When I became a pastor in the Lutheran Church, I said that I would perform the duties of my office in accordance with the Lutheran Confessions. I promised, with the help of God, to preach and teach and administer the Sacraments in conformity with the Holy Scriptures and these Confessions. (To the best of my knowledge, such statements are standard at the ordinations and installations of Lutheran pastors, at least in the Missouri Synod.)
So, when push comes to shove and the rubber hits the road, what is the result of these statements and promises? What does it mean – that your actions in worship would conform with the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions?
For some, the following passages define their confessional view of worship:
And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Eph. 4:5-6 (Augsburg Confession VII:2-4).
(J)ust as the dissimilar length of day and night does not injure the unity of the Church, so we believe that the true unity of the Church is not injured by dissimilar rites instituted by men… (Apology VII & VIII:33a).
And, most famously:
We believe, teach, and confess that the congregation of God of every place and every time has the power, according to its circumstances, to change such ceremonies [church rites which are neither commanded nor forbidden in God’s Word, but have been instituted for the sake of propriety and good order] in such manner as may be most useful and edifying to the congregation of God (Formula of Concord: Epitome X:4).
Those who love to quote these passages often act as though these were the final words that the Confessions speak about worship. It is not too much of a stretch to say that any practice could be permissible for them, as long as it could be defined as “useful” or “edifying”.
Yet, after making these statements, the Confessions continue:
… Although it is pleasing to us that, for the sake of tranquility [unity and good order], universal rites be observed, just as also in the churches we willingly observe the order of the Mass, the Lord’s Day, and other more eminent festival days. And with a very grateful mind we embrace the profitable and ancient ordinances, especially since they contain a discipline by which it is profitable to educate and train the people and those who are ignorant [the young people] (Apology VII & VIII:33b).
Nevertheless, that herein [making changes in ceremonies and church rites,] all frivolity and offense should be avoided, and special care should be taken to exercise forbearance towards the weak in faith. 1 Cor. 8:9; Rom. 14:13 (Formula of Concord: Epitome X:5).
As I study the Lutheran Confessions, I continue to find much that can be applied today towards this topic of remaining ‘steadfast in worship’.
Associate Editor Scheer’s Note: With this post, Pastor Nathan Higgins joins the regulars here at BJS writing for a segment entitled “Steadfast in Worship”. Pastor Higgins was a member of the Bemidji Circuit (one of the best in MNN) of the Minnesota North District when I served as a pastor up there in the northland. He is also one of the assistant editors that produced Treasury of Daily Prayer for CPH. The Rev’d Nathan W. Higgins is a 2002 graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana. He has served as Pastor at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Long Prairie, Minnesota (emmlp.org) since December 2008 and has participated for many years in the Lutheran Mission Association (lmamnn.org) which provides relief in Haiti.