(For the previous posts in this discussion go to the Brothers” Cafe on the homepage and click on Pastor Klemet Preus or click here.)
At long last I respond to your letter of December 9. Having finished all my Christmas sermons I turn my attention to you.
I won’t even bore you with the reasons for my delay in writing except to say that, with the exception of your hunting trip, they were more enjoyable than the reasons for a tardy response that you gave in your last letter – one not nearly as tardy as this.
Let me respond to you in four letters. This first will deal broadly with your definition of the word Liturgy. The next will talk more of freedom. The third will respond to the five statements of your most recent letter. The last will address the questions of Adiaphora as they might apply to today.
I think that we have gotten to the point where we acknowledge that the word “liturgy” has more than one meaning. If “liturgy” means “God’s obligation to us in Christ” then I think we would both confess that we don’t have the right to adjust, play with or modify this. If “liturgy” is “a man-made order for the public service of God to men, through the Word and Sacraments” then we have a different situation.
I remember vaguely the words or Rev. Arthur Just in his video series when he asked where the Divine Service came from and answered his own question with whimsical sarcasm that God had dropped TLH p. 15 out of the heavens in the fourth century. Such a tongue in cheek answer shows the silliness of asserting that somehow what a Lutheran congregation did or does in church on Sunday morning in the 20th or 21st century is normative for the Church catholic.
TLH p. 15 is mostly a string of Bible verses arranged in a way that the way of salvation is made apparent. It is further an opportunity for God’s people to observe and celebrate, on a weekly basis, the great events of Christ’s atoning work. So we celebrate Christmas through the Gloria, the teaching ministry of Christ through the creed, Palm Sunday through the Sanctus, Maundy Thursday through the Verba, Good Friday through the Agnus Dei and Easter through the Nunc Dimitis. Further it is the vehicle through which the Word and Sacrament are given to God’s people. That’s what all the services are in the Lutheran Service Book.
But I don’t think anyone would say that such an order is prescribed in the Bible. And I would grant that other Bible verses may function just as nicely or nearly as nicely as the ones used in TLH 15 – setting aside for the moment the deep historical value of this service. And certainly I don’t think anyone would suggest that the music in TLH 15 or any other man made public order of service is mandated in the Scriptures
So there is freedom for the church to sing or say different passages, paraphrase them differently, place them to different musical tone or tunes, rhyme them differently (and any time a passage is rhymed it is altered at least slightly), place them in a different order, turn these or other passages into hymns and make a host of other changes to what is “normally” done on Sunday AM. Of course all this is subject to the authority of the Scriptures. I think that all sides in the discussion need to concede that it is the “right” of the church to exercise such freedom. And I think that this is the “concession” you are looking for from me. At any rate it should be conceded by all at least for the sake of discussion.
There may have been expressions in our circles of late which seem to deny this “freedom.” If someone suggests that the liturgy is itself a norm of theology equal to the scriptures then, of course, that is wrong, although certainly the historic liturgy is and has been used as a type of norm. Or if someone suggests that it is in inherently sinful to deviate from accepted liturgical forms even if the Holy Scriptures are not violated then that is saying too much. If anyone would say that “praise songs” (whatever that expression means) are wrong, then such a judgment needs to be tempered considerably. It is not helpful. So when it comes to man made liturgies we need to acknowledge the freedom which God has given the church.
But there is more to be said.
Many congregations of the synod engage in the activity of changing the accepted liturgies of the church or of discarding them altogether. This is done in the name of freedom. And it has lead to the current scene where thousands of churches have thousands of liturgies all of which are claimed to be faithful to the scriptures. In our circles we have “freedom of worship.” This “freedom” is tenaciously guarded by the church today with ferocity consistent with the American ideals which our congregations typically crave.
Against this scene – freedom to some and chaos to others – there are criticisms.
Some say that the freedom needs to be tempered by love. Freedom need not be grasped as if it were the highest of all Christian virtues even though it is precisely what which was sacrificed by our Lord in order to bless others.
Some say that the local congregation is acting irresponsibly if it changes the liturgy without conferring with the pastors and congregations in their area or territory.
Some say that the changes being initiated all seem to be in the direction of aping American Evangelicalism and should be avoided. These changes are divisive either because they are inherently false doctrine or because they seem to promote a theological movement which is harmful to faith.
Some say that the Confessional statements about Adiaphora apply to these changes just as much as they applied to the Romanizing suggestions or impositions of the 16th Century. More on this later.
Some say that uniformity between the congregations is both desirable and necessary for the united confession that a synod must give. More on this in my next letter.
I must confess that I am among the “some” who have offered these criticisms. I do so not to deprive others of their freedom but to encourage them to set it aside in deference to something more valuable.