Friday, December 18, 2009

From the Chancel: Dr. Pieper on Liturgical Practice

I urge our readers to consider the following extended quote in context. Do not merely look for "ammunition" for your particular position in the current LCMS debate on worship theology and practice. Instead, think about the big picture of unity in the faith, which is primary, and exercise or self-limitation of Gospel freedom for the sake of love for brother pastors and sister congregations.

Let us stop talking past one another and acknowledge what truly unites or divides us. Further, let us consider what may lead to Godly unity in doctrine and practice in our Synod.

We may not demand complete agreement in so-called theological problems, that means in questions that are not decided in God's Word. That would be overreaching. This also follows form the nature of faith. Faith has place only over against divine revelation. Where there is no Word of God, neither can there be faith.

And neither may we demand that agreement in liturgical practice [gottesdienstlichen Gebraechen], ceremonies, ecclesiastical constitution, and similar matters belong to the essence of unity in the faith. Why? Because these things are left free in God's Word. What we are to preach is prescribed in the Word of God: the entire Word of God, and that purely and clearly. But the place, the time, and manner of worship [Gottesdienst] stands in the freedom of an individual Christian congregation. Whether before the sermon one, two, or three hymns are sung; whether we place the absolution at the beginning of the service or let it follow the sermon; whether a so-called liturgical service is present or not; whether the pastor sings or speaks the liturgy--on these matters, we find no prescription in the Word of God. Every congregation can direct these matters as it appears to it most appropriate. Similarity in ceremonies may not be treated as a factor when dealing with unity in the faith. In general, what belongs to the so-called adiaphora, that which God's Word has neither commanded nor forbidden, may not be regarded as belonging to the essence of unity. It is true that similarity in ceremonies is not under all circumstances and in every connection a matter of indifference. But it is completely indifferent with respect to the complete unity in the faith. All congregations are one that have the same doctrine, even if they have different ceremonies. On the other hand, there may be external unity of form like uniformed soldiers [marching lockstep], but if there is no unity in the faith, in doctrine, then all their unity is mere appearance. In short, similiarity in ceremonies and constitution is not under all circumstances and in all connections a matter of no significance, but [it is] completely indifferent with respect to the essense of unity in the faith.

Thus says Augsburg Confession, Article VII: "For it is sufficient 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 tru unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be ovserved uniformly in all places."

To be sure, our Confession also gives expression to the thought that similarity in certain ceremonies in another connection is not at all a matter of no concern. For instance, since we have certain ceremonies in common with the Ancient Church, we demonstrate in a way, also externally, that we acknowledge our connection with this Church. But our Confession continues to assert that this unity in external order does not come into consideration when we are dealing with the essense of Christian unity. Apology VII/VIII states:

We like it when universal rites are observed for the sake of tranquility. So in our churches we willingly observe the order of the Mass, the Lord's Day, and the other more important feast days. With a very thankful spirit we cherish the useful and ancient ordinances, especially when they contain a discipline that serves to educated and instruct the people and the inexperienced. Now, we are not discussing whether it is profitable to observe them for the sake of tranquility or bodily profit. Another issue is involved. The question is whether the observance of human tradition is an act of worship necessary for righteousness before God. [And we add analogously: Without such requirements, the Church cannot be united. F. Pieper] This must be settled in this controversy, and only then can we decide whether it is necessary for the true unity of the Church that human traditions be alike everywhere. (Ap VII/VIII 33-34)
 In addition, it has been asserted that when Christians from one congregation move to another, they don't feel at home because the ceremonies are different. Now, as desirable as it is that for the sake of such weak [Christians] that the ceremonies in the same communion might be as uniform as possible, these people should be instructed and shown that what has to do with true Christian fellowship has to do only with doctrine and not with ceremonies, constitutions, or even synods. It can be harmful when we fail to direct the people away from indifferent matters to the Word of God. It should be so among us that when we come into one church and find the same ceremonies we have but another doctrine, then we cannot feel at home. And vice versea: Where we indeed find different ceremonies but the same doctrine, and receive the same Gospel, there we should feel at home. For there is Christ. Where God's Word is preached clearly and purely, there we hear the voice of Christ.

By unity in the faith, we understand the actual agreement in docrine...

Francis Pieper,
"On Unity in the Faith,"
from At Home in the House of My Fathers, 579-580,
emphases and indentations original.