X - Church Rites, Commonly Called Adiaphora

X - Church Rites, Commonly Called Adiaphora

Concerning ceremonies and church rites which are neither commanded nor forbidden in God’s Word, but are introduced into the Church with a good intention, for the sake of good order and propriety, or otherwise to maintain Christian discipline, a dissension has likewise arisen among some theologians of the Augsburg Confession: the one side holding that also in time of persecution and in case of confession [when confession of faith is to be made], even though the enemies of the Gospel do not come to an agreement with us in doctrine, yet some ceremonies, abrogated [long since], which in themselves are adiaphora, and neither commanded nor forbidden by God, may, without violence to conscience, be reestablished in compliance with the pressure and demand of the adversaries, and thus in such [things which are of themselves] adiaphora, or matters of indifference, we may indeed come to an agreement [have conformity] with them. But the other side contended that in time of persecution, in case of confession, especially when it is the design of the adversaries, either through force and compulsion, or in an insidious manner, to suppress the pure doctrine, and gradually to introduce again into our churches their false doctrine, this, also in adiaphora, can in no way be done, as has been said, without violence to conscience and prejudice to the divine truth.

To explain this controversy, and by God’s grace finally to settle it, we present to the Christian reader this simple statement regarding the matter [in conformity with the Word of God]:

Namely, when under the title and pretext of external adiaphora such things are proposed as are in principle contrary to God’s Word (although painted another color), these are not to be regarded as adiaphora, in which one is free to act as he will, but must be avoided as things prohibited by God. In like manner, too, such ceremonies should not be reckoned among the genuine free adiaphora, or matters of indifference, as make a show or feign the appearance, as though our religion and that of the Papists were not far apart, thus to avoid persecution, or as though the latter were not at least highly offensive to us; or when such ceremonies are designed for the purpose, and required and received in this sense, as though by and through them both contrary religions were reconciled and became one body; or when a reentering into the Papacy and a departure from the pure doctrine of the Gospel and true religion should occur or gradually follow therefrom [when there is danger lest we seem to have reentered the Papacy, and to have departed, or to be on the point of departing gradually, from the pure doctrine of the Gospel].

For in this case what Paul writes, 2 Cor. 6:14-17, shall and must obtain: Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what communion hath light with darkness?Wherefore come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord.

Likewise, when there are useless, foolish displays, that are profitable neither for good order nor Christian discipline, nor evangelical propriety in the Church, these also are not genuine adiaphora, or matters of indifference.

But as regards genuine adiaphora, or matters of indifference (as explained before), we believe, teach, and confess that such ceremonies, in and of themselves, are no worship of God, nor any part of it, but must be properly distinguished from such as are, as it is written: In vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men, Matt. 15:9.

Therefore we believe, teach, and confess that the congregation of God of every place and every time has, according to its circumstances, the good right, power, and authority [in matters truly adiaphora] to change, to diminish, and to increase them, without thoughtlessness and offense, in an orderly and becoming way, as at any time it may be regarded most profitable, most beneficial, and best for [preserving] good order, [maintaining] Christian discipline [and for eujtaxiva worthy of the profession of the Gospel], and the edification of the Church. Moreover, how we can yield and give way with a good conscience to the weak in faith in such external adiaphora, Paul teaches Rom. 14, and proves it by his example, Acts 16:3; 21:26; 1 Cor. 9:19.

We believe, teach, and confess also that at the time of confession [when a confession of the heavenly truth is required], when the enemies of God’s Word desire to suppress the pure doctrine of the holy Gospel, the entire congregation of God, yea, every Christian, but especially the ministers of the Word, as the leaders of the congregation of God [as those whom God has appointed to rule His Church], are bound by God’s Word to confess freely and openly the [godly] doctrine, and what belongs to the whole of [pure] religion, not only in words, but also in works and with deeds; and that then, in this case, even in such [things truly and of themselves] adiaphora, they must not yield to the adversaries, or permit these [adiaphora] to be forced upon them by their enemies, whether by violence or cunning, to the detriment of the true worship of God and the introduction and sanction of idolatry. For it is written, Gal. 5:1: Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not again entangled in the yoke of bondage. Also Gal. 2:4f : And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage; to whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour, that the truth of the Gospel might continue with you. [Now it is manifest that in that place Paul speaks concerning circumcision, which at that time had become an adiaphoron (1 Cor. 7:18f.), and which at other occasions was observed by Paul (however, with Christian and spiritual freedom, Acts 16:3). But when the false apostles urged circumcision for establishing their false doctrine, (that the works of the Law were necessary for righteousness and salvation,) and misused it for confirming their error in the minds of men, Paul says that he would not yield even for an hour, in order that the truth of the Gospel might continue unimpaired.]

Thus Paul yields and gives way to the weak as to food and [the observance of] times or days, Rom. 14:6. But to the false apostles, who wished to impose these upon the conscience as necessary things, he will yield not even in such things as in themselves are adiaphora, Col. 2:16: Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day. And when Peter and Barnabas yielded somewhat [more than they ought] in such an emergency, Paul openly reproves them as those who in this matter were not walking aright, according to the truth of the Gospel, Gal. 2:11ff

For here it is no longer a question concerning external matters of indifference, which in their nature and essence are and remain of themselves free, and accordingly can admit of no command or prohibition that they be employed or omitted; but it is a question, in the first place, concerning the eminent article of our Christian faith, as the apostle testifies, that the truth of the Gospel might continue, which is obscured and perverted by such compulsion or command, because such adiaphora are then either publicly required for the sanction of false doctrine, superstition, and idolatry, and for the suppression of pure doctrine and Christian liberty, or at least are abused for this purpose by the adversaries, and are thus viewed [and are believed to be restored for this abuse and wicked end].

Likewise, the article concerning Christian liberty also is here at stake, which the Holy Ghost through the mouth of the holy apostle so earnestly charged His Church to preserve, as we have just heard. For as soon as this is weakened and the ordinances of men [human traditions] are forced upon the Church with coercion, as though it were wrong and a sin to omit them, the way is already prepared for idolatry, and by this means ordinances of men [human traditions] are afterwards multiplied and regarded as a divine worship, not only equal to the ordinances of God, but are even placed above them.

Moreover, by such [untimely] yielding and conformity in external things, where there has not been previously Christian union in doctrine, idolaters are confirmed in their idolatry; on the other hand, the true believers are grieved, offended, and weakened in their faith [their faith is grievously shaken, and made to totter as though by a battering-ram]; both of which every Christian for the sake of his soul’s welfare and salvation is bound to avoid, as it is written: Woe unto the world because of offenses! Also: Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea [Matt. 18:6, .

But it is to be especially remembered what Christ says: Whosoever therefore shalt confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven, Matt. 10:32.

However, that this has always and everywhere been the faith and confession, concerning such indifferent matters, of the chief teachers of the Augsburg Confession, into whose footsteps we have entered, and in whose Confession we intend by God’s grace to persevere, is shown [most clearly] by the following testimonies drawn from the Smalcald Articles, which were composed and subscribed in the year 1537:

From the Smalcald Articles, in the Year 1537, etc.

The Smalcald Articles (Of the Church) say concerning this as follows: We do not concede to them (the papal bishops) that they are the Church, and indeed they are not; nor will we listen to those things which, under the name of Church, they enjoin and forbid. For, thank God, [today] a child seven years old knows what the Church is, namely, the saints, believers, and lambs, who hear the voice of their Shepherd. And shortly before (Of Ordination and Vocation): If the bishops would be true bishops, and would devote themselves to the Church and the Gospel, it might be granted to them, for the sake of love and unity, but not from necessity, to ordain and confirm us and our preachers; omitting, however, all comedies and spectacular doings of an unchristian nature and display. But, because they neither are, nor wish to be, true bishops, but worldly lords and princes, who will neither preach, nor teach, nor baptize, nor administer the Lord’s Supper, nor perform any work or office of the Church, and, moreover, persecute and condemn those who, having been called to do so, discharge these functions, the Church ought not on their account to remain without ministers.

And in the article Of the Papacy, the Smalcald Articles say (475:14): Therefore, just as little as we can worship the devil himself as Lord and God, we can endure his apostle, the Pope, or Antichrist, in his rule as head or lord. For to lie and to kill and to destroy body and soul eternally, that is wherein his papal government really consists.

And in the treatise Concerning the Power and Primacy of the Pope, which is appended to the Smalcald Articles, and was also subscribed by the theologians then present with their own hands, are these words: No one is to burden the Church with his own traditions, but here the rule is to be that nobody’s power or authority is to avail more than the Word of God.

And shortly afterwards (517:41): This being the case, all Christians ought most diligently to beware of becoming partakers of the godless doctrine, blasphemies, and unjust cruelties of the Pope; but ought to desert and execrate the Pope with his members, or adherents, as the kingdom of Antichrist, just as Christ has commanded (Matt. 7:15): “Beware of false prophets.” And Paul commands us to avoid false teachers and execrate them as an abomination. And in 2 Cor. 6:14 he says: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what communion hath light with darkness?”

It is a grave matter wanting to separate one’s self from so many lands and nations, and to profess a separate doctrine; but here stands God’s command, that every one should beware and not agree with those who maintain false doctrine, or who think of supporting it by means of cruelty.

So Dr. Luther, too, has amply instructed the Church of God in a special treatise concerning what should be thought of ceremonies in general, and especially of adiaphora, Vol. 3, Jena, p. 523; as was also done in 1530, and can be seen in Tom. 3, Jena, German.

From this explanation every one can understand what every Christian congregation and every Christian man, especially in time of confession [when a confession of faith should be made], and, most of all, preachers, are to do or to leave undone, without injury to conscience, with respect to adiaphora, in order that God may not be angered [provoked to just indignation], love may not be injured, the enemies of God’s Word be not strengthened, nor the weak in faith offended.

  1. Therefore we reject and condemn as wrong when the ordinances of men in themselves are regarded as a service or part of the service of God.

  2. We reject and condemn also as wrong when these ordinances are by coercion forced upon the congregation of God as necessary.

  3. We reject and condemn also as wrong the opinion of those who hold (what tends to the detriment of the truth) that at a time of persecution we may comply with the enemies of the holy Gospel in [restoring] such adiaphora, or come to an agreement with them.

  4. We likewise regard it as a sin that deserves to be rebuked when in time of persecution anything is done either in indifferent matters or in doctrine, and in what otherwise pertains to religion, for the sake of the enemies of the Gospel, in word and act, contrary and opposed to the Christian confession.

  5. We reject and condemn also [the madness] when these adiaphora are abrogated in such a manner as though it were not free to the congregation [church] of God at any time and place to employ one or more in Christian liberty, according to its circumstances, as may be most useful to the Church.

Thus [According to this doctrine] the churches will not condemn one another because of dissimilarity of ceremonies when, in Christian liberty, one has less or more of them, provided they are otherwise agreed with one another in the doctrine and all its articles, also in the right use of the holy Sacraments, according to the well-known saying: Dissonantia ieiunii non dissolvit consonantiam fidei; “Disagreement in fasting does not destroy agreement in the faith.”

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