rev. William Cwirla stated this distinction on liturgy:

"We might summarize the liturgical distinction between the parties in this way: Grabau worked in the direction lex orandi lex credendi (what is prayed is confessed); the Saxons worked it the other way, lex credendi lex orandi (what is confessed is prayed)."

And in "Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments." (1525), trans. Conrad Bergendoff, vol. 40 of Luther's Works, ed. Conrad Bergendoff (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1958, p. 130), Martin Luther stated:

"We however take the middle course and say: There is to be no commanding or forbidding, neither to the left or right. We are neither papistic nor Karlstadtian, but free and Christian in that we elevate or do not elevate the sacrament, how, when, where as long as it pleases us as God has given us the liberty to do. Just as we are free to marry, wear the chasuble or not, to have the cowl and tonsure or not. In this respect we are lords and will put up with no commandment, teaching, or prohibition."

Anonymous said...

William Tighe's August 10, 2016 comments on "We are our Rites!" are riddled with errors. Yes, Bucer was dominant in Strasbourg, but Johannes Brenz ruled Lutheran SW Germany. Brenz was the closest Reformer in doctrine (thanks for the doctrine of ubiquity, the cornerstone of our Christology!) to Luther of them all. Another example: when Blarer (Reformed) and Schnepf (Lutheran) put together the 1536 church order, Blarer didn't want surplices and Schnepf did. Brenz said, "We're going with Luther," and the surplice won out. The SW Lutheran churches were not in some Reformed limbo until 1536. Strasbourg signed the Augsburg Confession in 1531, after it was apparent that no one cared about the Tetrapolitan Confession. So this early period in SW Germany was more Lutheran than anything else. Yes, Zwingli was doing his thing in insignificant Zurich, and yes, there were pockets of Reformed in Strasbourg and Augsburg. But it was Luther who dominated the Reformation from the 1520s-40s. Bucer left Strasbourg not to get away from the Lutherans, but to escape the Interim.

Come on, William!

At the same time, props to William for noting that neither Luther nor any Lutheran church had a problem with the lack of ceremony in the SW Lutheran churches. It's fun to discover when being confessional is actually less rigid than Pastor Peters imagines. Our founder did write The Freedom of a Christian, after all.

Anonymous said...

Freedom DOES NOT give license to adopt Reformed practices; and freedom DOES NOT cover women lecturers and preaching sermons for children during the Service, laity administering Sacraments, Open Communion, and an individual congregation doing "there own thing" in various practices, as so many Lutheran clergy and laity state.

Also, does freedom allow a LCMS congregation that I visited, to write their own Creed and use a contemporary, (very bad) revision of the Lord's Prayer?

Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are. Set the world right; Do what's best— as above, so below. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You're in charge! You can do anything you want! You're ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes

and another LCMS congregation that used this one...

Dear One, closer to us than our own hearts, farther from us than the most distant star, you are beyond naming. May your powerful presence become obvious not only in the undeniable glory of the sky, but also in the seemingly base and common processes of the earth. Give us what we need, day by day, to keep body and soul together, because clever as you have made us, we still owe our existence to you. We recognize that to be reconciled with you, we must live peaceably and justly with other human beings, putting hate and bitterness behind us. We are torn between our faith in your goodness and our awareness of the evil in your creation, so deliver us from the temptation to despair. Yours alone is the universe and all its majesty and beauty. So it is, Amen.

Anonymous said...

"Reformed" worship practices (I assume you mean low church) were Lutheran worship practices before there was any such thing as "Reformed." They were "Lutherans" after 1519, and "Protestants" as well after 1529. Bucer was a Lutheran. He might have been more "Melanchthonian," but he was a Lutheran. Read the Wittenberg Concord. Calvin signed the Augsburg Confession in 1539 and was a "Lutheran" (for a wee bit). Lutherans protesting the Imperial reintroduction of the discarded surplice in 1548 were protesting...you guessed it! the freedom to discard the surplice, candles, etc. (basically any ceremonial which was associated with the Roman communion rite) which many Lutheran churches had done.

“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)

Carl Vehse said...

Reformed practices, women lectors, laity officiating Sacraments, Open Communion (including early communion), and confessing new, unauthorized creeds clearly conflict with Holy Scripture as it is exposited in the Lutheran Confessions, with the vows made by pastors at their ordination, and with the vows made by Lutheran communicants at their confirmation.

No Lutheran is claiming these are what Luther meant by the free and Christian middle course.

Anonymous said...

You really need to visit more LCMS churches. I attended a Pastor Circuit meeting where those issues were EXACTLY held up by 8 of 10 pastor/congregations for the above cited reasons. This is EVERYWHERE! And they use FCX and Luther to support it.