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

Insisting on Adiaphora (or Not)

We do not insist on adiaphora.  That is to say, we do not insist upon what God has not required; nor do we forbid what God has not prohibited.  We are, after all, called "Gottesdienst Online," not "Adiaphora Online."  We are concerned with God's Service, not with any human pretense or presumption.  And, besides all that, as editors of a blog, we are not anyone's bishop; leastwise not here.  That's not who we are, nor what we do.

To be sure, we do advocate and urge some adiaphora over other alternatives, because, among the many things that God has left free, some practices are better and stronger than others.  We have our preferences, no doubt, and we also have our reasons for preferring some practices over others.  It is also the case that we editors of Gottesdienst do not agree among ourselves on every point; in part because different contexts and different circumstances suggest different approaches, and in part because we are different people with different gifts.  Sometimes, too, it happens that one or the other of us will change his mind.  For all of these reasons and more, we cherish the freedom for which Christ has set us free, because it is the freedom to repent, the freedom to learn and grow, and the freedom to serve and care for the Church on earth.

What God has left free, that is, what He has neither commanded nor forbidden, remains free and clear before Him.  We do not presume otherwise.  Such freedom belongs to the righteousness of faith in Christ, and it is a most precious gift and treasure of His Gospel.  To insist upon any work or sacrifice of the Law, as though by it to obtain the forgiveness of sins, justification and salvation, is flat-out false doctrine.  All the more so, then, to insist upon some adiaphorous practice as though it were necessary for salvation is surely twisted and wicked.  So, too, the requirement that something God has left free must either be done or not done, as though the power and efficacy of the Gospel itself depended upon it, is pernicious and quite wrong.  We dassn't do that.  And we don't.

Now, then, the righteousness of love for the neighbor, and of good order, peace, and harmony within family, church, and state, is another matter.  There the Law must do its duty to serve and protect in the midst of sin and death.  Not only because we live, for now, in a fallen world, but also because we live, by God's grace, in His well-ordered creation.  Although the Lord holds all things in His hand, and He governs all things by His Word, He has given man dominion over the works of His hands, as demonstrated, for example, by Adam's naming of all the animals.  And whereas God has left so many of the details and specifics of life on earth free and unscripted, He has given fathers of various kinds to exercise wisdom and judgment, and so also to establish rules, for the benefit of those under their paternal care.  Fathers are not free to contradict or disobey the Word of the Lord, but under His authority they are free to establish and enforce rules of conduct according to the particular context and circumstances of their own "family," whether that be a single household, a village or city, a state or the entire country.

St. Paul relates the paternal management of household and family to the work of pastors and bishops, who are called and ordained to be spiritual fathers of the household and family of God (1 Timothy 3:4-5).  That apostolic word informs and supports our Lutheran confession that "it is lawful for bishops, or pastors, to make ordinances so that things will be done orderly in the Church" (AC XXVIII.53).

As spiritual fathers, pastors and bishops not only can, but should make decisions and even insist upon particular practices that God has not universally commanded or forbidden; certainly not as though to "merit grace or make satisfaction for sins" (AC XXVIII.54), but for the benefit of the Church on earth in her life together.  Some of those decisions will be unique to each congregation, and that is the nature of pastoral care.  But many others will also connect and relate to the larger fellowship of the Church.  Which means that pastors ought to act in consultation and harmony with one another in caring for, leading and guiding their respective parishes.  Bishops with fraternal oversight of the pastors in their own proximity, "diligently joined in unity of doctrine, faith, sacraments, prayer, works of love, and such" (SA II.IV.9), may also serve to promote the harmony of the Church's life together.

The truth is, because God has left so many of the specific details "free," there must be some insistence upon adiaphora if there is to be any sort of "community."  Rules of conduct held in common within each particular household and family, as well as broader rules of mutual engagement within the larger fellowship of the Church, enable brothers and sisters in Christ, and brother pastors and sister congregations, to live and work together in faith, hope, and charity, each person and each parish according to his, her, or its particular place. The freedom of faith in the Gospel does not prohibit but permits and makes possible such rules or "rubrics" of familial life.  The Church on earth necessarily makes these decisions, as she always has and always will, in one way or another.  Some forms of ecclesiastical polity and governance work better than others, and that may vary according to time and place, but there must be some such polity and governance in place.  Ideally, at ground level, the pastors will care for their own respective congregations in the way that responsible, God-fearing and law-abiding fathers care for their own families, within the context of the communities in which they live.

The Gottesdienst editors, as pastors, do engage in such paternal care of their respective congregations.  But, collectively, as "Gottesdienst Online," we do not insist on adiaphora.  What we do is to advocate and urge the use of godly ceremonies, because such practices contribute to the catechesis and confession of the Word of Christ; they honor the means of grace and the ministry of the Gospel; and they adorn the Church with beauty and glory.  Along with that, we also defend the freedom to do that which is truly free in faith and love.

What we insist upon is the doing of what God has commanded, and the not doing of what God has forbidden.  Thus, along with our Lutheran Confessions, we deplore and decry frivolity, irreverence, anarchy and chaos, spectacles of worldly entertainment, and whatever else contradicts or undermines the Word of Christ (FC SD X.1, 7, 9).  Such things are not adiaphora, but are contrary to the Word of God, and are thus forbidden by God.  Permitting such practices to continue without comment within the fellowship of the Church would be irresponsible and wrong.  So we speak in opposition to frivolity and irreverence, even as we defend and recommend the practice of godly ceremonies that promote dignity and reverence.