Who’s Catholic and Apostolic?

Here’s a story which may or may not be completely metaphorical.

Pseudonymous pastors Kris and Theo were overseers of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church, in nearby countries.  Both professed allegiance to the Old Roman Creed, and believed that the words of Jesus, as handed to us in the writings of the Apostles, were the foundation of their life and teaching, in which we read:

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  -John 11:35

“As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.  -Luke 6:31

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  -John 14:15

Pastor Theo, by virtue of the authority given him in his ecclesiastical position, changed some theological terminology in such a way that altered the church’s historic verbiage, because he believed his alternative to be “reasonable.”  Pastor Kris was offended, and dug his heels into the claim that Theo’s doctrinal innovations changed the Gospel given them by Christ.  Pastor Kris approached Pastor Theo about the issue, and a robust dialogue and debate of epic proportions ensued.  However, despite the tears and pleading of Kris, Theo remains unconvinced, insisting that his use of theological terminology accurately reflects the teaching of Jesus.

So naturally, being unable to resolve the technicality, they bring several friends, including Pastors George, Alex, Mark, Max, Paul, Greg, and a few others into the conversation.  These, in turn, invite more of their brothers in the ministry from an even wider geographical region until a sizable convocation has been assembled to partake in the semantical dialogue.  Despite the multitude of councilors, the matter remains unresolved:  Kris is still convinced that Theo has made a terrible mistake, and Theo is transparent about being unable to recant without violating his conscience.

All avenues of inquiry, reasoning, and rhetoric were exhausted in the matter.  Theo even tried singing his defense to make it more compelling.  At this point, should a head of the church settle the matter definitively, one of these two bishops would be left out of the church over this issue.

What can be done?  There seems no path forward in the reconciliation of these mutually exclusive dogmatic positions under the same religious banner.

Except that this story has played out in history countless times.  And each time, things actually ended well so long as the bishops involved:

  • Demonstrated love to each other by being nice
  • Avoided belittling one another
  • Dealt with the matter directly and personally, instead of politicking behind closed doors
  • Sought to understand one another rather than yell louder than their opposition
  • Gave each other plenteous benefit of the doubt
  • Recognized the territorial authority of each’s diocese
  • Were willing to confess and forsake which ever errs they could be convinced of, and
  • Were able to not take the conflict personally or hold it against their brother.

The words of Christ are still living and active despite the disparity of perspectives.  Those words always bring life!

…except for when the above criteria were completely disregarded and Kris (Kringle, that is) got so frustrated that he struck Theo’s friend and sympathizer (Arius) in the face.  Whoops!  How is the good, true, and beautiful supposed to triumph in THAT situation?

Well, Arius and Theophilus (the Ethiopian) were simply wrong, and the truth had to prevail, even at the cost of the above.  It does not matter how nice you are if Jesus isn’t truly the Son of God!  If his death does not rescue us from ours, if there is no hope beyond the grave, we should eat, drink, and be merry, but remember that all we’re left with is a dog eat dog world. 

I’m certainly not saying violence is an acceptable resort (and neither did Saint Nicholas!  He confessed his sin and repented).  The above criteria are indeed good ideas.  If we are to take the teaching of Jesus seriously, we ought to be marked by our kindness to one another.  But were such definition of kindness given priority by the early church over and against whether Kris or Theo was actually correct, we would not today have the Nicene creed.  Nor would we be reaping the benefits of the immense scope of unity this common confession has afforded between Christians of all denominations!

Arius can assert until he is blue in the face that he is every bit as much a valid part of the Holy, Christian, and Apostolic church as Nicholas, Athanasius, and Augustine, but the fact of the matter is that he would be absolutely incorrect to say so, and this is true regardless of whether Arius understands or accepts it.

There is a time to “agree to disagree,” and there is a time where this approach has its limits.  We must be willing to see these limits and call a thing what it is, even if somebody takes it like a slap in the face.  Otherwise, all we are left with is a “terminal niceness” that gives a false appearance of unity based on the tranquility of mannerisms rather than uniformity in confession.  It is not our politeness that brings unity to the church, it is the Gospel, and thus, the reality of whether or not a change in terminology, teaching, or practices “impinges on the Gospel” is actually a matter of utmost importance which ought to be resolved whenever possible.  For the unity of the church.

This is not to say that every alteration to the order of worship is tantamount to forsaking Trinitarian orthodoxy.  And I am absolutely NOT trying to imply this is what certain others are trying to say.  There is room for all kinds of diversity in doxological practices among confessional Lutherans, and differing perspectives on certain issues.  Some hold that the one-year lectionary has greater didactic success, while others insist that the three-year teaches more the full counsel of the Word of God.  Some sing the Psalm, others stick with the Gradual.  Some churches can precisely execute the Paschal Triduum by the book, whilst others have not yet even heard of it and are convinced that Christ and his Apostles observed an Easter sunrise service.  (Well, at least the ladies did!)

My point is simply this:  You cannot simply abandon wholesale the liturgy and hymnody of the historic Lutheran church, as some of our congregations have, along with the common doxological property of every historic expression of Western Christendom, simply on the basis of pastoral discretion, and insist that you are teaching precisely the same thing as confessional Lutherans in stodgy traditional churches.  When you adopt wholesale the liturgy of enthusiast charismatic traditions and the trendy hymnody of revivalist Evangelicalism, those respective doctrines will be confessed by your worship services.  It is not an issue of style vs. substance:  the pattern of words you are using are identical to theirs and thus express the same unsound ideals.  To claim otherwise only reveals ignorance of the actual purpose and value of both our historic worship patterns, AND the charismatic and revivalist origins of what is so often called “contemporary worship.”  (You can listen to Dr. Lester Ruth tell you all about it here.)

Need more proof?  Whenever people leave our contemporary congregations, for whatever reason good or bad, they usually do not seek out another faithful congregation of the Lutheran confession in spite of their lack of comfortability or familiarity with traditional Lutheran worship.  No, they will find their way into a church that worships the same way as what they left, looks the same, sounds the same, and feels the same, even if this means their children will not be baptized or confirmed, communion will be very infrequent, preaching comes nowhere close to rightly dividing law and gospel, and the scriptures themselves are systematically eradicated from prominence in the assembly.  We can say “quia” until we are blue in the face, but these methods and results factually reveal otherwise, whether or not we all understand or are convinced of it.

We have plenty of self-delusion masquerading as “good reason,” and it isn’t nice or unifying for the church to pretend otherwise.

About Miguel Ruiz

Miguel Ruiz is a post-Evangelical adult convert to confessional Lutheranism and a vocational church musician. He is a commissioned Minister of Religion in the LCMS, serving Our Savior Lutheran Church and School in Centereach, New York, as the director of parish music and music teacher. His journey down the Wittenberg trail began when he was roused from his dogmatic slumber by the writings of Michael Spencer and Robbert Webber. After a period of Cartesian doubt seeking a confessional identity, he finally found his home in the Lutheran church. When he isn’t busy running upwards of 12 rehearsals a week, he loves writing as a way to interact with other perspectives and to pontificate on his doxological agenda. He enjoys exploring the treasury of 2000 years of sacred music, and has found his life’s calling as a cantor, with a mission to “put the Gospel on the lips of the people of God through song, that the Word might dwell in their hearts through faith.”

Comments

Who’s Catholic and Apostolic? — 8 Comments

  1. “My point is simply this: You cannot simply abandon wholesale the liturgy and hymnody of the historic Lutheran church, as some of our congregations have, along with the common doxological property of every historic expression of Western Christendom, simply on the basis of pastoral discretion, and insist that you are teaching precisely the same thing as confessional Lutherans in stodgy traditional churches.”

    The Lutheran reformers were concerned with restoring the pure preaching of the Gospel and the doctrine of justification by faith alone through which we are saved. Everything else is human tradition that may be changed or kept for the sake of order. (Apology, XV)

    In the early days of the Reformation, those changes were initially quite radical, since the idea of the Roman Mass as a resacrifice of Christ with attendant good works as a means of obtaining grace was seen as an idolatrous perversion of the Gospel in toto. The first Lutheran church order, published by the Wittenberg city council in 1522, endorsed iconoclasm, removal of altars and vestments, elevation, etc. as marks of Roman superstition and misunderstanding of the Gospel. Luther returned from the Wartburg to preach against such wholesale changes not in and of themselves, but because they were provoking rioting and disturbing the townspeople’s spiritual lives.

    Later, in his preface to the German Mass of 1527, Luther notes that in the future certain church practices may change, and that “we will not oppose them.” Again, Luther was not so concerned with the rigid forms of worship, as the Calvinists would be, as with the primacy of the pure preaching of the Gospel. This is seen even more so in his plan outlined in the same tract for a “third type of worship” by “true Christians” in homes, with preaching, baptism, and communion. Perhaps this unrealized order was the basis for Bonhoeffer’s reflections on a “religionless Christianity.” Perhaps not.

    In the concluding section of his Smalcald Articles of 1537, Luther continues to decry any lingering Roman liturgical practices that promote superstition and undermine the Gospel.

    Lutherans in the 1540s and 1550s continued to battle against those elements of liturgical practice that were seen as professing the errors of Rome. After their defeat by the imperial Catholics in 1548, one of the most significant visual impositions on the Lutherans as a sign of their “re-Catholization” was the forcible reintroduction of vestments etc. into the conquered Evangelical churches. Matthias Flacius was a tireless polemical combatant against this. Hence, the contemporary image of historic Lutheranism (in Germany, at least) as a “high liturgical church” is more the legacy of the changes wrought during the Interims. The treatment of the Adiaphoristic controversies in the Formula of Concord in favor of refusing errant Roman ceremonialism as visually confessing error (Melanchthon, who wrote the Leipzig Interim which reinstituted Roman ceremonies into Lutheran churches, was labeled by his opponents as an Adiaphorist) thus made this position confessional.

    Appeals to historic liturgy and hymns as somehow equivalent to the sole historic Lutheran concern, which is the pure preaching of the Gospel, are therefore misguided. Luther was clearly ambivalent throughout his life about the forms of worship, so long as error and disturbance were avoided and the Gospel rightly proclaimed. The rest falls under the freedom of a Christian.

  2. @Steve #1

    “Luther was clearly ambivalent throughout his life about the forms of worship, so long as error and disturbance were avoided and the Gospel rightly proclaimed. The rest falls under the freedom of a Christian.”

    That’s the point, Steve. It’s wrong to forsake our Lutheran heritage in favor of worshiping like Baptists. It’s wrong to forsake the clear proclamation and application of God’s word in favor of vapid and emotionally driven garbage (replacing faith-grounding pearls of spiritual counsel). You make some fine historical points, I suppose. But you speak in abstracto. In practice, what Miguel criticizes deserves no defense. The worship “styles” of the so-called missionals is schismatic and enthusiastic and it leads souls away from the ground of faith, away from pure doctrine, and invites them to make peace with errors.

  3. @Steve #1

    Appeals to historic liturgy and hymns as somehow equivalent to the sole historic Lutheran concern, which is the pure preaching of the Gospel, are therefore misguided.

    Nobody says that. We’re saying that worship practices are an important means of confessing the Gospel, and worship practices which do should absolutely be favored over those which do not.

    Luther was clearly ambivalent throughout his life about the forms of worship, so long as error and disturbance were avoided and the Gospel rightly proclaimed. The rest falls under the freedom of a Christian.

    Not necessarily. He had a lot to say about worship practices. Sure, he did not hand down a precise rite ex cathedra, and was opposed to doing so. It doesn’t therefore follow that EVERYTHING becomes adiaphora. His liturgical reforms were very principled, and he elaborated on how so.

    My whole point is that “pastoral discretion” is being used as a cover to use “Christian freedom” to adopt practices which do not proclaim the Gospel, but rather, proclaim the false teachings of revivalist and charismatic traditions.

    You can argue Luther against the confessions all you want, but don’t tell me it’s a confessional position. Apology XV is not about absolute freedom of ceremony, but rather, against the idea that proper ceremony is meritorious. To be exact, it says:
    “In Article XV, the adversaries accept the first part, in which we say that ecclesiastical rites are to be kept that can be observed without sin and are beneficial int he Church for peace and good order.”

    IOW, if it can be observed without sin, DON’T throw it away. It pays to read in context rather than seeking whatever we can find to justify the practices we want.

    In the early days of the Reformation, those changes were initially quite radical, since the idea of the Roman Mass as a resacrifice of Christ with attendant good works as a means of obtaining grace was seen as an idolatrous perversion of the Gospel in toto.

    There were nothing like the radical changes of “contemporary worship” today, nor are they sufficient justification for doing so. Most early Lutheran church orders, which I have read, actually kept the order, and merely simplified it and reduced the number of elements included. What we have today is building a brand new worship service from a blank slate, using a revivalist brainchild. Apples to oranges. According to the AC, we keep the mass.

    Later, in his preface to the German Mass of 1527, Luther notes that in the future certain church practices may change, and that “we will not oppose them.” Again, Luther was not so concerned with the rigid forms of worship, as the Calvinists would be, as with the primacy of the pure preaching of the Gospel.

    Yes, Luther was not rigid. He would be perfectly ok with Divine Service setting 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5.
    That doesn’t mean all forms of worship are acceptable. Some do proclaim false teaching. Our churches who jettison our historic liturgy and hymnody always replace them with things that, at best, do not proclaim the Gospel nearly as much, or at worst, proclaim the same theology as the churches from which these replacements come: Assemblies of God and Word of Faith type things dominate the top of the CCLI charts.

    In the concluding section of his Smalcald Articles of 1537, Luther continues to decry any lingering Roman liturgical practices that promote superstition and undermine the Gospel.

    As do we all, but we have pretty much gotten rid of them all by now. Unless you are pointing to something specific in our churches that does this, why bring it up?

    Luther was clearly ambivalent throughout his life about the forms of worship, so long as error and disturbance were avoided and the Gospel rightly proclaimed. The rest falls under the freedom of a Christian.

    If he was so “ambivalent,” why did he write so much on worship, reform the medieval mass, and give us to examples to use in our own practice? Sure, Sola Fide is the absolute bottom line, the heart beat of all Christian spirituality, and not just preaching. But from whence cometh this idea, which BTW is absolutely foreign to the reformers, that Sola Fide has no bearing on the form of worship? Christian freedom is not given us to adopt rites and hymnody which ignore sola fide so long as the preacher doesn’t.

  4. @Miguel Ruiz #4

    Miguel, fantastic response. Truthfully, your response to Steve wasn’t even necessary. Your article is perfectly clear and very much on point. Anyone who bristles at anything you have written here is (likely) only doing so because they are guilty of engaging in exactly what you write/caution against. There will always be those folks among us who need to justify their desire or decision to jettison the historic liturgical forms in favor of schwärmerei. Adiaphora usually pops up in the conversation somewhere, but, we know that it is a poor argument for making changes or introducing innovation. Our chief concern with worship practices must always be: What proclaims Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins (the Gospel) most clearly and rightly. The best practice is as you have pointed out: “We’re saying that worship practices are an important means of confessing the Gospel, and worship practices which do should absolutely be favored over those which do not.”

  5. AC Article XXI: Of the Worship of the Saints
    7] although, among us, in large part, the ancient rites are diligently observed. 8] For it is a false and malicious charge that all the ceremonies, all the things instituted of old, are abolished in our churches. 9] But it has been a common complaint that some abuses were connected with the ordinary rites. These, inasmuch as they could not be approved with a good conscience, have been to some extent corrected.
    15] But it can readily be judged that nothing would serve better to maintain the dignity of ceremonies, and to nourish reverence and pious devotion among the people than if the ceremonies were observed rightly in the churches.

  6. Augsburg Confession Article XXIV: Of the Mass.

    1] Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among 2] us, and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved, save that the parts sung in Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns, which have been added 3] to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned 4] be taught [what they need to know of Christ].

    Apology Article XXIV (XII): Of the Mass.

    At the outset we must again make the preliminary statement that we 1] do not abolish the Mass, but religiously maintain and defend it. For among us masses are celebrated every Lord’s Day and on the other festivals, in which the Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved. And the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other like things.

    Formula, Solid Declaration Article X: Church Rites
    7] Likewise, when there are useless, foolish displays, that are profitable neither for good order nor Christian discipline, nor evangelical propriety in the Church, these also are not genuine adiaphora, or matters of indifference.

    This is something we as congregations and pastors as members of synod pledge to do, in constitutions and ordination vows (Book of Concord 1580). And we have to deal with it. As Lutherans we do not subscribe to Luther’s Works Vol. 35, which I believe is where the “third form of worship” (i.e. house churches)comes from. Uncle Marty was awesome, but still human.

    I had a urban mission guy in my district. The way he would talk you would get the impression that he would have us sell/abandoned our church buildings and go to small group conventicles in preparation for the Chinese assault on Christianity that will begin literally tomorrow on American soil. I thought he was rather enthusiastic in the style and content of his speaking.

    You know, the whole looks like a duck thing….

  7. There is such a thing as contemporary liturgical worship. “Contemporary” worship comes in all kinds of forms. For myself, I find the contemporary music hard to sing. Most contemporary songs are on application and light on theology. But, there are now some very Lutheran words that must have been written by Lutherans but they are not very well known and are difficult to sing. There is one that includes the words of “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” with catechism-like words for verses. There is another that I think is called “I Believe” which covers The Apostles’ Creed.

    Some congregations have abandoned the Divine Worship for Bapto=Pentecostal worship. Others use the Divine Worship with “contemporary” songs.

    Point: It is hard to generalize from individual experiences.

    Point: It is hard to generalize from individual experiences.

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