Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Esse and Bene Esse of Christian Unity

"Nor is it necessary that human traditions, rites, or ceremonies instituted by men should be alike everywhere." So says AC VII - and we all say Amen. Uniformity in the ceremonies of the Mass that are neither commanded nor forbidden by God is certainly not necessary for the true unity of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

And there is more to confess here. Consider a statement in that form "X is not necessary for Y." Why are such statements made? For example, these two statements in that form are both true:

A) Saying "I love you" each day to your spouse is not necessary to Christian marriage.
B) Eating a green apple each day is not necessary to Christian marriage.

Both are true, and yet B is almost certainly a useless statement than never needs to be made precisely because eating a green apple has next to nothing to do with marriage, while the communication of love certainly has a lot to do with it. In fact, daily communication of love is so supportive of Christian marriage that someone might be tempted to think that it is the essence of Christian marriage. Hence the need for statement A.

So the need for this confession in AC VII - unity in ceremonies is not necessary for the true unity of the catholic Church, but it is so supportive of that unity that Christians might be tempted to mistake the support for the essence.

Thus, the first generations of Lutheran both confessed AC VII and also insisted on a great degree of uniformity in rite and ceremony, as evidenced by the old Church Orders. Why? Because while not of the esse of the Church, a unity in rite and ceremony is of the bene esse of the Church and very supportive of the esse. That is, worshiping in like manner supports believing in like manner, avoids scandal and division based on church shopping, etc., etc.

There was much good discussion below concerning what level of unity in our outward ceremony would best support both harmony in the Church and Christian freedom.

This discussion will continue at Octoberfest in Kewanee (Have you registered yet? Did you know this is the best party in the Missouri Synod? Will Fr. Fritz ask what the hymn Hotel California means again this year?). In thinking through my response to the questions that the Rev. Editor posed, I'm leaning toward a twofold response. I think there is a basic unity in form of worship that we should insist upon - while yet leaving room for local custom.

In speaking with some members of The Gottesdienst Crowd, I think there is a basic level of unity such that that if we had it, nobody in TGC would complain much at all. Gottesdiesnt would still publish and still advocate the rites and ceremonies we believe best confess our doctrine to the gathered believers and the world at large - but we really wouldn't have much to complain about if everyone in our fellowship:

* Used only rites (the words and order) from one of our books: TLH, LW, LSB, HS98 (or corresponding books, like CW, for other fellowships).

* Used only these books for congregational hymns.

* Utilized music in the tradition of the Lutheran Reformation and the Western Church catholic (= no American Evangelical, soft-rock, culture-capitulating praise bands)

* Vested in a minimum of alb and stole, or cassock-surplice-stole

* Practiced a ceremony that avoids "the Augsburg Confession XXIVfrivolity and offense" and disorder (FC SD X).

* Read from one of the Lectionaries in one of our hymnals.

That list provides a good deal of unity - enough to where visitors from sister parishes would not feel like they walked into another denomination when they come into the sanctuary - while leaving ample room for local custom. And, yes, leaving room for improvement in confessing our doctrine. For example, under conditions of such unity Gottesdienst would still advocate:

* Weekly Communion

* Chalice Only

* Chanting of the Services

* The Common Service

* A Reverent Ceremony consciously informed by historic Lutheran practice and evangelical-catholic piety (genuflecting, traditional use of altar boys, crucifers, Deacons, etc. I have been told those outside TGC call this "chancel prancing.")

* Full Traditional Vestments

* TheHistoric Epistles and Gospels + LSB's 1-Yr. OT selections



  1. Well said, Father Curtis. I believe this is a line of thought worth pursuing. The details can be fine-tuned, or even quibbled here and there (because quibbitch is such fine sport), but the underlying premise and the trajectory of your perspective is spot-on, in my opinion. I'm glad you included the "etc." in the list of "chancel prancing," like Luther's "and the like" in the gifts of daily bread. That allows me to insert the elevation of the Sacrament, a rather significant ceremony that apparently elicits some strong visceral reactions in some places.

    You know my "minority opinion" concerning the lectionaries; and I know myself to be out-voted within the ranks of TGC. Makes me feel all fuzzy and warm that y'all still keep me, anyway.

    So, what was our assignment, exactly, for the Oktoberfest? And how did I miss seeing that?

  2. The only down side is you've already stated where you want to go beyond that. . . if I (where I am someone who is not so liturgical) give you here the allowance that I will use only the hymnal, 3 years from now are you going to say that for the sake of Christian Unity I must only use DSIII or it's analog? Or that now for the sake of unity I need to chant, even though this may have never been the custom in my congregation?

    A minimum is not and can never be an ideal - if we are setting the minimum it can't be descriptive of the ideal. Let people grow into the ideal.

  3. Rev. Brown,

    I guess I have to assure you that I mean what I say: if you don't chant, elevate, and genuflect - if you use Setting One instead of the Common Service - if you use the three year lectionary - I will seek to convince and persuade you toward what I feel better confesses our doctrine.

    But if you will stick to just one of the many settings that our fellowship has set down as good and right; if you will humble yourself to use just one of the lectionaries our tradition has used; if you will just avoid frivolity and offense: well, that'd be just great. My people would not feel like a stranger in your place, nor yours in mine.

    That last bit is really the lodestone: the unity in form that supports the unity in teaching is the unity that allows visitors and transferees to still feel at home. Less than that (as we have now across the Synod) is troubling and works against the true unity of the Church by encouraging division and bad feelings.

    What I'm asking for, essentially, is just what our Synod had in, say, the 1950's. There was an agreed rite - but room for Piepkorn's Conduct of the Servcie and for the guy out in NE in the Geneva gown speaking the rite.


    1. Luther didn't bring God's people completely out of Babylon. Because you have held on to the altar, the mass, the priesthood and elevate traditions (the Divine Worship and the BOC) to the authority of the Bible it will be relatively easy for you to respond to your mother when she calls you back home. Keep
      patting yourselves on the back. You will be crossing yourselves in Rome one day and wondering why you ever left home.

  4. I'm with Curtis on this one. Nicely put.

  5. Rev. Curtis,

    That's going to be the rub of the sell job (and sadly, for many it would be a sell job) - that the practical result is that there is a degree of uniformity so that we all know what is going on wherever we end up -- not an attempt to end up bring your "mean mandates" upon people. The hermeneutic of suspicion "works" both ways, although I only hear it leveled against the conservative folks.

    (note: I realized my comment might have been viewed as my critizing your idea -- I think it's a great idea. Rather, I was presenting what one who objects might point out. I do think that when this style of idea is presented that it is important to point out that we aren't trying to establish an idea but a base - a common language rather rather than a lock-step mirroring. Otherwise many will be scared off.)


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