Much is made of adiaphora in Lutheran congregations. For those who are not in the know, adiaphora refers to those elements of the Divine Service that are neither commanded nor forbidden by God in Holy Scripture. Sometimes these things are seen as things “indifferent” but Paul H. D. Lang in Ceremony and Celebration thinks that a better meaning of the word is things that are not essential for the valid celebration of the Eucharist. For instance, it is not essential that two candles be on the altar, or even that a pastor be fully vested in chasuble and stole. Scripture does not command these things, but neither does Scripture forbid them. Lutherans have retained many of these older customs because of their pedagogical (teaching) value, and because there has been no good reason not to retain them.
Since there is not command of God concerning them, they are left up to Christian freedom. We do not preach from pulpits because God commands us to, but because of our desire to extol God’s Word and to hide ourselves. We do this in freedom, but not without good reasons. Thus, one cannot say that it does not matter whether or not one preaches from a pulpit or not–it does matter, because all things are not equal, even in matters of adiaphora. Preaching from the aisle of the church, walking up and down as you see in many non-denominational (and sadly, many Lutheran) churches draws attention to the man, to his mannerisms, to his personality, and the Word of God is not supreme.
I think this is frequently forgotten (or ignored) in discussions of adiaphora. Today, it is often the case that when a pastor is under fire from the congregation, it is not over matters of doctrine, immoral life, or neglect of duty, but over adiaphora. In other words, the pastor chants and the congregation doesn’t like it. Or, the pastor bows or makes the sign of the cross and the congregation doesn’t like that. So what happens? The District Presidents come in and tell the congregation that they are right, that these things are adiaphora, and therefore they are neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture. And that is where it is left. The pastor, who has not offended in doctrine, life, or duty, is left looking like the “bad guy” who “won’t yield” in these non-essentials, and the congregation is emboldened in its sinful rejection of a servant of Christ.
My question is, doesn’t the door swing both ways? If something is neither commanded nor forbidden, then isn’t the congregation being a bit legalistic by insisting on its own way? If these things are matters of Christian freedom, doesn’t the pastor have any freedom? Or, is all the freedom on the congregation’s side? In other words, if the congregation wants to do any number of things, that is okay. But if the pastor wants to chant, wear more elaborate vestments, or even offer the Sacrament more often (one could argue whether or not this was actually a matter of adiaphora), that is not okay. He is not “free” to do these things.
If something is truly free, then that should apply both to the congregation and the pastor. Here’s another example: acolytes are neither commanded nor forbidden in the Bible. We do not have to have them. But we certainly may if we want. Since there is an area of Christian freedom, then it should be no problem for the pastor to choose whom he wants to fill this role. If he only wants boys to be in this role, and he has good reasons for it, then there should be no problem–if, IF it is truly a matter of adiaphora. See my point? Catch my drift?
Friends of mine have been on the receiving end of this double-standard regarding adiaphora and I think it is wholly unfair and unjust. Congregations that do not allow the pastor some freedom in these non-essentials ought to be told that they have no grounds to remove an otherwise faithful pastor, and that they are being legalistic by insisting on having things done a certain way.