Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Straw Man at Worship

By Larry Beane

Typically, anti-traditionalist Lutherans don't cite, study or teach the Book of Concord very often. But one passage that is sometimes trotted out as an indictment of traditionalists (who retain the ceremonies of the pre-Reformation western Mass and the customary liturgical vestments) is from the Smalcald Articles, from the article concerning the church:
Its holiness does not consist of surplices, tonsures, albs, or other ceremonies of theirs which they have invented over and above the Holy Scriptures, but it consists of the Word of God and true faith. [SA 3:12:3]
Some might be tempted to interpret this passage to be Luther's (and thus the Lutheran Church's) condemnation of vestments and ceremony.  Similarly, some might be tempted to ascribe to us a belief condemned by Luther, namely that the holiness of the church "consist[s] of" (German: "steht in"; Latin: "consistit in") traditional vestments and ceremony.

First of all, I have never heard any traditionalist liturgical Lutheran argue that vestments and human ceremonies are necessary for salvation, nor that the holiness of the church consists of such externals.  This is a straw man. Secondly, Luther's statement is made within the context of what defines the Church.  As opposed to the Roman bureaucracy and their arbitrary commands, Luther writes in the previous paragraph:
[T]hank God, a seven-year-old child knows what the church is, namely, holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd. [SA 3:12:2]
The essence of the church is Christ, the Shepherd, the Word of God speaking to His gathered sheep in Word and Sacrament.  But along with essentials come some "benessentials" - such as a church building in which to meet, furniture, seats in which to sit, music and musicians to sing the praise of God, lighted "exit" signs, published service times, places to park cars, air conditioning, heating, indoor plumbing, and other helpful luxuries that serve the kingdom of God.

Nobody claims that such matters are essential for the Church, nor does the holiness of the church consist in them.  Moreover, one can logically deduce from Luther that the holiness of the church does not consist in the lack of vestments and ceremonies or the lack of clerical attire, nor does it consist in roving joking and emoting preachers, cup holders, a sound stage, rock music, dancing girls, big screens, praise bands, nor the imitation of the ceremonies of the radical reformation, of sects, and of the secular world.

In fact, the Lutheran confessions explain that the genuinely Lutheran perspective is to retain the bene esse of human traditions and ceremonies - not because they justify us, are necessary for salvation, or merit God's favor, but because they are simply beneficial to good order.  This is found all throughout the Book of Concord, such as AC 15:
With regard to church usages that have been established by men, it is taught among us that those usages are to be observed which may be observed without sin and which contribute to peace and good order in the church, among them being certain holy days, festivals, and the like. [AC 15:1 German]
The text goes on to explain the valid reasons why Lutherans have not retained a small number of pre-Reformation rites, and how we do make use of the vast majority of the old rites and ceremonies that we have retained:
Yet we accompany these observances with instruction so that consciences may not be burdened by the notion that such things are necessary for salvation.  Moreover it is taught that all ordinances and traditions instituted by men for the purpose of propitiating God and earning grace are contrary to the Gospel and the teaching about faith in Christ. [AC 15:2-3 German]
Article 24 of both the Augsburg Confession and its Apology state quite bluntly that with few exceptions, we Lutherans retain the ancient rites of the pre-Reformation Church, and the that any suggestion to the contrary is a lie, and a cause of righteously indignant anger and scandal among us Lutherans:

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 Latin]
To begin with, we must repeat the prefatory statement that we do not abolish the Mass but religiously keep and defend it.  In our churches Mass is celebrated every Sunday and on other festivals, when the sacrament is offered to those who wish for it after they have been examined and absolved.  We keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of the lessons, prayers, vestments, etc. [Ap 24:1]
Should we, as one proponent of Entertainment Worship suggested, simply consider this part of the text to be "no longer applicable"?  Do we treat the Book of Concord the way the ELCA treats Scripture and simply toss that which we don't like?  Should we convert from being a church body that submits to the confessions (quia) into one that treats the Book of Concord like a cafeteria line (quatenus)?

Furthermore, one could only imagine the cries of "foul!" if the same use of the Smalcald Articles passage about vestments and ceremonies were used against anti-traditionalists, and we accused them of confessing that the essentials of the church and the church's holiness consist of anti-traditional rites and ceremonies, and that salvation were dependent upon the pastor wearing khakis and polos, the use of screens and powerpoint, entertainments, skits, gimmicks, pop music, and all of the trappings one sometimes sees in churches who are members of synod and are publicly committed to the Book of Concord.

One can also see the great wisdom in the confession that we retain the old rites out of good order and decorum, as we have seen nothing but infighting, chaos, confusion, and disunity - not to mention gross biblical illiteracy and a divorce from our historic confessions - as a result of many of our churches and pastors disregarding their own confessions and vows and adopting alien rites, vestments, and ceremonies into the church.  They have opened Pandora's Box and brought us ignorance and discord - the very opposite of the desire of the reformers that the people know the Word of God and the antithesis of the word "Concordia."
[T]he chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ. [AC 24:3 German]
[N]othing has been received among us, in doctrine or in ceremonies, that is contrary to Scripture or the church catholic. [AC Conclusion 5]

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