Saturday, September 4, 2010


When it comes to worship and order in the church, some folks in the Missouri Synod just don't care what the Confessions say. But there are others who do care, and yet also want to jettison the received tradition of Lutheran forms of worship. They hang their hats on SD FC X - but even more so on a particular understanding of that article. They understand it to be saying that each and every Christian congregation has the authority to make up whatever rites and ceremonies it likes and that each and every congregation is encouraged to do so to fit its "context."

At this point in the debate, a defender of the traditional Lutheran heritage of worship will have many places to turn in the Confessions to combat this notion - to show that acceptable "diversity" in Lutheran worship never included tossing out the Western Mass, doing away with reverence, dividing congregations by age group or preferred musical taste, etc. And that is an important argument to make.

But there is also this: history. The fact is, the men who wrote and signed the Formula of Concord all lived in churches where such decisions were most certainly not made at the parish level. The bishops, called in some places superintendents, sometimes working with consistories and even Christian princes put forth ecclesiastical law regarding worship that was binding on the local parish. Read all about it.

I am not myself a scholar of the Kirchenordnungen, so I'll leave it to others to supply good bibliography and commentary. I only make the plea that we give attention to this important fact that stares us right in the face: the men who wrote and signed the Confessions had binding church law regarding worship. Maybe that's not such a bad thing after all. . .



  1. You don't even have to go back that far - in our own Synod there was the mandate that to be in the Synod you had to use Synodical approved worship materials. This is why the English Synod couldn't be in the Synod in the 19th Century - they did not use approved worship materials.

    I wonder what impact (inadvertently) the congregations that refused to move from TLH to LW (or who insisted on using LBW) had on this... it seems this is when a lot of the Congregational "I'm going to do what I want" sort of attitudes arose. Could be a coincidence, but there may be an impact there.

  2. Richter isn't bad, but Sehling is better. What both fail at, though, is MUSIC. The Church Orders weren't all text and to reduce them to text is to misrepresent what they were. Nevertheless, your point obviously stands. The men who could pen FC X also authored the Church Order for Braunschweig Wölfenbüttel and it was promulgated under government authority to be observed without deviation in all the churches of the territory. To read FC X to mean something that couldn't fit with what they actually practiced is surely to misread it, for neither Andreae nor Chemnitz were known for shoddy thinking.

  3. "in our own Synod there was the mandate that to be in the Synod you had to use Synodical approved worship materials"

    Fr. Brown:
    I'm glad you brought it up, for it is very relevant. By the way, you use the past tense, but unless I am mistaken, the following remains a requirement for membership in the LC-MS, "Exclusive use of doctrinally pure agenda, hymnbooks, and catechisms in church and school".

    Of course, this is hardly draconian. I would even suggest that having a requirement that open ended, in our day and age, is virtually meaningless (if indeed any sort of real liturgical unity is part of the goal). All it really means is that whatever praise band style worship a congregation wants (or for that matter, a synod convention or a youth gathering) that it be just bad enough to pass "doctrinal review." In fact, why not just use the praise songs for years on end, and let the doctrinal review process catch up with you, as it basically finds reasons to approve what you're already doing. In a way, it reminds me of how easily some of my RC friends have had their previous marriages annulled, so that their current one can be legit.

    I suppose the real question would be whether or to what degree liturgical unity is really and genuinely sought today in the Missouri Synod. I am happy to listen to all arguments. My own thesis would be that liturgical unity is only given lip service today (but then the concept is used against any parish whose traditional practice includes a particular point or two which is not explicitly called for in the synod's books). Therefore I appreciate Fr. Curtis bringing up the church orders from the age which gave us the Symbols. I hope it leads to more discussion on where we might go in our day.

  4. "acceptable "diversity" in Lutheran worship never included tossing out the Western Mass"

    I wish that I could agree with this statement, but the "never" in it makes it impossible to do so. Those principalities and cities in SW Germany that embraced the Lutheran Reformation (Wuerttemberg, Baden and a fair number of smaller territories, as well as cities like Ulm) completely jettisoned the pattern of "the Western Mass" and adopted a "shape of the liturgy (sic)" identical to that of the Swiss cantons that embraced Reform-ism. The medieval preaching service became the shape of the Sunday Gottesdienst, with a Communion Service added on at its end on those occasions when it was provided. I believe that all of these landeskirchen have today a variety of "patterns" for celebrating the Abendmahl, some of them more "traditionally" Lutheran, but others derived from their own local "Lutheran tradition" -- but these are also bodies that have long ago accepted WO and have largely accepted its sequel, SS (let the reader understand) as well.

  5. Reverend Fathers and Brothers,

    I can only think of the phrase "quod pro nobis traditum est." We are to retain the rites and ceremonies that we have received from those who have preceded us. This is our history and our birthright.

    Also, I have never known that the LCMS has ever rescinded approval from any previously authorized and published hymnals and liturgical books. Nor has there, to my knowledge, ever been stated an range of "acceptable diversity" away from the "approved" liturgical heritage.

    By our own Constitution we have been prevented from having the State establish a State Religion. This also includes a specific codification of liturgical forms. Such things are strictly under the control of the denominations themselves.

    There are establisher requirements for those congregations who wish to be a part of a/the synod. If they have other ideas, they have no part with us.

    An interesting comparison can be found in the Roman church. Years after VC II, and after the re-approval of the Tridentine Latin Mass, many young Catholics are rediscovering what has been missing in the Novus Ordo.

    There is something, after all, to be said about the Faith of our Fathers.

  6. Dr. Tighe,

    I think that bit of history goes a long way to proving the larger point - as you note, these Lutheran territories were influenced by and copied their Reformed neighbors. Plus ça change. . .


  7. That's a fair point, Pastor Curtis, although these SW German Lutheran landeskirchen after 1555 were as thoroughly committed to the Lutheran Confessions as any other Lutheran body, and as firm in their repudiation of Reformed views about the Eucharist, Baptism and predestination as well. Pietism really overwhelmed them, or at least the Wuerttembergische landeskirche, later on, though.

  8. I just made this same point to my dear NID Bishop the other day at a planning meeting for the General Pastoral Conference, when we started talking about planning the Divine Service for the Conference. He just smiled...

  9. "The men who wrote and signed the Confessions had binding church law regarding worship."

    The confessions are clear this just fine in AC28. It is lawful to make ordinances about liturgy for the sake of love and tranquility and to avoid offense. BUT, that may be done only so long as it is NOT taught that consciences must be bound to judge them necessary services, or that it is a sin not to use traditional liturgies if weaker consciences aren't offended. Like rules about women's head covering or eating blood. The historical fact the apostles taught those rules don't mean we follow them. Those rules were taught to avoid offense. And we may continue to make rules for orderly practice to avoid offending each other.

    But FCX does weigh against the use of coercion and states that churches won't condemn each other because of dissimilar services if they are agreed in doctrine. So while practice must teach doctrine, it is explicitly acknowledged that dissimilar practices can faithfully teach doctrine.

    But it is a "false belief that there must needs be in the Church a service like to the Levitical."

    There is NO rule that ordinances MUST bind liturgy to traditional forms, which appears to me to be what the Gottesdienst project is about. The idea that there are necessary worship practices is anti-confessional and teaches Lutherans to be weak in their faith, so they are constantly taking offense at some untraditional human rites and putting unjustified faith in traditional human rites, rather than examining the rite for whether it teaches the Word. And it is explicitly unconfessional to condemn worship practices of churches that teach the same doctrine. The point isn't tradition or history, the point is having worship practices that teach true doctrine in a way that promotes love and tranquility.

    And I'm in no way in favor of jetissoning traditional rites, I'm just against unconfessional reliance on any particular human rites or traditions as necessary for God to work through his Word and Sacrament.

  10. Boaz,

    Who, in all the history of Lutheranism, has insisted that any particular rite or ceremony or tradition is "necessary for God to work" or necessary for salvation?

    This is the strawiest straw man of all.

    What I and many others advocate is a return to jurisdiction wide agreed upon rites and ceremonies for the sake of good order and peace in the church.



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