The Proper Middle in the Liturgy and Order of the Divine Service
Ludwig Fuerbringer (1864–1947) author of this article served at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis as professor from 1893–1947 and also as its President from 1931–1943.
Concordia Theological Monthly, Vol. V, Nr. 4 (April 1934)
Liturgical movements are currently being discussed in many theological and church papers, and we have been called upon to give our opinion in the matter. We agreed to this request so that we may once again discuss the proper principles, which are laid down in the Lutheran Church and which should always be observed when dealing with this matter. Whenever we consider these principles correctly and keep them in view, we will, in all pertinent questions, go on the right path and avoid the two incorrect paths—the false path of ritualism and externalism of the Roman Church; and the Reformed Church’s false path of subjectivism and informality. As she does so in other areas, the Lutheran Church will, also here, go on the correct, certain middle path rather than the false paths of these false churches. In the matter of the liturgy or Order of the Divine Service, the true Lutheran Church is led by God’s word and her good confession against both the excessively rigid formalism of the Roman Church, which stands in the service of a false notion of worship, and against revolutionary Calvinism that purges every beautiful historic form. She follows the historic ways of Luther’s Reformation, which God so clearly brought about and led. Also in the area of worship, Luther is the Reformer of the Church. When we follow Luther’s principles, which he drew out from the Scriptures, then we remain on the proper, straight, firm middle course.
The great reformer recognized and rightly maintained that the entire worship of the Church hinges on the Gospel and so every form and expression of worship, all rites and orders of the Divine Service must stand in the service of the Gospel. In His discussion with the Samaritan woman, the Savior Himself defines the worship of the New Testament when, in the face of the Old Testament worship, which the Ceremonial Law had precisely prescribed, He says, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and Truth.” (John 4:23-24) “Truth” stands here in contrast to the types of the Old Testament which found their fulfillment in the New Testament. “Spirit” stands here in contrast to the outward letter, the forms and regulations of the Law, which should be put away. The Christians of the New Testament should raise heart and mind to God and deal with God, as a person deals with another person, with God who as Spirit is exalted above the outward place and room, but who in Christ has given Himself to us as Father, who through Christ is reconciled with the sinner. We Christians serve Him; to Him we raise heart and mind; to Him we pray, and with Him we deal as children with their Father. That’s how it was in apostolic time, and that’s how it will be until the end of days. When we then consider the places in the New Testament which specifically mention the individual parts of New Testament worship—like Acts 2:41-42, 46; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 11:18, 20; 14:16, 26, 33, 40; 16:2; Eph. 5:19-20; Col. 3:16-17; Heb. 10:25 (proclamation of the Word, Baptism, Communion, celebration of Communion, Prayer, the “Amen” as the beginning of a Liturgy, outward good order in Worship, the Sacrifice of the hands, song, gathering)—then we at once recognize that the Divine Service of the Christians is a unity of two parts: God’s gift to man, sacramentum, and the human devotion, sacrificium. The Divine Service of the Christians is an alternating, interchanging activity. In the Apology our Confession expresses this appropriately with the well-known words, “Now, lest we plunge blindly into this business, we must indicate, in the first place, a distinction as to what is, and what is not a sacrifice. To know this is expedient and good for all Christians. Theologians are rightly accustomed to distinguish between a Sacrament and a Sacrifice. Therefore, let the genus comprehending both of these be either a ceremony or a sacred work. A Sacrament is a ceremony or work in which God presents to us that which the promise annexed to the ceremony offers; as, baptism is a work, not which we offer to God, but in which God baptizes us, i.e. a minister in the place of God; and God here offers and presents the remission of sins, etc. According to the promise, Mark 16:16. ‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.’ A sacrifice, on the contrary, is a ceremony or work which we render God in order to afford him honor.” (Triglotta: pg. 389; Apology Art. XXIV 16-19).
Such gifts of God to men and such devotion of man to God we call service. In this connection, God is, indeed, in the first place the subject, and the congregation is the object of the service. God conducts the Divine Service; God serves. God serves man, gives him and continually gives him his salvation in Christ through word and sacrament. And man serves God. He receives this salvation in word and sacrament in faith, honors, praises and thanks God for it and places himself with everything that he is and has into the service of God. As Luther rightly says, “This is called serving God and this is the proper worship: that one believe in Him, whom the Father sent, Jesus Christ…. All of Holy Scripture agrees with this true worship. For it is also recorded in the Holy Scripture, that if you want to serve God, think in this way, that you believe in Him, whom the Father sent.” (VII, 2213)
According to the definition, the basic forms of the Divine Service were laid down in the early Church. There we find a certain order of worship, as the well-know passage from Justin’s First Apology from around the middle of the second century shows. There it says in the 67th Chapter: “On Sunday there is a gathering of all who live in the cities or in the country. In it the memoirs of the Apostles (in any case the four evangelists) or the books of the prophets are read, for as long as we have time. Afterwards when the lector has finished, the ruler (Vorsteher), in an address, gives a reminder and admonition to imitate those glorious examples. Then all of us stand up and offer up our prayers. After we have prayed, one brings bread and wine and water, and the pastor says prayer and thanksgiving, as much as he can. The congregation answers with the “Amen.” Then what has been consecrated is distributed. Each person present receives them; the deacons bring them to those who are absent. The wealthy and willing ones give according to his pleasure and the gathered gifts are laid before the pastor. He then brings them to help the widows and orphans and also the one who is sick or otherwise visited, to the one in prison, the stranger, in short, he ministers to all those who are in trouble.”
In its basic form, what we now call the Prayer of the Church goes back to the First Century. The Divine Service takes place within the Church Year, which already had its start in the Apostolic Age with Easter, 1 Cor. 5:6-8. This proper form of the Divine Service became increasingly distorted and falsified in the Middle Ages by the emerging and ever stronger Papacy. The sermon and proclamation of the Divine Word was done away with. The Mass became the main thing. The Sacrament of the Altar was made a sacrifice. The congregation could no longer take a role in the Divine Service—not even sing—but everything was in the hands of the priests who spoke a foreign language. The entire action of the Divine Service became alien, legalistic and ever longer and all the more complicated.
Then came Luther. He cleansed the basic forms of the Divine Service from the Papistic corruption and understood and defined everything in the Gospel sense and at the same time further form everything in a proper sense. The proclamation of the Divine Word was again central, giving it a central position over everything; the Lord’s Supper was again celebrated according the Christ’s institution; the congregation was called upon to participate in the service; and it was Luther who first who gave the congregation hymns. Music and art were placed in the service of the Gospel.
The so-called Reformation of Zwingli and Calvin, however, was no true Reformation, but rather a revolution. In opposition to the Papacy, all forms were abolished and the entire Divine Service was altered. Under Reformed influence, this “other spirit” also invaded the Lutheran Church via Pietism and Rationalism, but was again removed when in the 19th and 20th centuries the old Lutheran forms were returned to.
We said that Luther’s Reformation was truly a Reformation and not a Revolution. For the sake of the Gospel, and in his cautious, conservative mind, Luther retained the forms in use in the Church at that time, cleansed them from all abuse; he did not simply do away with them and replace them with new forms. Luther knew very well how much the people clung to the traditional and well-known institutions and customs. Therefore, he retained the Church Year. What mattered to him was that the Word of God was emphasized in the Divine Service. He spoke the well-known words and truths: “A Christian should know that on earth there is no greater relic (Heilgtum) than God’s Word. For even the Sacrament itself is made and and sanctified by God’s Word and all of us are also spiritually born by it and consecrated as Christians (X 2167), [Also quoted in What Luther Says # 4747]. He says right away in the beginning in his foundational German Mass and Order of Service: “Because the greatest and highest part of the entire service is preaching and teaching God’s Word, we keep with the sermons and lessons” (X 233; AE 53, pg.68). When the Castle Church at Torgau was consecrated, and he preached the Dedication Sermon, he said in it --- and, to my joy, this word also stood in large letters serving as one of the mottos in the very interesting exhibition of new church art in the “Century of Progress” exhibition in Chicago—“…the purpose of this new house may be such that nothing else may ever happen in it except that our dear Lord Christ Himself may speak to us through His holy Word and we respond to Him through prayer and praise” (Xll, 1962; AE 51, 333).
Here we have from Luther’s own mouth the explanation that Melanchton gave of “Sacrament” and “Sacrifice” we quoted above. According to Luther, everything liturgical merely has a secondary, servant, position in relation to the word of God. The Lutheran Church everywhere must recognize and adhere to this with full, complete seriousness. This is the most supreme principle, if I my so say, that is shown with numerous sayings of Luther. But Luther also maintained the liturgical principle and brought it into the service of the Gospel, in order to emphasize all parts of the Divine Service, and to shape the Divine Service so that it is outwardly beautiful and dignified. He kept the entire order of the Divine Service, and everyone who reads Luther’s “German Mass and Order of Service” or follows the order in our English hymnal, the so-called “Common Service”, the “Order of Morning Service, or the Communion” immediately recognizes that the Order of the Mass has remained in the Lutheran Service—except that it is free of all Papal abuse. He kept the Church Year, and the old pericopes in the course of the Church Year because he knew how much the common man clung to these old texts, although he had found fault with the selection of many. He also saw to it, however, that the Roman abuse of the many saint days would not continue in the Lutheran Church. He kept the Roman Church buildings; and in many places the Lutheran Church even allowed the art work from the Middle Ages to remain in the churches, even though the art was outwardly connected with the Roman abuse – for example, the Sacramental Tabernacle of the great artist, Adam Kraft, in the Church of St. Laurence in Nuremberg—but kept it free of any abuse. Luther took both the ancient and medieval songs, like the Litany, “God the Father, Be Our Stay” and he “improved it and corrected it in a Christian way.” He also kept the Roman priestly garments and said in his sincere and prudent manner, “We let the Mass paraments, altar, candles remain until they are used up or we are pleased to make a change” (X 235, AE 53: pg. 69). Luther permitted the organ and chant to remain, because he was not “of the opinion that all arts should be cast to the ground and perish by the Gospel, as some fanatics imagine, Instead, I would like to see all arts, especially music, in the service of Him Who gave it and created it.” (X 1424). He retained much that he probably was not especially pleased with but which could be kept if only the Gospel would be freed and the preaching of the Gospel would form the main part of the Divine Service.
Contrast this with the Reformed Church. Because of the abuses of the Roman Church Year with its days of remembrance, saints’ days and fasting days, the Reformed Church rejected the entire Church Year and (with the exception of the liturgically orientated Anglican Church) still does not have a Church Year. In the Reformed Church, especially among the Reformed leaning Puritans of our country, Sunday has taken the position of the Old Testament Sabbath, the all dominant festival, and is to be celebrated in a legally prescribed way.
The old pericopes were abolished and on 01 January 1519, Zwingli began to preach the first chapter of Matthew. Pictures, candles, organ were banned from the House of God as anti-Christian. The congregation was indeed allowed to sing—but no man-made hymns—only the Psalms, which were brought into meter in the various quarters of the Reformed Church. The garments and beautiful paraments were abolished without further ado. In place of the Altar a mere simple table was used; in place of the pulpit, a podium. The church buildings, especially in many parts of the Reformed Church in our country, for example in the New England States, consist of four bare white walls.
Having briefly sketched the three directions of the churches, we will address particular points that the contemporary liturgical movements suggest, and try to recognize the task of the Lutheran Church, in our time and in our country, to go the proper middle way, if she wants to remain faithful to the principles of the Lutheran Reformation and to avoid, on the one side, excessive ritualism and formalism and, on the other, the perverted subjectivism and the non-churchly disorder in the Divine Service.
In our country three mighty powers struggle with one another in intellectual, spiritual and churchly areas. There is, on the one side, Calvinism, which it finds itself in a courser or finer way among all the sects surrounding us. On the other side is Romanism; the Roman Church makes the greatest effort, in our country, just as it does in every country, to attain recognition and dominance. In the middle is Lutheranism which stands firmly on the word of God and the Confessions of the Lutheran Church which are grounded upon that word. These three directions show themselves, above all, in doctrine. This is not the place to explain what the Reformed sects of our country teach, as they depart from God’s word; nor is this the place to explain how the Roman Church in its doctrine is anti-Christianity and the Pope, who is prophesied in Scripture and clearly recognized by our confessions, is the Antichrist. But what is contrary to God’s word also show itself in the area of Church Order and the Liturgy. Thus, a person dare not think that outward orders, liturgical customs, have nothing at all to do with doctrine. To be sure, such things in themselves are neither commanded nor forbidden, adiaphora. But Church history has shown often enough that false doctrine is expressed precisely in outward things, in Church customs and ceremonies; and that such forms, customs and ceremonies, which in and of themselves are neutral, can easily lend themselves to support false doctrine; and that what was first introduced as an outward custom, which one could either keep or omit, is soon regarded by the second and third generation as something which should and must be. Therefore, also in these questions, it is vital that the Lutheran Church, hold firmly to her principles and go the proper Biblical, Lutheran, middle way and avoid Calvinism on the one side and Romanism on the other.
We have emphasized above that the Word of God is and must remain the center in the Lutheran Divine Service. When, therefore, Luther emerged as the Reformer, everything for him had to do with the Word, with the Gospel. In the face of the Medieval Roman Mass, Luther, in his German Mass and Order of Service, had fashioned a proper, true congregational Divine Service, in which the sacramental acts formed the center but were surrounded by the sacrificial acts. This then became on the whole a model for the good Lutheran agendas and church orders of the 16th and 17th centuries. Luther preserved the outward form of the Divine Service. He followed the instructions of Scripture that in the Divine Services everything should take place “decently and in order.” Even now this is the true characteristic of the Lutheran Church, which, even in this point, is nothing other than the continuation of the ancient Christian Church.
Beginning with the outward things: the Lutheran Church provides for a beautiful, dignified house of God, and everything in the house of God should be worthily fashioned, to the glory of God and for the edification of the congregation. The outward form of the houses of God are the well-known building styles that developed in the course of time— namely the Romanesque and the Gothic style. Everything that interferes with devotion and edification is avoided in the house of God; but every gift of art which God has given man are used in the interest of the Divine Service.
The house of God is adorned with an altar as the Table of the Lord from which the Holy Supper is distributed, with a pulpit from which the preacher proclaims the Word of God, with a lectern from which he reads aloud the Word of God, with a Baptismal font at which baptism takes place. Everything should have a beautiful, dignified churchly splendor—and not be profane art, the product of the profane art profession. The crucifix stands on the altar as the beautiful symbol of the Crucified. The altar appointments are made of beautiful appropriate forms. The altar, like the pulpit, is provided with appropriate adornment or paraments of various colors fitting the various times of the Church year. The organ serves congregational singing and is properly placed so it does not divert attention from what is essential. The preacher and liturgist wear a special garment to cover the outward person, but no special significance is attached to this garment. Altar and the walls are decorated with appropriate colors or Biblical pictures and churchly symbols which even the simple man can understand. The windows, to, maintain the happy middle. If the financial condition of the congregation allows, they are not simple glass but stained glass and, just like the colors of the wall, they are neither too bright and gaudy, nor too gloomy and dark, in order to give a mysterious character to the house of God.
Next, when we consider the order of the Divine Service, we note that the individual parts do not follow one another arbitrarily nor are they changed every Sunday. Instead, they have a certain, firm structure and progression: Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, Creed, Hallelujah, Hosanna, etc. Every part ultimately comes from Scripture. The sequence of the Divine Services is not dull and monotonous; instead, it follows the so-called Church Year in order to proclaim the great deeds of God for the salvation of the world to the congregation and to call upon the congregation to receive this salvation and to give praise and thanks for it. The preacher is not a person distinct from the congregation with special ecclesiastical power and authority; instead, he is the one who proclaims of the Word of God and administers the Sacraments on behalf of the congregation. In the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the sacramental act is surrounded by beautiful sacrificial acts: the Preface, Sanctus, Lord’s Prayer, Nunc Dimittis, etc. When it is conducted properly and with dignity, the entire liturgical composition of the celebration makes an impressive impression. The choir does not have a separate dignity—in between the preacher and the congregation; a sort of lower clergy. Instead, it is part of the congregation. The hymns the congregation sings are church hymns; that is, true hymns, popular poetical expressions of what is common to all Christians. They are Church hymns; they sing of the great deeds of the Gospel—as Scripture gives them and as they live in the faith of the Church. The music by which these hymns are sung is, again, dignified and churchly. This is how the entire Divine Service is and should be for the congregation: that she make her own the word and confession of David, “One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to behold the [beautiful Divine Services] (this according to Luther’s German translation) of the Lord and to inquire in His temple” (Psalm 27:4); that she cry out and sing with the Sons of Korah in the Psalter, the hymn and prayer book of the Old Testament Church, “How lovely is Your Tabernacle, O Lord of Hosts! My soul longs, yes, even faints for the Courts of the Lord” Psalm 8:4,1-2; and that she follow the instruction and admonition of the holy Apostle, “ Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Col. 3:16