22 April 2013

Those Who Believed Had All Things in Common

Here is Part XI of my ACELC free conference paper (16 April 2013).  It is one of the sections that I omitted in my presentation of the paper, because of time constraints.  The entire paper will be made available on the ACELC website.

The Lutherans of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries regulated the practices of the churches within each territory, in the interest of a unified confession of the faith they held in common.  We in our day could, and should, learn something from them.

There does not need to be, nor could there be, a “lock-step uniformity” in all ceremonies.  However, a unity and harmony and consistency of practice, as belonging to our confession of fellowship in the Gospel, is desirable and would be edifying.  That was true at the time of the Reformation, and it is not less so in this modern age of internet communications and rapid mobility!

As Luther and others often cited, it is appropriate that we Christians should have common rites and ceremonies for the administration of the Sacraments, since we have the Sacraments themselves in common.  Indeed, we have one Lord, one faith, one Holy Baptism, one God and Father of all.  We are called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified by one and the same Holy Spirit, and we all partake of one Holy Communion.  We are all one Body in Christ Jesus, because we all eat of the one Bread, which is His Body; so do we all drink of the one Cup, which is the New Testament in His Blood.  As our fellowship is found in the Sacrament, it is appropriate that our celebration of the Supper be similar.

The regulating of adiaphorous rubrics, rites, and ceremonies within the good order of the Church’s fellowship, within a particular jurisdiction of the Church’s life on earth, is not contrary to the Gospel, but serves the confession and catechesis of the Gospel within the Church’s catholicity of faith and love.  Such commonly agreed-upon rubrics, coupled with the supervision of an overseer, or “bishop,” provides for a common practice from place to place, and from week to week, while it also allows room for genuine pastoral care of the Church in each time and place.

This approach to the life of the Church, as a fellowship of congregations in the unity of the faith, is beneficial, not only to the mutual relationships of the congregations with one another, but also to the life of each congregation, and to the relationship of pastors and people within each congregation.

Pastors benefit from the use of what has been received and adopted in common.  Especially because  it is the case that pastoral piety, in both large and small ways, is never simply personal or private, but is public, “political,” and pedagogical.  The people learn from their pastor’s practice.  They also pick up on discrepancies between his preaching and his practice (as in his handling of the Sacrament).

Parishioners benefit, too, when pastors use the common rites and ceremonies of the Church, rather than inventing their own practices, or else importing practices from outside of the Lutheran Church.  Wilhelm Löhe advised, for example, that a layperson should be able to discern where there is Lutheran doctrine and Lutheran worship, by comparing what the pastor preaches and teaches with the Small Catechism, and by comparing what the pastor says and does in the Divine Service with the rubrics, rites, and ceremonies of the Lutheran Liturgy.  In any event, the people of God should not be asked or expected to pray and confess words which they have never seen before, and which they will most likely never see again.  How shall they give their “Amen” to such things, without even knowing where they came from?  Of course, they listen attentively to the sermon, which they haven’t heard ahead of time; but they are not asked to pray and confess the sermon, nor to give their “Amen” to it, without first being given an adequate opportunity to follow it through and to consider it against the Scriptures.

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