Friday, June 25, 2010

The first intrepid Lutherans

480 years ago today the first intrepid Lutherans offered their Confession (and their heads) to Emperor Charles V at Augsburg.

Some have quipped that those German princes risked their lives for God’s Word, not for this or that worship practice. Really?

It wasn’t a Bible they plopped down before the Emperor. It was their Confession regarding God’s Word that they recited in Augsburg. It was their Confession of faith that distinguished them from the Roman Catholics and from the sects, who all claimed equally to be following God’s Word, but weren’t. It was their Confession of faith that linked them to the Church catholic, both in doctrine and in practice. It was their Confession of faith to which they signed their names. It was their Confession of faith that made them Lutheran.

It’s a “quia” (“because it is true”) subscription to that same Confession of faith that makes someone Lutheran today. Either one fully accepts it (and the other Lutheran Confessions) and has the right to the name “Lutheran” or one doesn’t and is no Lutheran, or worse, uses the Lutheran name deceitfully. One doesn’t get to pick and choose which articles to believe, teach and confess.

This includes all those articles in which Melanchthon wrote so beautifully about Christ as our righteousness before God and about justification by faith alone in Christ. It includes the articles that speak so clearly about the Means of Grace and the forgiveness of sins. And yes, it also includes Article XXIV which does not state some “culturally influenced, random” decision on the part of the Lutherans to continue to celebrate the Mass, but rather their belief and confession about the Mass which led them to continue to celebrate it.
Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among us, and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved ... For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned be taught what they need to know of Christ…

The people are accustomed to partake of the Sacrament together, if any be fit for it, and this also increases the reverence and devotion of public worship. For none are admitted except they be first examined. The people are also advised concerning the dignity and use of the Sacrament, how great consolation it brings anxious consciences, that they may learn to believe God, and to expect and ask of Him all that is good. In this connection they are also instructed regarding other and false teachings on the Sacrament. This worship pleases God; such use of the Sacrament nourishes true devotion toward God…

Wherefore the Mass is to be used to this end, that there the Sacrament [Communion] may be administered to them that have need of consolation; as Ambrose says: Because I always sin, I am always bound to take the medicine… Now, forasmuch as the Mass is such a giving of the Sacrament, we hold one communion every holy-day, and, if any desire the Sacrament, also on other days, when it is given to such as ask for it. And this custom is not new in the Church; for the Fathers before Gregory make no mention of any private Mass, but of the common Mass [the Communion] they speak very much…

Forasmuch, therefore, as the Mass with us has the example of the Church, taken from the Scripture and the Fathers, we are confident that it cannot be disapproved, especially since public ceremonies, for the most part like those hither to in use, are retained…

On this Presentation of the Augsburg Confession Day, let us recommit ourselves to confessional Lutheranism – to every article of every creed and confession contained in the Book of Concord, because they are faithful to the Holy Scriptures. Let us all, within the WELS, pray for the courage and conviction to stand up before the world and confess the same faith as the first intrepid Lutherans.


Lisette Anne Lopez said...

Thank you.
Glory goes to God!

Pastor Boehringer said...

To celebrate this important anniversary, our congregation and our sister congregation offered a Friday night Vespers service. During the service the pastors and the congregation read the first 12 articles of the Augsburg Confession aloud.

After the service, a few members wanted to know more about this declaration of dependence on Jesus Christ. The whole evening was well-received and 36 folks from the two congregations came.

Whenever we can raise the profile of the Large Catechism, the Augsburg Confession, or the Book of Concord as a whole, it's a win-win.

I've been talking about the Augsburg Confession since I was installed a year ago, but a chance to actually read it out loud before the people was wonderful.

To God Alone Be The Glory!

AP said...

I have an old WELS hymnal (in German) that belonged to my great-grandmother, which was printed in Milwaukee in the 1870s. It includes the entire text of the Augsburg Confession. Perhaps, when it comes time to revise our own hymnal, there should be serious discussion into including it again.

Dr. Aaron Palmer

Ric Rocheleau said...

I agree with Dr. Palmer. We should seriously consider including the Augsburg Confession in our next hymnal revision--the Small Catechism too.

Ric Rocheleau

Pr. Benjamin Tomczak said...

Luke ~

Great idea (Friday night Vespers!)! For the last three years I've simply taken the Sunday nearest June 25 and celebrated the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession.

Somewhere along the way I came across a service someone in the WELS prepared that used a number of portions of the Augustana (14 readings this year) scattered throughout the liturgy.

I ask our laymen to serve as readers, representing the laymen who stood before Charles V and made the confession (Last year I had a native German speaker read portions of the introduction and conclusion, so it could be heard as originally presented.).

Also, this year I came across a hymn (on Cyberbrethren) translated by a Missouri Synod man (?), Matthew Carver, by J. Fabricius (d. 1654) -- God, Father, Son, and Spirit -- that is 28 stanzas (one for each article of the AC). It happens to be set to the tune of "Now Thank We All our God" so it doesn't need to be introduced in any special way ahead of time. We used 10 of the stanzas to reinforce the portions read.

All in all, as you said, any way in which we can put our confessions of faith before the people -- in worship, in Bible class, in Elders meetings, in sermons, etc. -- it's hard to go wrong. Good things happen when God's Word is proclaimed to God's people!


Pastor Christopher S Doerr said...

If you will permit, I have a few more questions.

(1) Even though some of the language and line of thought of this post is similar to a comment by Mr. Garner,, I assume that the Intrepid Lutherans would not go as far as Mr. Garner and say that, according to a proper understanding of the confessions, any church that doesn't have communion every Sunday is not "Lutheran." Am I right to assume this about you?

(2) When we talk about a "quia" subscription to the confessions, is there a distinction to be made in the material contained in the confessions similar to the distinction we made between "descriptive" and "prescriptive" portions of scripture? For example, when the confessors say here and in Apol. XXIV that they celebrated the Mass every Sunday and holy day, they are not making a doctrinal claim, but are describing their worship at that time. In asking this, I am not advocating a "pick and choose" approach to the confessions. Rather I am questioning the connection of the "quia" concept with a part of the confessions that is descriptive, not prescriptive. . . . . It does not apply exactly, but I think you can see the connection with a par. from a recent article on "quia subscription" in Luth. Synod Quarterly, Dec. 2009, by E. T. Teigen, p.275: "Not to be denied, of course, is the fact that the confessors, Melanchthon and Luther as much as anyone, often see points in a text that others do not; that errors in historical judgment are included in the confessional writings, and that some archeological and linguistic discoveries eluded the fathers which we today are privileged to have. No one claims a plenary or verbal inspiration to the confessors. And there may be some knotty issues like the (ital. in original) sempervirgine or the (ital.) clausa utero of the Formula of Concord. We shouldn't be too quick and too cavalier in our dismissal of those assertions, but at the same time, those statements do not stand as systematic, dogmatic assertions of the confessors, which were the subject of debate and struggle. Issues like that, which may be incidental conclusions, ought not to become excuses to duck the issue on key doctrinal issues." . . . . . I am all in favor of taking seriously all of AC XXIV and Apol. XXIV, both the doctrinal claims and the descriptive "Here's what we do" parts, but wouldn't you agree that the term "quia" is more apt to be connected with the doctrinal claims?

[continued in next comment]

Pastor Christopher S Doerr said...

[continued from last comment]

[This is not part of the question per se, but I would commend to you an article on the newest Luth. Synod Quarterly, Mar., 2010, by W. R. Johnston, on Art. X of the Form. of Concord, in which he uses the same par. of Apol. XXIV quoted by Mr. Garner as well as several other worthwhile quotes to make the point, "There is real value in an evangelical conformity in practice," (p.85) while Pastor Johnston is also careful to cite the prescriptive portions of FC Art. X that say, "the churches will not condemn one another because of dissimilarity of ceremonies when, in Christian liberty, one has more or less of them, provided they are otherwise agreed with one another in the doctrine and all its articles, also in the right use of the holy sacraments....Therefore we believe, teach, and confess that the congregation of God of every place and every time has, according to its circumstances, the good right, power, and authority [in matters truly adiaphora] to change, to diminish, and to increase them," etc. I like that balanced, quote-both-sides-of-it approach. I also like that he introduces his quote of the descriptive portion from Apol. XXIV with the words, "one must not fail to call to mind Apology XXIV.1"--I agree that that is the confessional approach to take to such a descriptive portion of the confessions, even if the "quia" idea doesn't quite apply to them. Maybe this is the same as what you were trying to say?]

(3) Looking back at your initial posts, I understand that you described this blog as an "initial effort." Could you please talk about the relationship between having this blog and using personal admonition followed by the disciplinary structure of our synod? What I mean is this: it seems the Intrepid Lutherans are aware of specific congregations/pastors that have "crossed the line" in their use of what FC X (quoted above) calls the "Christian liberty" to have "dissimilarity of ceremonies." I have not attended enough other WELS churches to be aware of who such specific congregations/pastors are. If I were thus aware, however, I would feel I had a responsibility to address that congregation/pastor personally and, if that didn't work, pursue the matter with the circuit pastor, district officials, etc., until the sinful worship practices were repented of or the congregation/pastor were no longer in the synod. I understand that doing what I just described and having a blog like yours are not mutually exclusive. I also understand that if you were pursuing the course I just described there is no reason I should know about it, because out of patient love for them you would be keeping your conversations with such congregations/pastors relatively private. But I hope you will not consider it out of line to ask for assurance that you are not using this blog as a substitute for taking personal, persistent, orderly action toward the offending congregations/pastors you are aware of.

(4) I assume you are aware of the newest issue of "Worship the Lord," put out by the WELS Commission on Worship. The main article by Pastor Michael Schultz, "Contemporary: 'What Does This Mean?'" touches on many themes that have been tackled already on your blog. I thought Pastor Schultz wrote the article well an I appreciated his tone and balanced approach. If you think it is appropriate to the purpose of your blog, I would be happy to read your thoughts about it. Are you "okay" with what he wrote?

Again, I thank you for considering my questions. I hope they were not too convoluted. I also hope I am not coming across as being contrary: am not trying to be.

Pastor Christopher S. Doerr
Waupun, Wisconsin

David Jay Webber said...

I've never understood the value of the "prescriptive/descriptive" hermeneutical distinction, in reading either the Scriptures or the Confessions. Or maybe I just don't understand it. But it seems to me to be an inherently legalistic hermeneutical approach. A "prescription" is a command or directive that is addressed to me and that demands something of me. In other words, it is law. But in Scripture, and also in the Confessions, the Gospel usually comes to us in descriptive statements that do not direct us to do anything, but that tell us what God has done and is doing. The Gospel is not a prescription to me, but is a description of God's gracious work that is spoken upon me and cloaked over me.

I suppose it is a valid concern to distinguish between the binding dogmatic content of the Scriptures and the Confessions, and those historical references to something that someone did in the past that are not binding on us today. But I don't see how an invoking of a prescriptive/descriptive distinction is the way to go if we want to preserve the more fundamental distinction between law and Gospel, and if we always want the Gospel to predominate in our reading of a text.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Pr. Doerr,

It obviously took you some time to put together those questions. It may take some time to thoroughly answer them. I'll start bit by bit.

Questions (1) and (2) really belong together. The question of communion frequency is one we intend to address more fully, although we've already touched on it. So far, what we've said is that we recognize there are no laws regarding communion frequency, nor are we interested in instituting laws regarding this, as if every-Sunday communion should be forced upon anyone.

At the same time, it's an unavoidable fact that the practice of the Lutheran Confessors, which they felt strongly enough about to include in their Confession, was to offer the Sacrament at least every Sunday. The question, then, becomes, not so much if it's "descriptive" or "prescriptive," but was this an incidental description of a practice they just happened to be following at the time, or was the description of their practice part of the Lutheran confession? In other words, is it part of what they "believed, taught and confessed"?

Your quotations from Teigen were good quotations, but not relevant, I think, to the discussion of communion frequency as described in AC XXIV. This article is not a matter of a possible misinterpretation of a text, nor an error in historical judgment, nor a matter of archaeology or linguistics. It is not a matter of an incidental and passing reference to a belief they may or may not have held (sempervirgo) but wasn't the point under discussion. We would agree with Teigen that disagreement regarding such things does not necessarily contradict or nullify a quia subscription.

But one of the main points being confessed in AC XXIV is the Confessors' belief and confession (public practice) regarding Holy Communion.

They confess their continuity with the practice of the Church catholic in offering the Sacrament at least once a week, even proving from the practice of the Church catholic that it was not necessary to have Masses every day, because that hadn't always been the practice of the Church. At the same time, they allowed the parameters of the practice of the Church catholic to define their practice: communion on Sundays, and sometimes in between. That HAD always been the practice of the Church.

They confess what a great consolation the Sacrament affords to troubled hearts.

They confess that there is always a need among God's people to receive this consolation in the Sacrament. They confess with Ambrose that, "Because I always sin, I always need to take the medicine."

They confess that the Mass (the Communion liturgy, which they reverently and devoutly celebrated weekly) is for the purpose of administering the Sacrament to God's people.

They confess, therefore, what the evangelical and confessional Lutheran practice is: to offer the Sacrament to all who desire it every Sunday and festival day, and sometimes in between.

[continued in next comment]

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

[continued from previous comment]

So, is it an honest quia subscription if someone doesn't believe what the Confessors believed about the Sacrament or about our need for it? I would say, no. Is it an honest quia subscription when a church no longer cares if its practice "has the example of the Church, taken from the Scripture and the Fathers" (AC:XXIV:40)? I would say, no. Is it an honest quia subscription if our practice reflects Pietistic beliefs regarding the Sacrament rather than confessional Lutheran beliefs regarding the Sacrament? I would say, no.

I still believe our synod, as a whole, desires to be a confessional Lutheran synod. In many ways, we are still, perhaps, blinded by our Pietistic roots, not even perceiving where our practices have been more influenced by Pietism than by the Confessions.

We're here at IL largely to bring these matters to light, without mincing words. We're not here as "more quia than thou" holy men who are trying to create a new standard for confessional Lutheranism. We're trying simply to return to the documents that gave birth to the Lutheran Church in order to define what confessional Lutheranism is. We're attempting to identify where we've strayed from confessional Lutheranism so that we can admit it and start heading back, not for the sake of the documents, but for the sake of the evangelical teachings contained in them.

Will we have the courage to admit that we've been less than perfect in our practice? I've had to admit this about my own understanding and practice. But Christ allows us to do that and move forward, in his grace.

I'll have to tackle your other questions later, but I do hope to get to them soon.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Pr. Doerr,

In answer to your question (3):

Most, if not all of the examples we've given on the blog are not unique to any single congregation in the WELS, which is one reason why we're not singling out anyone by name. Nor are they secret matters. Most of it is available for all the world to see on the web, if they want to see it, or at very least in the public practice of the congregations. No private secrets are being revealed at IL.

Because we're dealing with public matters, we are attempting to discuss the issues publicly. We don't pretend to have any authority to discipline anyone. We do encourage congregations, circuits and districts to confront the problematic practices in their midst and deal with them appropriately.

But you're right in your charitable assumption that, in several cases, we have also been speaking with brothers privately and writing letters to district presidents when our admonition is not heeded. Several laymen have also been trying to address the issues in their own congregations, but often find themselves to be a lonely voice of dissent for confessional Lutheranism. This should not be.

Here's the problem: We do not speak with one voice as a synod on the issues involved, so my brotherly admonition may easily be counteracted by another brother’s praise.

To use a fictitious illustration, let’s say I have a member who is living together with a young woman outside of marriage. I show him his sin, and eventually am forced to use the binding key. He says, “Well, thanks for sharing your opinion, Pastor. But I see no need to change, because the pastor down the road at the other WELS church told me that living together isn’t a sin. We're married in God's eyes.” The admonition stalls and goes nowhere.

Hopefully this scenario could not play out, because WELS speaks with one united voice (with possible exceptions) about living together outside of marriage. But when I attempt to admonish my brother for promoting Church Growth principles, or for consistently borrowing harmful practices or even sermon outlines (or complete sermons!) from sectarian sources, my admonition is quickly contradicted by another WELS pastor who argues “Freedom!”, and no solid theological conclusion is ever reached.

So our initial purpose at the blog is to get our synod to see that these issues need to be addressed and answered with one voice. The Church Growth Movement must be dealt with. We are asserting what we believe to be consistent and inconsistent with confessional Lutheran doctrine and practice. Hopefully the discussion will keep growing from there.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Pr. Doerr,

In response to your final question about the "Worship the Lord" article written by Pastor Schultz…

It’s funny you should ask, because I was just discussing that article with some people a day or two before your question came, and we agreed that, while most of the articles in this series of WtL have been pretty good, this one — we just didn’t get it. (This is not a critique of Pastor Schultz or of his theology, just of the article as written.)

The article completely ignored the sectarian origin and theology behind the worship style he was attempting to define. The abandoning of the liturgy and the Lectionary don’t happen in a vacuum. To talk about “contemporary worship” without dealing with the overtones of Pentecostalism (and Pietism) tied to that style seems to miss the forest for the trees.

There were several good points in the article, and I don’t wish to tear it to shreds. But overall, it seemed rather incoherent. I’m not really sure what he was advocating. I looked for assertions or propositions, and found very few in the entire article. It was mostly questions: “Are we willing…? Will we study…? What about this…? Must we not…? Wouldn’t we want to…?” Very Post-Modern. When it came to making points in favor of the liturgy, it was mostly in the form of asking questions or suggesting “maybe’s.” Some of the few assertions I found seemed to be advocating at least a status of equality for contemporary worship as a perfectly valid alternative to liturgical worship: “Reverence for the Lord in worship cannot be defined by the orders of service we utilize or the worship attire we or the worshipers in our services wear. So-called contemporary worship among us, of itself, is in no way to be viewed as an automatic departure from orthodoxy. The use of the so-called Western rite is and will ever remain an adiaphoron.” Or another, “Sweeping generalizations have no place when characterizing worship music which is commonly called contemporary. It is uncharitable and inaccurate to castigate all of it as being shallow and without substance.” Or another, “Incorporating the likeable, singable contemporary worship song into the service is undeniably a marvelous part of what we, in Christian freedom, can do.”

So if the author advocates retaining the liturgy or not, one could not tell by reading this article. This is the message I heard in the article (intended or unintended), “Brothers, liturgical or contemporary – it doesn’t matter. Do what your pastoral heart leads you to do. Let’s just try to make sure that Law and Gospel are proclaimed as well as possible, and whatever we do, please, please, please, let’s just not have a worship war!”

And amid the cries for peace, Spiderman descends from the rafters of the sanctuary to deliver a Power Point remote to the worship leader with the “Mission:Impossible” theme playing in the background. (You can’t make this stuff up.)

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