19 September 2009

Thirty-Five Theses on Liturgy and Adiaphora

From the Worship & Spiritual Care Workshop, 19 September 2009, here are my thirty-five theses on the Liturgy and Adiaphora:

1. The Divine Liturgy, properly speaking (Apology XXIV.79–83), comprises the Ministry of the Gospel, which is the preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, the confession of Christ Jesus, the ongoing catechesis of His Word, and the faithful administration of His Body and His Blood to His disciples. This Divine Liturgy is not adiaphora, but is the Holy Gospel, the Word and work of the Holy Triune God, which is fundamental and necessary to faith and life in Christ.
2. To be liturgical is not simply to "have" or "do" the Word and Sacrament; but to be liturgical is to be defined by these things of the Gospel, to be governed and guided by them, entirely under their sway. To be liturgical, therefore, is to be evangelical; and to be truly evangelical is to be liturgical.
3. The Divine Liturgy is where and how the Church lives with God in Christ, by grace through faith in the Gospel. The evangelical mission of the Church flows out of that liturgical life in Christ, with the purpose of bringing others into the Liturgy of the Gospel.
4. To hear and receive the Divine Liturgy in faith and with thanksgiving is the worship of the Holy Triune God in Spirit and in Truth.
5. The freedom of faith in worship, as in all of Christian life, is the freedom of the Gospel.
6. Adiaphora simply are what they are: rites and ceremonies and other practices which are neither commanded nor forbidden by God. The teaching and confession of adiaphora goes hand-in-hand with the Gospel; that we are justified by grace through faith in Christ, apart from works of the Law.
7. The teaching and confession of adiaphora should not be abused (in the service of self-interest); instead, true Christian freedom is rightly used in love (in the self-sacrificing service of others).
8. Adiaphora are rightly used with pastoral care, and as a means of pastoral care. Pastors should exercise discretion and discernment in the use of adiaphora, but pastors should also discipline themselves in doing so, for the sake of faith and love.
9. In faith toward God we are free, but in love we are bound to serve our neighbor.
10. All things are lawful, but not all things are meet, right and salutary (1 Corinthians 10:23). Even that which is free and clear can be measured and evaluated according to its service and support of the Word of God, and thus determined to be more or less helpful to faith and love.
11. Love will be ready and willing to sacrifice anything and everything that is truly free, but love will never sacrifice anything of the Gospel. That is to say, love will readily give up whatever may be given up, but love will tenaciously insist upon that which is necessary.
12. Freedom is used rightly, in faith toward God and in love toward the neighbor, when it is used to serve the catechesis and confession of the Word of God.
13. The boundaries and parameters of freedom in worship are established and contoured, not only by explicit commands and prohibitions, but also implicitly by the constitutive rites and ceremonies of Holy Baptism, preaching and the Holy Communion.
14. The use of liturgical rubrics, rites and ceremonies is fundamental to the pastoral ministry. Rubrics are instructions for the conduct of the Liturgy, mutually agreed upon within the fellowship of the Church. Rites are the words that are spoken in the administration of the Liturgy. Ceremonies are the bodily actions, movements and adornments of the Liturgy. Rubrics are needed for an orderly conduct of corporate communal life. Rites belong to the fact that God does everything by His Word. Ceremonies belong to the fact that human life is lived in the body, occupying space and time.
15. It is not possible to administer and receive the means of grace without ceremonies. However, not all ceremonies are created equal. Some ceremonies are better, and some are worse than others; and some ceremonies have no place in the Church, even if they would otherwise be "free."
16. Ceremonies powerfully support (or contradict) the confession and catechesis of the Word.
17. The measure of a ceremony’s worth and benefit requires more than the avoidance of overtly false doctrine. The best ceremonies are not only true (as opposed to false) but are positively helpful in confessing the Word of God, and they are beautiful in adorning His Liturgy. Whatever is true, lovely and of good repute, excellent and worthy of praise, dwell on those things (Philippians 4:8).
18. It is appropriate and salutary to adorn the Ministry of the Gospel with beauty, as a confession of faith in the Word and work of Christ, and as a way of catechesis in the hidden truth of the Gospel.
19. Reverence toward God and courtesy toward the neighbor summarize the criteria of faith and love and thus provide a foundational response to all questions pertaining to the proper use of adiaphora.
20. That which is harmful to faith and love is not free but forbidden. That which is irreverent or rude is likewise not free but forbidden. (Formula SD X.1, 7, 9)
21. Pastors and congregations, and individual members of a congregation, should set aside their personal proclivities and preferences for the sake of faith and love (1 Corinthians 10:23–33; Romans 14).
22. Making changes in ceremony, including the introduction of new ceremonies, requires a special measure of pastoral care. It also requires the patience of pastors and parishioners for one another.
23. Love will care for the entire body of Christ, for the minority as much or more than the majority, not allowing either the few or the many to lord it over the Holy Communion of the whole Church.
24. Love for the body of Christ — for the Church in all times and places, past, present and future — calls for circumspection and great caution when it comes to the introduction of new practices.
25. Tradition is generally more conducive to the Gospel than novelty (1 Corinthians 11:1–2, 16–26); because it is received as a gift from the past, rather than fabricated in the present.
26. There is almost always a good reason for the traditional practices of the Church, even where the purpose behind a given practice may no longer be readily apparent.
27. Catholicity is generally more conducive to love than personal innovation; because it belongs to the entire body of the Church, the household and family of God, rather than an isolated individual.
28. The collective wisdom of the Church is usually wiser than the personal insights of an individual. Nevertheless, the nature and needs of pastoral care require the free exercise of pastoral discernment and discretion, just as the Church in each time and place is free with respect to human customs.
29. Frequent fluctuations and diversity in practice are unsettling to the people and easily distract from the Liturgy of Christ; they require a level of literacy, attention, energy and effort that tends to frustrate or make impossible the participation of many members in the Church’s worship of Christ.
30. Consistency and continuity of practice are beneficial to peace and rest in the Liturgy of Christ; they allow for the ready participation of the entire congregation in the Church’s worship of Christ.
31. The broad latitude of hymnody is necessarily constrained because of its affective power, and because of its vast importance and significance for the catechesis and confession of the Word. Hymns properly serve the freedom of faith in the Gospel when they are selected and used liturgically.
32. It is not an appropriate use of freedom when hymns, or any other practices, are used simply to fill up space and pass the time, or when they are used to entertain emotions instead of edifying the people and glorifying God by the confession of His Word (Formula SD X.1, 7, 9).
33. The unity of a common confession of the faith is both embodied and substantiated by a unity of practice. Church fellowship does not depend upon a uniformity in adiaphora, but the fellowship of the Church gravitates toward a common and consistent usage of adiaphora wherever it is possible. And the beauty of it is, the Church is free to do so.
34. It is not a violation of faith or freedom when the fellowship of the Church mutually agrees, in love, to order and conduct its liturgical life according to common rubrics, rites and ceremonies.
35. Especially in gatherings of the Church’s fellowship beyond that of a local congregation, the use of commonly agreed-upon rites and ceremonies is most appropriate and beneficial. In general, the same principle pertains to the practices of each congregation as a fellowship of the one Church.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

As I think I have become the semi-official gainsayer, for illumination and consideration I ask the following:

4 - Do you mean to say here that participation in the Liturgy of Sunday is the highest worship, the sole worship? Would the home devotions be included in this "liturgy" or not?

12 - Perhaps "Freedom in worship" instead of just freedom - for one is free to work as a car salesman, even though that is not directly catechatical.

24 - Perhaps instead of "new practices" it should read "a change in practice", as even changes back to solid, more traditional practices ought to be done with care.

25 - Do you mean "the traditional rites, ceremonies, etc. of the Church Catholic" or simply "tradition"? I ask simply because tradition now is scattered and diverse among various places - and what is the "tradition" of various congregations would seem to be at odds with the "tradition" of the Church at large, or at least not incorporate large parts of it. Clarity would be useful here.

26 - I would rather this read something along the line of, "There is always a reason for any practice in the Church, even if this reason is no longer readily apparent. These reasons need to be evaluated in order to judge the merits of the practice." Not all traditional practices are good, nor does age ensure the quality of a practice. Taking Jesus for a walk on Corpus Christi Day had logic behind it, but it wasn't a good reason.

32 - This is just fantastic. That's all. There are times when practically speaking, hymns or liturgical responses allow for movement, that is not their sole purpose.

Okay - there is my critical response. . . someone has to. . . they are theses - they need discussion.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thank you for your input, Father Brown. Your good guestions, comments, and constructive critique are helpful and appreciated. I'll look forward to thinking through what you have written carefully, and responding to it properly, when I have the chance to do so. As it is, I've just returned from the workshop and still have work to do for tomorrow before I hit the hay.

Myrtle said...

"11. Love will be ready and willing to sacrifice anything and everything that is truly free, but love will never sacrifice anything of the Gospel. That is to say, love will readily give up whatever may be given up, but love will tenaciously insist upon that which is necessary."

While I appreciate the thoughtful, clear consideration of Liturgy and Adiaphora (as someone relatively new to Lutheranism I revel in all things Liturgy), I would like to say that I am truly thankful for this beautiful note on love. For me, this note has much wider application.

Having not grown up with love, I struggle, at times, to understand it and to walk in it. I have been praying about loving a truly difficult boss, who is at times abusive and at times rather unethical, having come to the conclusion that loving her is really what God has given me to do in the circumstances of the vocation to which He has brought me.

I rather hungrily read through Rev. Brown's post on Love-the Cruciform Foundation of Ethics and had hoped the comments might teach me some of that which I need to learn about love. Instead, that comment conversation led elsewhere.

Perhaps I am doing the same here, but I did want to express my thankfulness for your simple, yet profound note on Love.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...


If you put her (or e-mail me) some specific questions or thoughts, I'll think about something and try to write up something, if you would like.

Phil said...

26. There is an added complexity here which I think you may want to flesh out, Rev. Dr. Stuckwisch.

Interpretations of the elements of the liturgy, and perhaps one could also say their meaning, have changed over time, with the result that differing interpretations have been offered. One example of this might be the maniple, which in my understanding first served the purpose of a purificator. Over time, the fact that it hangs over the arm came to symbolize the burdens of the Office of the Holy Ministry, however, and a separate purificator was used to cleanse the Chalice (and one could probably allegorize its whiteness as purity and go on from there).

I believe a situation like this is what you anticipate in this thesis. When students of the liturgy aren't patient, and they consider something like the maniple, they might respond with comments like "This is foolish, because you can't have two interpretations, and therefore maniples are meaningless and should be done away with," or possibly, "Something which began as a purely utilitarian item was encrusted with centuries of foolish pious ornamentation, and it should look like nothing more than a common dishcloth."

How should students of the liturgy be encouraged to deal with differences between earlier and later interpretations and usages of the same item, which might be seen as competing with one another, or even with contemporary competing interpretations? For example, is the church building consecrated because of the presence of God in the Sacrament or the presence of God in the people of God? Are these mutually exclusive or not? Is one or the other misleading?

The temptation is to dismiss everything as completely meaningless in the face of development and differing interpretations, and therefore we can bend anything and everything in the liturgy to suit our will. This is clearly wrong, yet I would think that at some point, one ought to be able to come to some conclusions; parish pastors need to, right?

Daniel said...

Rev. Dr. Stuckwisch,

Excellent comments that accurately read the issues in Lutheran liturgical issues today. Although no longer serving as a Lutheran pastor, I do care about what happens to my former Synod. From that perspective, my question is this: Would the LCMS in particular (and world-wide Confessional Lutheranism in general) benefit from an identifiable, NAMED Liturgy that laity can attend anywhere in the country or world and know that they are worshipping in a Christian Church? I am thinking of the Liturgy of Saint Gregory used in the Western Rite of the Orthodox church for instance.

Without such definitveness, in the age of the ocmputer every pastor can become a liturgical pope; and recent experience teaches us that all the patient catachesis in the world will not be able to bridle the amorphous result of such non-catholicity.

Fr. Daniel Hackney

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks for your comments and suggestions, Myrtle, Phil and Fr. Hackney. I appreciate what you have written, and have not intended to ignore your input. I've simply been swamped the last several days, and don't see much reprieve on the immediate horizon. I hope to return to the discussion soon. Thanks for your considerations and your thought, and for your patience in waiting.

Pr. Thomas E. Fast said...

The DP's have put theirs out:


Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I'm very tardy, bordering on negligent, in responding to the comments properly. Mea culpa. All of them have been read and appreciated, but my time and energy have been in short supply.

Pastor Brown, thank you for your helpful critique and suggestions.

4 - I mean to say that hearing and receiving the Divine Liturgy of the Gospel, in faith and with thanksgiving, is the highest worship of the New Testament. This "worship," which is faith in its active receptivity, continues throughout the week: in daily prayer, whether at home or in the assembled congregation, and also in the faithful work of one's proper vocations and stations in life.

12 - Yes, "freedom in worship" is the point at hand. There are all manner of other freedoms that one might consider in another context.

24 - Your suggestion is helpful, and gets to the point I intended.

25 - Certainly, I am thinking of traditional practices of the church catholic, but I used only "tradition" on purpose, as that which has been handed over and is received, in contrast to that which is self-devised and fabricated de novo. Obviously, not everything that is "traditional" is meet, right and salutary. However, as a matter of principle, "tradition" is usually more conducive to the Gospel than personal inovation.

26 - Your qualification of this thesis is likewise helpful and to the intended point.

32 - Yes, covering movement in the Liturgy is a legitimate purpose, especially in the sense that the movement is traditionally covered by the Word of God (usually the Psalms). Movement itself belongs to the thesis on ceremonies, that these are necessary as a consequence of living in the body.

By all means, the intended purpose of theses is to initiate discussion. I welcome more of that, and hope that my slow response has not squelched interest.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Phil, I appreciate very much your comments, as well, and I have been mulling over whether there is anything more for me to say in addition to the points you have made. In some respects, you are taking up the whole ball of wax in what you describe and suggest. There is development that occurs in the course of time, in ceremony as in language. There is also a good deal of freedom, which needs to be used in ways that are beneficial to the catechesis and confession of the Word, and thus beneficial to faith and love. So, yes, pastors do have to be able to evaluate and reach conclusions in their care of the congregations entrusted to their oversight.

Pastoral care and pastoral practice, including the pastoral administration of the Liturgy, is more than simply historical study. It flows in and with the preaching of the Gospel and aims always at repentance and faith in the forgiveness of sins. It also includes a responsibility to the fellowship of the Church (past, present, and eschatological). If it is engaged and exercised evangelically, as it ought to be, it will be undertaken as a catechesis of the Word of Christ, in faith toward God and in love for the neighbor.

These are the challenges to which I have attempted to address my thirty-five theses. And, again, I welcome further feedback and ongoing discussion, including constructive criticism and debate.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Father Hackney, thank you for your thoughtful comments and worthwhile suggestion. I am still pondering what that might look like, but the idea of a "named" order and form and conduct (and musical setting) of the Divine Liturgy appeals to me on a number of levels. Right now there is such confusion over terminology and what it means, differing from one place to the next. Often those differences and confusion derive more from the ceremonies that are used (and those that are not) than it does from differences in the rite per se. Although, as you point out, pastors with computers are easily able to modify the rite at whim; which certainly doesn't help matters.

My hesitation would be that there is a godly freedom, an evangelical recognition and use of adiaphora, which does not require the same conduct of the Divine Liturgy in all its jot-and-tittle details in each and every place. In fact, reverence and decorum, as well as evangelical clarity and integrity, really urge a certain adjustment and pastoral accommodation of the circumstances obtaining in each place. Of course there have always been local customs, and that is partly what I mean. But I mean, also, the differences between a large and small parish, differences in architecture, etc.

So, in short, what is not so clear in my mind is what the "name" of the "Named Liturgy" would actually designate and cover; and what would remain open and free to pastoral discernment and discretion. Identifying the particular content and contours of our unity in liturgical practice is the present challenge facing us within the orthodox Lutheran Church, in my opinion.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Rev. Stuckwisch,

Thank you for your reply - I've been eagerly awaiting this -- again, I think your original post was excellent and worthy of discussion. A few thoughts in reply.

25 -- This is small, but perhaps "The Tradition" would help to show that you are referring to the tradition as a whole as opposed to specific traditions. I say this because I could see too many people viewing this as referring to their own distinctives rather than the corporate whole.

This ends up being the problem with the word "tradition" -- so many people end up placing so many different meanings on that word - our tradition might mean so many different things. It has become a sadly imprecise word.

Phil said...

Pr. Stuckwisch,

Thank you for considering my thoughts here. I have a few more comments to offer:

You discuss the issue of catechesis. On an earlier discussion that unfortunately featured a fair amount of ad hominem argumentation, the question was posed whether ceremonies should be introduced without prior catechesis; there was some opposition to this idea, and I don't think it was completely unwarranted. I've thought about the question of catechesis and the liturgy, and that's what lead me to the thoughts I offered above regarding the "purpose" or "meaning" in the Liturgy...

It seems to me that catechesis in the Word, catechesis which involves the liturgy, can happen in at least two different ways:

1. The pastor catechizes the laity (and himself) in the Word by explaining the significance of the Liturgy: preaching Word and administering Sacrament in the divinely instituted rites and ceremonies and through the humanly developed rites and ceremonies.

2. The Liturgy itself directly catechizes the pastor and the laity, without explicit explanation. (Thus Sasse could say that the Liturgy sustained the Lutheran Church through Pietism and Rationalism.)

The first mode of catechesis is easy to support, understand, and envision. The pastor holds a study in which he explains the parts of the Liturgy and their significance (their meaning?). However, this makes me somewhat uneasy on one level. If this is all that the liturgy is seen to be, then it is like a screwdriver--small enough to be held in the hand, able to be wielded by the one in control of it to enact a purpose (catechizing). I've thought of it as utilitarianism before, although I'm not sure that's the right word. I tend to think of the liturgy, right or wrong, as something bigger, like a house or a garden--you can live inside it, walk through it, appreciate its flowers.

The second mode of catechesis is appealing to me but seems more difficult for me to understand or defend. For the Liturgy itself to be the direct agent of catechesis, you need certain things:

a. You need there to be a Liturgy with a definite article in front (The Liturgy), not an indefinite article (a liturgy, one among many different but equally decent liturgies) or a partative (liturgy / some liturgy, i.e. a certain quantity of something more or less uniform, which you can add to, take away from, etc.)

b. You need the Liturgy to have a definite meaning (at least, says Fagerberg?)... If it catechizes directly, it doesn't need an interpreter to perform an eisegesis of meaning into it, where the liturgy would be essentially meaningless until interpreted by someone.

Now, if the liturgy is viewed as one facet of the church's confession, some of this makes more sense to me. Dogmatic confessions are clarified through time; some are initially vague or silent on points that are later articulated and clarified.

This may be a helpful analogy for understanding your thesis 26, if I am correct in seeing the "traditional practices of the Church" in line with the words that are the traditional dogmatic formulations and terminology of the Church. The use of the philosophical term "substance", for example, would then be seen as analogous to a chasuble. Both existed in some form in the pagan culture, but were taken up by the Church for the purpose of confessing Christian truths. Meaning may be added to them, but the word or the vestment itself in some sense does not change. Over time, the usage may drift to some extent, but the Biblical significance ought to ground them. They can be misused, but they can also be used rightly, and so on.

What are your thoughts? Is "significance" and "meaning" the right thing to look for in the liturgy, or do you think these goals make for an insufficient framework for understanding the Liturgy?

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thank you for your further thoughtful comments, Phil. I'm hoping to get back to you on the specific points you raise, because they are very much to the heart of the matter. Really, you have taken up the whole scope of the discussion in your observations and remarks. I'm still processing, and it may be that I won't have further response to offer until after the Oktoberfest this coming week.

Phil said...

Thanks for your consideration, Pr. Stuckwisch. It seems to me that if a discussion of a single thesis of a set of theses leads to a discussion of a whole that encompasses the issue, it indicates that the theses are coherent and well-formulated.

Two additional thoughts, in passing:

In J. W. Montgomery's Tractatus, he contemplates Wittgenstein's argument that language in a certain sense must be able to represent reality fully. His sphere of discussion is apologetics, I acknowledge, but I think there is a deeper significance here. Are words (liturgical words and rubrical confessions) capable of representing reality (and furthermore, the Divine revelation)? Here is where Zwingli's alloeosis and Calvin's finitum non capax infiniti are capable of destroying all liturgy...

I appreciate your acknowledgment of the aesthetic quality of the liturgy. There is a video on YouTube of an interview between the Icelandic pop musician Bjork and the Estonian Orthodox composer Arvo Part. The first time I saw it, I almost burst into tears. Being familiar with Part's music, it was amazing to see what Bjork, the neo-pagan singer, could recognize in Part's music. I believe his points on the power of art (in this case, music), as well as her ability to recognize two motifs in Part's music (which should be highly noticeable to Lutherans!!!) are worth considering: