Hey, Christian Freedom, Adiaphora! No NT Rules About How To Worship!
Feast of St Gregory the Great, 12 March 2010.
The New Testament lays down no order of service for Christian worship, and neither does Christ nor anyone else in the New Testament. Therefore we are free in these matters, there being no command from God about it. And therefore, as long as it preaches Jesus, a service is good and to take it any farther than that stomps on our Christian freedom, shows an attachment to a simply human tradition, and therefore is a barrier to preaching Jesus to all people of any tradition, right?
Well I'll be dipped if our Lutheran Confessions, though, aren't quite proud of the way our services preserve what Christian worship had been and seek only to omit any accretions along the way which contradict the Gospel, and not only that, but present the fact that our services pretty much are the same as the ceremonies previously in use as evidence that our reforms are true.
Now how's that?
Here's how's that. The fact is, the idea that liturgy etc are "indifferent things", sometimes called by the Greek word for that, adiaphora, things not found in Scripture and neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture, and that therefore worship is something we are free to do as we see fit in light of what seems to work best for us, is itself an idea not found in Scripture but comes from human philosophy and Scripture commands against it!
The Original Adiaphora.
For starters, "adiaphora" is not Greek for "doesn't matter" or "who cares". It actually isn't even a Christian concept. It comes from the Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece. "Stoic" itself has come to mean "indifferent" in popular usage, but that isn't what either stoic or indifferent is at all. The Stoics' main concern was how to live so that your inner life is not dictated by what happens to you in the external world. They saw the world as a matter of reason, physics and ethics. These were the main things in life. They saw the study of them as the way to avoid the errors in reason which lead to disruptive and destructive emotions that make you miserable over what happens in life when in fact it may only be what you think is happening in life.
This is not anti-emotion; rather, it was to free one from destructive emotions based on incorrect judgements so one could enjoy emotions associated with well-being and peace of mind having corrected one's judgements by reason and brought them into alignment with reality, the totality of which is God.
Even the word for peace of mind has gotten all twisted around on this "indifferent" thing! The word for peace of mind was apatheia, yup, the ancestor of our word "apathy" and didn't mean apathy in our sense at all, but rather being free of pathos (plural pathe), the destructive emotions resulting from incorrect perceptions, and also propathos or pure instinctual reactions, to enjoy the eupathos (plural eupatheia) emotions that come from perceptions that align with reality. A-pathetic is not indifference but being free of destructive emotions whose opposite is eu-pathetic or constructive emotions.
So what was adiaphora? Those things that are not part of reason, physics and ethics and are not in and of themselves destructive or constructive but could go either way depending on how you're doing with what is part of reason, physics and ethics in getting free of pathos and enjoying eupathos -- like getting rich, neither good nor bad in itself, but can go bad in a person who is, well, pathetic, literally, or go for good in a person who is a-pathetic in the literal sense above.
How The Idea Of Christian Adiaphora Started.
It's easy to see how all this could be used by Christians. The term "logos" itself is the biggest thing, starting from Heraclitus (whom Nietzsche, the only philosopher worth reading, btw regarded as the only philosopher worth reading) who used it to denote the fundamental order of the universe, then became the root of our word logic as the idea of rational speaking in the Sophists and Aristotle, but with the Stoics became the divine that is immanent, present throughout the whole universe, which Philo took into Jewish thought, then become theos, God, himself and Jesus as the Word (logos) of God in St John and early Christian apologists.
Both Stoicism and Christianity too emphasised a progress from the passions of the world to something clouded by those passions (God as creator and an afterlife though not being Stoic ideas, lest it be thought I am saying Christianity is just Stoicism with Jesus; for that matter the logos thing does not mean that either, Arius getting carried away with the idea that it did and the church had to define how it didn't at Nicea).
Christian concern about adiaphora is often held to begin with St Paul's answer in First Corinthians chapter 8 to the question of whether one can or cannot eat meat that had been sacrificed to pagan idols. However, in that passage, while stating that one is no better or worse for eating or not eating such meat per se, he is far from saying "doesn't matter" or "who cares" but also states that those who eat it do not use their freedom to do so in a way that becomes a problem for others who do not eat it. It does matter, we are to care, and the criterion is not that eating or not eating is forbidden or commanded, but what we Lutherans typically call good order in the church.
How Adiaphora Became A Big Deal In The Reformation.
This whole adiaphora thing really got rolling with the Reformation. Poor old Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, he to whom the Augsburg Confession was originally presented, tried to keep the same lid over both Lutherans and Protestants by a series of measures, the first being the Augsburg Interim -- the "interim" being until a church council could be called to settle the matters -- which allowed for priests to marry and Communion to be given in both kinds (being bread AND the fruit of the vine, not just bread) but otherwise restoring Roman practice. Since that compromises the justification by faith alone thing, although Melancthon was willing to go along with it pretty much everybody else wasn't, unwilling to compromise an essential, THE essential, teaching for a therefore false unity.
That lead to the Leipzig Interim, which Melancthon also pursued, wherein Lutheran churches could hold their beliefs but would hold the Roman line in worship, which ticked everybody Catholic and Lutheran alike right off, Catholics seeing the measure as usurping the church's authority and Lutherans split between those who supported it (the Phillipists, after Melancthon's first name) and the "real Lutherans" (Gnesio-Lutherans) who didn't. The whole thing resulting in a war whose conclusion was the principle cuius regio eius religio, whose the rule his the religion, meaning the local ruler decided what was to be followed, and Lutherans resolving it among themselves with the "second Martin", Chemnitz, in the Formula of Concord of 1577, wherein the adiaphora were identified as things like church ritual, which is neither commanded not forbidden in Scripture, but again not in a "doesn't matter" or "who cares" sense but as distinguished from the doctrine of justification by faith alone which we believe IS laid down by Scripture.
So, if we think this adiaphora worship wars stuff is bad now, well, it is but it's been a hell of a lot worse.
Hey, Isn't This A Post About The Divine Service?
The only reason I bring all this old stuff is the only reason I ever bring up old stuff -- not for its own sake but for the contribution it makes to understanding what we are even talking about, where we are and how we got there, toward where we ought to go. To me, the old stuff has no other "sake" than that, which is a huge one.
Be it the example of getting rich with the Stoics, eating meat sacrificed to idols with St Paul, or church rites in the Reformation, the common thing is that these are things that can go either way, for good or bad, not essentials in themselves but completely dependent as to whether they go good or bad on the essentials, and if they go bad are a source of great harm to those essentials, therefore, they are hardly, though not essential, a who cares or doesn't matter kind of thing. In that sense, there are no "indifferent" things.
Our Lutheran principle is, not if it ain't in Scripture we ain't doing it, but if it contradicts Scripture we ain't doing it. Being commanded or forbidden in Scripture is not the only source of a good idea, it is rather the only source of a good idea that is divine. The care and concern that we take about ideas that are not divine is entirely based on their effect of being for good or bad on the ideas that are divine. And this care and concern, as we said before, we typically call good order in the church.
This whole business about rites and ceremonies in the church is all about that. God commanded in the Law rites and ceremonies in the Temple. He hasn't commanded bupkis about rites and ceremonies since. But he does command care and concern for our fellows, he does speak against doing things that may be OK in and of themselves but are not helpful to the common good, good order in the church, the touchstone always being what he has commanded or forbidden.
So in and of itself, there is no rite, lectionary or calendar that is essential and any number of them that are legitimately possible. The thing is, that does not mean any rite, lectionary or calendar is fine, nor that any possible one is a good idea or even OK. For about 1500 years, three fourths of its elapsed history to date, the Western church has used a lectionary and calendar that goes back to the influence of St Jerome, a rite for the Divine Service that goes back to the influence of St Gregory, and an order for the Divine Office that goes back to St Benedict, not once delivered unchangeable for all time, but in a continuous and organic development over many places and times with many variations. The Eastern church has a similar story.
And that development did not just fall out of the sky or start about 1500 years ago, but itself was a continuous and organic development from what came before it in the Jewish synagogue, something Jesus and the Apostles knew very well.
What Did Jesus And The Apostles Do?
The thing is, Jesus and the Apostles and the people around them were Jews. The NT does speak of them as participating in regular normal Jewish worship. About which it supplies no details. And why would it, everybody knew. Kind of like a birthday party invitation isn't going to include music and lyrics to "Happy Birthday", you know that stuff already. Except when it comes to what they knew already, we don't. The point of this post is to lay them out so you do.
And that's important because that is what they did, and if we don't know what they did we'll read the NT like people coming across a birthday invitation with no idea that singing "Happy Birthday" will be part of it. And that, in turn, is important because that is what the Christian communities in the NT and on from there did, worship within the forms they knew yet adapted them to what they also knew, the Gospel.
Where The Idea Of A Divine Service Comes From.
OK, there's three times of prayer traditionally in Judaism, Ma'ariv which happens right after sundown, the start of the day in Judaism, Shacharit which is in the morning, and Minchah which is in the afternoon. Now, this is also where the community Christian prayer of other than our Sunday services, the Divine Office, comes from, but we'll get into that in the next post. Right now our focus is on what happens for the Sabbath service, the ancestor of our Sunday service.
Sabbath is not on Sunday. It's Saturday, which if you're lucky enough to speak Spanish you can see in the word for Saturday, sabado, and, remembering when the day starts in Judaism, actually starts in what to us is the night before, Friday after sundown. Ma'ariv, the evening prayer, like our liturgy has a lot of variation over times and places, but also like our liturgy has a basic format underneath all that variation which is always there. Shacharit, the morning prayer, has the same basic format.
Here is that basic format. There's four parts. First are some introductory prayers, then a call to worship and the Shema and the Blessings, then a prayer called the Amidah (aka Shemona Esrei) and on Sabbath readings from Jewish Bible with some explanation, and then concluding prayers.
You know what, this is the way the first part of the Divine Service is laid out too! And that's because right from the start Jesus, the Apostles and the early Christians worshipped this way too, with over time Christian prayers replacing the Jewish ones but in the same format.
The Synagogue Sabbath Service Morphs Into The Service Of The Word.
Let's look at specifics.
First and Second Parts. First are some introductory prayers, then a call to worship and the Shema and the Blessings. In Christian usage this pattern remains, with an opening hymn, a welcome and dedication in the name of each person of the Trinity, in many places the antiphon "I will go unto the altar of God", sometimes the recitation of Psalm 43 (or 42 as numbered in the Greek Septuagint) then in the West instead of the Shema and its Blessings a confession of sin and an announcement of the blessing of forgiveness, followed by an Entrance Prayer of praise, called the Introit, and then a prayer of petition, which in the West somewhere along the line lost the petitions but kept the response, Lord have mercy (Kyrie eleison).
Third Part. Then comes the Amidah, which means "standing" because it is said standing, and is also called the Shemoneh Esrei, which means "eighteen" because it is a prayer of eighteen short prayers written by the 120 men of the Great Assembly, as in Ezra in the Bible, after the return from the Babylonian Captivity and the resumption of religious life at home. A later 19th blessing was added but the name remains. The full Amidah, said on weekdays, has a section of three blessings of praise, thirteen of petitions, and three of thanks.
But on the Sabbath one enjoys a foretaste of eternity and the fullness of God in which no petition is needed, so the Amidah for Sabbath and the great festivals is the first three of praise, one special one for the day replacing the thirteen petitions, and the last three of thanks; all praise and thanks for Sabbath. The church evolved an exact image of this, which starts with the words of the angels at the birth of Christ in Luke 2:14, Glory to God in the highest. It began in Greek, was translated into Latin (said to be by St Hilary of Poitiers about 360), and guess what, has seven sections, a middle reference to his being the one who gave his body and blood to take away our sins, framed by three on either side of praise and thanks.
This is the prayer commonly still called from its first word in Latin, the Gloria, unmistakeably Christian and unmistakeably a Sabbath Amidah, and yeah, said standing! Accept no substitute, insist on the real thing! After the Gloria, there is a prayer called the Collect. What does the Collect collect? The theme of the particular Sunday, whose readings we are about to hear.
Then comes the readings from Scripture and explanations of them. These too follow a clear pattern, which is, to read through the entire Law (aka the Torah, the Books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible) by sections in a year, and with each Sabbath's portion, also read a related section from the Prophets or the Other Writings of the Bible. (The Hebrew Bible has three distinct sections, just as Jesus called them, the Law, the Prophets, and the Other Writings; Christian Bibles use the Hebrew Bible as the "Old Testament" but mix the Prophets and Other Writings to-gether.)
Jesus of course fulfilled the Law, and gave us the Gospel. So, in place of reading through the entire Law in a year, Christians began to read through the entire Gospel in a year. But wait a minute, there's four Gospel accounts in the Bible, how do you do that? Well, the New Testament has exactly the same structure as the Old Testament in its Hebrew order: the Gospel accounts first where the Law was first, next the letters, often called by the older word for letters, epistles, of St Paul where the Prophets were next, and last some Other Writings from other Apostles. Within the Gospels, Matthew's was put first, because while of the Greek texts we have Mark was the earliest, the Greek Matthew is a translation of the earliest Gospel, in Aramaic, the Jewish dialect Jesus spoke, which is now lost in that version. So Matthew became the primary Gospel account used in going through the Gospel, with the others here and there. with passages related to the reading for the day from primarily the epistles of St Paul with the writings of the other Apostles here and there.
The list of readings varies over time and place, but the pattern in the Western church was established by St Jerome about 400 or so, in what is called the Comes (Pronounced KO-mays) which in Latin means "to go with" literally, a companion, here a list of readings to go with the service.
This remains to this day the basic pattern of the readings for divine service, except where modern revisionists at or following the lead of Vatican II have cast it aside after about a millennium and a half and come up with a three-year cycle drawing from all the Gospel accounts and epistles generally, adding OT readings and Psalms.
They also cast aside the fact that this supposed improvement was tried centuries ago in the synagogue, where those outside Palestine came up with a three year cycle too, but as it corresponds to no human cycle of anything and flies in the face of the annual rhythm of things, vanished in favour of the one that was there into the dustbin of history, as our current misguided alternative to the historic lectionary will one day do too, and not a minute too soon so it deprives as few as possible of being connected to the centuries, even millenia, long unfolding of the worship of God.
And they also cast aside the whole guiding principle of Lutheran liturgical reformation, that ceremonies be retrained as they have developed except where it expresses something that contradicts Scripture, for a Romantic, 19th century idea of some sort of lost noble past age to be recaptured in its greater purity, which at the hands of the "liturgical movement" became the idea of making the "early church" or the patristic era the ideal to be recaptured in its supposed purity by scholarship and new rites supposedly closer to theirs, rather than the Lutheran idea pf retention of the organic forward development of the church but tested against the norm of not some "early church" or "the Fathers" but of whether it contradicts Scripture or not assisted by the earlier witness of the early church and the Fathers to this same ideal in their own day. The purity sought is not a Romantic fiction of some idealised lost age, but of concordance with Scripture.
Then comes an explanation of what was just read, called the D'var Torah, which is, can you see it coming, the Sermon! Among Germanic Jews, the Ashkenazi, this is also called the Drasha. So your sermon is your drash on the readings. And as in the synagogue, prayers for the sick and other needs or announcements of various kinds may be made after this.
Fourth Part. Finally the concluding prayers, which is the synagogue include the aleinu, the kaddish and a hymn. The aleinu prays for a time when the vain pursuits of Man are replaced by the universal recognition of the true God; the word aleinu means "ours", what it is ours to profess. The kaddish, while best known in the form for mourners, is not essentially about mourning at all. The word comes from the Aramaic, a Hebrew dialect, for "holy" and expresses the belief in what the aleinu prays for, the holy future for living and dead alike and to-gether. All of which is stated in its Christian version in the Creed, which is said, yup, right here, same pattern as before, along with a hymn of the day.
So there you have it, a Christian synagogue service for the Christian Sabbath, point for point, nothing more, and nothing less, there from the start, and present throughout the history of the Christian church, except in the last few centuries with those who ignore all this and worship like going to a birthday party with no clue about "Happy Birthday".
This first part of Christian Sabbath worship has had a number of names over time, and the one that really captures best what it is all about is Service of the Word. Why, because in it, God serves us his Word in Scripture and in explanation of it. It's not really something we do, it's something he does; it's not called service because we serve him but because he serves us.
The Passover Seder Morphs Into The Service Of The Sacrament.
But wait, if that's all of the original Sabbath service, why is it the first part of the Christian service? What is the second part, where did it come from, and why is it there? Here's the answer. The calendar or Jewish worship had weekly things, the Sabbath services, and big things that happened once a year which in fact God did set out in some detail, the biggest of which are three major festivals and the biggest of those are the things relating to Passover.
The night before Jesus was to become our Passover in his Crucifixion, he gathered with his Apostles to celebrate what would be the last Passover meal, called a seder. At the Last Seder, sometimes called the Last Supper but it wasn't just any supper it was the Passover seder, Jesus in what must have blown the Apostles clean away changed the age-old blessings over the bread and the fruit of the vine, saying "Take and eat, this is my body" over the bread and "Take and drink, this is my blood" over the fruit of the vine. Unmistakeable if you came for a seder; he was making himself the Passover and serving it to them.
This then is nothing less than him serving us the Good News itself, his body and blood given for the sins of the world, the passing-over from bondage to sin and death to life with God here and for eternity! And, as he was about to die, and once risen shortly return to the Father, he told them to do this as his memorial. That does not mean we are just remembering Jesus real good. He did not say here is my memorial, he said do THIS, do what he had just done, offer his body and blood, a memorial unlike any the world can offer just as he offers what the world cannot.
This second part of Christian Sabbath worship has had a number of names over time, and the one that really captures best what it is all about is Service of the Sacrament. Why, because in it, God serves us his body and blood given for our salvation. It's not really something we do, it's something he does; it's not called service because we serve him but because he serves us.
Which is totally connected to his resurrection from the dead. If that happened, a massive suspension of the ordinary operation of matter, then, while only lately we understand, matter and energy being related across the speed of light, such a suspension in the ordinary operation of matter also must involve a temporal one too, the mass understood that all along, saying the Risen Christ's Body and Blood were truly present here and now, in, with, and under the appearance of bread and the fruit of the vine, the very same energy, literally and not figuratively given by him the testator to us as the heirs of his testament in the mass. We do and bring nothing, he does and gives everything.
Luther spoke of it this way, in Babylonian Captivity: Who would not shed tears of gladness, indeed, almost faint for joy in Christ, if he believed with unshaken faith that this inestimable promise of Christ belonged to him? How could he help loving so great a benefactor, who of his own accord offers, promises, and grants such great riches and this eternal inheritance to one who is unworthy and deserving of something far different.
Conclusion -- What's A Divine Service And Why Bother?
"Divine Service" is the service of the divine, God, to us of first his Word and then his Sacrament of his Body and Blood. A Christian Sabbath service followed by a Christian Seder, that's it. "Seeker sensitive" doesn't even get right who is the seeker -- it ain't us, though we think we are, but we are not, apart from him we are lost and no more able to come to faith in him that a dead man can wake himself from the dead, as Walther put it. It is he who is seeking us, and it is in our liturgy that we are sensitive to that.
Even the word liturgy shows that. What kind of a word is that, another churchy thing from the musty past that gets in the way of preaching Jesus? The word is the English form of an ancient Greek word that had nothing to do with church, it described the obligation that a wealthy Athenian had toward the people of Athens to do something big for their benefit at his own expense. If Christian worship were not exactly what our Lutheran Confessions say it is, there would have been no reason for the early Greek speaking Christians to appropriate this word -- here, the wealthy Athenian, God, undertakes something for the people at his own expense, the sacrifice of the body and blood of God Made Man Jesus for our salvation from sin and its wages death!!
And that is exactly what a Divine Service is, and why we bother.
PS. Why post this for 12 March? Because it's the feast of St Gregory the Great, that's why, but who is he and what has he got to do with this? Gregory was bishop of Rome from 3 September 590 to 12 March 604, the day he died. It is the custom of the Christian church to commemorate its saints on the day they died, in this life, and were born as it were to eternal life. He was considered a saint immediately by popular acclaim -- the way it used to be done, and even John Calvin, who took the Reformation well beyond what the Lutheran Reformation was all about, thought Gregory was the last good pope and speaks well of him in his Institutes. -- and his memorial feast was celebrated on his day of death. Until Vatican II that is, tinkered with it too, and thinking since the day will always fall in Lent moved it for the Roman church to the day he was installed as bishop of Rome. The Eastern Church sees no problem at all with his feast being during Lent and continues to celebrate his feast on his feast day, as do Western Christians not under the influence of the toxic waste that is the revisionist nonsense of Vatican II and stick to the historic calendar, and the historic everything else for that matter.
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