Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Liturgy Review: Lutheran Catholicity


Sundberg, Walter. Worship as Repentance: Lutheran Liturgical Traditions and Catholic Consensus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012. 206 Pages. Paper. $18.00. www.eerdmans.com (L)

Zeeden, Ernst Walter. Translated by Kevin G. Walker. Faith and Act: The Survival of Medieval Ceremonies in the Lutheran Reformation. St. Louis: Concordia, 2012. 148 Pages. Paper. $36.99. https://www.cph.org/p-18165-faith-and-act-the-survival-of-medieval-ceremonies-in-the-lutheran-reformation.aspx (LHP)

I love discussing the liturgy with other liturgical Christians. These two titles by Eerdmans and Concordia will help you see the small-c catholicity of the preserved liturgical traditions of the Lutheran Reformation.

First, the title from Eerdmans:

Against contemporary trends that conceive of Christian worship primarily as entertainment or sheer celebration, Walter Sundberg argues that repentance is the heart of authentic worship. In Worship as Repentance Sundberg outlines the history of repentance and confession within liturgical practice from the early church to mid-twentieth-century Protestantism, advocating movement away from the "eucharistic piety" common in mainline worship today and toward the "penitential piety" of older traditions of Protestant worship.

Read more about the book in a blog post by Sundberg and another post by Eerdmans editor Tom Raabe on EerdWord.

Walter Sundberg is professor of church history at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota, an ordained Lutheran pastor, and the author (with Roy A. Harrisville) of The Bible in Modern Culture: Baruch Spinoza to Brevard Childs

(Publisher's Website)

Repentance is not a popular word in American Evangelicalism or the Mainline Progressive churches, but it is at the heart of the Lutheran confession of the Christian faith. An attack on confession and absolution (and the sacraments as means of grace) seems to be a common thread in the protestantizing of our inherited catholic consensus of the theology and practice of worship.

Sundberg, an ordained ELCA pastor and professor, calls his own church body to repentance. Given the references (and appendices) to resources in the ELCA (and predecessor bodies') tradition, I did at times feel like an outsider overhearing a conversation not entirely intended for me.

I was personally struck by the theological profundity of the authors use of a relatively obscure literature reference:

"....Into this world comes the promise of release, the offer of the grace of God. To receive this grace requires one thing and one thing only: repentance. To teach this central fact of Christian faith, to give it unerring, objective expression is the purpose of Catholic worship in Brideshead Revisited: worship as practicesd unchanged for centuries, worship as repentance. When the church worships in this way it demonstrates the dogmatic principle Ecclesia semper eadem: the church is always the same (ix).

So much for the latest fads!

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.


Our second title is from Concordia:

The Reformation did not happen overnight, not with the singular act of posting of the Ninety-Five Theses, or even the presentation of the Augsburg Confession.

Prof. Dr. Zeeden's classic study of how medieval church practices continued and developed within Lutheran church orders offers readers a unique perspective on how faith influences the act of worship. Historians of liturgy and theology will discover insights and important continuity between the Lutheran churches of the sixteenth century and their forebears of the late medieval period.

(Publisher's Website)

Faith and Act is another "Peer Reviewed" title from CPH, one that did not go through the typical LCMS Doctrinal Review process.

I remain convinced that the Lutheran Church is more small-c catholic than any other alternative tradition in Christianity. This is most clearly seen in the Lutheran Confessions. Secondarily, this is also shown as theology in action at worship, a purified, historic, and catechizing liturgical and hymnological faith life (both corporate and personal).

Read Musculus' 1536 description of a Lutheran Divine Service (from a Reformed perspective, 12ff). 

Consider reports on the use of vestments in the Lutheran church in the centuries after Luther (32ff). 

Connect Faith and Act to Worship as Repentance by reading about sacramental absolution (49ff). 

Finally, compare Sixteenth Century liturgies to those in Lutheran Service Book and its contempories as worship resources. Where else have so many medieval ceremonies so faithfully survived?

I am thankful for these two titles and would ask Concordia, Eerdmans and other publishers to consider publishing more titles on liturgiology and hymnology, especially long-out-of-print titles in print-on-demand or digital formats.

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, Yellowstone Circuit Visitor (LCMS Wyoming District), a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.

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