Friday, November 30, 2012

One of These Things Is Not Like The Others...

“We believe that God has justified all sinners, that is, he has declared them righteous for the sake of Christ. This is the central message of Scripture upon which the very existence of the church depends.”  ~  This We Believe, IV:1 

“Never does Paul teach universal justification. For as far as concerns 2 Corinthians 5, the words ‘not imputing their trespasses unto them,’ they are not to be understood universally about all men regardless of faith.”  ~  St. Aegidius Hunnius on behalf of the Wittenberg Faculty (as quoted in T. Hardt, "Justification and Easter").

“In the elect, who are justified by Christ and reconciled with God, God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, who is the eternal and essential righteousness, dwells by faith (for all Christians are temples of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, who also impels them to do right), yet this indwelling of God is not the righteousness of faith of which St. Paul treats and which he calls iustitiam Dei, that is, the righteousness of God, for the sake of which we are declared righteous before God; but it follows the preceding righteousness of faith, which is nothing else than the forgiveness of sins and the gracious adoption of the poor sinner, for the sake of Christ's obedience and merit alone.”  ~  The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, III:54

"[Psalm 130] Verse 4.--But mercy is with Thee, that Thou mayst be feared. [. . .] If God should deal sharply with us, then should our transgressions daily and continually move him to mark straitly, and sharply to punish us.  But he will not mark our iniquities.  This he requireth, that we believe in Christ.  Then will he bear with us, then will he wink at our weakness, and pardon our transgressions, yea, in respect of our faith in Christ, he will accept us as righteous.  [. . .]  Wherefore I will not despair, I will not suffer myself to be swallowed up with heaviness; but I will turn unto the Lord, who hath promised mercy, who also hath commanded that I should trust and believe in him.    Thus David setteth forth in this verse the sum and effect of all true Christian doctrine, and that sun which giveth light unto the church.  For whilst this doctrine standeth the church shall stand and flourish.  But when this doctrine faileth, the church must needs fail and fall to ruin.   ~ Blessed Martin Luther's Commentary on Psalm 130:4, (A Commentary on the Psalms called the Psalms of Degrees, pp. 358-359).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


The term “necessary” does not typically evoke thoughts of ambiguity.  Either something is necessary or it is not.  For example, if an instruction booklet says it is necessary to do step A prior to step B, one will not typically attempt to do step B prior to step A.  This might entirely ruin the project.  Moreover, when one uses the word “necessary,” one does not usually feel the need to qualify it with modifiers like “absolutely.”  And yet, in the realm of theology, some have found it necessary to determine whether or not certain things that the Sacred Scriptures define as “necessary” are in fact “absolutely necessary.”   In particular, the topic of Holy Baptism is usually subjected to this peculiar use of words.  Many Lutheran theologians will laud Baptism as “necessary for salvation,” but not “absolutely necessary.”

For the longest time, I bought into this theologizing hook, line, and sinker.  Of course all that is necessary for salvation is faith, right?  After all, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith,” or so the Blessed Apostle says in his Epistle to the Ephesians.  He doesn’t say “by grace through faith in Baptism.”  Or does he?

In his Epistle to the Colossians, St. Paul says that we were “ buried with Him in baptism, in which [we] also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God.”  So Baptism is the Means by which we are buried and raised with Christ through faith.  But isn’t it possible to have faith outside of Baptism?  After all, Holy Writ cites a number of examples where people believed in Christ and later asked to be baptized, not to mention the fact that in earlier days the Church waited to baptize catechumens for a significant period of time, presumably long after they came to believe in Christ as their Savior.  Surely these people would be saved if they died prior to the Holy Bath.

If we look at Christ’s words in the Holy Gospel according to St. John, His message is very clear:  “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”   Of course, this is what Christ REALLY meant: "one can enter the kingdom of God in extraordinary circumstances where the birth by water and the Spirit is not available."  Right?

This is what many theologians would have us believe.  And it surely is a comforting thought.  I would love to say that the many infants who die without Baptism are saved.  I would like to think that the millions of indigenous people who were brutally slaughtered by European colonization might be saved.  But is that what the Lord says?  “I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  He does not seem to leave much room for ambiguity.

This leads me to a WELS Q&A Article that was recently brought to my attention, with which I am in full agreement.  I will reproduce the question and its answer here:

If a baby dies before it is baptized, what happens to that baby's soul?

Please allow me to share one of the major principles that we follow in our faith-life: if the Bible is silent on a particular subject, we resolve not to manufacture an answer and offer it as God's Word. Although it may be frustrating, we sometimes do not have an answer that satisfies our interest or curiosity because God has chosen not to reveal sufficient information on a particular subject.

This is what we know. The Bible clearly teaches that ALL people, from conception on, are sinful and have inherited guilt in addition to a sinful nature that rebels against God. By nature we all stand under God's judgment. The Bible also teaches that only God with his divine love and power is able to rescue us from that horrible situation of alienation from him. He provided a Savior or Rescuer from sin and guilt, namely, his Son Jesus Christ. And he gives us the gift of faith (trust, reliance) in Jesus that personally receives the blessings Jesus earned for us. The Bible also tells us God chooses to create and maintain saving faith in Jesus through the gospel (good news) that he brings to us in the Bible and Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Baptism is an instrument that God uses to give people (including infants) spiritual life to replace spiritual death. 

But what if an infant for some reason dies without being baptized? The Bible doesn't provide an explicit, direct answer to that question.

We are aware of the child's sinful nature, and that might make us pessimistic about the child's future. We also are aware of God's love for that child and his knowledge of the circumstances that prevented baptism. That might make us optimistic. We wouldn't deny that God could have created saving faith in the child aside from the gospel and baptism. But the bottom line doesn't change, does it? The Bible does not provide explicit information on this subject nor enable us to give a 100% happy and comforting answer for those who have lost an unbaptized child. We must leave this in God's hands. 
I think the first paragraph is the most important part to keep in mind when considering whether or not Baptism is “absolutely” necessary.  Christ says “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  We should not venture beyond these clear Words.  Can God create faith in a heart without Baptism?  Well, God can do anything.  But consider the Blessed Reformer’s words in his Large Catechism:

“Faith must have something which it believes, that is, of which it takes hold, and upon which it stands and rests. Thus faith clings to the water, and believes that it is Baptism, in which there is pure salvation and life; not through the water (as we have sufficiently stated), but through the fact that it is embodied in the Word and institution of God, and the name of God inheres in it.”

In this context, it seems that saving faith inherently clings to Baptism.  Now, is it possible for faith to cling or "look forward" to a desired Baptism, in the same way that Old Testament believers "looked forward" to the coming Christ?  It would seem so.  Thus, what some call a “Baptism of Desire” may be possible.  I personally hold to this opinion.  St. Augustine believed that it was possible for Martyrs to receive a “Baptism of Blood” if they were killed prior to being baptized.  That is certainly a laudable opinion.  But that's all these ideas are: pious opinions.  Sacred Scripture is silent, so we should not attempt to dogmatize one way or the other.  We should simply say what Christ’s clear words say:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Christmas Eve Vespers

On December 22nd, a pan-Confessional Christmas Service will be held at St. John's Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  We will be observing the historic Christmas Eve Vespers.  All are welcome to attend, but it is geared specifically towards Confessional Lutherans who seek to worship with like-minded individuals in the historic Lutheran tradition.  As such, rather than celebrating this festive occasion on the 24th, we will observe it on the 22nd so that guests and visitors will not be drawn away from their home parishes during this important time of the year.

The Service will be drawn in large part from the Vespers liturgy as laid out in The Lutheran Hymnal.  Come and hear beautiful music sung by a choir and sing the nostalgic Christmas hymns of the past and present. Most of all, come and hear the Gospel of a Saviour who came to earth as a child to redeem us from our sin. Let your friends and family know. We hope to see you there.
P.S. Consider "attending" on Facebook!

Saint John Evangelical-Lutheran Church, 804 W. Vliet St. in Milwaukee.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Heaven on Earth!

"It was heaven on earth!"  This and similar phrases are often used in colloquial discourse to reference things that one finds exceptional in some way or another.  Perhaps you've uttered it after eating a tasty desert, or seeing a really good movie, or even after completing a state of the art videogame.  For the Christian, however, "heaven on earth" has a very particular spiritual meaning.

At this point, many of my more liturgically-minded friends will likely have called to mind Dr. Arthur A. Just, Jr.'s wonderful book, Heaven on Earth: The Gifts of Christ in the Divine Service.  It is a rather comprehensive work, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the Liturgy and why we do what we do during the Divine Service (you can also begin with my earlier post, "Liturgy is Anything but Indifferent").  As the title of Dr. Just's work suggests, in a very real sense the Divine Service gives us "Heaven on Earth."  How so?  In simplest terms, the Divine Service gives us Christ.  The Holy Spirit working in the Holy Gospel - the Means of Grace - gives us the merits and promises of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.  More specifically, in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, the Lord Jesus deigns to dwell with us in a physical, literally tangible sense.   St. John Chyrsostom, one of the great Doctors of the Church, captured this well when he wrote:

"Here in this place this Mystery turns earth into heaven for you. Open, therefore, the gates of heaven and look within. You will see what I have said. For That which is most precious and most honored above all things in heaven, I will show you now set on the earth. In a king's palace what is most magnificent is not the walls or the golden roof, but the body of the king sitting on his throne. So in heaven the Body of the King is the most magnificent; and it is this same thing that you now behold on the earth. For I am not showing you angels or archangels, nor heavens nor the heaven of heavens, but the Lord of all these! Do you now see how you are looking on earth at Him who is of more worth than everything else? And you are not only looking at Him, but also touching Him! And not only are you touching Him but also eating Him and, having received Him, you then return home" (Homily 24 on First Corinthians, Paragraph 8).

For all the beauty of our sanctuaries and the very glory of Heaven itself, none of it compares to the Gift we receive in the Divine Service:  we receive Christ, the very King of Kings and Lord of Lords Who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.  He condescends to us.  He doesn't merely allow us to touch and see Him in the way He lovingly dealt with St. Thomas' doubts; rather, He allows us to "taste and see that the Lord is good."  We eat the Body and Blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.  The beauty of this truth cannot be overstated.

My good friend and kantor, Dagan Siepert, came across an obscure melody harmonized by Blessed J. S. Bach entitled "Liebster Immanuel" (see picture), which is not found in most contemporary hymnals.  He asked me to write a hymn text fitting this melody on the topic of the Blessed Sacrament. My inspiration was the excerpt from St. John Chyrsostom cited above.   Comments and criticisms are welcome:

Heaven on earth! Mystery beyond measure:
Creator unites with created things!
Penitent hearts receive wealth from this Treasure:
Pardon and life and salvation He brings!

In a magnificent palace what renders
Praise is not golden-clad walls and decor;
No, ‘tis the king on his throne with his splendors
Who is the object his subjects adore.

Angels or archangels we do not view now,
Nor is the heaven of heav’ns what we see;
Rather, we see Him, the Lord to Whom these bow;
Whose worth exceeds all that ever shall be.

And, not just seeing, but touching, receiving,
His Blood we drink and His Body we eat.
And in so doing are truly returning
Home to our God, with His fullness replete.

Your Body, Savior, is splendor supernal;
Your Blood New Testament pardon procures.
Your merits, Lord, won by suff’rings infernal,
Peace and life for all Your faithful secures.

Here with all saints we are communing truly
For, where the Head is, His members are, too.
Time and place - even death - cannot unduly
Separate us from those who trust in You.

For Your Blessed Sacrament, Heaven on Earth, Lord
Jesus, to You be all praise, as is right
Who with the Father and Spirit is adored;
One God, co-equal in glory and might. Amen.

Additional verse:
Of the Lamb’s marriage feast we now have foretaste:
In bread and wine joined with Body and Blood.
So, like wise virgins, to It we now make haste;
we who are washed in the Baptismal Flood.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

On Sectarian Innovation

Most advocates of so-called “contemporary worship” seem to think that those of us who find some of their methods questionable are stuck-in-the-mud old foggies who can’t stand hearing guitar music blaring in our aged ears. However, I for one am not an opponent of guitars. For that matter, I am not an opponent of contemporary (per the dictionary definition - that is, "of the present time; modern") music either. While I may find myself aligned with the traditionalist Lutheran camp, I’ll admit it: I listen to Koiné. And I certainly don’t spend my free time listening solely to the oldies or classical music.

So what’s the beef? I like contemporary music. I don’t even mind listening to some of the contemporary Christian stuff that is out there.  So what’s wrong with applying new forms to our worship music?

The simple answer is that nothing is inherently wrong with new forms.  The pipe organ was not ordained by God; other instruments are not by nature sinful.  To this end, although it has its origins before the Birth of Christ, the organ wasn’t always viewed favorably in worship either.  Luther is said to have called the organ an “ensign of Baal.” In fact, instrumentation of any form was once forbidden by the Church Fathers. The use of these implements, though centuries and millennia old, was once as frowned upon as praise bands are today.

Am I saying that opposing praise bands is just as absurd as opposing the pipe organ? Not at all. The Fathers had good reason for rejecting the use of instrumentation in the early days of the Church. The theological landscape of that era did not favor a predominance of Christianity. Paganism and heresy abounded. One of the hallmarks of pagan worship was the use of various kinds of instrumentation, instruments which tended to be associated with the secular world more than the religious. So the Fathers rejected the use of these forms as secular innovations that would associate the Church with something she is not. St. Clement of Alexandria captured this ideology well when he wrote: “The Etruscans use the trumpet, the Arcadians the pipe, the Sicilians the pectides, the Cretans the lyre, the Lacedæmonians the flute, the Thracians the horn, the Egyptians the drum, and the Arabians the cymbal. The one instrument of peace, the Word alone by which we honor God, is what we employ. We no longer employ the ancient psaltery, and trumpet, and timbrel, and flute, which those expert in war and contemners of the fear of God were wont to make use of also in the choruses at their festive assemblies” (HT: New Advent).

In short, the Fathers saw the use of instrumentation as an attempt to profane the sacred, or clothe the sacred with the profane, if you will.

This highlights one of my major objections to “contemporary” (or, more accurately, “sectarian”) music. It’s a matter of origin. Simply put: it’s the music of the sects! The radical, protestant sects utilize praise bands. It is where the practice originated. Their use is associated with "evangelical" mega "churches."  If there comes a day when "evangelical," protestant ideology is no longer a major threat to the Lutheran Church and praise bands are no longer associated with the same, then their use in orthodox worship may be acceptable. In the mean time, though, why on earth would we want to align ourselves with sectarian brothels of heresy? The answer to that question may shed some light on faulty motivations. Perhaps thinking as the sects do is to blame. Perhaps thinking that the utilization of their seemingly productive methods will help attract young and unsuspecting people into our midst is a factor. 

This is another reason that mimicking the sects is so dangerous:  The way one worships is reflective of what one believes.  As I pointed out in an earlier post lauding the Divine Liturgy, the Latin dictum lex orandi, lex credendi is important to keep in mind when discussing the topic of worship.  The sects utilize praise bands because they think that their man-made worship forms enhance or attract people to the Holy Gospel.  It is reflective of a lack of faith in the efficacy of God's Word and His ability to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify the whole Christian Church on earth and keep it in the one true faith.   And more often than not, it is reflective of anthropocentric worship paradigms that "seek to offer to God our merits" rather than "receive from Him those things which He promises and offers" (Apology IV:49)

"But," one might argue,  "I make sure to carefully analyze sectarian material, using only that which is 'doctrinally pure.'  I 'spoil the Egyptians,' as they say."  This argument fails to address the points I raised above.  Even if you weed out the elements that are obviously impure, the seemingly "doctrinally pure" remnants were still written from a sectarian frame of mind.  One of the founders of the Synodical Conference, C. F. W. Walther, addressed this faulty logic well when he wrote:

"A preacher of our church also has the holy duty to give souls entrusted to his care pure spiritual food, indeed, the very best which he can possibly obtain. In Methodist songs there is much which is false, and which contains spiritual poison for the soul. Therefore, it is soul-murder to set before children such poisonous food. If the preacher claims, that he allows only 'correct' hymns to be sung, this does not excuse him. For, first of all, the true Lutheran spirit is found in none of them; second, our hymns are more powerful, more substantive, and more prosaic; third, those hymns which deal with the Holy Sacraments are completely in error; fourth, when these little sectarian hymnbooks come into the hands of our children, they openly read and sing false hymns" (HT: Intrepid Lutherans).

To be charitable, at this point it is worth acknowledging the fact that many people who turn to “contemporary” music do so only to add variety to their worship life, rather than for any sectarian reasons.  Let me be the first to say that I am no opponent of variety.   At the parish I'm playing the organ for this coming weekend, I have the opportunity to utilize a new worship setting.  We've only used it once before, and it's only been used at another parish once before that.  Spoiler alert: when we used it in September, we made use of non-organ instrumentation. Piano, trumpet, and soloist/choral singers were involved. And you know what? I wouldn’t have been opposed to using a flute, percussion, strings, or other kinds of strategically placed instrumentation either. In fact, I hope to use such in the future.

This brings me to another major problem I have with sectarian worship: the matter of words. Variety is okay, but what message are we conveying? First and foremost, Scripture needs to be conveyed. Worship music exists to glorify the Sacred text, not the other way around. This is why the Fathers favored chant over instrumentation: chant is glorified speaking. It glorifies the Word, rather than providing music for the sake of music. So if the message we are conveying is 98 refrains of “shine, Jesus shine,” we have a problem. If our message is borrowed from the Calvinists, Arminians, or even the Papists, we have a big problem.

But the issue of words goes even deeper. As Lutherans, we confess to uphold and defend the Mass and celebrate it with more reverence than anyone else (Augsburg Confession XXIV:1; Apology XXIV:1). You know that new worship setting the parish I'm playing for this weekend is using? It is a setting of the Common Service. It isn’t a sectarian innovation. It isn’t something we conveniently borrowed from the Papists’ Second Vatican Council. It is the liturgical heritage of the Evangelical Lutheran Church - the Service that was Common to nearly all of American Lutheranism prior to the advent of new liturgical rites in the 20th Century (many of which shamelessly mimic the fruits of Vatican II).

Why does that mater? Because we are not a sectarian church. We do not bend our knee to the innovations of the pope. We are the Lutheran Church - we are a liturgical church. The Liturgy most certainly changes, evolves, and allows for variation - both regional and over time. But the Liturgy does not allow for sectarian and papal innovations. 

So you want to have variety in your worship life? Fine! Just make sure you consider where the variety originated, what message it’s conveying, and that "frivolity and offense" are avoided for the sake of the weak. If your variety avoids mimicking the sects and expresses the Scriptures as found in the Liturgy of the Church and orthodox hymnody (even new hymnody!), then you’re okay in my book - even if the musical forms are different every single week.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Means Mean Everything

I have been a Lutheran in name for as long as I can remember.  I entered the Lutheran parochial school system in preschool and continued in it through my senior year of high school.  After that, I seriously considered attending a Lutheran college and getting a seminary education.  I went to church every weekend, confirmation classes for four years, and even attended an adult confirmation/refresher course with my parents until youth group started.  I attended all sorts of bible studies and small groups.  But for all the classes I attended, something just wasn’t “clicking.”  For the longest time, I just didn't understand the Blessed Means of Grace.

This should not be construed as a bad reflection upon my catechesis.  To be sure, my pastor consistently taught (and teaches) about the Means of Grace.  But my ears were closed.  I just couldn't believe that Baptism is salvific, much less that it “gives faith” to babies.  Yes, pastor taught the orthodox position, but I heard what I wanted to hear.   Likewise, I knew that pastor taught the Holy Supper is Christ’s true Body and Blood under the forms of the bread and wine.  But I understood this in a “spiritual,” Reformed way.  Indeed, in high school I was heavily influenced by Reformed ways of thinking.  I listened to Reformed apologists and conversed with Reformed people on the internet.  I considered myself a Protestant in the fullest sense of the term.

But how did this happen?  Why was I so resistant to my Lutheran upbringing?  One answer is that I thought I knew it all.  I thought I had everything figured out.  I never entertained the possibility that I didn’t actually know everything there is to know about theology.  Worse still is the fact that my acquaintance with Reformed theology led me to view the Christian faith in anthropocentric terms rather than Christocentric ones.  This was compounded by the fact that, to the shame of the "Lutheran" schools (especially high school) I attended, my familiarity with the Lutheran Symbols was almost nil.  When the truth of Lutheran orthodoxy finally “clicked,” it was because the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to to the teachings of Scripture as I read them in the Confessions.  It was because He led me to this revelation:  Christianity isn’t about what I do for God!  My biggest epiphany came when I read the following excerpts from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession:

"And the difference between this faith and the righteousness of the Law can be easily discerned. Faith is the latreiva [divine service], which receives the benefits offered by God; the righteousness of the Law is the latreiva [divine service] which offers to God our merits. By faith God wishes to be worshiped in this way, that we receive from Him those things which He promises and offers"    (IV:49)
"Thus the worship and divine service of the Gospel is to receive from God gifts; on the contrary, the worship of the Law is to offer and present our gifts to God"  (III:189).   

  It was like a light-bulb went on.  It’s when I finally understood the point of going to Church - why we do the things we do.  Why we have the Sacraments.  It’s not about remembering something that happened 2,000 years ago.  It’s about receiving the grace of God right now!  It’s about receiving the forgiveness that Christ won on Calvary here in the present age.  It’s about connecting us with Christ.  No longer did I sing “we stand forgiven at the cross” with Keith Getty & Stuart Townend.   My refrain became “I stand forgiven at the Altar, Font, and Pulpit.”  

I finally understood that it all started in Baptism, where I was clothed with Christ by the powerful working of the Holy Spirit in Word-empowered water.  No longer does God look at me as an enemy; He looks at me as a son.  As His Son.  He declared me righteous and just, seeing Christ’s life in me.  I am justified.  More than a cosmic facade, though, God’s declaration of righteousness made me righteous.  My old nature was crucified with Christ and I was raised to life with a new nature.  I was recreated in Christ’s image.  This was the beginning of the work of sanctification.  

But that old man doesn’t drown easy.  He’s a good swimmer.  Thus, as the Blessed Reformer once wrote in his 95 Theses, the Christian life is one of repentance.  Through daily repentance that old man continues to drown in the waters of my Baptism.  In Holy Absolution, I receive the forgiveness of sins that Christ acquired for me.  My new man is empowered to live a new life.  Likewise, when I hear a pastor proclaim and expound upon the Word of God, my old man is slain with the Law and my new man is empowered by the Gospel.

So too in the Holy Supper - that Most Blessed Sacrament - Christ condescends to me and physically gives me the tangible forgiveness of sins; His Body broken and His Blood outpoured.  I receive new life through His death, peace through His suffering, and salvation by His condemnation.  These gifts are made mine as I kneel side by side with my brothers in the faith, who have also been justified by the saving work of Christ.  I commune with the whole body of Christ, the Ecclesia Catholica, whether in this temporal sphere or around the Throne of God. 

This is the true Catholic faith.  Christ comes to us and forgives us in real time.  He isn’t a God far-off, watching the eons roll by.  He is a God-with-us.  A God Who deigns to dwell with His children in more ways than one.  A God Who physically dwells with His children in such earthly means as human flesh and water and bread and wine.  

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Elephant in the Room - Romans 5:18-19

This is the first in a series of posts that seek to present key passages pertaining to the doctrine of Justification by comparing the statements of contemporary authors with the patristic writings of the the Church Catholic. It's by no means exhaustive; if it were, there would be far too many quotations for a simple blog post. But I hope it brings to mind a number of important questions: "Why is there so much disconnect? Why do the interpretations of these passages appear to completely contradict and disagree with one another?" (The second and third post can now be found here and here, respectively)

-- Exegesis of Romans 5:18 and/or 19 by contemporary sources --

A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod (1932)

4:25." (

This We Believe (WELS, 1999)
"1. We believe that God has justified all sinners, that is, he has declared them righteous for the sake of Christ. This is the central message of Scripture upon which the very existence of the church depends. It is a message relevant to people of all times and places, of all races and social levels, for 'the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men' (Romans 5:18). All need forgiveness of sins before God, and Scripture proclaims that all have been justified, for "the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men' (Romans 5:18)." (

Francis Pieper
"God no longer looks upon sinful man with wrath, but 'before His divine tribunal' forgives the sins of mankind, does not impute their trespasses unto them (2 Cor. 5:19). 'By the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life' (Rom. 5:18). And this reconciliation is, as has been shown, complete and perfect, extensively and intensively, for we certainly have no right to restrict the meaning of of either the terms 'world' (2 Cor. 5:19) and 'all men' (Rom. 5:18) or the terms 'not imputing their trespasses' (2 Cor. 5:19) and 'justification' (Rom. 5:18). Nor do these passages speak merely of a new relation between God and man, but they state definitely that God’s action produced the new relation, God’s action in not imputing their sins unto men, in forgiving them their sins, in justifying men in His heart, this is the meaning of objective reconciliation, as taught in 2 Cor. 5:19, Rom. 5:18; 5:10; 4:25. (CHRISTIAN DOGMATICS, by Francis Pieper, Volume 2, pages 398 & 399)

Siegbert Becker
"Paul teaches the same truth in his epistle to the Romans (5:18)...because of the sin of Adam all men were condemned or declared guilty by God. In the same way all men were justified or declared innocent, righteous, not guilty because of what Christ did as their substitute." 
Universal Justification <>

--Interpretations of Romans 5:18 and/or 19 in the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and Statements from Orthodox Lutheran Fathers--

The Lutheran Confessions
Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord

"This faith is a gift of God, by which we truly learn to know Christ, our Redeemer, in the Word of the Gospel, and trust in Him, that for the sake of His obedience alone we have the forgiveness of sins by grace, are regarded as godly and righteous by God the father, and are eternally saved. 12] Therefore it is considered and understood to be the same thing when Paul says that we are justified by faith, Rom. 3:28, or that faith is counted to us for righteousness, Rom. 4:5, and when he says that we are made righteous by the obedience of One, Rom. 5:19, or that by the righteousness of One justification of faith came to all men, Rom. 5:18. 13] For faith justifies, not for this cause and reason that it is so good a work and so fair a virtue, but because it lays hold of and accepts the merit of Christ in the promise of the holy Gospel; for this must be applied and appropriated to us by faith, if we are to be justified thereby." (

Epitome of the Formula of Concord

"He rendered to the Father even unto death, and thereby merited for us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, as it is written: As by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous, Rom. 5:19." (

Aegidius Hunnius
"Thesis 5
This notwithstanding, we most willingly grant that there is a righteousness that avails before God for the entire human race, a righteousness that has been gained and acquired through Christ, so that if the whole world were to believe in Christ, then the whole world would be justified. With respect to this, Paul writes in Romans 5 that 'through one man’s justification (dikaioma), the gift has spread toward all men for justification (dikaiosis) of life.' Nevertheless, no one is justified nor does anyone receive remission of sins from this acquired universal righteousness without the imputation of this acquired righteousness of Christ. But the imputation of righteousness does not take place except through faith."
(; p.58)

St. Augustine
"For as the clause, By the offense of one, upon all men to condemnation, is so worded that not one is omitted in its sense, so in the corresponding clause, By the righteousness of One, upon all men unto justification of life, no one is omitted in its sense—not, indeed, because all men have faith and are washed in His baptism, but because no man is justified unless he believes in Christ and is cleansed by His baptism. The term  all is therefore used in a way which shows that no one whatever can be supposed able to be saved by any other means than through Christ Himself. For if in a city there be appointed but one instructor, we are most correct in saying: That man teaches all in that place; not meaning, indeed, that all who live in the city take lessons of him, but that no one is instructed unless taught by him. In like manner no one is justified unless Christ has justified him." (Citation below, in next quote.)

"For, he says, as by the offense of one upon all men to condemnation; even so by the justification of one upon all men unto justification of life. Romans 5:18....Moreover, if Christ alone is He in whom all men are justified, on the ground that it is not simply the imitation of His example which makes men just, but His grace which regenerates men by the Spirit, then also Adam is the only one in whom all have sinned, on the ground that it is not the mere following of his evil example that makes men sinners, but the penalty which generates through the flesh. Hence the terms  'all men' and  'all men.' For not they who are generated through Adam are actually the very same as those who are regenerated through Christ; but yet the language of the apostle is strictly correct, because as none partakes of carnal generation except through Adam, so no one shares in the spiritual except through Christ. For if any could be generated in the flesh, yet not by Adam; and if in like manner any could be generated in the Spirit, and not by Christ; clearly 'all' could not be spoken of either in the one class or in the other. But these  'all' the apostle afterwards describes as 'many'; for obviously, under certain circumstances, the all may be but a few. The carnal generation, however, embraces  many, and the spiritual generation also includes  many; although the many of the spiritual are less numerous than the many of the carnal. But as the one embraces all men whatever, so the other includes all righteous men; because as in the former case none can be a man without the carnal generation, so in the other class no one can be a righteous man without the spiritual generation; in both instances, therefore, there are many: For as by the disobedience of one man many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Romans 5:19." (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 5. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <>.)

Martin Luther
For in the same manner also St. Paul writes in Romans 5[:18]: "As through one man's sin condemnation has come over all men ,so through one man's righteousness justification has come over all men." Yet not all men are justified through Christ, nevertheless he is the man through whom all justification comes. It is the same here. Even if not all men are illumined, yet this is the light from which alone all illumination comes. (Luther's Works: Vol. 52: page 71)

Johann Gerhard

"3) If we wanted to go beyond the limits of the Apostolic comparison, someone could infer from the same that the righteousness of Christ is propagated to us through carnal generation, since the unrighteousness of Adam is communicated to us in that manner.  Likewise, one could infer that the righteousness of Christ is propagated to all men together, without any regard for faith or unbelief, since the sin of Adam is propagated to all through carnal generation.
4) But since that is absurd, a distinction must fully be made between the acquisition and the application of the merit of Christ; or between the benefit itself and participation in the benefit.  The acquisition of the merit, or the benefit itself obtained by the death of Christ is general.  For as Adam, by his disobedience, enveloped all of his posterity in the guilt of sin, so Christ, who suffered and died for the sins of all, also merited and acquired righteousness for all.  But this benefit is only applied to those who are grafted into Christ by faith, and only they become participants in this benefit." (Citation below, in next quote.)
“This verse is a summary of everything that came before.  That I may briefly summarize, he says, what I have said thus far concerning the comparison between Adam and Christ, the matter boils down to this: Just as the guilt that was contracted from one transgression of Adam sentences all men to death, so the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to believers by faith justifies them, so that they are restored again to participate in the eternal life that had been lost in Adam and through Adam.

[You ask,] But how did the righteousness of Christ overflow to all men for justification, since not all men are justified?  We reply: The Apostle is not speaking about the application of the benefit, but of the acquisition of the benefit.  If we wish to descend to the application, that universality must be restricted to those who are grafted into Christ by faith. For as the unrighteousness of Adam is communicated to all those who are descended from him by carnal generation, so the righteousness of Christ is communicated to all those who are grafted into Him through faith and spiritual regeneration." ( and

Martin Chemnitz

“1. The merit which God the Father regards and on account of which He justifies believers freely through his grace. Here belong the passages of Scripture which clearly speak of merit, such as Rom. 4:25...1 Cor. 15:3...Rom. 5:6...1 Peter 2:21...1 John 4:10...And also with regard to the ransom which Christ paid, note the entire article of the Creed: “He suffered...was crucified,” etc. Concerning the perfect obedience note Rom. 5:19...”
Martin Chemnitz, Loci Theologici, 2 vols., trans. J. A. O. Preus, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1989, II, p. 1127.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Cassocks, Genevas, and Albs - Oh My!

The topic of clerical vestments is one that is often mired by the red herrings of personal preference and papaphobia.  Coupled with these realities is the fact that most laymen (and even clergy) have no idea what these vestments mean, much less how they developed. Growing up, the only vestiture I had acquaintance with was the black robe of my pastor and the stole he wears over it, the color of which varies with the season of the Church Year.  On occasion, a seminarian would preach when pastor was out of town.  The seminarians usually wore a white gown (an alb) and sometimes a rope-like belt (a cincture), which I naturally assumed was what all seminarians wore before they became pastors and graduated to the black robe.  Eventually, I observed full-fledged pastors also wearing white; some wore gowns like my pastor’s (“white Genevas”) and others wore what I had seen the seminarians wear.  At this point I was led to believe that the matter was entirely one of adiaphora. 

In high school, chapel leaders (usually teachers) almost always wore business attire, but on special feast days the presiding pastor was typically vested in an alb.  Even more unusually, on some feast days there would be a procession, complete with a processional cross and candles.  The students who participated in this procession were also vested in albs.  I thought the whole sordid affair was utterly “Catholic” (if only I had known how right I was!).  Speaking of Catholic, during my junior year I was privileged to attend a WELS Band Festival event in Michigan.  The host family I stayed with attended a parish where the pastor wore a colored garment - and an ornately decorated one at that (a garment I now recognize as a chasuble).  This was scandalous to me at the time, and we had a long talk about the pernicious state of the WELS in youth group the following week.

However, after becoming acquainted with Lutheran orthodoxy, my understanding of clerical vestments vastly changed.  The Lutheran blogosphere led me to understand the history and development of liturgical vestitutre, as well as the fact that the Lutheran Church never abandoned them - in fact, she confesses to maintain them: “Among us [. . .] the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, [emphasis added] and other like things" (AP:XXIV:1).  

So, what exactly is the traditional vestiture of the Western Church?  A good place to start is with those vestments used at the celebration of the Chief Divine Service - that is, the Service of Holy Communion. 

Example of cassock and amice
1. Cassock.  The cassock is a full-length black garment that was traditionally used as the daily uniform of the clergy.  In other words, its historical use wasn’t so much liturgical as it was practical.  One might equate it with the business suit that most pastors wear in WELS circles.  Today, however, most members of the clergy only wear cassocks with their liturgical vestments, and without a doubt it has deep symbolic meaning.  First and foremost, its color is representative of humility and mourning, particularly highlighting the unworthy sinfulness of the person wearing it.  In addition, traditional cassocks come replete with 33 buttons, each of which represent the 33 years Christ lived on this earth.  It should be noted, however, that cassocks are not limited to the clergy.  They can be worn by any church worker, particularly those who spend a significant amount of time in the sanctuary and whose liturgical function warrants the use of a surplice (explained below).

2.  Amice.

Although a vestigial head covering, the amice is still symbolically recognized as the “helmet of salvation” (cf. Ephesians 6:17), as indicated by the Roman vesting prayers.  In contemporary usage, the amice rests on the shoulders of the clergy, directly over the cassock.  It is composed of white cloth of varying ornamentation, and is fastened with two ribbons on its opposing ends. 
3. Alb. 
Example of alb, stole, and cincture
The alb is the full-length garment that covers the cassock and amice.  Its covering of the black (remniscient of sin) cassock is extremely symbolic, since its vesting prayer hearkens to what we call the "robe of Christ's righteousness;" that is, the robes of the saints who have washed their robes in the Blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14).  The historical development of this vestment is less profound, originating in the tunic worn by the citizens of the Roman Empire.  Moreover, like the cassock, it was once considered part of the standard wear of the clergy.  Eventually, it developed a strictly liturgical presence, much like the cassock is transitioning to in our day.   

4. Cincture.

The cincture is none other than a rope-like belt which holds the alb in place.  Given the symbolism attached to the preceding vestments, it is not unwarranted to consider the cincture as an analogy of St. Paul's charge: "gird...your waiste with truth," as written in the Epistle to the Ephesians (6:14).  Indeed, the name "cincture" is often used interchangeably with "girdle," drawing even greater parallels with St. Paul's words.  Likewise, the vesting prayer makes reference to the "girdle of purity," evoking a similar theme.

5. Stole.

The stole is a status symbol that developed as a sign of rank in certain facets of ancient Roman government.  In Liturgical use, the stole denotes the wearer's ordination.  Worn diagonally, it is symbolic of the diaconate; worn around the neck (as pictured), it is a symbol of the pastoral office.  Its color varies with the Church year.

An ornate alb, maniple, and chasuble
6. Maniple
The maniple is a small towel that the celebrant wears over his left arm.  Like the stole, it matches the color of the feast or day in the church year being observed.  It has been said that the maniple was historically used by the officiating clergy to wipe his tears and regain composure during the Mass.  Whether or not this is authentic, the maniple is most certainly a symbol of the anguish and grief that accompany the pastoral office, as exemplified by the vesting prayer, which calls for strength to bear the "weeping and sorrow" that accompany it.

7. Chasuble

The chasuble is the primary vestment worn by the pastor celebrating the Holy Supper.  The chasuble has the nature of a poncho and actually developed from an overcloak-like garment that was fashionable in the Roman Empire.   Chasubles come in various styles and decoration.  It should be noted, however, that in Lutheran usage the medieval style of chasuble - free-flowing to the celebrant's wrists (as pictured) - is favored, as opposed to the sleeveless, shield-shaped model favored by the Tridentine rite of the papists.  Symbolically, the chasuble represents the yoke of Christ (exemplified by the vesting prayers below), per His assurance in St. Matthew 11:30: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."

With the exception of the cassock, all of the above vestments are to be worn only when the Blessed Sacrament is celebrated.  In many Lutheran circles, however, it is common to see the pastor vested in an alb regardless of whether or not the Communion is being celebrated. However, this is a rather ahistoric practice.  Generally speaking, when a chasuble is not being worn, the traditional vestiture is a surplice.  Surplices are billowing white garments which typically rest at the wearer's knees, which separates them from their close-fitting, full-length counterpart, the alb.  Unlike the alb, a surplice can be worn by anyone, be it acolytes, organist, or choir members.  Likewise, they can be worn with a stole at any non-Communion occasion the pastor is officiating (especially the Divine Offices and Communion-less weddings and funerals).

File:School choir.jpg
A school choir clad in cassocks and surplices

But where does this leave the black preaching robe?  Many people refer to these as "Black Genevas." I mean, come on, just look at the name:  "Geneva."  The symbolic epicenter of the Reformed.  Home of John Calvin.  That sets off a few bells!

The truth of the matter is that the Geneva gown isn't a Reformed invention, though they were proponents of its use in worship.  Geneva gowns are simply the academic gowns that originated in medieval Europe, the use of which we retain in many aspects of contemporary life - graduation from high school and college, the judicial system, etc.

What is more, the use of black preaching robes in worship really originated with the Lutheran Reformers.  The Blessed Reformer himself wore a black preaching robe in lieu of the regular vestments.  Apparently, until 1523 he was wont to wear the usual Augustinian garb, but when his Elector sent him black cloth to make a black gown, he made use of it forthwith  (Paul L. Siegler, "Luther as Preacher," p. 5).  During the period of Lutheran Orthodoxy, it became the standard wear of Lutheran clergy outside of the larger parishes where traditional vestments were maintained.

So I'll be brutally honest:  I would rather see a black preaching robe than an alb (or such new-fangled innovations as  the cassock-alb).  There, I said it.  I may be biased - undoubtedly because it's what I'm used to - but it is certainly more a part of the Lutheran tradition than a plain alb.

Regardless, very few (if any) lay people think of these rationale in contemporary Lutheran circles.  No one uses black robes because they are "Reformed."  However, people do use the alb because they think it is more "historic."  Considering the ahistoric nature of using an alb without a chasuble, coupled with the fact that the Reformer himself used the black robe, I find it dubious to chastise the use of a black robe while lauding the stand-alone alb. 

Would it be fantastic if all pastors wore the traditional vestitutre of our Church?  Perhaps.  But in WELS circles especially, the black robe has developed a specific liturgical use.  And considering the fact that a chasuble-less alb is no more historic than a black robe, I for one will not judge a pastor for using one over the other.  What I will insist on, however, is that we educate ourselves concerning the meaning of all these vestments, along with their historical development and use.  After all, it doesn't bode well for our attempts to catechize the next generation if we even can't tell the difference between a cassock and a preaching robe.


1. Vesting Prayers
For the sake of reference and understanding the symbolic nature of these vestments,  Wikipedia provides a useful list of the vesting prayers in Latin and English as per the Roman Rite.  While these were largely abolished in Lutheran use after the Reformation, they are still useful in deciphering the meaning of each vestment, all of which seem entirely Evangelical:

The Celebrant first says, whilst washing his hands:
Da, Domine, virtutem manibus meis ad abstergendam omnem maculam ut sine pollutione mentis et corporis valeam tibi servire.
'Give virtue to my hands, O Lord, that being cleansed from all stain I might serve you with purity of mind and body.'

Then whilst putting on the amice, which he first puts on his head, and then over his shoulders:

Impone, Domine, capiti meo galeam salutis, ad expugnandos diabolicos incursus.
'Place upon me, O Lord, the helmet of salvation, that I may overcome the assaults of the devil.'

At the alb:

Dealba me, Domine, et munda cor meum; ut, in sanguine Agni dealbatus, gaudiis perfruar sempiternis.
'Purify me, Lord, and cleanse my heart so that, washed in the Blood of the Lamb, I may enjoy eternal bliss.'

At the cincture:

Praecinge me, Domine, cingulo puritatis, et exstingue in lumbis meis humorem libidinis; ut maneat in me virtus continentiae et castitatis.
'Gird me, O Lord, with the girdle of purity, and extinguish in me all evil desires, that the virtue of chastity may abide in me.'

At the maniple:

Merear, Domine, portare manipulum fletus et doloris; ut cum exsultatione recipiam mercedem laboris.
'Grant, O Lord, that I may so bear the maniple of weeping and sorrow, that I may receive the reward for my labors with rejoicing.'

At the stole, which he crosses over his breast:

Redde mihi, Domine, stolam immortalitatis, quam perdidi in praevaricatione primi parentis: et, quamvis indignus accedo ad tuum sacrum mysterium, merear tamen gaudium sempiternum.
'Restore unto me, O Lord, the stole of immortality, which was lost through the guilt of our first parents: and, although I am unworthy to approach Your sacred Mysteries, nevertheless grant unto me eternal joy.'

At the chasuble:
Domine, qui dixisti: Iugum meam suave est et onus meum leve: fac, ut istud portare sic valeam, quod consequar tuam gratiam. Amen.
'O Lord, Who said: My yoke is easy and My burden light: grant that I may bear it well and follow after You with thanksgiving. Amen.'

2. Images.
  All images in the public domain, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Using the Propers is Proper!

Like many other parishes in the Lutheran Church (as my esteemed colleague David Porth pointed out in his introductory post), the parish I was blessed to serve as an organist yesterday observed the Feast of the Reformation.  The celebration at this particular parish was especially unique because it followed the liturgical order prescribed by the Blessed Reformer’s Formula Missae.  With the exception of a few anomalies (such as having the Sanctus follow the Verba instead of preceding It), the Formula Missae is very similar to the Common Service.  This is not surprising, since the Lutheran Church doesn’t make a habit of liturgical innovation.  Coming from a WELS perspective, however, the use of this order was highly unusual, primarily because it included the use of the historic Proper of the Mass.

The term “proper” should give some clue as to the nature of the Proper of the Mass.  It is constituted by those parts of the Service which are prescribed for (that is, “proper” to) a particular day or feast.  The Proper of the Mass is distinct from the Ordinary of the Mass - those parts of the Service that are recited or sung every week (among which are the Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and Nunc Dimittis).  To be sure, I have experienced things “proper” to a specific Service; for example, the collects of the day and Scripture lessons can be considered propers.  However, these propers belong to the pastor.  In typical usage, the Proper of the Mass refers to those propers which belong to the entire congregation; of these I have been utterly deprived.  The closest my home parish comes to them is the use of hymns (which are certainly venerable and I am truly grateful for) and the ever-changing responsive readings that accompany “disposable liturgies” (which is a topic best saved for a later date).  In the rest of the WELS (and particularly those parishes I serve as an organist), the common practice is to chant a condensed version of a Psalm between the first and second Scripture readings.  In addition, sometimes an Alleluia verse (albeit usually read by the pastor) precedes the reading of the Gospel, but more often than not the same verse is sung every week (“These Words are written that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”).  But the historic propers?  I didn’t know they existed prior to a couple of years ago.  Needless to say, yesterday’s Divine Service was my first experience with them in worship.

In light of this general unfamiliarity with the historic propers, I think it is prudent to investigate their nature, along with the merit they have in contemporary usage.  Getting into specifics, there are typically five* chants that constitute what is known as the Proper of the Mass: The Introit, Gradual, Alleluia (or, in Lent, a Tract), Offertory, and Communio.  Those familiar with the Common Service should recognize the first three, but the rite actually retains the use of all of five in its order; it simply turns the latter two into pseudo-ordinaries (the canticle “Create in Me” is the Offertory, and the Post-Communion “O give thanks...” takes the place of the Communio). 

So what’s so special about all of this?  Sounds like a lot of fancy Latin, but of what practical use is it?  First and foremost,  the historic Propers are nothing other than selections from Sacred Scripture.  And as far as I’m concerned, there can never be too much Scripture in the Divine Service.  But even more integrally, they are Scriptures that belong to the people.  One of the the major concerns the Reformers had with the direction the Papists were taking the Mass was the fact that it was going away from the people.  The Papists imagined that simply hearing the Mass in Latin was of some value.  There were little to no hymns or recapitulation of the Scriptures in a language the people could understand - in terms they would remember.  Contrary to these pernicious problems, the Reformers contended that ceremonies exist to teach.  The Propers can be immensely helpful to this end, bringing the Scriptures to the mouth of the people and recapitulating the theme of the day.  This brings us to another practical application of the historic Propers:  they set the tone for the day or feast being observed.  They highlight major themes and help to draw out the points exemplified in the Scripture lessons.

Let’s take the Feast of the Reformation as an example.  Here are the Propers we utilized:

INTROIT: Antiphon: The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, (Psalm 46:7, 2).
Psalm: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
GRADUAL: Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised
In the city of our God,
In His holy mountain.
Walk about Zion,
And go all around her.
Count her towers;
Mark well her bulwarks;
Consider her palaces;
That you may tell it to the generation following.  (Psalm 48:1, 12-13)
ALLELUIA: For this God is our God for ever and ever:
He will be our guide even unto death (Psalm 48:14).

OFFERTORY:  The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him,
And delivers them.
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good;
Blessed is the man who trusts in Him! (Psalm 34:7-8)
COMMUNIO:  “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,
and all these things shall be added to you.”  (St. Matthew 6:33)

The relevance of these selections to the theme of the day is readily apparent.  The Introit immediately calls to mind the Reformation favorite, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”  In Him we have no fear, though the earth rage about us.  The Gradual calls to mind the faithfulness of God to His Holy City, the Church, and encourages us to recount such things to the next generation - something that seemed all but lost at the time of the Reformation.  The Offertory is poignant, especially in lieu of the struggles that our Lutheran forebears went through to persevere in the faith.  The Lord delivers His Church, even from enemies within.  The Offertory then bids us to taste and see the Lord’s goodness, preparing and beckoning us toward the Holy Supper.  Finally, the Communio recalls the Lord’s words to His disciples concerning worry about physical needs.  Indeed, even physical persecution and the turmoil we face in this world is something best left in God’s hands.  If He cares for the grass of the field, will He not care for us?  If we trust in ourselves and our merits, we will be left worrying about today, tomorrow, and every day to come, for our works are always insufficient.  But if we seek first His Kingdom and righteousness - that which comes by faith alone in His merits - He will provide all that we need in this life and the life to come.  What a fantastic concluding thought for a Reformation Sunday!

I hope this brief (okay, maybe not so brief) introduction to the Proper of the Mass helps to highlight its significance and importance in the Divine Service.  In future posts, I hope to examine the intricacies and historical development of each individual chant (Introit, Gradual, Alleluia/Tract, Offertory, and Communio).  They are not arbitrary recitations, but selections from the Sacred Scriptures that our Fathers in the faith chose to complement and teach us - the people, to whom the propers belong - the theme of the day.  They were retained by the Reformers because they are Scripture and ceremony that "teach the people.”  And if that’s not enough, they are well kept in our day to broaden our exposure to Sacred Scripture.  They help keep the focus of the day in view (even when the pastor and his Sermon sometimes don’t).  And they keep us connected to our brothers - past and present - who also use them.  

*Some people recognize a sixth Proper, the Sequence.  In Medieval times, the Sequence was observed immediately following the Alleluia verse and had the same function as what we know as "the Hymn of the Day."  In fact, the hymns of the day used by early Lutherans were often translations of the Sequence (which may explain why some early rites put the hymn after the Epistle instead of the Gospel, as we are used to).  For example, the Sequences for Easter and Pentecost, as observed by the Roman Rite (until Vatican II), became the Blessed Reformer’s famous hymns “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands” and “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord,” respectively.  In this context, I would contend that the Hymn of the Day is a Proper in the spirit of the Sequence itself.  But that’s an argument for another day - and another post!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Liturgy is Anything but Indifferent

I admit it: I’m biased.  I like the Divine Liturgy more than so-called “Contemporary Worship.”  I find traditional hymnody vastly superior to the songs produced by praise bands.  But what I like is not (and should not) be the measure of our practice as Lutherans.  We do not uphold the Liturgy because it is what we are comfortable with.  Arbitrating what we do on Sunday morning by the subjective standard of personal preference runs the risk of trivializing the Divine Service.  It might lead us to believe that the various forms of worship available for our use are adiaphora, or “indifferent things.” 

The dictum “Leitourgia Divina adiaphora non est” (“The Divine Liturgy is not adiaphora”), popularized by Gottesdienst: The Journal of Lutheran Liturgy, is useful in dispelling this philosophy.  The Divine Liturgy is not an indifferent thing, subject to personal whims and stylistic preference.  The Augustana expresses a similar theme when it states:

“Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among us, and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved, save that the parts sung in Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns, which have been added to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned be taught [what they need to know of Christ]” (XXIV:1-4).

So too its Apology:

“At the outset we must again make the preliminary statement that we do not abolish the Mass, but religiously maintain and defend it. For among us masses are celebrated every Lord's Day and on the other festivals, in which 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 like things” (XXIV:1-2).

To be sure, there are many individuals who find themselves at a loss when considering these Confessional statements.  Assured that worship forms are adiaphora, they invent ways of working around the Confessions; they claim that these are not “doctrinal” sentiments, thus freeing them from any sort of binding weight that their subscription to these words might have.  Aiding in this confusion is the reality that Christendom is populated with a grand multiplicity of liturgical rites and worship styles, some of which are salutary, others not so much.    And after all, if ceremonies are observed “to this end alone that the unlearned are to be taught,” then why not just use any old ceremony that is fit to teach?  Why do we have to observe the usual public ceremonies?  Why can’t we abolish the Mass?

Key in understanding these questions is the Latin phase lex orandi, lex credendi, which roughly means “the law of prayer is the law of belief.”  In other words, how we worship will reflect what we believe.  Everything we do - every action we take - confesses something, whether consciously, subconsciously, or even unbeknownst to us.  If we worship as the Lutheran Church has always worshiped, chances are likelier that we will believe what the Lutheran Church has always believed.  If we worship like the sects; well, we will undoubtedly begin to think like them too.  When we use the worship materials of heretical and sectarian sources, we run the risk of thinking (or giving the impression) that there is little separating us from them.  When we set up a praise band in the front of the sanctuary, we run the risk of creating a man-centered concert hall inconsistent with a Cross-focused worship setting.  But perhaps even more sadly then this, when we abandon the Liturgy, we are in danger of losing sight of the integral relationship that it has with the Holy Gospel in Word and Sacrament.

When it comes to the Mass, I like to use the analogy of a diamond ring.  The Augsburg Confession states that the Mass is essentially the “giving of the Sacrament” (XXIV:33-34), so the  Holy Supper can be considered like unto a diamond.  It is the chief element of the Mass.  The Liturgy, then, can be considered in terms of the gold ring fitted to hold the diamond.    Without the gold ring, the diamond is still of immense worth, but presenting it is quite a challenge.  So too without the diamond, the gold ring is still extremely valuable, but it is obviously missing something.

“But wait,” one might object,  “How can you liken the liturgy to a gold ring when it is not prescribed by God!?”  It is very true that the Liturgy as we know it today did not come neatly packaged in one book of Sacred Scripture.  Rather, the texts of the Liturgy are comprised of various parts of the Scriptures; the Kyrie, for example, is a refrain of the Psalms and the publican’s plea for mercy (Psalm 123:3, St. Luke 18:13).  The Gloria in Excelsis was sung by the Holy Angels to hail our Lord’s Nativity (Luke 2:14).  The Sanctus is the song the Cherubim sing in endless exultation before the throne of God (Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8).  The Benedictus is the prophetic Psalm the people of Jerusalem sang upon our Lord’s triumphal entry (Psalm 118:26; St. Matthew 21:9; 23:39; St. Mark 11:9; St. Luke 13:35; 19:38; St. John 12:13).  The Agnus Dei is St. John the Baptist’s cry acclaiming the Paschal Lamb (St. John 1:29, 36), and the Nunc Dimittis is the canticle St. Simeon sung upon witnessing the Infant Lord in the temple (St. Luke 2:29-32).  These texts are matched in the Communion Liturgy by other readings from Holy Writ which constitute the historic “Propers” that are proper to each day.

Why don’t we abolish the Mass with its usual public ceremonies, the series of lessons and prayers, vestments, and other like things?  Because the Mass is a giving of the Blessed Sacrament and the Liturgy that accompanies it, proclaiming the story of the ages - the Holy Gospel.  

But the Liturgy isn’t static.  As I said earlier, there are a multiplicity of salutary rites out there.  There are the Western and Eastern Rites.  The Church of the Augsburg Confession falls into the former, but that doesn’t make the latter any less venerable.  But even within the Western Rite itself, there are a wide range of variations.  There is the Roman Rite, which, if among us "there is nothing that varies . . . from the Church of Rome," one might rightly consider the Lutheran use.  There is also the Sarum Rite used by the Church of England, which had a significant impact on the formation of the Common Service of American Lutheranism and shares marked similarities with the Rite observed by the Blessed Reformer himself.  One might argue that this is the Rite that American Lutheranism should follow.  Of course, American Lutheranism has additions to the Service all its own, such as moving the Feast of the Transfiguration to the end of Epiphany, or adding the Nunc Dimittis to the end of the Divine Service.  These are all natural adaptations to the Liturgy. 

Without a doubt, this post likely raises more questions than it answers.  In future posts, I hope to struggle with finding our place in the broad landscape of liturgical orthodoxy while avoiding the errors of mimicking the sects and frivolous, offensive departures from the Tradition of our Church. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Reformation Sunday

This Sunday, many of us will be celebrating the Lutheran Reformation. We praise and thank God for the work he did through his servant, Martin Luther. Reformation is a festival filled with special focuses that bring about special music. Martin Luther wrote, “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. The gift of language combined with the gift of song was given to man that he should proclaim the Word of God through Music.”

I am privileged and honored to serve as a church musician on a weekly basis.  Luther worked hard throughout his life to develop the lost practice of congregational singing during the Service. To this very day we sing many of those sturdy, Lutheran hymns - full of Law and Gospel - written and sung by our forebears in the faith.  In this context, leading God’s people in song is an important role, whether there are 50 or 500 people sitting in the pews. St. Matthew tells us, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Resources vary from congregation to congregation but it is important to use the gifts God has given us to their full potential when they are present! Consider getting a brass group together for a hymn, or a quartet to sing a few selections during the Distribution of the Sacrament. It does not have to be a big production but something different can go a long way. I live by the philosophy that every Sunday should be treated as a “small Easter”. Yes, we do have our more solemn times during the church year. However, the congregation has called musicians to give it their best each Sunday. Out of thankfulness to God we do this! Indeed, A Mighty Fortress is Our God.

Blessings to all as you enjoy the gifts that God has given us during this special time of the church year.

About the Author

My name is David Porth and I currently live in New Ulm, MN. My hometown is Jackson, WI which is located about 30 miles north of Milwaukee. All my life I have adored the music of the Lutheran Church. At the present I am in my Junior Year at Martin Luther College in New Ulm and am pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education with a minor in Music.  My goal is to be a Lutheran Elementary School teacher as well as Music Director for the congregation. Upon graduation from MLC I plan to attend Concordia University – Wisconsin to obtain a Master’s in Church Music Degree with an Organ Emphasis. I have been privileged to play in WELS congregations as far as Eagle River, Alaska and all the way to Long Valley, New Jersey. The organ bench is my favorite place to be and I plan to be praising God in this way as long as I am able.

"That's Roman Catholic!"

"That's Roman Catholic!" they cry when they see moderate to little elevation of the elements, when they see bowing and/or genuflection, when they smell incense, when they hear chanting, when they spot a chasuble or cope, or when they see the Body of Christ on the cross. "That's Roman Catholic!"

Well is it? Is it Roman Catholic? Is it not Lutheran? Is it radical? Well no, it is very Lutheran. We confessional Lutherans didn't abandon these ceremonies at the Reformation. We didn't decide to throw away the tradition set forth from over 2,000 years of Christianity. In fact we were falsely charged with abandoning these things. We denied the charge and confessed that we "religiously maintain" them. So what does this mean for us today, for us who are confessional Lutherans who claim a quia subscription to the Lutheran Confessions, at least according to the constitution of your respective Synod (LCMS, WELS, ELS)? Simply put it means that we confess what the Lutheran Church has always confessed, namely, that we retain the Mass, celebrating it with the highest reverence, retaining most ceremonies, and retaining the vestments (AC XXIVAC XXIV [XIII]). Ceremonies teach the ignorant, the heathen who comes in off the street who has no idea what we believe. If our actions outside of church are to reflect who we are and what we believe, then how we act during worship, our ceremonies and rites, should certainly reflect what we believe. This is why we bow towards the altar from we receive His gifts, chant to show reverence and put focus on the Word, use incense which symbolizes our prayers ascending and is a "sweet aroma" to God (Ps. 141:2; Rev. 8:3-4; Rev. 5:6-8; Luke 1:8-11; Lev. 2:1-2), elevate to proclaim the Lamb of God who bears the sins of the world, wear vestments to put focus on the Word rather than the man and his sinful nature (Ex. 28:15; 2 Tim. 4:13), etc. It all points to Christ, not man. It acknowledges the very Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament -- our very God with us tangibly! Once again, God stooping down to us sinners to deliver His gifts to us in the Sacraments, just like the manna and His incarnation. He always comes down to us, dirty, nasty sinners. These ceremonies are scriptural, traditional, and of course very Christian!

So why, why do we see many "confessional" Lutheran churches copying the false teachers? I've heard many things said to justify the use of sectarian forms of worship. A big one, among many which will have to be written about at a different time, is that it is all about "preference," "personal taste", and "adiaphora". Oh, but it's deeper than that. Aside from dividing the Church into age, race, and any other sociological statistic and departing from the unity of Ecclesia Augustana, it deserves deeper examination. There's a reason those heretical sects worship like they do! Their ceremonies confess what they believe! Are we so ignorant to think we can copy their practice without it undermining our doctrine? When we copy the sects' worship forms, we undermine our own doctrines of election and the bound will. We exchange it for tunes that are meant to pump up the audience into an emotional frenzy to make a decision for Jesus. We think by our efforts, our hard work, we can add to the number of the elect. We can't add to the numbers of the elect and the sinner's will is bound. What, then, does this mean? It means our ceremonies should then reflect and support the Gospel. Rather than man being the focus -- our tastes, our decision for Jesus, our good works of evangelism -- the Gospel and Sacraments are center. Christ's forgiveness of sins imputed to us by faith in Baptism, Confession-Absolution, and Holy Communion. Reverence for Who is present is shown. We show that we can't by our thinking or choosing come to Christ or change the number of those predestined to Heaven. We show with our actions, without ambiguity and without giving a false confession, that only the Word converts and that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist -- this is put on a pedestal rather than the musical flavor which can distract from the Word. If we understand these things we will worship with "reverence and awe" (Hebrews 12:28) -- our ceremonies reflecting this. The Gospel converts, music doesn't. We aren't the primary actors in the Divine Service. God with His gift of righteousness and forgiveness is.
About the author:
My name is Christian Schulz.  I'm originally from Indianapolis, IN but currently reside in Mankato, MN while I pursue a B.S. in Law Enforcement. My favorite area of study in theology is justification, although almost all topics in theology are as interesting to me. As was stated in the very first post, I don't claim to be an esteemed theologian. In a time with many doctrinal debates, pastors suspended, etc., I find myself asking the question "who is right, who has the correct doctrine? Is it the WELS, LCMS, ELS, CLC, ELDoNA, or none of these?" I hope you'll stay tuned to my journey to investigate which Synod or Diocese is right, if any, on how the Lutheran, Catholic Church has taught and practiced. As was said in the very first post, I am more than open to constructive criticism and any disagreement. I'm still learning and find that sometimes "talking" or "thinking" it out works best (in view of Scripture, the Confessions, and Church Fathers of course). Many times I'll play devil's advocate. I invite challenge for the sake of edification.