WorshipConcord Journal, volume 2, number 9 — September 2010


The Public Ministry of Word and Sacrament and the Church’s Liturgy: A Response to Art Just

Last month I presented my response to Dr. Arand that was presented at the Model Theological Conference on Worship in January of this year. The conference was attended by a wide diversity of individuals, church leaders (lay and ordained), pastors, musicians, seminary and university professors, District Presidents, and Synodical officials.

My response to Dr. Arand’s paper posted last month in the WorshipConcord Journal evoked a good discussion of the issues. Some of our readers agreed with the points I raised. Some did not. But the discussion was helpful. Discussion is always helpful. One of the things I find interesting about this medium is that if one finds a question difficult to answer, or finds that it may have an answer that doesn’t easily lend itself to one’s prior understanding in the discussion, the question is simply ignored. That’s not for a lack of trying on our part, so let’s keep at it, shall we?

This month I will take a stab at Dr. Art Just’s paper, which itself was made in response to Dr. Arand’s paper. Dr. Just and I were invited to be respondents to Dr. Arand. But it seems fair, since our papers are all available to the public, that we discuss each other’s work. Nothing is done in a corner, so if Dr. Just cares to reply and join the discussion, this is an open invitation. The spirit of the Model Theological Conference on Worship is that we not have our private vivisections of each other’s work without the fair opportunity for the author to respond. There’s been too much of that in the past, and it unfortunately promotes the approach of attacking the straw man, rather than seeking understanding among colleagues. The Model Theological Conference modeled respect.

Dr. Just’s paper is titled, “Embodied Lutheran Theology through Lutheran Worship Practices.” In his paper Dr. Just refers to the public ministry of preaching the Word and administering the sacraments as “worship practices.” Dr. Just makes the statement, “The way we worship in the 21st century is an expression of our identity as Lutherans. Our worship announces that our life is defined by Jesus Christ, our Creator and our Redeemer, that our identity is in conformity to his holy life. We would not be having this conference if there wasn’t some sense among us that we have lost our Lutheran identity, our connection to the biblical story as it is embodied in our worship.”

In good classical fashion, Dr. Just lays out the premises for his paper at the beginning. This will be the main focus of my response to Dr. Just’s paper, since the premises establish the substance of his paper.

Dr. Just defines “worship practices” as “preaching and reading Scripture, baptizing, and celebrating the Lord’s Supper.” Now on the surface, one might immediately recognize these as those things that are given by God. The Word, the Gospel, and the Sacraments. These are not typically referred to as “worship practices” in the Lutheran tradition. While these are indeed the fundamental essence of Lutheran worship, Article X of the Formula of Concord defines “ecclesiastical practices” as those things that are neither commanded nor forbidden by God, all the stuff the church in various places and at various times has chosen to add to what is given by God. “Ecclesiastical practices” are not given by God. They are given by the church.

To fail to make this distinction confuses what is given by God with what is given by the church. This is a distinction that runs through the entire Book of Concord, and it defines our theology of worship. When we fail to make this distinction, we introduce confusion into the church’s conversation. To use the term “worship practices” for the defining essences of the Gospel and the sacraments suggests a use of language that is not the typical use of this term, and it confuses these essences with the adiaphora (ecclesiastical practices) of FC X.

Dr. Just writes, “The way we worship in the 21st century is an expression of our identity as Lutherans. Our worship announces that our life is defined by Jesus Christ, our Creator and our Redeemer, that our identity is in conformity to his holy life.”

I agree with this statement of Dr. Just, insofar as it is referring to the essence of our worship, the preaching of the Gospel and the public administration of the sacraments. Even Basil of Caesarea claimed that worship practice must be ordered according to what is given from the mouth of the Lord. Basil argued this explicitly with reference to the trinitarian formula in Baptism, that it should be practiced as it was plainly stated in Matthew 28. It should not be caricatured that this would be a “reductionist” view of worship. Worship practices (in the broad sense) over the course of history display a remarkable diversity.

If Dr. Just’s statement refers to worship in the broad sense beyond the essences of Gospel and sacraments, and includes the adiaphorous rites and ceremonies “instituted by men” as Augsburg Confession VII refers to them, then the statement is problematic, since it does not reflect the theology of worship imbedded in the Book of Concord.

When Dr. Just writes that “Our worship announces that our life is defined by Jesus Christ, our Creator and our Redeemer, that our identity is in conformity to his holy life,” this is indeed one aspect of Lutheran worship. Worship is a public proclamation of the death of Christ, and all this entails for the life of every Christian. Preaching and sacraments are objective proclamation of the gift. To this gift we respond with prayer and praise, and in this prayer and praise we bear witness to the world what the gift has done for us.

But again, the proper distinction must be retained here too. For it is not the prayer and praise that conforms us “to his holy life.” The gift does this. The prayer and praise are in response to the gift. As an aside, this is why the structure of Lutheran worship entails both the essences of Gospel and sacraments (the gift) and prayer and praise (our response to the gift). If worship only entails prayer and praise, then it is not a Lutheran structure of worship. If prayer and praise are not offered as response to the gift of the Gospel and the sacraments, then worship becomes something we offer to God in order to curry his favor. While this is certainly an American Evangelical understanding of worship (the whole lot of it being something we do), it is not biblical and it is certainly not Lutheran. So, if Dr. Just is maintaining the essential distinction, then his statement is correct.

Dr. Just also writes, “We would not be having this conference if there wasn’t some sense among us that we have lost our Lutheran identity, our connection to the biblical story as it is embodied in our worship.”

The “biblical story” is clearly a matter of what is given by God. There is no debating that. At least in our Lutheran tradition there should be no debating it. We accept the biblical story as God’s story. And it becomes our story—we are connected to it—by what we traditionally refer to as the “means of grace,” the Gospel and the sacraments. I should also point out that, while there is an essential message that is shared in common in the biblical story—the message that Christ was crucified, that he was raised from the dead, all for human sin and according to the scriptures (1Cor 15.1-4)—there are also various ways of telling that story. We only need Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to paint that picture for us.

To some extent I am using Basil’s argument. Basil argued that our worship must be normed by what is given in the biblical text. I am arguing that if we are using the “biblical story” to define our Lutheran identity, then we must allow for the different ways of telling that story in the canonical texts also to shape our approach to its embodiment in our worship. This, I suspect, is a point on which Dr. Just and I will not see eye-to-eye. But the evidence, I submit, is on the side of a variety of ways of telling the story as a model for a variety of ways of worshiping as Lutherans.

I think on the essences—the Gospel and the sacraments—Dr. Just and I agree. That’s the most important place for all of us to be. However, I think there is considerable room for continuing the conversation when it comes to keeping the proper distinction between receiving the gift and responding to the gift and the implications this has for an understanding of worship/liturgy that is both historical and Lutheran.


James Alan Waddell

+ sdg +


WorshipConcord Journal, volume 2, number 8 — August 2010


This month’s issue of the WorshipConcord Journal contains my response to Dr. Charles Arand’s paper, “All Adiaphora Are Not Created Equally,” delivered at the Model Theological Conference on Worship last January. At the end of this paper there are four points for furthering the conversation. I am curious to know what our readers think. – the senior editor 

“No Matter How Differently We May Value Adiaphora, the Silence of God’s Word Cannot Be Changed: A Response to Charles Arand” 

I find most of what Dr. Arand has said to be very helpful, but for some reason my mind’s eye is now focused on an elderly Albert Einstein learning to ride a bicycle with training wheels. As usual Dr. Arand’s presentation exhibits the thoroughness that has always been characteristic of his work. Dr. Arand’s method of historical contextualization is helpful to the discussion, especially in a time when prooftexting only those elements of the historical record that support a particular point has almost become the norm. In this sense Dr. Arand’s presentation is refreshingly honest. 

Dr. Arand began his paper by making the claim that the issues that divided us forty years ago were more clearly doctrinal, and that today they are more about practice. I agree with Dr. Arand to a point. However, the reason we cannot agree on what is wrong with certain worship practices is the very fact that we do not have agreement on our doctrine of adiaphora. This is both a theological and a practical problem. 

I do agree with Dr. Arand that “anything goes” is not the Lutheran position on adiaphora. I also agree that we need to be clear about what the boundaries are. Dr. Arand is correct to point out that a misunderstanding of our theology of adiaphora results in two very different problems, the “anything goes” point of view, and a status confessionis point of view that sees heresy behind every bush. I wholeheartedly agree. On the one hand, “anything goes” is indefensible. On the other hand, it is not our Lutheran model of confession to correct an error by confessing the error’s opposite. When we do this, we only end up creating another error and we find ourselves stumbling along in the ditch on the other side. Martin Chemnitz was explicit about this not being our model of confession. 

Dr. Arand defines adiaphora as “humanly devised practices developed and approved by the church as an empirical Christian community.” This is true, but it must be clear what is meant by “the church” or “an empirical Christian community” in this discussion. The church is the local congregation, or Gemeine according to the Lutheran Confessions (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration X.9), and the church is a broader fellowship of local congregations who are bound together by a common confession. This is an issue that must be included in the conversation, because there is not agreement among us on this point. While Dr. Arand asks the question, How do we decide which adiaphora? we must not ignore the question, Who decides? 

“Ultimately the church orders itself so as to best free the Gospel that gathers and sustains the church as an assembly of believers coram deo.” Does this refer to the local congregation or a larger fellowship made up of multiple local congregations, like Synod? I am assuming this statement refers to the local congregation, because the Synod is not “an assembly of believers coram deo.” The Synod is an association of congregations who have ordered their life together around the principle of mutual agreement coram mundo. Since adiaphora are things that are neither commanded nor forbidden by God, the church (in the broad sense) has the freedom to order its life coram mundo; in other words, for the sake of harmony, the church is free to order its life with rules and guidelines (Dr. Arand’s words) that are “mutually agreed upon.” But since we are now operating in the realm of the principle of “mutually agreed upon,” we must not exclude from our deliberations the issue of changing times and circumstances.1 The issue of cultural change is an honest concern when we are talking about the use of adiaphora in liturgy. This is not something that should be callously dismissed in the name of the church’s tradition. Neither should this concern be held to the exclusion of concerns for historic continuity. If we govern our life together on the principle of “mutual agreement” with reference to adiaphora, then we run the risk of dividing the body of Christ over things that are neither commanded nor forbidden by God. I do not profess to have an answer here. I am only raising this as a concern. When the Gospel and the sacraments are not at stake, and it must be honestly acknowledged that in many cases of liturgical difference they are not, then is it appropriate, is it pleasing to God, that his body be divided over things that he has neither commanded nor forbidden? 

One of Dr. Arand’s primary propositions is this: “All adiaphora are not created equal.” But the Reformers and the Lutheran Confessions did not use this language. They did not make this argument. Instead, the Reformers used language that distinguished the things that are given by God (the Gospel and the sacraments) and the things that are given by the church (humanly instituted ceremonies). This distinction runs all the way through the Confessions from the Augustana (Article VII) to the Formula of Concord (Article X). 

The question is not, some adiaphora are better at being adiaphora than others. The question as it is framed in the Lutheran Confessions is whether something even is an adiaphoron. If it is an adiaphoron, then the silence of God’s Word cannot be changed. The issue then becomes the use or the non-use of the thing. 

Dr. Arand’s proposition that “All adiaphora are not created equal” actually does help us to focus on one of the primary issues: Who has the confessional authority to make this determination? And here Dr. Arand has attempted to address this problem by pointing out that the Lutheran Confessions occasionally appeal to tertiary authorities, like certain church fathers. 

As attractive as Dr. Arand’s appeal to tertiary authorities is to me, the difficulty lies in the simple fact that tertiary authorities are not a part of our formal principle for defining our theology of adiaphora. Tertiary authorities can help us better understand the context, and we need to use tertiary authorities to clarify intent and meaning. But tertiary authorities also express the personal opinions of individuals that were not included in the Book of Concord, and they were not considered binding in a normative catholic sense (Formula of Concord, Rule and Norm). For example, the point of view held by Matthias Flacius, that an adiaphoron ceases to be an adiaphoron in a case of confession, was not included in the Formula of Concord. In fact, the Formula states in plain language that adiaphora “in their nature and essence are and remain in and of themselves free” (FC SD X.14). 

Of course our predecessors used tertiary authorities like their favorite church fathers to illustrate that they were not creating a new church. But they never cited these sources as authoritative for defining our theology or prescribing specific practices. The Rule and Norm of the Formula of Concord makes this absolutely clear. There is only one formal principle for Lutheranism, and that is the inspired, sacred text of holy Scripture. 

In his discussion of Apology XV, Dr. Arand describes Melanchthon’s rhetorical use of causa efficiens and causa finalis in order to distinguish between the use of human traditions for righteousness before God (incorrect use) and the use of human traditions for other purposes (correct use), and framing this with Luther’s concept of the two kinds of righteousness. I find this part of the discussion to be helpful, because it keeps us from straying beyond the truth of the Gospel in our worship practices. One point of clarification, however. Dr. Arand mentions that Melanchthon never discusses “any causa efficiens for establishing new traditions, such as pastors and people working cooperatively.” In Article XXIII of the Augsburg Confession, Melanchthon did state that bishops or pastors have the authority to make regulations for the sake of good order, and that those regulations include “Sunday and other church ordinances and ceremonies.” 

In the second half of his paper Dr. Arand outlined a theology of adiaphora based on four confessional points. The first is confession/teaching of the Gospel. Dr. Arand rightly puts this at the top. This is a real issue, especially since there are Lutheran congregations who make uncritical use of contemporary worship forms that do not clearly confess the Gospel, or do not confess the Gospel at all. We need to be clear about what the Gospel is. Dr. Arand has simply and directly stated the Gospel for us; it is the life, death, and resurrection of Christ for us, for the forgiveness of our sins, for our salvation. We can never lose sight of this. We cannot state it often enough to each other, especially at a conference like this. The Gospel is what binds us together as brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Second. Contextual sensitivity for mission. The examples Dr. Arand presented serve the purpose well enough, Luther’s catechism and the use of big-screens in church; but let me share another example that I think has a more direct application. The fifth-century church historians Salminius Hermias Sozomen of Gaza and Theodoret who was also a Byzantine Syrian bishop, both describe how in the third century large numbers of orthodox Christians from Syria were leaving the orthodox church. Why were they leaving orthodoxy? They were enticed away from orthodoxy because of hymns composed by Bardesanes and his son Harmonius. Bardesanes and Harmonius were Gnostics. According to Sozomen and Theodoret, the people were attracted to the melody and the meter of the Gnostic hymns. In order to stem the tide of this defection as it continued into the fourth century, the orthodox deacon, Ephrem of Syria composed hymns with the orthodox Christology of Nicaea set to the Gnostic hymn forms of Bardesanes and Harmonius. Historically, contextualization is not only a postmodern issue for the church. The practical application to today and to Dr. Arand’s contextual principle seems relatively obvious. One point that Dr. Arand’s paper did not address and I wish he had, in connection with the contextual principle, is what the Lutheran Confessions say about the freedom the church has to change adiaphora in order to address changing times and circumstances. Luther, Melanchthon, Chemnitz, and the Lutheran Confessions all refer to this freedom “as the respective place, time, and persons may require it.” What does this mean? 

Third. Connectedness to the larger church. Dr. Arand describes the concern of the Reformers not to be schismatic or sectarian, but that both their teaching and their practice was in continuity with historic and creedal orthodoxy. The question this raises for us is: What will our concern for the catholic principle look like in practice in our own time? In the Missouri Synod the diversity of those who define catholicity runs the gamut. There are those who run with a page 5 and 15 definition, and there are those who define catholicity on the basis of the purity of the Gospel and the right administration of the sacraments. What will the catholic principle look like in practice? While it is true that our predecessors sought catholic continuity in both theology and practice, it is also true that they exercised the principle of love that allows for diversity of practice. So we must also embrace the statements in the Confessions that say things like, “it is not a sin to violate” the traditions of the church. Why did they say this? Why did they allow for this kind of diversity in practice? 

Fourth. Collegiality and walking together. The example of introducing the novel practice of early communion that Dr. Arand uses seems relatively innocuous in view of the different worship practices already taking place in Lutheran congregations. I agree with Dr. Arand in principle that ecclesiastical collegiality is part of the ethos of confessional Lutheranism, and mutual accountability is in fact a corollary of catholicity. I also agree with Dr. Arand that we must be able to identify the status controversiae, and that we must fairly and accurately state both sides of the issue. This is a matter of both intellectual and theological honesty. But the question the collegiality principle raises for me is this, What kind of a road are we paving? Is this a street that will be controlled by a few who will demand the movement of some in one direction to meet their liturgical requirements? Or is it a two-way street, where we will meet together somewhere in the middle. Luther took the middle course on the issue of worship, neither requiring nor forbidding as his 1525 “Against the Heavenly Prophets” demonstrates. What does Dr. Arand’s collegiality principle look like in practice? 

In my opinion Dr. Arand has opened a way for furthering the conversation on the following points: 

1. What is our model of confession? Do we correct an error by confessing the error’s opposite, or do we confess straight ahead the truth and the freedom of the Gospel as this is modeled in the Formula of Concord? 

2. Who ultimately has the confessional authority to order humanly instituted rites and ceremonies, adiaphora? I have argued that according to the plain language of Formula of Concord X it is the local congregation. Since we agree that “anything goes” is not who we are, what are the boundaries for defining how the local congregation orders its own humanly instituted rites and ceremonies in liturgy, especially when the local congregation is viewed in the broader context of a fellowship of churches in confessional agreement and practical harmony? 

3. What are our formal and material principles for defining these boundaries? This is a methodological question and Dr. Arand has demonstrated that he is bound by Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions as our only formal principle for defining our theology of adiaphora. His contextual exegesis of the Apology is impressive, but it is more than impressive, it is helpful for clarifying what our predecessors meant when they wrote about adiaphora. When we look outside the Confessions to define our doctrine of adiaphora, detaching ourselves from the only formal principle we know as Lutherans, Sacred Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, we find ourselves operating in the realm of human opinion rather than what is given. 

4. One point that Dr. Arand’s paper did not address and I wish he had, was what the Lutheran Confessions say about the freedom the church has to change adiaphora to address changing times and circumstances. 

In the end I find Dr. Arand’s paper to be very helpful, because it moves the conversation in the right direction, the direction of harmony for Christ’s church. 


James Alan Waddell 



            1The phrase the Formula of Concord X uses to refer to the circumstances of the local congregation is nach derselben Gelegenheit, “according to its own circumstances.” In other words, the local congregation has the confessional authority and freedom (not crass autonomy) to order its own humanly instituted rites and ceremonies in liturgy “according to its own circumstances.” Cf. FC SD X.9; Ap VII & VIII.32; AC XXVIII.67-68; Ap XXVIII.15-18; FC Ep X.4, 12; FC SD X.9, 30; Melanchthon’s Loci Communes 232; Chemnitz’s Examination of the Council of Trent II.110, 115. The reference to “specific times and places” also highlights the confessional understanding that the formulators were applying this doctrine of adiaphora to the local congregation. 

+ sdg +

WorshipConcord Journal, volume 2, number 7 — July 2010


The Confessional Authority to Order the Church’s Worship

Let me preface this article with a clear and explicit thesis:

To say that the local congregation has the confessional authority and freedom to order its own rites and ceremonies in liturgy is not to say that the local congregation has license to do whatever it pleases.

There are solid and salutary efforts on the part of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations and the LCMS Commission on Worship to steer the conversation about worship in a direction that is good for the church. The efforts so far appear to have been well received and hopefully will continue. It does no one any good to pretend that the conversation for the last thirty years has been easy, or even God-pleasing. It has been anything but. A positive approach to having this conversation is long overdue. So I applaud the CTCR and the COW for their efforts.

The above thesis has appeared in numerous forms and in various media related to the WorshipConcord project (books, articles, presentations, etc.). The most recent statement of the thesis was almost four months ago in the March issue of the WorshipConcord Journal. Since the conversation about worship in Lutheranism is so sensitive in some quarters, the thesis bears repeating in explicit and unambiguous terms.

With that as preface, let me turn to the Lutheran Confessions so that the hard data may speak for itself. I have dealt with three specific issues regarding our understanding of Formula of Concord X elsewhere:

the meaning of Gemeine as local congregation;

the phrase, nach derselben Gelegenheit, which refers to the local congregation’s authority to order its own rites and ceremonies “according to its own circumstances”;

! and the meaning of the Latin phrase, unamquamqe ecclesiam, which refers to each “individual” congregation.

I discussed these already in the March 2010 issue of the WorshipConcord Journal. Consequently, I will not repeat that part of the discussion here. Instead I will further the conversation with reference to two additional important issues. One has to do with the way we should translate a Latin word in FC X. The other has to do with the practice of the sixteenth-century reformers as a “key” for understanding FC X.

First the matter of translation. You don’t have to know Latin (hopefully) to understand this, as I will try to explain it in some detail. This requires a clear statement of the problem. The problem is this: there are some today who are making the claim that the German word, Gemein, at FC Ep X.4 does not mean the local congregation. (This has been documented elsewhere, so here I will only focus on the argument. For detailed documentation see The Struggle to Reclaim the Liturgy in the Lutheran Church, 50 n. 92. For the simplified, popularized form of the claim I am critiquing, see the explanatory introduction to FC Ep X.4 in Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, 514.)

Let me provide you with the text of FC Ep X.4 (1580), and then four published translations. The German reads:

Wir glauben, lehren und bekennen, dass die Gemein Gottes jdes Orts und jde Zeit nach derselben Gelegenheit Macht habe, solche Ceremonien zu ändern, wie es der Gemeinen Gottes am nützlichsten und erbaulichsten sein mag.

The Latin reads:

Credimus, docemus et confitemur ecclesiae Dei ubivis terrarum et quocunque tempore licere pro re nata ceremonias tales mutare iuxta eam rationem, quae ecclesiae Dei utilissima et ad aedificationem eiusdem maxime accommodata iudicatur.

The first translation is from the Henkel edition (1854):

We believe, teach, and confess, that the church of God, in all places and at all times, has power to alter such ceremonies according to circumstances, as it may be most useful and edifying to the church of God.

The second translation is from Friedrich Bente’s Concordia Triglotta edition (1921):

We believe, teach, and confess that the congregation of God of every place and every time has the power, according to its circumstances, to change such ceremonies in such manner as may be most useful and edifying to the congregation of God.

The third translation is from the Tappert edition (1959):

We believe, teach, and confess that the community of God* in every locality and every age has authority to change such ceremonies according to circumstances, as it may be most profitable and edifying to the community of God.

The fourth translation is from the Kolb-Wengert edition (2000):

We believe, teach, and confess that the community of God in every place and at every time has the authority to alter such ceremonies according to its own situation, as may be most useful and edifying for the community of God.

It should be noted up front that each of the English translations, from the 1854 Henkel edition to the 2000 Kolb-Wengert edition, translates the German Gemein in the singular, as they clearly should have. The word in the text is singular. It is not plural. It should also be noted that the Tappert edition, on page 493, includes a footnote (in the place marked by an asterisk above). The footnote in the Tappert edition has: “The Latin reads ‘churches of God.’” I do not know whether the footnote was supplied by the translator, Arthur Carl Piepkorn, or the general editor, Theodore Tappert. This footnote is problematic for reasons that will be discussed below.

The claim being made by some today is that Gemein at FC Ep X.4 does not refer to the local congregation, but rather to a larger association of congregations. Since the German word is used in its singular form, this claim must be argued on the basis of other evidence. The “other evidence” that is adduced to argue that Gemein means more than the local congregation is in the Latin text that was published alongside the German text in the 1580 Book of Concord (both of which appear above).

So the reason it is necessary to focus on the Latin is because of the assertion by some that the Latin text gives us more insight into the “intent” of the authors of FC X, and that the Latin supports the interpretation of Gemein as a larger association of congregations—because of the use of the word ecclesiae.

The claim is that ecclesiae is a plural Nominative form of the singular ecclesia. And because ecclesiae is a plural form of the noun, therefore Gemein must also refer to a larger association of congregations, rather than to the authority of the local congregation. This is how the argument essentially runs. (The translation in the Reader’s Edition, 514-515, even inserts in brackets “[Latin: the churches of God]”; this insertion appears in a number of places in this edition, but there is no evidence for it in the 1580 Latin text; and it is a misreading of the Latin grammar and syntax.)

There are two reasons for pointing out that this claim is mistaken. These two reasons are Latin grammar and Latin syntax.

First, Latin grammar. Latin is an inflected language, like German or Spanish. Verbs are conjugated with person and number (i.e., first, second, or third person; singular or plural). Nouns are either masculine, feminine, or neuter. Nouns are given identifiable endings to indicate whether they are singular or plural. And Latin nouns also have what we call “case”—Nominative, Accusative, Genitive, Dative, and Ablative.

Grammatically, a Nominative noun functions as the subject of a sentence. For example, in the sentence, “The boy hit the ball,” the word “boy” is the subject of the sentence. So in Latin the case would be Nominative. The word “ball” is the direct object of the main verb “hit.” So in Latin the word “ball” would be in the Accusative case.

Let’s ratchet this up a notch. “The boy hit the ball to the pitcher.” In this sentence, the phrase, “to the pitcher” is an indirect object phrase. In Latin this would be in the Dative case. In Latin, if something is done “to” or given “to” someone, this is indicated by the Dative case.

Now, the feminine Nominative plural noun and the feminine Dative singular noun in Latin look exactly the same. So the word ecclesiae, as a feminine Nominative plural noun, means “churches.” But it is also true that the word ecclesiae can be a feminine Dative singular noun, meaning “church.” The Nominative plural and the Dative singular in this instance look precisely the same. So we have an ambiguity. Strictly on the basis of Latin grammar we cannot solve the problem. To solve the problem we need to look at Latin syntax, how words are put together in sentences.

Now we are dealing with an indirect statement. “We believe, teach, and confess that . . . .” In Latin, an indirect statement is expressed by a noun in the Accusative case with a verb in the infinitive. Let me quote the Latin sentence again from FC Ep X.4:

Credimus, docemus et confitemur ecclesiae Dei . . . licere . . . ceremonias tales mutare iuxta eam rationem . . . .

The infinitive of the indirect statement is licere, but where is the noun in the Accusative case? The Latin verb, licere, while it functions syntactically as an indirect statement following “We believe, teach, and confess,” takes an indirect object expressed in the Dative case. In this instance, the noun in the Dative case is ecclesiae, which means it is a singular, and not a plural, noun. As a dative singular noun, it would be translated as all the above editions translated it.

We believe, teach, and confess that to the church of God . . . it is permitted . . . to change such ceremonies for its own reason . . . .

This is not an indirect statement where an infinitive is used with a noun as its subject. If it were an indirect statement with a noun as its subject, the noun would be in the Accusative case, not the Nominative case. Then the word would have been ecclesias in the plural Accusative, not ecclesiae in the plural Nominative. What we have in FC Ep X.4 is an impersonal verb, a frequently used classical construction: “it is permitted” to or for someone, the “someone” being in the Dative case.

Not only on the basis of grammar and syntax should we understand ecclesiae to be a singular noun (the grammatical ambiguity being alleviated by the syntax), but on the basis of the possessive pronoun eam. This pronoun, eam, has ecclesiae as its antecedent, which means, according to Latin grammar, that they must agree in number. The pronoun, eam, is singular, which further indicates that ecclesiae must be Dative singular, and not Nominative plural.

And it is not an issue of maybe being able to read it both ways. There is no ambiguity. It cannot be read “either way,” and then we can insist on the one we choose on the basis of “other evidence.” The Latin grammar and syntax, taken together, is unambiguous. The word, ecclesiae, is a Dative singular. The fact that Theodore Tappert and Arthur Carl Piepkorn missed this is puzzling. The footnote in the Tappert edition, which identifies ecclesiae as plural, is unexplainable. I would not accuse Piepkorn or Tappert of not knowing their Latin. Maybe it was simply a hastily prepared note. The footnote in Tappert notwithstanding, ecclesiae does not refer to “churches of God.” Latin grammar and syntax will not allow it.

In FC Ep X.4, ecclesiae is Dative singular, reflecting the singular use of Gemein in the German text. It does not support the claim that Gemein in the German version refers to more than the local congregation. In other words, the claim is based on a misreading of the Latin grammar and syntax of FC Ep X.4.

The second issue I will address is the way some have interpreted the practice of the sixteenth-century reformers as a “key” for understanding Formula of Concord X. There are some who think that what we do today must be modeled on what they did in the sixteenth century because, as the argument goes, what they did reveals the theological meaning of FC X. When Martin Chemnitz was the superintendent of the Braunschweig-Wölfenbüttel Duchy, Duke Julius gave him the authority to order the group of congregations under his jurisdiction to conform to the liturgical rites and ceremonies he had prepared. Some today are saying that this imposition of liturgical uniformity in the sixteenth century in the Duchy of Braunschweig-Wölfenbüttel is a necessary key to understand the meaning of FC X, and that this practice should be an example for us to follow today.

There are several problems with this opinion, but I will address what appear to be the two most important ones. The first problem is that Chemnitz did not have the authority to impose liturgical uniformity among all Lutheran congregations throughout the entire German nation in the sixteenth century. Chemnitz only had authority to do this for a group of congregations in one specific location. It should be pointed out in connection to this that historians estimate there were between 350 and 390 principalities and duchies in Germany alone during this period, and that between 1523 and 1555 there were some 135 different church orders.

The second problem this raises has to do with whether we should take this single example of Chemnitz’s authority as superintendent of Braunschweig-Wölfenbüttel as a model for us to follow in today’s context. Is the authority that Duke Julius gave to Martin Chemnitz to require liturgical uniformity among the congregations in Braunschweig-Wölfenbüttel in the sixteenth century an example that we should follow on the scale of the entire Synod today? Is it possible to argue this point, given the reluctance demonstrated on the part of both Luther and Chemnitz to require liturgical uniformity on the scale of the entire German nation?

What Chemnitz did is not a key that unlocks the meaning of FC X for us today. What Chemnitz did actually is for us an example of choices that were made to address a specific historical context. And it should also be noted in bold that the order Chemnitz required of the congregations of the Braunschweig-Wölfenbüttel Duchy was almost identical to Luther’s German Mass. If there is any kind of “key” that should be ascribed to his actions, it is not just the monotone response that rigidly imitates imposition of uniformity on a local scale and then requires the application of this to the entire Synod! The “key” we should ascribe to the actions of the reformers is the multi-faceted response that applies all the considerations that went into the choices they made as these are reflected in the theology of the entire Book of Concord:

! the requirement of specific orders among small groups of churches in local contexts;

! the rejection of the imposition of liturgical uniformity on a broad scale;

! the confessional authority and freedom of the local congregation to order its own rites and ceremonies nach derselben Gelegenheit (“according to its own circumstances”);

! sensitivity to historic continuity with past traditions of the church;

! sensitivity to changing times and circumstances in local contexts;

! the ability to hold in paradoxical tension both the necessity of order and the freedom of the Gospel with reference to liturgical practice.

If the sixteenth-century sources provide us with any key at all for understanding FC X, that key can only be forged by a comprehensive reading of the sources and not simply by isolating a single aspect of their practice. And it remains an open question whether it is appropriate for us today to apply on a Synodical scale a principle that they were willing only to apply in local contexts.

It seems to me that the efforts that have been initiated by the CTCR and the COW are good and salutary for the church. They are efforts that have taken into consideration all of the concerns outlined above, and thereby have demonstrated a more comprehensive understanding of what the confessional authority and freedom of the local congregation actually means.

As I prefaced this article with the clear statement of the confessional position on the local congregation’s authority and freedom, let me repeat the thesis:

To say that the local congregation has the confessional authority and freedom to order its own rites and ceremonies in liturgy is not to say that the local congregation has license to do whatever it pleases.

This is to say that the local congregation does indeed have freedom, but freedom that is guided and informed by our Lutheran theology—without rancor, without straw men, just the truth.


James Alan Waddell

+ sdg +

WorshipConcord Journal, volume 2, number 6 — June 2010


Lutheran Songwriters Conference

I had the privilege of being one of the songwriters chosen to participate in the recent Lutheran Songwriters Conference on April 21-23. This event, co-sponsored by the LCMS Commission on Worship and Concordia Publishing House was hosted by St. John Lutheran Church in Ellisville, MO. A recent article in the Reporter provides an overview of the conference as well as reactions from some of the participants. (To view the article click here.)  I offer the following as my review of the conference, especially as it pertains to the objectives of WorshipConcord.

First, a bit of background.

There has been a need for a conference of this type for many years. Much of the contention in our worship discussion and debates, especially in the eyes of many lay people, is centered on the songs we sing in worship. Although there are substantive theological issues in play that lie behind music choice, as is illustrated in the discussions on this blog, for many the issue is reduced to that of music. Do we use hymns or contemporary songs? One of the chief criticisms levied against the use of the contemporary worship songs has been the weak or errant theology in many songs, the shallow biblical content, the confusion of law and gospel, and the lack of sacramental awareness. These issues are part of what has led me to write worship songs for my congregation and to share them with others. I write songs because I must (other songwriters and artists will understand), but I write songs specifically addressing these issues because there is great need.

There have been many over the years that have invited, encouraged, and challenged the Commission on Worship and CPH to address this situation positively. On numerous occasions I have voiced a plea to shine a light instead of merely cursing the darkness. Instead of only criticizing the quality of contemporary worship songs, why not take the lead in the commissioning and creating of worship songs with authentic confessional theology? This concern led my congregation, along with other congregations, to submit overtures to the 2007 Synodical convention calling on the Commission on Worship to take such a leadership role.

The purpose of this conference was to address that need. The intent was to gather Lutheran songwriters, to encourage and equip them in their craft, to engage in substantive discussion about theology as it pertains to worship songwriting, and then to challenge them to apply their art to blessing the church with Lutheran worship songs. Although the aftermath of the conference is still being played out, I would say at this point that the conference was an incredible success.

What made this a successful conference?

Validation of Lutheran Worship Songwriters – This conference was a long overdue validation of the ministry of the worship songwriter in the Lutheran church. I must admit that I experienced moments of utter disbelief, especially early in the conference, that this was actually happening: The Commission on Worship and Concordia Publishing House blessing the contemporary songwriters. It was validating and affirming to have the entire COW in attendance throughout the conference, as well as a number of CPH staffers. This conference was not about throwing a bone or patronizing or placating those pesky artists. It was genuine and sincere, as was the apology from the Commission on Worship for ignoring songwriters for the past 30 years. It was nothing short of emotionally moving to see the church I love validating the gifts God has given me and others so that together we can praise and glorify God.

The only downside of this point is that so few were able to attend the conference. I certainly understand and agree with the decision to limit the size of this initial event. But I did find myself thinking of numerous Lutheran songwriters I know who were not able to attend who would have benefited from this encouragement, as well as the other aspects of the conference. I hope that future events targeting songwriters will be able to accommodate more participants.

Theological Direction.  The first session in the main body of the conference was the presentation by Jeff Gibbs in his session “Songs in the Sacraments.” He provided an excellent exposition of Colossians 3:16, pointing to the role of song as a means of Christ dwelling within His people. Song teaches the people of God, as well as provides opportunity for thanksgiving. His presentation then moved toward applying that specifically to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Gibbs provided a helpful and concise understanding of the place of the sacraments, and their role in the story of God. Through the sacraments, Christ comes down as a present gift that draws us toward the future. Unfortunately, the allotted time was not adequate for Gibbs to fully complete his presentation, and so his remarks on the Lord’s Supper were somewhat rushed. I don’t know whether he simply prepared too much material for the time allotment or lost track of the time passing, but what he communicated was excellent and helpful. I would have liked to have seen more time devoted this topic, as well as opportunities for guided group discussion reacting to some of the points that he raised. It would also have been helpful to look at some specific examples of contemporary worship songs that reflect sacramental theology in a helpful way. Be that as it may, it was an excellent presentation, and started the conference on a solid theological footing.

Matt Boswell, coming from a non-Lutheran perspective, gave a helpful presentation on the importance of writing songs-that are gospel-centered, and that are rich in biblical content. He represents a growing stream in contemporary worship songwriting that some are calling “modern hymnody.” Such modern hymns, such as his “Jesus Died My Soul To Save” do not shy away from dealing with substantive theology and biblical content. Think of “In Christ Alone” (Townend and Getty) or “Christ Has Conquered All” (Braselton).

Tony Cook, also of Concordia Seminary, led a break-out session on Ancient-Future or “Emergent” Worship, and then provided a helpful demonstration as our opening devotion on the last day of the conference. This service of baptismal reflection and remembrance drew upon wedding imagery, as Cook referred to the ritual cleansing of the Jewish bride before the wedding, tying that to the cleansing of the Bride of Christ, the Church.

The Craft of Songwriting:  The conference also provided opportunity for growth in the craft of worship songwriting. The conference staff presenters provided helpful sessions on various aspects of songwriting. The “Making Connections” breakout sessions provided opportunity for participants to seek feedback from the conference presenters, or to simply engage in question and answer dialogue about any aspect of songwriting. This is where the limited size of the conference was truly beneficial. I commend the Commission on Worship for the panel of presenters that they gathered for this conference, including the non-Lutheran presenters. The presenters were fully engaged in the conference and truly made themselves available to the participants.

Networking Opportunities:  I was struck by the diversity of the participants. Although they were mostly lay people, there were also a handful of pastors, seminarians, DCEs and other church workers. There were men and women, college students and recent graduates as well as those approaching retirement. The largest congregation in the synod was represented, as well as several mission congregations, schools, and other small churches. There were published professional songwriters, as well as those who have only written a handful of songs, which had never been heard outside of their congregation.

But what was even more striking for me, as a veteran of many synodical and district events, was the consistent positive, harmonious tone of the conference. I can honestly say this was by far the most positive encouraging event sponsored by our church body that I have ever attended. There was such a spirit of helpfulness, friendliness, cooperation and encouragement, that I was sad to see the event close so quickly.

I had the opportunity to meet many of the participants and have continued to be in contact with after the conference. The Worship Arts Leadership Institute website (WaliWorld) has also provided opportunity to cultivate the connections made at the conference. I would have liked to have seen more time devoted to hearing songs of other participants. The “open mic” times were rather brief compared to other songwriting conferences that I have attended.

Forward Focus:  The Invitation and Challenge. The conference concluded with an invitation and challenge from the Commission on Worship and Concordia Publishing House. They asked for the submission of sacramental worship songs from the participants, worship songs that were congregational (“we” not “I”). These songs would need to be submitted for doctrinal review, and then would be considered for inclusion on a CD which is to be sent to every congregation in the LCMS. This is part of the kick-off of the Concordia Songwriters Cooperative, modeled after the new Concordia Writers Cooperative. This will be a place for songwriters to make their (doctrinally reviewed) songs available to the church.

An email from David Johnson of the Commission on Worship last week indicated that 45 songs have been submitted for doctrinal review for this project, for the 10-12 slots on the CD. Certainly, I’m hoping that my song will be one of those chosen, but regardless, I am overjoyed at these numbers. This illustrates the power and importance of synodical leadership. A very simple invitation is given, and just like that 45 new sacramental worship songs are being made available to the church. Now, I’ve heard none of these songs (except the one I’m submitting!), and I can’t vouch for their quality, but I am confident that this invitation will result in blessing for the church and its worship life.

I hope that this project would be followed up with similar requests for submissions. There could be calls for songs on justification, songs for Advent, songs for Lent, songs for confirmation, songs about the Word, and so forth. I would like to see the COW and CPH intentionally and systematically address those thematic gaps in contemporary worship songs, and invite, encourage and facilitate the writing of songs to address them. This would not only be a great service to our church body, but I believe that songs on these topics would be a blessing to the church at large.

Future Conferences?  It was announced at the conference that the intention is to include songwriting as part of next year’s “Institute on Liturgy, Preaching, and Church Music” to be held July 25-29, 2001 at Concordia Nebraska. This could potentially be a very positive development. It could also be a rather tense development, intentionally inviting contemporary music and worship leaders to be part of what has been a predominantly traditional worship event. I would love to see this happen, especially if it would be blessed by the same positive, harmonious, encouraging spirit that marked this Songwriters Conference.

Michael A. Schmid

+ sdg +

WorshipConcord Journal, volume 2, number 5 — May 2010


Worship and the Catechism

I was a brand new pastor. I was holding my first adult instruction class. The couple I expected never showed, but a different couple did show. After the appropriate greetings, we sat down to start the class, and then I asked, “You know, I realize our worship service may be a little strange to you, since you come from Baptist backgrounds. Would you like me to explain it to you before we jump into the catechism?” Big mistake. You see, I found myself referring back to various chief parts of the catechism—the catechism we had not yet studied—as I explained the worship service. The invocation—and right away baptism came to mind.  “We’ll come back to that,” I said. Then confession and absolution—and there was the fifth chief part. “We’ll come back to that too.” So it went as we made our way through the worship service.

Reflecting on that mistake, I realized that our worship and our catechism are linked in a particular way. I believe previous articles by other authors on this site have shown that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between our catechism and a particular order of worship. At the same time, previous authors have referred to “uncritical imitation” of evangelical worship forms or an “anything goes” mentality in the use of our freedom with respect to worship forms. In other words, some of us in the Lutheran Church have a sense that our catechism is not compatible with just any form of worship, even if it is compatible with more than one particular order of service. What I would like to do in this article is to work out the relationship between our catechism (more specifically, the theology expressed in our catechism) and appropriate forms of worship for Lutheran congregations. To put my thesis succinctly, I believe we can evaluate a given form of worship based on how well it embodies our theology.

I. Theology and Practice

My thesis already introduces some language that is unusual for us Lutherans. We do not normally talk about worship embodying theology. To caricature, our position is that theology is what pastors do in their studies (or professors do in their classes), worship is what happens on Sunday morning, and the less of the former that invades the latter, the better. Yet worship does not “just happen.” Unless you are a Quaker (who gather in silence and wait until the Spirit moves someone to speak), the worship service in your church is planned.  Texts and themes are chosen. Hymns or songs (or both) are chosen. An order for the various elements is worked out (even among those who “follow the book”—because a commission worked out the order for the elements in that book). These choices reflect a variety of considerations: who is likely to attend (“seekers” or “saved”), the cultural milieu (formal or informal), the pastor’s favored musical forms (song or hymns, major keys or minor keys, German chorales or nineteenth-century American tunes), the desired effect (say, joy on Easter as opposed to the somber tone of Good Friday), and the like. A pastor designing contemporary or blended worship is likely to make these decisions with a high degree of intentionality. A pastor choosing hymns for liturgical worship will also make these kinds of decisions.

Theological considerations also come into play here. The pastor of the Assemblies of God congregation around the corner from mine structures the worship at his congregation in a manner consistent with the Pentecostal roots of his denomination. Full body expressions of the Spirit’s work are acceptable, even expected, and the music and the message are intended to facilitate such expressions. Why? Because Pentecostals believe that Christians ought to experience the Spirit’s presence in an ecstatic experience, and that this experience will likely (but not necessarily) occur in the public gathering. The Missionary Baptist congregations that abound in my county structure their worship complete with shouting, crying, and by some accounts screaming to elicit a highly emotional experience. Why? Because Missionary Baptists believe that an individual is not saved until he or she has had a highly emotional salvation experience, and the purpose of the public gathering is to move people along toward that experience. I would argue that any worship service can be analyzed for the theological principles that inform its design. Why, for example, do we include the creed in (just about) every service in most Lutheran churches? Because the creed proclaims the Gospel (faith comes through hearing) and instructs in the basics facts of our faith (baptizing and teaching).

In other words, any given worship form embodies specific theological understandings. It takes those understandings (or principles or claims or doctrines or whatever you want to call them) and puts them into action. Worship is where the rubber of our theology hits the road of our Christian faith as it is lived out in a material, fleshly world. Because of this link between theology and worship, we can evaluate any worship form by asking, “Does this form embody our theology (as drawn from the Scriptures  and expressed in the Small Catechism and our other confessional documents)?”

II. How the Reformers used this method

While the Lutheran Reformers do not explicitly espouse this kind of method, I believe that they used the method. Consider, for example, their arguments against the procession on the feast of Corpus Christi. The medieval Roman church had developed the custom of carrying the consecrated host in procession outside the church on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. Onlookers would reverence the host, because in it Christ is present in his body. The Lutherans objected to the practice—so much so that fierce negotiations raged prior to the Diet of Augsburg in June 1530 over whether the Lutherans would join in the observance of the festival. The Augsburg Confession rejects the practice: “Because dividing the sacrament does not agree with the institution of Christ, the procession, which has been customary up to now, is also omitted among us” (AC XXII.12, Kolb-Wengert 63). The Formula of Concord offers a slightly fuller argument: “They [the Papists] assert that under this form of the bread (which, they allege, is no longer bread but has lost its natural substance) the body of Christ remains present, even apart from the administration of the Supper (for example, when the bread is enclosed in the tabernacle or is carried around in a spectacle and adored). But, as has been shown above, nothing can be a sacrament apart from God’s command and the practice that he has ordained, as instituted in God’s Word” (FC SD VII.108, Kolb-Wengert 612). Interestingly, our Lutheran confessions do not point to a specific Bible passage which explicitly forbids observing the Corpus Christi procession or similar practices. Instead, the confessions elucidate a theology of the sacrament of the altar based on the words of institution. The Lord’s Supper was instituted 1) to be eaten 2) by Christians 3) as a means for receiving forgiveness of sins. The confessions hold the Corpus Christi procession up to that theology. They conclude that the festival, as observed, fails on points 1 and 3; it therefore embodies a different theology of the sacrament from that presented in the Scriptures. For that reason, the festival should not be observed.

Notice how confessions proceed. First, they acknowledge that some practices are commanded in Scripture (i.e., public proclamation of the Word, administration of the sacraments). We have no choice but to do these practices if we are to remain faithful to our Lord. Second, they acknowledge that some practices are neither commanded nor forbidden; these practices may be used by Christians and congregations in good conscience. Third—and this is what is often lost by both sides in our debates—the confessions also acknowledge that practices which might on the surface appear to be adiaphora can more or less fully embody our theology. Practices which embody our theology more fully fall within the realm of Christian freedom, but practices which do not embody our theology (such as the Corpus Christi procession) ought to be avoided.

III. The confessional understanding of worship

Generally speaking, the confessions do not apply this method to worship. In fact, when the confessions address the question of worship, they typically show a bias toward a pedagogical understanding of rites and ceremonies. For example, The Augsburg Confession says, “For ceremonies are especially needed in order to teach those who are ignorant” (AC XXIV.3, Kolb-Wengert 69). The German version is even more explicit: “For after all, all ceremonies should serve the purpose of teaching the people what they need to know about Christ” (AC XXIV.3, Kolb-Wengert 68). (See also Ap VII/VIII.33-34, 40.) Rites and ceremonies that fall within the realm of Christian freedom can be added or subtracted based on the variety of considerations mentioned at the beginning of this article and, in particular, to instruct people about hearing the word and using the sacraments rightly.

On the other hand, in at least one instance the confessions do, in fact, apply this method to the question of ceremonies. “Ceremonies should be observed both so that people may learn the Scriptures and so that, admonished by the Word, they might experience faith and fear and finally pray. For these are the purposes of the ceremonies” (Ap XXIV.3, Kolb-Wengert 258). In essence, the Apology takes a doctrine expressed in the Augsburg Confession and applies it to worship: namely, that “through the Word and the sacraments as through instruments the Holy Spirit is given, who effects faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the gospel” (AC V.2, Kolb-Wengert 41). Rites and ceremonies can be evaluated not only for the ways in which they do or do not instruct people about hearing the word and using the sacraments rightly; they can be evaluated for the ways in which they do or do not aim to proclaim God’s Word, rightly divided into law and gospel, to instill and strengthen faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice in the hearts of worshipers. Worship forms structured to proclaim the good news of our forgiveness in Christ more fully embody the Scriptural doctrine that the Spirit calls us by the Gospel and enlightens us with his gifts.  Worship forms structured for other purposes (such as to move a worshiper toward a highly emotional salvation experience or to invoke the presence of the Spirit by evoking correct praise on the part of the gathered assembly) embody a different doctrine and ought therefore to be avoided by those who call themselves Lutheran.

IV. Embodying our theology in worship

What does it mean to say that a worship form is structured to proclaim the good news of our forgiveness in Christ Jesus? To answer that question, I want to return to where I began: the Small Catechism. It should by now be a commonplace that we can point from the catechism to various portions of our hymnal’s orders of service and back again. The invocation reminds us of baptism, confession and absolution remind us of the office of the keys, etc. I believe, however, that we can—and should—make a stronger claim than that certain portions of the service remind us of certain chief parts of the catechism. The catechism is our doctrine. It explains how our heavenly Father works in the world to forgive sinners: he works through the law to convict us of our sins (Ten Commandments), sent his Son Jesus Christ to redeem us by his blood (second article of Creed) and sends his Spirit to deliver that forgiveness in the holy, Christian church (third article of the Creed), and his Spirit opens our mouths in prayer to him (Lord’s Prayer). The Spirit delivers that forgiveness through baptism, the office of the keys (specifically absolution), and the sacrament of the altar, which work faith in the sacrifice of Jesus.

If that is how God the Father works to save sinners, then the church’s rites and ceremonies should be evaluated for the extent to which they enact these means of forgiveness. For example, one could ask whether the forms of worship (and other practices) used in a particular congregation over the course of a year regularly enact absolution so that the congregation is exercising the office of the keys which Christ gave it. If a Lutheran congregation has “uncritically adopted” a form of worship more prevalent in Baptist or Pentecostal churches, then the answer may well be, “No.” In that case, we have good reasons to encourage the congregation and its pastor to avoid those forms of worship and to adopt others which more fully embody our Lutheran theology. As Frank Senn has written, “As the practice of praise singing has been implemented in mainline churches, it has created a new order of worship that implies a new theology of worship” (“The Challenge of Pentecostal Praise and Orthodox Doxology,” Lutheran Forum 39, no. 3 [Fall 2005], 20). On the other hand, if a Lutheran congregation has adopted contemporary or blended worship (and other practices) which retain absolution, then we have to concede that the congregation is making appropriate use of its freedom in that case, because its rites and ceremonies embody our theology of the office of the keys.

Likewise, one could ask whether the forms of worship (and other practices) used in a particular congregation over the course of a year regularly lead worshipers toward daily contrition and repentance so that the Old Adam in us “die with all sins and evil desires” and the new man “daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (Q. 4, Baptism, Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, CPH 2005, p. 25). If a congregation has structured its worship services in order to encourage people in godly living by applying the principles of God’s word to their lives (rather than applying forgiveness to their sins), then we might well ask the congregation and its pastor whether they accept and live out the catechism’s teaching on baptism in their corporate worship life. On the other hand, if a pastor and congregation can explain how their rites and ceremonies use God’s word, rightly divided, to encourage contrition, repentance, and faith, then we have no basis for criticizing their theology and practice on that issue.

Finally—and this is an extremely important point—it is already clear that a variety of worship forms can and do embody our Lutheran theology, drawn from the Scriptures and expressed in the catechism and other confessions. The most recent hymnal of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has at least three different worship forms for divine service with communion. All three embody our Lutheran theology (although one might certainly quibble about the extent to which each one does so on any given point or in any given rubric). It is certainly the case that other worship forms could likewise embody—even fully embody—our Lutheran theology. In other words, the link between the catechism and worship forms is one-to-many but not one-to-all: a variety of forms faithfully embody Lutheran theology, but not every form does. Therefore, a variety of forms are acceptable for use in Lutheran congregations, but our Christian freedom does not make every form acceptable for use in a Lutheran congregation.

V. Conclusion

Obviously, my proposal does not answer every question. Whether the bonds of love between congregations in fellowship with one another plays a role in questions of worship, for example, and whether the catholicity of the church plays a role in questions of worship are separate issues. The single issue I address here is this: is there a criterion we can use to evaluate rites and ceremonies which, at first appearance, are neither forbidden nor commanded by Scripture. The confessions provide us with a method for answering this question. On questions of worship, the upshot is that our Lutheran theology neither stipulates one particular form of worship nor permits every form of worship. Instead, our Lutheran theology draws a boundary, and forms of worship which fall within the boundary are acceptable, while forms of worship which fall outside the boundary are not. Our Lutheran theology provides the criterion against which we can judge whether we have uncritically adopted the worship forms of neo-evangelicalism or whether we have appropriated and molded those forms to proclaim Christ crucified to sinful human beings.

David W. Loy

+ sdg +

WorshipConcord Journal, volume 2, number 4 — April 2010


New Testament Worship according to the Lutheran Confessions

The Lutheran Confessions speak of worship from a variety of perspectives. In this article I’ve been asked to address New Testament worship in the Book of Concord. References to specific New Testament worship practices are not present in any of the Lutheran Confessional documents, since that was not their chief interest. However, there are many New Testament passages that are used by the reformers to address their ecclesiastical concerns as well as which present the theological underpinnings of evangelical worship.

Although the allusions to New Testament worship are numerous, from the initial articles in the Augsburg Confession to a critical article on adiaphora in the Formula of Concord fifty years later, the Apology provides the major focus for this study. The Confutation of the Romanists moved Melanchthon to seek out and cite a significant number of New Testament biblical texts which give the biblical basis for a Lutheran understanding and practice of corporate worship.

The most illustrative explanation of New Testament worship comes from Melanchthon’s simple explanation on “The Mass” in the Apology. He succinctly states: “In summary, the worship of the New Testament is spiritual, that is, it is the righteousness of faith in the heart and the fruits of faith” (Ap XXIV, 27). It is not the outward actions that are fundamental to New Testament worship, but the faith-filled attitude of one’s heart which flows from a divinely implanted relationship created by the Holy Spirit and manifested throughout a believer’s whole life. To that end, the Apology asserts: “The chief worship of God is to preach the gospel” (Ap XV, 42). As the word is proclaimed to the ears and into the heart, so faith is nurtured in the life of believers.

The emphasis of faith as the essence of worship was already noted in the key article on Justification in the Apology to the Augsburg Confession:

Faith is that worship which receives the benefits that God offers; the righteousness of the law is that worship which offers God our own merits. God wants to be honored by faith so that we receive from him those things that he promises and offers. (Ap IV, 49)

True faith is the only New Testament principle which is ultimately worthy of being called worship (latreia, Romans 12:1), since faith alone receives the blessings God bestows. Such New Testament worship consists in these two dimensions—first God grants His promised blessings to His people and then His people in responsive thanksgiving offer their faithful worship back to Him.

A little later in the same article on Justification, Melanchthon recalls Luke’s narrative about the sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-39, 44-50). He concludes:

The woman came with this conviction about Christ: that she should seek the forgiveness of sins from him. This is the highest way to worship Christ. Nothing greater could she ascribe to Christ. By seeking the forgiveness of sins from him, she truly acknowledged him as the Messiah. Now to think about Christ in this way, to worship and take hold of him in this way, is truly to believe. (Ap IV, 154).

As a result of the Messiah’s presence and promises, New Testament worshipers responded with faith-filled desires to receive and accept Christ’s gracious forgiveness.  Furthermore, Melanchthon notes that Jesus

praises her entire act of worship in this way—as often happens in Scripture—so that we may understand many things under this one phrase.… He includes the entire act of worship but teaches that it is faith, strictly speaking, that receives the forgiveness of sins even though love, confession, and other good fruits ought to follow. (Ap IV, 155).

Thus, New Testament worship was not about outward actions, but the inner faith-life which expresses itself spiritually in appropriate and apparent actions of acceptance.

The confessors affirm that New Testament worship always was “spiritual”; yet, that concept needed explication. Melanchthon cites Romans 12:1 and then defines the concept: “Spiritual worship” refers to worship where God is recognized and is grasped by the mind, as happens when it fears and trusts God” (Ap XXIV, 26). This spiritual worship in the New Testament is the Spirit-wrought heartfelt righteousness, which expresses itself in the fruits of a faith which clings to God’s grace. It is never the outward activities which are offered to God in payment for sins or even which follow prescribed and required rituals.

Citing the same passage from Romans in an earlier article, Melanchthon explains: “These are the spiritual exercise of fear and faith…. We should undertake these exercises not because they are devotional exercises that justify but as restraints on our flesh, lest satiety overcome us and render us complacent and lazy” (Ap XV, 46). So there is a combination of outward and inward actions in New Testament worship—the motivation of faith and the fruit of that faith.

The Confutation enjoined the continuation of both private masses and public celebrations of the Eucharist for the dead:

But by this abrogation of masses the worship of God is diminished, honor is withdrawn from the saints, the ultimate will of the founder is overthrown and defeated, the dead deprived of the rights due them, and the devotion of the living withdrawn and chilled. Therefore the abrogation of private masses cannot be conceded and tolerated. Neither can their assumption be sufficiently understood that Christ by his passion has made satisfaction for original sin, and has instituted the mass for actual sin; for this has never been heard by Catholics, and very many who are now asked most constantly deny that they have so taught. For the mass does not abolish sins, which are destroyed by repentance as their peculiar medicine, but abolishes the punishment due sin, supplies satisfactions, and confers increase of grace and salutary protection of the living, and, lastly, brings the hope of divine consolation and aid to all our wants and necessities. (Confutation, Article XXIV, III)

The confessors, on the contrary, understand the centrality of the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace, which provides comfort and hope to the recipients and should never be used for other purposes.

It is the Gospel which is central for Lutheran worship, as it reflects the New Testament understanding of spiritual worship. That is why Melanchthon could write the following affirmation of New Testament worship against the Confutators: “Such use of the sacrament, in which faith gives life to terrified hearts, is the New Testament worship, because the New Testament involves the spiritual impulses: being put to death and being made alive” (Ap XXIV, 71). There is always a gospel response in New Testament practices, which reflects a sacramental reality.

Melanchthon speaks of the fruits of righteousness, but insists that the worship practices which are most readily associated with tradition are not required or even necessary for righteousness.

The question is whether or not the observance of human traditions are religious worship necessary for righteousness before God. This is the point of the issue in this controversy…. For if human traditions are not acts of worship necessary for righteousness before God, it follows that it is possible to be righteous and children of God even if a person does not observe traditions that have been maintained elsewhere. (Ap. VII-VIII, 34)

He then cites several New Testament passages, particularly Colossians 2:16-17 and 20-23, concluding as follows:

Paul’s meaning is this. The righteousness of the heart is a spiritual thing that enlivens the heart. It is evident that human traditions do not enliven the heart and are neither results of the Holy Spirit’s working (as is love of neighbor, chastity, etc.) nor instruments through which God moves hearts to believe (as are the given Word and divinely instituted sacraments). Instead, they are usages in that sphere of matters which do not pertain at all to the heart but which “perish with use.” It must not be thought that they are necessary for righteousness before God. (Ap. VII-VIII, 36)

Rather than outward behaviors or actions, the New Testament worship is spiritual and heart-felt.

After citing John 4, where Jesus speaks of true worshipers worshipping the Father “in spirit and truth,” Melanchthon concludes: “This passage clearly condemns the notions about sacrifices that imagine they avail ex opere operato, and teaches that one should “worship in spirit,” that is, with the deepest activity of the heart and faith” (Ap. XXXIV, 25-26). Once again we see that the New Testament emphasis is upon the faith of the heart.

The topic of traditions, particularly in the area of worship, was a very important issue for the reformers. When the Roman Catholic Confutation responded to the Lutheran critique of human traditions and defended the promulgation of traditions, the Catholic opponents fell into the laps of the Lutheran defenders of the biblical truth. For example, in article XV of the Apology on “Human Traditions in Church,” Melanchthon says:

For the opponents openly Judaize and openly supplant the gospel with the teachings of demons [1 Tim. 4:1].… For this obscures the gospel, the benefits of Christ, and the righteousness of faith. The gospel teaches that we freely receive the forgiveness of sins and are reconciled to God by faith on account of Christ. (Ap XV, 4-5).

To add any non-biblical practices to the faith-oriented focus of worship is to obscure the Gospel.

On the other hand, Melanchthon adverts to the desire for common worship practices:

It pleases us when universal rites are kept for the sake of tranquility. Thus, in our churches we willingly observe the order of the Mass, the Lord’s day, and other more important festival days. With a very grateful spirit we cherish the useful and ancient ordinances, especially when they contain a discipline by which it is profitable to educate and teach common folk and ignorant. (Ap VII-VIII, 33).

New Testament observances of Sunday and other festivals also provided a third dimension to worship, a key also for Luther himself—education.

Many New Testament practices were maintained by the reformers because they were beneficial for the people:

Furthermore, we gladly keep the ancient traditions set up in the church because they are useful and promote tranquility, and we interpret them in the best possible way, by excluding the opinion that they justify….We can claim that the public liturgy in the church is more dignified among us than among the opponents…. Many among us celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s day after they are instructed, examined, and absolved. (Ap XV 38-40)

This return to pure biblical and especially New Testament practices is the essence of Lutheran corporate worship.

As a result of this desire for following some traditions, Melanchthon warns against making unnecessary changes: “We teach that liberty in these matters should be exercised moderately, so that the inexperienced may not take offense and, on account of an abuse of liberty, become more hostile to the true teaching of the gospel. Nothing in the customary rites may be changed without good reason” (Ap XV, 51).

Therefore, even possible changes, which may be made in Christian liberty, should be done cautiously and have strong biblical support behind them. As Melanchthon repeats in a later article: “It is not safe to institute an act of worship in the church without the authority of Scripture. If the need ever arises, we shall discuss this whole issue at greater length” (Ap XXIV, 92).

While recognizing the danger of tradition, the confessors also affirm the proper practice of tradition not as “required acts of worship,” but as a means of providing stability, Melanchthon replies:

However, in the Confession we fixed the extent to which they may legitimately create traditions. Traditions must not be required acts of worship but a means of preserving order in the church for the sake of peace. These must not ensnare consciences, as though they were commanding required acts of worship. This is what Paul teaches when he says [Gal. 5:1], “For freedom Christ has set you free. Stand firm, therefore,  and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Ap XXVIII, 15)

He notes that this was the New Testament and apostolic practice and then continues a little later in this same article:

This is the simple rule for interpreting traditions. We should know that they are not required acts of worship, and yet we should observe them in their place and without superstition in order to avoid offense. This is the way many great and learned people in the church have felt about it. We do not see what possible objection there can be to this. (Ap XXVIII, 17)

An intriguing observation comes to the fore in studying the topic of New Testament worship in the Lutheran Confessions. Jesus’ words in Matthew 15:9 are cited over a dozen times (more than any other New Testament passage) in the various documents of the new Lutheran church (Cf. AC XVI, 22; AC XXVII, 36; Ap XII, 143 and 147; Ap XV, 5; Ap XXVII 23, 35, 40, 52, and 69; SA II 2,2; SA III, 15.1; FC Ep X, 3; FC SD X 8). Most of the time, the passage is used to decry the forced requirements for Catholic worship practices which had no biblical warrant or evangelical merit. However, in the articles of the Formula of Concord which deal with the issue of adiaphora, we see the final citation of Matthew 15:9, which is the final topic related to New Testament worship in the Confessions.

The concern over adiaphora is raised by the confessors, particularly as they addressed several contrasting positions on worship practices in the latter half of the sixteenth century. In response to the question of what is proper worship practices, they reply:

We unanimously believe, teach and confess that ceremonies or ecclesiastical practices that are neither commanded nor forbidden in God’s Word, but have been established only for good order and decorum, are in and for themselves neither worship ordained by God nor part of such worship. “In vain do they worship me” with human precepts (Matt. 15[:9]). (FC, Ep, X, 3)

Although they affirm the ability of each community to establish its own ceremonies which are profitable and edifying to the community (FC,Ep X, 4), they also warn that “all frivolity and offenses must avoided, and special consideration must be given particularly to those who are weak in faith” (FC, Ep, X,5). Thus, there is a sense of churchly uniformity, along with some flexibility for the sake of those who might find changes in worship practices offensive (Cf. 1 Corinthians 8:9–13; Romans 14:13ff).


While there are no specific descriptions of New Testament worship in the Lutheran Confessional documents, there was a clear desire to maintain the orderliness of early Christian practices. Faith in Christ is always central in the New Testament (John 21) and this is reflected clearly by the confessors. Concerns with the Romanist’s emphasis upon works, particularly ritual practices and the sacrifice of the Mass, created an opportunity to emphasize “spiritual worship,” the fruit of faith. Therefore, these evangelical leaders would not demand a uniformity of practice, although they encouraged a sense of continuity with the New Testament practices they had been following through the faithful witness of the western church. It was, after all, a matter of faith.

Timothy Maschke

Concordia University Wisconsin

Works Cited

Kolb, Robert and Timothy J. Wengert, ed. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.

Reu, J. M., ed. The Confutatio Pontificia: In Reference To The Matters Presented To His Imperial Majesty By The Elector Of Saxony And Some Princes And States Of The Holy Roman Empire, On The Subject And Concerning Causes Pertaining To The Christian Orthodox Faith, The Following Christian Reply Can Be Given. August 3, 1530.  In The Augsburg Confession, A Collection of Sources (Fort Wayne, IN: Concordia Theological Seminary Press), 349-383.

+ sdg +

WorshipConcord Journal, volume 2, number 3 — March 2010


The Biblical and  Confessional Definition of the Church: A Brief Liturgical Ecclesiology


This month’s issue of the WorshipConcord Journal is in a very small way a response to a point Kent Burreson made at the beginning of last month’s article. Dr. Burreson began his article with these words: “As a result of having just recently attended the Model Theological Conference on worship . . . I have become even more aware that debates about worship in the church are ultimately debates about the church itself and its life. Or at least they ought to be!”

So here we will explore the biblical and confessional definition of the church. I want to explore this with you because I agree with Dr. Burreson, that the liturgy question is so closely connected to the question of the church.

So it is necessary that we ask what it is precisely that defines the church. How do we recognize the presence of the church? Do we recognize the church as a building with a steeple and a cross on top? Do we recognize the presence of the church by the way we worship?

There are three points I want to discuss in order to arrive at the biblical and confessional definition of the church. First we need to examine the sources to see what is and what is not of the essence of the church. Then I want to explore the question, Who has the confessional authority and freedom to order the church’s rites and ceremonies?

As we define the church on the basis of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, and clarify precisely what is of the essence of the church, I want to ask the following questions. What is of the essence of the church? Is liturgy of the essence of the church? Some say it is. Some say it isn’t. How do we know whether it is or isn’t?

Is the church defined liturgically? Some say it is. Some say it isn’t. How do we know whether it is or isn’t? Is the church defined liturgically? If it is, what does that mean for our theology and practice of liturgy? Does it mean complete liturgical conformity in all Lutheran congregations? And does that mean no freedom in liturgical practice? Some in the Missouri Synod have said this. Is the church defined liturgically? If it is not, what does that mean for our theology and practice of liturgy? Does it mean, ‘Adiaphora, therefore freedom’? Does it mean anything goes? With no consideration for our life together in the church catholic?

How do we define the church? We are not Schleiermachians, defining the church on the basis of our feelings and emotions, ‘We-all-believe-in-Jesus-so-can’t-we-all-just-get-along,’ kind of definition of the church. Neither are we Calvinists, taking a low view of the sacraments, or holding that some are predestined to heaven while others are predestined to hell. So, how do we define the church? Or better, how do Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions define the church? We do not look to tradition or personal opinion to define the church. The Bible uses a variety of metaphors to describe the church—the church is the body of Christ, the family of God, the household of faith. Scripture defines the church as . . .

“. . . God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3.15). In his Examination of the Council of Trent Martin Chemnitz, when he discussed the place of traditions in the church, helps us to understand that the church is the pillar of the truth, but not in the sense that the church is the source of all truth. According to Chemnitz the church is the pillar of the truth in the sense that the church is the repository of the apostolic Scriptures and is faithful to transmit these apostolic Scriptures from generation to generation.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2: “. . . you are . . . members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2.20). And in 1 Corinthians 12: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free . . . you are the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12.13, 27). “The body of Christ,” “the pillar and foundation of the truth,” “God’s household.” These are all prominent metaphors in the New Testament for describing Christ’s church.

How do the Lutheran Confessions define the church? Again, I want to reiterate that the reason we need to have this discussion about how Scripture and the Confessions define the church, is because there are some who are claiming that liturgy is of the essence of the church, and that the church is defined liturgically. But is this actually so?

The Augsburg Confession defines the church in Article VII:

It is also taught among us that one holy Christian church will be and remain forever. This is the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel. For it is sufficient [ satis est ] for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word. It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places. It is as Paul says in Eph. 4:4, 5, ‘There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism’ (AC VII).

How does Augsburg Confession VII define the church? I hope you noticed that this confession is explicit about excluding humanly instituted rites and ceremonies in liturgy from its definition of the church. So, how does Article VII define the church? It gives three and only three marks for recognizing the presence of the church. These are the three biblical and confessional marks of the church: Holy Gospel, Holy Baptism, Holy Communion. Let’s take each of these in turn.

Holy Gospel. Article VII actually refers to the purity of the Gospel as one of the three marks of the church. Christ crucified for the forgiveness of our sin. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15.3-4). This is the purity of the Gospel: salvation by grace alone through faith alone for Christ’s sake. In the Acts of the Apostles Peter preached: “There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” And to the Corinthians Paul wrote, “We proclaim a crucified Messiah.”

Salvation is neither earned nor deserved. It is not something that we can attain to. It is not something we can acquire by making a decision for Christ. It is not something we deserve because we are naturally born children of God.

Salvation is pure and simple gift of God. Our Father in heaven gives us his salvation because he loves us. Period. He doesn’t give us his salvation because we are special, or because we love him, or because there is something in us that compels him to save us. Our Father in heaven gives us his salvation because of his love for us, and for no other reason. This is why he gave his Son to die on the cross for us. It is his unconditional gift. This is the purity of the Gospel.

“For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves; it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2.8-9).

The highest way of worshiping Christ is to seek forgiveness of sins from him. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession gives the example of the repentant woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, and wiped them dry with her hair. Melanchthon wrote in Article IV of the Apology:

The woman came, believing that she should seek the forgiveness of sins from Christ. This is the highest way of worshiping Christ. Nothing greater could she ascribe to him. By looking for the forgiveness of sins from him, she truly acknowledged him as the Messiah. Truly to believe means to think of Christ in this way, and in this way to worship and take hold of him (Apology IV.154).

The purity of the Gospel is the first identifying mark of the church. According to Article VII of the Augsburg Confession, there are two, and only two, others.

In addition to the pure Gospel the only other two marks of the church are the sacraments administered in accordance with the Word of God: Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. These are what tell us that the church exists in any given place. Where these are missing, there is no church.

Holy Baptism is simple water combined with the promise of God’s Word. It is the gift of faith. It is not a good work we do. Baptism is God’s work of pure grace on the depraved sinner. The clearest text from the Bible for demonstrating God’s action in Baptism is Titus chapter 3, where the Apostle wrote:

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3.4-7).

Holy Communion is the third identifying mark of the church. It is the true body and blood of Christ given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. “Take and eat; this is my body. . . . Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26.26-28).

These are the identifying marks of the church. There are no others. This is what we believe, teach, and confess. Holy Gospel. Holy Baptism. Holy Communion.

Luther wrote in his 1530 Commentary on Psalm 117: “Wherever one finds the Gospel, Baptism, and the Sacrament, there is His church, and in that place there are certainly living saints.”

And Melanchthon wrote in the Apology: “. . . the church . . . has its external marks, so that it can be recognized, namely, the pure teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments in harmony with the gospel of Christ” (Ap VII & VIII.5). What renders the church externally recognizable are the Gospel and the sacraments, not humanly instituted rites and ceremonies in liturgy, a point which is repeatedly and consistently stressed throughout the Lutheran Confessions.

In Augsburg Confession Article VII we confess together with the whole church: “. . . it is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that the ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places. . .” (AC VII.2).

Hermann Sasse wrote in very clear and unmistakable terms, that the true marks of the church are the Gospel and the sacraments. Sasse wrote the following in a 1961 letter to Lutheran pastors titled, ‘Article VII of the Augsburg Confession in the Present Crisis of Lutheranism,’ published in English translation in We Confess the Church: “. . . the Gospel and the sacraments as the notae ecclesiae (‘the marks of the church’) [are] the only marks by which we can in faith recognize the presence of the church. . . .” Sasse was consistent on this point. While Sasse extolled the great blessings of historic liturgical traditions in the church, he was careful to distinguish the Gospel and the sacraments on the one hand from humanly instituted rites and ceremonies in liturgy on the other hand. Sasse distinguished between the two, because he honestly confessed with Article VII that the unity of the church did not depend on “ceremonies, instituted by men . . . [being] observed uniformly in all places.” For Sasse what renders the church externally recognizable are the Gospel and the sacraments.

Sasse again in ‘Article VII of the Augsburg Confession in the Present Crisis of Lutheranism’:

The true unity of the church, of which Article VII speaks, is both an article of faith and a reality in the world. It is the unity which binds together all those, wherever they may be in the world from the rising to the setting of the sun, who truly believe, who have one Christ, one Holy Spirit, one Gospel, one Baptism, and one Sacrament of the Altar, whether they have or do not have the same ceremonies or traditions. They have one Christ and one Holy Spirit because they have one Gospel, one Baptism, and one Sacrament of the Altar.

Sasse identified the Gospel and the sacraments as the only marks of the church, and in addition to writing against the lex orandi lex credendi principle, Sasse consistently maintained that liturgy was not of the essence of the church.

Here I will share with you several quotes from Luther and Sasse, regarding those things which are not marks of the church. But I want to begin by returning again to Augsburg Confession VII, just as a reminder, so that we are absolutely clear about what we confess. “. . . it is not necessary [ nicht not ] for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places. . .” (AC VII.2).

To demonstrate the consistency in Sasse’s thought, let me quote from Here We Stand, a book written by Sasse and published in 1934.

The unity of the historic church is not achieved through conformity in rites and ceremonies, nor through identical organization and life patterns nor even through uniformity in theological thought-forms and opinions. Such unity is only achieved when, in the joyful assurance of our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, we are one in our understanding of what His saving Gospel is, and one in our understanding of what He gives us in His sacraments. ‘For the true unity of the church, it is enough,’ the Augsburg Confession states. It is, indeed, enough. But it is also necessary.

Liturgy is not of the essence of the church. Consequently we cannot say that the church is defined liturgically. While Sasse was a champion of historic liturgical forms, he was not a slave to the liturgy. On the contrary, Sasse confessed genuine Gospel freedom in the church’s use of liturgy. However, Sasse was careful not to turn this freedom into the license it has become today. Sasse’s words serve as a poignant reminder to us, on the one hand not to turn uniformity of liturgy into a requirement for unity in the church, and on the other hand not to diminish the necessity of the right teaching of the Gospel and the sacraments for the true unity of the church.

As Sasse also wrote in “Article VII of the Augsburg Confession in the Present Crisis of Lutheranism”: “the great satis est, it is sufficient . . . involves a necesse est, it is necessary” . . . to be “one in our understanding of what His saving Gospel is, and one in our understanding of what He gives us in His sacraments.”

Luther clearly articulated the biblical definition of the church in the face of Roman Catholic opposition, who claimed that the confessing evangelicals from Wittenberg were not the church. In his 1541 essay, ‘Against Hanswurst,’ Luther wrote:

The church is a high, deep, hidden thing, which one may neither perceive nor see, but must grasp only by faith, through baptism, sacrament, and word. Human doctrine, ceremonies, tonsures, long robes, miters, and all the pomp of popery only lead far away from it into hell—still less are they signs of the church. Naked children, men, women, farmers, citizens who possess no tonsures, miters, or priestly vestments, also belong to the church.

There is a flip-side to this. We cannot say that none of these things may be used in the church. They may. They become problematic when we require their use, or when we insist that they not be used. Luther addressed both of these problems already in his 1525 essay, ‘Against the Heavenly Prophets’:

The Pope destroys freedom in commanding outright that the sacrament is to be elevated, and would have it a statute and a law. He who refrains from keeping his law sins. The factious spirit destroys freedom in forbidding outright that the sacrament be elevated, and would have it a prohibition, a statute, and a law. He who does not act in accordance with this law sins. Here Christ is driven away by both parties. . . . One errs on the left side, the other on the right, and neither remains on the path of true freedom.

The application of Luther’s insights 500 years ago to today’s context in the Missouri Synod presses hard against our collective conscience, and demands repentant reconsideration of the path we have been walking on.

Who has the confessional authority to make changes in the church’s liturgy? Is it the pastor? Is it the Board of Elders? The worship committee? The voters’ assembly? Or is it the Synod in convention? The Commission on Worship? The faculty of our seminaries? Here I will examine briefly the question whether it is the local congregation or the larger church body that has the confessional authority and freedom to order liturgical rites and ceremonies in the church.

In his classic work, The Structure of Lutheranism, Werner Elert discussed how the Formula of Concord combated the idea that by bringing about uniformity in liturgy the two opposing parties in the Reformation could be brought into theological agreement. Elert wrote:

. . . the principle expressed by the Formula of Concord [is] ‘that the community of God in every place and at every time [that is, in every local congregation] has the right, authority, and power to change, reduce, or increase’ external customs (X, 9) . . . .

This is from The Structure of Lutheranism, page 333. The word the Formula of Concord uses, which is translated “community of God” and which Elert identified as the local congregation, is Gemeine. Let’s look at Solid Declaration Article X, paragraph 9:

Therefore, we believe, teach, and confess that the community of God [ Die Gemeine Gottes ] in every time and place has the right, power, and authority to change, reduce, or expand such practices according to circumstances [ nach derselben Gelegenheit ] in an orderly and appropriate manner, without frivolity or offense, as seems most useful, beneficial, and best for good order, Christian discipline, evangelical decorum, and the building up of the church.

To keep this brief, I want to make two points about this passage. The first point is that Die Gemeine Gottes, which is translated “the community of God,” refers to the local congregation. This is clearly demonstrated both by parallel passages and by synonyms of Gemeine in the Lutheran Confessions (like Versamblung in the Large Catechism). This particular passage in Formula of Concord X demonstrates that the local congregation has the confessional authority and freedom to order its own humanly instituted rites and ceremonies in liturgy.

The other point I want to make about this passage is with regard to the phrase, nach derselben Gelegenheit. Nach derselben Gelegenheit means “according to its own circumstances.” In addition to the correct understanding of Gemeine as local congregation at Article X paragraph 9, nach derselben Gelegenheit further emphasizes the confessional authority of the local congregation to order its own rites and ceremonies in liturgy, according to its own circumstances in the local context. This is our confession. This is what we subscribe as pastors and teachers of the church.

I want to share with you one more passage from the Confessions to demonstrate this point. In Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration Article X paragraph 25 we have the following.

From this explanation everyone can understand what a Christian community [ was einer christlichen Gemein; Latin: quid unamquamque ecclesiam ] and every individual Christian, particularly pastors, may do or omit in regard to indifferent things without injury to their consciences, especially in a time when confession is necessary, so that they do not arouse God’s wrath, do not violate love, do not strengthen the enemies of God’s Word, and do not offend the weak in faith.

Both the German, was einer christlichen Gemein, and the Latin, quid unamquamque ecclesiam, highlight our confession that it is the local congregation which has the confessional authority and freedom, not autonomy, but confessional authority and genuine Gospel freedom to order its own humanly instituted rites and ceremonies in liturgy, according to its own circumstances, for the building up of the church.

In a discussion of the relationship between sacraments and ceremonies in his Examination of the Council of Trent, Martin Chemnitz wrote this:

Nor should it be thought that such ceremonies belong to the integrity and genuineness of the sacraments, much less that they are necessary for this, but they are to be considered as indifferent rites, which, if they cease to be useful for edification . . . , must either be corrected or changed or, after the example of the brazen serpent, be abrogated and wholly taken away. Those rites also which are retained should remain what in fact they are—indifferent ceremonies, in order that they may not become snares of consciences but be freely observed without any idea that they are necessary.

Chemnitz then wrote that “barring offense [these things] can be omitted or be changed or abrogated by the direction and consent of the church” and that “churches [should not] be condemned on account of differences in rites of this kind or if, in omitting or changing them, they use their liberty according to the . . . rule of Paul.” The rule of Paul Chemnitz refers to has to do with the edification of the church in matters of worship. In Romans 14 Paul urged the strong not to judge the weak in matters of conscience. And in 1 Corinthians 14 Paul gave the Corinthians explicit directives about worship and instructs that “everything should be done decently and in an orderly way.”

In 1561 Chemnitz wrote a Latin document, the short title of which is Iudicium. Iudicium means “Judgment,” and in this document are Chemnitz’s best theological “judgments” on a number of controversial matters of his day. One of these controversies was over the church’s theology of adiaphora, or “things that are neither commanded nor forbidden by God, as the Confessions define it. Regarding adiaphora Chemnitz wrote this in his Iudicium:

. . . when a godly consensus in purity of doctrine is retained, when faith is kept inviolate, and when Christian truth resides in those rites which are according to their nature matters of adiaphora, there can be diversity as long as this does not cause scandal, for the sake of the edification of each church.

Now, having said all that, there is a flip-side to our confession that the local congregation has the authority and freedom to order its own rites and ceremonies in liturgy. The flip-side being, that there is a (small-c) catholic context, that we must not ignore.

Arthur Carl Piepkorn once wrote that: “[The Confessions] stand in a continuous chain of Catholic witness. The Reformation and post-Reformation periods possess per se no superior authority. We are Catholic Christians first. Western Catholics second. Lutherans third.” Hermann Sasse agreed with Piepkorn on this point. In other words, the Lutheran church does not exist in a vacuum. We are not an a-historical church. We have a history. To ignore that history, or to act as if it did not exist, is to make ourselves to be the standard of theology and practice in the church, and it is to open ourselves to the very real risk of repeating the theological errors of the past, and jeopardizing the salvation of God’s people in the process. This is the kind of hybris that chafes beneath the unifying principle of accountability. But accountability is a direct corollary of catholicity. We are accountable to each other. We do not hold to anything goes. Neither do we legislate uniformity.

Luther, Melanchthon and Chemnitz strove for liturgical uniformity among all the churches. But they only sought this uniformity insofar as it was possible. Because they understood the identity of the church to be located in the purity of the Gospel and the sacraments administered in accordance with the divine Word, they were careful not to require liturgical uniformity or to impose it legalistically on a broad scale. They honestly recognized the confessional authority and freedom of the local congregation to order its own rites and ceremonies in liturgy in a broader confessing evangelical catholic context.


James Alan Waddell

+ sdg +