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April 30, 2008


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Note in direct answer to your question, but I think helpful nonetheless . . . I wrote a post back in September about a Lutheran Daily Office in which I talk about the freedom that Lutherans have traditionally held in matters of worship. Most Lutherans embrace the traditional liturgy as handed down by the holy catholic church, but that embrace is a matter of Christian freedom, not a core element of Lutheran identity. Word and Sacrament are not adiaphora, but how we share and celebrate the Word and Sacrament - the ceremonies and prayers and gestures that surround the Word and Sacrament - is a matter of adiaphora.

Check out my old post - The Daily Offices & ELW - if you're interested.

Chris Jones


Thanks for your comment. I think it is, in fact, a direct answer to the question when you say that embrace is a matter of Christian freedom, not a core element of Lutheran identity. That pretty much says that the liturgy is an adiaphoron, and that the Gottesdienst editors are wrong.

Thanks, too, for the reference to the post on your weblog. It was helpful and interesting, as was the referenced article by Dr Pfatteicher and the comments thread on your post. While I agree with the commenter who described Dr Pfatteicher as "cranky and grumpy", I also very much identify with the comments by Pr Frontz.

I am glad you stopped by -- I used to read your weblog regularly but I had gotten out of the habit. I've added it to my feed reader.

Burnell Eckardt

From the editors of Gottesdienst:

Our provocative slogan is actually meant to say exactly what it says, but to the common ear.

That is, we do not intend hereby to insist that the Western liturgy must be considered inflexible, nor that other liturgical traditions are necessarily in error. That would be to misunderstand the liturgy itself, of course, to say nothing of AC VII.

What we do mean to say is that, on the other hand, the manner in which we worship, or even whether we worship, ought never be considered indifferent. This, as you are surely well aware, is a major front of battle in Christianity in our day, especially in America, where it seems that the limits of what is acceptable in worship are daily pushed.

In short, this slogan says that the 'how' of worship matters.

You might even say that our slogan is another way of saying lex orandi, lex credendi, but with a bite.

Incidentally, the Trinity issue of Gottesdienst is out of the barn, as of today. To subscribe (which I doubly recommend to every reader of this blog), log on by at www.gottesdienst.org today.

John H

Could part of the issue be a disjunction between how the word "indifferent" is used in everyday language, and its technical usage in the sense of an "adiapharon"?

The problem is that if you say, in a modern, consumerist, rights-oriented culture, "Liturgy is a thing indifferent", very many people will respond: "Well, that's great! That means we can do what we like, and it doesn't matter". That's obviously a very different setting from one in which every church in a given country would be using much the same liturgy, and the question was then whether that liturgy had to be as determined by Rome as a matter of divine law, or determined by national churches as a matter of good order but nevertheless an adiaphoron.

The question of how you bridge the gap between liturgy as something commanded in Scripture (which it isn't, other than a few telling details) and worship as a freewheeling free-for-all dictated solely by people's "taste" is not an easy one to answer in our culture.

Chris Jones


Could part of the issue be a disjunction between how the word "indifferent" is used in everyday language, and its technical usage in the sense of an "adiaphoron"?

I think not. Fr Eckardt can correct me if I am wrong but I think the slogan was composed advisedly to refer to adiaphora in the specific technical sense. If it means "lex orandi, lex credendi, but with a bite" then the "bite" is the reference to adiaphora in the technical sense. If there is an irreducible essence of the liturgy that is given to us by God, then treating liturgy as something of our own devising, to do with what we will, is not simply unwise. A liturgy created by man is, in this view, no longer the Gospel rightly preached and the sacraments rightly administered, and thus actually destroys the Church.

I actually think this view, in this strong form, is correct. The liturgy in its essential structure and function (though not, by and large, in its specific texts) is indeed Apostolic and therefore Dominical, and thus not to be tampered or trifled with. That is what I think Leitourgia Divina adiaphora non est is actually saying. What interests me most is not whether or not this view is correct (I think it clearly is), but how it relates to the principle of Sola Scriptura as it appears in the Lutheran Confessions and is understood in Lutheranism. Because even if the essence of the liturgy is God-given, it is clearly not given by God in the Scriptures. The NT clearly presupposes an existing liturgical praxis, which is authoritative even though the NT itself does not explicitly lay it out.

If liturgically traditional Lutherans don't accept that view, then they can only defend the historic liturgy as being highly desirable and advisable, not as being of the essence of the Church; and they can have no principled defense against almost any form of "creative" worship. And they certainly cannot claim that the historic liturgy is anything but an adiaphoron.

Josh S

First, I believe you're wrong on the institution of the Supper. I think the overall context of Matthew portrays Christ as constituting a community around himself, creating the apostolic ministry to serve and shepherd the community, and creating the sacraments as the means by which the community is created and defined. Perhaps if you snip the institution narrative out of its context within both the larger narrative of Matthew and the even greater context of Matthew as apostolic communication of Christ's teaching to the Church, you can get communion in your kitchen, but not taken in its context. Don't concede the Bible to the Baptists so readily.

It's also very, very difficult to argue that the components of the historic liturgy found in Scripture are the source of the text rather than the other way around. In some cases, such as the Gloria Patri, it's quite obvious that they were drawn from the text, since the date of their introduction can be established.

Furthermore, we do not regard the apostles as creators. That is, the apostles did not create doctrines or normative practices. Even if St John himself first taught his congregation to sing the Sanctus, that doesn't make it a binding practice for the whole Church if Christ didn't institute or teach it. Besides, there is no Christian tradition that does everything the apostles did in the NT (kiss of peace? love feast?), and everyone does things the apostles didn't do.

Liturgy isn't indifferent, but no, there is no fundamental liturgical law instituted by Christ beyond hearing his teaching and celebrating his sacraments. "Freedom" really does mean "freedom," not "the regulations of the Torah have been replaced by the regulations of the Church."

Given that, the real question should be "So why don't Lutherans change things willy-nilly?" with the assumption that we have some pretty good theological reason other than "Jesus wrote the liturgy himself because St So-and-So said so."

Eric Phillips

I think liturgies forms are adiaphora. Some are objectively better than others, but those who use inferior forms aren't sinning.

Eric Phillips

I wish I could delete the word "forms" in the first sentence.

Steve Martin

I think we are free to use it...or not.

That's what freedom is all about it...isn't it?

- Steve Martin

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