10 June 2009

Thought from the Lutheran Symbols

[Note the following describes what Lutherans profess in their Symbols; your mileage in actual parish situations may vary - sadly]

We cheerfully hold the old traditions made in the Church for the sake of usefulness and peace. We interpret them in a more moderate way and reject the opinion that holds they justify...

Among us many use the Lord's Supper every Lord's Day. They do so after they have first been instructed, examined, and absolved. The children sing psalms in order that they may learn. The people also sing so that they may either learn or pray...

Among us the pastors and ministers of the churches are encouraged publicly to instruct and hear the youth. This ceremony produces the best fruit...

In our churches all the sermons are filled with topics such as these: repentance; the fear of God; faith in Christ, the righteousness of faith, the comfort of consciences by faith; the exercises of faith; prayer, what its nature should be, and that we should be fully confident that it is powerful, that it is heard; the cross; the authority of officials and all civil ordinances; the distinction between the kingdom of Christ, or the spiritual kingdom, and political affairs; marriage; the education and instruction of children; chastity; all the offices of love...

We teach about the putting to death of the flesh and the discipline of the body...

This effort at mortification should be constant, because it has God's permanent command...

We teach that freedom should be so controlled that the inexperienced may not be offended and, because of freedom's abuse, may not become more opposed to the true doctrine of the Gospel. Nothing in the customary rites should be changed without a reasonable cause. So to nurture unity, old customs that can be kept without sin or great inconvenience SHOULD BE KEPT."

Apology XV - Selected Passages


Paul McCain said...

I have been musing for some time about the Lord's Supper every Sunday.

In light of what we confess and teach about it on the basis of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, that is to say, I would like to posit this thesis:

There is no good reason not to offer the Lord's Supper at every Divine Service in a Lutheran parish.

I use "Divine Service" in its historic sense of the Hauptgottesdienst, the chief service of Word and Sacrament.

I use the term "good" to denote a distinction between those reasons commonly offered for NOT doing it. I do not believe they are "good" reasons.


I believe this book offers a persuasive, pastoral, Christ-centered/Gospel-centered explanation of these issues, and in light of it, I honestly no longer can identify a single good reason not to offer the Supper at each D.S.


David said...

When the Symbols say "hear the youth", does this mean auricular confession qua teaching and practicing individual confession and absolution?

Jeremy Loesch said...

Rev. Weedon, straight to the heart! I confess!

Good words and things that I aim to bring to God's people.

If I may self-righteously say (as my old Adam points out) we do offer private confession and absolution once a month. And the people seem to respond.

Thanks for reminding me what I signed up for in seminary and at ordination.


Matthias Flacius said...

"Likewise they [papists] require universal traditions--as they call them--as necessary for justification. Here Paul is our constant defender; everywhere he contends that these observances neither justify nor are necessary above and beyond the righteousness of faith."
Apology XV:50.

I believe the German text is more forceful than "reasonable cause". It reads..."ohne sondere und ohne bewegende Ursachen" = "without special and without compelling causes." my translation.

Paul: I agree on the Lord's Supper. My congregation currently has Matins at one service and a Divine Service at the other and they rotate every Sunday. Therefore the Lord's supper is offered every Sunday. On some festival days we have the Divine Service twice.


Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Fr. Weedon,
There is much here than could be fruitfully discussed. Let me make an observation regarding this passage: "The children sing psalms in order that they may learn." This is a beautiful witness & confession, and one that very much also, as you say, falls miles away from present day Missouri Synod practice. I say that fully aware and appreciative of the parishes where the Divine Office is prayed, by the way. Over all, however, the Psalms are unknown. As Fr. Fabrizius pointed out a few years ago at the CCA Symposium, we can no longer expect that even Ps 23 is known by the people. My point: the Psalms are in real need of resurgence among us. To put it better, we are in real need of a resurgence of the Psalms in our church. I like, incidentally, the way the German AP points out that the psalms are sung in Latin and in German.

(I have been working on a little project that will make the Latin Psalms much more easily available to our people. It is a project that was virtually published, until I realized I had to resolve a formatting issue. In the next few days, hopefully, I will have more to say on it.)

The main point is that I know that you join me in praying that faithful pastors & teachers will work harder to expose Lutherans to the treasure of the Psalms.

William Weedon said...


Glory be to God that in our parish school the Psalms are sung again. Our children sing Matins on Wednesdays with relish and we have a Psalm of the month that we repeat daily and that we sing in Chapel. It is a blessing indeed! The liturgical renewal focused almost exclusively upon the Divine Service and we've seen the weekly Eucharist restored to its rightful place in hundreds and hundreds of parishes across the Synod. Now is the time to restore the daily office so that we might come to live again in the Psalter. Glory to God for the help towards that end that we have in Brotherhood Prayer Book, in Treasury of Daily Prayer, and in such projects as you are working on.

William Weedon said...


I suspect "hear the youth" meant hear them as they recite publicly the primary texts of the catechism. It was a common feature of Sunday Vespers in Lutheran Churches for a long time. We observe the practice here at St. Paul's, and I attest, it DOES produce good results.

William Weedon said...


Excellent! The German is clear and wonderful, but we do well to recall that the German is not the authoritative version of that particular Symbol, being Justus' paraphrase of the authoritative Latin.

William Weedon said...

P.S. That does not in anyway take away from the fact that it shows exactly how they understood the Latin!

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Paul McCain is right (!)
Yet I'd like to clarify terms a bit. The Hauptgottesdienst is precisely the Holy Mass, and therefore it is technically redundant to say that each Hauptgottesdienst ought to be a celebration of the Holy Supper. Though, come to think of it, there is an unfortunate history in many LCMS parishes, which perhaps still persists, of practicing an order of the service of Holy Communion without Communion. It has its own order in TLH, and if I recall LW is also set up so that at a certain point in the liturgy the eucharist can be skipped over. If this is what he has in mind, then I agree with not only the general sentiment but also the words of McCain's comment.

Let me now attempt to succinctly put my own position on the matter: The Lord's Supper, celebrated as it is in the Holy Mass, ought to be offered every Sunday, at the same time each Sunday, for the sake of those who wish to use it, as well as on all other days in which there may be communicants interested in this great treasure and feast. Such is the case now, thank God, at my home parish, where Mass is celebrated each day at 9 a.m.

Fr. Weedon, you're right, the liturgical renewal of the last generation has greatly improved matters in this regard. Thank God! There is still work to do. In fact, there always will be, because neither our lazy flesh, nor the Christ-hating world around us, whose thinking in some ways permeates the Synod, nor the devil, who will let us have no peace within or without (especially does he not much like us having the peace of the eucharist), these forces will not stop working. Neither must we.

Paul McCain said...

Ah, dear brother Weedon, you are mistaken. The "authoritative" texts are those found in the German BOC, not those proposed as authoritative by modern day editors of critical editions of the confessions.

Hence, the German AP is, in fact, THE authoritative edition of the Ap. and is referenced as such several times in the Formula of Concord, much to the chagrin, I'm sure, of some modern Lutheran BOC editors who pushed an edition of the Ap on the Church that appeared neither in the German 1580 or Latin 1584.

So, I'm afraid it is not correct to refer to the Latin as the authoritative edition of the Ap. That would be the German, the Latin, I would describe, as the authoritative Latin edition.

Paul McCain said...

And, I agree with Mr. Gaba (!).

William Weedon said...

Pr. McCain,

Were you not taught Piepkorn's proposed hermeneutics for the Lutheran Symbols? I was! ;)

Matthias Flacius said...

I would assert that the "special and compelling" cause for changing the liturgy for Lutherans in the sixteenth century would have been to remove those parts of the liturgy that contradicted the Scripture. For instance, Luther et al. removed prayers directed to the saints as intercessors or the canon of the mass. While they always accepted variant liturgical practices they NEVER would have suggested NOT worshiping with the historic liturgy that had inherited from the holy, apostolic, catholic church.

Phil said...

"So to nurture unity, old customs that can be kept without sin or great inconvenience SHOULD BE KEPT."

I may be reading too much into this--I usually do--but do you think it's significant that the judgment is that these usages "should" be kept, not that they "may" be kept?

That is, is it significant to the comment that some have made that there are, in effect, no "shall" rubrics in the Evangelical Lutheran liturgies, only "may" rubrics? "Should" implies a justification with some amount of moral force.

I think it's interesting that the passages you've cited here include both the descriptive sense: "In our churches... We teach..." and the normative sense: "This effort at mortification should be constant." Are these two ways of saying the same thing? I haven't been able to figure out how to read the descriptive sections.

Phillip Magness said...

Excellent point, Latif, about the Psalms. While I can point to place like Hamel and other places in Illinois where the Psalms are indeed sung, we all know that such parishes are the exception.

Last summer, while on sabbatical, I attended 11 liturgies in Illinois and Ohio and did not sing or hear one psalm at any time.

And yet to sing the psalms is one of the few liturgical prescriptions we have in the NT. It truly is amazing that confessional Lutherans have the highest view of scripture - and yet make little use of the psalms in their worship.

William Weedon said...


I think the "prescriptive/descriptive" thing is rather useless. The best way out of the quagmire is what my friend Pr. Jeff Gross used to say: "Yes, those parts of the Confessions are descriptive; they describe what it is to be a Lutheran." So, I'd argue for those who hold a quia subscription to the Symbols that such passages of these should set out the goal toward which we should be heading.


Tis sad indeed, but I do think the singing of the Psalms has its home mainly in the Daily Office - and that's where we need to work on recovery in our day. And we've been blessed with an abundance of tools to do it!

Past Elder said...

Funny how in the passage from the Apology there isn't a thing about coming up with a novus ordo (new order) but in being faithful to the existing one.

The major step in having descriptive passages actually describe us will be when we quit trying to do both.

Paul said...

I am puzzled about the inclusion of Psalmody in the Divine Service. There is the Introit, which has selected verses. After the first reading, the instruction reads "Psalm or Gradual". Why the choice? I have always used the Psalm appointed for the day, alternately spoken, chanted or sung (metric translation). At mid-week Evening Prayer there are at least two Psalms: 141 and one other.

Phil said...

Pr. Weedon,

I'm not saying that those descriptive passages are merely historical and therefore non-binding, but if you understand them as directed towards today, then if what my church practices today doesn't fit what "Our churches" practice, my church is therefore excluded from the Lutheran "Our churches"...

I'm just wondering whether there's in fact a warrant in the Confessions for "shall" rubrics after all.

Past Elder,

Bingo. I don't like how much the LCMS "novus ordo" liturgical practice is based on, ultimately, the modern RC magisterial authority. I don't like it one bit.

I wish we had better musical settings for psalm chants. The LSB ones tend towards mass-produced banality. I'll take Anglican or Gregorian or Ambrosian or what have you kind of chant over the rootless 20th century tones.

William Weedon said...


I was referring to the systemic praying of the whole Psalter. Certainly we use parts of the Psalter at the Introit and Gradual (we don't use the Psalm option).


We need to think of ourselves as a Church on the road to recovery, and the Symbols (I believe) give us a description of what health looks like. When we observe in our parishes that we fail at X or Y that Lutherans say we do in our Symbols, the prescription is to move toward what is so described. We've come a long, long way toward recovery of normative weekly Eucharist; but there's a lot more work to do!

Paul McCain said...

Yes, very familiar with that excellent piece by the good Dr. Piepkorn.

On this one, Piepkorn is/was wrong. He of course was merely reflecting the opinion of the BKS school of thought that treats the BOC as a collection of atomistic documents, for which we must "strive for the historical document" as the highest priority.

In fact, while that is very interesting and fascinating and helpful, at the end of the day, the more important issue for confessional subscription is what was printed in the German BOC and the Latin BOC.

The German 1580 is "first among equals" might be a felicitous way of putting it?

Paul McCain said...

Interestingly, as Nischan shows in his remarkable study of the "Second Reformation in Braunschweig" the singing of Psalms in the Divine Service marked a congregation and its clergy as Reformed, not Lutherans. The Reformed insisted only Psalms could be sung and not hymns. Nischan recounts the true story of the time a Lutheran pastor threw a candle stick at the church organist trying to push the Reformed metrical Psalms on his parish, missed him, and almost killed the organist's wife.

Context is everything.

Paul McCain said...

Rats, make that "Brandenburg" not Braunschweig.

And here's the full bibliographic reference to that book:

Bodo Nischan. Prince, People and Confession: The Second Reformation in Brandenburg. Philadelphia: University of Pennysylvania Press, 1994

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Twice for one blog post, I must say that I agree with McCain, namely, when he says "the more important issue for confessional subscription is what was printed in the German BOC and the Latin BOC." I hasten to add, however, that by this I do not mean to imply endorsement of any publication of the confessions other than the Triglotta.

William Weedon said...

Latif and Paul in harmony...I LOVE it. I'm basking in Psalm 133 (that's Ecce quam bonum for you Latif!)

Past Elder said...

Well, if it's Ecce quam bonum then make that Psalm 132!

Boaz said...

"among us the Latin lessons and prayers are retained"

I can't seem to find any Lutherans retaining this, which is sad given the many Lutheran schools that could teach it. I have to send my kids to Catholic school to find this.

I would disagree that the descriptive/prescriptive distinction shouldn't be made. Scripture makes it (our fallen condition: descriptive; follow the Law: prescriptive). The confessions clearly make it too.

And what's the harm in admitting the "we retains" are descriptive and not prescriptive? The first Lutherans kept the historic liturgy because of its benefits in teaching the Gospel and for unity, not because they felt any obligation to historic liturgy. They explicitly denied that a ceremony could be prescribed.