Liturgical Freedom — To What End?

Divine Service (Lamb)

The rallying cry of the Enlightenment is one of personal autonomy; freedom. In the air we breathe, the template of freedom is the operating system directing our endeavors. In the Church, too, there is freedom. The question is, to what end?

Followers of the Radical Reformation are theological heirs of John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli. They believed freedom from Rome gave them permission to depart from and remove the liturgical rites and practices of the medieval church. This is in marked contrast to Luther’s Reformation known as the Conservative Reformation. The Lutheran Reformers believed freedom from Rome gave them the freedom to keep those liturgical practices of the medieval church which did not promote idolatry. Lutherans kept these received liturgical practices for the sake of good order and teaching the faith.

We do not abolish the Mass, but religiously keep and defend it. Masses are celebrated among us every Lord’s Day and on the other festivals. 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 such things.[1]

A number of reasons can be cited for retaining the Western liturgy called the Mass once it was cleansed of false teaching. Retaining the historic liturgy helps make the Divine Service kid friendly serving what children need most: repetition which aids memorization. It is also elderly friendly aiding those who are slowly losing their ability to read, adapt, and remember. The Lord Jesus continues to pour his creative gifts upon the church in the form of hymns, etc., but these contributions compliment and do not replace what has been received from those who have gone before emphasizing the catholicity of the faith.

Referencing Formula of Concord Article X Matthew Harrison has written:

Yes, there could be liturgical divergence from territory to territory, but to use statements of the Formula, which allow freedom, to justify the current state of (non) liturgical disunity and individualism among American Lutherans is unjustified. The authors of the Formula simply did not in any way intend to sanction anything remotely like our current congregationalistic worship situation.[2]

Followers of the Radical Reformation used their newfound freedom to depart from the historic liturgical practice of the Western Church. In marked contrast the Lutheran used their freedom from Rome to keep the historic liturgical practice of the medieval church, i.e., the Western Mass without the false notion that by it we obtain salvation. A potpourri of quotes from the Lutheran Confessions and Luther shows that freedom was used to keep the Western Mass while cleansed of idolatrous practices:

  • Our churches teach that ceremonies ought to be observed that may be observed without sin. Also, ceremonies and other practices that are profitable for tranquility and good order in the Church (in particular, holy days, festivals, and the like) ought to be observed.[3]
  • However, ceremonies should be celebrated to teach people Scripture, that those admonished by the Word may conceive faith and godly fear, and may also pray. (This is the intent of ceremonies.)[4]
  • We cheerfully maintain the old traditions made in the Church for the sake of usefulness and peace. We interpret them in more moderate way and reject the opinion that holds they justify.[5]
  • This topic about traditions contains many and difficult controversial questions. … The repeal of ceremonies has its own evils and its own questions. … Still, we teach that freedom should be so controlled that the inexperienced may not be offended and, because of freedom’s abuse [Romans 14: 13–23], may not become more opposed to the true doctrine of the Gospel. Nothing in customary rites should be changed without a reasonable cause. So to nurture unity, old customs that can be kept without sin or great inconvenience should be kept. In this very assembly we have shown well enough that for love’s sake we do not refuse to keep adiaphora with others, even though they may be burdensome. We have judged that such public unity, which could indeed be produced without offending consciences, should be preferred.[6]
  • [W]hen you hold mass, sing and read uniformly, according to a common order—the same in one place as in another—because you see that the people want and need it and you wish to edify rather than confuse them. For you are there for their edification, as St. Paul says, “We have received authority not to destroy but to build up” [II Cor. 10:8]. If for yourselves you have no need of such uniformity, thank God. But the people need it. And what are you but servants of the people, as St. Paul says, II Corinthians 2 [1:24], “We are not lords over your faith, but rather your servants for the sake of Jesus Christ.”[7]

Lutherans do away with the false notion that liturgical rites and ceremonies bring salvation simply by “working the work”[8] but they embrace the notion that salutary rites and unity in practice edifies the baptized. What one does instructs. What one does not do also instructs.

No doubt the liturgy has changed over the centuries. What is of concern is when the identity of the liturgy is changed. When a person no longer worships as a Lutheran, that person slowly no longer believes as a Lutheran. In regards to worship we need to be aware of the axiom coined by Prosper of Aquitaine in the fifth century: “Lex orandi, lex credendi: the rule of worship is the rule of believing.”[9] If a person worships as a Baptist one will believe as a Baptist. If one worships as a Biblical Christian, i.e., a Lutheran, one will be enabled to believe as a Lutheran. Simply put, “Worship practices are manifestations of the doctrine of the church.”[10]

In clarity uncharacteristic of modern day churchmen, C.F.W. Walter said if you do not worship as a Lutheran you will slowly no longer believe as a Lutheran.

Church usages, excepting the case when confession of a divine truth is required, are indeed adiaphora. But they are nevertheless not without an import of their own. Congregations that adopt the church usages of the sects that surround them, will be apt to conform to their doctrines also, more easily and quickly than those that retain their Lutheran ceremonies. We should in Lutheran services, also when held in the English language, as much as possible use the old Lutheran forms, though they be said to be antiquated and not suiting this country.”[11]

Walther was prescient and we do well to heed his words. To worship in non-Lutheran ways makes a person more open to non-Lutheran theology. This insight is so simple as to be considered threatening and inflammatory by those who desire to depart from the use of the historic western liturgy. Affirming what Walther wrote Matthew Harrison states:

Here we note an unpublished study conducted in the early 1990s by Pr. Brian Saunders, formerly of Holy Cross Lutheran in Ft. Wayne. Pr. Saunders surveyed some 300 who regularly attended a “contemporary worship” service at Holy Cross (with rock band, testimonies, “liturgical” dance, etc…). One question asked: If you were to move to another community where there was a church which did not confess the true bodily presence of Christ in the Sacrament, nor baptize babies, but did worship in the way you do now; and there was an LC-MS congregation which used the liturgy/hymnal, which church would you join? 74% said they would opt out of Lutheranism. It has been said that historical-critical theology is merely a way for unbelievers to find haven in the church. I would suggest that much of “contemporary worship” is simply a way for the weak to be robbed of Lutheranism, yet remain within the Lutheran church.[12]

The freedom we have in Christ is not so we can do our own thing. The Lutheran Reformers confessed that freedom means we embrace and keep the liturgical practices of the church catholic but not by force or compulsion of anyone. Freedom’s operating system is a love for the Gospel and Jesus’ blood bought people so that we may serve and edify our neighbor with the Good News of God’s mercy in Christ. I come to a close with words from Martin Luther.

For even though from the viewpoint of faith, the external orders are free and can without scruples be changed by anyone at any time, yet from the viewpoint of love, you are not free to use this liberty, but bound to consider the edification of the common people, as St. Paul says, I Corinthians 14 [:40], “All things should be done to edify,” and I Corinthians 6 [:12], “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful,” and I Corinthians 8 [:1], “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Think also of what he says there about those who have a knowledge of faith and of freedom, but who do not know how to use it; for they use it not for the edification of the people but for their own vainglory.[13]

 

In Christ,

Pastor Weber

 

[1] “Apology, Article XXIV, The Mass,” Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 2nd edition, gen. ed., Paul T. McCain (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005): 220; AP XXIV:1.

[2] Matthew Harrison, “Martin Chemnitz and FC X,” in Mysteria Dei: Essays in Honor Kurt Marquart, ed., Paul McCain and John Stephenson (Fort Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1999), 83.

[3] “Augsburg Confession, Article XV, Church Ceremonies,” Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 2nd edition, gen. ed., Paul T. McCain (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005): 39; AC XV:1.

[4] “Apology, Article XXIV, The Mass,” Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 2nd edition, gen. ed., Paul T. McCain (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005): 220; AP XXIV:4.

[5] “Apology, Article XV, Human Traditions,” Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 2nd edition, gen. ed., Paul T. McCain (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005): 193; AP XV:38.

[6] “Apology, Article XV, Human Traditions,” Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 2nd edition, gen. ed., Paul T. McCain (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005): 194; AP XV:49-52.

[7] Martin Luther, “Liturgy and Hymns,” Luther’s Works, American Edition, 55 volumes, edited by J. Pelikan and H. T. Lehmann (St. Louis: Concordia and Philadelphia: Fortress, 1955-1986), 53:48.

[8] In Latin: “ex opere operato”.

[9] Roger Pittelko, “Worship and the Community of Faith,” in Lutheran History Worship and Practice, Fred Precht, ed (St. Louis: Concordia, 1993), 57.

[10] Ronald Feuerhahn, Liturgics: Do the Lutherans have a Confessional Stake in the Current Debate?, 7, (Paper presented at the Symposium on Lutheran Liturgy and Hymnody, CTS, Ft. Wayne, January 18, 1995).

[11] David Jay Webber, comp., What is the Lutheran Church a Liturgical Church: A Confessional Anthology <<http://www.blc.edu/comm/gargy/gargy1/liturgical_church.html>> [Accessed May 9, 2015] {(John R. Stephenson, “A Log in One’s Own Eye?”, in Confessional Lutheran Research Society Newsletter, Number 4 [Reformation 1986], p. 6. The quotation is from C. F. W. Walther, The Controversy Concerning Predestination [translated by August Croll] [Concordia Publishing House, 1881], pp. 77-78.)}

[12] Matthew Harrison, “Martin Chemnitz and FC X,” in Mysteria Dei: Essays in Honor Kurt Marquart, ed., Paul McCain and John Stephenson (Fort Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1999), 98-99, n. 31.

[13] Martin Luther, “Liturgy and Hymns,” Luther’s Works, American Edition, 55 volumes, edited by J. Pelikan and H. T. Lehmann (St. Louis: Concordia and Philadelphia: Fortress, 1955-1986), 53:47-48.

 

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