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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Boiling the Frog

frog.jpg
Only if we forget Jesus’ divinity and the all-holiness that consequently pervades his manhood can we suppose that he intended bread and wine to be cheerily and carelessly distributed in a circus-like atmosphere as the celebrant improvises a liturgical schema of his own devising.
— (John R. Stephenson, "Liturgy and Dogma" LOGIA vol.xiii, No. 4)

Thank you to my brother in Christ Latif Gaba for sharing this quote from Dr. Stephenson.

This trenchant observation is the restatement (confession!) of the distilled wisdom of our confessional fathers in their inclusion of Article 24 in the Augustana and the Apologia. Doctrine isn’t only catechetical and cerebral, it is also liturgical and carnal - in the same way that marriage is an actual life lived, and not merely theoretical vows taken or doctrinal statements logically assented to. In other words, liturgy is lived doctrine, and liturgical action is the confession of that doctrine - especially regarding our Lord Jesus Christ!

As we LCMS congregations, pastors, schoolteachers, and other rostered “church workers” (“members of synod” if you prefer that kind of lingo) unanimously and unequivocally sum up our confession of faith (and our commitment to our Lord and to one another) in Paragraph 5 of the Conclusion of the Augsburg Confession::

In doctrine and ceremonies nothing has been received on our part against Scripture or the Church Catholic. For it is manifest that we have taken most diligent care that no new and ungodly doctrine should creep into our churches (emphasis added).

Even with the passage of nearly five centuries, the practical wisdom of our confessional fathers remains relevant and fresh - for example, in their linkage between "doctrine and ceremonies” - even employing the stronger conjunction “ac” to connect “doctrina” to “ceremoniis” in the Latin rather than the less stringent “et” - and their defense of traditional (“receptum”) doctrine and ceremonies as a defense and bulwark against “new and ungodly doctrine” (“neue und gottlose Lehre”) that would otherwise “creep” (“serperent”) (!) into “our churches.”

The serpentine “doctrine creep” in the LCMS - especially in matters of christology - isn’t a matter of spectacular and dramatic leaps and bounds - as it often is the the ELCA. Doctrine creep in the LCMS is much more subtle, perhaps therefore even more dangerous and insidious: achieved one tiny degradation of the liturgy at a time - like unto the metaphor of boiling the frog.

Larry BeaneComment