Adiaphora, Adios

 

 

a look at Lutheran Liturgical practice Peter M. Berg

 

 

 

(This article was originally published in March of 2005)

 

 

During the past year a change in synodical affiliation has brought a dramatic reduction of assorted mailings from my old synod (WELS). However, with my new affiliate (LCMS) taking up the slack the situation at the mail box is a wash. The circular file is still in use. It’s another matter when it comes to synodical scuttlebutt. The gossipy news on both fronts has been greatly reduced. Old connections are limited and new connections have yet to be made. No regrets. The less news the better.

 

Showdown

 

Yet there have been a few tidbits which have filtered through. Recent news flashes indicate that there’s excitement in the air in Wisconsin. From what I can gather from a distance it looks as if a showdown is about to take place in the WELS. As much as Wisconsin enjoys being in the backwaters of Lutheranism, what happens in the rest of the church eventually happens in the WELS, often with a peculiar Welsian twist. The aforementioned showdown may turn out to be a bust, but things are a’brewin’, and as it stands right now there are two parties  standing  at either end  of the  Not-So-OK  Corral

and both are packin’ iron.

 

On the one side we have a group with the self-explanatory name Church and Change. If it appears that this name has church growthism written all over it, you’re right. On the other side we have a reactionary group called The Changeless Church; again, self-explanatory. The first group thinks it’s about high time that the WELS gets on the Church Growth stagecoach, even if it’s the last one to board. The second group operates with the old dictum, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, even if the thing not to be fixed has been broken from the start. The folks in this group realize that the WELS today isn’t their grandfather’s synod anymore, and they’re out to remedy that.

 

One can’t help but recall Dr. Luther looking to the Roman right and to the Protestant left and pronouncing a pox on both houses. The tragicomedy that is Lutheranism today is one sad episode after another of nominal Lutherans bitterly debating about the shape of Lutheranism. The sad scenes of this play have been played out since the time of Philip Melanchthon’s betrayal. When one is grappling with his own understanding of the theology of the Reformers and the ancient fathers, offering a critique of this current situation has its own peril. But then again the editors of this broadside have never been short on opinions.

 

What’s the Difference?

 

The Church and Change group is offering up a rehash of what the Church Growth movement has advocated for some time (ironically now discredited by some church growthers themselves): seeker services, praise music, chancel dramas, power point screens adorning chancel walls, “real-life preaching” (read: the law/gospel/law paradigm), the liturgy de jour, expanding ministerial roles for laity (especially women), etc., etc. The Changeless Church conservatives sense that something is amiss here. However, a recently forwarded e-mail giving a summary of the minutes taken at the inaugural meeting of this group shows that these folks see synodical money matters and synodical bureaucracy as the real issues facing their church.

 

Although this author is in a different universe than the WELS church growthers, and though he knows the angst of the WELS conservatives, he also knows that the conservatives will be outgunned in the showdown. The reason for this is two-fold. First of all the synodical bureaucracy is in a panic about the declining membership of the


synod. The new way being paved by the trendy types seems like a promising way to go.


In order to increase the body count untutored pastors will do, or will be pressured into doing, whatever it takes “to grow the church.” Secondly, there isn’t that much of a difference between the two groups. This is especially so because both groups share the same understanding and definition of an adiaphoron. More on that later. If the showdown comes about the two sides will be effectively shooting blanks at each other. Unfortunately they won’t kill each other off.

 

Even a seven year old child knows that there isn’t much difference between these two opposing sides. Preachers in both camps usually include the obligatory gospel-paragraph (“Jesus died for your sins…”), and both use the law/gospel/law homiletical method. Some of the Change folks will celebrate the Supper at some other time than Sunday morning so as not to offend the seekers. The Changeless folks also try to keep offense to the minimum, you know: only offending on the first and third Sundays of the month. The Low Church Changers use the ever new and ever mediocre service de jour, while the Changeless ones will occasionally use the High Dry Mass on page 38 of Christian Worship, also new and mediocre. The Low Churchmen use praise music, while the High Churchmen, dipping into the same Reformed bag, sing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Some of the Changers have abandoned clerical apparel preferring business suits on Sunday morning, while the traditionalists also employ dress from the secular world, namely the judge’s robe (either in stylish black or white), with the liturgically elite preferring to dress in their underwear, the alb. (maybe even with a stole!)  

 

Both groups also share the same definition of an adiaphoron. It goes something like this: An adiaphoron is a practice neither commanded nor forbidden in the Bible; therefore Christians are free to adopt the practice or not (depending upon how many votes one can muster at the quarterly voter’s meeting). This definition is wholly inadequate for reasons to be discussed later. Unfortunately, this definition becomes the excuse for the adoption of inappropriate practices (“The Bible doesn’t speak against it!”) and the excuse to avoid wholesome changes (“The Bible doesn’t say we have to!”). This Biblistic handling of the scriptures is how the Reformed approach the Bible. The Reformed see the Bible as a rulebook governing godly living, including liturgical practice. Lutherans read the Bible Christologically; as a consequence they read it sacramentally, liturgically, and ceremonially. Biblicism has a profound negative effect on how one reads the Bible, but it also has a dilatory effect on how one views the Confessions and the liturgical practice of the church.

 

For example, a favorite ploy to avoid the obvious is when Biblicists divide Bible verses into prescriptive and descriptive passages. The former are command, the latter are adiaphora. Our modern day adiaphorists would agree that “Do this…” is prescriptive, but they would argue that descriptions of an every Sunday celebration in the New Testament and in early Lutheranism are simply that, descriptions of what people did long ago which don’t necessarily have a connection to today. What these people fail to do is to ask why their spiritual forefathers did what they did. However, the answers to the question would be painfully revealing. Best not to ask.  While the dead sometimes vote in places like Chicago, the “democracy of the dead”, when it comes to sacramental and liturgical matters, has been banished by those who believe that church history goes back to the day they were confirmed.  Therefore the votes of those who went before count for nothing.

 

Minimalism

 

Given the Protestant bent of the WELS, and a faulty hermeneutical approach to the Scriptures and Confessions, some confessionals are wondering if many WELS pastors (plug in any other synod as well) actually have a quatenus subscription to the symbols. However, these same suspect pastors speak a bold Quia! to the new confessional statement forbidding wholesome change in the church, “Gimme a Bible verse that says we have to!”

 

Even when a Bible verse is given, these people have an answer for the status quo. As an example: Jesus’ winsome command and invitation, “Do this…” is countered with, “Well, He didn’t say how often.” To that we say with Luther, “Go to your Zwinglians.” This is the kind of reasoning which children use to wiggle out of cleaning their rooms. But this reasoning is more than infantile, it borders on blasphemy, if not crossing the border. 

 

Lutherans who read the Bible with a proof-text mindset finally end up as minimalists who settle for the lowest common denominator. Operating with a Reformed hermeneutic there’s little wonder that they also end up with a Reformed approach to worship: bland and pale, and worse: anthropocentric. The early Calvinists thought they had found a proof-text against the “leftover papal dung” 1 which the Lutherans had left in the church, when they pointed to the Lord’s proscription of graven images, Exodus 20:4, their second commandment. They had an answer to the demand, “Gimme a Bible verse!” and out went crucifixes, stained glass, vestments, etc.  How many Lutherans today would prefer to ditch the crucifix in their church due to a Biblicist understanding of the Bible? Luther and his followers approached this matter in the context of Christology and the gospel. The law had been crucified. God himself would “violate” his own code about images with figures of angels on the Ark, a bronze snake on a pole (the first crucifix), and an incarnate Son in a virginal womb and upon a cross. 

 

However, we’re dealing with more here than the plastic arts. Diarmaid MacCulloch in his book The Reformation – A History observes that Calvin’s preoccupation with the dangers of idolatry, noted above, contributed to his rejection of the Real Presence. “Paying undue attention to physical, visible objects obscured the worship of God ‘in spirit and in truth’ – this is a phrase from a passage in the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel that scores frequent references in Calvin’s Institutes.2 Calvinism’s spiritualizing leaves us with an amorphous Christ somewhere up yonder, with the result that a Nestorian separation occurs between Christ and His Body. This Christ cannot be sacramentally present for His people with all His gifts, for the sacraments are legal ordinances performed by humans, and their application is discussed in terms of the law instead of in terms of divine gift. Lutheran church historians have acknowledged the undue influence of the Protestant Left on Lutheranism. No wonder then that a matter like the frequency of communion celebrations is discussed in the context of the law: “He didn’t say how many times we have to celebrate communion.” (When communion becomes a “have to” you know the jig is up). In this theological system there is also a Gnostic aversion to the visual arts and ceremony.

 

Yes, the confessors maintained the freedom of the community of God to change practices which a previous generation had employed, either by elimination or by addition, but to do so “without frivolity or offense, as seems most useful, beneficial, and best for good order, Christian discipline, evangelical decorum, and building up of the church.” (FC X: 9) We indeed have a glorious freedom in the gospel. But when this freedom becomes freedom to do frivolous, inappropriate, or even dangerous things, then we have become slaves again, slaves to our own foolishness. And when stubborn people reject wholesome liturgical changes which magnify Christ and His gospel, then “gospel freedom” ceases to be either, and we have failed to enrich the church.  Above all, gospel freedom is not the freedom to withhold the sacred body and blood (gospel) from God’s people because it’s not a “Communion Sunday”.

 

FC X

 

Since Satan will always attack our freedom in the gospel, it is not surprising that he mounts this attack in every age of the Church and that he has plenty who will join his ranks. There was a notable assault shortly after the death of Doctor Luther. By 1548 Emperor Charles V was bringing pressure to bear upon the Lutheran princes and their territories to return to the papal fold. Until the matters in controversy could be dealt with at the recently convened Council of Trent the emperor demanded an interim or a “time out.” The interim granted a few concessions to the Lutherans, but more significantly it laid out the Roman demands. The demands turned out to be onerous. Most intolerable was that the Roman definition of justification, which included transformation and human merit, was to be the doctrine held by all. There was also the forced reintroduction of certain ceremonies which were false in themselves, such as the Corpus Christi festival. Other ceremonies, some of which were neutral in nature and even retained in many Lutheran churches, were also to be reintroduced everywhere, but not adopted voluntarily, but rather by demand.

 

The turncoat Duke Maurice of Saxony, who was at the forefront of the Lutheran-papal negotiations, balked at the demands knowing that the true Lutherans would not brook interference of this sort. And so he countered the emperor’s Augsburg Interim with his own Leipzig Interim. A counter proposal was drawn up. Melanchthon was the principal author of this cleverly worded document. With the specter of Spanish troops laying Germany to waste Philip made as many concessions as he could. The document, which Melanchthon later called the mistake of his life, pleased no one.  

 

The Truce of Passau (1552), which permitted the Lutherans to exist as a legal church, ended the military threat for the moment. However, the debate about what constituted an adiaphoron continued within the Lutheran camp. Article X of the Formula served to resolve the argument. The article established the important principal that even the most innocent ecclesiastical practice is not an indifferent matter when the confession of the true faith is jeopardized. The article presents a three-fold criterion for determining whether a certain practice has ceased to be a matter of freedom. First of all, all practices which are intrinsically contrary to the gospel can never be considered free. The second and third criteria dealt with practices which in themselves were not contrary to the gospel, but which, given certain circumstances, could be considered not free. As the confessors said, “Moreover, we must not include among the truly free adiaphora or indifferent matters ceremonies that give the appearance or (in order to avoid persecution) are designed to give the impression that our religion were not completely contrary to theirs.” (para. 4) Finally, when the use of certain ceremonies leaves the impression that the two opposing sides have finally been brought into agreement, then the use of such ceremonies is a detriment to the truth.

 

A Definition

 

FC Article X is a carefully nuanced document. Failure to understand this will mean that the article will be misread, which often happens. To cite one example, one of the erroneous impressions that some readers come away with is that this article is granting an imprimatur for wide ranging experimentation when it comes to liturgical practice. These people see the confessional expression our churches as referring to individual congregations outfitted with laser printers and innovative worship committees rather than the large territorial or national churches of 16th century Germany and Scandinavia. Given the congregational mindset of many Lutheran pastors and congregations this becomes a license to kill, with a chalk line drawn around the lifeless bodies of the Liturgy and good liturgical practice. Another false impression is that Article X is essentially an anti-Roman document, and that it’s safer to shy away from anything that might smack of papism. It’s better, you see, to sing Amazing Grace with the Baptists than Pange Lingua Gloriosi with the Pope, to paraphrase Luther. This often means that very wholesome things like an every Sunday celebration of the Eucharist or the encouragement of private absolution (incidentally, things not at issue in the adiaphoristic controversy) don’t have a prayer in many Lutheran congregations. Finally, FC X is misread when people come away with the impression that the ceremonies spoken of in FC X are the liturgies of the church, and therefore liturgical matters can be decided by the whims of the mob (read: the voters assembly), and certainly aren’t worth too much fuss.

 

The last point is very much at issue in a self-consciously Low Church synod like the WELS, and also in the Church Growth congregations of the LCMS and the ELCA. “There are more important things to be concerned about like sharing the gospel!” is the cry of the liturgically indifferent (as if the Holy Liturgy has not nor cannot carry the gospel forward to the world). Perhaps the Formula itself has contributed in a small way to this confusion, at least in the Latin translation of Article X. In the Latin adiaphora are termed res media et indifferentes. Indeed, there is a studied indifference which all too many Lutheran pastors have toward good sacramental and liturgical practice. It seems that the German edition has the better of it with its mitteldinge. Middle things are important, as in the thing between your ears and the axel between your car’s wheels. In fact it could be argued that what FC X is teaching us is that there is truly nothing that is indifferent and unimportant in the church. Even minor matters matter. In this regard Fr. William Weedon references Paul’s handling of the circumcision debate in his day,

 

We have Timothy who loses his foreskin to confess the Gospel of Christ to the Jews. We have Titus who keeps his foreskin to confess the Gospel of Christ to the Jews. What Paul could freely grant when it gave him greater opportunity to spread the Gospel, he wouldn’t budge an inch on when it became a demand, a law, something coerced.3

 

The snippets might be small, but whether to snip or not to snip has far ranging implications.

 

The common definition for an adiaphoron given earlier is problematic. It goes in the way of the law and leaves no allowance for the gospel. Yes, there are ecclesiastical practices for which we don’t have a proof-text, such as the fact that it’s best for a pastor to use the traditional Lutheran form for private confession and absolution. And, yes, there is no Bible verse which specifically states that because Amazing Grace can be sung by a Unitarian without offense, confessional Lutherans ought to be offended by it. Yes, “neither commanded nor forbidden.” Yet, the mitteldinge here is not the “nor” of the preceding sentence. “Neither commanded nor forbidden” are not two things, but one. They are on one side of the balance scales. On the other side is Christ, His Incarnation, His gospel, His sacraments, His Holy Ministry, His Church. Yes, “neither commanded nor forbidden”, but there is much more to be considered here, and here seemingly unimportant matters take on great importance. No, there is no Bible verse which states that Lutheran pastors today would do well to use the forms for private confession and absolution which are found in synodically approved agendas and encourage their people in this habitus. Yet, can one find a better way to be a Seelsorger than to use these forms? Do they not clearly and succinctly testify to the incarnate Christ and best fulfill his mandatum “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them”? Wasn’t this why the Reformers had no problem with granting sacramental status to Holy Absolution? No, there is no Bible verse stating that Amazing Grace is a poor witness to Christ and the forgiveness of sins. And yet this hymn is exactly that. Nor are its deficiencies improved by saying, “Well, it could be understood correctly.” As I’ve said before, we wouldn’t tolerate that kind of thinking when it comes to a pharmacist writing out directions for our medication. So why do we tolerate it when it comes to matters infinitely more important?

 

Brandenburg

 

Let’s fast forward from the interims of the 1540’s to 1619 Brandenburg. Although liturgically indifferent or liturgically careless Lutheran pastors have failed to learn from the past, this was not the case with the Elector of Brandenburg, Johann Sigismund. The Elector knew full well what the interimists understood in the previous century. It was the ancient truth that the way one believes is the way one worships, and conversely, the way one worships finally becomes the way one believes. Liturgy cannot be separated from doctrine or faith, as if one can be changed without having an effect on the other. There is no Platonic dualism in operation here, the two are fundamentally related. After all orthodoxy is right praise. Although Brandenburg had a large Lutheran population the royal court was Calvinistic. By altering the liturgies of the church the Elector sought to convert the people to his theology. The Mass, the baptismal rite, church music, and the church calendar all felt his tampering hand. The Lutherans took to the streets in protest. Mary Jane Haemig notes,

 

Brandenburg (circa 1539) first retained many of the Roman ceremonies in order to demonstrate its continuity with the Roman church, then it retained the same ceremonies as a mark of Lutheranism, against the attacks of Calvinism. During the Second Reformation (1619) the Calvinist ruler tried to get rid of such ceremonies but ran into heavy resistance from Lutherans who regarded the liturgy as the mark of true Lutheranism. 4

 

Attacks from the Protestant left continued. Frank Senn notes, “Thus, in the state church situation in the Protestant countries we find not just doctrinal control over liturgy but political control over liturgy. In the expanded kingdom of Prussia in the eighteenth century, which included a minority Reformed population in an overwhelmingly Lutheran land, the Reformed King Friedrich Wilhelm I exercised his function as summus episcopus by forbidding candles, copes, chasubles, Latin hymns, and the sign of the cross (1733). ‘If any…wish to make it a matter of conscience…they can be relieved by dismissal from their parishes.’” 5 The Lutheran laity again protested.

 

The laity had been catechized to protest. Next to the Catechism the Augustana was the most accessible symbol for the laity, and many knew it well. Two centuries before Melanchthon had boldly confronted the pernicious lie spread by the papal side, “Our people have been unjustly accused of having abolished the Mass. But it is obvious, without boasting, that the Mass is celebrated among us with greater devotion and earnestness than among our opponents.” (AC XXIV:40) Tampering with the Liturgy (both rite and ceremony, both texts and textiles) is tampering with the people’s faith.

 

Incarnational Worship

 

The Lutheran confessors understood well the symbiotic relationship between faith and liturgy. They also understood the symbiotic relationship between liturgical rite and the palpable; that is, the incarnational, whether Christ or man. We might view this in creedal terms. We worship in Spirit and in Truth (Third Article). Faith engendered by the Spirit leads us to Christ. We adore or worship the one we trust. The one we trust has redeemed us body and soul (Second Article) by his soul and body. With body and soul we take up First Article, palpable gifts created by our Father. We are not Gnostic spooks. We have been redeemed, body and soul, and therefore we worship God with our whole being and with his created gifts. Therefore the Son give us his Eucharistic body and his Spirit-empower Word for our bodies and souls by means of palpable First Article gifts like bread, wine, paper, ink and the human voice, things that must be handled and given out (liturgical form). The gospel seeks its own forms. Because it has sought them, they in turn give witness back to it, back to the gospel. The gospel never seeks bad forms. There are appropriate forms and those which are not. There are good forms and those which are even better.

 

Practically speaking First Article gifts like bread and wine need to be consecrated with orthodox words (the rite). We call upon the Holy Spirit for Third Article gifts, that is, we seek his blessing (epiclesis) upon earthly elements and upon ourselves that we might behold with the eyes of faith what is a mysterion. The true body and blood of our Savior are physically elevated for all to see and adore. They are lifted up for the sake of faith. The Sanctus bells ring for the sake of faith. Then, in his great self-giving act as Host and host, Christ gives his life-giving, divine-human body and blood to be taken into our bodies. He who breathed out and bled out His Life now breathes Life into our ears and pours Life into our mouths and we live. Our troubled hearts are reassured by His clement heart. Forgiven! Second Article gifts galore! And First and Third Articles gifts to boot! The Bridegroom and the Bride are joined. They come closer together than husband and wife, as Luther said. Heaven and earth have been bridged. The Feast on earth and the Feast of the Lamb above are cojoined and become one. “Holy, Holy, Holy,” heaven and earth sing together. Unclean lips have touched the cleansing coal, and with an “Amen” the faithful step away from the altar. The sacred vessels are put away. Sacred contents are reserved for the sick and for the next Mass. Interspersed between all of this is graceful movement (ceremony), covered over and enhanced by music, made visually beautiful by tasteful plastic arts. Finally, Ita misse est, and the faithful move on to the leitorgia of their life of service as the Christ who lives within continues to serve the world through the faithful (Gal. 2:20). In other words, the ceremony continues and the poor and discouraged are helped.

 

There are appropriate forms and those which are not. There are good forms and those which are better. Worship and Liturgy are hardly indifferent, hardly adiaphora. However, when many Lutherans read words like these they envision a Liturgy Gestapo dictating orders. In this regard it should be noted that the Sunday masses which the three editors of this journal celebrate are not identical, though they are certainly all in the same liturgical ball park. Not even the Missale Romanum of 1570 demanded lockstep uniformity. Regional masses which could prove a 200 year continuous existence could continue as is. However, the Roman Church understood that doctrine changes when liturgy changes. Conformity serves the faith. How contemporary this is! In this regard, two thoughts came to mind as I watched Pope John Paul’s funeral. First, papam esse ipsum verum antichristum. Second, there will probably be more Roman Catholics in heaven than any other tradition, not just due to sheer numbers, but rather due to the Holy Liturgy. In spite of the Canon of the Mass the Liturgy presents the gospel and is the Roman laity’s protection from Trent. Conformity serves the faith.

 

What Are We Saying By The Way We Worship?

 

There are appropriate forms and those which are not. There are good forms and those which are better. Worship and Liturgy are hardly indifferent, hardly adiaphora, and so, “Adiaphora, adios!”

 

The Liturgy is not only God gifting the faithful, but the faithful confessing God to one another and to the world. What do we confess to one another and to the inquirer on Sunday morning? A weak absolution without a reference to ordination can only reveal a weak view of the Holy Ministry (see Christian Worship, p 15f). Female lectors reveal a church conforming to the world because it doesn’t understand how men and women conform to the image of God in their own unique ways (1 Co 11). Sectarian tampering with the Creed (“fully human”) is a concession to feminism whether intended or not. (I heard the translator of the CW version of the Nicene Creed openly confess this.) Such concessions send the message that contemporary culture, and not the voice of the church catholic, runs the show. What does a Sunday without the giving out of Christ’s life-giving body and blood say about a church’s understanding of the Eucharist, not to mention the needs of its people? What message does praise music with its “Twinkie tunes and Ding-dong theology” (thus Carl Schalk) present to those who seek transcendence? What must run through the minds of professional people who had a week’s worth of pointless Power-Point presentations in their high-power corporate board rooms when they must sit through another one of these presentations on the chancel wall with commentary by a pastor turned comic wearing brown Hush Puppies? The baptismal font shoved into the corner can only send a negative message. The baptism rite shorn of the questions addressed to the infant, and children forced to fast from the Supper until they reach age thirteen, can only reveal that a church body not only has been infected by 17th century Pietism but also by 18th century Rationalism.  The historic liturgy meets man’s greatest need, and that need is not better living, but Life through death. (slain and resurrected from the pulpit and drowned and resurrected from the font)

 

These observations will be met by a hail of clerical protest in some circles. Yet how can pastors who have never read Luther’s writings on the sacraments and liturgy in volumes 36- 38 and 53 of the American Edition of his works, nor have read Hermann Sasse’s classic, This Is My Body, nor have read Martin Chemnitz’ De coena Domini even presume to offer an intelligent comment on any of this?

 

A More Excellent Way

 

There are appropriate forms and those which are not. There are good forms and those which are better. Worship and liturgy are hardly indifferent, hardly adiaphora. And so, “Hola” to a more excellent way.

 

And shall we not start with the Bible? There was a time when God prescribed the worship life of His people. We are free from a slavish attachment to the forms given at Sinai. Indeed, the New Testament Church had to distinguish itself from what Israel had tragically become. Yes, free from slavish copying, however, we are not free to be unwise. True wisdom looks back upon those days when God set the liturgical and sacramental patterns for his people. This is exactly what the church did from early on. Little wonder that the church developed its own version of the Old Testament church year. It too had its own altars, lights, priestly vestments, incense, set liturgical texts, and set ceremonial movements. There were certainly regional differences in the mass families which developed over the first several centuries of the new era, but there was regional uniformity, and certainly nothing like the fierce liturgical independence of most Lutheran pastors. Again, how very Protestant. One is reminded of the old saying, “One Dutchman, a theologian; two Dutchmen, a Church; three Dutchmen, a schism.” 

 

There are good forms and those which are better. Isn’t a chalice a better witness to our Communion than individual glasses? Doesn’t the crucifix testify to the truth of Christ incarnate and crucified better than the bare cross? Doesn’t the use of the western rite testify better to the catholicity which binds the past with the present than makeshift “liturgies”? Wouldn’t a voluntary adoption of one mass throughout a synod serve to better bind people together than every congregation doing what it thought right in its own eyes?  Don’t the historic mass vestments compliment our rich liturgy better than street clothes? Wouldn’t our preaching be enriched and our auditors blessed if we preachers spent fifty bucks on Luther’s Postil and summarized his sermons rather than inflict our own creations on our hapless people? Wouldn’t establishing an acolyte program be far better youth work then taking the kids to a CCM concert? Wouldn’t our Sunday morning services be deepened in meaning with the addition of the sign of the cross, bowing and genuflection? What better physical ceremony testifies to the Real Presence than the Elevation? Shouldn’t it be a top priority to teach the upcoming generation of the church the habitus of private confession and absolution? And shouldn’t the Supper be restored to its proper place so that those “who hunger and thirst for righteousness” might be filled every Lord’s Day?

 

Are the things “neither commanded nor forbidden” free? In a sense they are. However, true Christian freedom is not the freedom of choice which we Americans are so used to. That is a very American notion. True freedom consists in being placed in, with, and under Christ and his Church. When we voluntarily place ourselves under an orthodox liturgical ordo, then we are freed from ourselves, for the Liturgy magnifies and presents Christ (not us) to His people. True freedom is service to God and neighbor. When we become liturgically rich and ordered, then the people of God are served, for order serves faith. Do you recall how the Blessed Virgin placed herself at the Lord’s command? Her greatness, Luther points out, was not in what she did or suffered, but rather her passivity and what God did in and through her. As the Lord has a mother, so we too have a mother. She is Holy Mother Church. It is good to honor and obey your mother. When we do so we are truly free, free from ourselves. Honor and obey your mother! She has a rich liturgical and sacramental life to give to you. Embrace it.   §

 

The Reverend Peter M. Berg is a rostered pastor of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and resides in, Chicago, Illinois.

 

_________________________

 

1 Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation – A History (New York, Viking Press, 2004), p. 346. Thus Abraham Scultetus court preacher at Heidelberg.

2 ibid, p. 241

3 William Weedon, FC X: Church Usages Called Adiaphor (Oxford, MI, The Bride of Christ, the Journal of Lutheran Liturgical Renewal, Inc., 2004, Vol. XXVIII, No. 1-2), p. 31.

4 Mary Jane Haemig, review of Bodo Nishan, Prince, People, and Confession: The Second Reformation in Brandenburg, LQ 10, No 2 (1996) p. 212, (Phila: Univ of Pennsylvania Press, 1994).

5 Frank Senn, Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 1997), p. 485.