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Thoughts on Liturgy, Freedom, Uniformity and Lutheran Identity

June 28th, 2006
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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.

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  1. James Waddell
    June 28th, 2006 at 21:13 | #1

    I can say amen to virtually everything Holger Sonntag has said. He is quite right about the sixteenth-century environment. And the difficulties we face today in applying our theology of liturgy. We live in an entirely different time from the sixteenth century. We live in a time post Faith and Order, and the Ecumenical Liturgical Theology Movement, when theology has been abandoned as a point of convergence for ecclesial unity, and liturgical theology has been taken up as the new norm. I shouldn’t really say that the Ecumenical Liturgical Theology Movement has gone the way of the Faith and Order Movement. Ecumenical Liturgical Theology is alive and well. The Roman Rite is held today as a point on which divergent Christian traditions may converge. This is held by Lutherans and Roman Catholics. The Lutheran liturgy is not the Roman Rite. Our theology of the Sacrament of the Altar is diametrically opposite the Roman sacrifice of the mass. For Lutherans the mass is not a sacrifice we offer to God or a work of the people which is offered for forgiveness. For Roman Catholics and ecumenical Lutherans it is. But there is still much similarity in the structure and the details of both the Roman Rite and the Lutheran liturgy. The fact that the more ecumenically minded press this point, it seems to me, is a way of smoothing the path to unity, when earlier twentieth-century discussions about theology failed (cf. Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry in the early 1980s), as did later twentieth-century attempts to use the doctrine of justification as a point of convergence between Lutherans and Catholics. You may recall that while the ecumenically minded Lutherans were still thinking they had bagged that possum, the Roman Catholics in the end said, “well . . . not really.” While we are busy pressing the issue in the direction of extolling the Lutheran liturgy against “the pentecostals,” we seem to be coming up short on this end.
    Holger commented:
    “First, I want to respond to Rev. Waddell’s reply to 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.”
    The reference to church fellowship escapes me, probably because I don’t know who Holger Sonntag is or his denominational affiliation. I apologize for my ignorance, and eagerly beg your pardon.
    McCain: Rev. Dr. Holger Sonntag is a pastor in The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. He received his Doctor of Theology from Heidelberg University in Germany, I believe in New Testament. Correct me if I’m wrong Holger.
    What I mean by holding liturgy and ecclesiology together is, the church is not defined liturgically. The church is defined sacramentally. And I know that we should not be “liturgical Nestorians,” as someone once said (I think it was John Pless). But it’s the Augustana Article VII and the rest of the Confessional witness that leads me to think this way. What is it that renders our Lutheran worship to be recognizably Lutheran, according to the Confessions? I think this is a fair way of asking the question. By sticking to the Confessions as the authoritative source for answering the question, we avoid the difficulty of sorting out which Lutheran liturgical tradition is the one that makes us recognizably Lutheran. There are so many. And as Bill Weedon has so eloquently pointed out, there is more to be appreciated in the way of sameness in the historical development of this tradition, than in the way of difference. Yes.
    McCain: James, would you agree that the “diversity” which you mention in the age of the Reformation is not as great as the diversity we experience in our Synod today? Even if we rule out “Wookie” worship as one extreme and what seems Pre-Tridentine masses at the other? For instance, is there something in the age of Confessionalism in Germany that would compare to a congregation using the order of service common to our history and one that instead swaps out an order that is nearly identical to a Baptist Church’s worship practice? Do we find that wide a diversity across the territories in Germany?
    What do the confessions say about what it is that renders the church outwardly recognizable? I think my sainted grandmother would have said how we worship in the hymnal (TLH). I have family members on both sides who are quick to say this. I think this is a common reality. Another common reality is the comment I regularly hear, that Lutherans worship just like Catholics. Now, you and I know that this is not true on many levels. But on a very superficial level, this is what most people think. What precisely is it that the Confessions say renders the church outwardly recognizable?
    Ap VII & VIII.5:
    “. . . the church is not only an association of external ties and rites like other civic organizations, but it is principally an association of faith and the Holy Spirit in the hearts of persons. It nevertheless has its external marks so that it can be recognized, namely, the pure teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments in harmony with the gospel of Christ. Moreover, this church alone is called the body of Christ, which Christ renews, sanctifies, and governs by his Spirit as Paul testifies.”
    McCain: James, what importance do you attach to the words “not only” in the quote you offer? Do you think perhaps we tend to run past those words, which make it very clear that we do Confess that the Church is in fact “an association of external ties and rites” but not *only* an association of ties and rites?
    What renders the church outwardly recognizable is not liturgy, but the purity of the Gospel and the sacraments administered in harmony with the Gospel of Christ.
    McCain: James, of course this is correct. But that is not the point of our discussions about liturgical uniformity. Nobody is suggesting that liturgical rites are meritorious. To the point of discussion then, would you agree that it is finally impossible to separate style from substance in matters of such teaching and administration? In other words, contrary to what David Luecke puts forward in his “Evangelical Style/Lutheran Substance” book, is there a connection between style and substance? I’m not aware that anyone in our church is asserting that the Church is not marked by the gathering of the faithful around the Word and Sacraments, so it appears that by putting forward this argument you are engaging in setting up a straw man.
    This loudly echoes AC VII. Now the natural response is to say that “administration of the sacraments in harmony with the gospel of Christ” refers to Lutheran liturgy. Now we’ve caught ourselves in a tight little loop. Sacraments in harmony with the Gospel equals Lutheran liturgy equals sacraments in harmony with the Gospel equals Lutheran liturgy, etc., etc.
    McCain: Who is actually saying that this is what AC VII means? Are you perhaps too hastily dismissing the great value of the historic liturgy precisely for the sake of the proper teaching of the Word and administration of the Sacraments?
    But Augustana VII and the rest of the confessional witness when referring to the administration of the sacraments in harmony with the Gospel do not reference this to liturgy. It is referenced to a right understanding of the sacraments as opposed to having a wrong understanding of the sacraments. This seems clear from the hard data in the documents leading up to Augsburg in June of 1530, namely, the Schwabach Articles, the Marburg Articles, and the Torgau Articles. Kolb, Nestingen and others rendered a great service to the church by making these readily accessible for everyone in English translation in “Sources and Contexts of the Book of Concord” (2001).
    McCain: As Jacobs did years ago, of course the volume to which you refer suffers from the dreadful gender neutering that is an unfortunate feature in the K/W edition of the BOC itself, where actual words of our Confessions are twisted and distorted and intentionally mistranslated to accomodate this agenda and what it supports, i.e. women’s ordination. See, for example how K/W handles the matter of the pastor’s self-communion in the Smalcald Articles, but one example of many.
    Of course you are right in what you say at this point, but around the same time the AC was being put together, Luther was extolling the benefits of uniformity in worship practices, so it would be my contention that it never entered the mind of our confessors, to pit one thing against the other, as you seem to want to do, or to suggest that there is nothing to be said in favor of a high degree of uniformity in worship. Dr. Sonntag pointed out how much a blessing this is precisely because we are *not* little self-contained territories anymore, but we are a nation-wide, even world-wide church. I do not believe you are dealing adequately with his points.
    To keep this brief, what is found in these documents are precursors to articles in the Augustana. The Reformers were hammering out their thought in a very public way. They were thinking out loud. And the “right administration of the sacraments” as AC VII puts it, or as Ap VII & VIII echoes it, “administration of the sacraments in harmony with the gospel of Christ,” are phrases that appear in these earlier documents. There are no references in these documents to humanly instituted rites and ceremonies (or liturgy) with reference to these phrases, just as it is absent in the Augustana and the rest of the confessional witness. What we find are correct definitions of the sacraments in contradistinction to errors, like the error of the mass as a sacrifice as opposed to a comfort for consciences burdened by sin. Or the private abuse of the mass as opposed to the public use of the mass. These are just a couple of examples.
    McCain: James, I believe you are doing a fine job of sumarizing a journal article you wrote, but I respectfully submit that you are not really responding to Dr. Sonntag’s point: the blessings and benefits of liturgical uniformity which our Confessions assume, and which the confessors assume, as witnessed by their own practice. It is my observation that you seem to want to keep advancing an argument against points that nobody is actually making. In so doing, perhaps unintentionally, perhaps even without being aware of this, you are attempting to recast the discussion, which I do not believe is helpful.
    All of which data leads me to conclude that in the sixteenth century they were not defining the church liturgically. They were defining it sacramentally. Which leaves open the possibility for changing liturgical practices as changing times and circumstances warrant “for the edification of each church,” as Chemnitz wrote in his 1561 Iudicium. This is why I struggle with connecting liturgy and ecclesiology, particularly the way David Fagerberg does it in his book, “What Is Liturgical Theology,” where he makes liturgy to be the “ontological condition for theology,” following Schmemann.
    I am not referring to weekly innovation by individual congregations cut loose from everything. This is wrong, and betrays a sectarian hubris that is warned against by the sixteenth-century confessing evangelicals. The Confessions grant confessional freedom and authority to the local congregation, while making it accountable to a broader evangelical and catholic context. This is how it was understood and practiced.
    McCain: James, respectfully, I need to say that your last comment is not correct. The actual practice of the times, as witnessed in the church orders, make that clear. The notion that the Lutheran Confessors regarded congregations as autonomous, free agents, independent of others in their confessional fellowship, simply does not find support in the Book of Concord, or for that matter, Holy Scripture, but it does find a very welcome and fertile reception in America where the virtues of independence and freedom and the rugged individualism are held in such high regard.
    I know this seems completely foreign and heterodox to others following this thread. But I am compelled by the hard data to read it this way. And I hesitate to bring up FC SD X.25 and Gemein and unamquamque again. But I am genuinely open to being persuaded here, given hard data to the contrary. How can I get access to the 1584 Latin version? It is not included in BKLS. I’m afraid that’s all I have. And how can I get access to the Australian paper that has been referred to? I can’t seem to find it anywhere.
    McCain: The Australian paper is available from my blog site. If you would look at my blog posts, you will see the one referencing the Australian paper. You can download it by clicking on the link. The Concordia Triglotta provides the 1584 Latin text. I’m sure Concordia Ann Arbor has a copy.

  2. Holger Sonntag
    June 29th, 2006 at 23:08 | #2

    Many thanks to you, Rev. Waddell, for responding to my response to you.
    To allay your fears, I’m not a fan of liturgical or ecumenical theology or any combination thereof. But I, on the other hand, also can’t seem to understand why liturgies can’t be banners of the church. Lutherans worship like Lutherans, not like Evangelicals or Baptists — liturgy is an expression of theology, of the gospel and the sacraments we confess together and against the Baptist and Evangelical distortions thereof. Luther, in his 1539 On Councils and the Church, had public prayers as one mark of the church and he also granted an evangelical council the authority to come up with a joint liturgy, if my memory serves me correctly.
    As to AC VII and Ap. VII-VIII, I agree with you: our unity is theolgical-doctrinal. We are united because we believe, teach, and confess the same things. However, while Melanchthon clearly states that uniformity in ceremonies is not necessary for church fellowship, he does say that Lutherans desire to preserve them as much as theologically possible as a catechetical tool. He does that explicitly (e.g., Ap. VII-VIII,33; XV,51-52). I am, quite frankly, not aware of anyone deriving the demand for uniformity from “the right administration of the sacraments.” But maybe I need to read your recent CJ article again for actual references.
    Melanchthon thus offers a “doctrine” of universal ceremonies that is in accord with the doctrine of justification: we strive to maintain these ceremonies wherever they are theologically sound or reformable for the sake of instruction, good order, and to avoid giving offense to the weak, and we don’t observe them to merit heaven.
    I would thus summarize the Lutheran position on this matter thus: 1. the church’s unity is doctrinal, not liturgical, in nature; 2. liturgy is not made up, but reformed where that’s theologically needed; 3. liturgical uniformity is worth striving for because it fosters harmony (concordia) and outward peace and avoids giving offense to the weak brother; 4. liturgical uniformity is thus an example of love formed by faith in Christ.
    Why does every congregation need its own orders of worship? I’ve heard that every community is different and so, to meet the specific needs of the unbelievers (nicer: “seekers”) of the place, a different order is needed, at least as an alternative to the main service. — In other words, unbelievers are the point of reference for liturgical reform, not believers or God’s word.
    Is that wise? After all, while unbelievers might look really different when we look at them from a demographic, sociological, economical, psychological — worldly — point of view, these differences evaporate in the light of God’s word: there is none who seeks after God, no, not one. Besides, they are more or less deafened by the noises of this world, so the relative calm and quietness of the divine service will be strange to the near tone-deaf.
    I guess, we’re back to the old question of whether we can build bridges between sinners and the holy God. Many Evangelicals seem to believe that this is not only possible but also necessary — they believe neither in original sin nor in the power of God’s word in law and gospel (also in the liturgy). Their services look accordingly. If the service of a Lutheran church looks like that, what will visitors, and fellow Lutherans(!), think? That here the doctrine of original sin and the power of the gospel is not only confessed in word, but also in deed? Hardly. Seekers are delighted, and Lutherans are (should be) offended!
    Here’s a practical-pragmatic grassroots ecumenism at work that makes Geneva and the WCC envious, but that, in light of SD X,5 (“we must not include among the truly free adiaphora … ceremonies that are designed to give the appearance … (in order to avoid persecution) that our religion does not differ greatly from the papist religion”), should give us all some pause. What if you live in a country like ours where the loud and culturally dominating majority of Christians is, not “evil papists,” but smiling Evangelicals? Adapt the cultural patterns (incl. liturgies) developed by them, based on their faulty theology, so as to lower the threshold for those who, before moving to your town, worshiped at the non-denom. megachurch elsewhere?
    I guess, in my reading of the NT, Jesus was just not about building bridges for those desiring to exercise their weakened free will. The God he was, and the God he proclaimed, were alien to sinful man, difficult / impossible to understand. It was impossible for the worldly-wise to recognize the Lord of glory in the man on the cross.
    The utterly moral god of typical Evangelicalism is not difficult to understand for sinners to whom clings the opinio legis; indeed, one can venture to say that this god is not very different from the moral god of the Papacy Luther battled in the 16th century, despite (because of?) the additional layers of gold in their liturgies; however, both Catholic and Evangelical services are chiefly sacrificial, not sacramental. — Somebody once said that an “understandable” god is an idol. That rings true.
    And, because I’m a Lutheran, I also think that Luther also wasn’t a busy bridgebuilder in the Evangelical sense. This seems strange; after all, Luther translated the bible into German, didn’t he? He did, but his vernacular was not vulgar, which is to say: his German still preserves beautifully the holiness of God and of God’s word that strikes sinners as foreign and even forbidding. Teaching “grace alone” meant for Luther that only by grace does God’s word become “familiar” to us; there’s no natural, self-evident chumminess about God’s word any seeker could discover on his own. I’m certain his liturgies and hymns bear that out as well. “The cross is our theology,” he once said. Could somebody like that write “nice” songs for a “moving / up-beat worship event”?
    Would that our liturgies reflected God’s word faithfully also in its holiness! We can always blame a seemingly “strange” liturgy on some ivory-tower commission and then go about “customizing” it to meet our needs or the needs of those we’d like to bring into our buildings. That’s difficult when it comes to the bible, breathed by the Holy Spirit as it is. Why did he cause Paul to write in such long sentences so that even Peter felt that “some things” are hard to understand in Paul? Why did Jesus, certainly intimately familiar with the culture and even the heart of his “audiences”, fail to attract large, lasting followings?? The way out of this problem is, of course, the chummy translation which breathes a chummy liturgy and a chummy catechism. But whatever happened to repentance as a result of being confronted with God’s unfiltered law?
    Everybody their own liturgy for the sake of the lost — that sounds creative and mission-minded. But we might also fear that our creativity crowds out God’s which is in his word in law and gospel. And, with Luther, we might also legitimately fear that liturgical freedom is a cover for doctrinal aberration (who’s going to approve / supervise all those individual congregational liturgies??).
    Can we afford to have a liturgy that, to the unbelieving outsider, gives exactly that impression: that he is not a “natural” member of God’s kingdom? Liturgies sometimes function as law. Is that bad? Should we have only inviting, “gospel” liturgies that are busy bridging the gap, making the unbeliever feel at home among believers right the first time (otherwise, they won’t come back!!!)? Maybe, and that does have to do with rightly administering the sacraments, that’s one reason why more and more churches just can’t bring themselves anymore to close their altars to those of no or of a false confession — closed communion is also a form of God’s law that tells those affected by it: you’re not ok before God the way you are.
    We’ll only think that we can “afford” such strange liturgies when we understand the power of God’s word in law and gospel in the context of God’s eternal election. God chose his children before time in Christ to be saved in time for Christ’s sake by the means of grace, not by our techniques, methods, or accomodations to their shifting tastes and opinions.
    Summarizing: Luther opted for liturgical uniformity in one geographical area (ie., where people typically travel and have relatives / friends) to avoid confusion and offense to the weak; he saw this as liberty tempered by love, which sets Christian liberty apart from any abstract notions thereof. Luther also spoke in favor of liturgical uniformity to fend off theological error taking freedom as a cover for license. Melanchthon wanted the greatest possible uniformity preserved for the sake of outward harmony and peace and to avoid offense. Truly evangelical liturgy, not unlike the catechism, was for him a vehicle to teach the gospel, which is the almighty power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.
    Both teachers were as relevant then as they are today.

  3. Holger Sonntag
    July 1st, 2006 at 09:18 | #3

    After reading the Australian paper on the adiaphora in worship, I’d like to add some comments.
    I’m not quite sold on the idea that the basic power and liberty of “the Christian Church of every place and time” to reform liturgy refers to territorial churches; but, as I’ll point out in a second, I still think that the ensuing Lutheran *practice* of changing jointly within one territorial unit is perfectly justified and should guide our actions today.
    To the first point, it appears to be true (I don’t have the Triglotta) that the original Latin translation of the Book of Concord from 1584 in SD X,9 speaks of “lands” (terrae) not “places” (loci). At the same time, the German text is the primary reference, in my mind; it was the text that apparently was translated into English by the editors of the Triglotta, which made them speak of “the church of God of every place [not land] and time”.
    My hermeneutical rule would be: if the text is clear, we need not use other texts; if the text is not clear, we use other texts, beginning with the Latin translation. “Jdes Orts” seems sufficiently clear, therefore …
    The Australian paper rightly points out that, according to AC XXVIII,53, bishops or pastors may make orders of service etc. In my reading of AC XXVIII, Melanchthon reestablishes, based on Scripture, the pastoral office *on the congregational level* as the basic office of Christendom, while Catholics (and Anglicans later) maintain that it is the episcopal office which holds all the powers in the church.
    This seems to confirm that, yes, every congregation has the freedom and power to change adiaphorous practices, which is smaller than the power to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments, which it also has.
    However, and now we come to the second, equally important point, as Luther said (and Melanchthon and the FC in their way reiterated), there is freedom (which is an inalianable freedom because it is granted by the gospel!), but this freedom, for the sake of love and faith, may not always be exercised! This crucial qualification, which is often overlooked in today’s age obsessed with freedom (hey, it’s 4th of July Weekend!), leads to the actual practice that Lutherans changed orders of worship jointly, on a territorial scale, in a conciliar way. This is the small, but important distinction between a congregational and a congregationalistic understanding of church.
    In my mind, SD X,9 affirms both the basic Christian liberty from ceremonies, which, congregationally, results in a liberty to reform ceremonies, *and* the Christian committment to love. Note especially the key words: “without thoughtlessness and offense, in an orderly and becoming way, as … may be regarded most profitable, most beneficial, and best for preserving good order … Moreover, how we can yield and give way with a good conscience to the weak in the faith … Rom. 14 … 1 Cor. 9″
    I’d say that it’s the self-understanding of the FC especially to restate Luther (chiefly against a Melanchthonianism gone dysfunctional). This needs to be brought to bear on the interpretation of FC X as well: freedom, even on a local level — yes! But this freedom needs to be tempered by love (Luther frequently quoted Rom. 14 etc. in this context!). I can’t see the confessors of 1577 endorsing 21st-century American individualism and one-upmanship. They would have regarded it as offensive disorder which sooner or later destroys the gospel instead of edifying the church of God.
    Historically, this is where Lutheranism parted company with the peasants and enthusiasts who wanted to remake the freedom of the gospel into a (church-)political formula. Faith is individual (everyone believes for himself), Luther made this perfectly clear, esp. in his first Invocavit-sermon which he preached to counter the unloving “reform” of the church by Carlstadt in Wittenberg anno 1522. But faith, because it brings forth love, is not individualism, neither on a personal nor on a congregational level.
    I offer a quote from Luther’s 1539 On Councils and the Church, where Luther not only makes public prayer “in accordance with the word of God and true faith” a mark of the church (AE 41:164), but where he also has this to say (p. 131):
    “Tenth, a council has the power to institute some ceremonies, provided, first, that they do not strengthen the bishops’ tyranny; second, that they are useful and profitable to the people and show fine, orderly discipline and conduct. Thus it is necessary, for example, to have certain days, and also places where one can assemble; also certain hours for preaching and for the public administration of the sacraments, for praying, singing, praising and thanking God, etc.—as St. Paul says, I Corinthians 14 [:40], “All things should be done decently and in order.” Such items do not serve the bishops’ tyranny, but only the people’s need, profit, and order. In summary, *these must and cannot be dispensed with if the church is to survive.*”
    I submit that “ceremonies” here means more than the place and time of worship, even though the exact extent of Luther’s “etc.” needs to be derived from his earlier urging that pastors in one area need to come together to arrive at the specific, uniform form of the worship to avoid confusion (cf. AE 53:45ff.). The Melanchthon speaking in AC and Ap would certainly agree.
    I add one quote from the silver age of the LCMS (Popular Symbolics, CPH 1934, p. 21): “There is indeed *no absolute liturgical uniformity* in the Lutheran Church. Any service is truly Lutheran which preaches and praises the grace of God. The Lutheran Church knows when and where to be liberal. … But while the Lutheran Church does not insist on a full and uniform liturgy, *she frowns upon undue individualism*. She points out that *the greatest possible measure of uniformity* serves the interest of *order and edification* [referenced Ap. VII-VIII,33; SD X,9!, and AE 53:45ff.]. Due to another trait of Lutheranism, its conservatism, the Lutheran order of worship, purged of the offenses which had crept into the liturgy, *retains* what wisdom and experience of the Church offered *for the edification of the people* [references Ap. VII-VIII,33; XV,38; XXIV,1].” — That is, again, freedom tempered by walking together in love, or, as the Australians put it so well, “solidarity in worship.”
    The Christian is, by faith, a free lord over all things AND, by love, a servant duty-bound to serve all men — that’s the “program” of the Lutheran reformation in a nutshell. If our discussion on liturgy reveals anything, then it is that we’re still grappling with a Lutheran understanding of this simple, but profound biblical “program” of Luther’s.

  4. Bill Kerner
    July 1st, 2006 at 12:59 | #4

    These sound like good ideas in the abstract, but I wonder how they will play out in practice. By way of an analogy (which, like all alalogies, will be imperfect) you might look to the smaller controversy over the mode of taking communion.
    When I became a Lutheran, in the early 70′s, All Lutherans I was aware of took Holy Communion kneeling, at a Communion rail, from a common cup. This distinguished our practice from the reformed churches I had formerly attended, and I thought it was one of the distinctively Lutheran forms of worship that was an integral part of Lutheran worship. Also, while not required, the common cup had the advantages of creating a much clearer atmosphere of actual “communion” with my fellow believers, and above all, more focus on the Sacrament itself.
    By the early 80′s, however, complaints arose about the common cup. Some people thought taking Communion this way was unsanitary. I actually participated in a study for my local congregation about this, and the health risk concerns were almost completely unfounded. I could find no documented case of the spread of disease from the common cup. In fact, the risk of catching an airborne disease from sitting next to the fellow believers in the pews was far greater, even in theory, than the miniscule, and purely theoretical, chance of catching a disease from drinking from the common cup. Nobody ever suggested that we not sit together.
    Yet, Lutheran practice has changed. Individual cup communion is probably more in use today than common cup communion. Some churches offer each at a different service; some offer both at the same service (which is really confusing to a visitor, by the way). And, I have recently taken Communion whereby the pastor holds a chalice with a little spout, and then pours the wine into a previously empty individual cup which the communicant is supposed to pick up on the way to the Communion rail.
    My understanding of the rationale behind all of this foolishness is that the clergy were concerned that some people would refuse to receive the Sacrament if they were afraid to catch some kind of disease from it. Since encouraging the laity to take Communion often was the over-riding principle, and since those who saw the benefits of the common cup were unlikely to refuse to take Communion from the individual cups, the weaker position of the individual cup has been largely adopted.
    Do we not have the same problem with our liturgy? No matter what form our worship takes, some people will not like it and will go elsewhere. Another difference between the Reformation era and today is that no margrave is going to standardize the worship practices for all churches in his jurisdiction. Whatever decision is made will drive *somebody* away. So, now the question becomes, who is best qualified to decide which manner of worship is most likely to attract the most people in a local area and drive away the fewest? Is it the local pastor who ministers to those very people, or a well meaning (but far away) bureaucracy in St. Louis? What concessions can properly be made to the local culture of the country that ministry is in? Remember, even in the USA, this is not a uniform culture. Regional cultures are still very strong, but the people in each of them still need to hear the Truth of God’s Law and Gospel. How do we convey it to all of them without varying the methods from place to place, or even from congregation to congregation?

  5. Holger Sonntag
    July 2nd, 2006 at 17:58 | #5

    Ah, practice vs. theory. I’d be willing to allow for some local variations so long as we are *striving* for liturgical uniformity. But, by and large, it seems we’re not striving anymore. Everybody is doing their own little thing, and many think that’s just fine.
    I guess, at some point, there comes the question of whether one’s local/regional subculture is more important to a person than being united with fellow Lutherans.
    Maybe this whole “being united in the faith” business is too abstract a notion for most folks to begin with. Some might not want to look beyond their congregation. Others might not even know what the faith is we’re united in. — Why should I want to be united liturgically with those who just happen to be under what I perceive to be some ultimately exchangeable / disposable bureaucratic umbrella organization? That’s the $64.000.000 question.
    As I noted in my earlier post, there’s a relationship between ecclesiology and liturgy. The crisis of the liturgy is as much a crisis of the church.
    The church, no doubt, is an article of faith. But for the Reformers this never meant it’s just some abstract idea or, as it was called then, a “Platonic republic” — good in theory, but not workable in practice. As Melanchthon emphatically put it in Ap. VII-VIII: it has people and it has outward marks!
    And here, in my view, is where our problems start: church beyond the congregation is often only “invisible”, abstract, since the neighbors often are not only doing their thing, they also seem to believe their thing. What do we have in common beyond a shared heritage? Why should we therefore love them by striving to be liturgically uniform with them? We might as well demand we better have the same liturgy as folks in Germany or Australia.
    Those are indeed practical challenges we need to understand well to tackle them. But, if I may bring up Immanuel Kant here, when theory and practice seem to fall apart, what’s needed is not less theory but more — which means for us: more theology, not less. And theology is actually not “theory” but “reality” — God’s reality, that is, which is not always obvious to our fallen five senses and which we therefore find in God’s word. And yet, we should strive to make life conform to what shapes faith, driving the old Adam out more and more and letting our resurrection life, given to us in baptism, shape our love and life in the body more and more even before the resurrection of the dead.
    This whole discussion on liturgy always reminds me how important it would be to have a better understanding of how faith shapes love (and culture as the totality of all expressions of love) — caritas fide formata — and a practice growing out of this deeper understanding. In Evangelicalism we have, at best, a kind of cultural Nestorianism (faith and culture as two boards glued together): use pop melodies with Christian lyrics — at worst we have a cultural Eutychianism (culture overwhelms faith — kind of fides caritate formata, or not?): use pop melodies for pop lyrics; that’s at least consistent and, therefore, convincing to the old Adam. See the Jesus Freaks.
    As they do in Christology, Lutherans should be the ones preserving the golden biblical mean when it comes to love and culture in general. Unless we manage to express this in our generation, we’re condemned to borrowing from other religious cultures, whether they be Evangelical or Catholic or Eastern Orthodox (or even 17th-century Lutheran Orthodox!). And, in my mind, the statue of Mary with shrine, which precipitated this whole discussion, is an example of a congregation searching for giving the faith a “cultural” expression, just as the praise band is such a one — but both ultimately, and for different reasons, fall short of what Lutherans could, and should, come up with (and in the past — Bach, P. Gerhardt — did come up with). Faith forms love, faith forms liturgy, faith forms culture — a complex challenge! The 16th – 18th centuries relied on a whole cultural apparatus (schools, universities, etc. informed by Lutheran theology, starting with Luther and Melanchthon) to meet that challenge under their circumstances (neither Paul Gerhardt nor Bach just happened!), but this apparatus is, today, by and large gone down the tubes (and I’m not speaking primarily about the Concordias…).

  6. Bill Kerner
    July 3rd, 2006 at 11:36 | #6

    The point on which I agree with you most is that Lutheranism is searching for a means of expressing its Biblical truths that is not borrowed from other religious cultures. (I may now betray my ignorance of church history, having not read nearly enough of it, but anyway).
    It seems to me that the former controversies among Lutherans have been focused on doctrine (i.e. how seriously do we have to take the Bible and the Confessions in a culture that has “modernized”?) The ELCA has made its choice to change along with the greater Western culture. Confessional Lutherans, like LCMS and WELS have chosen to hold onto Lutheran doctrine despite the changing culture. I have read that part of the reason for this is that the LCMS and the WELS are descended from Germans who left Germany to avoid an edict that the Lutheran and Reform churches unite. They were therefore particularly resistant to ecumenism in the USA. To avoid being assimilated religiously as well as culturally, the Lutherans of the 19th century turned inward, developing school systems, and even other institutions like hospitals and insurance companies designed to keep Lutherans united in practice as well as in theory. The emphasis was on keeping Lutheran children Lutheran. If this could be successful, “church growth” would take care of itself. This worked for awhile. If your were Scandinavian, or a German and not Roman Catholic, you were likely to be a Lutheran. However, in the last half of the 20th century, things began to change. Thechnological advances have changed the structure of American society such that adult children readily move thousands of miles away from their parents and we are bombarded in the media with all kinds of ideas that could be more easily screened in the past. Culturally, it is no longer assumed that an American is a Christian. This only scratches the surface of the cultural changes around us, but the result is that the old methods of preserving Lutheranism as part of a pre-existing subculture no longer work as well as they did.
    In the face of this reality, Confessional Lutherans have preached our doctrine, and administered the Sacraments, but (I am told, anyway) we are still losing membership. Therefore, everybody is looking for a new gimmick. Since we have been unable to solve the problem outselves, we turn to what is apparently working for someone else (e.g. powerpoint orders of service or shrines to the Blessed Virgin).
    Pr. Sontag, you suggest liturgical uniformity as a partial solution to our search for a Lutheran identity. I don’t know if I completely agree with you. While Christian love may compel me and my neighbor to confine ourselves to similar orders of worship, might not Christian love also compel me to allow my neighbor to worship with music he finds helpful to his worship while he allows me to worship with an order of service that is helpful to me?
    This is not to say that I don’t think you are generally correct. I think that the reality of each congregation feeling free to worship however it pleases, without any restrictions at all, leads to disunity. Worse, too much imitation of hetrodox church worship seems (from my experience anyway) to lead to creeping adoption of the hetrodox doctrines on which those practises are based. For example, today we see Lutheran churches on one hand seeking to eliminate close communion and ordain women, and on the other hand we see other Lutheran churches trying to incorporate into Lutheranism things like the Festival of Corpus Christi.
    We are also facing the problem of the highly individualistic nature of our society, coupled with the fact that the autonomy of the congregation has always been a characteristic of LCMS doctrine and practice. Therefore, if we are to achieve unity through some degree of uniformity, the reasons for that uniformity must be taught to both clergy and laity at the times and in places where both can be most easily reached. As a layman, I know very little of the history of the liturgy or of the purpose most of it serves. Much of what I do know has been learned through personal study and participating in fora like this one. For example, I don’t think anyone has ever explained to me what a “collect” is, or why we should say one every Sunday. My point is that I think Lutherans need to explain such things very badly. I personally believe that every Lutheran service (even if some orders of service have not traditionally done so) should open with a Trinitarian invocation. One of our points of unity is that we worship the Triune God, and we should say so…every time. I also believe that Lutherans should always confess our sins and be absolved prior to taking communion. One of our points of unity is our recognition that we are all sinners in need of forgiveness, and we come to the cross (and receive the Sacrament) to receive that forgiveness. So we should confess and be absolved prior to taking communion…every time. There are surely more elements of the liturgy that demonstrate similar points of unity between us, and I may be able to think of them if I try, but the point is that I should not have to try nearly so hard. The unifying purposes of the elements of the Liturgy should be much better understood than they are, and that means they must be taught.

  7. Bryan Gerlach
    July 6th, 2006 at 16:35 | #7

    Holger Sonntag wrote on June 29:
    Summarizing: Luther opted for liturgical uniformity in one geographical area (ie., where people typically travel and have relatives / friends) . . .
    And Paul McCain wrote on June 28:
    The actual practice of the times, as witnessed in the church orders, make that clear [i.e., that local congregations did NOT operate with freedom to alter regional liturgical norms]. The notion that the Lutheran Confessors regarded congregations as autonomous, free agents, independent of others in their confessional fellowship, simply does not find support in the Book of Concord . . . .
    Here are some unedited comments from a pastor conference presentation.
    It seems fair to say that the Formula does not speak directly to a widely independent approach to “congregational choice” commonly understood today. Does this mean then that congregations are not free to make these decisions? Not quite. The concept of adiaphora rests on biblical principles. Matters of adiaphora in worship may not be (legalistically) imposed on congregations. But while we recognize this biblical principle, we also have an obligation not to warp history or the confessions into saying something they do not say and which Lutheran history denies.
    Rather than saying “every congregation is free to do as it pleases,” it is more accurate to say the Formula espouses two key liturgical principles: 1) profound respect for the past and for continuity with the historic liturgy; 2) the value of a degree of liturgical consistency from parish to parish. We might say “from parish to parish within a region” but then we must also beware of anachronistic analogies. An anachronistic application might suggest that the Michigan District will aim for a degree of consistency while the South Central District will perhaps aim for a different consistency. But our national mobility and interaction within WELS far surpass similar factors in the 16th-17th centuries. Thus one might conclude that the Formula supports a degree of consistency in WELS worship.
    Is this then an argument for hymnal-only uniformity in WELS? Hardly, as the next section will demonstrate.
    [The "next section" was "Confessional perspectives implemented (Kirchenordnungen)." This was followed by an exploration of the actual repertoire used in Lutheran worship. Some excerpts from that section follow.]
    From the many published collections as well as inventories of actual music held by various [17th century Lutheran] churches, we gain an impression of vigorous and dynamic variety. Certainly an unwavering use of TLH page 5/15 for two or three decades was not a 20th century application of historic Lutheran variety. This variety suggests part of an answer to our inquiry about “acceptable range of practice” within WELS today. Here are four observations and applications.
    First, historic Lutheran worship was, generally, higher than any current manifestations of “high church” in WELS. Nevertheless, there were variations within historic Lutheran worship in at least two ways. (1) Town and campus worship was richer both because these places had access to greater resources and because of familiarity with Latin and thus access to the vast Latin repertoire of church music. Village worship was simpler and less likely to use Latin. (2) Festivals tended to be “higher church” compared to nonfestival Sundays. Considering these two points, it is only natural that there be a range of practice within WELS based both on resources available and customs followed on festivals. Thus larger parishes commonly make us of brass quartets and alternatim praxis for hymns or concertatos, and some parishes use a procession on festivals, but not regular Sundays.
    Second, should WELS be united by use of a common liturgy? Most will answer yes, with two applications: (1) a common liturgical structure, so that the flow of worship makes sense to those who transfer membership and so that this flow reinforces our theology of worship; and (2) a common liturgical repertoire that gives a visible expression to our unity and that, again, is useful in a mobile society. But these values need not lead to a 21st century parallel to two or three decades of TLH page 5/15, a rut that never should have held us for so long. Too often talk about a common liturgy is understood to mean a rigidly exclusive structure and repertoire. That’s not surprising, since that’s what we did: used almost exclusively page 5/15 for so long. But the early Lutheran model encourages far greater variety. Thus parishes may well develop their own expanded repertoires of liturgical settings. …
    Third, applying the principles evident in historic Lutheran worship prevents liturgical worship from appearing to limit creativity and variety. Note historic use of both existing plainsong repertoire and newly composed and more elaborate repertoire. One application of this approach concerns the musical settings we use for the Psalm and Verse of the Day. Singing the psalms has met with wide approval in WELS, but a musical rut could develop if we use only the psalms from the hymnal. Similarly, the Verse settings published by NPH provide simple and accessible music that works with almost any resource: choir of adults or children, soloist, cantor (even presiding minister), duet. But a steady “one size fits all” diet of these settings might also lead to a rut. …
    Fourth, when liturgical worship demonstrates variety and vitality, it might be judged more satisfying by more people. This satisfaction level might well remove some of the pressure for worship styles usually judged to be less Lutheran. Thus a strategy for variety and creativity within Lutheran parameters—which broadens and diversifies current “range of practice”—also promotes a creative unity within that range of practice. This increased satisfaction level also should be expected to have a positive impact on outreach and member retention. I mention this not as a sociological strategy to pursue for the sake of outreach or member retention but rather as a sort of apologetic to fortify confidence in Lutheran liturgical worship. (We make worship choices first on the basis of theology, not pragmatic sociology.)
    Now, with a vast horizon of possibilities before us, what do we do? What does a parish do? It cultivates a core repertoire (mostly hymnal) and then a wider repertoire appropriate to its setting and resources.

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