I think I am all alone in the world. Men I admire and respect, whose intellects and academic accomplishments far surpass mine, simply do not agree with me. Here is my problem: When the Lutheran Confessions describe a practice that "we" or "our churches" hold to, to what extent does that apply to synods, congregations, and pastors who unconditionally subscribe to said Confessions?
A litmus test of sorts is the use of the historic lectionary; but this is not really my topic. It simply serves as a nice window into the problem. AP XXIV states (Tappert), "We keep ... the order of the lessons (ordo lectionum)." When it says that we keep this order of lessons, is this merely meant to describe the historical practice of the reformers, or should it also describe the practice of "confessional Lutherans" in our day?
If we are not confessionally bound to the lectionary, what happens to the other described practices in AC/AP XXIV? For example:
- "We do not abolish the Mass but religiously keep and defend it."
- "Mass is celebrated every Sunday."
- The Sacrament is offered only after prospective communicants "have been examined and absolved."
- "We keep traditional liturgical forms, such as ... prayers."
- "We keep traditional liturgical forms, such as ... vestments."
Excellent arguments can be made for the ancient practice of lectio continua (although there is nothing ancient about the three-year lectionary, unless you consider the 1960's ancient), and problems can certainly be identified in what we call the historic lectionary. I simply do not believe that I am free to pick and choose which parts of the Confessions apply to me, and which I shall change. (Why Lutherans were so quick to adopt the liturgical reforms of Vatican II is another item that boggles the mind.) If I were to jettison the historic lectionary, I would find it virtually impossible to turn around and use the Confessions to say that we keep the order of Mass, examine and absolve communicants (closed communion), use traditional vestments, and the like.
Many encounter Lutheranism in books - the Confessions and other Lutheran writings. Then they go looking for that Lutheran Church, and cannot find it. Should not our goal be that the confessional description of the practice of "our churches" also describe our churches?