Indiana District President Richard Stuckwisch presented a paper entitled “Unity of Fellowship in the Way of Worship: Altar & Pulpit Fellowship and Liturgical Integrity” to the International Church Relations Forum as part of Synod’s National Convention. The convention ran July 29 through August 3 in Milwaukee, WI. You can read his paper in its entirety here: Unity in the Way of Worship (Ordo): Altar & Pulpit Fellowship and Liturgical Integrity
“Unity in the Way of Worship (Ordo): Altar & Pulpit Fellowship and Liturgical Integrity”
D. Richard Stuckwisch – LCMS International Church Relations Forum, Milwaukee, WI – 1 August 2023
The Augustana confesses and identifies the Church as “the assembly of saints in which the Gospel is
taught purely and the Sacraments are administered rightly” (AC VII). That is to describe and define the
Church in terms of the Holy Ministry (as confessed in AC V). I have long been struck by how closely that
description matches the picture of the Church that Dr. Weinrich drew for us from St. Ignatius of Antioch
back in the day – that of the bishop and the people gathered around the Lord’s Altar for the giving and
receiving of Christ Jesus in His Word and Sacrament. Various theologians have referred to this sort of
picture as a “Eucharistic Ecclesiology,” and I have found that way of thinking (in general) to be salutary.
As we all eat of the one Bread which is the Body of Christ, and as we all drink from the one Cup which is
the New Testament in His Blood, so are we all together one Body in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 10:16-17).
To think and speak of the Church on the basis of “the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering
the Sacraments” (AC V) is to identify the Church liturgically, that is, with reference to the Divine Service.
Really, the Holy Ministry, the Divine Service, and the Liturgy all refer to more or less the same thing from
slightly different angles; each at its heart comprises the Gospel as it is preached and administered. Or, to
say it another way, as the Apology explains, “the term ‘liturgy’ squares well with the ministry.” It is an
ancient word for “public service,” which coincides “with our position that a minister who consecrates
shows forth the Body and Blood of the Lord to the people, just as a minister who preaches shows forth
the Gospel to the people” (Apology XXIV.80-83). A liturgist cares for and/or administers public goods.
The “Liturgy,” in this respect, is narrowly defined and understood as the public reading and preaching of
the Holy Scriptures, unto repentance and faith in Christ Jesus, and the administration of His Holy Supper
in the Name and remembrance of Jesus, according to His Institution (1 Cor. 11:23-26). At this point we
do not yet have in view any particular forms of the Liturgy, nor any of those “human traditions or rites
and ceremonies, instituted by men” (AC VII), which have developed over the course of the Church’s life
on earth. To begin with we are dealing with those things that are constitutive, definitive, essential, and
necessary to the Church, her life, her unity and fellowship. In this respect, the Liturgy is not incidental or
irrelevant but foundational and fundamental, because the preaching of the Gospel and the celebration
of the Eucharist are the means whereby God “gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where He
pleases, in those who hear the Gospel” (AC V). And as the Church, properly speaking, “is the assembly of
saints and true believers” (AC VIII), there is no Christian Church apart from the Liturgy of the Gospel.
My point in laying out the liturgical character of the Church is to emphasize the liturgical aspects and
parameters of Church Fellowship. It is the Liturgy of the Gospel that we have in common, not only as
individual congregations, and not only within our respective synods and regional churches, but also in
our relationships with each other in the communion of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
Indeed, the Liturgy is what connects us to one another as fellow members of the one Body of Christ,
across the ages and around the world; not simply in the sense that we are all doing these same things,
but more profoundly, that these sacred things of Christ Jesus – the faithful preaching of His Gospel and
the right administration of His Sacraments in accordance with His Word – are the very things that bind
us to Him and unite us with each other in Him. It is no accident or coincidence that St. Justin Martyr’s
second-century description of the Divine Service still serves as an adequate and accurate summary of
the Church’s liturgical life and activity on any given Sunday (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66-67); for the
Lord in His mercy and providential care has preserved the Liturgy of His Gospel for His Church on earth,
and He has preserved His Church on earth by the Liturgy of His Gospel.
Of course, heterodox, heretical, and sectarian churches also read and preach the Bible in some fashion
and make use of the outward rites and ceremonies of Baptism and the Supper to some extent; yet, we
do not enter into Pulpit and Altar Fellowship with those churches. We do acknowledge that heterodox
Christians belong to the fellowship of the Church catholic by faith in Christ Jesus, notwithstanding their
erroneous teaching and confession. But we do not condone or participate in their heterodox doctrines
and practices by exchanging pulpits with their preachers, communing them, or communing with them.
In many cases, unorthodox teaching will manifest itself in unorthodox liturgical practices – and by the
same token, we should add, unorthodox liturgical practices will often result in unorthodox doctrines.
What is more, since the preaching of the Gospel is itself a constitutive part of the Liturgy, it will always
be the case that teaching and practice – doctrine and doxology – rise or fall together over time. But the
point remains that even impeccable rites and ceremonies are not sufficient in themselves to establish
Church Fellowship where there is no harmonious agreement in the teaching and confession of the faith.
Written confessions are obviously of significant importance in this respect, as the Lord has revealed His
Word in the Holy Scriptures, and as His Church has inscribed her confession of His Word in Creeds and
the like from the start. Our own Lutheran Confessions function as a means of both teaching and testing
the preaching and practice of our pastors, and we rightly pledge ourselves to those objective writings in
the Rites of Ordination and/or Installation to the Office of the Holy Ministry. The seriousness with which
we treat the orthodoxy of our pastors is especially appropriate in view of the topic at hand, because our
Church Fellowship is exercised, not in written documents, but in the actual preaching and administration
of the Gospel by our pastors in the liturgical life of the Church – in fellowship with one another.
In short, Church Fellowship is pastoral fellowship, that is, a fellowship of pastoral care in all those things
that pastors are called, ordained, and sent to do in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. This takes us back
to the Augustana’s confession of the Church in terms of the Holy Ministry, but now in consideration of
the unity and fellowship of churches with each other. What does that entail, and what does it look like?
As the Church is the assembly of saints and true believers gathered by, around, and for the preaching of
the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments in accordance with the Gospel (AC VII), churches
live in true unity and enter into genuine fellowship when their pastors are preaching the same Gospel in
harmony with each other and likewise administering the Sacraments in conformity with their preaching.
That’s not to say or suggest that the pastors will all be preaching exactly the same sermon; neither will
they all be conducting the Liturgy in a kind of lock-step uniformity that allows no discernible differences.
But pastors in fellowship with each other will be recognizably consistent and similar in their preaching of
repentance and forgiveness of sins in the Name of Jesus; and so will their liturgical practice be consistent
and resonate with their preaching and teaching of His Word.
It bears noting that the right preaching and teaching of the Word of Christ Jesus is integral and essential
to the right administration of His Holy Sacraments, both Holy Baptism and the Holy Communion (as well
as Holy Absolution). Holy Baptism is given and received along with the teaching and observance of all
that Jesus has commanded (St. Matt. 28:18-20); and not only is the Holy Communion given to disciples
of Jesus (St. Matt. 26:26-28), that is, to those who are Baptized and being catechized in His Name, but it
is administered in His “remembrance,” in proclamation of His death “until His comes” (1 Cor. 11:23-26).
It is precisely for these reasons that the preaching of Christ Jesus is a constitutive part of the Liturgy. And
that is also why an outwardly “correct” conduct of the external rites and ceremonies of the Liturgy is not
sufficient in itself for the true unity and fellowship of the Church; orthodox preaching is also necessary.
In respect to both preaching and the entire conduct of the Liturgy we are dealing with pastoral practice
and pastoral care, which are the heart and soul of Church Fellowship. By “pastoral care” I have in mind
preaching, baptizing, catechizing, hearing confession, speaking Holy Absolution, administering the Holy
Communion, visiting the sick and homebound, and exercising the cure of souls with the Word of Christ.
Admitting individual Christians to the Sacrament of the Altar, whether the first time or any other time, is
itself an exercise of pastoral care, which happens within an entire context of ongoing pastoral care. This
point is fundamental to the orthodox practice of Closed Communion, which is nothing else and nothing
less than the expression and actual practice of Church Fellowship. That is to say, pastors commune those
Christians who are under their own ongoing pastoral care, as well as those Christians who are under the
ongoing pastoral care of brother pastors with whom they share the same preaching and practice. Along
the same lines, orthodox pastors will not commune Christians who are under a different pastoral care;
nor will they commune individuals who have no pastor, although they will certainly invite and welcome
such individuals to come under their pastoral care and to become part of the Church through catechesis.
In all of this, it is not so much that Church Fellowship is the prerequisite for Pulpit and Altar Fellowship,
although that is also true; but it is more to the point that the Holy Communion is the actual embodiment
of Church Fellowship in the exercise of pastoral care – in the preaching and practice of the Liturgy. So,
the challenge that faces the Church on earth is discerning where such pastoral fellowship is located, and
how it should best be carried out and practically expressed. And that challenge is all the greater where
we have also to deal with differences in language and nomenclature, history, experience, and resources.
As previously noted, there is no expectation that pastors in fellowship with each other will conduct the
Liturgy with absolute uniformity in every detail. Such an expectation would not be reasonable, nor even
possible; pastors are all different, congregations are all different, church buildings are different in their
architecture and furnishings, and any number of other differences enter into the equation. Thankfully,
absolute uniformity in liturgical practice is not necessary to the exercise of pastoral fellowship. But all
the differences do beg the question, as to how our pastoral fellowship shall be manifest and recognized.
There are those foundational givens which are necessary to Church Fellowship, such as we have already
discussed. There must be the right preaching of the Gospel in all its truth and purity, in accordance with
the Holy Scriptures – all centered and fulfilled in Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead – unto
repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins. And there must be the right administration of the Holy
Sacraments, in conformity with the Lord’s Institution and in harmony with the preaching of His Gospel.
These are the most important and essential matters, so fundamental as to be cliché, and no Lutheran
(indeed, no true Christian) would presume to argue otherwise.
But what of all the details that are not determined by the clear and explicit Word of God? It is in those
areas of “adiaphora” that the Church has struggled to find the sweet spot between legalism and chaos.
Within the Missouri Synod, for example, there has been increasing diversity in worship practices since
the early 1980s, resulting in a decade or more of “worship wars” (throughout the 1990s), then settling
into a status quo in which congregations are predominantly defined and identified by their particular
“style” of worship, ranging from full-bore free-form “contemporary” practices that mimic Protestant
Evangelicals, to carefully-ordered traditional “high church” practices replete with all the ceremonies.
Every man appears to do whatever seems right in his own eyes; which is admittedly “biblical,” but not in
a good way (Judges 17:6; 21:25)! Whether all of these styles actually maintain the fundamental integrity
of the Gospel Liturgy in Word and Sacrament is debatable at best. In any case, even allowing for the sake
of argument that all these things are permissible (1 Cor. 10:23), such a plethora of divergent practices is
surely not edifying or beneficial to the unity of the Church or the tangible exercise of our fellowship. It is
confusing and offensive to the people of God, misleading to those outside of His Church, and distracting
from the One Thing truly needful. Albeit adiaphora are free in themselves, they are often so intimately
connected to the preaching and administration of the Gospel that they cannot easily be distinguished in
practical perception; so care must be taken that the actual Liturgy not be treated as if dispensable. If we
do not wish to have “a king in Israel” (Judges 17:6; 21:25) – nor a Pope, for that matter – there must yet
be some way for our pastors and bishops to manifest, measure, and recognize in practice our common
confession of Christ Jesus, the unity of His Body, the Church, and our fellowship in His precious Gospel.
As Luther writes in his “Christian Exhortation to the Livonians” (1525):
For those who devise and ordain universal customs and orders get so wrapped up in them that
they make them into dictatorial laws opposed to the freedom of faith. But those who ordain and
establish nothing succeed only in creating as many factions as there are heads, to the detriment
of that Christian harmony and unity of which St. Paul and St. Peter so frequently write. Still, we
must express ourselves on these matters as well as we can, even though everything will not be
done as we say and teach that it should be. (Luther’s Works AE 53, p. 46)
It was around that point that Dr. Luther finally consented to work on a German Mass (Deutsche Messe),
after resisting the request to do so for some time. He feared that anything he might produce along these
lines would be made into “a rigid law,” binding consciences in violation of Christian liberty. Yet, he saw
“the widespread demand for German Masses and Services and the general dissatisfaction and offense
that [had] been caused by the great variety of new Masses,” which so many others had rushed to make.
So, then, while urging the freedom of the conscience before God in respect to “differences in liturgical
usage,” Luther did set forth “The German Mass and Order of Service” in 1526. It was not his intention
“that all of Germany should uniformly follow our Wittenberg order,” but he wrote that “it would be well
if the Service in every principality would be held in the same manner and if the order observed in a given
city would also be followed by the surrounding towns and villages” (Luther’s Works AE 53, pp. 61-62). In
making this observation Luther acknowledges the blessing and benefit of having free things in common.
There is freedom and flexibility in human ceremonies. That there are many things which the Lord has
neither commanded nor forbidden (adiaphora) is simply a fact, which we also teach and confess (FC X).
The Lord has not specified every detailed nuance of New Testament worship; He has left most of those
details to be worked out by His Church on earth and by the ministers of His Word in their pastoral care
of His people in each parish. While the principles of adiaphora are often misunderstood, misconstrued,
and/or misapplied, the actual freedom involved in that which God has neither required nor prohibited
remains a blessing and a gift that He has granted to His Church for the sake of His Gospel, that it should
have free course and be preached and administered to the joy and edification of His people in a wide
variety of circumstances, across broad differences of time and place. But the freedom of adiaphora also
means that the Church and her pastors are free to work toward common and consistent practices.
In asserting that “it is not necessary that human traditions or rites and ceremonies, instituted by men,
should be alike everywhere,” the Augustana cites Ephesians 4 (verses 4-6) in affirming “the true unity of
the Church” in the pure and right preaching and administration of the Gospel; for “there is one Body and
one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one Faith, one
Baptism, one God and Father of all,” etc. (AC VII). Interestingly, although Dr. Luther does not cite the
Ephesians passage in the Preface to his Deutsche Messe (1526), he offers a comparable premise as a
compelling reason to seek unity and harmony in liturgical practice, not as though it were necessary, but
because it is appropriate and edifying: “As far as possible,” he writes, “we should observe the same rites
and ceremonies, just as all Christians have the same Baptism and the same Sacrament [of the Altar] and
no one has received a special one of his own from God” (Luther’s Works AE 53, p. 61). In other words,
the very oneness of the Gospel which is entirely sufficient for the true unity of the Church is also, in its
own way, the ground on which the Church is well able to establish common and consistent practices.
In fact, the Lutheran Church has generally followed Luther’s advice in seeking to adopt, adapt, and make
consistent use of worship practices in common, by and large preserving the liturgical traditions, rubrics,
rites, and ceremonies of the Church catholic (AC XXIV.2-3). Consider the Lutheran Church Orders of the
16th and 17th centuries, which specify to varying degrees the way that pastors and congregations within
a given territory should carry out the work of the Church. Those Lutheran Church Orders give directives
in matters that are theologically free before God, but which the Church in her freedom chose to arrange
and govern for the sake of consistency and unity in practice. Such consistency and unity are beneficial,
not only for peace and harmony between neighboring parishes, but also for the clarity and precision of
the Church’s catechesis and confession of the faith within each parish and beyond. “After all, the chief
purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ” (AC XXIV.3).
The whole world knows that actions speak louder than words, and as we use care in the words that we
confess in preaching, teaching, and otherwise, so do we rightly exercise care in our liturgical practice at
the heart and center of the Church’s life. Along the same lines, Luther’s recommendation that churches
should ideally seek to have Services, rites, and ceremonies in common is analogous to his admonition, in
his Preface to the Small Catechism, that we should choose “one fixed, permanent form and manner” of
teaching the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Our Father, and make every effort “to teach the
young and simple people these parts in such a way that we do not change a syllable or set them forth
and repeat them one year differently than in another” (Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, CPH,
2008, pp. 247-248). While Luther did not dictate any one particular “form and manner” for everyone, he
did provide his Small Catechism for the use of the Church, and the Lutheran Church in freedom and love
has chosen to continue using that beautiful contribution – to the great benefit of many generations.
Similar principles of pastoral care in respect to liturgical practice are exemplified in the case of Wilhelm
Löhe’s Agenda, written for the mission of the Church in the United States, based upon the forms and
practices he found “in one or the other of the many old Lutheran [Church] Orders” (Liturgy for Christian
Congregations of the Lutheran Faith, Third Edition, tr. By F. C. Longaker, 1902, p. xi). To prepare and
produce such an Agenda is, in itself, to make decisions and offer directions in matters that are free; and
to do so on the basis of past precedent demonstrates the intention to be in continuity with those who
have gone before us in the faith and confession of Christ Jesus. There is a deliberate embracing and
fostering of catholicity with past, present, and future generations of the Church. Similarly, Friedrich
Lochner, a student of Löhe and one of the first pastors of the Missouri Synod, in his thorough study of
the history, theology, and practice of the Liturgy, likewise gives careful attention to the practices of the
Lutheran Church Orders (see The Chief Divine Service of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, translated by
Matthew Carver, edited by Jon Vieker, Kevin Hildebrand, and Nathaniel Jensen, CPH, 2020).
Not surprisingly, the Missouri Synod took these things seriously from the beginning. A conservative
hymnal and liturgical agenda were among the first things that C.F.W. Walther and the congregations
under his care took the time and made the effort to prepare and produce in the early years of the
Synod’s existence (the hymnal within a year, the agenda within a decade of the Synod’s beginning).
What is more, the Synod’s Constitution has always stipulated, in one way or another, the necessity of
“doctrinally pure agenda, hymnbooks, and catechisms in church and school” (LCMS Constitution VI.4,
Handbook 2019, p. 13). As the Missouri Synod began to use the English language, they also adopted the
“Common Service” of 1888, which had been developed by a joint venture of several Lutheran Synods in
the Eastern United States. By deliberate intent, the “Common Service” was based upon “the common
consent of the pure Lutheran Liturgies of the Sixteenth Century,” or, in those parts of the Liturgy where
there was not “an entire agreement” among the Church Orders, “the consent of the largest number of
greatest weight” (Luther Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy: A Study of the Common Liturgy of the Lutheran
Church in America, Revised Edition, Fortress Press, 1960, p. 183).
The point here is simply to say that the Lutheran Church, from the outset and throughout her history,
has recognized the benefit of common and consistent liturgical practices and the corresponding need
for direction and guidance in these areas. That has been true especially among those who take doctrine
and confession of the faith most seriously, precisely because liturgical practice is indicative of what we
actually believe, teach, and confess, as well as a means of ongoing catechesis in God’s Word and faith.
By the same token, the unity of a common confession of the faith is both embodied and substantiated
by a unity of practice. It is true that Church Fellowship does not depend on a uniformity in adiaphora,
but where there is fellowship in doctrine the Church will also tend to gravitate toward a common and
consistent usage of adiaphora in the conduct of the Gospel Liturgy. And the beauty of it is, the Church is
perfectly free to pursue that path. Indeed, it is not a violation but an exercise of faith and freedom when
the pastors and congregations of a particular territory or jurisdiction of the Church mutually agree – in
love – to order and conduct their liturgical life according to common rubrics, rites, and ceremonies.
The truth is that the Church cannot do those essential things that God has given her to do without some
other rubrics, rites, and ceremonies to accompany them, even if those accompanying practices differ
over time and from one place to another. The question is not whether to have and use such things, but
how best to choose them – that is, by what criteria – and how best to think of them and use them.
In fact, the use of rubrics, rites, and ceremonies is fundamental to the Ministry of the Gospel in the life
of the Church. So, it is useful to unpack these things a bit and explain what they are and how they work:
Rubrics are the rules or instructions that guide and govern the conduct of the Liturgy, whether instituted
by the Lord or left to the freedom of the Church to determine in love. In the Lord’s Supper, for example,
the Rubrics given by the Lord are, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (and, “as often as you eat this Bread
and drink this Cup, proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes”). Examples of the rubrics determined by
the Church would include information on the day and time of the Divine Service (e.g., Sunday 9:00 a.m.)
and basic logistical instructions for the distribution of the Holy Communion (in writing or by the ushers).
Such rubrics are necessary to any sort of coordinated group activity, and so also for the Church’s life.
Rites are the words that are spoken, chanted, or sung by the pastors, cantors, choirs, or congregation,
whether instituted by the Lord or left to the freedom of the Church to determine in love. In the Lord’s
Supper, for example, the Rites given by the Lord are, “Take, eat. This is My Body, given for you. Drink of
it, all of you. This Cup is the New Testament in My Blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.”
Examples of the rites developed by the Church in love include the Creed, the Preface, Proper Preface,
and Sanctus, the distribution formula and distribution hymns, and the Post-Communion Collect, etc. All
such rites are in keeping with the fact that we are verbal creatures, and that God Himself does and gives
everything by and with His Word – which we are given to confess and pray to Him and to each other.
Ceremonies are all the actions, movements, postures, architecture, furnishings, vessels, vestments,
paraments, artwork, and adornments involved in the conduct of the Liturgy, whether instituted by the
Lord or left to the freedom of the Church to determine in love. In the Lord’s Supper, for example, the
Ceremonies established by the Lord are taking the bread and the cup of wine, consecrating them with
His Word, and distributing them to His disciples to eat and drink as His Body and Blood. Examples of the
ceremonies adopted by the Church in love include the Sanctuary, the Altar, the crucifix and candles, the
stole and chasuble, the Communion vessels, the Communion rail, and the work of Elders and Ushers in
directing “traffic.” Some such ceremonies are inherent and inevitable to our life in the body, occupying
space and time, as well as being unavoidably involved in the administration of the Holy Sacraments.
It is not possible to administer and receive the Means of Grace without ceremonies. However, not all
ceremonies are created equal. Some ceremonies are better, and some are worse than others; and some
ceremonies have no place in the Church, even if they would otherwise be “free.” All things are lawful in
Christ Jesus, but not all things are meet, right, and salutary (1 Cor. 10:23). Any ceremony or practice that
might be considered for use in the Liturgy must be measured and evaluated according to its service and
support of the Word of God, and thereby determined to be more or less helpful to faith and love.
Our Lutheran hymnals and service books, and even the old Lutheran Church Orders, do not specify every
detail of liturgical practice. Whereas the rites and rubrics of the Divine Service, the Daily Prayer Offices,
and various other occasions, are more or less adequately provided for the use of pastors in their care for
the Lord’s Church, certainly not all of the potential ceremonies are spelled out, prescribed, or described.
As previously indicated, it is not necessary for all such human arrangements to be everywhere the same;
nor would it be desirable for all of those details to be the same, even if that were theoretically possible.
Practical matters can be dealt with pragmatically. But there are still a variety of adiaphora that may be
practiced (or not) with theological significance for catechesis, confession of the faith, and pastoral care.
And those choices and decisions do have some impact on the relationship of pastors with each other.
The boundaries and parameters of the Church’s freedom in worship are established and contoured, not
only by explicit commands and prohibitions, but also implicitly by the constitutive rites and ceremonies
of Holy Baptism, the Preaching of the Law and the Gospel unto repentance and the forgiveness of sins,
and the administration of the Holy Communion in remembrance of Jesus. These divinely given Means of
Grace are the foundation, the beating heart, and the central high point of the Church’s faith and life in
Christ. Whatever else may be done in worship is determined in relation to these constitutive Means.
Beyond those basics, the measure of any given ceremony’s worth and benefit requires more than the
avoidance of overtly false doctrine. The best ceremonies are not simply true, as opposed to false; they
are positively helpful in teaching and confessing the Word of God, and they are beautiful in adorning His
Liturgy of the Gospel. It is indeed appropriate and salutary to adorn the Liturgy with artistic beauty, as a
confession of faith in the Word and work of Christ Jesus, and as a catechesis in the hidden Mysteries of
His great Salvation. One may consider such examples as chanting, the sign of the Cross, chasubles, the
elevation of the Sacrament, genuflecting at various points in the Liturgy, and the use of incense.
The broadest criteria for the consideration of any liturgical practice are faith toward God and love for
the neighbor; which can also be summarized in terms of reverence and courtesy. That which is harmful
to faith and love is not free but forbidden. And that which is irreverent, rude, or frivolous, is likewise not
free but forbidden (FC SD X.1, 7, 9). The Second Commandment requires that God’s Name be kept holy,
and that God must be sanctified by His priests and His people (Ex. 20:7; Num. 20:12; Lev. 10:3).
Courtesy and love for the neighbor do suggest a steady consistency and continuity of practice, which are
so conducive to peace and rest in the Liturgy of the Gospel, because they allow for a ready participation
of the entire congregation in the Church’s worship of Christ Jesus. By contrast, frequent fluctuations and
diversity in practice are unsettling to the people of God and easily distract them from His Liturgy of the
Gospel, because they require a level of literacy, attention, energy, and effort that tends to frustrate or
prevent the participation of many members in the Church’s worship of Christ Jesus.
In considering various possible adiaphora, pastors should also take into account the larger fellowship of
the Church catholic, including those who have gone before us in the faith and confession of Christ Jesus,
as well as those who will follow after us (our children and our children’s children), and those with whom
we are in fellowship in the present (and those with whom we are working toward Church Fellowship).
This, too, is another exercise of love for the neighbor, a ready willingness to set aside our own personal
proclivities and preferences for the sake of having “all things in common” (Acts 2:42-44).
Tradition is generally more conducive to the Gospel than novelty (1 Cor. 11:1–2, 16–26), because what is
handed over is received as a gift or inheritance from the past, rather than being fabricated for ourselves
and our own purposes in the present. Lutherans have therefore been evangelically conservative when it
comes to tradition, in contrast to the legalism of Rome on the right and of the Reformed on the left.
Along similar lines, catholicity in practice is generally more conducive to love than personal innovation,
because it belongs by definition to the entire Church, to the household of faith and the whole family of
God, rather than being the unique invention or private property of an isolated individual or small group.
What is more, the collective wisdom of the Church is usually wiser than the personal insights of any one
individual. True, the nature and needs of pastoral care require the free exercise of pastoral discernment
and discretion, just as the Church in each time and place is free with respect to human customs. Yet, the
starting point should be what has been given and received within the life of the Church, rather than the
novelty of personal ingenuity. Consider the great value and benefit of the Church Year and Lectionary,
the Ordinary and Propers of the Divine Service, and the use of customary vestments and furnishings.
These are some of the key criteria that should help to guide a pastor in caring for his congregation in the
freedom of faith and the service of love. The same criteria are also of help to bishops and the churches
under their care in working toward harmony and unity of liturgical practice, both within their respective
jurisdictions and in the exercise of Church Fellowship with one another. To whatever extent we are able
to share rubrics, rites, and ceremonies in common, those practices demonstrate, express, substantiate,
and support our common confession of the faith, even as they also serve and support the preaching and
administration of the Gospel Liturgy. What is more, those recognizably Lutheran liturgical practices also
help the laity to distinguish and identify our Church Fellowship wherever in the world it may be found.
Certainly, as we share the ecumenical Creeds and our Lutheran Confessions in common, it is also meet,
right, and salutary that we should share those things that govern and guide our liturgical practices.