Four years ago I had occasion to enter upon a short correspondence with the Rev. F. Lochner, of Milwaukee, regarding a certain question of liturgical usage. In a personal letter written by the venerable pastor of our mother synod, Lochner quotes Dr. Walther as follows:
Even during his last attendance at the meeting of the Synodical Conference – it was in 1886 at Detroit – he (Dr. Walther) said to some in a private conversation: ‘It is to be expected, alas! That some in our midst will wish to curtail the liturgy more and more and to make changes in it here and there. In order to avoid disruption it will become necessary to yield to the pressure in this place and that, since the liturgy belongs to the adiaphora, though it be done with a heavy heart. But when the liturgy will have been pretty well reformed, then the center, the doctrine, will be attacked.
I quote this to show that Walther, to whom we owe so much, was by no means led by his great regard for sound doctrinal standing to a disregard of what so many hold to be of little moment, correct liturgical usage. Walther not only knew and appreciated the fact that our Lutheran forms and liturgies are the husk or shell in which the Reformation handed us the pure doctrine of the Word, but he also saw the danger of that frivolous carelessness in these things which puts aside all questions pertaining to worship and liturgies with a one-sided appeal to the principle of Christian liberty. In proof of this statement, I would call your attention to an article from his pen published in the 41 vol. of “Der Lutheraner,” the question, whether it is right for us simply and for all time to drop the edifying and churchly ceremonies of our church and to adopt the cold naked worship of the Reformed, he merely points out the fact, that our old orthodox teachers, whenever they recount the official duties of a pastor, never fail to enumerate the preservation of ecclesiastical rites as one of these duties.
Need I say that we are not as precise in the performance of this duty as we should be? Numerous instances will no doubt occur to you. We all know that there is lack of uniformity in our worship; that almost each congregation has somewhat different ceremonies from the others.
This is a pity. More than that, it is positively dangerous. Living as we do in a church atmosphere foreign to us; brought into constant contact with the old intolerant Carlstadt spirit, which never knew and never will know how to distinguish between essential and nonessentials; receiving into fellowship people out of the confused hosts of sectarianism; undergoing the strains attendant upon a change of language – this lack of unity of judgment on matters liturgical and on public worship is most certainly a thing to be deplored.
The opinion may safely be ventured, therefore, that an attempt on our part to call to mind the principle by which our judgment in these matters should be guided, would not be altogether unprofitable.
In an examination of these principles it will be well to define the subject to which they apply. Our confessions give us the Scriptural idea of a liturgy of service, when the Apology e.g. says: “Accordingly ceremonies are to be observed (in the church) for this purpose, that people may learn to know the Scriptures and word of God and that thus the fear of God may be inculcated.
The essential of all divine service is the Word (Sacrament). The origin of all divine service is to be traced to the obedience required by the Third Comment. God, who instituted the ministry of reconciliation, in this commandment enjoins upon us the attendance at the public preaching of the Word, hence at public worship. This then would be a Scriptural definition of divine worship; the reception of divine grace through the public administration of the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments.
But the Scriptures show us other elements of worship, e.g. prayer, invocation, hymns, etc. Acts 1: 14; 2:42; 1 Cor. 14:26; Ps. 35: 18; 40: 10; 3:1. The Scriptures give us not only a correct idea of divine service, but also the elements of the same. It would, therefore, follow that all sound liturgical principles are to be sought in the Scriptures. To this we may add the Confession of our church, her Kirchenordnungen and, especially the writings of Luther on this subject.