I attended my old Winkel today. Pastor Heath Curtis led a beautiful Divine Service, anticipating the commemoration of the Cappadocians. After a fine lunch, he led through a discussion of the Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel Church Order (authored by Chemnitz and Andreae) as providing a bit of context for their words in the Formula, Article X, dealing with the freedom of the Church to regulate ceremonies (I noted that he skipped all the goodies about reforming the monasteries!).
This Church Order starts out with the typically Lutheran stress on the strict distinction between that which is of Divine mandate and origin and that which is human custom. Yet, it doesn't at all leave that which is human custom as merely being "well, it doesn't matter you do with that." Rather, with a keen eye toward what pastorally serves, with a concern to be in step with the churches of the same confession in neighboring territories, with an eye toward what is fitting with the holy gifts that the people of God assemble to receive, and with a concern for the specific context in which the gifts are to be administered (city at the time meant more resources musically than country; country was very limited in what it could accomplish musically; nowadays, that's almost reversed itself!), the Order offers specific regulations (gasp!) that the Visitors were to see were in use.
Was ist das? as the Catechism asks. Pastor Curtis helpfully traced through a bit of the history: Walther and company did not insist on the same Agenda (the Loehe Agenda was fine if you didn't want to use the Saxon one), but they did insist on "doctrinally pure Agenda and hymnbooks" and that's the language of our Constitution to this day. For a long time in the LCMS there was a bit of a "gentleman's agreement" (Pr. Curtis' words) that we use the orders in the hymnal. No one insisted that it MUST be so, but it generally was the case. The 1941 Hymnal triumphed and pretty much wherever you went in the LCMS you could expect the Divine Service (or the abbreviated "Morning Service") with the odd Vespers or Matins thrown in.
The reforms that had begun in Rome with Vatican II and all that that unleashed (that's a bit simplistic, since the reforms were agitated for before they were adopted), showed up in the LCMS with the 1969 Worship Supplement. Not one form of the Divine Service, but three distinct settings - with different texts in the settings. And from there the movement toward diverse practice grew and grew. He also noted the publication of Lueke's book as a bit of a watermark. And so we reach the situation we live in today: even within the Hymnal itself we have no less than FOUR distinct textually different Divine Services in five distinct musical settings. And there are many for whom even this is not enough! And so on to the countless tinkerings and toyings that result in many a bewildered parishioner not knowing exactly WHAT he's to be served up on a given Sunday. We're a long, long way from the days of the Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel Church Order!
Is there a path back toward some semblance of liturgical unity? Pr. Curtis noted that every time he has carefully separated out the question of instrumentation and liturgical action and simply asked for agreement to use the TEXT of the liturgy as provided in one of our hymnals, he has been told "no, that's a violation of Christian freedom." As in FC X. As in from the same folks who wrote a binding church order and expected it to be used as printed. Hmm.
The sad truth that Lutherans must face is that there is a nasty little pope (aka, the old adam) inside each one of us. He'd like to do things HIS way. The liturgy is not in least part a gift given to curb that wretch. By not insisting on "my" way of doing things, but submitting to one another in the way "we" have approved and agreed, we actually help the fellow back to his baptismal grave where he belongs.
Our President has suggested the way back toward liturgical unity will be by way of agreeing to the use of the Church's ORDO. And this is bigger than text. This is the frame, the skeleton, of the Church's ordered action in the Divine Service which you recognize beneath the Lutheran Divine Service, the Roman Mass, the Book of Common Prayer liturgy and even the Eastern services. There is a structure there, a framing, on which the common action hangs.
The temptation is to grasp hold of that skeletal frame and say: See, that's the lot! But it's not the lot, its the frame on which the lot hangs, the shape on which the living tissue rests. We don't want a liturgical skeleton, but a living body (i.e., ask: "what's the least we HAVE to do for this to be a Lutheran liturgy?" and you're talking bones and not living flesh!). We need to grasp and understand the skeleton to be sure. But we also need to get the way that we have historically had that basic frame fleshed out and adorned. But we have to start somewhere and so bones it may have to be.
Preparation + Service of the Word (praise, hearing of God's Word read in an ordered and orderly fashion, Creed, Sermon, Offering, Intercession) + Service of the Sacrament (Thanksgiving - for which Preface and Sanctus serve admirably, Our Father, Verba, Distribution with hymns of praise, Thanksgiving and Blessing)
Random thoughts provoked by a good Winkel.