Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Burden of Freedom

For no other reason than the fact that I am an editor of Gottesdienst, I get copied on notes like this from Fr. Stuckwisch. I see this as the main benefit, by the way, of being associated with Gottesdienst:

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“I get a little annoyed with the way CPH publications are treated like holy writ (as if we now look to Synod, Inc. for a papal imprimatur and nihil obstat )”

Everybody's searching for authority and certainty.

Plenty of people do the same sort of thing with Redeemer in Fort Wayne and Zion in Detroit.

And lots more people do the same thing with TLH.

In my opinion, figuring out how to answer "the question" (of what to do, when, and why) is THE compelling question, which touches not only upon liturgical practice, rites and ceremonies, but ecclesiology and justification (even though I'm not a Preus).

I'm sure I'm just late to the party, but it also seems to me that this is what led John Fenton, et al., out the door and Eastward: a search for authority and certainty.

Yet, for all its frustrations, and despite the ways it is abused, the Lutheran understanding of adiaphora, and of the freedom of the Gospel, is the right answer -- which refuses to find any absolute authority or certainty apart from Christ. Loehe was correct, I think, in saying that the "satis est" was one of the crown jewels of our Lutheran Confession. But how does one live in that without resorting to anarchy and chaos; and how does one guide and direct the church in a unity of consistent practice, without resorting to legalism?

I'm frankly still struggling to answer these questions for myself, and I go back and forth all the time; which is a big part of the reason that I have found it difficult to write about things.

In Christ, Rick

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I think he is right on the money. I think if we weren't going back and forth on these things all the time we'd either be legalists of one sort or another or we'd be in heaven. The right understanding of adiaphora is the blessing and curse of Lutheranism.

God, in His mercy, has left us free in many things, and freedom always suffers abuse. My analogy on this is freedom of the press. We could end all libel in a heartbeat. We simply take away this freedom. There is no libel in North Korea. But at what cost? So we suffer constant abuse in the press. It is hard to deal with, to discipline, and rarely is disciplined. But I don't think any of us would prefer the North Korean paper.

Fr. Stuckwisch finds it difficult to write about these things because he is not like me. Not only is he nice, he is also careful. So I've hi-jacked his e-mail and posted it. Because, despite his caution, I think he has written well, honestly and openly here, about the constant struggle of Christianity: how can we be free and slaves at the same time? In other words, were is my authority and certainty? And how does the Gospel rule me while the Law accuses me? And on and on it goes.


  1. "Find the cost of Freedom" - CSN&Y

  2. I've argued before that there is no such thing as freedom is there is no such things as order. The first Lutherans, all the way down to the American emigration actually, lived under binding Church Orders. That is how Lutherans actually lived. That is how the authors of the Formula lived. That is how Luther lived - writing binding church orders for several localities.

    This is no burden to freedom. What we have now is so burdensome because each man is his own authority. THE LUTHERAN CHURCH HAS NEVER LIVED THIS WAY. It is unnatural. We should repent.


  3. Anarchy isn't freedom. It is everyone a law unto himself. It is personalized and individualized legalism. The sociopath is the anarchists hero. Heath is right: Freedom outside of law and order is a myth. This is Paul's point about subordination. You subordinate yourselves. This isn't a harm to freedom, it is her help. Because each is serving the other within the order of creation out of reverence for Christ.

    I hated dancing until I took dance lessons. Why? Because I didn't know what to do? But now that I know what to do, I'm actually free to dance, and and enjoy. You aren't free to play the flute until you learn the fundamentals of the flute. Freedom necessitates order and law. Otherwise there is only law, the law of the self.

  4. There is freedom, brothers. "For freedom, Christ has set you free." So do we also confess. There is also a need and a place for good order, which does not violate but serves freedom. The question, and, I believe, the challenge, is how these things fit together in actual practice. Church orders were a way of dealing with that, but they varied greatly from one to the next, from one territory to another, both in their scope and in their specifics. Not all of them hit their stride, in my opinion; but I'm not an expert on them. In any case, it isn't contrary to freedom for Christians to agree upon good order, nor for churches to adopt good orders for conduct and practice and life together: such things are valuable and helpful to the loving exercise of freedom. The problem enters in when such good orders are put into the place that belongs only to Christ; and again, when adherence to the rule for its own sake actually impedes rather than serving love (which is also to put the rule in the place that belongs only to Christ).

    To say that there ought to be church orders, in a sense, only backs "THE question" up a step or two. Who determines the orders, and how? How can they be evaluated? How can they be modified or reformed, as needs may be? Or should they not? How may they, or should they, differ from what others have done in the past, and from what others are doing in the present?

    I'm all in favor of church orders, actually, as I've indicated in the past. But pointing to church orders does not yet answer, but rather begs the question.

  5. A few more thoughts on church orders:

    Historically, those were legal documents, which belonged to the authority of the state.

    I'm not sure how a "church order" approach would satisfy those who resist and buck against the decisions of the current "LCMS, Inc." At least not without first answering the question of authority.

    Genuine pastoral care of the church requires genuine pastoral discernment and discretion. But pastors are not infallible, nor should they be left to care for the Lord's Church as isolated individuals. If church orders are to be adopted for present day Lutheranism, they ought to grow out of the mutual conversation of the brethren who actually care for the churches. And they ought to be administered and exercised through and with the continued mutual conversation of those brethren.

    Fraternal conversation ought to include the freedom to question and criticize existing "rubrics," policies and practices, while yet remaining subject to those established rules of good order for the sake of love.

  6. Rick,

    My approach is to answer all your questions with history. We know how Lutherans lived in the first few generations. Without exception, they lived under church orders that were binding on clergy and congregation in geographical areas roughly equivalent to our districts.

    Furthermore, the variety between them is often quite overstated. Anyone who wants a copy can email me for the 1569 Braunschweig-Wulfenbuettel order written by Chemnitz and Andrae for Duke Julius. The order is quite overt in explaining many of its particulars as a desire to be as close as possible to neighboring jurisdictions. And the difference between the most widely separated church order of the 16th century simply pales in comparison to the chasm fixed between the most widely separated parishes in any given district of the LCMS today!

    I contend, in summary, that this question has been answered. The duly appointed ecclesiastical authorities wielded their AC XXVIII authority over geographical areas roughly equivalent to our districts to enforce liturgical order and harmony. It worked. Not flawlessly, but vastly better than what we are doing. Nor was it lock step order. The BW Order, for example, had ample exceptions to rules for country parishes versus city parishes, etc. Local custom could just as easily be evangelically united in our day.

    And it can be done again. This was the substance of my presentation at the Iowa East conference. There is ample authority in the MO Synod's Constitution for just this sort of thing to happen at the district level today. What has been lacking is the will to do it.

    There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Just to step back from our pride.


  7. Thanks for your comments, Heath.

    Perhaps I should clarify: I'm not an opponent of the 16th-century church orders. I'm only saying that it doesn't yet answer the question to point to them. The situation then was not the same as ours now. So it has to be worked out -- in the freedom of faith, and in the service of love -- in our own day and context.

    To take what you've already said, I would ask, where is the willingness to honor and adhere to the established ecclesiastical authority you point to in the LCMS?

  8. I took a break to play a game with my boys, but I wanted to say a bit more, yet.

    Heath, your points are helpful and well-taken, but they don't answer the question I am asking; and I don't believe they satisfactorily answer the question that others are asking, either.

    What is the authority upon which church orders are established? Is it an absolute authority, or subject to question and critique? Can it be reformed? If so, how? On what basis? On what authority?

    Church are a way of organizing and administering the Church's life. They don't answer the question of authority and certainty by which the Church actually derives its life.

    If the LCMS, or an LCMS District, were to say that every congregation and pastor must use the LSB, and must do so according to the LSB rubrics: Would there be a willingness to do so? Should there be? Could there be a legitimate questioning or criticism of the LSB and its rubrics? If other traditions or other aspects of history are cited against the LSB, and perhaps even followed in contrast to it, is that not the introducing of another authority (or several other authorities)?

  9. "What is the authority upon which church orders are established? Is it an absolute authority, or subject to question and critique? Can it be reformed? If so, how? On what basis? On what authority?"

    The authority is talked about in AC XXVIII. It is the authority of presbyter-bishops to make ordinances for the good order of the Church which the congregations should obey "for the sake of love."

    Thence derives our Constitution's requirement for membership in Synod that "exclusive use" be made of "orthodox hymnals and agenda."

    Thence derives the Constiution's authority for DP's to oversee the "administration of office" of the pastors and to familiarize themselves with the "religious life" of the congregations and "make investigations" into such things.

    We have all agreed beforehand that TLH, LW, and LSB are "orthodox agenda and hymnbooks." If somebody wants to use something else, from another church body or from between his own ears, he needs to get that approved from the DP as "orthodox." That's our Church Order. Certainly not as detailed as BW in 1569 - but if we just did that, it would be a giant step in the right direction.

    My point is that this is what we have on paper, but we don't do it. We have a Church Order, but there is a lack of willingness to follow it, mostly based on a false understanding of what FC X means.

    "Would there be a willingness to do so?"

    Doesn't matter. We should follow what is on the books. DPs should do their job. Congregations and pastors should fulfill their obligations. Our Constitution is a good, evangelical, and chalk-full-of-freedom Church Order. If some aren't willing to follow it, the DP's duty is to remove them from our fellowship.

    "Should there be?"


    "Could there be a legitimate questioning or criticism of the LSB and its rubrics?"

    Yes. Heaven knows I've not been a fan of every jot and tittle in LSB! But we can question, comment, and argue all while following our church's order. Which amounts to this: do what's in our books, or get approval from your DP that what you are doing in your homemade agenda is "orthodox." As I said: this is a very evangelical and full-of-freedom Church Order we have! Can't we obey something so easy?

    Let's use an example we both know quite well but for different reasons. If Carmel Lutheran Church wants to make up their own order of worship, that is, their own agenda, each week, then Dan May should have to sign off on that, give it his approval as "orthodox."

    Or again, and closer to home, I should have to get Tim Scharr's approval to use the confiteor at Wednesday Low Mass.

    "If other traditions or other aspects of history are cited against the LSB, and perhaps even followed in contrast to it, is that not the introducing of another authority (or several other authorities)?"

    If you go off and do it on your own without the approval of the man who is to oversee your administration of office: yes! But if you walk in humility and seek his approval, no.

    And once we actually follow what our church order (Constitution) says for a generation, I bet we would begin growing together more and more instead of growing apart.


  10. This all sounds good and right to me, Heath. But it derives from an understanding of authority, and a certainty in the Gospel, that has been able to discern "orthodoxy." And, as you acknowledge above, it is rooted in genuine freedom, and it allows for a godly exercise of freedom; which is really what I have said is necessary. It is why there can be arguments about which is better, TLH or LSB or something else, without determining that only one possibility can be "orthodox."

    The way it actually plays itself out in practice -- and this would be all the more so, given the point at which we're at presently -- is a kind of "burden" (though that was Fr. Eckardt's term, not mine). It is exercised in the fear, love, and trust of God, and in love for one another; which, in this fallen world, is often difficult, and a matter of "trial and error." We have the confidence, and, yes, even the certainty, to engage that struggle, precisely because of our freedom of faith in the Gospel. But St. Paul, who certainly knew that freedom well, had the burden of concern for the churches. He also had the right, as an apostle, to insist on certain things, but he proceeded differently in many instances.

    In the meantime, we are all free to submit to the good order of the Church in the jurisdiction to which we belong. But there is yet the authority and certainty by which we distinguish one confession from another, between one communion and another. It's not just a matter of geography, but of faith in that which is true and steadfast. There is an accountability to which even bishops and presidents must be held, which is neither self-referential nor simply historical, but authored by God and spoken to us by His Son.

  11. Is not what Heath is proposing really already the case in the LC-MS? I believe around 80% of our congregations have adopted LSB. So let's take my district - the NID - as an example. Most congregations use LSB. Some use TLH, some use Creative Worship (CPH), and a few still use LW/LBW. The congregations that do something completely different - the new contemporary worship starts, the "emergent" type churches, and so forth - are doing what they're doing with the knowledge and, often, encouragement of the DP. So he has approved their orders of service, perhaps not de jure, but certainly de facto.

  12. How do I know whether or not my brother promotes Christ by doing something completely different? Further, what does this do to unity in faith, not to mention unity in confession? Which leads me to the question of whether or not one can recognize a brother as a confessional Lutheran who purposely does something completely different with public worship? Does this brother in question use the satis est clause as a shield to hide behind?

    These are honest questions that I have struggled with for quite some time. I am learning to be cordial and civil with those whom I disagree. Now I would like to engage them in theological conversation. So often many of us (me included) wag that these brothers don't know theology from the proverbial hole in the ground. So it's incumbent upon me to teach the brother. If he won't listen or learn, then what?

  13. Pastor Anderson, I think that you have a point, that, in a way, what Pastor Curtis has described is already being carried out. And I do think there are those who hide behind such structures, or semblance of structures, in order to justify themselves and their own idiosyncratic practices.

    Although my original musings did not pose the question elegantly, I think the challenge -- or burden, if you will -- lies in the exercise of a freedom that rests, finally, in Christ and the Gospel. Ecclesiastical good order does not provide that freedom, but depends upon it. Ecclesiastical authority, such as Pastor Curtis and the our Confessions describe, does not provide certainty, but depends upon the certainty of the Gospel.

    There is, however, an authority that would enable a bishop or district president to evaluate the practice of a pastor as good or bad, better or worse, even right or wrong. There is an authority by which even bishops and district presidents, even popes and synodical presidents, can be held accountable, and by which they should be measured as to their faithfulness and orthodoxy.

    But that bottom-line authority, upon which everything else depends, flows with a freedom that enables the Church -- in love -- to order herself differently from one time and place to another, and to modify her practices for the sake of clarity in catechesis and confession.

    It is easier, in many respects, simply to have a rule that must be followed, a superior who must be obeyed; and there are surely times and circumstances in which the freedom of faith and the service of love are best exercised in precisely that way. But faith and faithfulness before God, as well as love for the neighbor, require critical assessment and conscientious responsibility. There is a time to say "no," as there are times to say "yes."

    What I see happening across the LCMS is a reliance on a bureaucratic hierarchy and political structures as a means of confidence, in justification of everybody doing what seems right in his own eyes: Which is, frankly, neither faith nor love, but anarchy in the guise of order (a confusion of Law & Gospel).

    Genuine faith before God receives perfect freedom and stalwart confidence by way of the special authority of the Gospel, that is, the righteousness of faith and the forgiveness of sins, propter Christum. So strong and free is such faith before God in Christ, that it is willing and able to submit to the neighbor in love, as also to the humanly-devised good order of ecclesiastical authority. So strong and free is such faith before God, that it is not threatened by the use of more or less elaborate ceremony, so long as the Name of God is neither blasphemed nor profaned. So strong and free is such faith before God, that it may agree to use the same order and rite as the brother pastor and the sister congregation, rather than insisting on personal preference. So strong and free is such faith before God, that it will dare to call a foul in the practice of fellow pastors, and even presidents, when it is contrary to the Word of God.

  14. Regarding the "satis est," Pastor Juhl, I don't believe that was ever intended to mean that individual congregations, from one to the next, should differ markedly in practice. As Pastor Curtis has correctly pointed out, the Lutheran Church orders governed entire territories, requiring a uniformity of practice among their congregations -- not every jot and tittle, but to varying degrees of detail (allowing for differences between urban and rural settings). And the different territories looked to the past, and to each other, in striving for consistency and continuity. Lutherans have historically recognized the benefits and blessings of a common practice, coinciding with and contributing to a common catechesis and confession of the one faith. Luther and his fellow reformers frequently cite Ephesians 4, "one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all," in support of common rites and ceremonies.

    It also remains yet to be addressed and grappled with, what belongs to a right teaching of the Gospel and a right administration of the Sacrament. The reduction of such constitutive and definitive components of the Church's very life to a Medieval-like "matter and form," beyond which everything else is considered "fair game," is ludicrous and neither faithful nor salutary.

    The measure and evaluation of liturgical rites and ceremonies, of hymn texts and tunes, needs to go beyond a look-see for heresy, to consider whether the confession and Sacrament of Christ are being handed over from the Lord to His people, intact and with integrity.

    And while there is genuine and precious freedom in the "satis est," because it rests in the certainty of Christ and possesses all things by His special authority of the Gospel, it is a freedom to love and serve and care for the neighbor -- and for the Lord's Church -- rather than the reckless abandon of self-idolatry. The teenager and toddler suppose that freedom means doing whatever they want, but the adult understands that freedom is a capacity to care for the children in love. Despising the Church's practice of the past and the present, in order to pursue one's own independent path, is really to abandon the "satis est," which resides in the Gospel, and to risk the condemnation of the devil.


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