Monday, June 29, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Sunday Gospel: Trinity 5-Discipleship

Following Christ
Luke 5:1-11
New King James Version
5 So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, 2 and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. 3 Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat.

4 When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

5 But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” 6 And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. 7 So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” 11 So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.

Luther's Explanatory Notes:

 The miraculous draught of fishes. By such an abundant draught of fishes the Lord intended to show his apostles that the gospel is to be extended over the world with energy, and to recapture men out of the king dom of the devil and bring them into the kingdom of God (vs. 10, 11.) At the same time this gospel

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Resources for the Liturgical and Doctrinal History of Marriage in the Christian Church

The following is a list of resources relevant to the study of the liturgical and doctrinal history of marriage in the Christian Church of the West. Initially this list is mainly a copy of the bibliography of Kirsti S. Thomas from her article "Medieval and Renaissance Marriage: Theory and Customs."

The goal is to annotate and expand this list as a resource for Confessional Lutherans engaged in the study and discussion of church-state issues surrounding marriage.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Gospel: Visitation

July 2

Luke 1:39-47
New King James Version
Mary Visits Elizabeth

39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

46 And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

Luther's Explanatory Notes:

The visit of Mary to Elisabeth. This history is simple in appearance, be cause there is nothing more described in it than the action of Mary; namely, that she went to visit her cousin Elisabeth. But rightly considered, it includes nothing but

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Gospels: Sts. Peter and Paul the Apostles

June 29

Matthew 16:13-20
New King James Version 
13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
14 So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
20 Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.

 Luther's Explanatory Notes

13 When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I, the Son of man am? 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Sunday Gospel: Trinity 4- Christian Unity and Peace

Luke 6:36-42
New King James Version
36 Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.

37 “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

39 And He spoke a parable to them: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? 40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. 41 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.

Luther's Explanatory Notes:

Vs. 36-42, see Matt. vii. 1-5.
36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. 

Merciful is such a man, who is friendly, willing and helpful to others. This the Gentiles may do also. But this they do not add, that we should do good also to our enemies, which part Christ touches upon when he says: " As your Father is also merci ful;" he does good to the whole world. The Gentiles can be kind,

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Sunday Gospel: Nativity of John the Baptist

June 24th
Luke 1:57-80
New King James Version
Birth of John the Baptist
57 Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. 58 When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her.

59 So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. 60 His mother answered and said, “No; he shall be called John.”

61 But they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.” 62 So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called.

63 And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. 65 Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. 66 And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?” And the hand of the Lord was with him.

67 Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:

68 “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited and redeemed His people,
69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of His servant David,
70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets,
Who have been since the world began,
71 That we should be saved from our enemies
And from the hand of all who hate us,
72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers
And to remember His holy covenant,
73 The oath which He swore to our father Abraham:
74 To grant us that we,
Being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
Might serve Him without fear,
75 In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.

76 “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;
For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
77 To give knowledge of salvation to His people
By the remission of their sins,
78 Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
79 To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.

Luther's Explanatory Notes:

56-66 wanting. 

67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, 

Filled with the Holy Ghost and prophesied. Here you see how happy the pious

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Three Outposts, part 10 – Conflicts between Church and Home (cont.)

Steadfast Throwdown Radio Show

We continue discussing the conflicts between the estates of church and home with Pr. Joe Abrahamson. Why do pastors solemnize marriages as “agents of the state”? What place or interest does the church have in weddings and marriage? How does forgiveness take place in the home? What some cautions to hearing the confession of other people?

Read Pr. Abrahamson’s Bible study: “The Three Outposts, Your Mission: Study 6 – Church and Home”

Monday, June 15, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Sunday Gospel: Trinity 3-The Lost Sheep

Luke 15:1-10
New King James Version
The Parable of the Lost Sheep and The Parable of the Lost Coin

15 Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So He spoke this parable to them, saying:

4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ 7 I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.

8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ 10 Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Luthers Explanatory Notes on the Gospel Lesson:

This gospel contains words which live and impart life, when they are received by themselves, and it is one of the most consoling gospels in the whole year.

Publicans and sinners. St. Luke expresses freely and plainly what kind of people

Monday, June 08, 2015

The Three Outposts, part 9 – Conflicts between Church & Home

Steadfast Throwdown Radio Show

In this installment of our series with Pr. Joe Abrahamson, we begin discussing areas of overlap and conflict between the three estates. Here we discuss the very real and timely overlaps and conflicts between the estate of the home (family) and the estate of the church.

Read Pr. Abrahamson’s Bible study: “The Three Outposts, Your Mission: Study 6 – Church and Home”

Luther's Notes on the Sunday Gospel: Trinity 2-Invitation: The Great Supper

Luke 14:16-24
New King James Version
The Great Supper
16 Then He said to him, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, 17 and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ 18 But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ 20 Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ 23 Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’”

Luther's Explanatory Notes:

The great supper. This gospel is not to be understood as referring to the holy Sacrament, or bread of the altar, as the papists have violently dragged it in on

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Sunday Gospel: Trinity I-Dives and Lazarus

Trinity I:
Luke 16:19-31
New King James Version
The Rich Man and Lazarus

19 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

24 “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’

27 “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”

Luther's Explanatory Notes:

Lazarus and Dives. In this gospel the Lord shows an example of faith in Lazarus, and of unbelief, or the godless state in Dives, in order that we may the more

Intimidation: A Needed Reminder from 1884

October 3, 1884, CFW Walther introduced his fourth evening lecture on the Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel with the following remarks on intimidation used against Christian teachers. What he describes about this intimidation of faithful Christian teachers fits fairly well with the now popular accusation of Hate Speech used against faithful Christians when they speak the truth about sin in love.

When a theologian is asked to yield and make concessions in order that peace may at last be established in the Church, but refuses to do so even in a single point of doctrine, such an action looks to human reason like intolerable stubbornness, yea, like downright malice. That is the reason why such theologians are loved and praised by few men during their lifetime. Most men rather revile them as disturbers of the peace, yea, as destroyers of the kingdom of God . They are regarded as men worthy of contempt. But in the end it becomes manifest that this very determined, inexorable tenacity in clinging to the pure teaching of the divine Word by no means tears down the Church; on the contrary, it is just this which, in the midst of greatest dissension, builds up the Church and ultimately brings about genuine peace. Therefore, woe to the Church which has no men of this stripe, men who stand as watchmen on the walls of Zion, sound the alarm whenever a foe threatens to rush the walls, and rally to the banner of Jesus Christ for a holy war!

Try and picture to yourselves what would have happened if Athanasius had made a slight concession in the doctrine of the deity of Christ. He could have made a compromise with the Arians and put his conscience at ease; for the Arians declared that they, too, believed Christ to be God, only not from eternity. They said: ἦν ὅτε οὐκ ἦν (there was a time when He did not exist), meaning, He had become God. But they added: “Nevertheless He is to be worshiped, for He is God.” Even at that remote time, had Athanasius yielded, the Church would have been hurled from the one Rock on which it is founded, which is none other than Jesus Christ.

Again, imagine what would have happened if Augustine had made a slight concession in the doctrine of man’s free will, or rather of the utter incapacity of man for matters spiritual. He, too, could have made a compromise with the Pelagians and put his conscience at ease because the Pelagians declared: “Yes, indeed; without the aid of God’s grace no man can be saved.” But by the grace of God they meant the divine gift which is imparted to every man. Even at that time, had Augustine yielded, the Church would have lost the core of the Gospel. There would have been nothing left of it but the empty, hollow shell. Aye, the Church would have retained nothing but the name of the Gospel. For the doctrine of the Gospel that man is made righteous in the sight of God and saved by nothing but the pure grace of God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, is, as everybody knows, the most important doctrine, the marrow and substance of Christian teaching. Wherever this doctrine is not proclaimed, there is no Christ, no Gospel, no salvation; there men perish, and for such people it has been in vain that the Son of God has come into the world.

Lastly, picture to yourselves what would have happened if Luther had made a slight concession in the doctrine of the Holy Supper. At the time of the Margburg Colloquy he could have made a compromise with Zwingli and put his conscience at ease, because the Zwinglians said: “We, too, believe in a certain presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, but not in the presence of Christ’s corporeal substance, because God does not set up such sublime, incomprehensible things for us to believe.” By this claim Zwingli made Christianity in its entirety a questionable matter, and even Melanchthon, who was usually greatly inclined to make concessions, declared that Zwingli had relapsed into paganism. Had Luther yielded, the Church would have become a prey to rationalism, which places man’s reason above the plain Word of God.

Let us, therefore, bless all the faithful champions who have fought for every point of Christian doctrine, unconcerned about the favor of men and disregarding their threatenings. Their ignominy, though it often was great, has not been borne in vain. Men cursed them, but they continued bearing their testimony until death, and now they wear the crown of glory and enjoy the blissful communion of Christ and of all the angels and the elect. Their labor and their fierce battling has not been in vain; for even now, after 1500 years, or, in the last-named case, after several centuries, the Church is reaping what they sowed.

Let us, then, my friends, likewise hold fast the treasure of the pure doctrine. Do not consider it strange if on that account you must bear reproach the same as they did. Consider that the word of Sirach, chap. 4, 33: “Even unto death fight for justice, and God will overthrow thy enemies for thee,” will come true in our case too. Let this be your slogan: Fight unto death in behalf of the truth, and the Lord will fight for you! —

Monday, June 01, 2015

Worship Wars New and Old, well, really just Old.

Today there is massive pressure to change Confessional Lutheran forms of worship in order to adapt to the culture. This pressure is not new. Here is an article from a century ago on this same topic. The pressures are the same. The dangers the same. The deceit the same. 
But more importantly, the Word and Sacrament is the same. The same historical Lutheran liturgy presents the same Law and Gospel centered around the Sacraments. The author is Luther D. Reed. And the article is from 1906 pages 9-18, in vol. 1 of the Memoirs of the Lutheran Liturgical Association.


Principle and Form are related as Soul and Body. The latter is the medium through which the former is able to express itself. The intellect, the will, the emotions, in fact the SOUL LIFE of the human personality is only able to reveal itself, and indeed only possesses objective existence, in the physical life. So abstract principles may have some quasi existence within the realm of the metaphysical, but in order to our real apprehension of them in time and space they must have a concrete, formal expression.
The animating principles of Christian faith constantly appear in the several spheres of Christian life, and nowhere more clearly than in the department of Christian Worship. The distinctive differences in doctrine held by different Churches may not be evident in the private lives of their members, but they will inevitably appear in the public worship of their congregations. Doctrines and principles of worship are proclaimed not only from the pulpit, but from the altar, from the pew, from the organ bench and choir room ; in Liturgy as truly as in Confessional Symbol ; in rubric often more clearly than in text ; in manner, gesture, posture as surely as in spoken or printed word. Everything is pregnant with meaning when one learns to read it aright. We understand not the mannerisms of strangers, but the simple tone of voice, the glance of an eye, or the most trivial gesture of a dear friend conveys deep significance. So greater intimacy with the forms of devotion may reveal to us many qualities hitherto unperceived.
It is a very superficial opinion, oft expressed, that there is little difference between Churches. “We all are going to the same place,” it is said; as if it were immaterial in undertaking a journey to a distant city whether we kept in the King's highway with its signboards and places of refreshment, or stumbled in danger and discomfort through the woods and swam swollen streams. Or as if because we all live upon what we eat, there were no difference in foods! A Lutheran is not a Romanist, a Quaker or a Methodist. We have a distinctive doctrine, a distinctive apprehension of God's revelation, as have they ; and our cultus, or form of worship, as expressing our belief, is just as distinctive in character. It is our purpose, therefore, by a study of our Service and a comparison of it with others to see wherein this distinctiveness lies.
We may look first at the Service as a whole. The first impression we gather is that it is not only in the language of the people, but that the latter actively participate in every portion of it. There is no suggestion of a vicarious performance, but of a personal participation. Pastor and people together enter the Holy of Holies and commune with God. Here is the living embodiment of a cardinal principle of the Reformation, and indeed of the New Testament,—the Universal Priesthood of All Believers. Hear what Dr. Rock, a most eminent Roman Catholic divine, says with reference to the celebration of the Roman Mass.
In the performance of this sacred service no office is assigned to the people. The sacrifice is offered up by the priest in their name and on their behalf. The whole action is between God and the priest. So far is it from being necessary that the people shall understand the language of the sacrifice, that they are not allowed even to hear the most important and solemn part of it.... They do not act, they do not say the prayers of the priest, they have nothing to do with the actual performance of the Holy Sacrifice.” (Hierurgia I: 314.)
Hear again the words of Dr. Boardnian, one of the most prominent Baptist divines in this country, as he laments the vicarious character of worship in his own and other nonliturgical Churches. He says,
No voice but the preacher's is heard in adoration, thanksgiving, confession, supplication, intercession, aspiration, communion. So far as the vocal act of homage goes, the preacher alone worships. … Alas! this individual privilege of each member of the congregation we allow the minister to appropriate to himself. He alone lifts the veil, and enters the Holy of Holies, and communes before the mercy-seat; while the congregation stands mute in the outer court. The New Testament doctrine of the rent veil and the priesthood of all Christians gives way to the Old Testament doctrine of a sacerdotal order; or what is worse, to the Roman heresy of a priestly caste and a priestly worship. Even the pulpit has been removed from the side to the centre; so that the preacher is perpetually in the foreground, while the worship of Almighty God is consigned to a comparatively subordinate niche. How painfully true this is, may be seen in the fact that while it is not considered rude to enter the sanctuary during the earlier part of the service, such as the singing or the Bible reading,—that is to say, be it observed, during that part of the service which is distinctively liturgical or worshipful,—it is considered rude to come in or go out while the minister is preaching, as though, forsooth, the main thing in worship were ignorant, feeble, sinful man, instead of Jehovah of Hosts." (Christian Worship, p. 291 sq.)
Out of their own mouths they stand convicted, the Romanist asserting the doctrine of the vicarious work of a priestly order, and the Baptist admitting its virtual practice. Take the Common Service and see pastor and people unite in common confession, and appropriation of God's forgiveness ; see them direct to the throne of grace common praise and petition in the Gloria Patri, the Kyrie, the Gloria in Excelsis, the Collect, the General Prayer, the Preface, Sanctus, Agnus and Nunc Dimittis ; hear their common confession of belief in the Creed as well as many other parts of the service; see them together honor and reverence and use the Word and the Sacrament, uniting in all that pertains to the administration and the reception of both. In its every line our Service is vocal with the principle of a Universal Priesthood engaging in a Common Ministry.
Worship is a transaction between God and Man; in it therefore are two active elements, the divine and the human. Theories of worship fundamentally differ as the emphasis is placed upon either of these elements. The Roman, and perhaps to a less degree the Greek Liturgy, reeks with the human, the sacrificial element. God is still to be appeased, His wrath averted by the work which the Church, through its priesthood, must do every day. All service centres about the work, the sacrifice of the Mass. It is not what God brings to man in worship, but what man does for God. The Reformed, by which we understand the other Protestant Churches except the Lutheran, also emphasize the human or sacrificial side.
Not indeed the propitiary sacrificial theory of the Romanists, but the eucharist-sacrificial idea. God is appeased, Christians gather to thank and praise Him, and to offer Him their prayer and grateful service, provoking one another's devotion and sacrifice by mutual fellowship. But again it is not what God brings, but what man does. The Lutheran lays stress upon the Divine element in worship. The propitiary sacrifice has been made once for all by the death of Jesus ; this, and this only, is the basis for our every approach to God in worship. God desires all men to receive most fully the benefits of Christ's work. He conveys these benefits and blessings, pardon, peace, spiritual strength, GRACE in fact, through certain means. These are His Word and Sacraments. He says, “Thou art redeemed, O Man ; Christ died for thee. Come, commune with Me ; I will give thee My Word and Will ; will assure thee of pardon ; will give thee My Strength to help thy weakness ; will give thee in My Sacrament a seal and pledge of thy acceptance, and will make and confirm with thee an everlasting covenant.”
The sinner, though assured of God's mercy, is ever conscious of his own sin ; and his every experience but impresses him with his own weakness. He comes to receive again what God offers him through the means entrusted to His Church. Hence our distinctive teaching is that we gather in Divine Service primarily to receive the gifts of God, and then secondarily to give Him our praise and prayer. We receive far more than we can ever give. The Divine element predominates; the human is governed by it. It is not what man does, but what God brings.
Examine the Service in the light of this distinctive principle ; see the importance accorded the Divine element, the Means of God's coming to us, the Word and the Sacrament. Luther in his very first liturgical writing said, "One thing is needful, namely', that Mary should sit at Christ's feet and hear His Word daily, which is that best part which she has chosen, and which shall never be taken from her. There is one eternal Word. Everything else must pass away, no matter how much concern it may cause Martha.” See how he labored to give the Word to the people in their own language ; how the Sermon as the exposition of it was restored; how the legends of the saints, the work of the priests ; the penances of men, the figment of the Virgin's powers, were all swept aside. Like another John the Baptist he came crying. “Make straight the way of the Lord.”
We, as his heirs in doctrine as in name, have entered into his works. The Greek and Roman Liturgies today are filled with works and ceremonies, with elaborate dramatic symbolism, with invocation of the saints and adoration of the Virgin; but of the pure Word of God, His message to human hearts, there is little. We put them down in sorrow and turn to Orders and Directories of Worship used by many Protestant Communions. Here is abundant provision of Hymns and Prayers and Anthems ; even the Apostles' Creed may be said and the Gloria Patri sung, and if the Lord's Prayer be added yet it is regarded as a remarkably rich liturgical service. And yet that is all man's work, his offering to God. All that God brings to man must come through perhaps a single short portion of His Word, for it is to be feared that the Sermon frequently is so filled with the social, political, or at best moral opinions of the preacher that there is scant opportunity for a morsel of Divine truth, an assurance, a promise, or a pledge, to trickle through. In sorrow again we place these down.
Let us examine our Service. At the very beginning pastor and people encourage each other to approach the throne of grace by the messages of God delivered to His people thousands of years ago, and so we say, “Our help is in the Name of the Lord,. . . .For Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” and after united confession we receive the assurance of His Gospel again that “Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, hath had mercy upon us, and given His Only Son to die for us, and for His sake forgiveth us all our sins. To them that believe on His Name, He also giveth power to become the Sons of God, and bestoweth upon them His Holy Spirit. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Then the Introit gives us in the language of the Psalms again the special message of the day, which we are to receive more fully later in Lessons and Sermon, and about which all our response is to cluster. The very words of the Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis and Collect bring before us, chiefly in the very language of Scripture, the Person and Work of our Saviour, and the assurance of His love, Plis intercession, His benediction. And then we have directly His particular message in the Epistle and Gospel: that portion of His Life, His Work, His Teaching that is to be His especial assurance, promise, warning or exhortation,—the particular Gift of His love for the time to those who gather in His courts below.
And now about this message, this Divine Gift, which is further explained and applied in the Sermon, based directly upon it and not determined by some passing whim or caprice of the preacher;—about this Divine Gift, gathers our grateful response in acceptance and affirmation in the Creed, and our further appropriation and thankful praise in the Hymns. And so it is the WORD that rules, that is the centre, that is the life of the Service. The Church in its Pericopes, or selection of Lessons, as related to the general plan of the Christian Year, has rightly divided this Word of Truth, and given us a proper portion for every service in the year.
Worship,” says the President of Union Theological Seminary, and he voices the conception of all the Reformed Churches on this point, “worship has for its characteristic idea, its main object, not impression, but expression.” “Its two chief elements are praise and prayer.” (p. 312 & 306 in Christian Worship.)
Not so!” says the Lutheran, with the Common Service in his hand. “The chief thing is God's Gift to us, His Message in His Word, His pledge in His Sacrament.”
About these have grown up that rich devotional literature, as well as that wonderful body of Church Song,—the Hymns, the Graduals, the Chorale, the Chants and part compositions—that show most clearly that the Lutheran Church does not underestimate the subjective or human element in worship, but that she bases it upon the Divine element. God speaks first; we hear and answer.
It is hardly necessary to indicate the manner in which our Service emphasizes the Divine element in the Sacrament.
The Eastern Liturgy of S. James says “Remembering, therefore. His life-giving sufferings,. . . .we, sinful men, offer unto Thee, O Lord, this dread and bloodless sacrifice, praying: that Thou wilt not deal with us after our sins, nor reward us according to our iniquities.”
The Roman Liturgy says “Accept, O Holy Father, Almighty, Eternal God, this immaculate Host, which I, Thy unworthy servant, offer unto Thee, my living and true God, for my innumerable sins, offences and negligences, and for all here present, as also for all faithful Christians, both living and dead, that it may be profitable for my own and for their salvation unto eternal life . Amen.”
Here everything is human offering work and action.
Let us glance at some Protestant Liturgies. Here the Holy Communion is a service of commemoration, of Christian union and fellowship, a sign of faith and a promise of consecration on the part of men. In Zwingli's Liturgy, as indeed in Knox's and in many of Reformed services today the people remain in their seats, the bread and wine are distributed by the deacons or even passed from hand to hand while a Psalm or Hymn is sung or words of Scripture read.
The fundamental idea appears in a sentence of the recent Liturgy proposed for use in the Presbyterian Church by Dr. Shields,—“And here we offer and present unto Thee. O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and lively sacrifice unto Thee ; humbly beseeching Thee, that all we, who are partakers of this holy Communion, may be fulfilled with Thy grace and heavenly benediction.” (p. 245).
The Liturgy of the Reformed Church in the U. S. says (p. 96), “Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, sanctify, we beseech Thee, by Thy Word and Spirit, these elements of bread and wine, that, being set apart now from a common to a sacred and mystical use, they may exhibit and represent to us with true effect the Body and Blood of Thy Son, Jesus Christ,” and in the Distribution the formula is “The bread which we break is the Communion of the body of Christ” and “The cup of blessing which we bless is the Communion of the blood of Christ.”
The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England in the formula for distribution says, “Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on Him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.”
Examples might be multiplied, but this will suffice to show us that here again is human work, human commemoration, human consecration, human fellowship, but not the Divine Gift for which we long,—the real Divine Presence in the transaction and the personal, individualized assurance of Divine forgiveness, for which we hunger and thirst. Take the Common Service and see its simple but soul-satisfying words. The communicants come to the altar and reverently kneel before the Lord Who has chosen this way in which to impart Himself to them. Their sin sees the pledge of its pardon in the Holy Elements ; with holy reverence and deepest gratitude they receive the Divine Gift, as they hear the very words of the Giver, “Take and eat, this is the Body of Christ, given for thee.” “Take and drink, this is the Blood of the New Testament, shed for thy sins.” Devoutly, we appropriate to ourselves the message of pardon, peace, imputation, impartation ; reverently we receive CHRIST, with all His Work, in all His plenitude of Power. No, in this solemn moment, not human works as offering, but Divine Gift and assurance.
There are many other distinctive traits in our beautiful Service, but time permits us to mention but one particularly. It presents Christ our Saviour as the object and center of all our worship ; it is a living embodiment of the spirit of the First and Second Commandments, which declare that “thou shalt have no other gods beside Me;” and “thou shalt not take My Name in vain”.
We have already seen how the Roman Service centres, not in the propitiatory sacrifice which Christ once offered on the cross, but in that which the Church now from day to day continually offers. Its Liturgy is further crowded with references to the Virgin, the Archangel Michael, the Apostles, Martyrs and Saints, some forty of whom are mentioned by name ; not simply references to them, but we should have said confession made to them, and prayers offered to them for their intercession with God And while the clergy are hastily mumbling or chanting this service in a foreign tongue the laity are busy in the pew “working out their salvation”, as with marvelous celerity they cover the decades of the rosary, reeling off the “vain repetitions” of Ave Marias, Pater Nosters, and Gloria Patris. Work! Work! Work ! Christ's work ignored ; man's work exalted ! The Church, Mary, the Martyrs, the Saints, traditions and legends, but little of Christ and His Word.
Now take up a Monday morning's paper in any great city and read the reports of a majority of the sermons there given. Political situations, industrial conditions, sociological problems, criticisms of the national policy, reviews of recent publications, discussion of athletics or Art, disquisitions, philosophical, geographical, historical, ethnological, biographical,—but what of “Christ and Him crucified” than Whom Paul declared that he would know nothing?
Take up again the Common Service. Its very beginning is in the Name of the Triune God; His assurance of pardon meets our confession of sin ; our cry of need ascends to Christ in our Kyrie, and Agnus Dei; our praise is given Him in the Gloria, the Hallelujah, the Response to His Gospel, the Sanctus, the Thanksgiving, the Benedicamus; we confess our faith in Him in Creed, in Canticle and in every part of the Service ; our petitions ascend to Him in Collect, General Prayer and Agnus; we lift our hearts to Him in Preface and Nunc Dimittis; from Him we receive sacramental grace in Lessons, Sermon, Absolution, Communion and Benediction. His Life, His Work, His Teaching, His Intercession, His Exhortation, His Promise. We are on the Mount of Transfiguration,—Christ is with us in all His Divine Glory, Majesty and Power. All else is down in the valley, far beneath. Jesus is all in all.
Not only, however, does our Service reflect in its form our distinctive views of Divine Worship, but it is a living embodiment of our whole doctrinal system, from which, indeed, our conceptions of Worship naturally emerge, we believe that in the very words of the service not only every fundamental, but every distinctive doctrine of our Church finds expression.
  • The doctrine of the Trinity is proclaimed constantly in Invocation, Declaration of Grace, Gloria Patri, Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, Collects, Creeds, General Prayer, Proper Preface, Sanctus, and Benediction.
  • The doctrine of Creation and Providence in the very first Versicle, as well as in Collects, Creeds and General Prayer ;
  • Human sin and God's mercy and forgiveness appear in the Confession and Declaration, Gloria in Excelsis, Collects, Creeds, Offertory, General Prayer, Proper Prefaces, Verba, Agnus and Distribution.
  • Concerning the Person of Christ, the doctrine of His two Natures is shown in Collects, Creeds, Proper Prefaces ;
  • The doctrine of His Offices passim;—as Prophet in Collect and Sanctus;—as Priest making intercession and satisfaction in Declaration, Gloria in Excelsis, Collects, Creeds, Proper Preface;—as King reigning in His kingdoms of Power, Grace and Glory in Gloria in Excelsis, Collects, Creeds, General Prayer and Gloria Patri everywhere.
  • Likewise the doctrine of His States:—The Humiliation appears in Confession, Collects, Gradual, Creeds, General Prayer, and Proper Prefaces;—The Exaltation in Gloria in Excelsis, Collects, Creeds and Proper Prefaces.
  • Of the teaching concerning the Holy Spirit, we see faith, justification, calling, illumination, regeneration, conversion, sanctification proclaimed in Confession, Declaration, Collects, and Creeds.
  • The doctrine of the Means of Grace not only underlies the whole conception of the Service, but appears specifically as well in individual portions of it.
  • The power and efficacy of the Word is not only emphasized by the dominating position accorded it as controlling every variable part of the Service, but the very words of the Liturgy itself are in great measure Scriptural, and if not literally so, entirely so in spirit.
  • The whole second part of the Service enshrines in forms of living beauty the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord's Supper.
We have already spoken of at least one of the individual parts which shows that he who engages in this holy service in the spirit and words of this Liturgy cannot regard the Sacrament either as a sacrificial offering, or a mere commemorative or consecratory form, but as in very truth the way chosen by our Lord Himself to impart Himself in all His plenitude of saving grace and power to us personally and individually. And so we may mention every vital, fundamental doctrine of Christian faith, and every distinctive principle and tenet of Lutheranism and we find it not only dimly reflected but generally most clearly stated in our incomparable Service.
It had been our intention to give a concise summary or characterization of the different families of liturgies, and indicate the place of the Common Service among them;—in other words, to treat of the somewhat complicated questions of liturgical consanguinity and affinity, to present a few pages, at least, of the ledger in which History has recorded the debt and credit account of these near relatives in their dealings with one another,—but this manifestly lies beyond the limits of this paper. We trust that sufficient has been presented to show that not only in its general outline and spirit, but in its individual parts, our Service is at once a living embodiment and a luminous and lovely exposition of the Holy Christian Faith as apprehended by the Lutheran Church, and that as such it deserves to stand as a worthy contribution of American Lutheranism to the number of Confessional Symbols of our Church ; not as a dry, dogmatic formula of belief to be taken down from dusty shelves in time of controversy and argument, but as a living thing of surpassing beauty, which our hands, lips and heart may together use whenever we enter the sanctuary of God to commune with Him.
Luther D. Reed.
Allegheny. Pa.