I was chatting with a college friend on Facebook this past week. He was questioning why the likes of the Gottesdienst Crowd weren't more hard on the papists. He questioned why we were so hard on the Evangelicals and didn't seem too concerned by similar errors made by Rome.
First, I’ve found that, in advocating for and making use of the ceremonies of the Western Rite, I must be very clear about what we, as Lutherans, believe, especially regarding our departure from the Roman Catholic Church. Second, I’ve also found that the vast majority of Lutherans I encounter reflect the beliefs of generic American Protestantism and have almost a gag-reflex reaction to anything they deem to be Roman Catholic (which incidentally can be as wide and broad as Harrison's stache).
But, I digress. So, here’s a portion of what my friend wrote:
"Besides being convicted that certain practices are essential to christian life and teaching, some just like things like vestments and the like. There is a difference between thinking vesting is appropriate and stopping by every catholic supply shop to pick up something new. I am suggesting that some people, especially when organized into groups with charismatic leaders pick up practices because they are being done by those who share similar interests. And in some of my circles, an affinity for Rome seems to be one of those things people are picking up. If Rome does or did it, it must be good. It moves them farther from the Evangelicals. Luther judged whether a practice was good based on how it effected the hearing of the gospel or the administration of the means of grace, not on whether it was moving, reverent or whatever other adjective describes what people happen to like personally. . . . Again my first point is that our ultimate affinity must be for the Gospel."
And that’s when it hit me. My friend mistakes the Western Rite and its attendant ceremonies as being fundamentally and doctrinally Roman Catholic. This is his first assumed and unstated premise. And since this is the case, then logically, anyone who gravitates toward these is also suspect. For he must love Roman Catholic style more than Lutheran substance. This is his second assumed premise, namely, those who love ceremony and beauty in the Divine Service love them more than the Gospel itself. And finally, his third assumed and unstated premise is that the Gospel itself is neutral and can and does exist outside of history and/or ceremonies. This is the same old style versus substance canard. Now let’s say it all together: Petitio Principi!
Regardless, let’s take a closer look. The Western Rite and the ceremonies that go with it have already been vetted. We've had that battle: been there, done that, got the T-shirt. What has been retained is therefore de facto Lutheran. The Western Rite then should be the Lutheran's default position not an add-on of Roman Catholic style to an otherwise abstracted and neutral Lutheran substance. The historic ceremonies of the Western Rite retained during the Reformation are ours. They are our heritage. This isn't about style. This is about who we are as Lutherans and about what we believe, teach, and confess. After everything that obstructed the Gospel was removed, what remained was pure Gospel, a Gospel enacted by the very ceremonies of the Western Rite.
And so claiming the ceremonies of the Western Rite is, in fact, to teach and confess as Lutherans believe. It is teaching what it means to be Lutheran in word and deed. That is, after all, what ceremonies do, is it not (AC XXIV:1-3)? They teach. So let's teach. Teach your people. Use the historic ceremonies of the Western Church, vetted and retained during the Reformation, to teach what we as Lutherans believe, teach, and confess.