Thursday, October 8, 2009

Because Less Is More


And since twenty is less than thirty-five, perhaps I can shamelessly attempt again to kickstart some discussion and debate of my theses on the Liturgy and adiaphora.

To that end, here are twenty theses that drive to the heart of my own wrestling with what is given and what is free in the Church's administration and reception of the Divine Liturgy (I've left the enumeration intact, in order to tease the reader into reading more, and for the sake of my own sanity in keeping track of things):

1. The Divine Liturgy, properly speaking (Apology XXIV.79–83), comprises the Ministry of the Gospel, which is the preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, the confession of Christ Jesus, the ongoing catechesis of His Word, and the faithful administration of His Body and His Blood to His disciples. This Divine Liturgy is not adiaphora (Leitourgia Divina adiaphora non est). This Divine Liturgy is the Holy Gospel, the Word and work of the Holy Triune God, which is fundamental and necessary to faith and life in Christ.

2. To be liturgical is not simply to "have" or "do" the Word and Sacrament; but to be liturgical is to be defined by these things of the Gospel, to be governed and guided by them, entirely under their sway. To be liturgical, therefore, is to be evangelical; and to be truly evangelical is to be liturgical.

3. The Divine Liturgy is where and how the Church lives with God in Christ, by grace through faith in the Gospel. The evangelical mission of the Church flows out of that liturgical life in Christ, with the purpose of bringing others into the Liturgy of the Gospel.

4. To hear and receive the Divine Liturgy in faith and with thanksgiving is the worship of the Holy Triune God in Spirit and in Truth. That godly Christian worship proceeds from the Altar and continues in daily prayer and catechesis throughout the week, within each Christian's proper vocations and stations in life; and it returns again to the Altar of Christ each Lord's Day.

6. Adiaphora simply are what they are: rites and ceremonies and other practices which are neither commanded nor forbidden by God. The teaching and confession of adiaphora goes hand-in-hand with the Gospel; that we are justified by grace through faith in Christ, apart from works of the Law.

8. Adiaphora are rightly used with pastoral care, and as a means of pastoral care. Pastors should exercise discretion and discernment in the use of adiaphora, but pastors should also discipline themselves in doing so, for the sake of faith and love.

10. All things are lawful, but not all things are meet, right and salutary (1 Corinthians 10:23). Even that which is free and clear can be measured and evaluated according to its service and support of the Word of God, and thus determined to be more or less helpful to faith and love.

13. The boundaries and parameters of freedom in worship are established and contoured, not only by explicit commands and prohibitions, but also implicitly by the constitutive rites and ceremonies of Holy Baptism, preaching and the Holy Communion.

14. The use of liturgical rubrics, rites and ceremonies is fundamental to the pastoral ministry.

Rubrics are instructions for the conduct of the Liturgy, mutually agreed upon within the fellowship of the Church. Rites are the words that are spoken in the administration of the Liturgy. Ceremonies are the bodily actions, movements and adornments of the Liturgy.

Rubrics are needed for an orderly conduct of corporate communal life. Rites belong to the fact that God does everything by His Word. Ceremonies belong to the fact that human life is lived in the body, occupying space and time.

15. It is not possible to administer and receive the means of grace without ceremonies. However, not all ceremonies are created equal. Some ceremonies are better, and some are worse than others; and some ceremonies have no place in the Church, even if they would otherwise be "free."

17. The measure of a ceremony’s worth and benefit requires more than the avoidance of overtly false doctrine. The best ceremonies are not only true (as opposed to false) but are positively helpful in confessing the Word of God, and they are beautiful in adorning His Liturgy. Whatever is true, lovely and of good repute, excellent and worthy of praise, dwell on those things (Philippians 4:8).

18. It is appropriate and salutary to adorn the Ministry of the Gospel with beauty, as a confession of faith in the Word and work of Christ, and as a way of catechesis in the hidden truth of the Gospel.

20. That which is harmful to faith and love is not free but forbidden. That which is irreverent or rude is likewise not free but forbidden. (Formula SD X.1, 7, 9)

28. The collective wisdom of the Church is usually wiser than the personal insights of an individual. Nevertheless, the nature and needs of pastoral care require the free exercise of pastoral discernment and discretion, just as the Church in each time and place is free with respect to human customs.

29. Frequent fluctuations and diversity in practice are unsettling to the people and easily distract from the Liturgy of Christ; they require a level of literacy, attention, energy and effort that tends to frustrate or make impossible the participation of many members in the Church’s worship of Christ.

30. Consistency and continuity of practice are beneficial to peace and rest in the Liturgy of Christ; they allow for and assist the ready participation of the entire congregation in the Church’s worship of the Holy Triune God.

31. The broad latitude of hymnody is necessarily constrained because of its affective power, and because of its vast importance and significance for the catechesis and confession of the Word. Hymns properly serve the freedom of faith in the Gospel when they are selected and used liturgically.

32. It is not an appropriate use of freedom when hymns (or songs), or any other practices, are used simply to fill up space and pass the time in worship, or when they are used to entertain emotions instead of edifying the people and glorifying God by the confession of His Word (Formula SD X.1, 7, 9).

33. The unity of a common confession of the faith is both embodied and substantiated by a unity of practice. Church fellowship does not depend upon a uniformity in adiaphora, but the fellowship of the Church gravitates toward a common and consistent usage of adiaphora wherever it is possible. And the beauty of it is, the Church is free to do so.

34. It is not a violation of faith or freedom when the fellowship of the Church mutually agrees, in love, to order and conduct its liturgical life according to common rubrics, rites and ceremonies.


  1. Still no comments? Okay, I'll dive in.

    10 - This comment is precisely where any discussion with one proposing CW must live. Excellent.

    20 - You say "That which is harmful to faith". . . does this refer to objective faith or subjective faith -- or that which is a denial of the objective and hence harmful to one's own faith? I ask simply because if I wished to put on the irresponsible worship hat, I would use this thesis to run wild. . . because your chancel prancing is far, far too much for my people, so for the benefit of their faith, I'll dress casually and just wander around my auditorium stage so they are more willing to hear -- and after all, faith comes by hearing, and I don't want my demeanor to distract them from hearing.

    (By the way, my fingers feel dirty right now)

    The logic of that thesis might need to be made more explicit so it is not exploited.

    28 - While this may be true, the very nature of making this a generalization muddies this greatly. This is especially true when we add in modern confusion as to what one means by Church. For example, on the basis of this thesis, I could say to you, "You are right, and the Church has decided to establish more contemporary praise songs -- who are you as an individual to contradict the wisdom of Synod in Convention?"

    (What is this grit and filth on my fingers! It won't come off!)

    While I think it is good and useful to address exceptions (sometimes I think I have become "Captain Exception"), the wording of this thesis just remains too open to individual tomfoolery while perhaps allowing for a tyranny of the majority political solution attitude within our own denomination. I'm guessing that neither of these are things of which you are desirous.

    34 - This is for a clarification. What precisely do you mean by "Church"? Are you speaking denomonationally, or universally? Are you allowing for specific differing bodies or Synods to form that might have differing rubrics but remain in communion fellowship (i.e. like Eastern-rite Roman Catholics are in full communion with Rome)?

    This ends up being a reality that we might have to consider - I can imagine a day where there might be multiple synods that have more well defined internal rubrics that are in fellowship with other Synods with slightly differing rubrics.

    Again - thank you for posting these - I hope that others who are more knowledgeble of liturgics than gives salient comments. (Hmmm, "salient" comments are wise. . . "salty" comments are vulgar. . . linguistic history can be odd)

  2. Thanks for your comments, Father Brown. We really need more confessional gadflies like yourself ;-)

    I want to take some time to respond more carefully and thoroughly to your comments and questions, but I won't have that opportunity tonight. In the short term, let me simply say that by the "Church" I mainly have in mind the one, holy, catholic and Apostolic Church; but I also recognize that there are different lines of tradition within that one Church, different "rites" that have developed over time in different locations. The wisdom of individuals, of congregations, of synods and other jurisdictions of the Church, is measured against the Holy Scriptures, of course, and also against the broad tradition of the whole Church in teaching and practice.

    While I recognize the dangers, temptations and potential (or realized) abuses of freedom, I maintain that a measure of freedom is necessary to pastoral care. Discovering the parameters of that freedom, and the appropriate ways of ordering and using that freedom, that is precisely the challenge.

    On that which is harmful or helpful to faith, I mean both "objective" and "subjective" faith; in any case, the latter is entirely dependent on the former, so you can't harm the first without harming the second. My thesis aims chiefly to say that anything which harms or hinders the preaching and teaching of the Gospel is not free but forbidden. The measure of that assessment is primarily objective; though there is a subjective consideration to be taken into account, as well. Sometimes there are judgment calls which are not easy to make, but a pastor has to make them anyway. The goal, in every case, is the faithful preaching and teaching of the Gospel, unto repentant faith in Christ the crucified.

    That's all I can do for now, but thanks again for your feedback. More later, as time permits.

  3. Pr. Stuckwisch,

    Would you draw any distinctions between "being liturgical" and "being sacramental?"

  4. The liturgical worship of God's holy people reflects what Dr. Luther insists it must, in his little book: that is, it "should" evince a "fear and love" of God.

    It will entail far more than lip or tongue service, for blessed St. Paul encourages the Christian to offer his body as a living sacrifice ... and goes so far as to exclaim that this is the kind of worship "appropriate for you" (Rom 12:1). Liturgical worship angles the knees, bends the waist, beats the breast ... in a holy posturing which unambiguously communicates to heaven and earth the reverence, respect and obseisance to which a saving and merciful LORD is fully ... dare one say it ... entitled.

    Come His return, He will have it, of course. All knees will bow then, we are informed by Scriptures; and it would be laudable thing if the Lutherans were equipped to witness to the trembling, as to how it is to be done with some air of practiced aplomb and confidence.

    Our dearly misguided CW colleagues, fully living in (and of) an egalitarian American world, are excessive in their contemporary ways. They seem to lack a sense of mannered etiquette, as to what honor a right sovereign lord is due. And Jesus Christ is LORD, make no mistake about it; or so declared the Early Church, in its first credal confession. Presumably that Church acted as if its declaration were really true, in their liturgical and sacramental worship of the One who emphatically promised to personally attend in the midst of its gatherings.

    I acknowledge that the adherents of a dungareed and casually affable CW, do extend their arms high, up and out with some degree of feverish frequency, although the truth is that the suspended LORD did it once and for all, in the course of history. But I am concerned that the adherents are generally a little weak when it comes to the flexion of the body, in a cowering and penitential expression of the horror of sin.

    There is undoubtedly a reason Dr. Luther chose to monotonously place "fear" before "love," in our humanly dealing with God Almighty. Perhaps it is because "the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom," as to what the LORD has accomplished on a tree, and what He continues to provide us through His Word and Holy Supper.

    Alas, among some of the Lutherans there is no evidence-based fear of God, in the strong and august sense of the word "fear." For after all, there is no end to the "praise bands" ... but really, when was the last time you heard of a CW "repentance band?"

  5. I feel like I'm constantly playing catch-up these days. Sorry, brethren.

    Michael, thank you for your thoughtful comments on the reverent fear of God, which is, or ought to be, confessed with the body. I appreciate what you have to say with that.

    Mike, I've been mulling over your question about "liturgical" vs. "sacramental." It seems to me that they are certainly very similar, perhaps even broadly synonymous, but perhaps they would convey somewhat different perspectives or emphases. "Sacramental" on the one hand seems more general to me, and yet on the other hand seems more narrow and specific. What I mean is that I have heard "Sacramental" used as a way of indicating that God deals with earthly, external means; and as a way of expressing the goodness of the Creation and the continuing significance of the Lord's Incarnation. These things are quite true, and good and right, but they are very general. On the other hand, "Sacramental" could be used to focus on the definitive necessity and importance of the Holy Sacraments; and that, too, is meet, right and salutary, but almost two narrowly focused to be of help in these discussions of "worship." (Actually, I want to post something on the fact that what we are really about is contending for the Liturgy, rather than warring over worship; but later on that.)

    It is possible for a pastor and congregation to "have" or "do" Holy Baptism and the Holy Communion, perhaps even by the letter of the rites, and on that basis to claim a "Sacramental" practice. But I am suggesting that these sacred rites and ceremonies are not simply to be "had" and "done," but are to be the defining and controlling foundation and parameters; along with the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and the ongoing catechesis and confession of Christ. These things are administered in the Name and stead of Christ, according to His Word, and they in turn structure and inform and govern everything else that is done in the life of the Church.

    By "liturgical" I want to get at that larger context, and at the relationship and connection between the several Holy Sacraments and preaching and catechesis -- and the leitourgia of the Christian life within the vocations and stations in life of the people. That is to say, by "liturgical" I want to stress the continuity and movement of the Gospel and of faith in the Gospel, to and from Holy Baptism, to and from the Holy Communion.


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