Today, an extended quote from Pastor Paul Strawn and Pastor Holger Sonntag’s new book “Christians Worship: Apology of the Unchanging Forms of the Gospel” (CWAUFOTGJ), where they deal with Article X of the Formula of Concord, on the topic of Adiaphora:
There are certainly those who use Luther in support of opting for much freedom when it comes to devising new ceremonies. However, Rev. Sonntag, in his 2009 piece on Luther’s distinction of faith and love in liturgical matters (a printed version in LOGIA is referenced in footnote 14 on p. 79 of TUFOTG….), provides a much more nuanced reading of Luther on forms of worship because it is based on a more representative sampling of texts, some of which were reprinted in TUFOTG, p. 80-85.
Sonntag demonstrated the following: Luther, beginning with his foundational 1520 treatise on Christian liberty, assigns freedom to man’s relationship to God (faith), while bondage is what characterizes man’s relationship to his neighbor (love). And, also beginning with that treatise, matters of creating and observing ceremonies are handled according to love, not faith. This means that, of course, Luther articulates freedom in worship forms in a very vocal manner when it comes to man’s relationship with God – in other words, when their observance is made a matter of meriting one’s salvation. But he is also quick to temper this freedom in man’s relationship to his neighbor by love.
Luther wrote to the Livonians in 1525 (AE 53:47-48):
For even though from the viewpoint of faith, the external orders are free and can without scruples be changed by anyone at any time, yet from the viewpoint of love, you are not free to use this liberty, but bound to consider the edification of the common people, as St. Paul says, I Corinthians 14 [:40], “All things should be done to edify,” and I Corinthians 6 [:12], “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful,” and I Corinthians 8 [:1], “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Think also of what he says there about those who have a knowledge of faith and of freedom, but who do not know how to use it; for they use it not for the edification of the people but for their own vainglory.
Now when your people are confused and offended by your lack of uniform order, you cannot plead, “Externals are free. Here in my own place I am going to do as I please.” But you are bound to consider the effect of your attitude on others. By faith be free in your conscience toward God, but by love be bound to serve your neighbor’s edification, as also St. Paul says, Romans 14 [15:2], “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him.” For we should not please ourselves, since Christ also pleased not himself, but us all.
Is this not exactly what SD X, 9 says?
We further believe, teach, and confess that the community of God in every place and at every time has the right, authority, and power to change, to reduce, or to increase ceremonies according to its circumstances [“from the viewpoint of faith”], as long as it does so without frivolity and offense but in an orderly and appropriate way, as at any time may seem to be most profitable, beneficial, and salutary for good order, Christian discipline, evangelical decorum, and the edification of the church [“from the viewpoint of love”]. Paul instructs us how we can with a good conscience give in and yield to the weak in faith in such external matters of indifference (Rom. 14) and demonstrates it by his own example (Acts 16:3; 21:26; 1 Cor. 9:10).
It seems to us that too often, SD X, 9 is quoted only with a focus on “the viewpoint of faith,” because freedom (and change) is what is to be promoted today. The [Eight] Theses [on Worship] [see part I], unfortunately, perpetuate what clearly seems to be a misuse of this fine text because they quote it under thesis II.A, which, according to the flow of the theses, is about “freedom.” “The viewpoint of love” is left unmentioned, perhaps because it would truly get in the way of providing a rationale for freedom and change, but also perhaps because it does not seem to be very specific here in SD X. However, when read in the context of Luther’s very clear advice to the Livonians, it truly regains its original depth for us today.
In other words, hearing Luther out helps us to understand certain abbreviated expressions in the Confessions which were understood back when they were written, but which, due to their short-hand nature, are easily misunderstood today when we read them without their original theological context in mind.
It is typically granted that men abuse freedom when it comes to matters of worship (e.g., by holding that “worship is an adiaphoron”). This, perhaps, is the particular burden we as the church of Jesus Christ in the “land of the free” have to bear. Now, the solution is not to eliminate freedom altogether, but to define its meaning and use carefully: in what relationships does it exist? Where does it need to be tempered by love’s willing bondage of service and humble restraint? Here Luther and the Lutheran Confessions are our allies, because such abuses of freedom are really nothing new in the history of the church of children of the free (cf. Gal. 4:31; 5:1, 13).
… if we can’t even agree upon and abide by common, uniform orders of service in the realm of love, how much do we really care about one another in Synod (cf. Matth. 24:12)? Do we care that our worship practices might negatively affect our neighboring congregations, even to the point of luring away members or driving out faithful pastors? Do we also care that members are confused when they visit LCMS congregations in the same circuit or district, or when they, perhaps to visit family or to spend the winter, attend congregations in other districts where they encounter markedly different worship practices?
In general, this seems to raise the question of what it means to follow humbly the humble Christ according to Phil. 2. Based on the work we did in TUFOTG, it is not surprising at all that Luther uses this text – the traditional epistle lesson for Palm Sunday in the West – both in his booklet on Christian freedom (cf. AE 31:365-367) and to open his admonition to the Livonians to come up with uniform ceremonies in all humility (cf. AE 53:46-47).
(pp. 44-46: CWATUFOTG, bold mine)
 Thesis II and sub-thesis A read: “II. The Scriptures and Confessions give the people of God considerable freedom in choosing those forms, rites, and ceremonies that aid the worship of God.
- Neither the Scriptures nor the Confessions prescribe forms, rites or ceremonies for worship.