Adiaphora?

This is part 2 of 6 in the series 2017 Reformation Newsletter Articles

This is part two of a series of twelve newsletter articles written by Rev. Neil L. Carlson for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Rev. Carlson is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church and Zion Lutheran Church in Sidney and Chappell, Nebraska.

After the Augsburg Interim failed to end The Reformation, the Leipzig Interim was written and put into place. This Interim required the reintroduction of many practices that the Lutheran Church had rejected and abandoned. Those who supported the Interim argued that these practices were adiaphora. Those who rejected the Interim argued that there was no such thing as adiaphora in the Church.

Adiaphora.

This is a word used in the Lutheran Church frequently still. It means simply those things which are neither commanded by Scripture nor forbidden by Scripture. The idea of adiaphora is that these actions are neutral. They aren’t sinful because they don’t break any commandments, but–having no command from God to do them–there is no sin in abstaining from them.

However, this fails to consider any “baggage” that might come along with the practice. For example, we are neither forbidden nor commanded by God to drive green tractors. So we are free to drive green tractors or tractors of another color. That is adiaphora. But, if I were to drive a green tractor to church, would it be simply adiaphora or would it bring with it the long-standing battle between those who drive green tractors and those who drive red tractors? Though it is not commanded or forbidden, if the pastor were to drive a green tractor to church it could appear as an endorsement of green tractors and could create a false doctrine (belief) in the minds of those who drive red tractors.

In the Church, let the reader understand, we don’t have a tractor issue, but we do consider issues of doctrine. By introducing practices into the Church, the doctrines which created those practices are introduced, as well.

Beyond the appearance of accepting, “Is there really such a thing as adiaphora?,” the Lord says in Matthew 12:30, “Whoever is not with me is against me.”  If a person can’t be neutral, can practices in the Church be neutral? Flacius, speaking for the Genesio-Lutherans said, “No.” He said, “Nothing is adiaphora when confession and offense are involved.”[1] To use the previous example, those who drive red tractors would be offended if green tractors were driven to church. Therefore, the Church can’t introduce green tractors for the sake of those who drive red. It was thought that even if these practices were truly indifferent, to submit to them would be to submit to the Church of Rome and that could not be done.[2]

The practices being reintroduced to Lutheran churches were not the driving of tractors, but exorcism, confirmation by bishops, extreme unction, and Corpus Christi.[3] The Genesio-Lutherans refused to allow these practices into their churches because the practices brought with them the dogma of the Roman Church which the Lutherans had rejected as contrary to the Bible, The Genesio-Lutherans argued that if they gave even an inch in any doctrine, it would just open the door for more and more Roman doctrine and practice to infiltrate the Lutheran Church until every doctrine that the Lutherans so firmly believed was eliminated.

Those who wanted to compromise did so out of fear for their lives. By this time, those monks who became Lutheran had married and bore children, so the lives of their wives and children were at stake. Because of such tension, they were willing to “give a little” in order to have peace with their enemies. But “the Lutherans answered: It is our duty to confess the truth regardless of consequences, and, at the same time, to look to God for the protection of His Church.”[4]

In the 1980’s some within the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod introduced ceremonies and worship practices that didn’t come from the Lutheran Church. This sparked what has been called, “The Worship Wars.” However, the first worship war in the Lutheran Church wasn’t organs vs. praise bands or liturgy vs. free-form, but Lutheran ceremonies vs. Roman ceremonies.  That first worship war ended with the Lutherans holding fast to ceremonies and practices that reflected their doctrine and assisted in teaching that doctrine.

Today, let us not be indifferent, thinking adiaphora makes no difference.

If we introduce practices that come out of synergistic churches, the “baggage” of synergism is sure to follow. During the first adiaphoristic controversy, it was stated “lex orandi, lex credendi,” which can be understood to mean “how one prays is how one confesses.” Or, if one worships like a Lutheran, they will believe what Lutherans believe.  This simple Latin rhyme teaches the deep-reaching connection between doctrine and practice, showing that the Genesio-Lutherans were right: in matters of doctrine, nothing is adiaphora.

If the Lutheran Church wants her people to believe that baptism saves, then singing hymns about the salvation given in baptism will teach this. Also, the simple act of baptizing people will teach the importance of baptism. Having the baptismal font in a prominent location will aid in teaching the importance of baptism. The way we worship will influence what we believe in all doctrines, not just baptism.

The Lutheran Church at the time of The Reformation learned that being indifferent or complacent on matters of ceremony, practice, and doctrine was an extremely dangerous infection in the Church. The indifference and complacency to practice opened the door to false ceremonies, which opened the door to false doctrine. With the lack of concern for right practice and doctrine, the Lutheran Church learned she wouldn’t be Lutheran for much longer if these Roman ceremonies were allowed to take place. Thus, the Lutherans of The Reformation treated even the smallest of controversies as though it could destroy the Church.

May we pay as close attention to our practice as the Reformers did so that we don’t lose the Lutheran doctrine in our Lutheran Churches.  May every doctrine and practice in our churches be built on the foundation of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, for Christ’s sake and be in accord with every word of Holy Scripture.

[1] Bente, F. Historical Introductions to the Lutheran Confessions. St. Louis; Concordia Publishing House, 2005, 256.

[2] Bente, 251.

[3] Bente, 250.

[4] Bente, 259.


Comments

Adiaphora? — 3 Comments

  1. The Interim conceded the cup and clerical marriage but demanded restoration of the mass, seven sacraments, and recognition of the pope and bishop’s authority.

    These were also considered “adiaphora” by Melanchthon.

    The quote is “Nihil est adiaphoron in casu confessionis et scandali” (“Nothing is an adiaphoron when confession and offense are involved”).

    That is to say, cases and times when confession is required, e.g., under persecution, when enemies of the Gospel try to force observance of adiaphora or suppress the pure doctrine of the holy Gospel.

    Neither persecution, suppression of the Gospel, nor forced observance of adiaphora are taking place in the LCMS today.

    It has nothing to do with mandating that we worship a certain way, for example with white albs and stoles, high liturgy, chanting, genuflection, crucifixes, Eucharistic prayers, and hymns from the 16th century to be “genuinely Lutheran.”

    These are all adiaphora, and confessional Lutheran churches may not condemn one another because one has more or fewer ceremonies. The pure preaching of the Gospel and right administration of the sacraments are the only things that are required to make a church confessionally Lutheran.

  2. @Steve #2

    Don’t know if I agree 100%, since each situation should be looked at individually, but I agree with the general sentiment. In my experience the mantra that there is no adiaphora is usually an excuse for one pastor to insert himself into the workings of other congregations, and it’s usually based on hearsay and/or personal animosity toward fellow pastors.

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