Bishop and Christian, September 2008

[We continue hearing from Pr. Heath Curtis-see July and August for the previous sections-on the ceremonies of the Church’s worship.  As always, the invitation stands for you to discuss with me any questions or thoughts.]

Ceremonies that Teach

Along with the traditional liturgical forms, the Apology notes that we keep the traditional ceremonies as well. In the Divine Service these ceremonies are numerous. The folding of the hands with left thumb under right, bowing the head at the Name of Jesus, various places of making the sign of the holy cross, genuflecting during the Creed and after each consecration, standing, sitting, kneeling, etc. These ceremonies are prescribed in the rubrics that accompany the Historic Western Divine Service. The Liturgy is the words that are spoken, the rubrics are the ceremonies performed.

Why these rubrics? Why ceremonial worship? Isn’t it all just putting on a show? Making the pastor look high and mighty? Just high church drama queens doing their chancel prancing? Now that we have discussed the drama of the Liturgy I hope you begin to see that this is not the case. Rather, the traditional ceremonies of the [Divine Service] are actions that fit the words and realities of the [Divine Service]. As such, they support the words and teach the laity what the words mean. Or as the Confessions say, “The purpose of observing ceremonies is that men may learn the Scriptures and that those who have been touched by the Word may receive faith and fear and so may also pray.” (Ap. XXIV.2) “For after all, all ceremonies should serve the purpose of teaching the people what they need to know about Christ.” (AC XXIV.3)  And consider again that everything in worship teaches. Every action is a ceremony. [We] cannot decide not to have ceremonies, but [we] can decide which ceremonies to have. Consider the following.

Scene 1. A man clad in professional attire (suit and tie or business casual) walks over to a small wooden table set off to the side of a large stage area to the left of a five piece band; the stage is adorned with ferns and a tall wooden cross with a dove over it. In the audience people sit in theater seats. He picks up a brass plate with little pieces of bread on it and says in a clear, loud voice in a normal cadence “On the same night on which he was betrayed….” When he finishes those words he places the plate down and touches a stack of aluminum trays containing plastic cups filled with wine and says in a clear, loud voice in a normal cadence, “In the same way also he took the cup after supper…” When he is done with these words he looks at the audience and says, smiling, “The Peace of the Lord be with you always!” When the people are done receiving, they toss the used plastic cups in a wicker basket lined with a plastic bag.

Scene 2. A man clad in bizarre attire – a black robe, then a white robe with a rope belt…and over all a colored poncho with a Y-shaped cross on it faces a table in the center of a smaller anteroom set above a larger room where people are kneeling. The table is adorned with a large crucifix in its center and is draped with several cloths. He lifts a golden plate with little pieces of bread on it, bends low, and chants in a slow, clear cadence “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the same night in which he was betrayed, took

bread…” When he is done with these words, he lifts one of the pieces above his head and whispers, “My Lord, and my God!” He then sets it down and genuflects on his right knee. Then he takes a golden cup full of wine, lifts it slightly, bends low over it and chants in a slow clear voice, “In the same way also, he took the cup after supper…” When he is done with these words, he lifts the golden cup above his head and whispers, “My Lord and my God!” He then sets the cup down and genuflects on his right knee. He then lifts one of the hosts over the cup and turns to the people and chants “The Peace of the Lord be with you always!”…

Now a few questions. Which of these men, the man in Scene 1 or Scene 2 believes in the real Presence [of Christ’s Body and Blood] in the Lord’s Supper]? Assuming each scene takes place in a Lutheran Church, I am content to say that they both believe in it. I confess that both are valid celebrations of the Lord’s Supper and that the laity in both congregations received the true body and blood of Christ. But which scene better confesses these realities? Which scene’s actions match the words? Which scene better teaches the people what is really going on? If you were to turn off the sound and just watch the actions, would you guess they were doing the same thing? Is there anything in Scene 1 that wouldn’t be done in a church that denied the Real Presence? Is there anything in Scene 2 that could be done in a church that denied the Real Presence!  That is the power of ceremony. Everyone has ceremonies: will [we] use the traditional ceremonies designed to confess Lutheran doctrine or will [we] use other ceremonies? That’s the only question.


Augsburg Confession VII notes, “It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places.” This quotation is much quoted by those who advocate the use of neo-Evangelical worship forms. They protest that though the churches of the Augsburg Confession at the time of that confession kept the traditional liturgical forms, that confession itself here gives them the leeway to do what they want no matter what their sister congregations were or are doing. But they rarely give thought as to why the AC had to say what it said – why does it have to point out that a basic unity in form of worship is not what unites Christians? Consider statements in the form “x is not necessary for y.” These statements tell us nothing of the usefulness of x for y. For example, both of these statements in that form are true: A) “Green apples are not necessary for a healthy marriage.” B) “Saying I love you each day to your spouse is not necessary for a healthy marriage.” Both A and B are true. But certainly saying ‘I love you’ daily is more useful for a healthy marriage than green apples. Indeed, it’s so helpful that one might be tempted to think that saying ‘I love you’ daily was necessary to a healthy marriage. Indeed, in the right circumstance it might be necessary to confess that this isn’t necessary. So it is with unity in ceremonies and Church unity. Unity in the form of worship is so helpful for Church unity that we might mistakenly think that that is what such unity consists of. Furthermore…Solid Declaration X [says]:  “We believe, teach, and confess that true adiaphora or things indifferent…are in and of themselves no worship of God or even a part of it, but that we should duly distinguish between the two, as it is written, “In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the precepts of men” (Matt. 15:9).”  Amen. The ceremonies created by men – folded hands, kneeling at this place or that, chanting, genuflecting etc. – are no part of worship. Worship, as the Apology notes, is the desire to receive God’s gifts. But as we have seen above, we cannot escape ceremonies. Simply because ceremonies are no part of worship does not mean that we can choose any ceremonies we like and all things will be equal no matter what we choose. Some ceremonies will support our worship and others will not.

[I hope these excerpts from Pr. Curtis have given you some things to think about as we rejoice in the gifts of our Lord and worship Him in the splendor of His holiness.  Pastor Winterstein]


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