26 October 2010

Holy Smoke!

An hysterical article by Fr. Peters on the epidemic of asthma among Lutherans...when they spot incense.  Enjoy!


Lucian said...

"Holy Smoke!"
An hysterical article

MORE "hysterical" than these two? -- you'll break my heart if you say "yes", Father..

Past Elder,

what's YOUR opinion? :-)

Past Elder said...

I'd wager I've stoked more thuribles than any three or four of you guys put to-gether, so I recuse myself.

The Blogger Formerly Known As Lvka said...

Oh, come on, PE: we only live once!


Spit it all out! (Luther split a whole continent in half and felt no remorse [there he stayed, and all that]: so make him proud!)

Moral Majority said...

Just imagine what a terrible example Luther sets for your children:

- a young lad, seated, in a public transportation vehicle, being approached by an old lady: instead of getting up his seat & inviting her to sit down, he just sits there, inconsiderately, telling her: "here I sit; I can do no other"...

- or men armed with very dangerous hammers going through the city, driving nails in everyone's doors..

Horrible! Just... horrible! :-|

Anonymous said...

Is it too harsh to say that anyone who does not know enough to reject the argument for incense from the Old Testament simply does not understand the Kingdom of God? Forgive me if it is, but I wanted to get your attention. Suffice it to say that the same argument can be made for stoning, ceremonial washing and any number of other practices. Besides, God gave His people very precise instructions about the use of incense. Aaron suffered a family tragedy because his sons thought they would do something better than what God had ordained. So, watch out what you burn in that thingamajig.

As to the few times incense is mentioned in the New Testament, those that are not references to Old Testament practice cannot be understood as anything but symbolic.

Quite obviously there is also no prohibition against the use of incense. But can someone tell me what effect incense has on our worship or on our prayers? Is God more likely to accept them with incense than without? Or give a better answer to our prayers with than without? Or is the effect solely on those who offer or are present when the incense is burned? Is it a sacramental effect; that is, does God convey His mercy through it, or is it purely physiological (a bit of dizziness for some) or psychological? If it is the latter, is it not purely self-serving? Aesthetics? As Vysotski sang about why the cupolas of Russian churches are gilded, “So that God would notice more often.”

I could argue that it would be better to use the money spent on incense to save even one of the ten children who die of starvation somewhere in the world every minute. Others might counter that it involves so little money as to be insignificant. But the point is not in the amount of money but in the disposition of our hearts and in what our Lord would have us do. If we were as concerned about our neighbors as our Lord was (“When He saw the crowd, He had compassion on them,” as we read as a prelude to the feeding of the 5000), or as He urges us to be in the Parable of the Dishonest Steward, we might forego the incense, maybe cushions for the kneelers, maybe even flowers for the altar (if purchased from a florist) and any number of other things. “Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also.”

We all know what our Lord commanded us to do just before He ascended to the Father. We tend to forget that among “all the things” is also compassion. Because when He comes again to judge the nations the meaning of the Great Commission will become clearer: only His own Kingdom will contain those who “did this to the least of My bretheren.” Yes, each of us has and will be forgiven much, but God Himself will be delighted every time we show compassion to “one of these little ones.”

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

William Weedon said...

What I find curious is that those who despise it tend to demand that it never be used. In my parish it is used VERY rarely, but when it is, some gripe and some tell me how much they enjoy it. Perhaps an exercise in Christian charity works both ways? Recognizing that the something is appreciated by others, even if not by you, might lead you to keeping your objections to yourself when it makes a rare appearance? Not speaking to you directly, George, but inviting all the readers to ponder that there is a place for bearing with each other in the body of Christ and that cuts in both directions simultaneously.

Boaz said...

"there is a place for bearing with each other in the body of Christ and that cuts in both directions simultaneously"

Exactamundo. We have freedom in worship, so long as it proclaims true doctrine, but like all Christian freedom, it must be practiced with an eye for others' needs: "Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others."

Whoever complains about a worship practice based on his own preferences (assuming it doesn't teach false doctrine) and insists it must or must not be practiced should have to admit they are the weaker brother.

I think a lot of younger people do appreciate incense and the reincorporation of ancient practices. But if opposition to the practice is uniform, I don't see how a pastor can impose the practice while looking out for their good. A bunch of grmupy parishioners aren't going to learn anything about Jesus by being forced to sit in smoke they resent.

William Weedon said...

Perhaps of greatest value is the joy of finding out that the standards of worship are not set by "what I like" - that cuts, as I said, every direction - but "what it confesses."

Anonymous said...

Oh, but I do not despise it, nor demand that it never be used. I still remember very fondly how, as a 10 year old I was “drafted” to assist at a Russian Orthodox service, and I got the incense going so well, I was asked to put a damper on it.

And it is not a question of charity either. It’s more of a “circumcision of Titus/Timothy” thing. If a pastor tells people that both the OT and the NT favor the use of incense, how many lay people will feel they have to be for it? So it’s a matter of why we do things, or as T. S. Elliott wrote, “’Tis the highest treason, to do the right thing for the wrong reason.”

The use of incense, as someone else on this blog commented, is clearly an adiaphoron. And if someone wants to make something more of it, then charity requires our dissent.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

William Weedon said...


How on earth can one disagree with the statement that incense is favorably pictured in both Old and New Testaments? In fact, a prime confession of the NT in the old speaks of the nations offering incense and a pure sacrifice from the rising of the sun to its setting. When we are given a glimpse of the "inside" reality of the Church in the Apocalypse it is no surprise that we find incense associated and identified with the prayers of God's holy people. Certainly incense is an adiaphoron. There is no command from our Lord that is must be used. Just as there is no command that prohibits its use in the Church. Luther strikes the exact right balance in neither prescribing nor prohibiting it in Formula Missae. So the Lutheran Service Book notes that it is appropriate to use incense as Psalm 141 is sung in Evening Prayer. Appropriate, not mandated. But appropriate also means, well, appropriate. It's a rubric that's very helpful in noting the appropriate use of an adiaphoron in the Church's worship. I've never yet met a pastor who insisted that one HAD to use incense, but if you have a congregation that insists that it is wrong to do so, it ceases to be an adiaphoron and becomes a matter of confession.

Acroamaticus said...


I wonder if it does become a matter of confession if it is not a matter of persecution? That seems to be what the Confessions' require - and not just a disagreement, however heated (pardon the pun!). Just a thought.

I have no problem with incense, even though I'm asthmatic! I've visted many a Russian Church and it caused me no problems, but that's not to say others don't suffer (I know this started as a joke, but the thing with asthma is that it is no laughing matter (people die from it everyday) and there are different triggers for different people; so I don't think we should rush in to judge. The prevalence of asthma in the modern world could well have something to do with the modern lifestyle and resultant increase of allergies).

Having said that, I wouldn't object to its occasional use in a Lutheran service, as it truly is adiaphora - as long as its use is explained so as not to be misunderstood.

But I suggest that the confessions urge us to consider this as something for the congregation - Gemeinde Gottes, ecclesia Dei - to decide, and not just the pastor (cf. SD X.9]. Perhaps therein lies the problem? If a pastor wished to introduce incense in an occasional worship service, discuss it with the congregation first and obtain their consent. Those with asthma can then be forewarned ;0)

George, I take it you are related to the sainted Kurt Marquart? I am a pastor in Toowoomba, Australia, where he served many years and is still fondly rememerbed by the older folk.

William Weedon said...

The Church of God in every place, though, is NOT the congregation, but the wider Church in that "land" (German).

Past Elder said...

Great Judas in disputatio, while I remain recused as to the use of incense, and any explanation why it is an entirely uncalled for return to the trappings of the OT which is not at all lessened by calling it an adiaphoron, and any playful offerings of extra points for spotting the reference to Cicero in that phrase, and any mention that if you are still reading this far and if you said Keekero instead of Cheechero then you're gonna walk around heaven with a foreige accent -- yes, while I remain entirely recused on the subject, I make bold to say, offering no extra points for spotting the parody of the summons to pray the Our Father, that this whole adiaphora business is itself a borrowing from classic Greek philosophy and not Christian, an adaptation of a concept originated by the Stoics in identifying those things humans seek after which are neither good not bad in themselves and therefore outside of morals per se, and that, there being neither an Augsburg nor a Leipzig Interim before us, we veer neither to Melanchthon's mittlegrund compromise nor Flacius' considerations of scandal, the latter being the tendency apparent direction here.

Also sprach der Vorsteher.

Anonymous said...

Rev. Weedon:

You ask, “How on earth can one disagree with the statement that incense is favorably pictured in both Old and New Testaments?” If that is the impression I gave, I failed to make myself clear. Pr. Peters’ argument was that the “command of God” in the OT is an argument for the use of incense by the people of the New Testament period. My point is that the use of incense, stoning, ceremonial cleansing, all are commanded, but that does not mean we are obligated to practice them. We agree that the use of incense is an adiaphoron. That, by definition, means that there is no convincing argument for it, or against it. If “favorable mention” is a convincing argument for it, it ceases to be an adiaphoron. So, yes, only a total ignoramus would deny that there is favorable mention of the use of incense in the OT. But what that means is subject to our Lord’s statement, Luke 16:16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached,…”

Rev. Henderson:

Kurt is my brother, born two years before me. I never had the good fortune to visit him and his family in Toowoomba, but I recall that he spoke very fondly of the people he served there and the area. I am currently looking forward to visiting part of his family in Indiana next month.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Past Elder said...

You ain't done incense until you fill the place with it, at the same time singing Et antiquum documentum novo cedat ritui, the antiquum documentum not cedating to anything novo.

If we're gonna bring back the smells bring back the bells too, and the Asperges me!

Which reminds me of one of my favourites, Asparagus Me, best served with Eggs Benedictus, in finer refectories everywhere!

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

That is an interesting visual; chanting the Tantum Ergo whilst inhaling the antiquum documentum.

Praestet fides supplementum
Sensuum defectui indeed.

Chris said...

The opposition to the use of incense by Lutherans always comes down to that horribly inconsistently misapplied and misunderstood guide of adiaphoron. The objection that as worshipers "we simply don't need it" because worship is spiritual betrays a modern gnosticism that has infiltrated modern Lutheranism in particular and Protestantism in general. Worship is to bring the entire person, body, soul, mind, etc. into prayer and communion with the Almighty. Are there other ways to do that besides incense? Yes. There is also the Eucharist. But, nowhere do I see that condemned because it is not exclusively in the "spiritual" domain. If you deny that our senses and bodies have a place in heavenly worship and should be stimulated appropriately towards that heavenly worship, do you also deny a bodily resurrection?

Pr Mark Henderson said...

But that's not what the German text says, it's 'jedes ortes', in every place, or better, in each place. Lit. "where the action is", or "on the spot". The word 'land' doesn't come into it, which is why it's never been translated as such. That's not to say wider synodical considerations don't come into it - of course they do, but it's a matter of ceremonies being ordered "in each place" where the Divine Service is conducted. Perhaps there's even a cultic reference in the words used ("in every place"). Guess how Luther translated Pauls' word? Orten. This is not only good Biblical and Confessional theology, in relation to this issue it's (sanctified) common sense.
My 2c worth.

William Weedon said...


That will learn me to go on a 50 year old memory! But the point still holds - because the Formula must be interpreted by what the Formulators PRACTICED. And what someone like Chemnitz practiced was drawing up a Church Order for a territory like Braunschweig Wolfenbüttel and then enforcing it throughout the territory by law. As Superintendent of the Duchy, Chemnitz would visit the parishes of the Duchy each year to check on the doctrine of the pastors AND the ceremonies in use in the Churches and whether they conformed to the Church Order. That simply cannot be ignored.

Acroamaticus said...


Yes, this is a very interesting area, isn't it (we're getting way off incense now!). All I can say is I thank God every day that I am not a District President!

Now, I agree it cannot be ignored, but how much do you want to make the ecclesial practice of 450 years ago determinative for today? Remember, the confessions say "in every time" as well as "in every place"! :0) The practice of the confessors is illustrative, but determinative? Sure, we need to factor it in, but then we are in a different time and place, and I think the confessors are saying, "you need to work it out yourselves, guys". That's what it means to be both evangelical and catholic.

Granted, a strict church order a la Brunswick would solve a lot of problems (oh, yes, don't I know it - we have the same issues down-under as you guys in LC-MS have) but is it the Evangelical answer? (OK, I know that word is just about useless now, but you know I mean 'informed by the Gospel'). And in any case, it surely wouldn't extend to *mandating* incense?

Anyway, I'm going to mull this over all this - I might post something on it - not incense, but SD X/IX [don't worry, I won't mention your name ;0)].

Pass the thurible.

Oh, and a Happy Reformation Day!