Category Archives: Church History

Luther’s 3 Divine Services

With the recent celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, many us were focused on the single event of Luther nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenberg door (October 1517), which he posted to generate academic debate.  However, caution should be exercised in pinning a single event or day to such a widespread and complex movement.  There was much more to come for Luther and the Reformers, with arguably more significant events.

One area of neglect that I’ve noticed in most studies of the Reformation in general, and Luther in particular, is the significant attention that a reformation of worship garnered.  Yes, it is true that we read of Luther’s (eventual) formula of justification by faith and yes, the authority of the Scriptures under-gird all that Luther did.  Yet once the break with Rome had been made, and the unfortunate marriage with the State had been formed, Luther recognized the need to modify worship in order to break with his perceived errors of Rome and provide an alternative for the people.

In January of 1526, Luther wrote instructions titled “The German Mass and Order of Divine Service”.  Having realized the changes that needed to be made to his earlier 1523 order of worship, Luther writing in the opening Preface of his later work informs readers that his order of worship is not intended to

“make of it a compulsory law, or to ensnare or make captive thereby any man’s conscience, but to use it agreeably to Christian liberty at their good pleasure, as where, when and so long as circumstances favour and demand it.”

Clearly then, though Luther would proceed to make recommendations for the order and liturgy of worship services, his intention is in no way to bind the consciences of men to this order, and most certainly not to allow it to fall back into the trappings of formal rigidity as with Rome.  He even leaves a caveat that should these instructions become unnecessary or outdated, discontinue them.

Additionally, he points out that the Order to follow is not for the “sake of those who are Christians already…but for the sake of those who are to become Christians.  For the sake of such, we must read, sing, preach, write, and compose….”  In other words, the service order that Luther was about to set down was meant strictly for unbelievers, with the goal of evangelizing them.

Don’t gloss over that, it’ll come back up later.

As Luther begins to outline his recommended order of divine services, he identifies three separate and distinct services.  First, is the Latin Divine Service or Latin Mass, called the Forumla Missae.  This service was a holdover from the services administered by the Roman Catholic Church, with perhaps the lone omission being the Canon of the Mass.  However, in Luther’s own words concerning this divine service, he writes,

“This I do not want to have set aside or changed; but as we have hitherto kept it, so should we be still free to use it where and when we please, or as occasion requires.  I do not want in anywise to let the Latin tongue disappear out of Divine Service; for I am so deeply concerned for the young.”

This service was to have singing and reading on “alternate Sundays in all four languages – German, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.”  So with this first service, Luther maintains, at least partially, the worship from the Roman Catholic experience with the purpose of maintaining Latin proficiency and exposure among the public, particularly the youth.  Further justification for keeping this service maybe deduced from its defense written in 1523

I have been hesitant and fearful, partly because of the weak in faith, who cannot suddenly exchange all old and accustomed order of worship for a new and unusual one, and more so because of the fickle and fastidious spirits who rush in like unclean swine without faith or reason, and who delight only in novelty and tire of it as quickly, when it has worn off (Luther’s Works 1965, 53:19).

Remember that prior to Luther’s own translation of the Scriptures in the modern vernacular of German, Latin was the only language the Scriptures were available in and the Roman Catholic services were conducted by the priests solely in Latin.

Luther’s Second Divine Service was the German Mass.  Luther considered this for the “sake of the simple laymen” where both this and the previous divine service should be “held and publicly celebrated in church for the people in general.  They are not yet believers or Christians.”  Remember that these divine services are not intended for believers.  They have exclusively unbelievers as their focus, as Luther adds, “So far it is no question yet of a regularly fixed assembly wherein to train Christians according to the Gospel: but rather of a public allurement to faith and Christianity.”

Without question, according to Luther’s own words, these divine services with all of their vestments, singing, preaching, readings of Scripture, celebrations of the Mass, attention on language, etc., were in their entirety meant for the evangelism of unbelievers.

The Third Divine Service, according to Luther, was one in “which the true type of Evangelical Order should embrace, must not be celebrated so publicly in the square amongst all and sundry.”  In the opening description, this service is meant to be in complete contrast with those mentioned earlier as it was considered exclusively for believers.  In this particular service, Luther goes into more specific detail.  Below is an extended quote

“Those, however, who are desirous of being Christians in earnest, and are ready to profess the Gospel with hand and mouth, should register their names and assemble by themselves in some house to pray, to read, to baptize, and to receive the sacrament and practise other Christian works.  In this Order, those whose conduct was not such as befits Christians could be recognized, reproved, reformed, rejected, or excommunicated, according to the rule of Christ in Matt. xviii.  Here, too, a general giving of the alms could be imposed on Christians, to be willingly given and divided among the poor, after the example of St. Paul in 2 Cor. ixHere there would not be need of much fine singing.  Here we could have baptism and the sacrament in short and simple fashion: and direct everything towards the Word and prayer and love.”

Now, this particular Divine Service outlined and described by Luther may not strike you at first, but it should, for Luther has often been credited as the designer of the Protestant Order of Worship, as well as credited for the introduction of congregational singing.  The problem is that the modern features of worship, primarily from the German Mass, which we so freely incorporate today, were intended by Luther to be strictly for unbelievers as an aide to evangelism.  The Divine Service for believers was to be private, intimate, sans singing, and centered around the Word, prayer, and love.

We might ask, why then were the evangelistic services of Luther’s copied and not his divine service for believers?  Because it never happened.  Divine service number three, in Luther’s descriptions, never existed.  It was for him, idyllic, but unrealistic.  Why?  Because the quantity and quality or depth of Christians during this time was limited.  In Luther’s own words

“In one word, if we only had people who longed to be Christians in earnest, Form and Order would soon shape itself.  But I cannot and would not order or arrange such a community or congregation at present.  I have not the requisite persons for it, nor do I see many who are urgent for it.  But should it come to pass that I must do it, and that such pressure is put upon me as that I myself unable with a good conscience to leave it undone, then I will gladly do my part to secure it, and will help it on as best I can.”

In the meantime, Luther was resolved to proceed with the previous two Divine Services, “until those Christians who are most thoroughly in earnest shall discover each other and cleave together.”

It is more than likely that when we read of Luther’s services in his works, post-1526, we are not reading of services designed for believers to worship God.  We are not seeing the celebration of worship music introduced to the congregation and removed from the choirs so that Christians might sing praises to God.  We are seeing divine services designed to reach the masses for the purpose of evangelism.  Luther was ready and willing to use any means necessary to bring them to Christ.

Though we’ve seen how Luther retained much of his Roman Catholic influence and tradition, with of course some obvious objections to the Mass, one additional note that we must mention is in regards to his overall philosophy of worship.  Whereas the Regulative Principle of Worship was advanced by Calvin, a reform upon Luther, Martin Luther advanced what is called the Normative Principle of Worship.  The former restricted worship to only those things which Scripture commands or offers as examples, while the latter broadens worship to include everything not expressly forbidden in Scripture.  This is why we see such wide variety in Luther’s worship services.

Given all this, how then does it impact how we view our present day “divine services” knowing that in many respects Luther’s model was the prototype for Protestantism?  How should this impact the order for believers, in their own divine services?

If God should be willing…more to come.

Soli Dea Gloria.

 

A Snippet of the Radical Reformation

 

In the last decade or so there has been a resurgence of what is traditionally known as reformed theology.  Defining this can be a bit tricky.  Some, perhaps most, simply conclude that reformed theology is defined by the doctrines of grace, i.e. total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.  Others however, hold that this is just the beginning and that to be truly called reformed includes so much more, beginning with holding to one of the historic confessions of faith, i.e. Westminster Confession of Faith or the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith.  This has led to splintering within the movement into at least two groups (and probably more), the “Neo-Reformed” and the historic or confessional reformed.

Regardless of which camp one finds themselves, my fear is that both groups are subject to ignorance of historical theology.  By that I mean that they embrace the tradition of the Reformers without understanding what it is that they were doing, including both what they did right AND what they did wrong.  When this happens, the Reformation is skewed and takes on mythological characteristics, while Reformers, such as Martin Luther, become cartoonish super heroes.  To begin to understand the Reformation, one must understand the term sacralism as well as the relationship between church and state.  Additional terms to reckon with would be: the definition of a magisterial reformer (hint: it doesn’t mean majestic),  the Radical Reformation and its “Reformers”, and the Anabaptist movement, which has been unfairly labeled a wholesale heretical movement.

A good start for unpacking this history is The Reformers and their Stepchildren, by Leonard Verduin, who because of his own emphasis on the error of sacralism and its trappings has been called a revisionist and accused of being historically biased.  This seems to be an unfair assessment and an uncharitable reading of his material.

In the video below, Dr. James White provides a brief glimpse into this alternate, or we might say ignored, view of Reformation history as he stands at the “prison” site of  Fritz Erbe, who was placed in a deep hole for refusing to baptize his children from 1540 until his death in 1548.  His total imprisonment lasted more than 15 years, again the crime was refusing to baptize his infant children.

The site of his dungeon imprisonment?

Wartburg Castle.

The same Wartburg Castle where 10 years earlier Martin Luther was given refuge from the persecution of the Roman Catholic Church.  The same Wartburg Castle where Luther translated the Scriptures into German.  Think about this for a moment and let it revise your own understanding of the Reformation.

As White points out, the translation of the Scriptures by Luther into the modern vernacular happened just a few yards from where Erbe was tortured and left to rot in a deep dark hole.  Erbe read and applied these same Scriptures.  Yet here we have self-professing Christians who were willing to imprison and torture another self-professing Christian simply because he refused to baptize (and rightly so) his children.  This is the danger of sacralism and it is shear ignorance to think that its effects are not among us today.  The Reformation certainly had positive effects, namely its break from the Roman Catholic Church.  However, the Protestant divorce from the RCC only led to an unholy affair with the State, and the State, as we know, wields the sword.  In one sense, it was out of the frying pan and into the fire for the “church”.  Erbe’s story is only the tip of the iceberg of the torture and persecution that professing believers faced at the hands of other professing believers for simply standing up for their beliefs of the Scriptures.

HT: The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness

Is This Church

 

It’s not often that I comment or interact with other blogs, but one I recently read fit so well with a recent post of my own, that it called for interaction.  My lane is exposition of Scripture, particularly that expressed in the form of devotions or meditations.  When I change out of that lane, even with posts on historical theology, it can become a long, drawn out mess.  I’ll do my best, but make no promises, especially with the length of this post (2000+ words!).  Hopefully in the end, the value of the interaction will be evident.

Having said that, a post linked by a popular blog: A la Carte – January 17 was directly related to the post I made on the principles of Sola Scriptura and the Regulative Principle of Worship.  In fact, the post nearly makes my point for me,  but not because we necessarily agree.  If you read that post, recall that the point I attempted to make was to highlight how those two principles should be the lenses through which we determine what a healthy church is, or what a church is at all for that matter.

In the post linked above, Tony Payne, founder of Matthias Media and co-author of the helpful book The Trellis and the Vine, uses an illustration of an elderly relative visiting his church for how our churches may differ and how they have evolved since the New Testament.  At the conclusion of this particular worship service, his relative was asked if she had enjoyed it, to which she declared, “This is not a real church”.  Payne suggests this may have been due to it lacking her traditional preferences for what constitutes a church, which includes, “prayer book service, the fact that we didn’t celebrate Holy Communion on that particular morning, the absence of organ music, or the general want of a quiet, ‘churchy’ atmosphere about the place. ”  This led Payne to consider the following questions concerning his own church’s worship service in comparison to the experiences that his elderly relative might have been more familiar with

“In one sense, it was quite true: many of the elements that a previous generation would have closely associated with ‘real church’ had been stripped away or changed beyond recognition in our congregational gatherings. Had we stripped away too much? Or, to think about it the other way, how much can you strip away and still have a real church? If we were to apply Ockham’s Razor to church, what would be left standing?”

I suppose Payne’s dilemma is not isolated to his own geographical church, or even the expressions of church in the 21st Century.  In fact, I too recently had a similar experience where I would’ve been the “elderly” relative that visited a much more contemporary worship service than the one that I typically attend.  In fact, my own wrestling with what constitutes a church service frothed over in the middle of this service and birthed the Sola Scriptura/RPW post.  It was the product of several years of thought given to this on-going, internal wrestling with what constitutes the gathering of God’s people.

Returning to Payne’s article, the next two paragraphs summarize the heart of what he is suggesting with the philosophical reference to Ockham’s Razor made above.  Ockham’s Razor basically suggests that given two options, the simplest is the most obvious or better choice.  As applied to what he is about to suggest with regards to church, what happens if we simplify it?  Contrary to this philosophical application, I want to suggest, instead of the unbiblical notion of Ockham’s Razor applied to church, what if we applied Sola Scriptura and the Regulative Principle?

Here is Payne’s thesis:

Let’s try this thought experiment: can we assume that the churches of the New Testament were real Christian churches, lacking nothing essential? If so, what could we ‘lop off’ our current practice of church life and still have a genuine Christian assembly (or ‘church’)?

Let’s mention the obvious ones first: no special religious buildings, no denominations, no territorial bishops, overseers or presbyteries responsible for a group of congregations, no committees, no constitutions, no weekly bulletin sheet, no announcements and no hymnbooks. So far, so easy. I’m not saying that these things are necessarily wrong or bad; they are just clearly not of the essence of what the church really is or what it needs to function well, since the New Testament had a perfectly complete experience of church without (as far as we know) any of them. And thus it would be very possible today to have a full and complete experience of Christian church, in which nothing is lacking, without any of these things.

He presses this idea further in the next two paragraphs, which themselves are worthy of full citation

What else is absent in the New Testament church that we might start to regard as a little more essential? We don’t find evidence of set prayers and orders of liturgy, for a start. There is also no evidence of the word or concept of ‘worship’ being applied to what New Testament Christians did in their gatherings. It is shocking, I know, but there are no worship services in the New Testament. In fact, there weren’t any ‘churches’ either—by which I mean that there wasn’t a special religious or Christian word used to describe Christian gatherings. They were not a new species of religious thing called a ‘church’; they were just ‘gatherings’ or ‘assemblies’, but Christian ones.

We also find no example or imperative for Sunday being the ‘right’ day on which we should meet, or any other day, for that matter. We know they met regularly, but in what configuration and frequency we aren’t sure. In fact, we struggle to find any distinction between a regular large gathering of the congregation (what we would call the Sunday Service) and any smaller gatherings that may or may not have taken place (what we would call ‘home Bible study groups’). We find no formal system of church membership, nor any set procedure or system for the structuring of leadership and governance within the congregation. (Certainly, New Testament Christians belonged to or were ‘members of’ particular congregations, and these congregations were led and governed; I am simply saying that we know next to nothing about the structures, procedures and practices of membership and leadership. So a particular model of membership or leadership—whether it be the Anglican, Presbyterian or Baptist models—is not of the essence of church.)

The reason why I’ve quoted him so extensively is because I want to clearly present the argument he is making.  Payne is saying let’s strip away everything we’ve come to know and expect from our traditional “worship services” down to what the New Testament describes and see if what we have left could in any real way be called a “church”.  The principle that is driving this, for him, is Ockham’s Razor, i.e. simpler is better.  In my previous post and in others, I am suggesting the exact same thing as Payne, only my driving principle is Sola Scriptura and its derivative The Regulative Principle of Worship.

Let’s see what Payne concludes.

Before proceeding, he adds the following caveat, “Let me make sure I am not misunderstood: I am not for a minute suggesting that we attempt to recreate a complete, working model of a New Testament church”.   This caveat seems important.  Payne is suggesting that we examine our current practices in light of what the New Testament describes, but then says we should not attempt to use that as a model.  He suggests that doing so is a return to “primitivism”.  Instead, he is saying that this exercise is just a thought experiment to see  how many “extra-biblical details, structures, and practices” have been added to our concept of church.  I’m a little troubled by the “primitivism” comment, because it comes off a little too “evolved” for my tastes, as though the New Testament church was either ignorant or undeveloped on what a real church should look like.  My questions for Payne would be, “Has God commanded how He is to be worshiped?  If so, who gave us permission or liberty to add the ‘extra-biblical details, structures, and practices’?  Does the New Testament provide a model for a church?  And if so, is this model sufficient for us? ”

I’m proposing that given their proximity to Christ, their relationship with the Apostolic ministry, and what is recorded for us in God’s Word about their practices, they are not “primitive”, but instead are exemplary.  Though we are suggesting the same “thought-experiment”, Payne and I are driven from different motivations and certainly arrive at different conclusions.

Here are his concluding statements

Well, here’s what Ockham’s Razor has reduced us to: we could have a group of Christian people (of any size), with a qualified elder or overseer (or more than one, appointed or elected, we care not how), meeting in the name and presence of Christ in any location, at any time of day, on any day of the week, with any frequency (so long as it was regular and often), at which time they spoke and heard God’s word together (through Bible reading, preaching/teaching, prophetic encouragement, etc.), and responded in prayer and thanksgiving, with the result that God is glorified in Christ and the people edified.

Again, let me be clear.  I am suggesting the exact same thought-experiment as Payne, strip down all of the traditions and pragmatic layers that have crept in and clouded our notions of what a church should be, down to the foundation of the New Testament church and then see what we have.  This bare-bones foundation is what he summarizes in the paragraph above.

The difference in our theses is that Payne sees this stripped down model as the product of philosophy, Ockham’s Razor, and has no desire to pursue what he’s found.  I am suggesting that this stripped down model is the product of Scriptural Authority, namely Sola Scriptura and specifically how it applies to our worship as defined by The Regulative Principal of Worship, which as a reminder states that whatever is not commanded by God, or given as an example, in worship, is strictly prohibited.  If this stripped down model is what God has either commanded or given as an example, then who are we to add or subtract from it in the name of preference.  With a little more nuance (as perhaps defined by 1 Corinthians 11-14), I would agree with the assessment that Payne has made on what the New Testament church “basically” looked like .

His concluding paragraph highlights both our agreements and our differences

You might want to describe this ‘cut down’ New Testament church a little differently, or add extra things. But here’s the point: what things do you currently regard as of the absolute essence of church—things without which you could not imagine church being ‘real church’—things that, in fact, are accidental, traditional or cultural details that could be otherwise? And could any of these things be changed if the times, seasons, purposes and circumstances of your fellowship suggested that they should be?

Payne is asking the right questions, but the basis for how one answers, according to his reasoning above, would circle the church-wagon back to big three: preference, pragmatism, or tradition.  Following this out logically, we would arrive at exactly the same conclusion that his elderly relative did, “This is not a real church” for anything different than what we were used to.

Where Payne fails in his thesis is his failure to address and apply the authority of Scripture, though perhaps this error is made unwittingly, I do not want to judge him in this matter.  I’m sure if he were asked if he holds to Sola Scriptura, he would answer in the affirmative, as so many professing evangelicals would.  The difficulty is when you actually have to put that into practice, particularly when it goes against the big three.  We far too easily fall off of the path that Scripture has provided and take our own paths of preference or tradition.

Here is my own concluding statement.  I’m suggesting that the New Testament provides exactly what a real church should look like.  If this is true, then it is incumbent upon us to move from a “thought-experiment” to putting what we have found into practice.  The problem is, are we faithful enough to evaluate our current practices in the light of Scripture; obedient enough to put what we find into practice; and courageous enough to stand firm in the face of criticisms, even when they come from other professing Christians?