15 August 2008

Female Acolytes and Issues of Adiaphora

Rev. Bill Weedon had a post on female acolytes over at his blog and I wanted to piggy-back on it a little bit here. I had originally posted this on my blog but thought it would be a better discussion on this list. In one of my posts on my other blog I discussed the slippery slope of the argument that says: "Scripture is silent, therefore go ahead and do it." Scripture is also silent with regards to female acolytes, or any acolytes for that matter. In other words, much like the issue of preaching from pulpits, the Bible nowhere says: "Thou shalt not use female acolytes." Does this mean that we ought to use them for this service? Does the silence of Scripture give the Church free reign to do things as she sees fit? Is tradition the only ally of those who do not think using female acolytes is such a good idea?

There may be no clear passage in the Bible forbidding the use of female acolytes, but you have to admit that women and girls seem to be largely absent whenever there is any kind of altar service being carried out. Is that merely coincidence? Can the example of Scripture prove anything? Would our pastors and congregations listen to such an example, or would they demand a clear passage of Scripture? Probably the latter.

I wonder who lit the candles for the service in the early church. Has anyone ever seen a historic study on this? It would be interesting to know how it was done before the different grades of the ministry came into vogue. As far as I know, only ordained clergy carried out this service. Perhaps we shouldn't have anyone serving the altar who is not ordained into the Office of the Ministry. Perhaps we should not even have young boys doing it. I'm really just thinking out loud here.

This is often a thorny issue in congregations. Our Synod allows it. Pastors who oppose it as a practice or who do not prefer it are not likely to receive calls even to otherwise conservative parishes. It would be different if it were a thing like closed communion which our Synod officially endorses (even if a majority of congregations and pastors do not uphold it or practice it). But it is something to which the Synod has given its blessing, so unless someone can produce Biblical support for opposition to the practice, it is likely to remain a matter of adiaphora. What say you?

10 comments:

Peperkorn said...

I don't have much in the way of brilliant insight, but this is an issue for confessional Lutherans. Is it as important as closed communion? No. But I think one would be very hard pressed to find any precedent in Scripture or in the history of the church for the practice. That is a gaping absence for me. However, that argument does not generally hold water in Missouriana.

Fr. Timothy D. May, S.S.P. said...

That some may "demand a clear passage of Scripture" does not answer the question as you suggest. Then there is the thought that tradition may not be the only "ally" in holding the traditional position. (is this is a suggestion toward the social sciences, focus groups, etc.? Not likely.) So what do we do when Scripture is not clear? "Adiaphora", an extra-biblical term and concept, is the traditional response.

We cannot be fooled into denying that the general interpretation and practice of "adiaphora," rightly or wrongly, is "we can do whatever we want." (Ironically, Lutherans tend toward a no nonsense approach in matters of doctrine and, at the very same time, approach liturgy as something that is governed by the rule of "adiaphora.") So even Scripture plus adiaphora does not really answer the question.

The practice mentioned is rather recent in terms of the long history of the Church. Since it is likely that this practice was introduced to Lutheranism from other groups that have already gone that route it is only fair to explore the tradition and practice of the Church as a whole prior to the introduction of this particular practice. There is a salutary use of the Tradition (Scriptural in guidance) that poses possibilities in teaching and learning the "why" and the value of that which we have received and which we hope to pass on. A "new" practice, or "newness," is not of benefit if it posits to find value solely in and of itself. If this is the case then the passing on of belief and practice becomes replaced by a self-imposed slavery to that which may be "new" but which may also tend toward disintegration of the teaching as a whole and the Church herself.

This does not directly answer your question but I hope it offers some further thought on what may be an over-reliance in our tradition on "adiaphora" as a (or "the") basis for what we practice as a whole in matters liturgical.

Rt. Rev. Jack Bauer said...

I've said it before, even when said with a Texas accent, adiaphora (mitteldinge) does not mean "idea-for-a."

wmc said...

I'd love to hear "Mitteldinge" with a Texas accent.

I don't see how this can be a "confessional issue" when the Confessions have nothing to say about it. The article on adiaphora in the Formula is really an article about when an adiaphoron isn't an adiaphoron, namely at a time of confession. It applies much more to our penchant for swapping "styles" (whether Evangelical, Catholic, or Orthodox) than it does to this mater.

Some may view acolytes as the gateway to the holy ministry, much as the altar boys used to be. Since we don't have "seminary" high schools, I can't really see any solid connection there.

I gave up on kid acolytes years ago. I got tired of the sneakers and shorts and being late or missing in action and all the attitude. The elder lights the candles well before most people are in the sanctuary. Usually some little kid wants to "put the candles out," so the elder helps him as people are milling around after the service (we don't usher people out in straight lines).

I like reserving something for the guys to do, however. There are so few things left for the guys anymore. Even the Mon through Fri staff restroom is unisex. Arg. Not a urinal in sight. I have a couple of big, strong guys who carry our very top-heavy crucifix.

I like to think of various practices and procedures as coming from four sources: Scripture, Confessions, canon law, local custom. Acolytes belong to the fourth category, as far as I'm concerned.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Pr. Cwirla, I like your line of reasoning with your point on "giving the guys something to do." You're so right--there is little for the men to do in the church anymore. You've got another good point: is this really a matter of adiaphora or not. You say it is not. Thanks for your input!

wmc said...

You've got another good point: is this really a matter of adiaphora or not. You say it is not.

Actually, I DO think it is a matter of adiaphora, but that's beside the point. Most local customs and even some canon laws deal with adiaphora.

We need to be careful about how we speak concerning adiaphora. It is one of the things that distinguishes us from the Reformed. For the Reformed, unless it is clearly commanded in Scripture, it is forbidden. For Lutherans, that which is neither commanded nor forbidden is permissible. The term may be "extra-Scriptural" but the concept is hardly outside the scope of the Scriptures (see Col 2:16-17, etc). It is part and parcel of Christian liberty.

Let's face it. Most of what we argue about in this bird cage regarding ceremonials is in the realm of adiaphora. The Confessional issue is how adiaphora are properly used, especially in statu confessionis.

Back to the females for a moment. I recall Kenneth Korby once saying something about women not being allowed near the altar in the early church, and therefore, what we customarily assign to the "altar guild" was formerly strictly men's work. Do any of you early church history buffs have anything to corroborate this?

The Rev. BT Ball said...

WMC wrote - "I recall Kenneth Korby once saying something about women not being allowed near the altar in the early church, and therefore, what we customarily assign to the "altar guild" was formerly strictly men's work. Do any of you early church history buffs have anything to corroborate this?"

Well not early church history, but one parish's anyway.

The pastor who was here from 1919-1954 was given complete responsibility for the altar. Until 1946 there was a special offering on communion sundays taken for the purchase of the elements by the pastor. In '46 they decided to get rid of this extra offering and simply give him a $2 a week raise so that he could go and purchase the bread and wine with less hassle. He had responsibility over the all the furninshings of the church and enlisted his wife to do the laundering, repair etc. She enlisted her daughters to help. The female members of the pastor's house were the "altar guild". Later, she enlisted other ladies to sew, mend, press, clean, etc. And so the altar guild came into being, and was formalized as a society in 1958. Now our Deacons handle the set up of the elements, and the ladies do the cleaning after. This particular pastor's youngest daughter is still on the altar guild by the way.

BB

Fr. Timothy D. May, S.S.P. said...

WMC: Actually, I DO think it is a matter of adiaphora, but that's beside the point. Most local customs and even some canon laws deal with adiaphora.

"We need to be careful about how we speak concerning adiaphora. It is one of the things that distinguishes us from the Reformed. For the Reformed, unless it is clearly commanded in Scripture, it is forbidden. For Lutherans, that which is neither commanded nor forbidden is permissible. The term may be "extra-Scriptural" but the concept is hardly outside the scope of the Scriptures (see Col 2:16-17, etc). It is part and parcel of Christian liberty.

"Let's face it. Most of what we argue about in this bird cage regarding ceremonials is in the realm of adiaphora. The Confessional issue is how adiaphora are properly used, especially in statu confessionis.

"Back to the females for a moment. I recall Kenneth Korby once saying something about women not being allowed near the altar in the early church, and therefore, what we customarily assign to the "altar guild" was formerly strictly men's work. Do any of you early church history buffs have anything to corroborate this?"

TDM: A brief(?) response. There is a place for "adiaphora" (it is not a concern that it is "extra-biblical") Neither ought we undermine
its usage vis-a-vis the Reformed. Still, there is a two-fold concern about an over-emphasis or "last word" approach on this concept. When the pre-supposition is that "liberty" and local custom rule, then anything external may be considered "legalistic." The danger becomes "we can do whatever we want." Besides the anthropocentric problem with this approach there is the possibility that the whole act of teaching and learning (passing on the faith from generation to generation) is undermined. For example, we all know what it is like to catechize teenagers who are obviously not going to listen. What happens when our whole approach to the liturgy, discussing it, and learning the "why" of the liturgy is undermined by existentialist, contemporary or futurist approaches and concerns? (so that any other input, including historical practice, is deemed "legalistic") In short, "adiaphora" as a concept might be abused in providing an excuse/escape(?) not to learn and to defend one's own desires and tastes by not appreciating
that which we might learn from theology and practice in the Church throughout the centuries. Finally, the domination of "adiaphora" in liturgical discussion prohibits moving beyond anthropocentric concerns to theocentric appreciation and understanding of the liturgy in its parts and as a whole (ie, maybe what we do and say in worship does, in fact, reflect what we believe). So my concern is not so much "adiaphora" per se but how "adiaphora" takes on a life of its own (outside of these circles) and becmes a dominating liturgical emphasis resulting in distraction from appreciation and understanding of the the "spirit of the liturgy." Maybe my concern is that liturgy or worship be appreciated not just as confession (horizontal) but also as prayer (vertical).

Regarding early church history and female acolytes I do not have much to add except that the Church has normally reserved this office for those who may one day become priests. It is interesting to hear on the one hand, that those who promote the ordination of women know and understand the Church's historical practice, while others who may be for or opposed to the ordination of women do not make or acknowledge this historical connection. If the bishops, presbyters and deacons (and acolytes?) in the early church were male a general guess would be that females were not near the altar. Early church scholars, your turn!

wmc said...

It is interesting to hear on the one hand, that those who promote the ordination of women know and understand the Church's historical practice, while others who may be for or opposed to the ordination of women do not make or acknowledge this historical connection.

Yup. That's usually a good indication you may not be standing on theological terra firma.

There was also a time when women were excluded from the choir too, but the loss of the castrati kind of put a damper on that one.

I'm always suspicious around statements that refer to "the Church" in a monolithic way. It's a long reach from bishops, presbyters, and deacons to acolytes. This in a synod that can't even get called and ordained straight!

Fr. Timothy D. May, S.S.P. said...

The problems with ordination and call, the problems with not being able to make a connection between acolytes and the altar, the tendency toward existentialist/ahistorical belief and practice, etc. ("adiaphora" as license) are connected to parochial concerns (ie, "me"). Call her "the Church", the "holy Church" or the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church," all of these questions (doctrine and practice) are related to her and not just to my local preoccupations and desires. No fear, "the [monolithic] Church is a gift."