Wednesday, November 3, 2021

What adiaphora ain't. . .

I had a conversation not long ago with a family uncomfortable with the level of ceremonial in our parish.  It was not what they had experienced either as children or adults.  They were not uniformed.  The infamous adiaphora word was dropped a few times as if to suggest that since these things were adiaphora (things neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture), they were unimportant and could, well, should, be dropped to satisfy them and the anonymous others who likewise did not like them.  The conversation went a bit further with the suggestion that these things might violate the person's individual conscience and if they did not see Jesus in them or found them to distract them from Jesus, they should go.  It was the only reasonable and compassionate pastoral decision that could be made!

It was clear from the conversation that adiaphora meant that these practices could and probably should be discarded at whim as soon as anyone says they do not like them and that the best part of pastoral discretion was to listen to the one or the several bothered by such.  In fact, it seemed as if the sometimes Lutheran position of downsizing everything liturgical and ceremonial and the liturgical principle of the simpler the better ought to prevail.  But the dreaded adiaphora word is being used wrongly.  Adiaphora may mean that consciences cannot be bound to these for purposes of salvation but adiaphora certainly does not mean that they are unimportant.  The Augsburg Confession insists that ceremonies teach and that teaching is not adiaphora even though the ceremonies might be.  Therefore, they are not unimportant but very important.  Art, music, ritual, ceremony, and the like are not such things as we can bind people's salvation to but they are important enough to promote even when there might not be universal appreciation.  Furthermore, ceremonies confess (like art and music) and this confession is not unimportant. By the way, the elimination of ceremonies, even those addressed by rubric, was mentioned as a helpful thing to appeal to a diversity of tastes and to keep from the terrible problem of rote recitation that forgets what the liturgy says.  So, less is more and more is always less.

That is the part of Lutheranism I cannot abide.  Furthermore, I do not at all think it is a legitimate expression of or the basic teaching of Lutheranism.  Lutheranism, according to our Confessions, always gives the nod to keeping rather than omitting.  That is at least the teaching of the Augustana.  We are conservative and we do conserve.  We are not into wholesale remodeling of the mass but in keeping everything that can be kept -- even adiaphora!  In the end, it is this false understanding of indifference to art, music, and ceremony that gives birth to the false dichotomy between style and substance -- something fully exploited by those who have decided that Lutheran liturgy and hymnody is not helping us win people for Jesus.  Who does not love Jesus enough to sacrifice the hymnal and our liturgical confession and heritage to win just one more soul from the dark side?  But this is a straw man and a false distinction.  Furthermore, unless you are an aging boomer, it is the younger generation who truly do appreciate the fuller liturgical and ceremonial of the Divine Service.

It is like those who love to say that ordination is not divine mandate but apostolic custom.  Really?  That is how little importance that we attach to apostolic custom?  I would think that such a statement also belies some serious problems with Biblical witness and authority.  The same could be true of those who think that God somehow had a lobotomy and decided that the worship life of the old covenant was too liturgical, too ceremonial, and had too much incense and with the new covenant in Christ all of that was ditched as so much baggage.  Not quite what Jesus said about fulfilling that old covenant.  Jesus did not disparage the old covenant but kept it and observed it with the inner devotion of the heart and the outward reverence of the body that He did not find in the people of that covenant (both sides of the altar rail, so to speak).  Finally, look at Revelation and tell me that ceremony, symbolism, liturgy, reverence, and, well, I will go ahead and say it, incense, is passe and not the shape of the future. 

Come on, Lutherans, if we are Biblical then let us be Biblical.  I am not one to ram down the throats of the unappreciative or uninformed rules that they must follow but neither should the unappreciative or uninformed have the right to force the pastor to a liturgical minimalism that fits their taste but does not flow from the Lutheran Confessions.  The interesting thing here is that 90% of all that is objected to of adiaphora are things that the pastor does but not things asked of those in the pews.  Ah, well.  I feel better now.  If you do not, perhaps it is because you are one of those who think adiaphora means unimportant and apostolic custom can be taken with a whim and the worship of the old covenant and the vision of Revelation are irrelevant to what happens on Sunday mornings now.  If you are, I am sad for you.


Steve said...

“Adiaphorism, (from Greek adiaphora, “indifferent”), in Christian theology, the opinion that certain doctrines or practices in morals or religion are matters of indifference because they are neither commanded nor forbidden in the Bible.”

Unlike the implication of the meme, I don’t think Lutherans think adiaphora means meaningless. However, it is up to the churches, not grumpy laymen who want simplicity, to decide the practices of the church. These practices may change over time. For example, Brenz instructed Schnepf and Blarer to reform evangelical worship practices in Württemberg in the 1530s. Discarding traditional vestments for the black academic cloak was something in the air at the time, following the example of Luther laying aside his monk’s garb in 1524, that Blarer in particular pushed through as part of the worship reforms. Schnepf was apparently indifferent to the issue, but personally favored the black gown with surplice. By the 1550s, however, Brenz was of the opinion that the people did not seem to respect the pastor wearing simply a coat, and so revised the church order to reintroduce the surplice and black gown as the vestments of the Lutheran Church. This vestment combination was the same as that in Saxony, and made its way into the LCMS through that liturgical tradition.

By the end of the 1970s, the LCMS made the decision as a church body to change adiaphora again and adopt the alb and stole as the vestments of the church. Perhaps that decision was made due to changing tastes, a desire to move away from the dour appearance of black, and the intention to identify more with the historic universal appearance of the church catholic.

Anonymous said...

So, the question becomes are you the only Pastor to serve Grace that read and understood the Augsburg Confession? Prior to 1995, Grace had 4 Pastors that led worship service without the "benefits" of vestments, without the "benefits" of genuflecting and crossing oneself, without the "benefits" of chanting, without the "benefits" of a Crucifix, without the "benefits" of sacristy bells. Even under your own administration as Senior Pastor, one Assistant Pastor had the nerve to conduct services in your absence without any of those attributes and no one fell out in the aisles between pews with "gnashing of teeth."
I guess what I'm trying to say is that there may be more that one right way to conduct a Lutheran worship service, and to ridicule those Pastors that choose a less "high church" approach is not doing anyone any good.

Janis Williams said...

I agree, Steve. I don’t think Lutherans believe adiaphora=meaningless. I think they don’t care a fig what the word means, and if they do throw it around, it really translates to, “I don’t feel comfortable with _____.” Personally, I believe the main problem is not what Lutherans (the average member in the pew) believes something is neither commanded or forbidden, but that there is a submission issue. Whether it is to the Synod, the District, or the individual Pastor, we are all about individual preference. We are not willing to put aside our tastes in order to focus on the Divine Service. God Himself comes to us. Jesus the Christ speaks to us in the voice of Absolution and Sermon, and then feeds the hungry crowd that has followed Him. Focusing on whether the Pastor folds his hands sinistra sub dextra (right thumb over left) means we are looking in the wrong direction.

If someone is planted temporarily in a foreign Lutheran church, do they complain the candles aren’t lit (or even there), and whether the Pastor can’t afford an alb, but only a stole? We are polite and submissive with those unfamiliar to us, but we are far too familiar with our own, and our Liturgy. We are vapid, lifeless in our idolatry of preference.

Pastor Peters said...

I don’t think you read my post. If you thought it was ridiculing those pastors you did not hear my words. Adiaphora does not mean preference. By the way that pastor you referenced moved across country to live here and worship at Grace after visiting and talking to me.