Why Beautiful Liturgy and Liturgical Practices Are Not Enough
There is no doubt that the liturgical life in the Lutheran Church, generally, and in my own branch of it, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, in particular, has been undergoing in the past fifty years a genuine renewal in reclaiming the wholesome, beautiful liturgical practices and structures that were commonplace throughout Lutheranism in the age of orthodoxy. Ironically, at the same time, we have seen the rise of an intentional departure from the ancient, catholic liturgical order that always marked the historic communion service, or, as it is known in the western catholic church, the Mass.
Debates, pro and con, about the liturgy are important, but…in the midst of the debates we need to take great pains to be clear on one very important point. Beautiful liturgies and liturgical practices are not enough to safeguard the confession and doctrine of the church. One can have the most beautiful liturgical practices, the most beautiful forms, rites, vestments and ornamentation, and fall far short of the proper glory of God because the confession of the church has departed from the old markers. And it is certainly no solution to embrace a liturgical life that looks only little differently from the a-sacramental and anti-sacramental so-called “Evangelical” churches with which we are surrounded here in the USA. As the church believes, so it prays, as the proper form of the ancient formula “lex orandi, lex credendi” should be properly understood.
We have seen horrendous monstrosities going on in the very midst of the most beautiful ceremonies and full regalia, with all the proper motions, rubrics and otherwise followed quite nicely when, for example, we have witnessed the ordination of actively homosexual persons within the Anglican and Lutheran churches of Europe and America. You can put a dress on a pig, but it still a pig.
Hermann Sasse has these wise words on this important matter.
“It is no mere coincidence that the end of the seventeenth century, when men were no longer taking the doctrine of faith seriously, also witnessed the departure of the confessional from Lutheran churches and at the same time the silencing of its great hymns of praise and thanksgiving. When will men stop this idle talk about “dead orthodoxy,” a charge that is completely without historical foundation, resting only on a dogma of Pietism— for Pietism has also had its dogmas, and some very obvious ones at that. This connection between confession of sins, confession of faith, and the praise of God could be demonstrated as occurring in other denominations as well, e.g., in the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages, whose great theologians were also great liturgists, or in the Eastern Church, where “orthodoxy” has always meant both the true doctrine and the true praise of God. It would be entirely wrong to proceed from this connection to the conclusion which is so often drawn today, namely, that it is enough if the Church worships God with glorious hymns and liturgies and that the Creed is only a part of the liturgy. Many modern Protestants are perfectly willing to join in singing those old hymns of praise which glorify the incarnation of the eternal Son of God or the divine mystery of the Trinity. But that does not yet mean that they accept these respective articles of faith as true. In addition to their liturgical function, therefore, these Creeds have another side, according to which they serve as formulations of doctrine. And this dare not be surrendered. In heaven this confession will indeed be purely an act of praise (Phil. 2: 11, also the great hymns of the Apocalypse). For in heaven there will be no more error, no more heresies. And Antichrist, who leads men into misbelief and unbelief, will finally be overcome. But here on earth the praise of God with its implied confession of belief in Him is accompanied by a declaring of the content of this faith, of simple judgment of fact, of articles of faith which the believer holds to be true. “Born of the Virgin Mary,” “of one essence with the Father”— those are statements that one cannot pray and cannot sing unless one believes them to be true, even as one should not sing, “Blest and Holy Trinity, Praise forever be to Thee!” if one no longer believes this doctrine. The fact that modern Protestants do this nevertheless is a symptom of the decline of the evangelical churches and explains the greater strength of Catholicism. There is no church on earth without a real confession that it takes seriously. The liturgy itself is an outgrowth of such a confession, and the pope was perfectly right when, in his encyclical Mediator Dei, 5 he reminded the liturgical movement of the Roman Church that the familiar dictum Lex supplicandi, lex credendi [“ the law of praying is the law of believing,” i.e., what is prayed is believed] not only can but also must be inverted. Just as it is certain that in the history of the Church a dogma is usually first prayed and then defined as an article of faith, just so certainly the liturgy is preceded by confession of faith in the original Church.”
Sasse, Herman (2013-01-09). Letters to Lutheran Pastors – Volume 1: “Concerning the Nature of the Confession of the Church,” (Kindle Locations 2201-2217).