Liturgical Uniformity and the Unity of Christ

Today I was visiting with a fellow clergyperson in my circuit about an ordination service that I recently attended in our circuit. The preacher (father of the ordinand) focused heavily on the inevitable changes that will occur now that the church has called a second pastor. The new pastor might pick hymns that are not familiar, or that might not even be from the hymnal. He might once in a while preach outside of the pulpit, or do children’s sermons. He discouraged the congregation from arguing over such silly, insignificant things. As long as the Word is taught truthfully and the sacraments administered as our Lord intended, nothing else matters. Keep Christ as the central focus and you pretty much are free to do things however you would like.

My first thought was, why in the world is he talking about this in an ordination sermon? My second thought was, why build pulpits if you’re not going to use them? They are there for a purpose. They serve to extol the preached Word. As I have done more thinking on this, I have concluded that this is really a devilish attitude to have as a pastor and servant of Christ. The line of reasoning goes like this: Christ simply willed that His Word be preached and His Sacrament administered. Since he did not give any instructions on how this was to be done, but left it free and in the hands of his followers, then that means that we also are free to do things however we want. Didn’t Paul say something to the effect of: “All things are permissable, but not all things are beneficial”?

I think this is a point that is so frequently set aside by defenders of the “wandering preacher” and other unorthodox liturgical behaviors. Christ didn’t say anything about it, so that means feel free to do it! But shouldn’t we make distinctions? Shouldn’t we say, “All things are permissable, but not all things are beneficial”? In matters of adiaphora can one practice be stronger or weaker than another? I think so. Besides all this, don’t we believe that Christ is one? “Is Christ divided?” Don’t we as clergypersons represent one Christ and not many? If that is so, then doesn’t it make more sense to have liturgical uniformity rather than liturgical and ceremonial diversity? I realize that our Confessions say that it is not necessary that ceremonies be uniform in every place for there to be unity in the Church. But shouldn’t a little bit of uniformity be expected of those who worship one Christ? Or are we not the one Body of the one Christ? Does not the fact that we share one baptism, one Supper and are children of one heavenly Father have any impact on the way that we worship as the Body of Christ?

Certainly the Reformers understood that one of the greatest witnesses to our unity in Christ was our uniformity in worship. Why else would they have created Church Orders and rubrics to govern the public liturgical rites of the Church? I guess I just don’t understand the mentality that says: “Brother Joe, you go right ahead and wear your clown suit during the service. Christ didn’t give any instructions on what clothes to wear. Don’t listen to those legalists who would dare restrict your personal expression!” All I’m saying is that if we really all worship the same Christ, and have the same baptism and Supper, let’s do our best to demonstrate that unity in our worship practices.

Advertisements

About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
This entry was posted in Christ, Liturgy, uniformity, unity. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Liturgical Uniformity and the Unity of Christ

  1. Scott says:

    “Clergyperson“??

    It’s ironic to me that people think non-uniformity of worship is perfectly dandy. Imagine their complaining if they went to McDonald’s for a cheeseburger and found only “corn-dog-on-a-stick” and the fries replaced with chips.

    As a matter of fact, you could see the outrage in a recent run of commercials for Burger King where they told patrons that the Whopper was discontinued as the prank.

    It’s too bad so many care more about uniformity of our junk food than the mass.

  2. William Weedon says:

    It really has to do with whether we will honor our fathers and mothers in the faith, doesn’t it?

  3. lutherantheology says:

    Paul, I would have agreed with you completely about the “wandering preacher” until I saw it done well in the context of the historic liturgy. Context should of course dictate, but it can be done well without distraction or destruction of the liturgy.

    Secondly, just as food for thought to William’s comment about honouring our fathers and mothers in the faith. Today I was reading Luther in Defense and Explanation of the All the Articles and he wrote, “[The Turk] doesn’t care how long we have believed a certain way or how many or how eminent the people are who have believed this or that. We would have to be silent about all these things and direct him to holy Scriptures as the basis for our faith. It would be absurd and ridiculous if we were to say: look here, so many priests, bishops, kings, princes, lands, and peoples have believed this and that ever so long” (10-11). Sometimes we need more, not less, than antiquity on our side.

  4. lutherantheology says:

    Sorry, Thought my name was going to show up on that previous post. This is Bryce, not “lutherantheology”. Lol!

  5. Rev. Paul Beisel says:

    I guess I just don’t see why men feel the need to step out of the pulpit to preach. Is the Word of God proclaimed from the pulpit not as effective or less spiritual or more restricted because it is preached from a pulpit? Or does the person just want to put more of his personality into the sermon?

  6. lutherantheology says:

    Paul, As far as I know pulpits were put in for completely utilitarian purposes at first, ie. if the preacher is up higher they will be easier to see and hear. I am not sure if any philosophical/theoligical weight was ever given to preaching from a pulpit. It would be hard to deny that some preachers are better fitted for the pulpit while others are better suited for being out of the pulpit. But I haven’t done any major research into this topic other than experience.

    Bryce

  7. Rev. Paul Beisel says:

    Bryce,

    I realize that pulpits have not always been used in the Church, and that they may well have served a utilitarian purpose at first (like candles and vestments). But isn’t it a bit silly in way to not use it when it is right there? I mean, it would be different if there was no pulpit or lectern and we just read the lessons from the horns of the altar, and preached from there as well. Or, if like at some times and places it was customary for the “Teacher” to sit while instructing, that would be entirely different. But the fact is, the pulpit is there, so why not use it? To me it just looks silly to see someone wandering up and down the aisles or around the chancel during a sermon when there is a pulpit standing right there. And they call us “chancel prancers”!

  8. lutherantheology says:

    Paul, I agree to an extent. The only caveat I would make is this: some preachers prefer to preach outside of a pulpit and if they are placed in a congregation that already has a pulpit (which means about 99% of churches) what should they do?

    Bryce

  9. Rev. Paul Beisel says:

    What should they do? I guess that I would use the furnishings provided as much as possible. The pulpit is really an extension of the Gospel “horn” of the altar, and the lectern an extension of the “Epistle” horn, if I am thinking correctly. I guess if a guy doesn’t want to preach from the pulpit, he could always preach from the Gospel side of the altar. But, see, even that would be too “restrictive” for some. I really think there is a connection between men not wanting to preach from a customary spot in the church and a belief that the Spirit is being restricted, or not having “freedom” when there is some kind of structure or custom. I could be wrong. Having said that, I certainly don’t mind discussing it with you. The main point of this post, which the “wandering preacher” was but an example, is the slippery slope that says: “Christ didn’t command it or forbid it, so it must be okay.”

  10. Scott says:

    {S}ome preachers are better fitted for the pulpit while others are better suited for being out of the pulpit.

    Where is the focus? The “fit” of the preacher and the pulpit, or the hearers?

  11. caauwejw says:

    I always think about what things like this are teaching a congregation. A pastor who paces out of the pulpit is perhaps trying to teach that God’s Word is personal and relevant. Perhaps he is trying to teach that he is personal and relevant. He views the pulpit as an obtrusion in the communication of the message.

    I’ve always thought that when a pulpit stands empty in the chancel, that teaches something, too. It would be like having an altar but using a card table to hold the elements. Or having a nice baptismal font but using a tupperware bowl. Those furniture pieces are symbols to remind and teach truths about the importance and power of what goes on there.

    But I’d prefer to use the pulpit to teach the authority of God’s Word, I would use the fact that it hides much of my body to teach that the message is more important than the messenger, I would use the size and weight and beauty of the pulpit to illustrate the majesty of the truths proclaimed there.

    I just arrived at a parish where the last two pastors left the pulpits empty. It seems as though no one has a problem with my “preference” for using a pulpit, but I see it as more than that—I’m interested in its benefit for the souls under my care.

  12. lutherantheology says:

    To qualify my comments: I myself have never preached a sermon outside of a pulpit. I am not sure that I would feel comfortable standing outside of one and hence, if I am uncomfortable doing so the message I am trying to give will be hurt as well. But I am definitely not against leaving the pulpit and preaching from “pew level” and I am sure some day, in an appropriate context, I will do so.

    But this does not apply to all preachers nor to all listeners.

    Once again, I would have personally and theoretically agreed with the line “if there is a pulpit preach from it” until I was in the presence of someone not preaching from a pulpit and delivering a non-distracting sermon. His chasuble helped me not focus on him (like a pulpit would do as well). 🙂

    Bryce

  13. lutherantheology says:

    Paul, In an attempt to return this to the theoretical basis from which you started…

    As I am sure you know, in his treatise Against Latomus Luther decided that since Karlstadt wanted to outlaw the elevation of the sacrament, and since it was neither commanded or forbidden, and even though he [Luther] was going to counsel to get rid of the elevation, thanks to Karlstadt he decided to retain it.

    This is a fine example of Luther’s response to those who wanted to box him into a corner on adiaphora: even when he was willing to counsel against a ‘misunderstood use’ (the elevation) he counselled stronger against an ‘adiaphorous abuse’ (Karlstadt’s over-reaction).

    Bryce

  14. Rev. Paul Beisel says:

    To quote one of my favorite liturgical scholars: “We do not say, ‘you must not do so and so,’ but, ‘we beg you by the mercies of God, not do do so and so.'”

    In matters of adiaphora, there are good and bad choices. Do we agree on this? I’m not going to tell Mr. Wandering Preacher: “You absolutely must not do that.” But I think there should be nothing wrong with me saying, “Look dude, would you mind not doing that?” There is a difference.

    But it’s a slippery slope, isn’t it? Scripture does not forbid a lot of things. It does not forbid dressing in a clown suit and preaching. It does not forbid liturgical dance, dressing in a suit to lead the service, wearing different colored socks, or wearing a hat. Does that mean that we ought to do all these things? I would hope that you would not think so.

    So, Scripture is silent on wandering preachers. Fine. Go ahead and wander. You won’t hear any objection from me. You are free in the Gospel. Go right ahead. Dress like a clown if you wish. Do jumping jacks in front of the altar. It doesn’t matter. It’s adiaphora. It’s neither commanded nor forbidden. 🙂

  15. lutherantheology says:

    Paul, I would definitely say there are better and worse decisions to make when it comes to matters of adiaphora. But I also think that not standing in the pulpit, but not necessarily wandering around, is a different choice (and a better choice) than wearing a clown suit. Different colour socks? I wouldn’t mind so much because your cassock is supposed to go down to the tops of your shoes anyways (or is the length of your cassock adiaphora?). 🙂

  16. Rev. Paul Beisel says:

    Well, there is the issue of “useless and foolish displays” that I raised in my last post. Clown suits would probably fall into that. I was simply using hyperbole. Seriously, though, I’m not going to condemn someone as being unLutheran or unorthodox for stepping outside of the pulpit to preach, but I will simply point out that this is a favorite behavior of non-denom evangelical preachers. If I was a person sitting in the pew, I would probably beg my pastor “by the mercies of God” to stay in the pulpit, to have respect for my obvious weakness.

  17. lutherantheology says:

    And just as a personal andecdote (in order to give an example that is not of the “non-denom., evangelical” sort): the person who I thought did this quite well, on a regular basis, is an Anglo-Catholic priest.

    BrycePWandrey

Comments are closed.