The Lutheran Confessions approach tradition and worship with this in focus: the Gospel.
Our churches are falsely accused of abolishing the Mass. The Mass is held among us and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved, except that the parts sung in Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns. These have been added to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed for this reason alone, that the uneducated be taught what they need to know about Christ. (AC XXIV)
At the outset, we must again make this preliminary statement: we do not abolish the Mass, but religiously keep and defend it. Masses are celebrated among us every Lord’s Day and on the other festivals. The Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved. And the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other such things. . . . Ceremonies should be celebrated to teach people Scriptures, that those admonished by the Word may conceive faith and godly fear, and may also pray. (This is the intent of ceremonies.) (AP XXIV, 1, 3)
Lutheran ceremonial practices differ, because we want the Gospel to predominate. The Formula of Concord says that we are not free in our worship ceremonies to imply that our Church does not significantly differ from Roman Catholicism (SD X, 5). But today, we find ourselves in different setting than of Germany in the mid 1500s.
Today, Protestant churches predominate. And so in our setting, neither are we free in our worship ceremonies to imply that our Church does not significantly differ from the Baptists, the Methodists, the Pentecostals, or the ‘non-denominational congregation. As much as we must distinguish the Lutheran liturgy from Roman Catholicism, so we must distinguish it from Protestantism.
Benefit of having good ceremonies
In the transition from the first 21 articles of the Augsburg Confession to the articles on abuses, our Church confesses: “If the churches observed ceremonies correctly, their dignity would be maintained and reverence and piety would increase among the people.” (AP 21, “A Review of the Various Abuses That Have Been Corrected,” 6)
Reverence and piety, then is the intended goal and fruit.
What is NOT adiaphora, according to the Formula of Concord
“Neither are useless and foolish spectacles, which serve neither good order, Christian discipline, nor evangelical decorum in the church, true adiaphora or things indifferent.” (FC SD X, 7)
We can change church ceremonies. Yet, we are to do this “without frivolity and offense but in an orderly and appropriate way, as at any time may seem to be most profitable, beneficial, and salutary for good order, Christian discipline, evangelical decorum, and the edification of the church.” (FC SD X, 9)
The worldview of our Confessions is one of keeping what has been handed down [“traditioned”] to us. But it’s also making sure our ceremonies glorify Christ, teach of Christ, give out His gifts, and bring about in the people reverence and piety.
Ah, Lutheranism as she is supposed to be!
Rich Futrell, Pastor
Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, Kimberling City, MO
Where we receive and confess the faith of the Church (in and with the Augsburg Confession): The faith once delivered to the saints, the faith of Christ Jesus, His Word of the Gospel, His full forgiveness of sins, His flesh and blood given and poured out for us, and His gracious gift of life for body, soul, and spirit.