Bishop and Christian*, July 2008

[Beginning this month, we will take some time to hear from another pastor, Rev. Heath Curtis of Worden, Illinois, on the reasons why Lutherans keep the traditional forms of worship and practice that we have inherited from those who have gone before us. If you have any questions about what Pr. Curtis writes, feel free to come into my study or e-mail me and we’ll talk about them.]

Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 24, 1:

“At the outset it is again necessary, by way of preface, to point out that we [Lutherans] do not abolish the Mass [the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper] but religiously retain and defend it. Among us the Mass is celebrated every Lord’s day and on other festivals, when the sacrament is made available to those who wish to partake of it, after they have been examined and absolved. We also keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of readings, prayers, vestments, and other similar things.” (Kolb/Wengert, 258:1)

“Tradition for Tradition’s Sake”

What are these traditional liturgical forms, lessons, prayers, and vestments that the Apology says the churches of the Augsburg Confession observe and why should we observe them today? They are first and foremost an inheritance. The Lutheran Reformers…did not start with a blank slate and create new worship forms ex nihilo [out of nothing]. Rather, the leaders of the Reformation – Luther chief among them – took what they received from their fathers in the faith and [removed] only those portions of the Medieval Church’s worship which contradicted Scriptural teaching. In other words, they pruned the inheritance given them by their forebears in a Scriptural light.

Thus, the…keeping of the traditional liturgical forms of the Western Church is, first and foremost, a keeping of the 4th commandment. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not anger or despise our parents or other authorities, but honor them. We honor our fathers in the faith by first seeking to understand and use the worship forms they gave us, instead of thinking them stilted and dead and unable to speak to our age. Indeed, Apology 24.1 shows the great humility of the Lutheran Reformation. It was with fear and trembling that the early Lutherans defied pope and emperor. They were driven to it only as a last resort. Like Peter and John they were finally forced to say, “We must obey God, rather than men.” But where the history of the Church could be honored – it was.

The Arrogance of the Pastor

Today, fools rush in where these great Reformers feared to tread. Today many hold their own creativity in higher esteem than the inheritance they received from their fathers.

The traditional liturgical forms, on the other hand, seek to protect us from this pastoral hubris. In those Lutheran parishes which have abandoned the model of Apology 24.1, the parishioners are at the mercy of the pastor. If he writes everything from the order of service, to the selection of readings, to the sermon, to even the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper: they have given a dangerous amount of power to one man. The traditional liturgical forms are the creation of no one man. Rather the Church as a whole, slowly and over time, accepted some things and

rejected others. The traditional liturgical forms therefore embody the experience and wisdom of two millennia of Christians. Furthermore when we compare these forms with the earliest forms found in the New Testament, in the Didache [written around 70-110 A.D.], and in the liturgy of St. James [written around the 5th century], we find that they are not only strikingly, but indeed organically similar: thus we see how basically conservative the history of the liturgy has been from Apostolic times down to our own.

The Arrogance of the People

But our pastors are not the only ones of whom we need be wary: for we have found the enemy and he is us. … CS Lewis notes that we need to be especially wary of falling into the spirit of our own age. His recommendation is that we read five old books for every one new one. In a like manner, the worship forms we might create if given a blank slate would reflect the particular errors and weaknesses of our own time, culture, and personality. The traditional liturgical forms serve as a filter to protect us from this. What we have in the historic liturgy has been passed down through ages – strengthened and slightly changed by each one, yet protected by the others from what was bad in each.

[Next month, we will hear from Pr. Curtis again as we move beyond “tradition for tradition’s sake.” Pastor Winterstein, pastorwinterstein@gmail.com]

*St. Augustine said, as Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; but with you I am a Christian

Quote for the Month

[“Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” from the Liturgy of St. James (LSB 621)

Let all mortal flesh keep silence
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly-minded,
For with blessing in His hand
Christ our God to earth descending
Comes our homage to demand.

King of kings yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords in human vesture,
In the body and the blood,
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way
As the Light of Light, descending
From the realms of endless day,
Comes the pow’rs of hell to vanquish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six-winged seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
“Alleluia, alleluia!
Alleluia, Lord Most High!”

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