On the 9th of March, 2001, I and two other pastors of the Lutheran Church of Australia were summoned to St Paul’s Lutheran Church in Box Hill by the President of the Victoria District to give an account of our Roman ideas to 18 other specially invited pastors.
You will find my complete submission here, on my Year of Grace Blog, along with the reply that was given by Pastor Peter Kriewaldt, a senior and well-respected pastor.
In this series of posts, I am “revisiting the Summit” almost a decade later to see what, if anything, I have learnt since. This post deals with the second question in my submission and Pastor Kriewaldt’s response. Click here for “Revisiting the Summit I”.
My Second Question:
2) The Lutheran Church holds that the true church is present wherever the Word and Sacraments (the liturgy of the church) are celebrated. If the church does not have an organic reality apart from the event of the celebration of the liturgy, what happens when it abandons on a large scale the very liturgy that is supposed to bring it into existence?
Pastor Peter Kriewaldt’s reply:
2) The Sacraments and liturgy are not synonymous. Nor is the reality of the church based on the historic liturgy. The liturgy does not bring the church into existence; that is the task of the word and Sacraments (Eph 2, R 10:14-15; Titus 3). Scripture does not restrict the church to one historic liturgy; it simply gives us a skeletal sketch of the liturgy (Cf Col 3). The early church did not have the ecumenical creeds, for example. David, however, rightly warns the church not to abandon the historic liturgy.
I remind the reader first of all that I was limited in the space I was allocated in which to summarise my “questions” at the Summit: one side of one A4 piece of paper. It was an almost impossible task, so I had to abbreviate and be concise. Here, however, I can expand on what was behind “Question II”.
The Augsburg Confession states in Article 7 that:
The Church is the assembly of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered. For the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike.
As an “evangelical catholic” Lutheran, I had always interpreted references in the confessional books of the Lutheran Church to “the Gospel/Word and Sacraments” to refer to the liturgical life of the Church. As I read it, Article 7 was speaking of an “assembly” in which and action took place, namely the reading of the word/proclamation of the Gospel and the celebration of the Sacraments. The pre-eminent “Word & Sacrament” action around which “the congregation” assembled was, of course, the Eucharistic liturgy. Given the fact that the Word does not preach itself “rightly” nor do the sacraments administer themselves “rightly”, I presumed that implicit in Article 7 of the CA was a reference also to the sacred ministry. I therefore came to see, in the ecclesiology of the Augsburg Confession, the ecclesiology of St Ignatius of Antioch, who said: “Let that be considered a certain eucharist which is under the leadership of the Bishop, or one to whom he has entrusted it” and “Wherever the Bishop appears, there let the multitude of the people be; just as where Christ Jesus is, there is the catholic church”.
Now I was also at this time concerned about what I called the “event ecclesiology” of the Lutheran Church (it has since been explained to me that this is an inaccurate notion, but I still think it is true as far as it goes): namely, that since the true Church is an “assembly” or “congregation” among which the Word is preached and the Sacraments are administered (“rightly”, mind you), and since these very Word and Sacraments are in fact to be taken as the “marks of the Church”, it seemed logical to me to conclude that in Lutheran theology the Church is exists and is present when this action of preaching and administration is taking place. But the problem this raises is: what if this is not done? Does that mean that the Church does NOT exist, is NOT present, even if the Church in which this is not done is a Lutheran Church?
Because at the time, I regularly experienced (and indeed have since experienced) Sunday “liturgies” in Lutheran parishes in which the Sacrament of the Eucharist was either celebrated in a questionable manner or not even celebrated at all. There was such experimentation going on that I could never be certain, if I attended a Lutheran parish other than my own, that I would actually receive the “word rightly preached” and “the sacrament rightly administered” on any given Sunday. If the Lutheran Church indeed had an “event ecclesiology” rather than an “ecclesiology of hierarchical communion”, what happened to “the Church” when the Eucharistic liturgy was no longer celebrated?
In his response, Peter “nails me” (as Pastor Henderson put it) in the very first sentence: “The Sacraments and liturgy are not synonymous.” Well, that is true. Even Catholics would agree. A quick glance at the second part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church will show you that sacraments are to liturgy as water is to rain (or to a river). That is, the seven sacraments are the core divinely given constituant of a broader divine gift to the Church, namely the Church’s liturgical life. Yet Peter is answering from a Lutheran perspective, in which there are “the sacraments rightly administered” – which are instituted by Christ himself – and the Liturgy – which is a matter of “human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men”.
The “not so subtle” difference is brought out by Peter’s next couple of sentences: “Nor is the reality of the church based on the historic liturgy. The liturgy does not bring the church into existence; that is the task of the word and Sacraments (Eph 2, R 10:14-15; Titus 3).” I ask the reader to compare this to the title of Pope John Paul II’s very last encyclical “Ecclesia de Eucharistia”: the Church from the Eucharist. Now, of course, there is a wonderful ambiguity in the word “Eucharist”. It is BOTH the Sacrament of the Altar, the Lord’s Supper, the “Sacrament” proper, AND the Liturgy in which this Sacrament is celebrated and administered (in proper order following the proclamation of the Word!). In this Encyclical, the Holy Father wrote:
48. Like the woman who anointed Jesus in Bethany, the Church has feared no “extravagance”, devoting the best of her resources to expressing her wonder and adoration before the unsurpassable gift of the Eucharist. No less than the first disciples charged with preparing the “large upper room”, she has felt the need, down the centuries and in her encounters with different cultures, to celebrate the Eucharist in a setting worthy of so great a mystery. In the wake of Jesus’ own words and actions, and building upon the ritual heritage of Judaism, the Christian liturgy was born…
49. With this heightened sense of mystery, we understand how the faith of the Church in the mystery of the Eucharist has found historical expression not only in the demand for an interior disposition of devotion, but also in outward forms meant to evoke and emphasize the grandeur of the event being celebrated. This led progressively to the development of a particular form of regulating the Eucharistic liturgy, with due respect for the various legitimately constituted ecclesial traditions.
In actual fact, I have never been able to accept the idea that what Pastor Kriewaldt called “the historic liturgy” was a “human invention”. Pastor Kriewaldt was right to say that “Scripture does not restrict the church to one historic liturgy; it simply gives us a skeletal sketch of the liturgy (Cf Col 3)” – I could have added “cf. Luke 24 and Acts 2:42 et aliter”. But Pastor K. was thinking in terms of particular “rites” – the Liturgy of the Church is something that in fact transcends any particular “rite” in which it might be expressed. The Liturgical Ordo is in fact witnessed to in scripture itself: the reading of the word and its explication, followed by the celebration of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. There are many different “rites” by which this is legitimately done, but it is not done legitimately by subverting these rites, abandoning these rites, or attempting to “administer the Sacraments” apart from any rites at all.
Perhaps the Catechism of the Catholic Church gets it best when it talks of the Liturgy in terms of the “Mystery” and the “mysteries” of the Paschal Event. The sheer fact of the Mystery in itself should give us pause when we come to tampering and messing around with the form in which the Mystery/mysteries are expressed in our liturgical lives. The Eastern Churches have always had what they called a “Eucharistic Ecclesiology”, ie., one which is profoundly Eucharistically based (again, in line with both St Ignatius of Antioch and – interpreted in a particular light – Augsburg Confession Art. 7).
Nor was Pastor Kriewaldt without some sympathy for this case, as he at least acknowledged that “David, however, rightly warns the church not to abandon the historic liturgy”. The question which I still ask myself today is “Why would my warning be ‘right’? Why would this matter, if the liturgy is not commanded by Scripture or if it is merely the invention of men?” I believe that many Lutheran pastors – like Pastor Kriewaldt – in fact can see quite clearly that the Church “stands or falls” (as they like to put it) on the basis of the “historic liturgy”, because they know that it is in the faithful celebration of the liturgy alone that the Word and Sacraments are preserved “rightly”, and that it is precisely from such faithful celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy that the Church draws her very existence.