Thoughts on Liturgy, Freedom, Uniformity and Lutheran Identity
Dr. Holger Sonntag offers these poignant comments on the issue of liturgy, worship, orders and freedom. The post of last week or so on adiaphora elicited quite an active discussion, and a number of comments, of varying quality. Pastor Sonntag offered this as a comment to that thread, but it was so good that I felt it deserved to be featured as a separate blog post.
First, I want to respond to a comment on this blog site about my connecting liturgiology and ecclesiology. I don’t quite see how this would make liturgy part of the areas in which we need to agree before we can have church fellowship. All I meant to say here is: Lutheran churches with Lutheran theology should also worship in a recognizably Lutheran way.
AC VII, esp. when we take it together with Ap. VII-VIII, shows very clearly that Lutherans navigated the double dangers of a liturgical uniformity that was of a meritorious nature and a confusion of freedom of faith with liturgical license. What they opted for, for the sake of public harmony and tranquility, was liturgical uniformity that is of a non-meritorious nature.
They applied it in such a way that sovereign cities and principalities would have uniform orders which needed not to be identical all across Germany and Scandinavia.
There is a difference between necessity and usefulness. Just because something is not necessary (and liturgical uniformity is not necessary for church fellowship) doesn’t mean it’s bad. Good works are not necessary for salvation, but they’re not bad…
Now, not to start a chicken-egg hunt here, but as to a person’s more recent quoting from Luther’s German Mass on Luther’s respect for those who already have "good orders" (LW 53:62), it might be good to determine how this applies to us today.
Wasn’t it this way that some among us felt the need, beginning perhaps sometimes in the 60s or 70s, to take it upon themselves to alter the "good orders" already in existence in congregations (TLH) and to replace them with their own creations and alterations. That’s now history, I know, but we also shouldn’t pretend that the "new orders" we’re talking about in our context somehow emerged in anything remotely similar to the liturgical vacuum created by Luther’s reformation which necessitated decisive *theological* (not: stylistic) changes in the traditional liturgy to reflect the rediscovered gospel.
Here pastors felt the theological need to act, and probably rightly so; and Luther respected their sincere work. — Yet is that what happened in the last 30 years, was TLH (or LW) in such a dire need of *theological* reform that everybody was called to try their hand in this "state of emergency" to create the "diversity" that exists today?
In the same context (about LW 53:62), Luther nonetheless talks about that it would be nice to have uniform ceremonies in the principalities (he just can’t help it, it seems!). These territories were, in my recollection of German history, the basic sovereign units of the German empire: they could wage wars, enter into confederations, etc. And they also had the right to reform (and defend) the church (ius reformandi) and to establish ceremonies (ius liturgicum) — a mayor in, say, Saxony, didn’t have these rights independently because they were held by his sovereign. In other words, these little states were different from the individual states in America.
Practically speaking, they were also the basic point of reference for most people. Yes, they were all Germans (esp. against Rome), but they were, perhaps first of all, Saxons, Prussians, Bavarians, etc. Only a few merchants, or mercenaries or theologians, would ever travel outside of their tiny nations. Most were farmers and craftsmen.
And, if I’m not wrong, you also couldn’t simply leave you home country and move to a different place. You belonged to the prince; he was your "father" (see the LC on that one), he owned you as his subject (this is why suicide was a crime against the prince: you were defrauding him of his possession).
This ties in to the point Luther makes elsewhere: let’s avoid confusion and offense. Well, if all are uniform in one territory; if all are basically never leaving that territory, you clearly don’t need a "German" solution to a problem that can be solved on the Saxon or Prussian level.
Again, is that our situation today? It is not. People travel, snowbirds come to mind when you live in MN. Folks spend several months away from home; they visit their children in other parts of the country. — Any congregations out there where that’s caused discussions and perhaps even ugly divisions??
We can’t pretend that we’re still shepherding a flock of stationary farmers and little merchants who don’t have the money to go to town more often than once a week, much less the means to leave the state.
And, these pragmatic considerations aside, the early Missourians whose members also didn’t travel a lot, still strove to be uniform liturgically in CA, MN, MO, AL, NY, and MI — nationally, in other words! They took pleasure in looking the same as fellow Missourians everywhere (that’s love too) — and they wanted to look different than those not in fellowship with us based on agreement in the areas mentioned in AC VII. This is different from sectarianism.
Why do we worship the way we do? Because its theologically sound and, after careful and respectful consideration of our (Lutheran) heritage (4th Commandment!), we’ve freely and lovingly agreed to do it this way. Isn’t is possible to be a Lutheran and worship based on a slimed-down version of the divine service without all these cumbersome canticles? Probably, but that’s just not what we’ve agreed upon. Otherwise, we’d only abide, e.g., by the agreed-upon bylaws and constitution of synod, not by its agreed-upon hymnal and liturgy. That’d be pretty sad.
Finally, as in the case of Luther (and the Early Church, I read somewhere), the point of reference for our liturgical practice (and reform) ought to be those of the household of the faith, not potential members or heterodox communions.
Evangelism, at least in the previous millennia, I venture to say, didn’t exactly happen in the worship service. It happend in the home, at work, and wherever else Christians and unbelievers rubbed shoulders in the context of their vocations. As the opening invocation indicates, the worship service is chiefly for those who already rightly know and believe in the triune God; only they can call upon him in a God-pleasing manner. Others may visit (and we welcome them, except at the communion table — oops…), but they can’t be made the defining yardstick for Christian worship. To understand and appreciate the divine service, you need to know the catechism, LW 53:64.
By the way, the catechism is perhaps a good example for our discussion here. Is there anything in God’s word that tells us we have to use catechisms to instruct unbelievers? No. Is there anything in God’s word that tells us that we must use Luther’s catechism? No. Can Christian doctrine be taught *correctly* in any other way than Luther’s? I guess so! So, why are we then urging congregations to use the SC (or maybe we aren’t urging them — so why should we urge them …), by means of the hymnal? Because we’re Lutherans, and Luther has put it together so well, and we have / should agree upon it to do it this way.
The catechism, as well as the liturgy catechetically understood (another thought in Ap. VII-VIII), provide us with the Christian language; they helps us to understand the bible’s language correctly which is the Spirit’s speaking; they help us to speak this language faithfully and accurately to our neighbor, so that he and we would praise God with one voice and in one common understanding, Rom. 15.
Everybody using their own version of a little catechism? Possible. Good? No.