Monday, September 14, 2009

Always something more

to; lalh'san dia; tw'n Profhtw'n

I'm sure I'm late to the game in noticing this one – but just yesterday while confessing the Creed I realized what a bulwark of sola scriptura it is. In our confession of the Holy Spirit we say that he “spoke by the prophets” - not through a majority vote of bishops, or a supposed consensus of the faithful, or anything else. The Spirit speaks by the prophets. Best to listen to them.

This is another example of the depth of the church's liturgy. There is always something more to learn and see. Even if you've already noticed this treasure (which was new to me), there will be more treasures for you to mine.

How impoverished those Christians are who make up their own liturgies, creeds, and lectionaries! Just think of what they are missing. They spend their time only on what they recognize as important and so unwittingly neglect the whole counsel of God.

Which reminds me of anything thing about the liturgy. . . We are accustomed to point out how the liturgy kept the Church alive with the Word of the Gospel through the long "Babylonian Captivity" of the medieval period. Today I thank the Lord for the liturgy and lectionary for keeping the Church alive amongst us by guarding us against our great temptation: anti-nomianism. Last week's collect and yesterday's epistle lesson were very good for that.

Trinity XIII Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity, and as we do obtain that which You promise, make us to love that which You command; through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.

Trinity XIIII Epistle

Galatians 5:16-24

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.



  1. I teach a Psalms class on Wednesday mornings, and there are lots of elderly people who attend, so sometimes doctors appointments get in the way. Turns out last week that the people who could make it were the ones who hadn't been there the week before - so we went over Psalm 29 a second time. One person came in late, who had been there the week before, and her comment afterwards was, "Wow, there was a lot more I saw this time."

    God's Word is deep. The liturgy, which is God's Word in organized fashion for worship, is likewise deep. When we pause and look at it, we will always find things new (and old) within it - for that is what the Spirit does.

  2. It seems to me that one could assert that the liturgy is the Word of God in the same way, and to the same extent, that one could say that the voice of the preacher is the voice of Christ. Perhaps one could also call it a "means of grace", in a lower-case sense...

    I'm always eager to recognize the "deep" nature of the liturgy, given how much I've learned from and through it myself. However, there's a practical problem here that I've thought about:

    Suppose a pastor likes the liturgy and has a certain understanding of what it is and what it means. He may be right about a lot of it, but let's say that he doesn't understand certain parts of it quite right. Perhaps he acknowledges that the reading of the Gospel is an absolution (in the sense that Luther said), but then comes to the conclusion that the Gospel reading is identical to a "sacramental" absolution. Or perhaps he discovers the strong connection between the Gloria and the Incarnation, and then comes to the conclusion that the Gloria is appropriate during Christmas alone. Because the pastor, and not the laity, is generally the one "in charge" of the liturgy in a congregational setting (especially where a confessional pastor is trying to catechize the laity in the liturgy), the pastor uses his "excellent" knowledge of the liturgy to make some "perfectly appropriate" changes--in this case, perhaps he moves the reading of the Gospel immediately after the corporate confession and eliminates the Greater Gloria for the entire year except during the Christmas season.

    It's pretty clear that this is a misguided approach. But what seems critical to me, the lay student of the liturgy, is that at just this point the theoretical pastor stopped being a student of the liturgy and started being a judge of it. Once someone starts to move away from the liturgy as a given, specific rite that forms and nurtures his faith and life and starts to pass judgment on this and that part of it, he has stopped to understand the liturgy to be "deep". He has plumbed the depths, said "Aha! I understand it all now," and moved on to other things.

    That said, the test case of what I'm saying here is Luther's reform of the liturgy.

  3. It is especially striking to note the precursor to the Nicene Creed, the Antiochian Council's creed of the same year, and how it hits the Sola Scriptura theme repeatedly:

    "For we have learned from the Holy Scriptures that He alone is the express image... but the Scriptures describe Him as validly and truly begotten as Son... Furthermore, as in our Savior, the holy Scriptures teach us to believe also in one Spirit..." See Kelly *Early Christian Creeds* pp. 209, 210


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