Thursday, December 9, 2021

The Conservative Liturgical Principle. . .

Though you might not know it from visiting some Lutheran congregations on Sunday morning, the liturgical principle of the Lutheran Confessions has always been to preserve rather than change or omit and to change and omit only when it could not be preserved and then only for the sake of the very Gospel itself.  In other words, the Gospel is not a liturgical principle to do what you want nor is adiaphora a liturgical justification for doing what you want in rejecting or omitting the received liturgy.  Now, to be sure, this principle was tested by individual jurisdictions where different choices were made (regarding such things as vestments, elevation, etc.) but even then it was not simply a pastor or a parish choosing to give up things that had been received from the church that went before.

A faithful servant of the Church should not have such a desire for change to the point where he wants to change according to his own desires the usual church practice and ceremonies that have been accepted by a holy consensus of the Church. By such changes, all sorts of offenses and divisions can easily arise. Instead, he should above all else, keep the traditional salutary church practices.—Johann Gerhard, Schola Pietatis III:427.

Note what Gerhard says.  Keep what has been accepted by a holy consensus of the Church.  Keep the traditional salutary church practices (AKA ceremonies).  What Gerhard was pleading against has become, much to our shame, normative.  I suggest that if Gerhard surveyed Lutheranism today, he might add or change a word.  Restore.  Restore what has changed from the usual church practice and ceremonies accepted by a holy consensus of the Church and restore the traditional and salutary practices that have been abandoned and rejected in pursuit of an a-liturgical form of worship that does not reflect our Confession.

Some might equate restoring with changing -- those who have seen the worship of liturgy and hymnal jettisoned in favor of screens, praise bands, worship leaders, and preachers in khakis or jeans and gotten used to is might say that the hymnal is a change.  But this is not a change of preference.  It is the restoration of a liturgical identity that is the other side of our confessional identity.  The whole point of lex orandi lex credendi not to say whether prayer/worship or creed is the primary influence but to say that we cannot pray and worship one way and believe another just as we cannot worship one way and pray and worship another way.  One will become only theory without concrete and local application to our faith and piety.  Either the liturgy will become only words that mean nothing to us or the faith we say we believe will fade away in favor of the faith that governs how we worship.

How shocking it is that Lutheran pastors in Lutheran congregations have to tread so very lightly in trying to restore a semblance of Lutheran liturgical identity!  We have gotten to the point where being Lutheran in a parish which has abandoned its liturgical identity as a Lutheran parish becomes a scandal to the faith of the Lutherans in that parish.  And it is because we have forgotten the word that was the drumbeat of the Lutheran liturgical reformation -- keep -- and replaced it with the exception that allowed doctrinal unity without exact liturgical uniformity -- change (adiaphora).

The work of those who brought the Common Service to American Lutheranism has largely been cast aside by those who make liturgy its own focus without believing the words they speak and sing and by those who no longer believe and sing the liturgy.  We have replaced the verb keep with the verb change and come to believe that only by changing who we are in faith and on Sunday morning will keep us relevant and alive.  The reality is that as soon as change replaces keep, it is not merely the liturgy that suffers but the Gospel itself and we have put in place the seeds of our own self-destruction.  Strangely enough, the heyday of Lutheran unity may well have come and gone when we decided that change or die and change or be judged irrelevant was the only choice before us. 

1 comment:

Archimandrite Gregory said...

Mess with properliturgical forms soon doctrine becomes watered down. Seen it happen so often.