Indifference is not characteristic of the liturgy
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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

A modicum of church order

The men who penned the Formula of Concord (as well as the men who penned the Small Catechism and the Augsburg Confession, for that matter) also penned binding church orders - the words and rubrics to be used in Lutheran churches. There was no allowance for "creative worship," for each pastor and parish to make up liturgies as they liked. Instead, whole churches (that is, all the congregations within the territorial boundaries of a prince/city council/duke who had accepted the Reformation) agreed together how worship should be conducted within their churches and then stuck to it. Martin Chemnitz had the task, as Lord Superintendent, to see to it that all the pastors were indeed sticking to it. He wrote a book to examine them in their doctrine and their practice, the Enchiridion (available from CPH), according to which they were examined twice yearly. In that work's third part, he wrote,

Part 3. With regard to the doctrine concerning ecclesiastical ceremonies (which we first said would be the third chief part of this examination), it is contained and set forth in the church order. Pastors should also be examined with regard to that very doctrine, so that they might both have the right understanding of it and be able rightly to explain it to their hearers. Likewise, one should inquire whether and how they observe those ceremonies. Superintendents should also confer with pastors regarding marriage orders, incorporated in the church order, that they might have the necessary understanding also of them.

What is this "church order" to which he refers? It is the order of Braunschweig-Wulffenbüttel of 1569. (By the way - I am quoting from a draft translation of this provided to me by Fr. William Weedon - the translation was done by Fr. Matt Harrison in 1999 and revised by A. Smith in 2011. I have no idea if they plan to publish it, but they should!) What sort of things did this church order legislate? Both doctrine and practice. In the matter of worship, the exact order of Divine Service, in both word and deed are given. For example,

the pastors and ministers [kirchendiener] who desire to hold mass when communicants are present shall not merely in their common clothing, but rather in their ecclesiastical vestments [ornatu ecclesiastico] such as alb, cassock and chasuble, very honorably and with great reverence and invocation of the Son of God approach the altar and commence, hold and accomplish the office of the mass [officium missae].

There is plenty in this order that any given reader of Gottesdienst will like and also plenty he will dislike. I like the bit about vestments above. I don't like the bit where the elevation of the Sacrament is forbidden. But please note the reason given for discontinuing the elevation: "because the elevation [elevatio] has been done away with in the neighboring reformed churches of this and other lands for good and important reasons, it shall thus be discontinued in all places, so that the dissimilarity may not produce disputes."

Hasn't the dissimilarity of worship around your circuit, district, and synod caused disputes? Isn't it insane that you can't go on vacation and find a service you recognize in a Lutheran church? But just how much similarity is needed? That's the question that AC XXVIII and FC X leaves up to each church jurisdiction. We are not about to arrive at the sort of unity and harmony in worship that was required by this church order in 1569. But surely, we would benefit from more than we have today. And really, the Synod's constitution has a very broad sort of church order. We ought to follow it. It is not oppressive. It allows for much local variation in ceremonies - but it also provides for a healthy amount of unity and harmony.

With that in mind, check out this resolution that will be headed to the NID district convention's floor committee for 2012 (HT: Fr. Ben Ball). It might be something you want to send in to your district as well.


To Encourage Harmony in the Worship Services of Congregations of the Northern Illinois District

Whereas, the Scriptures say that in Christian worship "all things should be done decently and in order" (I Cor. 14:40); and

Whereas,, the Scriptures say that, "'All things are lawful,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful,' but not all things build up " (I Cor 10:23); and

Whereas, the Formula of Concord states that the Church "in every time and place has the right, power, and authority to change, reduce, or expand [church] practices according to circumstances in an orderly and appropriate manner, without frivolity or offense, as seems most useful, beneficial, and best for good order, Christian discipline, evangelical decorum, and the building up of the church" (FC SD X.9); and

Whereas, the Augsburg Confession states that "it is lawful for bishops or pastors to establish ordinances so that things are done in the church in an orderly fashion....It is fitting for the churches to comply with such ordinances for the sake of love and tranquility" (AC XXVIII.54-55); and

Whereas, the Constitution of the Synod states that one of the "[c]onditions for acquiring and holding membership in the Synod" is "4. Exclusive use of doctrinally pure agenda, hymnbooks, and catechisms in church and school" (Art. VI); and

Whereas, controversy has continued in the church for some time concerning pastors and congregations who write their own orders for public worship, or draw them from sources other than those mentioned in the Synod's Constitution, therefore be it

Resolved, that the Northern Illinois District solemnly encourages each congregation in the district to offer public worship services exclusively according to the rites and services of the Synod's three English hymnbooks/agenda (The Lutheran Hymnal, Lutheran Worship, and Lutheran Service Book) as well as the supplemental hymnbooks/agenda prepared by the Synod's Commission on Worship (Worship 1969; Hymnal Supplement ‘98; All God's People Sing), the French hymnal of the Lutheran Church-Canada, (Liturgies et Cantiques Luthérien), and the Spanish hymnals of the LCMS (Culto Christiano and ¡Cantad el Señor!) and be it finally

Resolved, that the Northern Illinois District Praesidium investigate what other languages in our district are in need of worship resources consistent with our confessional subscription and synodical constitution and formally request the Synod’s Board for National Mission to produce for Synodical convention approval resources as needed.

Pr. H. R.73 Comments