Monday, January 18, 2010

Perspectives on the MTC, #8

From Pastor Weedon.


Feed: Weedon's Blog
Posted on: Saturday, January 16, 2010 2:08 PM
Author: William Weedon
Subject: More Meditation on Worship Conference


Before the conference was ever held, Pr. Asburry noted that the question that is ultimately behind all the discussions will likely not be addressed: the question of authority. He was prescient. It is the "white elephant" in the room of American Lutheranism. Granted that many of the questions before us do indeed fall into the category of adiaphora (neither commanded nor forbidden); granted that not all adiaphora are created equal (Arand); WHO regulates adiaphora or church ceremony?

Our Symbols are not silent on this, but neither are they entirely helpful, for they propose a solution within a framework that is no longer in existence for us. The AC says this is the task of pastors and bishops and that within certain carefully defined parameters, the congregations owe them obedience in such matters, even though these are not matters of salvation or anything close. The FC says that the Church in every "land" (the territorial church) has the authority to increase or decrease such ceremonies. Notice that in both references to the Symbols, we have a transparochial recognition: bishop and the territorial church.

How that worked out you can see from studying the Church Orders. Take the order promulgated under Duke Julius for Braunschweig-Wölfenbüttel and authored by the two principal writers of the Formula: Chemnitz and Andreaea. Its corpus doctrinae makes it utterly clear that uniformity in ceremonies is not necessary to true churchly unity and that in no way should humanly instituted ceremonies be thought of as salvific. And yet, the order extols the benefits of uniformity for the sake of a united confession of the truth and to avoid needless controversy. It mandates by force of law the use of the ceremonies as prescribed within the territory. Nor do they look only to themselves; but they weigh the practice of neighboring territories as they formulate church ceremony. The end result is a legally binding standard by which Superintendents could hold pastors and parishes accountable, yet equally clear was that this standard did not descend on gold plates from heaven. It was not intended to be irreformable, but it was intended to be used and any deviation from it was to be remedied. Uniformity was not extolled as constituting the Church's unity, but as being of service to that unity.

Fast forward several hundred years and across the ocean. We have now lived as Lutherans in America for a long time. Here there is neither bishop nor territorial church. What has happened? We have an atomization of the Church whereby each parish and each pastor become the equivalent of the bishop and the territorial church - and each fiercely guards his respective turf no matter which side of the question of worship one comes down on.

It there a way out of the impasse without addressing head on the question of authority in an honest and open way? The Synod repeatedly frames her convention resolutions as "encourage the congregations of Synod to..." Is it even possible for there be a true transparochial solution to the disarray in worship practices? I fear the answer is no, unless we are able to address the matter of authority and to learn again the virtue of humble submission to one another in the joy of the Gospel.

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