Saturday, May 12, 2007

Roundtable 16: Church Ceremonies

Our churches teach that ceremonies ought to be observed that may be observed without sin. Also, ceremonies and other practices that are profitable for tranquility and good order in the Church (in particular, holy days, festivals, and the like) ought to be observed.

Yet, the people are taught that consciences are not to be burdened as though observing such things was necessary for salvation. They are also taught that human traditions instituted to make atonement with God, to merit grace, and to make satisfaction for sins are opposed to the Gospel and the doctrine of faith. So vows and traditions concerning meats and days, and so forth, instituted to merit grace and to make satisfaction for sins, are useless and contrary to the Gospel. (AC XV, Concordia, 39)

This is the third of what I term the “apologetic articles” (Articles 13-21) which are written in response to certain slanderous allegations by Eck and other papal apologists against the Lutherans and also to distance the Lutheran side of the Reformation from the more radical elements. Clearly, the charge is that the Lutherans had abrogated and abandoned the traditional rites and ceremonies of the Church.

The conservative nature of the Lutheran reformation is apparent. Our churches keep the traditional ceremonies and practices, including the liturgical calendar, for the sake of tranquility and good order. This attitude is restated clearly in Apology XV where Melanchthon states: “We gladly keep the old traditions set up in the church because they are useful and promote tranquility, and we interpret them in an evangelical way, excluding the opinion which holds that they justify” (Ap XV.38). The same idea is echoed in the close of the Augustana where the reformers state, “we have introduced nothing, either in doctrine or in ceremonies, that is contrary to Holy Scripture or the universal Christian church.”

Melanchthon makes three points in Article XV. First, the existing rites of the received tradition are kept insofar as they do not conflict with the Gospel and contribute to peace and good order in the Church. Second, consciences are not to be burdened by making man-made rites necessary for salvation. This corresponds to Article VII in which the preached Gospel and administered sacraments are the necessary marks of the Church, while man-made ceremonies may vary and do not contribute to the unity of the Church. Third, certain traditions are rejected, ie monastic vows and fasting regulations, not for what they are but for what they purport to do, namely “to earn grace and make satisfaction for sins.” These are deemed “useless and contrary to the Gospel.”

The papal Confutation accepts the first part of this article but resoundingly rejects the second part, precipitating a lengthy response from Melanchthon in Apology XV. The gist of Melanchthon’s apologia lies in this sentence: “We can affirm nothing about the will of God without the Word of God” (Ap XV.17). Therefore, no rite or ceremony can serve as a revelatory sign of God’s grace without the Word of God. Interestingly, this article does not mention or deal with the liturgy or divine service. (That is taken up in article XXIV on the abuses of the Mass). This is not surprising since the reformers would not have considered the divine service a “manmade rite” but the Word of God, since the liturgy is composed almost entirely of Scripture passages and allusions. In his reform of the Mass, Luther simply excised those manmade parts that were in contradiction to the Gospel.

In our thinking about church rites and ceremonies, this article needs to be read and applied before we get to Formula Article X. Far too often in our circles today, the concept of adiaphora is invoked in a way that is contrary to the conservative spirit of the Lutheran reformers and much more consistent with the way of Münzer, Karlstadt and the radicals under the banner of “Gospel freedom.” AC XV reminds us that the Lutheran reformation was, and still is, a Gospel reformation of the western catholic tradition, not the beginning of a new church, or a romantic restoration of the first century church, or an exercise in unbounded Christian liberty.

Melanchthon’s maxim is well worth noting today: “Nothing should be changed in the accustomed rites without good reason, and to foster harmony those ancient customs should be kept which can be kept without sin or without great disadvantage” (Ap XV.52).

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Roundtable 15: Order in the Church

Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call (nisi rite vocatus, ohn ordentlichen Beruf). AC XIV.

Short, sweet, and to the point. Article XIV is the third of what I call the “defensive articles,” defending the Lutheran Reformers against slanderous associations with the radicals. This article is in direct response to Eck (Thesis 267) who stated that the Lutherans had abrogated the ordered ministry and had made every Christian a minister. There is no corresponding article to AC XIV in the Schwabach or Torgau articles. The title refers to the order of the office (ordo) (see Ap XIII), not to everything being neat and tidy.

In the background, of course, is the canonical episcopal polity and ordination at the hand of the bishop. Luther had already dealt with this extensively in his letter to the Senate of Prague in 1523 wherein he advocated a “bootstrap” process for reestablishing the holy ministry when the bishops refused to ordain priests for the congregations. Since the papal bishops opposed the reformation, they refused to ordain candidates to fill vacancies in evangelical parishes. This became a serious issue after 1525. It is important to remember that Luther and others were ordained prior to the reformation and so continued in office without any disruption of the ministry. This was not the case as vacancies occurred and pulpits had to be filled. Melanchthon treats this topic extensively in the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, which should be read as a companion piece and commentary to AC XIV.

Key to understanding this article is the meaning of “publicly” (publice, offentlich) and “rightly ordered call.”

It was well established among the Lutherans that heads of household were responsible to teach their children and servants, and when necessary, also to baptize. In his 1523 letter to the Bohemians, Luther strongly advised against any private household celebrations of the Lord’s Supper, even to the extent of going a lifetime without it rather than having it in a dubious way. AC XIV is concerned with what goes on “in the Church,” that is officially, in the name of the Church.

What Melanchthon means by an “ordered call” is spelled out more clearly in the Treatise, where Melanchthon defends the thesis that the local congregation always retains the right to a pastor and the authority to make one. “For wherever the church exists, the right to administer the Gospel also exists. Wherefore it is necessary for the church to retain the right of calling, electing, and ordaining ministers” (Treatise, 67). To have a “rightly ordered call,” according to Melanchthon, is to be called, elected, and ordained. This authority, Melanchthon argues in the Treatise, resides with the local congregation and her pastor by divine right (de jure divino) and with the bishops only by human right (de jure humano) for the sake of peace and good order.

The Confutation understands a “rightly ordered call” as “called in accordance with the form of law and the ecclesiastical ordinances and decrees hitherto observed everywhere in the Christian world....” This prompts Melanchthon to both defend the canonical episcopal polity (Oh, that we would have heeded Ap XIV, but don’t get me started!), and at the same time condemn the papal bishops for their cruelty in withholding pastors from their congregations. It is the papal bishops, not the reformers, who are responsible for the breakdown.

The underlying theology of AC XIV is the objectivity of the external Word of the Gospel. “We know that the church is present among those who rightly teach the Word of God and rightly administer the sacraments” (Ap XIV). Melanchthon has already established the Office of the Holy Ministry as the instrumental means of delivering the Gospel and Sacraments (AC V) and has indicated that holy order and ordination have a place among the “sacraments” in that they provide for the proper sacraments of Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper (Ap XIII). This article underscores the important fact that no one takes it upon himself to become a minister, but he is granted this office by an external, objective act of God - a rightly ordered call. In his writing Against the Heavenly Prophets (1525), Luther held ordination papers to be of far greater value than any interior, subjective “calling” to preach. The objective, external Word makes preachers of the Word.

The objectivity of the ordered call is a source of great strength and comfort, both to preacher and to hearer. As Luther puts it in a Tischreden: “Die vocatio tut dem Teufel sehr wehe” (The call pains the devil greatly.)

An addition to this post:
I love the liturgy. I love the liturgy for many reasons, not the least of which being that it guards us from our own agendas and amnesias. What struck me today as I prepare to preside at the liturgy tomorrow in my congregation are these words: "called and ordained." They have been with me since my childhood in the Lutheran church. "Upon this your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word...." They've gone that way from TLH to LW to LSB. LSB adds a little reference to authority, which is the essence of office, the permission to speak and act granted by another. "As a called and ordained servant of Christ and by His authority...." You can't say Office of the Holy Ministry any clearer than that.

Called and ordained. Some would have the call be everything; others would have ordination be the clincher. What God has joined together, let man not rend asunder. "Called and ordained" is how the liturgy has us confess it. Here is the right use of that little slogan "lex orandi, lex credendi." As the church prays in the liturgy, so she believes. The liturgy bears witness over and against our attempts to bend things our way like some wax nose.

Called and ordained is the way of our tradition. In the 14th article of the Augsburg Confession, the Reformers defended themselves against Eck's slanders that they were like the radical protestants, making everyone ministers without distinction. "It is taught among us that nobody should publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments in the church with a regular call (an "ordered call," ordentliche Beruf)" (AC XIV). Ordination by a pastor, or by a bishop, if such is the arrangement, testifies and confirms that the call is ordered, that is "in order." "Afterwards a bishop, either of that church or of a neighboring church, was brought in to confirm the election with the laying on of hands; nor was ordination anything more (else) than such confirmation" (Treatise 70).

Called and ordained. Both are essential in the making of a pastor. When the bishops attempted to choke out the Lutheran congregations of Germany and refused to ordain pastors to fill their vacancies, Melanchthon and the Reformers argued that the authority to ordain inherently resides with the congregation as an inalienable right. "Consequently, when the regular bishops become enemies of the Gospel and are unwilling to administer ordination, the churches retain the right to ordain for themselves. For wherever the church exists, the right to administer the Gospel also exists. Wherefore it is necessary for the church to retain the right of calling, electing, and ordaining ministers" (Treatise 66-67).

Ordination by a bishop was, and is, a human arrangement (de jure humano), granted by common consent for the sake of peace and unity among the churches. However, "since the distinction between bishop and pastor is not by divine right, it is manifest that ordination administered by a pastor in his own church is valid by divine right (de jure divino)" (Treatise 65). Every congregation manifests the fulness of the Church; therefore every congregation possesses the right to elect, call, and ordain pastors, for without the preached Word, the Church would perish.

Ordination is not a "sacrament" in the same sense as Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord's Supper. These are "rites which have the command of God and to which the promise of grace has been added" (Apology XIII.3). Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord's Supper benefit the recipient and bestow on faith the gifts of salvation. Ordination provides ministers of the Word and sacraments. The Office of the Holy Ministry is the instrumentality of the Word and the sacraments, the means by which these are administered (AC V). "If ordination (that is "order," ordo) is interpreted in relation to the ministry of the Word, we have no objection to calling ordination a sacrament" (Ap. XIII.11). Further, "if ordination (order, ordo) is interpreted this way, we shall not object either to calling the laying on of hands a sacrament. The church has the command to appoint ministers; to this we must subscribe wholeheartedly, for we know that God approves this ministry and is present in it." (Apology XIII.12).

We best understand "call and ordination" in terms of what is proper to each one. The call locates a man in a particular place; there is no such thing as absolute, unlocated, floating ordination. Ordination ratifies and confirms the call, placing the man into the holy order of the Office in such a way that the congregation may receive him as the gift from God that he is as their pastor. Externum verbum, extra nos. We have an approximate analogy from public offices of the state. We elect a person to be president on the first Tuesday of November. And in January we inaugurate him into office with a solemn vow. Only then are we given to address him as "Mr. President."

God calls and ordains through His instruments, the churches and her pastors. There is much that is confessed in that little persistent phrase, "I, a called and ordained servant of Christ...." And much for which to be thankful.

William Cwirla