Archive for the ‘Liturgy and Worship Trends’ Category

What is the Lectionary? Where did we get it? Why is it important?

June 14th, 2013 3 comments



The other day a person asked us here at Concordia Publishing House where, exactly, did the lectionary systems Lutherans use today come from. Great question! My colleague, Rev. Scot Kinnaman, prepared a very helpful summary history that I thought I would pass along here. I added just a bit to it here and there. As Scot notes elsewhere when he first posted these materials, “It should be noted. Much of this article was first put together several years ago when several of us pastors in the circuit were keenly interested in the historic lectionary, and there was not talk yet of a new hymnal (probably 1997—1998).” I’ve since learned that Rev. Alexander Ring prepared papers on this topic and some of his materials were incorporated in the material below as well. In fact, Rev. Ring gracious sent me copies of the papers he did on this subject back in the late 1990s and I’m making them available to you here, for even more detail. Thanks, Alex! Pastor Ring’s papers provide much more detail and I’m sure you will find them very useful. The following are PDF files.

Path of Understanding by Rev. Alexander Ring: Path of Understanding – Ring

The Organization of the Historic Lectionary by Rev. Alexander Ring: Organization of the Historic Lectionary

ILCW/RCL Omissions and Edits by Rev. Alexander Ring: ILCW:RCL Omissions and Edits

Bibliography on the Lectionary, for further study, by Rev. Alexander Ring: Lectionary Bibliography for Further Study

First, let me explain what a “lectionary” is. It is a series of readings from the Bible used every Sunday in congregational worship. In addition, there are readings appointed to be read on every major feast and festival day in the Church year, which often do not fall on a Sunday.

A lectionary, when used properly and consistently, permits the preacher to preach through the whole counsel of God in an orderly manner, in a way that is both memorable and thematic. The entire thematic structure of the Church Year itself is reflected in the lectionary reading choices as well. Honestly, liturgical churches that use a lectionary take it totally for granted, but it comes as quite a revelation (no pun intended) for those who know nothing about it and learn of it for the first time.

Today the lectionaries used in Lutheran and other liturgical churches include a reading from one of the four Gospels, a reading from some other book in the New Testament, generally the Epistles, and a reading from the Old Testament. The Gospel reading is considered the main reading and the other readings are intended to support the preaching on, and explanation of, the content of the Gospel reading. In Lutheran and other liturgical churches, we stand for the reading of the Gospel, in honor of Christ who is often the one speaking in the Gospel reading, or being spoken about directly.

It is generally accepted that what we know today as the “historic lectionary” was first established by Jerome (c. A.D. 342-­420). Having the name of Jerome attached to the lectionary made it influential on its own, but when it was later included in the Leonine Sacramentary it became a standard text for the Western Church. The oldest extant copy of this Sacramentary dates from seventh century. A “sacramentary” is a book that contained everything the priest would say during the worship service. At this time, the lectionary provided assigned readings only for the Church Year seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, with the rest of the year covered by optional readings, as chosen either by the local pastor or local bishop.

When Charlemagne decided to standardize liturgical practices in his domain, which included basically what we know as Western and Central Europe, his religious advisor, Alcuin (c. 735-­804), prepared a revision of Jerome’s work.  This standardized worship in the Western Church and put everyone, quite literally, on the same page, at least for the festival part of the year, the first half of the Church Year.

The next major change to the lectionary would not come until the 13th century with the  establishment of Holy Trinity as a major festival in the Church. Holy Trinity soon came to dominate the second half of the church year, and with that came the establishment of assigned “propers” for the entire year so that by the end of the 13th century the liturgical practice of the Western Church, year round, was governed by the Historic lectionary, though it wouldn’t be until the Council of Trent that the Roman Church actually enforced and stabilized its use. The “propers” are those readings during the worship service that change from Sunday to Sunday, and from festival to festival. They include in addition to the Scripture readings: readings from the Psalms, shorter biblical texts for transitioning from reading to reading, and a prayer for each Sunday and festival, known as a collect. Together these readings are known as “propers” as distinct from the “ordinaries,” which are those portions of the liturgy that remain the same, Sunday to Sunday. A good way to remember the differences is simply to say, “It is proper to change the propers, but ordinaries ordinarily do not change.”

During the Reformation the question wasn’t, “Should the lectionary be changed?” only whether it should be used at all. While Zwingli and others Refomers liked him abolished the use of lectionaries, along with the observation of the church year all together, Calvin substituted a continuous reading through the Bible, called a lectio continuo, in place of the historic lectionary, since he saw homiletical value in having some sort of assigned reading, even while he too wanted to do away with the liturgical practices of the Western Church.

The Lutherans, on the other hand, believed that the lectionary did not promote false doctrine and so they retained the historic lectionary with only slight revisions—the most notable being they added propers for Trinity 25 and 26, and most Lutherans moved  Transfiguration from August 6 to the last Sunday after Epiphany, though the date to observe Transfiguration was retained by some Lutherans, most notably, the Church of Sweden.

Luther directed that the historic lectionary should be used in both of his revisions to the Roman Catholic Mass and published them in his Formula Missae [Form of the Mass] and Deutsche Messe [German Mass] (these documents are found in the American Edition of Luther’s Works, Vol. 25). All Lutheran altar books continued to use the historic lectionary. Even the Augsburg Confession and the Apology testify to its official use in Lutheran congregations (Article XXVI and Apology, XXIV.1). For the next 400 years, Lutheran retained this common historic lectionary, along with  Roman Catholics and Anglicans. It served as the basis for preaching and devotional books, hymnody and church music, and even until the mid 20th century was included in every Lutheran hymnal.

There certainly is a history of other lectionaries being prepared. Even in Luther’s day, it is recorded that among the Lutheran there were different lectionaries begin used. It is important and useful to note that these were not individualistic undertakings, but that all the churches in a district or area would be using the same ‘variation’. In 1896, the Eisenach Conference churches of the Prussian Union  produced a lectionary, popularized in the United States by a Lutheran professor, Richard Lenski, when he published his notes on the series. The Synodical Conference (a group of conservative American Lutheran churches) produced a one year lectionary series which was adopted in 1912 and included by the framers of The Lutheran Hymnal as a “Second Series” available for use on Sundays (TLH, p. 159ff). In 1868, the Scandinavian Lutheran Church produced a three-year lectionary for their use. Yet often these alternate lectionaries were produced not to supplant the Historic lectionary but to supplement it, often adding Old Testament readings or offering alternate texts for preaching. The patterns and themes of the Historic lectionary were maintained.

Fifteen years after the release of The Lutheran Hymnal in 1941, American Lutheran church bodies were seeking a revision. In 1965 the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod resolved to appoint a commission that would work with other Lutheran church bodies to produce a new common hymnal. On February 10, 1966 representatives of the LCMS, the American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church in America met in Chicago and formed what would become the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW).  Later, representatives of the Slovak Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada (ELCIC) joined the Commission. Among other issues, the ILCW dealt with the church year calendar and proposed a multi-year lectionary, citing a “widespread restiveness with the appointed readings, a great deal of experimentation, and a desire for either reform of the pericopes or a completely new lectionary,” resulting from “a variety of influences in current theology, social-ethical involvements, developments in worship practice, and especially the influential biblical theology movement of recent decades” (Contemporary Worship 6: The Church Year Calendar and Lectionary. Prepared by the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House; Philadelphia: Board of Publications of the Lutheran Church in America; St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1973. p. 13).

These sentiments were obviously heavily influenced by the same changes going on in the Roman Catholic Church, leading to the decision by Vatican II to publish a new lectionary system, the Ordo Lectionum Missae , released in 1969. This new  three-year series that supplanted the Historic Lectionary throughout much of the Roman Catholic Church. The next year the Protestant Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church and United Church of Christ adopted the Ordo as a basis for their new lectionaries. Having already set aside concern for loyalty to the received heritage and reverence for Western tradition, the ILCW simply followed suit when in 1973 the ILCW published its version of the three-year Roman Ordo. The ILCW three-year series established a lectio continua of synoptic gospel assigned to each year: “Year A” focuses on Matthew, “Year B” on Mark and “Year C” on Luke. John is featured in all three series during the Sundays after Easter, and appears extensively along with Mark in Year B especially in Advent, Christmas and Lent. The Three-Year series assigned a First Lesson, usually the Old Testament, to coordinate with the Gospel reading. A lectio continua, reading of the Epistles was assigned to each year with no special effort to coordinate the Epistle with the Gospel selection.

With the inclusion of the ILCW three-year series in the LCMS’ hymnal Lutheran Worship (1982), the ELCA’s Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), WELS’ Christian Worship (1993), and the ELS’ Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (1996), this series quickly became popular in Lutheran circles. Even though the ILCW had offered a revision of the historic (one-year) lectionary  to be included with the three-year series, within fifteen years its use had sharply fallen.

However common and widely used it was among Lutherans, the ILCW three-year series become one of the most short-lived lectionary series. Two years after the formation of the ILCW, representatives of the ELCA, ELCIC and LCMS had joined an ecumenical group called the Consultation on Common Texts (CCT). Composed of biblical, linguistic and liturgical scholars from various Christian denominations, their purpose was to prepare worship texts and materials for use in North America, including lectionaries. In 1978 they sponsored a meeting in Washington DC whose purpose was to form a committee which would reconcile the differences between the various denominational uses of the three-year series. Ultimately the LCMS withdrew from this group. In 1983 the remaining members published the Common Lectionary.

The biggest change in the Common Lectionary over its ILCW predecessor was the revision of Old Testament Lessons. The framers of the ILCW lectionaries had selected texts with reference to their New Testament fulfillment (typological approach). The CCT questioned the validity of imposed typology on the Old Testament scriptures. Instead, the Common Lectionary used a pattern of semicontinuous readings, which were essentially independent from the Gospel. The CCT also included an appointed Psalm  in the Sunday readings. Another notable change was the adoption of the Episcopal Church’s practice of replacing the “Sundays after Pentecost” with “Propers” keyed to the civil calendar. Simply put, the Common Lectionary very much reflects the liberal view of the Scriptures and purposely moves away from the belief that the Old Testament is directly predictive of the events in the life of Christ, etc.

The Common Lectionary was first used on a trial basis by a number of Lutheran and Episcopal congregations. The first church officially to adopt it for use in their congregations was the  Anglican Church of Canada in 1985. Early on the Common Lectionary received a number of criticisms, These were directed especially from Lutheran, Episcopal and Roman Catholic sources. Ultimately, and in  response to those criticisms, the CCT published the Revised Common Lectionary in 1992. In addition three versions of the RLC were framed to taken into account criticism of the earlier Old Testament selections: There is a Roman Catholic version which at times uses readings from the Apocrypha for the Old Testament Lesson. And then there are two Protestant versions, one in which the typological approach to assigning the Old Testament lesson matched to the Gospel is used, and the other with the semicontinuous Old Testament readings. The increasing influence of social issues on the selection of texts is seen in the revisions of the RCL as added are more stories of women of faith, and the elimination of texts deemed to appear anti-Semitic when taken out of their cultural and religious context of the Ancient Near East.

The RCL has become the lectionary of the Episcopal Church, the ELCA and ELCIC. It is the official lectionary of the United Methodist Church, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ. The LCMS never adopted the RCL. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod published a new hymnal, Lutheran Service Book, in 2006. The three year lectionary was carefully reviewed and slightly revised, so that at this point, the three year lectionary in use by The LCMS and the Lutheran Church—Canada is unique and distinct, in various ways, from the three-year series used in the Roman Catholic Church and other liturgical church bodies. But, overall, the same general structure and approach is used.

At the time the Lutheran Service Book hymnal was published, due to increasing interest in the older historic lectionary, for the first time since The Lutheran Hymnal, there was now again support for the one-year historic lectionary, with a separate lectionary book published. At this time it is estimated that as many as 800 LCMS congregations have chosen to use the one year lectionary, or keep using it. The Missouri Synod’s publishing company, Concordia Publishing House, will be releasing an every Sunday bulletin line for the historic lectionary, for the first time in over thirty years. The following offers more insight into the work of the Lutheran Service Book committees:

From the beginning of the development of LSB, the Lectionary Committee determined that both the three and one-year lectionaries would be included in LSB. Since the introduction of the three-year lectionary in the Lutheran Church in the early 1970s, the great majority of congregations have made use of it. Though the number of congregations currently using the one-year lectionary is relatively small, the committee believed it essential to retain this historic lectionary, though with some modifications.

 Three-Year Lectionary (LSB pp. xiv–xix)

The committee’s work concerning the three-year lectionary centered on the extent to which it would make use of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), which was published in 1992. The committee studied the issue carefully and, at the direction of the Commission on Worship, endeavored to bring considerable commonality with the RCL, especially during the Sundays after Pentecost. During festivals such as Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter, however, the lectionary reflects greater commonality with the one-year lectionary.

Among some of the features of the revised three-year lectionary are the following:

•  Some Old Testament readings have been changed so that they are more closely connected to the Gospel for the day.

•  Most of Acts 1–2 is read consecutively every year according to the following schedule:

Ascension Day Acts 1:1–11 (First Reading)

Easter 7 Acts 1:12–26 (First Reading)

Day of Pentecost Acts 2:1–21 (Second Reading)

Holy Trinity Acts 2:14a, 22–36 (Second Reading)

•  Following the original intentions of the three-year lectionary, the Psalm of the Day is not understood to be a separate reading but rather a response to the Old Testament/First Reading. With the inclusion of 107 psalms in the Pew Edition, the selections for Psalm of the Day have been completely revised. Every effort has been made to use whole psalms. When a portion of a longer psalm is appointed, the committee endeavored to make the selection of verses as straightforward as possible to avoid causing confusion for the worshiper.

As explained above, the Sundays after Pentecost follow the system that is used in the RCL. In this system, specific propers are assigned to a period of seven consecutive days, each being given the designation “Proper” with a number following. Unlike the current system in Lutheran Worship, where Sundays are skipped at the end of the church year, the new calendar places the “skip” at the beginning, right after the Sunday of the Holy Trinity. The designation “__________ Sunday after Pentecost” is retained as a more churchly way of identifying the Sunday, rather than by the “Proper” number. Though a bit different than our current practice, this new calendar is quite easy to use, partly because it is so logically conceived.

One-Year Lectionary (LSB pp. xx–xxi)

The committee quickly determined that the historic one-year lectionary, together with its calendar, would be retained. Benefits of using this lectionary include an annual repetition of key biblical texts and the ability to consult historic resources, such as Martin Luther’s various series of sermons on the Gospels and Epistles. Among the features of the LSB one-year lectionary are the following:

•  The traditional Gospels and Epistles are retained. In a few cases an alternate Gospel is provided. More frequently, an alternate Epistle is also included.

•  The Old Testament readings were completely revised with the goal of providing readings that are closely related to the Holy Gospel for each day.

•  The pre-Lent season, also known as the “gesima” Sundays, is retained.

•  A minor adjustment from the historic calendar occurs in the weeks following Easter. Whereas the earlier calendar referred to these as the Sundays “after” Easter, the revised calendar mirrors the three-year lectionary in designating them as the Sundays “of Easter. The traditional Latin names for the Sundays have been retained, as have the appointed readings.

Some concluding thoughts and cautions when discussing the issue of the lectionary.

There never has been, nor ever will be, “a perfect lectionary.” Frankly, even the worst of them is probably better than nothing at all. What is hugely obvious is that just as there is no such thing as a theologically neutral translation of the Scriptures, so too there is no such thing as a theologically neutral lectionary. The Revised Common Lectionary readings clearly display an agenda which at many points finds itself at cross-purpose, ironically, with historic, orthodox Christianity! While the question of which lectionary we use (or whether we use a lectionary at all, for that matter) is certainly a matter of Christian freedom, this does not make it an unimportant matter. In choosing a lectionary for use in congregation worship, we should remember we are choosing a teaching, or a “catechetical” tool. A lectionary is to be more than a means to dole out little parcels of Scripture, it provides a framework for most important task the Church has been given by her Lord: proclaiming and teaching the Gospel, so as to make disciples. It is a path toward understanding the purpose and meaning of Holy Scripture and a guide for both pastor and congregation through the whole counsel of God.

Understanding the general history behind the lectionaries is important, especially for pastors called to these tasks of preaching and teaching God’s people.

Is Every Congregation Free to Do Whatever It Wants in Their Worship Services? Yes, but no.

February 4th, 2013 5 comments


Every Lutheran congregation is perfectly free and at liberty to do whatever they want to do in their church services, assuming a responsible, reverent approach to liturgy and worship, right? Yes, but no.

So, when are we not free to use our liberty?

Name the person who wrote the following statement about liturgical uniformity. Who was it that dared to restrict the use of Christian liberty in matters pertaining to worship?

Now even though external rites and orders … add nothing to salvation, it is un-Christian to quarrel over such things and confuse the common people. We should consider the edification of the laity more important than our own ideas and opinions … Let each one surrender his own opinions and get together in a friendly way and come to a common decision about these external matters, so that there will be one uniform practice throughout your district instead of disorder … For even though from the viewpoint of faith, the external orders are free and can without scruples be changed by anyone at anytime, yet from the viewpoint of love you are not free to use this liberty…

Or how about this one?

It is the cause of much incorrectness… when the external church ordinances, divine service and ceremonies are not held with reverence, or in orderly fashion, or in like manner. Also certain pastors purpose to act in these matters without uniformity. They shall carefully see to it that the ceremonies which have to do with hymns, clothing of the priests, administration of the sacrament … as well as the festivals, be maintained in an orderly and uniform fashion, at one place as at another, uniform and in accord with such as occur at Wittenberg and Torgau, in accord with the Holy Scriptures…*

One more quote:

Ceremonies [should be instituted] which give the external indication that in the congregation great, high, serious dealings are present, so that the ceremonies lead, stimulate, admonish and move the people to join together their thoughts, lift up their hearts in all humility. That there be in the congregation heartfelt devotion to the word, the Sacrament and prayer … Christian freedom has its place in this matter, as the ancients said, “Disagreement in rites does not take away agreement in faith.” It still brings all sorts of benefit that in ceremonies, so much as it is possible, a uniformity be maintained, and that such uniformity serve to maintain unity in doctrine, and that common, simple, weak consciences be all the less troubled, rather strengthened. It is therefore viewed as good that, as much as possible, a uniformity in ceremonies with neighboring reformed churches be affected and maintained. And for this reason, henceforth all pastors in the churches of our realm, shall emphatically follow this written church order, and not depart from the same without specific, grave cause. *

To suggest that the better way for the church to order herself is for there to be the greatest amount of liturgical uniformity as possible strikes some ears as a call for a slavish formalism, some even go so far as to use the word “legalistic” whenver this comes up. That never has made sense to me. I’ve never heard anyone in favor of traditional Lutheran worship say that its use is required for salvation. It seems that some in the Lutheran Church have dismissed discussion of the dangers of liturgical diversity and the blessings of the great possible liturgical uniformity. Why? Sadly, in an era that has witnessed a trend toward doing whatever is right in the eyes of an individual pastor, or congregation, the blessings of liturgical uniformity are being woefully neglected. We have lost our understanding of the blessing and advantage of striving to have as common a liturgical practice as possible.Preaching

The thought that a pastor would, from Sunday to Sunday, reinvent the church’s worship service was an alien thought to the Lutheran Confessors, and hence the Lutheran Confessions. Rev. Matthew Harrison, some years ago, did a study on the practice of the Lutheran Church in the sixteenth century. In it he uses the “church orders” of the time to demonstrate how one should, and likewise should not, interpret the comments on adiaphora in the Lutheran Confessions. It is quite fascinating and very revealing. You can download a copy here.

Some might assume that my remarks are directed only toward those who have chosen to embrace “contemporary worship” or “blended worship” with its Sunday-to-Sunday “newness.” But that would be a mistake. I would also direct these remarks to those who choose to “do their own thing” in a more traditionally liturgical direction: that is, those whoDance choose to embellish and otherwise change the church’s received liturgies in a direction that they regard as “better” or “more faithful” or “more liturgical.”

I have been concerned for years that some of those most stridently speaking against the liturgical diversity in our Synod turn right around and in their parish create their own little variation on the Lutheran liturgy, claiming that they are doing it better, or more historically, or more traditionally. I’ve seen horrendous mixta composita of liturgical services slapped together from multiple sources, all of course perceived as being “historically Lutheran” and these undertakings have always struck me as problematic in the same way the cut and paste “services” in contemporary worship contexts are.

I do not see any difference between this and those who chose to go another direction in terms of a sensitivity for the good order of the church. It may be that a liturgy is more similar to a particular 16th century German Divine Service than others, perhaps even more similar than anything in any present hymnal, but I find no justification for deciding, as an individual pastor or parish, to “go it alone” in this direction, any more than I find justification or benefit in creating new liturgies from Sunday to Sunday. The goal of liturgical uniformity is not repristination of what happened in the Sixteenth Century, any more than it is should be the goal to toss our the liturgy.

My opinion is that it would be a tremendous blessing to our church body if we would all set aside our pet theories, our cherished preferences, and even our favorite hymnals, and embrace the use of one hymnal: Lutheran Service Book.

I believe it is essential for all of us to set aside a fixation on”contemporary worship” [as if there is any worship that is not contemporary"] and stop dividing up our Sunday mornings between “traditional” and “classical grace” or “contemporary” or “blended” and just start having “church,” period. It means that we need to stop turning the church into a popular opinion poll from Sunday to Sunday. It means that we use the church’s hymnal. Use the church’s liturgies as they are printed in the church’s new hymnal and use the many opportunities for variety within that structure. I see as little wisdom in trying to mimic some specific territorial German church order, as I do in trying to take our cues from the non-denominational “Evangelical” worship forms prevalent in our nation among many Protestants.

There are some who would like to use the Tenth Article in the Formula of Concord to justify a practice by which each individual congregation in our Church can just go ahead and “do its own thing” when it comes to worship practices. But this is truly a misuse of this article, and was not, by any stretch of the imagination, what the Lutheran Confessors had in mind when they prepared the Formula of Concord. Here is a very helpful insight into the attitude toward liturgical uniformity that was in the minds of those who prepared, and subscribed, to the Formula of Concord from 1577-1580. As Rev. Harrison notes in his paper: “The final Church Order here referred to is one of the most significantSpell001002 for interpreting FC SD 10, 9. Duke August I of Electoral Saxony was the driving force behind the Electoral Saxon Church Order of 1580, and Andreae its author. The order came out after the adoption of the Book of Concord. In fact, it calls for ministers to subscribe to the Book of Concord. What FC SD 10 means when it states, ‘no church shall condemn another’, is crystal clear in ‘IX. Regarding Ceremonies in the Churches’.”

Pastors and ministers, on the basis of God’s Word, and at the instigation of the declaration published this year (1580), and incorporated in this book [The Book of Concord], shall diligently instruct their flock and hearers in their sermons,2002savbaptism as often as the opportunity avails itself, that such external ordinances and ceremonies are in and of themselves no divine service, nor a part of the same. They are rather only ordained for this reason, that the divine service, which is not within the power of human beings to change, may be held at various times and places, and without offense or terrible disorder. Accordingly, they should not at all be troubled when they see dissimilar ceremonies and usages in external things among the churches. They should much rather be reminded herein of their Christian freedom, and in order to maintain this freedom, make profitable use of this dissimilarity of ceremonies… Nevertheless, so unity may be maintained in the churches of our land…the following ceremonies shall be conducted according to our order or incorporated church agenda, until there is a general uniformity of all churches of the Augsburg Confession … And it will be granted to no minister to act contrary to the same [agenda] to introduce some revision, no matter under what pretext. *

Liturgical uniformity and the good it brings to the church’s life is more important than any personal interest in doing it “better” or “different,” and that cuts both ways.

If I may use a crass analogy, imagine if you would that McDonalds decided tomorrow that they no longer cared what any of its restaurants looked like. No more standardization of the logo, or clothing, or ways of doing things. Every McDonalds would be told, “Do whatever you feel is best and whatever feels right to you.” That would make little sense, would it? How much more than does it make sense for every Lutheran congregation to be running off in its own direction, doing what feels right to it? Now, granted, every McDonalds has some minor differences, but there never is any doubt that you are at a McDonalds. See the point?

By the way, the person who said the first quote, that we are not free to use our liberty in matters pertaining to liturgical uniformity was…Martin Luther. And the second quote? It is from the Wittenberg Church Order of 1542, prepared by Jonas, Cruciger, Bugenhagen, Melachthon, Luther, and others; Sehling, I:202. The third quote? It is from the 1569 Church Order of Brauncshweig-Wolfenbuettel and was prepared by none other than Martin Chemnitz and Jacob Andreae, the chief authors and architects of the Formula of Concord. [Sehling VI.1, 139, 40]. The final quote is from: AL Richter ed, Die evangelischen Kirchenordnungen des sechszehn ten Jahrhunderts. Urkunden und Regesten zur Geschichte des Rechts and der Verfassung der evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland, Leipzig, 1871, vol II:, p. 440.

Why is the Lutheran Church a Liturgical Church and Should Remain So?

January 29th, 2013 1 comment


One thing that many non-Lutherans find puzzling, if not downright offensive, is that the Lutheran Church is a church that knows and appreciates the historic liturgy of the Church, and in particular, the “communion service” used throughout the history of the Church, starting very, very early in the Church’s history, with the core/key elements of the historic form of that worship service found already in evidence well back into the late first and early second century. That form of worship service, the service in which the Lord’s Supper, is the center piece, is known in the Western Church as the “Mass.” Even the Lutheran Confessions use the term “Mass” and indicate that the Evangelical [Lutheran] reformation of the church does not include ditching the Mass and the various salutary and helpful liturgical forms, structures, practices, rites and ceremonies. Rather, they are allowed to be the structures and ways in which the Gospel shines forth in the congregation, quite apart from any whims of the moment or pecularities of the man in the pulpit who may (please God!) preach the Gospel well. The liturgy anchors the congregation in the read and heard Word of God and the objective declaration of the Gospel in the Absolution and the great “for  you” of the Lord’s Supper.

The Lutheran Church is not a radical reformation of the Church, which, actually, is more appropriately called the Deformation of the Church. But why is this? Why not toss the historic liturgy? What value can it possibly hold for the modern world? Aren’t these words, phrases, forms and structures simply archaic relics of a superstitious past, one in which the Gospel was obscured and clouded by human tradition? The Calvinist/Reformed/Evangelical answer to that question has been: Yes! And so you have, historically, an absolute liturgical poverty throughout Reformed/Calvinist worship. As one Lutheran scholar, Werner Elert, noted with sour sarcasm, “The only thing Calvinism has contributed to the church’s liturgical life has been hymn boards.”

Herman Sasse, who was keenly mindful of the dangers associated with liturgy set adrift from proper confession, provides a beautiful explanation of why the Lutheran Church is a liturgical church. How sad it is to see far too many Lutheran Churches, particularly here in America, scuttling the historic worship forms of the Church and replacing them with nothing more than a poor imitation of the kind of “worship” forms that are used in the large non-denominational/Calvinist/Evangelical churches. Here then is how Sasse answers the question: “Why is the Lutheran Chuch a Liturgical Church?”

“Unlike other confessions, the Lutheran Church has, we know, received a definite liturgical heritage. She is not saddled with the heritage of the ancient pagan notion of sacrifice, a heritage which makes every renewal in the Catholic Churches of the East and West always a renewal of the notion of sacrifice, and therewith a renewal of paganism. And yet, on the other hand, the Lutheran Church has never made a complete break with the early Christian New Testament liturgy, a break which couldn’t be avoided by the Reformed Churches because they had abandoned belief in the real presence— a fact that we must expand in a later letter— without which there can be no true liturgy. Our Church’s liturgy therefore could be that which it was in the sixteenth century according to a Catholic liturgical scholar, namely: “the first serious attempt undertaken with unique linguistic and musical means to create a German folk-liturgy and thus to bridge that estrangement which has remained between the German people and the liturgy ever since their becoming Christian” (F. Messerschmid, Liturgie und Gemeinde [1939], 66).

“If one is to have an idea of the triumphal course of the Reformation in Germany, then “one must,” the same author tells us (ibid., p. 49), “have received from the sources an intimation of the unheard-of vitality of these divine services; of the powerful religious feeling with which they were celebrated by those congregations which had before this been only dumb witnesses and spectators and listeners in the church … one must have received an intimation of the power with which these chorales were taken up by old and young and by all classes! Even Jesuit eyewitnesses have averred that these chorales brought more believers to this new teaching than all preaching and other efforts to win them!” Why are things not so today? Why has our Divine Service lost the power over men’s spirits? This is one of the most earnest questions which our church has to consider.

“One answer that must be given to this question is the fact that we pastors no longer know and understand the liturgical treasures of our church, and therefore are not in a position to introduce our congregations to them. And one of the urgent duties of the Lutheran pastorate today is to win back that which has been lost. Why don’t we preach more often on the liturgy? Why do we believe that we must enliven our liturgical life by borrowing from the Eastern Church or from the Roman Catholic Church? Why don’t we know any longer what the evangelical Divine Service of the old Lutheran Church was like? Why do we leave it to Catholic theology to rediscover Luther’s importance as one of the greatest liturgical geniuses? Why do we know practically nothing about the greatest liturgical scholars of our church in the nineteenth century, about Löhe and Kliefoth? How can we explain the mass printing of theologically and liturgically worthless works on modern liturgical art, from Arper-Zillessen to Burghart’s unfortunate new Prussian Agenda? God help us to teach again the great prayer of the church, that our church may become a genuine ecclesia orans.”


Herman Sassed, Letters to Lutheran Pastors: Volume I – Ecclesia Orans [The Praying Church], April 1949. Concordia Pub House. Kindle Edition.

Liturgical Minutiae is NOT the Essence of the Church

July 30th, 2012 6 comments

A few weeks before his unexpected death, at a meeting of the General Synod of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (VELKD), Werner Elert participated in a discussion which preceded the adoption of the first part of a new liturgy for that church. His extempore remarks on this occasion are here translated from the Informationsdienst der VELKD (January, 1955) both in memory of this distinguished theologian and churchman and also on account of their significance for American as well as European Lutheranism.


“In the historical part of Leiturgia it is asserted that Luther really did not achieve a proper understanding of public worship. When one goes on to consider the conception of worship which is set forth in this study, one finds that it rests, quite understandably and properly, on a consideration of historical development. The liturgical life of the church is of course an historical phenomenon which must be traced to its origins. Now, it is to be observed (and this can easily be established by anyone who is familiar with the literature) that the description of the beginnings of Christian worship which is offered in Leiturgia follows the description given by Roman Catholics on the basis of the very outstanding investigations which have been made in recent decades by Benedictines especially, and more recently also by Jesuits. Lutheran liturgiologists rest their case, insofar as the historical treatment is concerned, on these investigations. I do not intend to criticize the work of the Benedictines, for everyone knows how much thorough knowledge, how much quiet objectivity, and how little polemic is involved in it. However, we cannot and should not expect that these Catholic brethren are in a position to understand and present, even in the history of worship, what was of concern to Luther. If Luther is to be judged by the norms which are basic to the Benedictine interpretation, it can indeed be said that he did not really un- derstand what worship is.

“Over against this charge I should assert that, if it can at all be said that Luther reached back beyond the Middle Ages to the ancient church, this was especially true in his restoration of preaching to an important and central place. The contrary opinion with regard to public worship in the ancient church is so widely held that I cannot hope to counteract it effectively in the few moments at my disposal here. But I cannot refrain from mentioning a few little things which the reader of the sources will encounter and to which the literature makes some reference. We are today given the impression that worship in the ancient church was quite exclusively liturgical — as we still find it, for example, in Eastern Orthodox churches. But in a sermon one of the ancient Church Fathers sets forth in very vivid fashion the fault he has to find with the contemporary liturgical service. The congregation is not there, he reports. The people are wandering about outside, the boys and girls lounging about during the performance of the liturgy. They have a watchman posted at the door, however, and when the distribution of the elements in Holy Communion is about to begin, a signal is given and the young people rush into the church like a pack of hounds, snatch up the host from the clergyman’s hands as a dog snatches up a piece of meat, and then depart. I am not suggesting that this sort of thing was the general practice, but it happened.

“I have a different understanding of preaching from that [set forth in Leiturgia]. The preaching of the ancient church . . . was doctrinal preaching. It was an expression of the orthodox faith of the church at that time. Accordingly it is subject to the prejudiced charge which is leveled against all forms of orthodoxy, including the orthodoxy of our time, that the preaching was dry and irrelevant and of interest only to learned theologians. I wish that you could see some of the few extant fragments of paper on which stenographers recorded sermons. Perhaps you are aware that the extant sermons of the great Church Fathers, including those of Augustine, were not written by themselves but were recorded by stenographers. When one sees and deciphers the hastily written shorthand notes of the stenographers, one can get an impression of what preaching was like at that time. Sermons were not dull doctrinal addresses in our sense of the term. Congregations were attentive. Records reveal the tremendous, dramatic emotion which the sermons evoked, even the cries with which the auditors interrupted the preacher. The stenographic reports give us all sorts of information, even that Augustine had a bad cough on one occasion. This is alluded to in a passing remark, ‘Pardon me, I could not help coughing, for I have been preaching a great deal the last few days.’

“If one reads the great sermons on the dogma of the ancient church which Gregory Nazianzen preached in Constantinople before he was elevated to the patriarchate—the entire dogma of the ancient church is contained in four sermons which have been published on
the basis of stenographic reports— one must be astonished at the intellectual and spiritual power of the preacher, who was able to communicate the teaching of the church to his hearers in such a compact, vivid, and existential manner, for what he treated concerned life and death. This is what services were like in the ancient church. Our honored liturgiologists . . . will say that all of this is well known. But there is still danger that we misinterpret the ancient church when we see it only in the light of the Benedictine investigations and inquire only about the origin of the Kyrie and ask when the Hallelujah was first employed. . . .

“The impression has gone abroad, and our liturgiologists are at least partly to blame for this, that the preaching, teaching church is to be replaced in some sense by the liturgical church.”

How to Write a Truly Awful Worship Song

July 17th, 2012 12 comments


Brought to you by Pastor Riley’s blog, written by Stephen Altrogge, I present a quick “How To” on writing an awful worship song. HT: MZH for tweeting this.

So you finally learned to play the guitar and now you’re wondering,“How do I write a truly awful worship song?” You’ve come to the right place my friend. Here are some sure fire ways to write a truly horrible worship song.

Recycle A Love Song. Write a song for your girlfriend. When she breaks up with you, convert it into a worship song. Be sure to change all uses of “girl” or “baby”.

Use Time Tested Rhymes. Make sure that you rhyme “love” and “above” at least twice. The song becomes doubly awful if you can also incorporate the word “dove”. Example: “You sent your love from above, makes my heart feel like a pure white dove.” You get the point.

Be Vague About Your Theology. Make sure to avoid any theology at all costs. Don’t talk about atonement, wrath, or any other biblical concepts. You want your song to be all about feeling. Don’t let the mind get in the way. Repeat after me: “Worship is a warm feeling, sort of like heartburn, only better.”

Make the Song All About You.  The main point of your song should be your experiences and how God makes you feel. Don’t bother with objective truth about God. I would suggest that you use the words “I” or “me” at least 12-15 times. For example, “I feel like singing, yes I feel like spinning, because You make me feel so good inside. Like it’s my birthday, but more awesome.”

Be Incredibly Poetic. If you can, muddy the waters with poetic phrases that don’t make much sense. Example: “Your love is like a warm summer’s breeze, washing over my heart like a crystal river.”

Use Well-Worn Musical Progressions. If you can, keep your music and melody boring. I would suggest that you use no more than four distinct notes in a song, so that by the time someone is done listening to it they want to scream. A worship scream, but a scream nonetheless. It also helps if you use the chords G, C, and D over and over.

Defend Your Song Like It’s Your Firstborn Child. Do not, I repeat, do not, let anyone make suggestions for improvement. Tell people that God laid the song on your heart. Tell people that you really want to preserve the artistic integrity of the song. Tell people that you already did the song at your campus ministry and that a revival broke out. Don’t take advice from anyone.

There you have it. Seven ways to write a terrible worship song. You can thank me later.

Why the “I Did It My Way” Approach is No More Appropriate When Wearing a Chausable Than When Wearing Only Dockers and a Polo Shirt

March 9th, 2012 12 comments

That blog post title got your attention, didn’t it? Good! Now, let me say this very carefully: this is not about chasables, or however you spell that word, it is about the principle of the benefit of the greatest amount of uniformity as possible. If you refuse to understand this point, you don’t understand how Lutherans approach questions of ceremony and liturgy.

A confessional Lutheran pastor in Germany sent me these very informative, helpful and deeply thoughtful comments, and I’m passing them along to you. I have put in bold and underlined the comment that some of my friends who love to add ceremonies to the Lutheran service simply are failing to account for and, frankly, I am convinced they really just don’t want to hear this, because there is within every American Lutheran the “I did it my way” American love of freedom, liberty and “rights” to do what one feels is “best.”

The last days I watched the discussion on Facebook and in your blog concerning high church liturgy. Here in Germany there is also a High Church Association within the churches of the EKD. Its roots go back to movements after WW I which eventually found a leader in Friedrich Heiler, a Roman Catholic theologian who became evangelical without leaving Roman doctrines behind. Hermann Sasse wrote an article about him and his movement in 1944 which is now reprinted in Sasse (2011), In statu confessionis 3, 231-260. The main distinguishing features of high church theologians in Germany are their zeal to get the “apostolic succession” by the laying on of hands (mostly in Scandinavia or by sympathizing Roman Catholic bishops) and to restore the practices of the Roman mass especially in regard to sacrifice language to make the “lacking” Lutheran liturgy “whole” once more.

When I studied in Münster/Westf. in 1992, I had a seminar with Prof. Martin Brecht about Luther’s reform of the mass. There we compiled the main concerns of the reformer in regard to worship in consequently purging all allusions or references to sacrifice in the Last Supper. Since the EKD was preparing a reform of their main agendas in that time, we compared Luther’s goals with tendencies in VELKD Lutheranism to incorporate prayers for celebrating the mass right out of the post-Vaticanum II Missale Romanum in their new book of worship. Of course, Prof. Brecht was highly critical of theses tendencies.

A few weeks ago you mentioned the liturgy of XYZ Lutheran Church in XYZ. I have found their ordinary of the mass as PDF on their web site. This is a most disturbing text. We not only have here problematic allusions to the intercession of the departed saints which, in my opinion, are not in accordance with Apology XXI (IX) – this tendency of invoking the intercession of the saints also exists in German High Church circles as their breviary shows in the order of Compline -, in this ordinary there are parts which speak of the Last Supper as being our offering to God. This is pure heresy and should not be tolerated in a Lutheran congregation. It is disturbing how far some are willing to go in “rediscovering lost treasures of liturgy”. The Roman Mass is no way a role model for Lutheran masses.

Another point often overlooked in High church circles is the fact that not all Lutheran churches in Germany followed Luther’s Deutsche Messe from 1525. The Lutheran Church of Württemberg with Johannes Brenz reformed their worship after the model of the medieval Prädikantengottesdienst (a simple service of the word which contained the Last supper at least once in a month). This form is used up to this day. Luther knew about the Württemberg ordinary and approved it. He deemed it not necessary that all churches had to follow the form of the mass. (But I like Luther’s form better than the Württemberg one.)

As problematic as it is that some congregations abandon the service book in favor of contemporary worship, it is equally problematic if a congregation abandons the order of service chosen by a given church body (synod) in favor of high church liturgy because the consent of all congregations is lost. Luther pointed out that, though a congregation is free to order its worship as it seems fit, it should always seek the harmony with other congregations of a given area (Letter to the Christians in Liefland 1525). Since the LCMS gave itself four forms in the LSB, it is not appropriate when a congregation ignores them in favor of their own form.

So, these were just some ramblings and musings I had to ventilate after reading the ordinary from the congregation in XYZ.

And, let’s remind ourselves, once again, of Martin Luther’s extremely important and wise counsel:

In the first place, I would kindly and for God’s sake request all those who see this order of service or desire to follow it: Do not make it a rigid law to bind or entangle anyone’s conscience, but use it in Christian liberty as long, when, where, and how you find it to be practical and useful. For this is being published not as though we meant to lord it over anyone else, or to legislate for him, but because of the widespread demand for German masses and services and the general dissatisfaction and offense that has been caused by the great variety of new masses, for everyone makes his own order of service. Some have the best intentions, but others have no more than an itch to produce something novel so that they might shine before men as leading lights, rather than being ordinary teachers—as is always the case with Christian liberty: very few use it for the glory of God and the good of the neighbor; most use it for their own advantage and pleasure. But while the exercise of this freedom is up to everyone’s conscience and must not be cramped or forbidden, nevertheless, we must make sure that freedom shall be and remain a servant of love and of our fellow-man.

Where the people are perplexed and offended by these differences in liturgical usage, however, we are certainly bound to forego our freedom and seek, if possible, to better rather than to offend them by what we do or leave undone. Seeing then that this external order, while it cannot affect the conscience before God, may yet serve the neighbor, we should seek to be of one mind in Christian love, as St. Paul teaches [Rom. 15:5-6; 1 Cor. 1:10; Phil. 2:2]. As far as possible we should observe the same rites and ceremonies, just as all Christians have the same baptism and the same sacrament [of the altar] and no one has received a special one of his own from God…For if I should try to make it up out of my own need (an order of service), it might turn into a sect.” (emphasis my own) (LW, Volume 53, Liturgy and Hymns, pages 61 and 64)

Ten Reasons Why We Need the Liturgy

August 30th, 2011 14 comments

My friend, Pastor William Cwirla, posted this somewhere…..just passing it along.

Why the Liturgy? First a definition and a disclaimer. By “liturgy” I mean the western catholic mass form as it has been handed down by way of the Lutheran Reformation consisting of the five fixed canticles – Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. Pardon the Greek and Latin, but it sounds cool and we still use ‘em. “Liturgy” also includes the assigned Scripture texts for the Sundays, feast days, and seasons. Most of what I will say about the liturgy of the Divine Service will pertain to “liturgical worship” in general.

Now, why do we worship according to the western, catholic liturgy?

  1. it shows our historic roots. Some parts of the liturgy go back to the apostolic period. Even the apostolic church did not start with a blank liturgical slate but adapted and reformed the liturgies of the synagogue and the Sabbath. The western mass shows our western catholic roots, of which we as Lutherans are not ashamed. (I’d rather be confused with a Roman Catholic than anything else.) We’re not the first Christians to walk the face of the planet, nor, should Jesus tarry, will we be the last. The race of faith is a relay race, one generation handing on (“traditioning”) to the next the faith once delivered to the saints. The historic liturgy underscores and highlights this fact. It is also “traditionable,” that is, it can be handed on.
  2. It serves as a distinguishing mark. The liturgy distinguishes us from those who do not believe, teach, and confess the same as we do. What we believe determines how we worship, and how we worship confesses what we believe.
  3. It is both Theocentric and Christocentric. From the invocation of the Triune Name in remembrance of Baptism to the three-fold benediction at the end, the liturgy is focused on the activity of the Triune God centered in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Worship is not primarily about “me” or “we” but about God in Christ reconciling the world to HImself and my baptismal inclusion in His saving work.
  4. It teaches. The liturgy teaches the whole counsel of God – creation, redemption, sanctification, Christ’s incarnation, passion, resurrection, and reign, the Spirit’s outpouring and the new life of faith. Every liturgical year cycles through these themes so that the hearer receives the “whole counsel of God” on a regular basis.
  5. It is transcultural. One of the greatest experiences of my worship life was to be in the Divine Service in Siberia with the Siberian Lutheran Church. Though I spoke only a smattering of Russian, I knew enough to recognize the liturgy, know what was being said (except for the sermon, which was translated for us), and be able to participate knowledgeably across language and cultural barriers. I have the same experience with our Chinese mission congregation.
  6. It is repetitive in a good way. Repetition is, after all, the mother of learning. Fixed texts and annual cycles of readings lend to deep learning. Obviously, mindless repetition does not accomplish anything; nor does endless variety.
  7. It is corporate. Worship is a corporate activity. “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” The liturgy draws us out of ourselves into Christ by faith and the neighbor by love. We are all in this together. Worship is not simply about what “I get out of it,” but I am there also for my fellow worshippers to receive the gifts of Christ that bind us together and to encourage each other to love and good works (Heb 10:25). We are drawn into the dialogue of confession and absolution, hearing and confessing, corporate song and prayer. To borrow a phrase from a favored teacher of mine, in church we are “worded, bodied, and bloodied” all together as one.
  8. It rescues us from the tyranny of the “here and now.” When the Roman world was going to hell in a hand basket, the church was debating the two natures of Christ. In the liturgy, the Word sets the agenda, defining our needs and shaping our questions. The temptation is for us to turn stones into bread to satisfy an immediate hunger and scratch a nagging spiritual itch, but the liturgy teaches us to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
  9. It is external and objective. The liturgical goal is not that everyone feel as certain way or have an identical “spiritual” experience. Feelings vary even as they come and go. The liturgy supplies a concrete, external, objective anchor in the death and resurrection of Jesus through Word, bread, and wine. Faith comes by hearing the objective, external Word of Christ.
  10. It is the Word of God. This is often overlooked by critics of liturgical worship. Most of the sentences and songs of the liturgy are direct quotations or allusions from Scripture or summaries, such as the Creed. In other words, the liturgy is itself the Word of God, not simply a packaging for the Word. Many times the liturgy will rescue a bad sermon and deliver what the preacher has failed to deliver. I know; I’ve been there.

Ten is one of those good numbers in the Bible signifying completeness, so I’ll stop at ten. I’m sure there are more.

When Luther Made Fun of A Guy Overly Fascinated with Rubrics and Rituals

June 28th, 2011 19 comments

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.

Tear It Out of the Hymnal!

January 29th, 2011 23 comments

I get a lot of interesting communications from across the Missouri Synod here at Concordia Publishing House, on a wide variety of topics and issues. Just when I think I’ve seen or heard it all, I see something that I’ve never seen before. That happened again recently. A pastor gave us a lot of feeback and input on a wide variety of resources. He told us he has been in the ministry for twenty-five years. He commented on Lutheran Service Book and declared that only 40% of the hymns in it are “singable.” Ok. But it got more interesting. He said he likes some of the liturgies in it, but not others. Then he said, and this is a direct quote: “Some of it is not so good, DS II.  I told my secretary to tear it out of the hymnals.”

Hmmmmm….a pastor directing his secretary to “tear it out of the hymnals.” Really?

The older I get, and that seems to be happening more quickly than before, I am struck, over and over and over again, but how far removed we are from the spirit of our fathers when it comes to respecting the collective will of the Church when it comes to matters of adiaphora. The principle that what has neither been commanded, nor forbidden, is therefore free has been horribly abused among us to mean now, “Whatever is adiaphora doesn’t matter and you can do whatever you want with it.”

At the time of the Reformation the idea was that although we have freedom, we also have obligations to one another, therefore, I’m not free to thumb my nose at the church’s collective will in matters such as this. And so, here we have a pastor directing a parish secretary to deface the church’s hymnal because he, the pastor, in his vast and infinite wisdom, decides he doesn’t like Divine Service II, therefore, he, the pastor, has the right to take his congregation’s hymnals and tear a chunk out of them.

Am I wrong in my thinking here? Or does this perfectly illustrate a problem that is pandemic among us?

Worship and Adiaphora

March 20th, 2010 2 comments

“Divine worship in the Christian Church is not an adiaphoron. The Lord expressly commands that His Word be heard, “He who is of God hears God’s words” (John 8:47). He has only severe censure for those who forsake the Christian assemblies, “And let us…not [forsake] the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some” (Hebrews 10:25). He expressly enjoins public prayer, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence… I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Timothy 2:1-2, 8). He graciously promises His divine presence at such assemblies, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). He records with approval the public services of the early Christians, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).

“But though He has prescribed the general content of public worship, though He is present in the sacramental acts of divine service, declaring and appropriating to the believers the means of grace, and though He graciously receives the sacrificial acts of the assembled congregation, in confession and prayer and offerings. He has not commanded a definite form or order of divine service. It is a matter of Christian liberty whether a congregation wishes one or many prayers, one or several hymns, one or two sermons or homilies, whether the chief assembly be held in the morning or in the evening, whether the service be held on Sunday or on another day.

“To argue from these facts, however, that it is a matter of complete indifference as to how the form of Christian worship is constituted would be bringing liberty dangerously near to license. The Lord says: “Let all things be done decently and in order,” (1 Corinthians 14:40); and again: “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Corinthians 14:26). It cannot really be a matter of indifference to a Christian congregation when the order of service used in her midst shows so much similarity to a heterodox order as to confuse visitors. One may hardly argue that such adiaphora do not matter one way or the other, when it has happened that a weak brother has been offended. And a Lutheran congregation cannot justly divorce herself, not only not from the doctrinal, but also not from the historical side of its Church. It is a matter of expediency, as well as of charity and edification, that every Lutheran pastor and every Lutheran congregation have outward significant symbols of the inner union, of the one mind and the one spirit.

“In addition to these facts, there is the further consideration that the outward acts of the Church, commonly known by the appellation “the liturgy,” have a very definite significance, which, in many cases, renders the acts of public service true acts of confession of faith. And the symbolism of many of the Lutheran sacred acts, if correctly performed, is such that the beauty of these treasures of our Church may be brought to the joyful attention of our congregations.”

— P.E. Kretzmann, Christian Art in the Place and in the Form of Lutheran Worship, p. 395-396

Also appears in “Theological Quarterly” Volume XXII:3 (July, 1918)

What is the Chief Purpose of the Christian Worship Service?

February 20th, 2010 5 comments

Debates across all Christian church bodies of which I’m aware, for quite a long time, have been going on over the question of what the Sunday morning worship service is really all about. I should qualify that last statement. This discussion is going on across those churches that actually still do regard the Sunday morning worship service as, first and foremost, the occasion when the Holy and Almighty God serves His people through Word and Sacrament and they respond with prayer, praise and thanksgiving, giving their adoration and worship to the All Holy and Glorious Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

A growing trend in such churches is to view the Sunday morning service as a tool to be used to attract non-believers to the Christian faith. Such a fundamental shift in understanding of what the purpose of the Sunday morning worship service is all about has extremely serious consequences for how worship is conducted, what goes on during the service, and so forth. Consider the following observations:

Worship is either an encounter with the reality of God, or it is some kind of attempt by man to raise himself by his own bootstraps. It then becomes an occasion for moralizing, a theatrical show, or a sort of pep rally. On the contrary, in the ancient church, the reading of the Gospel was surrounded with festive splendor because here Christ addresses His faithful followers. As the exalted Lord of the Church He today still exercises His prophetic function through His preachers and teachers. We still bear witness to His presence in the acclamations before and after the Gospel. We sing: “Glory be to Thee, O Lord!” and “Praise be to Thee, O Christ!”

- Earnest Koenker, Worship in Word and Sacrament, p. 47 HT: Weedon.

Not Saying Alleluia During Lent is Stupid (Sure to Cause Apoplexy Among High Church Purists)

February 18th, 2010 54 comments

Not saying Alleluia during Lent is stupid!

There I said it, and I’m glad I did. While pastors might think that we in the pews view the fact that we don’t say Alleluia with any degree of attention or interest, they are wrong. It is stupid, silly, ridiculous and entirely fabricated out of whole cloth. But I am not the only one who thought it silly, so did Martin Luther. It’s a shame those obsessed with liturgical-trivia were able to foist the “no alleluia” rule on the Lutheran church.

Dr. Luther, in an Invocavit sermon in his House Postil wrote:

“The general duties and works of love need no new command; they are already laid down and ordered in the Ten Commandments.  We are all enjoined of God to hear His Word, to love Him, to pray to Him, to be obedient to our parents, to love our neighbor, to shun all lasciviousness and to hold matrimony in high esteem.  All this is God’s will and institution; therefore no especial call of the Holy Spirit to enter matrimony, to become father or mother, is needed.  Such matters have all been arranged and commanded of God.  But we nowhere find a command or word of God, which would demand of us to run into cloisters for the purpose of serving God, or to avoid eating meat, eggs or butter during the Lenten season, or to sing no Hallelujah in that time; and therefore all such observances are no true service of God.”

He expresses the same thought in Formula Missae (AE 53:24):

“For the alleluia is the perpetual voice of the Church, just as the memorial of His passion and victory is perpetual.”

My good friend Pastor Weedon feels strongly there is deep meaning in all the liturgical trimming during Lent. He takes his cue from O.P. Kretzmann who, in my view, indulges in rhetorical and romanticized puffery, not substance. I can’t agree, but he makes his point well.

OK, now that I have a few people thoroughly exercised, please note that I am not saying we should ignore this rubric and that we should not follow it, I’m simply saying why I think it is stupid. But since it is adiaphora, I am happy to give up a bit of my freedom and personal opinion for the sake of unity. We’d all be better off if we did that.

For instance, some might think throwing themselves on the chancel floor is a great way to observe Good Friday, but we don’t do it, that is, if we care about unity. Some think putting the Lord’s Supper away in a Tabernacle on the altar and claiming it is perpetually the Lord’s body and blood and adoring it is a good thing, but we don’t do that. We know better. Some think that ignoring the rubrics and the liturgy and swapping out for it something that looks like the local non-denominational church is ok, but it is not. As much as possible, we must all give up our freedom and our right to exercise that freedom, for the sake of unity. The wisdom of the adage “Say the black, do the red” is still very much holds, and I wish it were everywhere observed.

So, you are free to disagree with a rubric, but in love, you follow it. If we follow rubrics for the sake of rubrics, then that is a problem. When doing the liturgy “just so” becomes an end in itself, we have a problem. Rubrics are a means, to an end, not the end itself. There’s something more important here than rubrics. And this is precisely why we follow them!

Now you know the point of this blog post.

Why Liturgical Lutheran Worship is Important

January 11th, 2010 23 comments

How did the founding fathers of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod regard the historic liturgy of the Lutheran Church? Let’s let Dr. C.F.W. Walther answer that question:

We refuse to be guided by those who are offended by our church customs. We adhere to them all the more firmly when someone wants to cause us to have a guilty conscience on account of them…. It is truly distressing that many of our fellow Christians find the difference between Lutheranism and Papism in outward things. It is a pity and a dreadful cowardice when one sacrifices the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American sects, lest they accuse us of being Catholic. Indeed! Am I to be afraid of a Methodist, who perverts the saving Word, or be ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather rejoice that the sects can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them?” We are not insisting that there be uniformity of perception or feeling or of taste among all believing Christians – neither dare anyone demand that all be minded as he is. Nevertheless it remains true that the Lutheran liturgy distinguishes Lutheran worship from the worship of other churches to such an extend that the houses of worship of the latter look like lecture halls in which the hearers are addressed or instructed (NOTE: if Walther were writing today, he’d no doubt add: they look like movie theatres in which the hearers are entertained!), while our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which Christians serve the great God publicly before the world. (Essays for the Church, Volume 1, p. 194 (St. Louis, CPH, 1992).

Mass Appeal: Younger People Prefer Old Liturgy

September 19th, 2009 16 comments

File this under: what’s old is new again. 18-30 year are interested in formal, traditional, classic Christian worship forms. [Pssst: Lutheran Divine Services!]. Here’s the story and here’s a clip:

“We have noticed a growing interest in ancient or meditative liturgies, particularly among the 18-30 year old age cohort. It’s one aspect of the emerging global cultural shift that is taking place,” Pogue says. “I am proud of Trinity Church in Lawrence and Father Jensen for taking this important step in opening the doors a bit wider to include those who are seeking a service like this.”

HT: Christopher Hall.

Historic Lutheran Vestments or Why Black is Not the New White

September 7th, 2009 4 comments

Picture 3It is quite fascinating to study the historic Lutheran use of vestments. A friend, Rev. Dr. Chris Hinkle, pointed out to me the availability of an English translation of a Danish work on the historic Lutheran vestments which is a remarkable tour de force. I’m reproducing it, in its entirety below the “read more” link. Enjoy.

The Proper Communion Vestments
by P. Severinsen

The Church Historical Society of Denmark, n.d., 44 pp.
translation of De rette Messeklaeder, 1924

The following is an abstract of the above publication. It is written by a man who is considered one of the most learned of Danish Priests. We give it in a somewhat abbreviated form in the English language as we feel that part of it has a wider interest to Lutheran readers in general. We all agree that the subject of this little book belongs in the class: Adiaphora;–yet the learned priest of the Mother Church has thought it worth while to undertake the rather laborious work of research in order to present this matter. The expressions of Luther are interesting, and it is instructive to notice the position of the church in Germany in the days of Paul Gerhardt when the command was issued by a king of the reformed adherence of faith: that “the vestments” used by the Lutherans must be put away- The Lutherans insisted that while these things were “Adiaphora”–they were yet so typically Lutheran–that to give them up would be to sacrifice distinctive Lutheran features. The royal command was only emphasized and loss of office indicated to the obstinate ones. This–to a considerable extent–silenced the opposition to the royal will. The Lutheran church of Germany yielded to the reformed (the royal) command. It lost its external churchly character and became “black” as the “black school” of Scholasticism. Rationalism finished what royal commands had begun in Germany. Rationalism played havoc with much in the sanctuaries of Scandinavia, yet–the churches of Scandinavia were never subjected to humiliations like those of Germany. But is it not peculiar to notice what time accomplishes: Many are apt to think it particularly Lutheran when all in the church is “black”. The priest before the Altar is “black” as a raven, the singers are black–and yet to realize that all this “blackness” does not go much farther than 150 years back–and that only in a portion of the Lutheran church that had to yield repeatedly to influences from powerful Calvinistic quarters. But time performs strange transformations. Bearing this in mind one may well wonder, but–at the same time–realizes easier–the admiration at times expressed in certain quarters of our American Lutheran Church for “our friends the Presbyterians”–and also how the reformed practice of quarterly or half yearly communions are not only tolerated but reckoned quite normal. A person cannot help thinking that in practical matters there as been a constant drawing away from the conceptions and ways of reformation days and a constant approach to the ways and conceptions of the church of Calvin.

We of the churches of Scandinavia may well be aware that in the Mother-Church of those Northern countries may he easier be recognized the church of the days of Luther and he church alluded to in the Augsburg confession–rather than in the portions where concession after concession had to be made to those of another faith.

We have from time to time been requested by churchmen of the English branch of our church to help make known o English readers the historic customs of the Church of Denmark as a portion of the Lutheran church in the world and the Church Catholic of the ages. We believe the little book of Severinsen’s, published in 1924, has a purpose to serve in his respect and will be grateful–if time permits–to render it intelligible to those who are unable to read the Scandinavian languages.

We omit a number of the notes of purely local interest and for the same reason a number of explanatory paragraphs are abbreviated. Our aim is, however, that nothing of value to the general reader shall be omitted. (J. M.)

Chapter I: The Ritual–Its Rule.

In the Ritual of 1685 for the “Church of Denmark and Norway”, page 11, we read: “The priest who has charge of the Communion Service comes before the Altar immediately after the bell has been rung the last time and puts on the “proper Vestments” which are: a white linen Surplice (alb–Messeskjorte) and a Chasuble.” and “while the service closes with a hymn the priest puts off the vestments, but remains standing before the altar until the service is ended.”

A general rule for the priest’s apparel during the service is found on page 52: “It must especially be observed hat the priest having charge of the service must not wear the chasuble when he leaves the altar to perform any service: Preaching, baptism or otherwise. He shall put off the chasuble and leave it by the altar. If the service at the altar is to be continued later, he shall again put it on; but the surplice (alb) shall be worn during the entire service from beginning to end”. Read more…