Wednesday, June 30, 2021

In antiquity. . .

Antiquity is one of those luscious words you call upon when individual citation eludes you or is inconveniently not what you would desire.  Many are those who have built upon the elusive foundation of antiquity.  Not a few of them are liturgical scholars.

Recently I read where one complained that the Reformers (both of the Great Reformation and more recent varieties) made claims to antiquity which are not simply borne out in fact.  This particular issue had to do with the reforms of the Mass in the wake of Vatican II by those scholars who appeared to know antiquity as well as they knew the present moment.  

On the one hand the charge laid against the Great Reformers is that they actually knew little of the early church, of the writings of the fathers, or of the liturgical state of affairs in the early church.  Of course, this is not quite true.  For example, the Lutheran Confessions are replete with references to the fathers and to councils to show that their position is not novelty but catholic.  It is also true that if there is a lack of knowledge of the early church or liturgical development, as one more narrow example, it is because these things had been allowed to languish in a medieval church which thought the most important things of theology and liturgy happened in more recent history.  

But there is another answer.  That answer is that antiquity was not of one mind on everything, especially things liturgical.  There are great gaps in the history that beg elucidation from people who can only speculate -- like the structural development of the Roman Canon.  An appeal to antiquity can often allow you to cite competing and conflicting views.  Surely this is in part because we want the ancients to speak with one voice, in one vocabulary, just as we would speak today.  We want a formula that is precise and detailed.  Yet that is what we do not find in early Christendom.  It is not heresy to admit that the liturgical development in the West is neither clear nor logical and it is certainly not well documented.  So we theorize and that theories we often propose are the fruit of our positions as much as the evidence of the past.

When I went to seminary, for example, it was fashionable among some theologians to claim that the substitutionary explanation of the atonement was late and the early church favored the Christus Victor way of describing what our Lord accomplished.  But surely part of the issue is that modern theologians do not like the presuppositions of and the consequences to the idea of penal substitution.  The reality is that early Christians spoke of Christ's work in a variety of ways and that penal substitution was woven into their thought as deeply and intricately as any other view or description.  

So in liturgical theology and the history of rites, the presumption of some golden thread through history and some uniform stages of development for the mass has been the mask many have worn through the modern liturgical movement of reform.  Reclaiming the past has been the motto but the past reclaimed is often strangely or not so strangely in line with the presuppositions of the one viewing the history.  This has been especially true even of more modern evolutionary development and among Lutherans fighting their worship wars (some in the comments of this blog).  Let me say that there is no perfect moment in which the forces came together to imagine a pristine and pure liturgy.  It has been a history of development, loss, reclamation, deterioration, and renewal since Christ ascended.  Why would the history of our rites and practices be different than the rest of our history as Christians?

Speaking as a Lutheran, I know our history is a mess.  Yet within that mess of conflicting and competing claims of what is Lutheran and what is not, we are left with something more than historical nuance to guide us and that is voiced in the Lutheran Confessions.  Keep all that we can without compromising the Gospel and yet do not legislate these as laws that demand obedience.  Perhaps that is the Lutheran liturgical principle.  Perhaps it is applicable beyond even Lutheranism.  It is the tension of lex orandi lex credendi lived out in history.  Antiquity informs and has a vote, to be sure.  But we are not hot in pursuit of a pure treasure to be mined from some hidden source.

Rome has a slightly different history.  Yes, Trent (after the Reformation) ruled the roost for 500 years and yet there were slight variations and rites that continued to live after Trent defined liturgy and dogma.  There always were.  But the problem of Rome is that Trent is not antiquity -- as much as some would want it to be.  And Trent was tinkered with along the way before the great reform of a new Mass.  So perhaps Rome could benefit, as Lutherans, from a ceasefire from the battlements of antiquity.  Not everything that is added is terrible and not everything that was inherited is wonderful.

Antiquity can speak in various voices and not uniformly.  The key in theology and liturgical development is not antiquity or improvisation but faithfulness.  It would seem to me that this focus would be better than turning over every old rock to find a perfect model of dogma and liturgy or constantly reinventing what we look like on Sunday morning.  We are our rites -- not because they are perfect -- because that is exactly how lex orandi lex credendi works.  What we pray shapes what we believe and what we believe shapes how we pray.  You cannot solve the tension by the rule of the past or the dictatorship of the present.  They must be kept in tension with the binding of faithfulness.  If that were to happen, things might be better for Christendom all around.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Mr. Biden, we hope you are listening. . .

Mary Tedeschi Eberstadt is an American essayist, novelist, and author of several books of nonfiction. Her writing has appeared in publications including Quillette, TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, National Review, First Things, The Weekly Standard, and other venues. In March 2017, she was named senior research fellow at the Faith & Reason Institute.  She is an American essayist, novelist, and author of several books of nonfiction. Her writing has appeared in publications including Quillette, TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, National Review, First Things, The Weekly Standard, and other venues. Since March 2017, she has been senior research fellow at the Faith & Reason Institute.  She is a journalist of some note.

So why mention Mary Eberstadt?  She has spoken out rather clearly to the Biden administration in the areas of life, gender, and religious freedom.  I commend her for it.  She insists on the common wisdom that you are the company you keep.  Biden the Roman Catholic keeps insisting the importance of the faith (at least a private one), the value of life (at least outside the womb vs his comments on the death of George Floyd), and the family (albeit a family whose definition comes from cultural change more than anything else).  But his credibility is questioned because he keeps company with those who refuse to give any value to life in the womb, with those who view faith with suspicion or even amusement presuming religious people to be ignorant, and with those who fall all over themselves to embrace every new invention of gender but whose poisonous words disdain toxic masculinity or femininity content to raise children in the home.

The problem with Biden's picture of himself as a devout Roman Catholic is that he has surrounded himself with people who view orthodox Christianity in general as misogynistic, homophobic, and patriarchal.  It is very hard to hear anything from this administration except what the loudest voices say.  They are the ones who dismiss every argument for the protection of life in the womb, for the freedom not simply of private worship but religion and its voice in the public square, and for the binary shape of gender inherent in everything and humanity according to God's will and purpose.

Furthermore, there has been little effort to engage anyone who disagrees with those loud voices.  Biden promised detente with his political opponents and said he intended to find a way forward to unite what had been divided.  But his operating strategy has done exactly the opposite.  He is vilified his opponents exactly the way Trump did -- if not through his own voice then through the voices of those loud voices who stand for the things Biden once did but now seems to reject.

Mr. President, we pray for you every week in the Divine Service.  We only wish we knew that you were open to hearing voices from orthodox Christianity in addition to the progressive and liberal voices in your administration and in Congress.  We only wish that you heard arguments on both sides of the moral issues of this day.  We only wish that the Biden who bows his head in prayer at mass would show up in the Oval Office, White House, and press briefing room once in a while.  We will keep praying for you but you need to know why we are suspicious.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Perfect healing. . .

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8B, preached on Sunday, June 27, 2021.

    You heard today why some people believe and why some do not.  In verse 34 Jesus says to the woman with a 12 year flow of blood:  “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”  Only one verse later another they came from the house of the synagogue ruler saying : “Your daughter is dead.  Don’t trouble the Teacher any more.” One verse and therein lies the hitch.  Some people seem to get what they want from God and others don’t.  One person gets healed and the other dies. What is the deal?

    This is not some debate over abstract ideas.  This goes to the heart and core of our faith and life.  On the one hand, You have a parent who has hopes and dreams for his child.  From the moment that child was born, like every mom or dad, he has imagined a future for that girl to grow up into.  A husband, a home, children, grandchildren, family meals, a life together and a life as God’s people.  Jairus, this ruler of the synagogue, had hopes and dreams until his daughter became sick, so sick that death was near.  And then suddenly nothing mattered except her next day, the next hour.  For that this man would fall at the feet of Jesus and beg this Jesus to make her well.

    Before Jesus could even get near the man’s house, another person shows up.  This was a woman who had a menstrual flow for 12 years.  For 12 years she had been unclean and couldn’t go to the Temple, could not marry, could not attend family gatherings.  All the normal things that one expects from life were denied her because she was unclean.  And there was nothing she could do about it.  The doctors had not helped one bit – perhaps they had made things worse by holding out hope that disappointed her.  This woman had no future on her own but she had one last chance.  If only she could touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, just maybe she might be healed. 

    God’s power and grace do not live in the realm of theory or in the abstract.  They do not offer explanations to placate the mind or philosophical ideals to satisfy our thoughts.  God’s power and grace come to us in our wounds and worries, in our sins and sorrows, to offer us real hope.  Yes, sometimes that hope is realized in the healing of our bodies and yet the healing of the body is but temporary in the face of what we need most of all.  We need the healing of our lives.  We need the wellness that can survive death, the forgiveness that clears the conscience, the healing that saves us for eternal life, and hope that leads us through the valley of the shadow into paradise and the eternal day.

    Our concerns are not little things to God.  God is not bothered by the broken hearts of a dad for a child who is dying and God is not bothered by the broken life of a woman whose life has been a living hell for a dozen years.  God has come to redeem every one of us and yet the answers are not all the same because we are not all the same.
What all our prayers have in common is that we trust in God, not the God of last resorts but the God of power who answers our prayers.  The father prayed that Jesus would come to his aid and, though he had no idea what Jesus would do, he believed that Jesus was enough.  The woman who had bled and suffered for 12 years had no idea what would happen if she touched the hem of Jesus’ garment but she believed that Jesus’ power was her only answer.  Faith is focused not on the outcome but on Christ alone.

    In Greek the word is the same.  You faith has made you WELL.  Your faith has SAVED you.  We can quibble about the nuances of difference here on earth but the point is the same.  Their faith was placed in the One who could answer their need.  They believed that Jesus was their help, their only help, their help when every other door had been shut in their face.  Their faith did not end the flow of blood or raise up a dead girl. No faith has the power to do this.  But their faith was rightly placed in the Son of God who had come in flesh to suffer, die, rise, and save suffering women, dying daughters, and the worried and desperate families who ached for those whom they loved.

    Faith is not its own power.  But the power of faith is that it knows in whom you must believe.  By the Holy Spirit, faith seeks Jesus as the one and only Savior.  Faith trusts Jesus to do what is right and needful.  Faith accepts that Jesus has come to deliver us to eternal life and not simply to a better but temporary life.  Faith looks to the cross where sin is forgiven, where God’s love is made clear and plain, and where the power of death is undone. Jesus has not come to rescue only our spirits or our minds or an idea.  He has come to redeem us body and soul and to deliver us into the new flesh death cannot touch and to grant us the perfect rest of spiritual peace.                

    We are all bleeding.  We are all dying – whether that death comes suddenly or slowly over decades.  That is what sin has done.  Medicine can relieve our suffering some and perhaps stave off the day of our death but they cannot prevent us from dying. That does not make medicine bad.  That simply acknowledges the limits of what we can do – even with all our learning and technology.  But there is one who can stop the flow of blood and end the reign of death.  That one is Jesus; He has power over sin.

    So we come like Jairus the synagogue ruler and we ask Jesus to touch us so that we might live.  And touch us Jesus does in the water of baptism where our sins are forgiven and our lost lives are rescued and a new person is created that death cannot overcome.  And we come like the bleeding woman, saying, if I can touch even Jesus’ garment I will be saved.  And here the garment of His flesh is placed upon our tongue and we receive into our broken bodies the very Body of Christ and we are made well.  That is how it happened then and how it happens still.  Oh, we may pout because the saving grace of Jesus did not come to us when we wanted it or how we wanted it.  We look at the outside of peoples’ lives – making smug judge- ments of whether the bleeding woman or the father of the dying girl had it worse than we.  We complain that God does not treat us all alike because we fear that somebody might have gotten more from God than we did.  We presume that we want and what we pray for is the best and the only thing for us.  We hesitate to trust in anything and we want to control everything.  But in the end, there is only Jesus.

    That is the focus of faith.  It is not on the things that trouble you.  It is not on others around you who also have their complaints before the Lord.  It is not on the answers that you think best.  It is on Jesus.  We need more than a patch job to get us through another day but the radical redemption of new lives.  We need more than a selective reading of God’s Word but the full wisdom of the Lord and the whole counsel of His Word.  Faith is nothing more and nothing less than trust prompted by the Spirit.  We trust that Jesus is the Savior sent from the Father into our flesh to wear our wounds and bear our sin and die our death.  We trust that in Jesus life, death, and resurrection is grace sufficient for all our needs.  We trust that God not only knows what we want but what we need.  He will deliver us from this body of death and provide to us everlasting life.  That is the faith that makes you well, that saves you, that heals you, that gives you peace that passes understanding.    In the holy name of Jesus.  Amen.

More diversity talk. . .

In my boredom I often turn to journals and magazines that have grown old sitting in the pile by my desk.  So it was that I picked up an issue of Living Lutheran, the monthly journal of the ELCA.  Perhaps I need to be more discerning.  In any case, it did not fail to arouse my interest or my frustration.

One author proclaimed Pentecost (actually the Sundays after Pentecost?) a season of listening.  I knew where this was going but I was bored.  The miracle of Acts 2 is not the other tongues but the Gospel for all.  It was not diversity that is the emphasis but that everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.  Yet this was not quite the focus of the article.  Instead the prophecy of Joel repeated in Acts was given as a challenge to Christians.  God speaks where He chooses and not where we think He should.  (Apologies for those who are offended by the male pronoun.)  The complaint here is that German is key to Lutheran theology and theologians but those of other languages and cultures, along with feminist and LGBTQIA+ are viewed with suspicion.  The author insists that the Spirit blows where the Spirit chooses and Lutherans need to pay attention.  Strangely, the season of listening does not mention listening to Scripture.  That might be the problem.

Yes, I understand the complaint that those from minoritized groups are all around us but the work of the Spirit in Pentecost is defined by the Lord in whose name the Spirit comes -- to bring to remembrance all that the Lord has said and to make the disciples bold witnesses from Judea into every corner of the world.  Listening to the voices of people in our culture and traditions for the Spirit's voice is never mentioned in Scripture.  Rather, what the Spirit is doing among us is primarily the Spirit working through the voice of the Word and the Sacraments.  Apart from these, the Spirit might be at work but in these the Spirit always works.  Equating the people of various ethnic and cultural diversity and the feminist and LBGTQIA+ with the promise of Joel is nothing less than idiocy.  But since when has the Church failed to be enticed by lunacy in whatever form it comes?

If this were a Lutheran publication it might ask if we can listen to God speaking what God has spoken instead of begging from God a new word that either contradicts what He has said and written or diverges from it.  By the way, Lutherans may have listened to Europe and those of European descent but if they were Lutheran they would not grant to these automatic authority or fidelity.  These are granted only to the Lutheran Confessions which insist they proclaim a timeless faith that spans every language and culture in the uncommon gift given to the common man wherever that common man is from, whatever language he speaks, or whatever culture he claims.  The promise of Pentecost is not many voices but one voice, not many Gospels but one Gospel, and not many cultures but the one transcendent culture of the faith.  What part of being in but not of the world has been missed?

Apparently the author and those of her perspective have missed something.  Lutheranism is dwindling in Europe and the Americas but it is flourishing in Africa.  Here is the testament of Pentecost not in fuzzy words on the page of a journal but in action.  The Word does not return to the Lord empty.  It may be spoken in every language to every culture but the fruits of this speaking is one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, and one Church.  The pivotal point here is not diversity but unity.  Maybe we have missed this in our Lutheran past but if this is the thinking of Lutherans today, we are still missing out on what Pentecost is.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Too soon. . .

My wife baked me a cheese cake a while back but warned me not to open the oven door and peak.  The kids in preschool are warned not to dig in the dirt to see if the beans they planted have sprouted.  If you cash in your IRA or a CD too soon, a penalty will accrue.  So the warnings go to those who are impatient and refuse to wait until the appointed time.  I wonder if the same could be said of those who seek their heaven today instead of the eternal one appointed by God?  What do you think?

Though in ages past people often longed for heaven to relieve them of the burdens of this mortal life, today we seem prepared to do anything and everything to prolong the mortal life now deemed good and postpone heaven as long as possible.  I am not sure when this shift in thinking began to take place but COVID certainly proved it to be the direction we were moving and hastened its progress.

Yet we are duly warned by the Lord that our contentment with the moment comes at the peril of the eternal future He has prepared.  We are meant to be hungry -- not for the treasures and pleasures of this mortal life but for righteousness and holiness, for the things of God that are eternal and by which we are anchored in the forever.  Yet that is exactly the shape of Christianity today.  We have not only succumbed to the fears of the present but to its allure.  We trust science and vaccinations more than we trust the Word of the Lord to deliver us from death and bring us to the only life worth having eternally.  We endow our feelings with the power of truth and our desires with judgment to decide right from wrong while forgetting that immorality comes with the price tag of immortality.  We sniff at the gift of forgiveness of sins because we find the whole concept of sin distasteful and look for a God who will pander to the whims and yearnings of the moment (helping us find the ever elusive dream of happiness).

This is not new.  Long before Jesus warned of gaining the world at the cost of our souls, Proverbs told us of the threat inherent to our preoccupation with the moment.  An inheritance gained hastily in the beginning will not be blessed in the end. (Proverbs 20:21).  The short cuts to a moment of gaiety so enjoyed by our generation come with a cost.  We are not to disdain God's gifts in the present but neither are we to value them over eternity or pursue them at the cost of everlasting life.  That is the blessed tension of living in but not of the world.  That is the goal and pursuit that is so misunderstood by the world and its insistence upon having everything now.  That is the path that can be lived only by faith, by the sure confidence of the eternal that bestows the freedom to enjoy the moment without being caught up in it.  

On the other hand, the things of God never grow old.  By faith and the power of the Spirit we yearn to be in God's presence without end.  Everything He has given us in the moment points us to the everlasting future God has prepared for those who have lived His appearing.  Too slow, the world insists, come the creature comforts of the moment but faith responds too soon the things of God disappear.  Faith teaches us to sing what the wonderful Eucharistic hymns tells us of the blessed Sacrament:

Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face

1 Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face;
    Here would I touch and handle things unseen;
Here grasp with firmer hand the_eternal grace,
    And all my weariness upon Thee lean.

2 Here would I feed upon the bread of God,
    Here drink with Thee the royal wine of heav’n;
Here would I lay aside each earthly load,
    Here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiv’n.

3 This is the hour of banquet and of song;
    This is the heav’nly table spread for me;
Here let me feast and, feasting, still prolong
    The brief bright hour of fellowship with Thee.

4 I have no help but Thine; nor do I need
    Another arm but Thine to lean upon.
It is enough, my Lord, enough indeed;
    My strength is in Thy might, Thy might alone.

 5 Mine is the sin, but Thine the righteousness;
    Mine is the guilt, but Thine the cleansing blood;
Here is my robe, my refuge, and my peace:
    Thy blood, Thy righteousness, O Lord my God.

 6 Too soon we rise; the vessels disappear;
    The feast, though not the love, is past and gone;
The bread and wine remove, but Thou art here;
    Nearer than ever; still my shield and sun.

 7 Feast after feast thus comes and passes by,
    Yet, passing, points to that glad feast above,
Giving sweet foretaste of the festal joy,
    The Lamb’s great marriage feast of bliss and love.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

A nod for a handshake. . .

The lasting effects of a post-covid view of things will likely mean that the sharing of the peace will change.  The old practice of shaking hands had already degenerated into what one called the holy howdy in which friendliness and hello replaced the more solemn "peace be with you."   Some longed for the day when it was gone and others are now longing for its return.  So what are we to do?

I wonder if this might be a teaching moment.  The whole emphasis of the peace was not a delayed liturgical hello to those who we know and those we have met only just now.  It is a rather substantial greeting built upon the gift of forgiveness received from the Lord and now extended formally and liturgically to those around you.  Perhaps before we rush to stick out the hand we ought to teach again what it means to extend the peace of the Lord.

Christian worship is filled with profound actions and postures that reflect words: heads bowed in prayer, arms raised in praise, standing in reverence during a Scripture reading, coming forward to give an offering, and so on. Surely the ancient practice of passing the peace falls into this category.  The sharing of the peace is something rooted in Scripture and reflects the fact that the peace of the Lord is not simply vertical but extends throughout our relationships together (Matt. 5:9; 2 Cor. 5:20).  Sharing the peace is not a recent invention but a more recent restoration of that old practice.

From the beginning Christians have practiced together what they received from the Lord.  “Peace be with you” is the greeting Jesus Himself used with his disciples (Luke 24:36; John 20:19, 26) and it is a formula closely associated with His resurrection. We read how the apostle Paul opened each of his letters with the words “Grace and peace be with you” (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2).  While some continue to place this greeting just after the Pax Domini and just prior to receiving the Lord's body and blood, it was our practice to place the greeting of peace right after the absolution -- further reflecting its role not as a welcome or hello but truly an extension of Christ's own forgiveness.  The people who have received from Christ His gift of forgiveness, then turn to their neighbors, grasp their hands, and speak the words, “The peace of the Lord be with you” and receive the words in turn, “And also with you.”  At least that is what we did prior to COVID.  The gesture is simple enough but it hides a more profound meaning and one which the Church has spoken of extensively (Col. 1:20-21).  Our fellowship in the Body of Christ has always been associated with postures and gestures (Eph. 2:14-21).

However, how we do this will inevitably change.  We have had a year or more to be suspicious of a hand outstretched.  Even if some are willing to jump right back into the old normal, others are rightfully hesitant.  Things have changed and one of them is the whole idea of personal space and preserving its integrity.  The worst thing we could do would be to restore a practice that many people are unwilling or uncomfortable with doing.  How would that advance the cause if some stuck their hands out and others either refused to shake it or looked as if they did not want to do it?  It sort of defeats the whole purpose.

There might be another way out.  Perhaps the exchange of peace could be restored but the accompanying gesture changed.  Could it be that a nod of the head or even a reverent bow of the body would be appropriate as a substitute for shaking hands?  A nod of the head or slight bow certainly has liturgical precedent behind it.  Remember here that the original greeting of peace was more likely a holy kiss or embrace and not the shaking of hands.  Could it be that the patting of an arm or touching of the upper arm could replace the shaking of a hand?  There are a few options that might be considered.  But I would suggest that the key here is to connect this with what happens at the altar.  

When the pastor says:  "The Lord be with you," his hands are extended out in ancient greeting posture.  Though it is not typical for the folks in the pew to emulate his hands as they say in return "And also with you," it could be.  In sharing the peace as you say the words, eye contact and extended arms that mirror what the pastor does at the altar could convey just the right impression.  Then, as the person echoes that gesture back to you, you then bring your hands back to your heart again and sightly bow your head, acknowledging the gift with gratitude -- again the way the pastor does at the altar as you say back to him:  "And also with you."

Perhaps this could rescue the sharing of the peace from its devolution into a holy howdy and enable us to restore its place within the Divine Service as a holy gesture signifying an uncommon and gracious gift.  You think about it and I will, too. 

Friday, June 25, 2021

Do we remember who we are?

Rome is sort of like a slow moving barge.  It does not get anywhere too quickly but it carries a lot of baggage along the way.  Lutheranism has become like a speedboat trying to get away from where it was as quickly as possible -- at least in the last half century or so.  We banter about characterizations of Lutheranism based on Luther, on Luther's critics, on Luther's interpreters, and on Luther's theologians.  All well and good except that we are not bound to Luther as tightly as Rome is bound to the particular Pope who might sit on the big chair (for now).  That is both blessing and bane of Lutheranism.  It means that we are not subject to the whims of an infallible voice claiming to speak for God but we are subject to millions of fallible voices claiming to speak for Luther on what is Lutheran and what is not.  It also means that what we are bound to believe, teach, and confess is too often judged not as compelling, interesting, or relevant as what we want to believe, teach, and confess.

Lutheranism is an ism with great promise foiled by Lutherans who have diluted the brand or defined it in ways that might be curious but are not all that relevant.  Today we should admit that Lutheranism's central confession is not what Luther wrote or said but what was penned by Philipp Melancthon and presented to the Emperor not by theologians but by civic officials who were willing to die rather than retract it.  And if we remember the history of this day, then perhaps we ought to at least remember what that Confession given at Augsburg on June 25, 1530 actually says.

Charles V had been frustrated by the Reformation and by the various Protestant movements it appeared to have given cover.  He was compromised by a couple of wars and by the fact that ducal rulers had given cover to the Reformation.  By 1530, Charles had either defeated or made temporary peace with enough of those distractions to turn his attention over to the Reformation which had been progressing since the Diet of Worms in 1521.  So in January of 1530, he called an imperial Diet for April in Augsburg.  The Lutheran princes were asked to present their faith.  Luther and his cohorts met in Torgau in March to write out a confession knowing he was still an outlaw and unable to present it.  Philipp Melancthon had the document in hand but revised it upon advice of political and theological leaders.  The draft completed on June 23 was then sent to Luther.  He approved and the Emperor finally agreed to have it read to him on June 25, 1530.

The goal was not to show how Protestant the Reformers were but rather how “catholic” Lutheran teaching was and is.  Melanchthon found support for the Lutheran positions in the theologians and councils of the ancient Church to suggest that reform did not mean rejection of what had always been believed everywhere.  Showing the catholicity of the Reformation Confession was not only expedient but it was the actual view of the Reformers themselves.  Though some of the confessions that followed might seem to betray this initial proposition, it must be remembered that every other statement made by the Lutherans must be read through the lens of the Augustana and not the other way around.  In many respects the Lutherans were objecting most of all to the changes to Church teaching and practice in the eleventh century by Pope Gregory the VII and his followers (later deemed the “Gregorian Revolution” by historians).

So if you are a Lutheran today and you find the Augsburg Confession too catholic for your taste, perhaps you may not know Lutheranism as well as you think.  Contrary to modern movements toward simplicity and a streamlined Protestant or Evangelical style church, the Augustana envisions a Church fully catholic in doctrine and practice, epitomizing the best that had been added so long as it was in accord with the apostolic and catholic faith, with the Scriptures as the only infallible norm.  This was not a compromise to secure a friendly reading by their opponents but the legitimate theological and confessional identity of those who are blamed or lauded as the founders of the Lutheran Church.  For the Lutheran Confessions claim them not as founders but as voices of reform and renewal to a faith and a Church they believe was established by God upon the firm foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ the chief cornerstone.

I do not know what it is that is taught and preached or what worship looks like in the Lutheran congregation where you might find yourself, but if it does not accord with this basic principle, then perhaps it is not as Lutheran as you might think.  Lutherans, by the way, have resisted the idea that doctrine develops and insist that what was yesterday confessed and today believed will be tomorrow normative for the Church that was and is and is to come.  That is because Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and the Body, the Church, must be the same as the head or else it is not Christ's body.  You can call me old fashioned but I find that my position is rather radical in an age in which people are more likely to judge their Lutheranness by what they were taught in Catechism class as a youth or experienced in worship growing up than by the documents that claim not only priority but the confessional standard of this Church.

Read it here or, if you want to know more, purchase Concordia, the Lutheran Confessions from Concordia Publishing House, or, if you an Amazon kind of person, here. Used and Kindle versions are less expensive.  Lutherans, prepare for a Diet of Worms moment when you read what you might not have read before, especially this:

Only those things have been recounted whereof we thought that it was necessary to speak, in order that it might be understood that in doctrine and ceremonies nothing has been received on our part against Scripture or the Church Catholic. For it is manifest that we have taken most diligent care that no new and ungodly doctrine should creep into our churches.


Thursday, June 24, 2021

The faith of a finger. . .

Reading histories of the liturgy and books that inform and instruct on the ceremonial of the liturgy is an odd hobby for some but it fits for me.  I only wish I had more time.  For me the crux of the matter has to do with how we express the faith of the heart as we are gathered at the Lord's call before His altar to hear His Word and receive His Sacrament.  The interest is not curiosity so much as it is marvel how the doctrine of the faithful entered into the practice of the faith in worship.  The rubrics were informed not by taste but by truth and they were followed not by law but by faith.

So for a good long time, when the priest was saying mass (at least according to the Roman rite), there were rubrics (red letter rules) for even how the fingers were held.  The tradition was that the priest would  hold the thumb and forefinger together from the time of the consecration until the ablutions.  Now, to be sure, this is not so much observed today since most masses are Novus Ordo but this rule is still observed in Latin Mass.  This practice comes from the doctrine of the Real Presence and expresses in action what the Church believes about Christ's presence in the Sacrament of the Altar.  It may seem rather trivial but it was not meant as something trivial but profound.

Once the consecration takes place and the Word of the Lord is addressed to the elements of bread and wine, then our Lord is really present -- really and truly and substantially present -- in the bread and cup.  This is not some vague presence deposited in the faith of the presider or of the communicant or some spiritual presence that has nothing to do with the bread and wine.  It means that every crumb of bread and every drop of wine is His body given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins.  The crucified and risen Lord is presence among us, on the altar, to be adored, received, and honored with thanksgiving and praise.  

As the Rev. Dr. Arthur Carl Piepkorn once put it:  And so in the transcendent miracle of the Holy Sacrament we stand in the presence of Calvary's sacrifice, the body that was given for our transgressions and the infinitely precious blood shed for our sins, and plead Christ's mercit for that which we most need and desire.  The Rev. Berthold von Schenk put it this way:  The handbook of the Church is St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, but we have misunderstood his arguments. ‘Discerning the Body of Christ,’ our exegetes taught concerning 1 Corinthians 11, means ‘believing that the bread is actually the Body of Christ and the wine actually the Blood of Christ.’ This is how they defined the Real Presence. “At Communion we are actually on the mount called Calvary.” Consequently, von Schenk teaches: “In Communion, as nowhere else, the believer is caught up in this
great continual act, this timeless offering of the one sacrifice on the Cross.”

If we believe this and confess it, then how we handle the things of God is not adiaphora or something indifferent.  The ancient practice of the priest not casually handling other things after handling the very body of Christ is the practice of the belief in the Real Presence.  So when the priest kept those two fingers together except when distributing communion, he was being mindful of that Real Presence and keeping the hands devoted to the one task of distributing the body and blood of Christ until at the end he washed them and the vessels in the ablutions. The simple practice of holding the fingers together was a constant reminder to priest and people of the awesome mystery held in his hand.

We quickly sniff at the superstition of such a practice as if we are above all of that kind of stuff but could it be that the problem is that we no longer believe what the priest's fingers handle is the very body of Christ?  Could it be that the lackadaisical way our people treat being in Church on the Lord's Day and preparing for Communion and the way the reliquae (what remains after the Eucharist is complete) are handled are symptoms of a much deeper problem than rubricitis?  Could it be that we simply no longer believe that it is the body of Christ and His blood or else we don't believe it matters all that much one way or another?  

Practices do not generate belief nor do they, in and of themselves, guarantee orthodoxy but they reflect well what we either do or do not believe.  So what do we not believe about the Real Presence when the vessels are treated casually, when spills are walked over as if nothing had happened, when the faithful are not taught how to receive the body and blood, when there is no ablution of the remains in the sacred vessels, or when the reliquae are put in an old Cool Whip container and placed in a cabinet in the sacristy or tossed into the garbage as if they were nothing of value?  You tell me?

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Faith prayed by collect. . .

If you have read this blog before, you probably already know that I consider the art of the collect or prayer of the day to be both lofty and practical.  Some of the most profound prayers we pray are the collects appointed for the particular Sunday or day of the Church Year or among the many collects that form a prayer book for Christians.  Some of the great prayers of the day have survived through time to be prayed anew by this age and generation.  Some have not.  We have surely enjoyed the great benefit of people who were careful to preserve this heritage and pass it on -- even while rendering its petitions from one language (Latin) to another (vernacular).  

Thomas Cranmer's Prayer Book of 1549 is not simply a foundational document of the Anglican Church for Anglican worship but a priceless gift to all of English-speaking Christianity.  I am ever grateful for his good stewardship of these treasures and for the way they have been preserved among us every Sunday morning.  Yet there are collects I do miss that have not been included in the lectionary of Lutheran Service Book and, sadly, some of them have not been improved by those who sought to do so.  One that I have missed is this little gem -- a prayer prayed only by Rome, it would seem.  But it is a keeper:

O God, who show the light of your truth to those who go astray,
so that they may return to the right path,
give all who, for the faith they profess, are accounted Christians,
the grace to reject whatever is contrary to the name of Christ
and to strive after all that does it honor Amen

Instead, we pray a wonderful collect, certainly appropriate to the day (Proper 10A),

Blessed Lord, since You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning,
grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them
that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

I am not suggesting that our current prayer be omitted but I wish we had a place for the older collect.  It is certainly ancient but what commends it most to my ear is the way it not only confronts us with what God has done but directs us in what we are to do.  We not only strive after all that honors Christ and befits the light of His truth; we are also to reject what is contrary to the name of Christ.  It is that part that is most urgently needed in our age of diluted Christianity poured half strength or less into the hearts and minds of God's people by those who presume to be guided by something higher than God's Word and Spirit.  It is the time of times in which we are called not only to affirm what is good and right and true and beautiful but to reject what is not -- to call it out for what it is as an affront to the cross and to formally reject it.  The Church's yes is very important but also the Church's no.  Without it, the people of God will be left as victims of what is unworthy of God and without grace to save them and sustain them in the blessed hope of everlasting life made possible by Jesus' death and resurrection. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

The Creator Enters Creation. . .

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7B, preached on Sunday, June 20, 2021, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

    In the Gospel reading we heard again one of Jesus’ famous miracles, His calming of a storm.  After a day of teaching the crowds, Jesus and His disciples got in a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee.  They set sail in the evening and Jesus rested in the back of the boat, falling asleep.  Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a windstorm came upon them.  The waves grew, splashing against the boat.  The boat began to fill with water, and the disciples were terrified.  They feared for their lives.  And that should tell us something about that storm. 
   Several of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen.  Peter and Andrew, James and John, they made their living on that sea.  They were used to its waters and waves.  Professional fishermen don’t get scared from a little bit of wind and waves.  A bit of water in the boat was normal.  So for these men to fear for their lives means that this storm was anything but normal.  It brought great risk and the threat of a watery grave.  Terrified, they cried out and woke Jesus.  How could He be sleeping through this?  Didn’t He care that they were all going to drown and die?  
   When Jesus got up, He spoke to the wind and waves.  “Peace!  Be still!”  And the weather obeyed.  The wind stopped.  The waves calmed.  And the disciples continued to stand there in fear...not because of the weather, but because creation obeyed Jesus.  
    Undoubtedly you’ve heard this miracle before.  It’s one of Jesus’ most famous ones.  It’s illustrated in most story Bibles for children.  It’s seen in stain glass windows.  It makes for a great story.  And undoubtedly you’ve heard this miracle explained as a story, as an allegorical lesson, kind of like a parable, teaching you not to fear the “storms of your life” because Jesus is by your side. 
   You have nothing to fear in this world because Jesus is always with you.  You have nothing to fear in life because He brings peace and quietness.  You don’t need to fear stress and turmoil, lives turned upside down because of tragedy, difficulties of normal everyday life, because Jesus takes them away.  That’s how this miracle is so often taught and understood.  That’s what we want this miracle to mean.  But that isn’t true.  Jesus doesn’t calm all of the storms in your life.    
   Yes, Jesus is always with you.  Yes, He gives you peace.  But Jesus miracle isn’t an allegory promising you a perfectly calm life.  
   Try teaching that kind of lesson to the martyrs of old who lost their heads for the faith.  Try teaching that kind of lesson to modern day martyrs and their families who live with the risk of death every day for confessing Christ.  Try teaching that kind of lesson to our brothers and sisters in Canada who are suffering forced locked downs of their churches.  Try teaching that kind of lesson to the person who lost their job last year.  Try teaching that kind of lesson to the person who just received a stage 4 cancer diagnosis and there’s nothing that can be done, or the person who can’t pay their mortgage and is at risk of eviction, or the one who can’t buy groceries, or name whatever turmoil and difficulty people endure in life.  Where is Christ in the midst of all of these storms?  Why doesn’t He calm them?  And that’s the problem.  When we think of Jesus miracle as only an allegory, it leaves us asking the same questions the disciples asked, “Does God even care?”
   Jesus miracle on the Sea of Galilee isn’t a parable.  It isn’t an allegorical story.  It’s history.  It’s God’s history of salvation; part of what the Creator has done to save His creation; what He has done to save you and me, not from figurative storms, but from the everlasting grave.  Jesus’ storm calming miracle, all of His miracles, are about the Creator entering His creation to save it from sin and death.  
    The disciples were afraid of the storm because they feared death.  Death is the problem.  Sin is the problem.  This goes all the way back to the Fall and when God spoke everything into existence.  For six days God spoke.  He said “Let there be,” and there was, and it was good.  Then He made us, men and women.  He made us in His image, and it was very good.  The Creator made creation the way it was supposed to be, perfect; no storms.  But then our first parents listened to Satan and his lies.  And when they ate that fruit sin entered creation, plunging it into chaos and death, not just for us, but for all of creation.  All of creation suffered in the fall (Romans 8:20-22).  All life dies because of our sin. 
    It’s this death that the disciples were afraid of, and in their fear they cried out to the Lord, “[Don’t] you care that we’re perishing?”  “Don’t you care that we’re going to die?”  …  Yes.  Yes, Jesus cares.  That’s why He came.  God entered creation to save creation.  The Second person of the Trinity, the very Word that was from the beginning, the Word by whom all things were made, He became incarnate (John 1:1-3, 14).  Christ took on our flesh and blood to save you and me from death.  He took on flesh and blood to save all of creation.  And He did this with His very own death on the cross.  
   God died for your sins.  Christ died your death so that death would have no more power over you.  He died and rose so that you would have life.  He rose so that you’d be made new through the waters of baptism, a new creation with everlasting life.  Jesus does care that you are perishing.  He does care that you suffer from your sin, so He has done what was needed to save you from your sin.  That’s what Jesus’ storm calming miracle is about.   
   This miracle is about how Jesus, the Lord of Creation, has entered creation for your salvation.  It’s our sin that threw creation into chaos.  It’s our sin that causes storms.  It’s our sin that kills the life God creates.  And if He wanted too, God could’ve stood back and let us suffer what we deserve.  But He didn’t; and He doesn’t.  He entered Creation for you, redeeming you by the cross of Christ.  And He continues to enter creation through the Word of His Gospel proclaimed, through the waters of baptism, and through the bread and wine that are His Body and Blood, giving you the very forgiveness and everlasting life that Jesus won with His death and resurrection.  The Creator enters creation for you.
   When the disciples heard Jesus speak, “Peace!  Be still!”, and when they saw the wind and waves obey, they wondered “who could this be?”  He is Christ our Lord who’s come not to quiet all the “storms of your life,” but to give you everlasting life.  To Him be glory forever and ever…Amen.

The business of America. . .


Old Silent Cal was not so reticent when it came to speaking about the business of America.  Business is America's business according to Pres. Coolidge.

For as long as their has been a government in America there have been naysayers about the effectiveness and efficiency of government to do things.  From the jokes about Army toilet seat and hammer prices to the number of government workers standing along a roadside watching one of their number work, Americans have loved to belittle government and poke fun at the seeming intractability of government to react quickly or effectively to a need.  Pres. Reagan was famous for his ridicule of government (Government is not the solution to the problem; it is the problem).

For my part, I am not so sure that business is the solution either.  We love to complain about the Post Office, for example, but tell me who and how much business would charge me to send a birthday card to my 90 year old mother in a small town in northeastern Nebraska?  I know what UPS charges me to ship something there (with added fees for fuel and a remote, residential location).  So if we abandoned the Post Office I am pretty sure it would cost $25 to send her a card.  Maybe some would love that but I am not in favor of turning things over to business.

More than this, however, is the whole idea that business gets to decide what is in our national interest or in the interest of locals.  That is certainly the direction we are heading in.  Of course, business with its deep pockets has always had access to politicians but that access was tempered by others competing for the ear of our elected officials.  Now, business is bypassing the access and meeting on its own to determine what is best for America and for you and me.  They have adopted positions on the social issues facing America, targeted their advertising to change the minds of people, used the media to promote ideas and ideals not necessarily universally endorsed by Americans, and now their leaders are weighing in on everything from access to ballot boxes to police tactics to social unrest to dissidents (like Republicans and Trump allies).  Is this what we want or need?

As most of us know only too well, business has no conscience constrained by a Bill of Rights or an ethical identity rooted in constitutional provisions.  It acts on its own for its own purposes.  That is not necessarily bad but it is definitely different from the role and purpose of government (no matter if you are in a political minority or majority).  Furthermore, with the move of religion to the fringes of the public square, business has taken up residence as one of the authoritative voices to determine right and wrong, expediency and waste, as well as what is prudent and beneficial.  Here we are not talking about privatization of anything but the replacement of one voice (religious) with another (business) as faith leaders are further and further marginalized.  

Politically, it was thought that business was in the pocket of the Republicans (or the other way around).  Now it is just the opposite.  Business has adopted a progressive and liberal posture to everything from climate change to racism to birth control to abortion to health care -- and the list goes on.  Big government is surely a threat to our liberty (and to the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights) but no less a threat is an unelected branch of government -- big business -- acting as a political entity in determining what is best for us as a nation and our citizens.  This comes as an increasing threat just as the voice of Christianity is more and more restricted to within the walls of churches during worship and less and less within the public square.  We ought to be paying attention to this shift.  It may already be too late to restrain the Amazons and Apples and Googles of this world who have the reach and the access to change our minds and tell us what we need to think, believe, and do.  I, for one, am not encouraged by this state of affairs.  I am not panicked but neither am unconcerned.

Monday, June 21, 2021


In a series of comments back and forth, over the topic of liturgical practices, this comment was made.  Why push now for even greater elaboration? If anything, the Lutheran tendency during the Reformation was towards simplification.  It was the kind of comment that was behind the original post but it illustrates the tension now within Lutheran parishes and their pastors.  The question is certainly legitimate:  Why elaboration and why not simplification?  I have heard it asked many a time though seldom as succinctly and concisely.

The Lutheran tendency, according to Garrison Keillor, is to downsize.  It was a joke but perhaps it is not only a joke.  For many Lutherans, it is not funny but serious.  Both in terms of the liturgy and even the architecture of the building, simplicity has its allure to many.  The question is whether that tendency toward simplicity that has certainly characterized the larger history of Lutheran worship (up to the last 100-150 years) is Lutheran.

Obviously to those who have read my blog, I do not believe it is.  I do not believe that in art, music, and liturgy Lutheranism has presumed simplicity is the goal or the higher value.  In fact, I believe that this tendency toward simplicity has been a problem for Lutherans and it has given Lutheranism a false sense of its own history.

While I know that there is certain a diversity of liturgical practice in the wake of the Reformation, that diversity does not have any theological countenance to commend it but is simply the result of Lutheranism directed and defined as much by secular rulers and compromise as a goal or direction for what ought to be.  The sad truth is that we could spend years pitting the practices of Lutherans in one area against another over and over again (at least in Germany).  What ought to be normative for Lutherans is NOT what might have been practiced by a majority of Reformation Church Orders in Germany but what our confessional documents say.  What our Confessions say is not at all suspicious of ceremony or ritual (often called church usages) but just the opposite.  They commend ceremonies as beneficial and useful and salutary.  What they rightly object to is the imposition of liturgical laws that bind the conscience of the faithful or demand uniformity in such things.

In fact, the Lutheran Confessions often address the salutary value of uniformity without admitting that such uniformity be legislated or enforced.  They do not question the value of uniformity but they admit from earliest history Christianity has not legislated rules that require (which is exactly what Rome did in spades in the Council of Trent). 

While the history of Missouri or any Lutheran synod in the US may provide a more recent glimpse of practice, that is more of interest than it is normative.  What defines us is not what we have done in the past but our confessional stand on such issues.  There is no rubric for simplicity that can be justified by the Confessions and there is no inherent antagonism toward liturgical things to be found there.  In reality, every age and generation of Lutherans have wrestled with this and that is why restoration of what was lost has also been a constant theme of Lutheran liturgical history.  It has been a gentle reappropriation of what has been lost even when the loss was arbitrary and sudden.  It has not been accompanied by rules that require absolute uniformity and even the most strident about the value of ceremony and ritual have refrained from binding anyone's conscience to such church usages.  The question remains urgent for us.  Why do we rush to adiaphora to justify every local aberration or usage and insist this is legitimate and raise questions or challenges against the restoration of a fuller ceremonial?  This is not a confessional issue but one of taste and personal preference that itself is antagonistic to the confessional Lutheran position.  So let us at least call it what it is and admit that the pursuit of a simpler service and vesture is not a confessional prerogative as much as it is about personal and individual taste.

The churches among us teach with complete unanimity...that one holy church will remain forever. The church is the assembly of saints in which the gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly. And it is enough for the true unity of the church to agree concerning the teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions, rites, or ceremonies instituted by human beings be alike everywhere. As Paul says [Eph. 4:5, 6]: “One faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all...” (Augsburg Confession [Latin] I:1, p. 37; VII:1-4, p. 43) 

Concerning church rites they [our churches] teach that those rites should be observed that can be observed without sin and that contribute to peace and good order in the church, for example, certain holy days, festivals, and the like. However, people are reminded not to burden consciences, as if such worship were necessary for salvation. (Augsburg Confession [Latin]XV:1-2, p. 49) 

As can be seen, there is nothing here that departs from the Scriptures or the catholic church, or from the Roman church, insofar as we can tell from its writers. ... For even the canons are not so severe as to demand that rites should be the same everywhere, nor have the rites of all churches ever been the same. Nevertheless, the ancient rites are, for the most part, diligently observed among us. For the accusation is false that all ceremonies and ancient ordinances are abolished in our churches. Truth is, there has been a public outcry that certain abuses have become fused to the common rites. Because such abuses could not be approved with a good conscience, they have been corrected to some extent....the churches among us do not dissent from the catholic church in any article of faith but only set aside a few abuses that are new and were accepted because of corruption over time contrary to the intention of the canons... However, it can easily be judged that nothing contributes more to preserving the dignity of ceremonies and to cultivating reverence and piety among the people than conducting ceremonies properly in the churches. (Augsburg Confession [Latin],Conclusion of Part One: 1-5, p. 59; Introduction of Part Two: 1, 6, p. 61) 

Our churches are falsely accused of abolishing the Mass. In fact, the Mass is retained among us and is celebrated with the greatest reverence. Almost all the customary ceremonies are also retained, except that German hymns, added for the instruction of the people, are interspersed here and there among the Latin ones. For ceremonies are especially needed in order to teach those who are ignorant. Paul advised [1 Cor. 14:2,9]that in church a language that is understood by the people should be used. The people have grown accustomed to receiving the sacrament together – all who are fit to do so. This also increases reverence and respect for publicceremonies. ... The people are also reminded about the dignity and use of the sacrament – how it offers great conso ation to anxious consciences – so that they may learn to believe in God and expect and ask for all that is good from God. Such worship pleases God, and such use of the sacrament cultivates piety toward God. So it does not appear that the Mass is held with greater devotion among our adversaries than among us. ...Since the Mass is such an imparting of the sacrament, among us one common Mass is held on every holy day, and it is also administered on other days if there are those who desire it.Nor is this custom new in the church. For the ancient teachers before the time of Gregory...often speak of the common Mass. ... Since, therefore, the Mass as we conduct it has on its side the example of the church, from Scripture and the Fathers, we are confident that it cannot be disapproved, especially since the customary public ceremonies are for the most part retained.(Augsburg Confession [Latin] XXIV:1-5, 7-9, 34-35, 40, pp. 69, 71, 73)

 It has been a general conviction, not only of the people but also of those who teach in the churches, that distinction of foods and similar human traditions are useful works for meriting grace and making satisfaction for sins. That the world thought so is evident from the fact that daily new ceremonies, new ordinances, new holy days, and new fasts were instituted and that the teachers in places of worship exacted these works as necessary worship for meriting grace and viciously terrified consciences if people omitted any of them. Much misfortune has ensued in the church from this conviction concerning traditions. ...these traditions obscured the precepts of God because traditions were preferred far more than the precepts of God. All Christianity was thought to consist of the observance of certain holy days, rites, fasts, and vestments. ...Nevertheless, many traditions are kept among us, such as the order of readings in the Mass, holy days, etc., which are conducive to maintaining good order in the church. But at the same time, people are warned that such acts of worship do not justify before God and that no punishable sin is committed if they are omitted without offense. Such freedom in human rites was not unknown to the Fathers. For in the East, Easter was kept at a different time than in Rome, and when the Romans accused the East of schism because of this difference, they were admonished by others that such customs need not be alike everywhere. (Augsburg Confession[Latin] XXVI:1-3, 8, 40-43, pp. 75, 77, 81) 

Moreover, it is debated whether bishops or pastors have the right to institute ceremonies in the church and make laws concerning food, holy days, ranks or orders of ministers, etc....concerning this question, our people teach...that bishops do not have the power to establish anything contrary to the gospel. is not lawful for bishops to institute such acts of worship or require them as necessary, because ordinances that are instituted as necessary or with the intention of meriting justification conflict with the gospel. ... It is necessary to retain the chief article of the gospel: that we obtain grace through faith in Christ, not through certain observances or through acts of worship instituted by human beings.What, therefore, should one think of Sunday and similar rites in places of worship? To this our people reply that it is lawful for bishops or pastors to establish ordinances so that things are done in the church in an orderly fashion, not so that we may make satisfaction for our sins through them or so that consciences maybe obliged to regard them as necessary acts of worship.... It is fitting for the churches to comply with such ordinances for the sake of love and tranquillity and to keep them insofar as they do not offend others. Thus, everything may be don ein an orderly fashion in the churches without confusion, but in such a way that consciences are-2-not burdened by thinking such things are necessary for salvation or that they sin when violating them without offense. ... Such is the case with the observance of Sunday, Easter, Pentecost, and similar festivals and rites. (Augsburg Confession [Latin] XXVIII:30, 34, 50, 52-53, 55-57, pp.95, 97, 99, 101) 

Only those things have been recounted which seemed to need saying. This was done in order that it maybe understood that nothing has been accepted among us, in teaching or ceremonies, that is contrary to Scripture or the catholic church. For it is manifest that we have most diligently been on guard so that no new or ungodly doctrines creep into our churches. (Augsburg Confession[Latin], Conclusion: 4-5, p. 105)...

God’s Word is the treasure that makes everything holy. ... At whatever time God’s Word is taught, preached, heard, read, or pondered, there the person, the day, and the work is hallowed, not on account of the external work but on account of the Word that makes us all saints. Accordingly, I constantly repeat that all our life and work must be based on God’s Word if they are to be God-pleasing or holy. Where that happens the [third] commandment is in force and is fulfilled. Conversely, any conduct or work apart from God’s Word is unholy in the sight of God, no matter how splendid and brilliant it may appear...Note, then, that the power and force of this commandment consists not in the resting but in the hallowing, so that this day may have its special holy function. ... Places, times, persons,and the entire outward order of worship have therefore been instituted and appointed in order that God’s Word may exert its power publicly. (Large Catechism I:91-94, p. 399)...

we gladly keep the ancient traditions set up in the church because they are useful and promote tranquillity, and we interpret them in the best possible way, by excluding the opinion that the jjustify. But our enemies falsely charge that we abolish good ordinances and church discipline. We can claim that the public liturgy in the church is more dignified among us than among the opponents. ... Among the opponents, unwilling celebrants and hirelings celebrate the Mass, and very often they do so only for the money. They chant psalms, not in order to learn or pray, but for the sake of the rite, as if this work were a required act of worship, or for the sake of financial reward. Many among us celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s day after they are instructed, examined, and absolved. The children chant the Psalms in order to learn them; the people also sing in order either to learn or to pray. ...Among the opponents there are many regions where no sermons are delivered during the entire year except during Lent. And yet the chief worship of God is to preach the gospel. And when the opponents do preach, they talk about human traditions, about the devotion to the saint sand similar trifles. This the people rightly loathe, and so they walk out on them immediately after the reading of the gospel. A few of the better ones have begun now to speak about good works,but they still say nothing about the righteousness of faith, about faith in Christ, and about the consolation of consciences. Indeed they rail against this most salutary part of the gospel in their polemics. On the contrary, in our churches all the sermons deal with topics like these:repentance, fear of God, faith in Christ, the righteousness of faith, consolation of consciences through faith, the exercise of faith, prayer (what it should be like and that everyone may be completely certain that it is efficacious and is heard), the cross, respect for the magistrates and all civil orders, the distinction between the kingdom of Christ (the spiritual kingdom) and political affairs, marriage, the education and instruction of children, chastity, and all the works of love.From this description of the state of our churches it is possible to determine that we diligently maintain churchly discipline, godly ceremonies, and good ecclesiastical customs. (Apology XV:38-40, 42-44, p. 229)...

it is evident that many foolish opinions about traditions have crept into the church.Some thought that human traditions were necessary acts of worship for meriting justification. ...Likewise, some churches excommunicated others on account of such traditions as the observance of Easter, images, and similar things. From this the inexperienced have concluded that faith or righteousness of the heart before God cannot exist without these observances. ...But just as the different lengths of day and night do not undermine the unity of the church, so we maintain that different rites instituted by human beings do not undermine the true unity of the church, although it pleases us when universal rites are kept for the sake of tranquillity. Thus, in our churches we willingly observe the order of the Mass, the Lord’s day,and other more important festival days. With a very grateful spirit we cherish the useful and ancient ordinances, especially when they contain a discipline by which it is profitable to educate and teach [the] common folk and [the] ignorant. ...The opponents say that universal traditions ought to be observed because they are thought to have been handed down from the apostles. ... They ought to interpret these rites in just the same way as the apostles themselves interpreted them in their writings. For the apostles did not want us to think that through such rites we are justified or that such rites are necessary for righteousness before God. ... They observed certain days not as if that observance were necessary for justification, but in order that the people might know at what time they should assemble.Whenever they assembled, they also observed some other rites and a sequence of lessons.Frequently, the people continued to observe certain Old Testament customs, which the apostles adapted in modified form to the gospel history, like Easter and Pentecost [cf. Acts 18:21; 20:16],so that by these examples as well as by instruction they might transmit to posterity the memory of those important events. (Apology VII/VIII:32-33, 38-40, pp. 179-81)...

we do not abolish the Mass but religiously retain and defend it. Among us the Mass is celebrated every Lord’s day and on other festivals, when the sacrament is made available to those who wish to partake of it, after they have been examined and absolved. We also keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of readings, prayers, vestments, and other similar things.The opponents include a long harangue about the use of Latin in the Mass, in which they childishly quibble about how it benefits hearers who are ignorant of the church’s faith to hear a Mass that they do not understand. Apparently, they imagine that the mere act of hearing itself is a useful act of worship even where there is no understanding. ... We mention it only in passing in order to point out that our churches retain the Latin readings and prayers.Ceremonies should be observed both so that people may learn the Scriptures and so that,admonished by the Word, they might experience faith and fear and finally even pray. For these are the purposes of the ceremonies. We keep the Latin for the sake of those who learn and understand it. We also use German hymns in order that the [common]people might have something to learn, something that will arouse their faith and fear. ...Consciences were tormented by enumeration of sins and satisfactions. The opponents never mentioned faith, by which we freely receive the forgiveness of sins. All their books and sermons were silent about the exercise of faith in its struggle with despair or about the free forgiveness of sins on account of Christ. In addition, they horribly profaned the Mass and introduced many other godless acts of worship into the churches. ...By contrast, due to God’s blessing, our priests attend to the ministry of the Word. They teach the gospel about the blessings of Christ, and they show that the forgiveness of sins takes place on account of Christ. This teaching offers solid consolation to consciences. In addition they teach about the good works that God commands, and they speak about the value and use of the sacraments. ...among them [our opponents]the priests use the sacrament to make money. Among us it is used more frequently and more devoutly. For the people use it, but only after they have been instructed and examined. They are taught about the proper use of the sacrament, that it was instituted as a seal and testimony of the gracious forgiveness of sins and therefore as an encouragement to sensitive consciences in order that they may be completely convinced and believe that their sins are freely forgiven. ...Moreover, if we must speak about outward appearances, attendance in our churches is greater than among the opponents’. Practical and clear sermons hold an audience. But neither the people nor the theologians have ever understood the opponents’ teaching. The true adornment of the churches is godly, useful, and clear doctrine, the devout use of the sacraments, ardent prayer,and the like. Candles, golden vessels, and similar adornments are appropriate, but they are not the distinctive adornment of the church. ...But let us speak about the term “liturgy.” This word does not properly mean a sacrifice but rather public service. Thus, it agrees quite well with our position, namely, that the one minister who consecrates gives the body and blood of the Lord to the rest of the people, just as a minister who preaches sets forth the gospel to the people, as Paul says [1 Cor. 4:1], “Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries,” that is, of the gospel and thesacraments. And 2 Corinthians 5:20, “So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. ...” Thus the term“liturgy” fits well with the ministry. (Apology XXIV:1-3, 46-51, 79-81, pp. 258, 267, 272) 

We should not regard as free and indifferent, but rather as things forbidden by God that are to be avoided, the kind of things presented under the name and appearance of external,indifferent things that are nevertheless fundamentally opposed to God’s Word (even if they are painted another color). Moreover, we must not include among the truly free adiaphora or indifferent matters ceremonies that give the appearance or (in order to avoid persecution) are designed to give the  impression that our religion does not differ greatly from the papist religion or that their religion were not completely contrary to ours. Nor are such ceremonies matters of indifference when they are intended to create the illusion (or are demanded or accepted with that intention), as if such action brought the two contradictory religions into agreement and made them one body or as if a return to the papacy and a deviation from the pure teaching of the gospel and from the true religion had taken place or could gradually result from these actions. ...In the same way, useless, foolish spectacles, which are not beneficial for good order,Christian discipline, or evangelical decorum in the church, are not true adiaphora or indifferent things. ...Therefore, we believe, teach, and confess that the community of God in every time and place has the right, power, and authority to change, reduce, or expand such practices according to circumstances in an orderly and appropriate manner, without frivolity or offense, as seems most useful, beneficial, and best for good order, Christian discipline, evangelical decorum, and the building up of the church. ...We also believe, teach, and confess that in a time when confession is necessary, as when the enemies of God’s Word want to suppress the pure teaching of the holy gospel, the entire community of God, indeed, every Christian, especially servants of the Word as the leaders of the community of God, are obligated according to God’s Word to confess true teaching and-5-everything that pertains to the whole of religion freely and publicly. They are to do so not only with words but also in actions and deeds. In such a time they shall not yield to the opponent seven in indifferent matters, nor shall they permit the imposition of such adiaphora by opponents who use violence or chicanery in such a way that undermines true worship of God or that introduces or confirms idolatry....the churches are not to condemn one another because of differences in ceremonies when in Christian freedom one has fewer or more than the other, as long as these churches are otherwise united in teaching and in all the articles of the faith as well as in the proper use of the holy sacraments. (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration X:5,7,9-10, 31, pp. 636-37, 640)