This [proposed Statement on the Practice of Word and Sacrament] seeks to root common sacramental practice in the Lutheran Confessions within the context of our contemporary situation. It also seeks to encourage study and discussion of the sacraments in the congregations of this church and increased teaching about the sacraments by bishops and pastors of this church. (The Use of the Means of Grace, Preamble, page 4)
The very ancient principle that the rule of worship is the rule of doctrine and vice versa (i.e., lex credendi, lex orandi) is not a rule like “no walking on the grass” or “no spitting on the sidewalk.” It is more like a “laws of gravity” kind of rule. The way we practice our faith in worship is going to teach people volumes about what we believe. And the doctrines we hold most dear will be reflected in the way we worship. Unfortunately, because of our “age-old rebellion” the things we hold most dear are not always those things held most dear to God. And sometimes the things we do in worship reflect our likes and dislikes more than our faith.
Lutherans are confessional and doctrinal. “It is also taught among us…” are the words that begin many of the paragraphs of our Augsburg Confession. While many practices are adiaphora, neither forbidden nor required by the Gospel, other practices are required by the Gospel. There are also those practices which are not required or forbidden but which are so close to the heart of the Gospel. And to do away with them or alter them significantly could adversely affect the Gospel. The question always before us is “Which is which?”
The Conference of Bishops rightly requested of the 1989 Churchwide Assembly that “a statement on sacramental practices be prepared as a guide to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.” By our membership in the ELCA we recognize that we are all in this together. We are not just a collection of individuals who happen to agree on some things. We are brothers and sisters in Christ who are trying to be faithful to the teachings of our Lord given through the apostolic witness. What are the things that we must do in worship to be faithful to the apostolic witness? What things are simply cultural usages that may be practices or not? How can the ways of our current culture(s) be included in the ancient formula of worship handed down to us by faithful Christians from generations past? How do our worship practices reflect the witness of our sisters and brothers in other communities of faith?
In order to best use this issue of Let’s Talk you will need a copy of The Use of the Means of Grace. Copies were sent to all ordained ministers. If you need a copy you can call Augsburg Fortress at 1-800-328-4648. The document number is V6-0000-6564-7. The cost is $1.00 plus service charge.
Please note that the articles of this issue were written before the Churchwide Assembly in Philadelphia, but the issue was put together and published after the Assembly.