Thursday, October 22, 2015

"Style Doesn't Matter" or "In the Spirit of Martin Luther..."

By Larry Beane

One of the frequent assertions of the apologists of non-traditional worship is that "style doesn't matter."  Or put another way, if the words speak the truth, the tune used is completely irrelevant.  There is also a common argument that many praise songs that are not accepted by traditionalists are actually paraphrases of the very texts traditionalists love.

It is very true that Luther used paraphrases of scripture and the liturgy.  Our congregation will be using LSB DS5 (a version of the German Mass, which in LSB ironically has no German, but includes Greek) this Sunday for Reformation Day.  It is an ordo in which the ordinaries of the medieval Latin Mass were translated by Martin Luther into paraphrased German (and centuries later, into English), and set to sung melodies rather than the old Gregorian chants.

And so, according to the argument, this proves that style is of no consequence, as the order is intact (or at least paraphrased).  Any argument to the contrary is thus only based on subjective opinion, and may even be unloving, if not elevating man-made traditions to the level of the Gospel.  Or as Augsburg Confession 15 puts it, confessing that "such things are necessary for salvation."  So why not just embrace it, especially for the sake of unity. It's an adiaphoron anyway, right?

I have to admit that the argument has great appeal.  It sounds so logical.  And upon first blush, it is a viable path to unity for our fractured synod's "walk together."  So there is the temptation to entertain the thought of giving the masses Masses that are entertaining.  After all, by means of Word and Sacrament, butts in the pews means souls in heaven.  If I snap my fingers every five seconds and someone goes to hell, I do have to do something other than stop snapping my fingers and singing old hymns to save both butts here in time, and souls there in eternity.  Hence, let's do the Divine Service to the music of the Beatles!

Ask and you shall receive!  The Beatles Mass was written and is celebrated by a person using the adjective "Lutheran" to boot!

The author says:
In the spirit of Martin Luther who changed the words of pub tunes for use in church, this Beatles Mass seeks to get people excited (we had at least 8 people who don't typically attend who came to sing Beatles tunes), and enable those who don't read music to participate.
Awesome sauce!  Or should I say, "I dig a pony" and "Obla di, obla da"?

But as I walk down the Penny Lane of Christian liberty to the Strawberry Fields of unity, I am suddenly menaced by a Mean Mister Mustard lurking behind the tangerine trees and marmalade skies.  I just can't accept the premise that style doesn't matter, and the whole thing comes crashing down like a Grand Illusion (Styx Service, anyone?)

You can read the entire ordo, a paraphrase of the Western Mass, sung to the tunes of (as irrelevant as that is according to some) Lennon-McCartney songs.  You can also watch the videos of the entire worship service in action in the real world (rather than in the hermetic bubble of a theoretical discussion).  If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video might be worth a million.

Below is the consecration, the Verba Christi (or are they the Verba Lennoni McCarneyique?).

As much as I do enjoy the Beatles, I'm just not buying the premise that style doesn't matter.

To paraphrase Bob Seegar: "This kind of service ain't got the same class, give us that old time Western Mass."

V: Goo goo g' joob.
R: And also with you.

Note: None of the actual remaining Beatles were harmed in the making of this blogpost.

"Our churches are falsely accused of abolishing the Mass.  Actually, the Mass is retained among us and is celebrated with the greatest reverence."
~ AC 24:1


  1. Wasn't it John Lennon who said "We're bigger than God" ?

  2. Brother Beane-
    we are making use of the German Mass in Hamel this weekend. In the bulletin, this portion of the Preface to that Order of service is printed.

    “In the first place, I would kindly and for God’s sake request all those who see this order of service or desire to follow it: Do not make it a rigid law to bind or entangle anyone’s conscience, but use it in Christian liberty as long, when, where, and how you find it to be practical and useful. For this is being published not as though we meant to lord it over anyone else, or to legislate for him, but because of the widespread demand for German masses and services and the general dissatisfaction and offense that has been caused by the great variety of new masses, for everyone makes his own order of service. Some have the best intentions, but others have no more than an itch to produce something novel so that they might shine before men as leading lights, rather than being ordinary teachers – as is always the case with Christian liberty: very few use it for the glory of God and the good of the neighbor; most use it for their own advantage and pleasure. But while the exercise of this freedom is up to everyone’s conscience and must not be cramped or forbidden, nevertheless, we must make sure that freedom shall be and remain a servant of love and our fellowman. Where the people are perplexed and offended by these differences in liturgical usage, however, we are certainly bound to forego our freedom and seek, if possible, to better rather than offend them by what we do or leave undone. Seeing then that this external order, while it cannot affect the conscience before God, may yet serve the neighbor, we should seek to be of one mind in Christian love, as St. Paul teachers (Rom. 15:5-6; 1 Cor. 1:10, Phil, 2:2). As far as possible we should observe the same rites and ceremonies, just as all Christians have the same baptism and the same sacrament of the altar and no one has received a special one of his own from God. Luther’s Works Vol. 53 p.61

  3. "Our churches are falsely accused of abolishing the Mass. Actually, the Mass is retained among us and is celebrated with the greatest reverence."
    ~ AC 24:1

    One particular liturgical obsession of some in the Missouri Synod, is the use of the word, “Mass” to refer to the Lord’s Supper. Some claim that Martin Luther’s denouncing the Mass as “the greatest and most horrible abomination” in his 1537 Smalcald Articles (Part II, Art. II) refers to the Roman Mass, and not the use of the word, "Mass," itself, as in Luther's 1526 "Deutsche Messe,” which had been purged of Roman heresies.

    However, as Missouri Synod Lutheran, currently 3SVP, Rev. Daniel Preus discussed in his paper, “Luther and the Mass" (Logia, 10:4, 2001,13-19):

    "By 1533, however, Luther came to the conclusion that 'mass' should no longer be used in reference to the sacrament of the altar. Luther’s Letter Concerning His Book on the Private Mass [AE:38, 139-214; WA 38:195-256] is very illuminating in regard to his distinction between the two. In this letter Luther provided a definition of the term 'mass' that clearly drives a wedge between mass and sacrament. According to Luther, 'mass' refers

    "to what the priest does alone at the altar, to which no ordinary Christian or layman adds anything. For they indeed know that no layman or ordinary Christian can celebrate mass and they will not allow it. Nor do they allow it to be or to be called a mass when a layman receives the sacrament; but they . . . alone celebrate mass; all other Christians simply receive the sacrament and do not celebrate mass."

    "The word 'mass,' Luther believed, should be defined as the sacrifice that the priest offers for sin. It should never be used to speak of that sacrament which grants to believers the body and blood of Christ and the forgiveness of sins. He spoke of the time when he himself could not differentiate between the two:

    "For me mass and sacrament at the altar were one and the same thing, as they were at that time for all of us. Yet they are not one and the same thing. It is the mass when I sacrifice the sacrament to God for my sins and the sins of others as a work performed by human beings (whether they be evil or godly) . . . it is the sacrament when I receive from the priest the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine."

    "Luther was convinced that the use of the terms 'mass' and 'sacrament' interchangeably has resulted in great confusion, and that the only way to provide a clear understanding of the nature of the Lord's Supper is to stop calling it the mass. "Indeed, I wish and would very much like to see and hear that the two words 'mass' and 'sacrament' would be understood as being as different as darkness and light, yes, as different as devil and God." Again Luther prayed,

    "May God grant to all devout Christians such hearts that when they hear the word 'mass,' they might be frightened and make the sign of the cross as though it were the devil's abomination; on the other hand, when they hear the word 'sacrament' or 'Lord's Supper' they might dance for pure joy…"

    “Lutherans tempted to use ‘mass’ as a synonym for the Lord's Supper should take seriously Luther's observations on the difference between ‘mass’ and ‘sacrament.’

    “In 1537, when Luther's Smalcald Articles appeared, he continued to view sacrament and mass as inimical to each other. Mass and sacrament are so opposed to each other that Luther dealt with them under two different headings.”


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