When Luther Made Fun of A Guy Overly Fascinated with Rubrics and Rituals
I know this is going to make some people angry, but I think it is about time we realize that when some among us say that there is a certain “level” of liturgical activity that marks what is really Lutheran or really liturgical, they are just whistling Dixie. Appealing to older practices is fine, to a point, but I’ve noticed that in reacting to really, really BAD practices among us, such as Lutheran churches dropping the name Lutheran, and ditching the liturgy, the reaction against those errors winds up just causing a problem in the other direction.
In his work documenting liturgical practices in the territory of Braunschweig, Bodo Nischan shared a delightful incident when Luther let the prince in the territory have it with both barrels. For you see, this man was very concerned with making sure they had all the liturgical finery possible and that the preachers were draped in pretty, shiny chasubles. Luther had to remind the good man that there is more to worship, liturgy and the church’s life together than obsessing over rites, rituals and rubrics in the Divine Service. There were calls in the area for continued Roman practices, which Luther rejected, such as consecrating the elements first in church and taking them to communicants, or keeping them stored up in a ciborium. And then, Luther tried to calm the anxiety of a man who was feeling bad about being forced to continue to engage in elaborate rituals:
Provided the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached purely with no human additions and the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are observed, with no invocation of the saints, no carrying of the sacrament in procession, no daily masses and vigils for the dead, no holy water and salt, and provided that pure hymns are sung in Latin and German, then it does not matter if there be a cross of gold or silver, whether the cope be of saffron, silk, or linen; and if the Elector is not content to put on one gown, let him have three, the way Aaron wore them, one on top of another; and if doesn’t find one procession enough, let him go around seven times like Joshua with trumpets blowing; and if wants to leap with the harp, psalter, and cymbals, let him dance like David before the ark. Conscience is not to be bound, and if we have given up these practices in Wittenberg, we may have reasons which are not valid in Berlin. Except where God has commanded, let there be freedom. [Nichan, p. 22]
You see, dear reader, much as some among us would like to make you think that there is some certain “best” way to do the liturgy and that the wearing of certain vestments is the “most” or “more” Lutheran way of doing things, they are wrong and while they may want to give you the impression that unless you reach their “level” of liturgical correctness and hold your hands just so, and gesticulate in just the right way, they have no right to do so. They have no right to put themselves in the place of judging the content of the Synod’s hymnals or liturgies, or indicating that such content is not “good enough” or that there is some “better” way. Such things are every bit as damaging to our fellowship as Pastor Bob with his polo shirt and jeans parading around like a non-denominational preacher. And we must be willing to say it is or we have no credibility to criticize the other side of the coin.
Source: Prince, People, and Confession: The Second Reformation in Brandenburg by Bodo Nischan.