Freedom and Bondage

Last night in Bible Class we were talking about discipline in the church, specifically with regard to liturgical matters. With essentially three exceptions, the New Testament does not prescribe a set form of worship like the Old Testament does. Leviticus is very detailed. In the New Testament, we are given three rules: “Baptize the in the name of…”, “When you pray, say ‘Our Father…'”, and “Take eat… Drink of it all of you…” Those aren’t all that complicated (although throughout the history of the church, people have delayed Baptism, forgotten to pray, and kept the chalice from the church, among other abuses). But, for the most part, we have those directions, and we are free to carry them out however seems best for our particular circumstances. We are not bound to a set order of service, a set way of doing things.

Except of course that we are. We don’t exist without the history of what has gone before. And the church has always followed the same basic outline: Psalms, Readings, Sermon, Prayers, Eucharist. We have written documents from about 140 AD to that effect. We know that by 200 the Kyrie was in use near the beginning of the service. Basically, people who knew the apostles, and were instructed by them about how to worship (or at the most, their children and grandchildren) had a worship remarkably similar to our own. It’s a form that has remained in use since that time.

Specific details may change. The Nunc Dimittis was added to the Communion Service by the Lutherans at the time of the Reformation (although after Luther). It was a confession of the Real Presence against the Calvinists (and a very effective one). There are times when the Greater Gloria is omitted. Setting 1 of the Divine Service has the option of using “This is the Feast” in its place. The Confession/Absolution is also a relatively recent addition.

So, in a sense, there is no specific part of the Divine Service (aside from the Lord’s Prayer and the “Take Eat..”) that is required. And, in the freedom of the Gospel, no one can demand that we do it a specific way.

But, there must also be order in the church. Just because there is no specific requirement to distribute the Lord’s Supper in a specific manner, that does not mean everyone can rush forward at once. Individual tables, assembly line, or a combination of the two may be profitably used in the church. But you can’t do all three at once. There must be a set pattern that is used in a congregation. And, once instituted, it should not be changed without good cause. To have one method this week, another next week, and a third the week after is disorderly. Paul specifically tells the Corinthians to knock off the disorderliness. Get an orderly system in place, and follow it from week to week.

At times, our parish omit parts of the service. We have a midweek service that is basically for people who are borderline shut ins. It needs to be 45 minutes or less. At one time I did monthly services in the local nursing home for our members there: under 30 minutes, and some of the people were still too weak to make it through. During Holy Week we have services for people on their lunch break. Exactly 30 minutes. Much is missing. But Easter morning? It’s all there and then some.

As I said last night:

If you came this Sunday, and the Creed, Nunc Dimittis, Gloria, and Sanctus were missing, you’d probably think, “Pastor really is forgetful.” If I did it a second week, you would think, “Is something wrong with pastor?” By week three, you would likely say “Stop that. Put the service back the way it was.” And you would be right to say so. It is not my service to do with as I please. There are occasions when changes are appropriate. But there needs to be more to it than pastoral whim, or a desire to make a point about freedom. That is not the freedom we have. We use setting 3, and occasionally setting 1. And the discipline of our freedom is that we must use those settings.

That’s the thing about freedom. As Kurt Marquardt once noted: If I play chess, I am only free to play chess if I follow the rules. If I just move the pieces any which way, I am no longer free to play chess. I am playing a different game.

So also for our life together in the church. Freedom dictates that we follow the order of the church. In some parishes, recovering from the ravages of Evangelicalism, that may mean using a poorly modified version of Setting 4 for a time to re-introduce the basic structure of the liturgical service. I know of a parish that has much ceremony, but it was introduced slowly, and in the midst of the Healey Willan setting. (Yuck!) Even the pastor who introduced it recognized that you would not normally move from a hymnal to that. But it is better than no hymnal at all. So, a modified setting 4 is better than screens, the latest praise song, and an altar call. But it is not something to aspire to in parishes that already have the discipline of using a service as it was written in the hymnal. A congregation with that discipline is free to immerse itself in the liturgical action without having to worry about page turns, or what is coming next. The elderly, women with young children, even the young children themselves, are freed to sing along with the parts they know, even if they can’t use the hymnal. One of my favorite memories in my whole life was the Sunday my 4 year old daughter learned the Agnus Dei. She sang louder than anyone else – including the organ. It was glorious. Perhaps the closest I will come to heaven in this world. And it was made possible because, in freedom, we bound ourselves to a specific setting of the Divine Service. (A decision made long before I arrived.)

The Reformation was a freeing moment in the church. But it did not free us to do whatever we wanted. It freed us to bind ourselves to the Word of God instead of the whims of men. And the correct use of the Reformation does the same thing – it binds us to specific settings of worship (Settings 1-5), specific patterns of calling pastors (call committee, PIF and SET forms), specific ways of training pastors (seminaries), specific ways of teaching (the small and large catechisms), all in the service of that freedom. Those are not the only way to do things. They may not be the best in each case. But they are what we, in freedom, have bound ourselves to do.

Because we are not freed to do whatever we want. We are freed to do whatever best gives glory to God, and helps and serves our neighbor.

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2 Responses to Freedom and Bondage

  1. Pingback: But Why? « Been There, Done That

  2. We are bound to a specific worship “content”. Baptism, the Office of the Keys and the Lords Supper. All our liturgical content comes from and or supports such commanded ordinances instituted by Christ Himself.

    Whatever liturgy takes away from, pushes into the background and or denys said ordinances is heretical and the Father in heaven must turn His face away from such worship that runs contrary to His worship instituted by His Son with sacred music that supports said ordinances and brings out its meaning.

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