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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

"The Preservation of the Rites of the Church"


Johann Gerhard is the Archtheologian of Lutheranism.  In his Theological Commonplaces he notes seven chief duties of the ministers of the Church, the sixth being the preservation of the rites of the Church.  Pastors of our Synod would do well to put this duty into practice and not "abrogate the rites accepted by the public authority of the church on the basis of their personal whim...rather, they should preserve them in order to protect harmony and promote good order".   BTB

The sixth duty of ministers of the church involves the preservation of the ecclesiastical rites.  Of course, the institution of those rites belongs not only to ministers of the church but also to the Christian magistrate and ought to be done with the consent of the whole church.  Nevertheless this preservation is correctly assigned to ministers, lest they either change or abrogate the rites accepted by the public authority of the church on the basis of their personal whim.  Rather, they should preserve them in order to protect harmony and promote good order.  For though church rituals by nature are adiaphora, since God's Word neither commands nor forbids them, and though they do not of themselves consititute a part of divine worship, nevertheless, they should not be abrogated merely by one part of the church.

Otherwise, by such an arbitrary and rash abrogation:

(1) A pastor sins against Christian liberty, the use of which is moderated by a love that is very careful not to cause a neighbor to stumble by the preposterous use of adiaphora (Romans 14:15; 1 Cor. 8:9).

(2) A pastor violates the good order and authority of the church.

(3) And finally, a pastor holds in contempt the apostle's command that in either the institution or abrogation of rituals in the church all things ought to be done "to build up" (1 Cor. 14:12)

The result of this rule is that ministers of the church should not yield even for an hour to enemies of the truth who push for the introduction or abrogation of a rite in the church.  This they should not yield:

(a) Lest Christian liberty be subjected to the desire of their adversaries and be taken captive under the yoke of men. Gal 5:1: "In the liberty that Christ gave you stand firm, and do not desire to submit again to the yoke of slavery."  1 Cor. 7:23: "You were bought with a price.  Do not become slaves of men."  Thus to the false brothers who were arguing for circumcision as a necessity, which at that time was an adiaphoron, the apostles was unwilling even for an hour to yield and allow this to occur to Titus, for they "slipped in to spy out our freedom in Christ so that they might bring us devout men into bondage" (Gal. 2:4).  

(b) Lest by such a yielding to their adversaries they cause them to become more bold in their tyranny over souls [psychotyrannis] and to provide them with an opportunity for bringing false accusations.

(c) Lest they appear to be in collusion with their adversaires in confession, the symbols of which are held to be rituals in the church.  Instead, in this case they should give witness to the truth of their confession by word and deed.  Gal. 2:5: "To them we did not yield in submission so that the truth of the Gospel might be preserved for you."  2 Cor. 6:14: "Do not be yoked with unbelievers."  1 Thess. 5:22:  "Abstain from every form of evil."  

(d) Lest they offer a stumbling block to the weak. For if the weak see such changes being undertaken in favor of the adversaries, they are easily thrown into doubt about the truth and sincerity of the confession.  Nor should the fact that these rituals are adiaphora be offered as an excuse, for they cease to be adiaphora in a case of confession.  Nor should the harmony of the church [be offered as an excuse], for harmony may not be sought at the cost of the truth, scandal for the weak, or the violation of liberty.  Nor can the example of the apostle, who testified that "he became all things to all people" (1 Cor. 9:22) be offered as an excuse, for the weak brothers must be distinguished from the stubborn opponents of the truth of the Gospel.  Johann Gerhard, Theological Commonplaces: On the Ecclesiastical Ministry, Part Two. Trans. by Richard J. Dinda, Ed. by BTG Mayes and HR Curtis, CPH, 2012,  pp. 138-139.

BT Ball