Apr 28, 2014

Liturgy: The Card Game

When I was a boy, I enjoyed playing an educational card game called “Authors”. The deck of cards consisted of eleven sets of four cards each representing the works of eleven famous authors. The object of the game was to form complete sets of the four cards comprising the works of a particular author. I remember another such card game called “Famous Movie Monsters”, which was just as much fun, although not so high-brow.

Luz Maria has developed a set of cards for the historic Lutheran liturgy. The object is to answer correctly as many questions as you can. Her daughter, Charli, provided the graphic design, while the text on each card was taken, with the author's permission, from an explanation of the liturgy (in Spanish) by Edmund Mielke, former missionary to Venezuela and now the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Brandon, Manitoba. Luz Maria and Charli have put together 10 sets of these cards with the intention of selling them for a nominal fee at the national convention of SOLUDAVE (Sociedad Luterana de Damas Venezolanas), the Venezuelan Lutheran women's organization. Luz Maria hopes the card game will be used as a tool for teaching the history and importance of the liturgy in all of the member congregations of the Lutheran Church of Venezuela.

Rev. Mielke entitled his treatise “Oficio Divino” (Divine Office). English-speaking Lutherans perhaps more often use the expression “Divine Service” in reference to what the Augsburg Confession continues to call “the Mass.” According to Article XXIV of the Augsburg Confession, “Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among us, and celebrated with the highest reverence.”

The term “Mass” is derived from the Latin word for dismissal. In the early Christian church, it was customary, after the preaching, or “service of the Word”, to dismiss all who were not baptized members of the church and then celebrate the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Thus, in the western half of the Roman Empire, where Latin was adopted as the liturgical language, the “mass” or dismissal of the unbaptized, at first signified the beginning of the sacramental service. Later it came to mean the entire service.

What is called “the Mass” in the tradition of the western European church is called the “Divine Liturgy” in the Greek Orthodox churches of eastern Europe and Asia. “Liturgy” comes from the Greek λειτουργια (“leitourgia”). This is a compound word combining “leitos” or public, with “ergon”, which means work or action. Leitourgia originally meant something provided as a service for the public by a benefactor of the ruling class. In Spanish, “oficio” can mean “official function” or “ministry” (the word for what we usually mean by “office” in English is “oficina”.) In fact, the word “leitourgia” occurs in the New Testament, where it is usually translated into English as “service” or “ministry” (Luke 1:23, 2 Corinthians 9:12, Philippians 2:17, 30, and Hebrews 8:6, 9:21). In Luke 1:23, Zachariah goes home when "the days of his liturgy” (αι ημεραι της λειτουργιας αυτου), or service in the Temple, are over.

In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament read by people who did not know Hebrew in New Testament times ) the word “leitourgia” (and nouns and verbs derived from it) is used to translate verses describing the ritual service of the temple (Numbers 4:24; Joel 1:9, 2:17). In Hebrews 8:6, the high priest of the New Covenant (Jesus) performs a better kind of “liturgy” than that of the Old Testament priests and Levites (νυνι δε διαφορωτερας τετυχεν λειτουργιας, οσῳ και κρειττονος εστιν διαθηκης μεσιτης, ητις επι κρειττοσιν επαγγελιαις νενομοθετηται) by sacrificing Himself once and for all time for the sins of the whole human race, and by continuing to act as Mediator between God and man. For this reason, propitiary sacrifices of animals have been eliminated from the worship of the New Covenant (because Christ's sacrifice on the cross covers all sin), as have the ceremonial/ritual purity laws which had to be obeyed before anyone could enter the Temple and participate in the Old Testament rites (because we enter the presence of God made holy by the blood of Christ).

Christ also instituted certain means for His salvation to be made known to the world and for the strengthening of the faith of those who believe. First the public proclamation of the Gospel to the ends of the earth and instruction in the doctrines of the faith (John 20:21-23, Matthew 28:19-20), and the sacraments of baptism (Matthew 28:19-20) and the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-24).

By “Divine Service,” “Divine Liturgy” or “Divine Office”, we mean the public preaching of the Word, which Christ Himself instituted for the benefit of believers and those who have yet to believe, and the administration of the sacraments, baptism for the receiving of people into the household of faith, and Holy Communion for the strengthening of faith in those who believe.

Article V of the Augsburg Confession states, "To obtain such faith, God instituted the preaching office to give Gospel and Sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where He pleases, in those who hear the Gospel.” Likewise Article XXIII of the Augsburg Confession says, “the sacraments were ordained, not only to be marks of profession among men, but rather to be signs and testimonies of the will of God toward us, instituted to awaken and confirm faith in those who use them. Wherefore we must so use the sacraments that faith be added to believe the promises which are offered and set forth through the sacraments.”

The service of the Word and sacraments is central to Christian worship. Although the New Testament gives no detailed description of early Christian worship, several other things are associated with the ministry of Word and sacrament: prayer (1 Timothy 2:8), singing of hymns (Ephesians 5:19). Scripture readings (James 1:22) and offerings of thanksgiving (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). Put all of these components together and a certain structure emerges. Thus we define Christian worship as God delivering the gifts of His grace, the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life to those who repent and believe, through the means of Word and sacrament, the grateful response of His people with prayer and praise. This basic structure, or “liturgy”, has stood the test of time. We see it in the earliest full descriptions of the church's worship, such as the writings of Justin Martyr or the Didache. Because this structure is based directly the teachings of the Holy Scriptures, it is not negotiable and may not be set aside.

There are elements of the historic liturgy that we have inherited from the church of past centuries that are neither expressly commanded or forbidden by Holy Scripture. These are called “adiaphora”, from a Greek word that often is translated as “indifferent matters.” Many people think that to say something is an adiaphoron is to say it's purely a matter of personal preference, but this is not so. If something is commanded or forbidden by Scripture, then one is faced with a simple black versus white proposition. To refuse to do what God commands in Scripture, or to do what Scripture forbids is to defy the will of God, pure and simple. With adiaphora, however, there may be shades of gray. To accept or reject an adiaphoron may depend on the historical or cultural context in which one finds oneself.

For example, early in the 20th Century, many German Lutheran congregations in the United States adopted the custom of placing a United States flag on one side of the chancel and a “Christian flag” (a red cross on a blue field against a white background) on the other. This was because in the years preceding, during and following World War I, there was a great deal of prejudice and animosity toward German-speaking immigrants. The German Lutherans wanted to show that they were both devout Christians and loyal citizens who recognized the United States of America as “one nation under God.” Nowadays this practice strikes some people as blurring the proper distinction between church and state, and identifying Christianity too closely with “the American way of life.” Who is right? To display the banners of church and state in this way may have made sense in a certain time and place, but may not be considered appropriate in a more global era. That is the nature of adiaphora.

The Lutheran approach to such matters is a variation of the principle, “If it works, don't fix it.” If some practice has become part of the common heritage of the church, does not contradict Scripture, serves a useful purpose and does not create misunderstandings, it should by all means be preserved as ṕart of our worship.

Martin Lutheran published his “Formula Missae” (Latin Mass) in 1523. In his introduction to it, he wrote:

“We therefore first assert: It is not now nor ever has been our intention to abolish the liturgical service of God completely, but rather to purify the one that is now in use from the wretched accretions which corrupt it and to point out an evangelical use.”

So we say along with the Apology (Defense) of the Augsburg Confession, Articles VII and VIII: 33, “...we believe that the true unity of the Church is not injured by dissimilar rites instituted by men; although it is pleasing to us that, for the sake of tranquillity [unity and good order], universal rites be observed, just as also in the churches we willingly observe the order of the Mass, the Lord’s Day, and other more eminent festival days. And with a very grateful mind we embrace the profitable and ancient ordinances, especially since they contain a discipline by which it is profitable to educate and train the people and those who are ignorant.”

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