Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Explanation of the Common Service — Part 2

by Douglas Lindee

Last week, we posted Part 1 of a series of blog posts from Explanation of the Common Service, which covered the FOREWORD and INTRODUCTION from this little book. With today's post, we continue by beginning the Explanation of THE ORDER OF The Service, from the Invocation through the Preparation.

Before proceeding, I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit a concept that was mentioned in last week's post, to expand upon it a little bit in hopes of drawing out and highlighting the notion of Lutheran catholicity. Last week, I quoted Rev. Spencer as stating that a reading of this Explanation "...was one way our first WELS Pastor introduced us to the Wisconsin Synod - we were going to go 'independent' at first. It was his way of telling us that the WELS ...was fully Lutheran and fully 'catholic'." What does it mean that Lutherans are "fully catholic?"

In the Nicene Creed, along with all other church bodies who confess it, we Lutherans confess the following:
    I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.
Likewise, in the Confessions themselves, particularly in the Augsburg Confession and its Apology, great care is given to assure Emporer Charles, the Roman Christians, and the whole world, that our confession does not depart in teaching or practice from that of Scripture and the Church catholic, and to rigorously defend against Roman accusations that the Lutheran Confessions place it outside the Church catholic. For example, in preforatory statements to Article XXII of the Augsburg Confession (which, immediately following a positive confession of our doctrine, opens a reveiw of Roman abuses that Lutherans reject), we confess:
    Inasmuch, then as our churches dissent in no article of the faith from the Church catholic, but only omit some abuses which are new, and which have been erroneously accepted by the corruption of the times, contrary to the intent of the Canons, we pray that Your Imperial Majesty would graciously hear both what has been changed, and what were the reasons why the people were not compelled to observe those abuses against their conscience... it can readily be judged that nothing would serve better to maintain the dignity of ceremonies, and to nourish reverence and pious devotion among the people than if the ceremonies were observed rightly in the churches. (AC XXII).
Likewise, in the conclusion of Augustana it is reiterated:
    Only those things have been recounted whereof we thought that it was necessary to speak, in order that in doctrine and ceremonies nothing has been received on our part against Scripture or the Church catholic. For it is manifest that we have taken most diligent care that no new and ungodly doctrine should creep into our churches. (Conclusion of the Augsburg Confession)
Here are additional references from the Book of Concord which make an appeal to Lutheran catholicity: AC XXI:5, , AP II:32, AP II:51, AC XXIII:72 and AP XIV:3, and AP XXIV:6. Additionally, Article 7 of the Apology goes into detail concerning what it means, doctrinally speaking, that the Church is "catholic," i.e., the universality of the Church, across time and location; and this is reiterated under point two in the Comprehensive Summary of the Epitome of the Formula of Concord, where the Latin unanimem catholicae Christianae fidei is translated as "unanimous, universal Christian faith" (following the German version, which reads einhelligen, allgemeinen christlichen Glauben). How this understanding of the Church catholic is translated to practice is illuminated in Article XII of the Apology, where both the Romans and the Lutherans appeal to "the consensus of the Church [what the Church catholic, universal, holds]," in a dispute over what consensus held on the point at issue (in that case, Rome held to a "consensus" which was at variance with the "consensus of the prophets").

More pointedly, Dr. Heinrich Schmid, author and editor of Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, a definitive summary of the Lutheran body of doctrine taught through the Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy, defines this phrase as follows:
    To the Church belong all those who have the same faith and the same hope, however widely they may be separated one from another by space and time. The Church embraces, therefore, not only those now living, but, as well, those who have died in the faith; and between both there is only this difference, that the latter have already reached the goal, the former are still striving after it (Church Triumphant, Militant). There is, therefore, only one such communion, because there is only one head to whom all are subject, and only one faith through which they can be saved. This communion we then call holy because in it the Holy Ghost is operating, to sanctify it; catholic, because, however widely the members of the Church are scattered, yet at all times and in all places the same faith is confessed; apostolic, because its faith, resting upon that proclaimed by the apostles, has never, in the course of time, been changed.

    Only those who belong to this communion are certain of their salvation, for the only way of salvation lies in the faith which is the faith of this communion. To this communion, moreover, the promise is given that it shall endure for all time, and it can never fall into error, because in the Word of God it possesses the eternal truth (pp. 598-599).
From this it is clearly seen, that while our apostolicity is a reference, not to historical practice, but to the permanence and unchangableness of our doctrine according to the teachings of the Apostles, our catholicity is a reference to what we do with our apostolic doctrine: namely, we confess it, in common with all Christians of all times and locations. That is, catholicity is a reference to practice, a living out of our apostolic doctrine in a way that is representative of churchly consensus across time and location, as prima facia evidence that it is part of the communion of faith established by the Apostles and preserved by the Holy Spirit through the ages. This is consistent with the usage given to the term in our Confessions, which appeals both to the teachings of Scripture and the Church catholic.

Yet, it would seem, that the term catholicity covers all Christians, of all creeds, of all times and locations, such that any practice one may choose is acceptable since some Christian somewhere may have engaged in it, and it, hence, falls somewhere under the umbrella of "consensus." That this arbitrary notion of church practice is entirely inconsistent with the Confessional use of the term "Church catholic" hardly needs more explanation than to point out that its use in the Confessions was made for the simple purpose of distinguishing those Christians within the confession of the Church catholic from those who are outside of it. Those outside the confession of the Church catholic, those who are non-catholic, are referred to as sectarian. Who are these sectarians? They are the heterodox, as false doctrine automatically places one outside the confession of the Church catholic. They are those who may have a tenacious claim to apostolic doctrine, who yet maintain a positive rejection of catholic identity. They are those who reject the Ecumenical Creeds, in whole or in part. Examples include the Baptists, who boast of a history entirely outside anything that could be visibly identified as "Church," but which instead proceeds through a succession of individuals -- to which testimony is given not only in their teachings but in their practices as well. Examples from the era of the Lutheran Confessors include mystics, enthusiasts, and the Anabaptists. A more recent example is the phenomenon of Pentecostalism, which in 1906 coalesced on Asuza Street, Los Angelas, California, due to 19th century influences emanating from Irvingite charasmaticism in Scotland, the revivalism of Charles Finney and other figures of the Second Great Awakening, and the Holiness Movement within American Methodism.

Should Lutherans, who regard practice as integral to their public confession, engage in the practices of these sects -- practices which are intended by their creators to confess doctrine apart from our own, practices which are recognized by heterodox Christians to mean something unique to sectarian understanding? Do we wish to confess by adopting sectarian practices that we embrace an apostolicity apart from catholicity? It is a serious question to consider, given that such practices do in fact constitute ecumenical expression, that, indeed, the importation of such practices into the historic mainline denominations began in the 1950's as a result of efforts by ecumenical pentecostals, like David J. du Plessis, who sought to promote the pentecostal experience as an ecumencial bridge to other Christians. It was from these efforts that the Charismatic Renewal of the 1960s and '70s sprang, and the reason we are forced to struggle with these questions today.

NOTE: Other installments in this series can be found at the following links:IN ADDITION, this entire series was republished as the single blog post,along with the following companion blog posts:

An Explanation of the Common Service (1908)
Board of Publication of the General Council of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America

To the
Young Lutheran who asks
The Meaning of the
Beautiful Liturgy of
His church


ORDER OF The Service OR The Communion
24. What name is given to our principal Service?

Order of The Service or The Communion. German: Haupt-Gottesdienst (Chief Service). Swedish: Högmässa (High Mass). Norwegian and Danish: Höimesse (High Mass). The term Mass is authorized by the Augsburg Confession (Art. XXIV).

25. Should it be used at any other than a morning hour?
Certainly. It should always be used when only one service is held on Sunday; and also whenever the Communion is administered.

26. What private preparation should the Christian make before attending the Service on the Lord's Day?
He should devoutly read the Introit, Collect, Epistle and Gospel, of the Day.

27.What should be the first act of the worshiper upon entering the House of God?
He should bow his head in silent prayer, asking God to prepare his heart for worship.
    O God, Send Thy Holy Spirit into my heart, that He may enable me to receive the gift of grace which Thou hast for me this Day, through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.
28. Why may a hymn of invocation of the Holy Ghost precede the Service?
Because it is only by the Holy Ghost that we can render worship to God through Christ. I Cor. 12:3; Eph. 2:18.

"In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

29. Why does the Service begin in the name of the Triune God?
Because God has revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and it is by His authority that the Minister proclaims the Gospel, and for His worship that a Christian congregation assembles. Compare Ex. 3:13-14, and Matt. 18:20.

30.Why does the congregation respond, Amen?
Amen means, So be it. By its use here the congregation accepts and confirms the words of the Minister.

The Preparation: The Confession of Sins
31. What is the purpose of the preparatory Confession?
It prepares the hearts of both Minister and congregation for communion with God. Without sincere confession of sin, God does not bestow His grace upon us; nor does He accept our sacrifices of prayer, praise and thanksgiving.

32. Name the several parts of the Preparation.
    I. The Exhortation
    II. The Versicle
    III. The Confession of Sins
    IV. The Prayer for Grace
    V. The Declaration of Grace

The Exhortation
“Beloved in the Lord! Let us draw near with a true heart, and confess our sins unto God our Father, beseeching Him, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to grant us forgiveness.”

33. What is suggested in this Exhortation?
“Let us draw near,” i.e., The entrance to the Divine Sanctuary is always open to us, our great High Priest and Reconciler being there to receive us. This approach is the mark of a true believer. Read Heb. 10:22

“With a true heart,” i.e., Properly prepared to confess; not hypocritical or double-minded; conscious of our depravity and failings. Read Psalm 32:5 and I John 1:8-9.

“And confess our sins,” etc. This we do in the following Confession.

“Beseeching Him ...forgiveness.” This we do in the Prayer for Grace.

The Versicle
“Our help is in the Name of the Lord. Who made heaven and earth.
I said I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord. And Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.

34. What is the office of a Versicle?
Versicles are short passages of Scripture intended to incite the worshipers to devotion and to suggest the central thought of what follows. Here the Versicle encourages us to approach.

35. Where is this Versicle found?
In Psalms 124 and 32.

36. What is indicated in the Versicle?
    1. From Whom our help comes
    2. God's power to help
    3. The condition on which help is granted
    4. A word of God assuring help
37. What is contained in the Confession proper?
    I. A confession to God by the Minister for himself and the congregation,
      1. Of original sin,
      2. Of actual sin in thought, word, and deed.
    II. An avowal to God that we flee from this sin to His mercy, seeking His grace through Christ.

The Prayer for Grace
“O Most merciful God, Who hast given Thine Only-begotten Son to die for us, have mercy upon us, and for His sake grant us remission of all our sins: and by Thy Holy Spirit increase in us true knowledge of Thee, and of Thy will, and true obedience to Thy Word, to the end that by Thy grace we may come to everlasting life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

38. What is contained in the Prayer for Grace?
    I. The ground of this prayer – the death of Christ.
    II. The petitions of this prayer,
      1. For mercy
      2. For grace
      3. For an increase:
        (a) of the knowledge of God and His will, and
        (b) of true obedience to His Word
    III. The object of this prayer – that through God's grace we may come to everlasting life.

The Declaration of Grace
“Almighty God, our heavenly Father, hath had mercy upon us, and hath given His Only Son to die for us, and for His sake forgiveth us all our sins. To them that believe on His Name, He giveth power to become sons of God, and hath promised them His Holy Spirit. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved. Grant this, O Lord, unto us all. Amen.”

39. What is contained in the Declaration of Grace?
    I. That God has always had mercy upon us, and therefore gave His Son to die for us.
    II. That for Christ's sake He now forgives us all our sins.
    III. That to those who believe He grants the increase of knowledge and obedience for which they pray, by giving them power to become the sons of God, and by giving unto them His Holy Spirit.
40. With what does this Declaration close?
With the prayer that the Holy Spirit may work this faith in us, and thus apply to each heart the forgiveness which Christ has obtained for it.

These words (“Grant this, O Lord, unto us all”) resolve what precedes into a prayer for the forgiveness of the confessing penitent, which was the earliest form of the Absolution (precative). The form in the Order of Public Confession is declarative (“I declare unto you,” etc.). The form used in the Roman Church is indicative (“I absolve thee”).

41. What is the significance of the Amen here?
It affirms our belief that God has forgiven our sins. Amen: Yea, yea, it shall be so.


Brian G. Heyer said...

At the North Wisconsin District Convention, Prof. Schuetze remarked that in his conversations with other church bodies, they often lament that they wish they had a more orderly, structured, 'liturgical' service.

To me it seems they are seeking the treasure that some in WELS casually (or eagerly) toss aside.

Lisette Anne Lopez said...

I was born and raised in the WELS. I am in no way perfect, but I know I have a Savior and a Triune God. I can't imagine not being a catholic Lutheran, or not worshiping using the apostolic doctrine. I would be insulting my Father above if I didn't sincerely believe in what I confess. But, I could never put up with sectarian teachers or false doctrine. It's difficult enough just living among them in this world. All these other "Christian" churches. I pray for those who are led astray and lost and who just don't know.
In turn, those holding and practicing unorthodox doctrine should review themselves, turn around and run back to their Savior and repent. That is possible. And if in fact this also applies to the other members or pastors within the WELS, I suggest they grab their white flags now and wave them high! Turn back!

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