Rev. Joshua Scheer reported yesterday on the MNN Faithful list that the following paper was mentioned at the MNNCL meeting. We looked at it and, agreeing with him, think that it is an “Excellent resource in right thinking about any worship wars that may or may not be going on”.
This article is from The Lutheran Theological Journal, Vol. 36, #2 (2002): pp. 71-83.
The Augsburg Confession states that
Similarly, the Formula of Concord declares:
The Wittenberg Church Order of 1533 contains lengthy proposals regarding the liturgical life of the church. It lays down what the pastor shall preach on at the normal early Sunday service, on festivals and when the sacrament is celebrated. There are detailed regulations for other services and elaborate instructions on what is to be chanted and sung. Initially intended for Wittenberg/Kemberg and the environs and then for all of Electoral Saxony, this order is considerably shorter than Bugenhagen’s Braunschweig Order of 1528, and is only a small fraction of the length of the Electoral Saxon Order of 1580 or the Braunschweig- WolfenbÃ¼ttel Order of 1569.
Today it is simply inconceivable that any synod would even attempt to mandate such lengthy liturgical directives. In America such forums have at times had difficulty approving even the mildest liturgical directives, including the use of Lutheran hymnals. And even that has been viewed by many as hopeless legalism.
The answer to our liturgical struggles today is not the imposition of sixteenth-century liturgical directives upon our modern church. That is not the point of this paper. It merely seeks to understand the meaning of the confessional texts by coming to grips with the way in which they were understood by the confessors themselves. The very people who authored the Confessions had no problem with mandating a host of liturgical directives, with careful provisos. They were convinced that they were acting in absolute accord with the Confessions. We must come to grips with this historical reality before we try to figure out what these texts might mean for a church that would confess them today.
There was room for pastoral discretion in the Wittenberg Order of 1533. Liturgical matters are the pastor’s responsibility and ‘may be increased or reduced according to the circumstances of the day. For such ceremonies should not be necessary laws, but stand under the authority of the pastor, to deal therein as it serves best.’ Yet the limits of pastoral discretion are clearly defined in the order itself. Pastors, preachers and chaplains ‘shall also maintain the Christian ceremonies in unity and uniformity [eintrechtiglich und gleichformig]’.
Why the mandate regarding ‘ceremonies in unity and uniformity’? The Augustana clearly states in Article 7 that
We appear to have a direct contradiction between the demands of church polity and the church’s public confession regarding the nature of the unity of the church. The church order mandates ‘unity and uniformity’ in ceremonies, while the Augustana states that there must be uniformity only in the case of the gospel and sacraments. We will see the same apparent contradiction in the case of the Formula of Concord and the church orders produced in that period. But the two confessional texts under consideration already point to the way out of this conundrum. They clearly summarise the teaching of the Confessions regarding polity and uniformity.
From Luther to public doctrine
Concerns for both freedom and unity echo the theology of Luther, expressed prior to 1530. Luther’s views regarding liturgical matters remain consistent from his first major foray into the topic in the Formula Missae of 1523. As radical as Luther’s innovations were, he remained a liturgical conservative with a concern for catholicity. He held that there had been a church long before his day, and much of what that church had done in its wisdom was good and by no means to be dispensed with. ‘It is not now nor ever has been our intention to abolish the liturgical service of God completely, but rather to purify the one that is now in use …’
One notes two foci in the three major liturgical writings of Luther: justification and freedom tempered by love. The former is more strongly emphasised in the Formula Missae. The latter is most evident in the Letter to the Livonians. Both are evident in the preface to theDeutsche Messe. All three tracts, however, clearly demonstrate both concerns. In the revision of the Latin mass, Luther excised everything that smacked of human merit or the sacrifice of the mass. It was purified on the basis of the chief article. Also in this tract Luther made stunning and bold comments regarding liturgical freedom. ‘These rites are supposed to be for Christians, ie, children of the “free woman” [Gal 4:31], who observe them voluntarily and from the heart, but are free to change them how and whenever they may wish.’
The need for agreement in the church regarding liturgical matters was also evident in Luther’s thought. ‘Let us approve each other’s rites lest schisms and sects should result from this diversity of ritesâ€” as has happened in the Roman church.’ Luther wanted his revisions used or set aside in the future by common consent. He sought a middle road between the ‘frivolous faddism’ of some people which provides for nobody and a submissive fear which ‘endorses universally held abominations and binds consciences, commanding what God himself has not mandated. It was only the persistent requests of Nicholas Hausmann, who was concerned with the ‘multiplicity of German masses’, which finally moved Luther to render the mass in the vernacular. Yet evident also throughout the Formula Missae is the assertion that the bishop or pastor has the discretion for change within the parameters set.
In A Christian Exhortation to the Livonians concerning Public Worship and Concord (June 17 1525), the texts, themes and very language which were taken into the Confessions, and then into the church orders, are clearly evident. More evident, too, is the theme of love that surrenders freedom for the sake of the common good and unity. Writing in the context of the persistent agitation of fanatics, Luther continued to steer a middle path between freedom and order:
The following paragraph is programmatic for what actually transpired in the practice of the church and in the language of the Confessions.
Luther appeals for unity and uniform practice so that people are edified and not confused. ‘When you hold mass, sing and read uniformly according to a common orderâ€” the same in one place as in another.’15 This is accompanied by the ethic of love clearly outlined by Luther in 1520 in The Freedom of the Christian. ‘By faith be free in your conscience toward God, but by love be bound to serve your neighbour’s edification, as also St. Paul says, Romans 15:2.’
The preface to the Deutsche Messe expressed the same themes. At the urging of Nicholas Hausmann and others, Luther finally wrote a German Mass because of the ‘general dissatisfaction and offence 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.’ Freedom, however, must be ‘a servant of love and of our fellowman … As far as possible we should observe the same rites and ceremonies, just as all Christians have the same baptism and the same sacrament…’ Luther proceeds with a statement which guided the Lutheran Church thereafter:
In summary, Luther’s liturgical program was bold and liberal. In the Formula Missae he excised those elements contrary to the gospel; in theDeutsche Messe he rendered a completely new setting in the vernacular. Yet he was decidedly catholic and conservative in maintaining the liturgical structure of the ancient liturgy. In fully recognising the inherent freedom in most matters liturgical (‘Everything in the mass up to the Creed is ours, free and not prescribed by God’), he advocated a freedom limited by love which serves the neighbour. The result is unity and uniformity, provided no universal demands are made as though matters not mandated by God’s word are true divine service. Within prescribed bounds of uniformity, the bishop or pastor has the right of liturgical discretion. It was in the course of the events and negotiations at Augsburg that the confessional contours were defined and Luther’s liturgical convictions became the public doctrine of the church, also in regard to ecclesiastical polity.
The Augsburg Confession on liturgical uniformity
When the emperor finally arrived at Augsburg, preliminary negotiations were very strained. On 18 June the imperial herald demanded ‘that no preacher here in Augsburg, be he who he will, shall henceforth preach any more, aside from those prescribed by His Majesty, on pain of His Imperial Majesty’s highest punishment and displeasure’. The Lutheran princes objected to this edict and to the emperor’s insistence that they participate in the Corpus Christi procession. Margrave George was selected to respond to the emperor: ‘Before I would deny my God and his gospel, I would kneel down here before your Imperial Majesty and have my head chopped off’. To which the emperor responded in broken German: ‘Not head off! Not head off!’ [Nicht Koepf ab!]. The emperor himself had piously joined the procession bearing a candle, head uncovered.
Having begun on such a contentious point, the discussions at Augsburg soon turned to the issue of traditions as things ‘indifferent’ but under the jurisdiction of the bishops. Melanchthon delivered to the imperial secretary, Baldesius, a preliminary declaration of faith consisting of seventeen articles. The longest, article IX ‘On the Commandments of Men’, follows the article ‘On the Power of the Keys’ which asserts that
Article IX declares that the gospel forbids the introduction of worship services in the church in which new orders and rules are imposed, for example, the prohibition of marriage, the adoration of images, the invocation of saints, and fast days. This was exactly the advice Luther was giving Melanchthon from Coburg.
Seeking to avoid an inevitable split, the Evangelicals investigated the possibility of accepting the sacrament under one kind, private masses and the canon of the mass with explanatory glosses as matters indifferent. The Elector John requested an opinion from Luther, who replied that it was a matter of indifference and free choice whether to offer both elements in the sacrament. Only what is clearly taught in God’s word should be taught and practised. The problem was that the papal party did not believe that giving only the ‘one kind’ (bread) was a matter of indifference, ‘because on account of it they have burned, exiled, and persecuted many people …’
Nor was Luther willing to grant that the private mass or the canon of the mass were in any way matters of indifference.28 What Melanchthon had confessed at Augsburg pleased Luther.
It was completely in accord with Luther that the Augsburg Confession confessed that the power of bishops is the power of the church. This is the power of the keys to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments, as given in John 20 (AC 28, 5). In fact, AC 28 uses all these terms interchangeably.30 It is the genius of the Augsburg Confession that it refuses to play one estate in the church off against the other. ‘The power of the church or bishops gives eternal gifts and is used and exercised only through the office of preaching’ (28, 10). While pastors and churches owe the bishops obedience according to the clear words of Christ in Luke 10:16, ‘He who hears you, hears me’ (28, 22), bishops do not have the authority to establish ‘new ceremonies’ as though they merit grace (28, 38).They have no authority to mandate in matters of festivals, food, clothing or fasting as though it were sin not to follow their mandate. But bishops or pastors may establish ceremonies or orders for the sake of good order in the church, ‘for the sake of love and peace’ (28, 55). This was exactly the position of Luther.
The Augsburg Confession and the polity of the church
In the Augsburg Confession the confessors clearly expressed their ‘deep desire’ to retain the canonical episcopal polity and traditions of the church catholic.31 That did not and could not happen â€” for the most partâ€” in Germany (unlike some Scandinavian and Baltic States). Few bishops joined the Reformation. The last of the German Lutheran bishops served in Prussia up to 1587, when the consistorial order was introduced. This conservatism regarding polity is perhaps most evident in the fact that ordinations (canonically the task of the bishop) were postponed in Wittenberg until 1535. All ordinations for Electoral Saxony and beyond occurred there well into the future.
Knee-jerk opposition to such episcopal polity is as unconfessional as is a romantic desire to re-establish the episcopacy as an allegedly divinely mandated cure for modern church problems. As a confessional Lutheran one may argue for or against this or that type of polity (episcopal or synodical) on the basis of churchly wisdom and on practical grounds. But one may not state with Calvin, Rome, Presbyterianism, Methodism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Congregationalism, and others that there is an ‘order by which the Lord wished to govern the church’ [ordo quo Dominus voluit gubernare ecciesiam]. The attempt to find in the New Testament one mandated polity for governance ends in failure.
Lutheran church polity developed as follows. First ‘visitors’ were chosen, often by the default bishop (Notbischof), the prince of the duchy or, in the case of free cities, by the town council to conduct a visitation of the parish(es) in the jurisdiction.33 Thus there were the Ernestine Saxon visitations of 1528, 1529, 1533, 1554.34 The visitors, who initially turned to their superintendent or to Luther in doubtful cases, were soon brought together into ‘synods’ for conducting ecclesiastical affairs. By the mid 1530s so many issues related to marriage and the state were arising that the first ‘consistories’ were founded. In some cases they consisted of more than a half a dozen individuals, a few pastors and a lawyer or politician.35 The consistories dealt with the day-to-day administration and oversight of the church, and periodic synods gathered to make decisions regarding doctrinal and practical matters.
The early Lutheran princes were in many cases markedly helpful in the cause of the Reformation, having come to be regarded as summi episcopi in their lands. Yet this polity, originally by ’emergency’, was injurious to Lutheranism, as dogma became subservient to political goals. The mixing of the kingdoms in the person of the prince, one of the realities about which the Lutherans complained loudly at Augsburg,36 was an emergency from which German Lutheranism was not extricated until the Weimar Republic did away with the entire old political system (1918). To be fair, this system was not merely a Lutheran phenomenon; it was positively medieval. Thus the guest list for the Diet of Augsburg began, ‘Carolus, Roman Emperor. Ferdinand, King of Hungary and Bohemia. Albertus, Archbishop of Mainz and Elector’.
The sixteenth-century church orders that were the points of contact between confessed dogma and church life were the product of princes who handpicked theologians for the task (eg Chemnitz and Andrea by Julius in Braunschweig WolfenbÃ¼ttel, 1569). We also have orders which are the product of cities which invited one or more theologians for the task (eg Bugenhagen for the free city of Braunschweig, 1528), and a range of other variations. We have orders produced by the significant confessors of 1530 and 1580. Even more significantly, in the church orders these men all mandate liturgical uniformity in the churches in question! They do so believing that they are acting in complete conformity with the faith confessed at Augsburg 1530, and in 1580.
The ‘church’ in Formula of Concord Solid Declaration 10, 9
Before citing the church orders, a few brief comments regarding Formula of Concord SD 10, 9 are needed. It has long been popular to interpret Gemeine Gottes as meaning each individual congregation. In fact, as I have noted elsewhere,38 the Triglotta (1917), in updating the German of the Formula, chose Gemeinde for Gemeine, thereby leading many to assume wrongly that FC 10 means that each and every local congregation has the autonomous right to do as it pleases in matters liturgical. While Gemeine may mean a local congregation, the word often has both a wide and a narrow sense in the contemporary literature. To read FC 10 as though it were defending an individual congregation’s right to be liturgical or dispense with all liturgy is to ignore the fundamental assertion of the Augsburg Confession regarding the conservative intent of the Lutheran confessions to retain the western rites and liturgical usages. The Apology does not present a Lutheran church the option of being ‘non- liturgical’. This is in accord with Luther’s directives in the 1520s which advocate liturgical unity for the sake of love in each principality or district. This (and not the local congregation) is what the Formula is talking about when it uses the term Gemeine, translated correctly by Piepkorn in Tappert as ‘community’. This, too, accords with AC 7 where ‘in all places’ [allenthalben] means as much as ‘in every quarter, region or district’.
The church orders on uniformity
The church orders do what Luther did: they purge liturgical life of any contradiction of the article of justification. He advocated liturgical uniformity according to district, but not in such a way that people were to believe that certain liturgical matters were matters of divine mandate where they were not, or that by doing such things they were meriting grace. True Christian freedom in the gospel rendered the individual free in such matters, and true Christian love rendered the individual a servant in such matters, ready to sacrifice freedom for the sake of love, order, edification and betterment of the church as a body. We now note how the sixteenth-century confessors and reformers explicitly followed this path of Luther.
Melanchthon’s Articles for the Visitation of Saxony, 1528 (Luther was a visitor) state that the knights and nobility ‘shall diligently maintain the ceremonies of the visitation order’.
The ‘mandate to pastors and preachers’ in The Electoral Saxon Visitation Articles of 1529 states that ‘they shall expressly hold to the ceremonies and festivals of the visitation instruction, and not [act] otherwise’.
Begun by Bugenhagen, and completed by Amsdorf in 1531, The Church Order for the City of Goslar states that the pastor shall swear not to ‘introduce anything new in the realm of ceremonies or otherwise, which is contrary to God’s word and this order’.
The Brandenburg-NÃ¼rnberg Church Order in 1533 lays down that visitors shall see to it that pastors not take it upon themselves to introduce in the external orders, ceremonies and church usages, and no matter what the circumstances, any revision, change or anything unseemly, which is against God’s word or not in accord with the same, without the knowledge, approval and consent of the governing authority, or give place to other changes. They shall rather hold to his visitation order, as much as is mandated in each part, and follow it so that unity, peace and similarity may be maintained, and all unseemly offence rightly avoided.
The Wurttemberg Church Order of 1536 states that ‘the form and manner of ceremonies herein shall be maintained in our principality, in accord with what follows’.
Urban Rhegius produced the Church Order for the City of Hannover, 1536. It states:
Justus Jonas composed The Order for the Principality of Anhalt, 1538. It orders: ‘Concerning ceremonies, songs and rites in the church . . . the external divine service with the mass, communion, festivals, should everywhere be maintained in form and measure, as at Wittenberg’.
The Constitution and Articles of the Consistory at Wittenberg 1542 (Jonas, Cruciger, Bugenhagen, Melachthon, Luther, and others) state:
Justus Jonas wrote The Church Order of the Christian community at Halle, 1543.
Chemnitz and Andraea in 1569 produced The Church Order for Braunschweig WolfenbÃ¼ttel for Duke Julius. It treated ceremonies, freedom and uniformity at length. There should be
In 1571 Chemnitz authored the Articles to be subscribed by those received into the ministerium of this church. They include the injunction to ‘retain the rites in use and received ceremonies of this church, and not presume to change anything by private decision without a common decree’.
Formulators of the Formula of Concord, Andreas Musculus and Chistoph Corner, were both General Superintendents of Mark Brandenburg. Musculus revised the Mark Brandenburg Church Order of 1572 which commands that ‘no one should change anything or go beyond our order, not even in the least, so that in our land, as much as possible, it may be maintained in unity of practice, and unnecessary division and separation be avoided’.
Chytraeus was responsible for The Wismar Address of 1572. It lays down that no one shall ‘change, improve or order a single thing in the church, no matter how necessary it may be considered, without the foreknowledge, consideration and approval of the entire ministerium’.
Musculus produced The Mark Brandenburg Visitation and Consistorial Order of 1573. It proscribes proceedings ‘against those in cities or villages who do not maintain preaching, the administration of the sacraments and ceremonies in an orderly fashion and in accord with our Christian church order’.
The Visitation Instruction of 1577, prepared under Duke August (second signer of the Book of Concord) for Albertine Saxony, states that visitors are to ascertain whether the pastor
The final order here referred to is one of the most significant for interpreting FC SD 10, 9. Duke August of Electoral Saxony was the driving force behind the Electoral Saxon Church Order of 1580, and Andreae its author. The order came out after the adoption of the Book of Concord. In fact, it calls for ministers to subscribe to the Book of Concord.56 What FC SD 10 means when it states, ‘no church shall condemn another’, is crystal clear in ‘IX. Regarding Ceremonies in the Churches’.
Pastors and ministers, on the basis of God’s Word, and at the instigation of the declaration published this year (1580), and incorporated in this book [FC SD X?], shall diligently instruct their flock and hearers in their sermons, as often as the opportunity avails itself, that such external ordinances and ceremonies are in and of themselves no divine service, nor a part of the same. They are rather only ordained for this reason, that the divine service, which is not within the power of human beings to change, may be held at various times and places, and without offence or terrible disorder.
Accordingly, they should not at all be troubled when they see dissimilar ceremonies and usages in external things among the churches. They should much rather be reminded herein of their Christian freedom, and in order to maintain this freedom, make profitable use of this dissimilarity of ceremonies…
Nevertheless, so unity may be maintained in the churches of our land… the following ceremonies shall be conducted according to our order or incorporated church agenda, until there is a general uniformity of all churches of the Augsburg Confession … And it will be granted to no minister to act contrary to the same [agenda] to introduce some revision, no matter under what pretext, in order to avoid troubling the superintendents and adjuncts.
In its Confessions and church orders of the sixteenth century the Lutheran Church followed Luther’s earlier writings on the goal of liturgical uniformity. The church orders universally maintained the catholic sweep of the western liturgy, seeking merely to purify the old on the basis of the doctrine of justification. Like Luther, they rejected any imposition of human ceremonies intended to merit divine favour, and rejected any attempt to bind consciences with matters not bound by the word of God. Yet they explicitly followed Luther’s ethic in the realm of liturgical life. While the Christian under the gospel is perfectly free and subject to none, under the ethic of love the Christian is the perfectly dutiful servant of all and subject to all. Thus the Reformers followed Luther in asserting the need for liturgical uniformity for the sake of love, to avoid offence and false doctrine.
Liturgical unity was sought in each respective district or jurisdiction, which again was completely in accord with Luther’s directive. Such jurisdictions involving few or many congregations are what was in mind when the Formula spoke of the Gemeine Gottes (FC SD 10, 9). Church polity is a matter of freedom. The Lutheran Church, be it synodically or episcopally organised, has the authority, for the sake of love and unity, to set definite liturgical parameters for its pastors and congregations. Within those parameters, pastors are free to exercise their discretion. This is clear from Luther, the Confessions, and the practice of the confessors from the first visitations in the 1520s to 1580.