The rule of “Christian discipline” echoes the concern of the Apology: “[The papists] debated how it happened that they had come to worship God in so many ways, as though these observances were really acts of devotion rather than outward rules of discipline” (Ap VII, 32). “We like it when universal rites are observed for the sake of tranquility. So in our churches we willingly observe the order of the Mass, the Lord’s day, and other important feast days. With a very thankful spirit we cherish the useful and ancient ordinances, especially when they contain a discipline that serves to educate and instruct the people and the inexperienced” (Ap VII, 33). “We gladly keep the old traditions set up in the church because they are useful and promote tranquility, and we interpret them in an evangelical way, excluding the opinion which holds that they justify. Our enemies falsely accuse us of abolishing good ordinances and church discipline. We can truthfully claim that in our churches the public liturgy is more decent” [Latin: honesteriam; reference to Vulgate 1 Cor 14:40] (Ap XV, 38–39). “It is evident that we diligently maintain church discipline, pious ceremonies, and the good customs of the church” (Ap XV, 44).
The rule of “good order” reflects the concern of both the Augustana and the Apology: “With regard to church usages that have been established by men, it is taught among us that those usages are to be observed which . . . contribute to peace and good order in the church” (AC XV, 1). “Bishops or pastors may make regulations so that everything in the churches is done in good order” (AC XXVIII, 53). “It is proper for the Christian assembly to keep such ordinances for the sake of love and peace, to be obedient to the bishops and parish pastors in such matters, and to observe the regulations in such a way that one does not give offense to another, and so that there may be no disorder or unbecoming conduct in the church” (AC XXVIII, 55, German).
“For the sake of love and tranquility, and that they keep them, in so far as one does not offend another, so that everything in the churches may be done in order and without confusion” (AC XXVIII, 55, Latin). “[The holy Fathers] instituted [traditions] for the sake of good order and tranquility in the church” (Ap XV, 13). “[The holy Fathers] observed these human rites because they were profitable for good order . . . and because they provided an example of how all things could be done decently and in order [Latin: ordine et graviter; reference to 1 Cor 14:40]. For different seasons and various rites serve as reminders for the common folk. For these reasons the Fathers kept ceremonies, and for the same reasons we believe in keeping traditions” (Ap XV, 20).
“In Col. 2:23 Paul writes that traditions ‘have an appearance of wisdom,’ and indeed they have. This good order is very becoming in the church and is therefore necessary” (Ap XV, 22). “In the [Augsburg] Confession we nevertheless added the extent to which it is legitimate for [the bishops] to create traditions, namely, that they must not be necessary acts of worship but a means for preserving order in the church, for the sake of peace” (Ap XXVIII, 15).
How were “good order, Christian discipline, evangelical decorum, and the edification of the church” understood by the authors of the Formula of Concord? Eleven years before the Formula of Concord was signed, Martin Chemnitz, its chief author, explained these four “apostolic rules” in his Examination of the Council of Trent (4 vols., trans. Fred Kramer [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971–1986]): “There is no doubt that the church after the apostles added certain other rites for the purpose of edification, order, and decorum. It can, indeed, not be proved with sure and firm testimonies which rites were certainly delivered by the apostles, although they cannot be shown from Scripture. We can nevertheless have a sure apostolic approach to the evaluation and use of traditions, to rites or external ceremonies regardless where they may have their origin” (1: 268). “Paul distinguished apostolic rites with these marks, that all things should be done decently, in an orderly way, and for edification. Thus he shows in 1 Corinthians 11:5–10 that the custom of the women veiling . . . serves decorum. In 1 Corinthians 14 . . . he mentions edification, decorum, and order. And I judge that such rites should certainly be retained and preserved which are (as has been well said) inducements and aids to piety, that is according to Paul’s rule, which first of all make for edification, that men may be invited to the Word, to the sacraments, and to other exercises of piety, that the doctrine may be more aptly set forth, valued more, received more eagerly, and better retained; and that penitence, faith, prayer, piety, and mercy may be kindled and cherished, etc. Second, those which serve good order; for it is necessary that in the public meetings of the church there be order worthy of churchly dignity. Thirdly, those which make for decorum. Now by decorum we understand not theatrical pomp or courtly splendor but such decorum as shows by external rites the honor in which we hold the Word, the sacraments, and the remaining churchly functions, and by which others are invited to reverence toward the Word, the sacraments, and the assemblies of the church. Christian liberty places a limit on apostolic rites, namely, that ceremonies may be according to their nature adiaphora, few in number, good and profitable for edification, order, and decorum, and the whole kind, except in cases of offense, should be observed in freedom” (1: 269).
Chemnitz’s rejection of “theatrical pomp” echoes Luther’s concern in the Large Catechism, Third Commandment: “This commandment is violated . . . by that multitude of others who listen to God’s Word as they would go to any other entertainment” (LC I, 96). This is a pointed rejection of “entertainment evangelism” and much of “contemporary worship,” while Chemnitz’s rejection of “courtly splendor” rejects the excesses of Roman Catholic ceremony even today.
The confessors were also concerned about the pedagogical role of worship: “With a very thankful spirit we cherish the useful and ancient ordinances, especially when they contain a discipline that serves to educate and instruct the people and the inexperienced” (Ap VII, 33). “[Our] children chant the Psalms in order to learn; the people sing, too, in order to learn or worship” (Ap XV, 40). “[The worship ceremonies of the monks] could be tolerated if they were used as exercises, the way lessons are in school, with the purpose of teaching the listeners, and in the process of teaching, prompting some of them to fear or faith” (Ap XXVII, 54). “The special office of this day [Sunday] should be the ministry of the Word for the sake of the young and the poor common people” (LC I, 86).
The inherently conservative stance of the Lutheran Confessions in the realm of worship is revealed by the following: “The abrogation [of ceremonies] brings its own difficulties and problems” (Ap XV, 49). “Liberty in these matters should be used moderately, lest the weak be offended and become more hostile
to the true teaching of the Gospel because of an abuse of liberty. Nothing should be changed in the accustomed rites without good reason, and to foster harmony those ancient customs should be kept which can be kept without sin or without great disadvantage” (Ap XV, 51).
Therefore, the Lutheran Confessions provide a wealth of criteria to apply to worship practices. The issue is not variety versus no variety. The issue is not tradition versus modern. The issue is whether contemporary worship practices adhere to the apostolic rules and confessional prescriptions for worship.
Logia 6, 3 – Office and Offices (Holy Trinity 1997), pp. 67-69