Marquart on the Liturgy, Part 3

The Augsburg Confession itself says that “nothing contributes so much to the maintenance of dignity in public worship and the cultivation of reverence and devotion among the people as the proper observance of ceremonies in the churches” (“Articles About Matters in Dispute…,” par. 6, after AC XXI). And since “good order is very becoming in the church,” reasons the Apology, it “is therefore necessary” (Ap XV, 22). Slovenly irreverence must be called to repentance, lest priceless evangelical pearls be trampled underfoot by swine (Matt. 7:6).

Connected with good order is the matter of the stability of liturgical form. There are two aspects to this stability. One is the principle of continuity with the ancient church. The church of the evangelical Reformation wishes to be neither a new-fangled sect nor a biblicistic one which imagines that it can bypass the whole intervening history of the church. Wanting to be simply a faithful continuation of the orthodox church of the ages, it makes a point of having “introduced nothing, either in doctrine or in ceremonies, that is contrary to Holy Scripture or the universal Christian Church” (AC Conclusion, 5). Article XXIV in both the Augsburg Confession and the Apology repeatedly refers to the church fathers and to the Greek liturgy, by way of precedent. Luther’s Large Catechism says, “Since from ancient times Sunday has been appointed for this purpose, we should not change it. In this way a common order will prevail and no one will create disorder by unnecessary innovation” (LC I, 85). Behind this respect for genuine tradition–Chesterton called it “the democracy of the dead”–stands what might be called the principle of ecclesial humility: “Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?” (1 Cor. 14:36).

The second aspect concerns the pedagogical value of stability.  In his preface to the Small Catechism Luther strongly urged the teachers of the Catechism to “adopt one form, adhere to it, and use it repeatedly year after year,” and not to “alter a single syllable or recite the catechism differently from year to year,” so as not to confuse the simple (LC Preface, 7-8; [note: the reference is to the Preface of the Small Catechism – JWE]). What holds for catechetics holds perhaps even more for liturgics, even though Luther’s early writings seem to encourage a laissez-faire attitude.  After his encounter with the flutter-spirits of emotional fanaticism, Luther grew more cautious, and the various Lutheran church orders of that time are decidedly conservative.

Lutheran Worship: History and Practice, “Liturgy and Evangelism”