You’re going to hear it in the Lutheran church: “We don’t do such-and-such because it’s Roman Catholic.” Be it chanting, certain vestments, processions, bowing, genuflecting, crucifixes, sometimes even the Sacrament every Lord’s Day – these have all been met with the charge that they are Roman Catholic, and that the point of the Lutheran Reformation was to become Protestant and reject everything that the Roman Catholic Church does.
This is all simply not true. These things are not the possession of the Roman Catholic Church, but rather of the whole Christian Church on earth throughout time. There are myriad reasons why the charge of “that’s Catholic” is leveled. Much of the time this is all just a misunderstanding, brought about by misguided teaching then handed down through several generations. We’ve also had in the past our fair share of anti-Roman Catholic cultural bias in America which has found its way into our congregations and lives.
I’ve included below some quotations from Martin Luther and the Lutheran Confessions which reveal what the Reformation was about: recovering the Gospel, not discarding anything and everything that came before. First, though, I include a brief writing from CFW Walther (a founder and the first President of the LCMS and of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis) on this “too Catholic” claim. Want to know more? Come talk to me. Even more, I greatly urge you to come to Sunday Scripture Study, where we explore the teaching of the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions and always have time to discuss questions about what we do and why we do it.
Whenever the divine service once again follows the old Evangelical-Lutheran agendas (or church books), it seems that many raise a great cry that it is “Roman Catholic”: “Roman Catholic” when the pastor chants “The Lord be with you” and the congregation responds by chanting “and with thy spirit”; “Roman Catholic” when the pastor chants the collect and the blessing and the people respond with a chanted “Amen.”
Even the simplest Christian can respond to this outcry: “Prove to me that this chanting is contrary to the word of God, then I too will call it ‘Roman Catholic’ and have nothing more to do with it. However, you cannot prove this to me.”
If you insist upon calling Romish every element in the divine service that has been used by the Roman Catholic Church, it must follow that the reading of the Epistle and Gospel is also Romish. Indeed, it is mischief to sing or preach in church, for the Roman Church has done this also.
Those who cry out should remember that the Roman Catholic Church possesses every beautiful song of the old orthodox church. The chants and antiphons and responses were brought into the church long before the false teachings of Rome crept in. This Christian Church since the beginning, even in the Old Testament, has derived great joy from chanting…For more than 1700 years orthodox Christians have participated joyfully in the divine service. Should we, today, carry on by saying that such joyful participation is Roman Catholic? God forbid!
Therefore, as we continue to hold and to restore our wonderful divine services in places where they have been forgotten, let us boldly confess that our worship forms do not unite us with the modern sects or with the Church of Rome; rather, they join us to the one, holy Christian church that is as old as the world and is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. (This is translated from Der Lutheraner, July 19, 1853, page 163.)
At the outset, we must again make this preliminary statement: we do not abolish the Mass, but religiously keep and defend it. Masses are celebrated among us every Lord’s Day and on the other festivals. The Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved. And the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other such things…
However, ceremonies should be celebrated to teach people Scripture, that those admonished by the Word may conceive faith and godly fear, and may also pray. (This is the intent of ceremonies.) So, we keep the Latin language to aid those who are learning and understand Latin. We mix with it German hymns so that the people also may have something to learn, and by which faith and godly fear may be produced. This custom has always existed in the churches. Some more frequently, and others more rarely, introduced German hymns into the service. Yet almost everywhere the people sang something in their own tongue. However, it has never been written or presented that people benefit from hearing lessons they cannot understand or that ceremonies benefit, not because they teach or admonish, but by the outward act (ex opere operato [merely by the act of doing it]) because they are performed that way or are looked upon. Away with such pharisaic opinions! (Apology of the Augsburg Confession XXIV:1,2-5)
We believe, teach, and confess that the community of God in every place and every time has, according to its circumstances, the good right, power, and authority to change and decrease or increase ceremonies ‹that are truly adiaphora›. They should do this thoughtfully and without giving offense, in an orderly and appropriate way, whenever it is considered most profitable, most beneficial, and best for good order, Christian discipline, and the Church’s edification. (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration X, 9) (Pastor notes: consider how abandoning and rejecting anything that appears “Roman Catholic” merely for that sake is hardly orderly, beneficial, thoughtful, or inoffensive.)
This commandment [note: the 3rd Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy”], therefore, in its literal sense, does not apply to us Christians. It is entirely an outward matter, like other ordinances of the Old Testament. The ordinances were attached to particular customs, persons, times, and places, but now they have been made matters of freedom through Christ [Colossians 2:16–17].
The simpleminded need to grasp a Christian meaning about what God requires in this commandment. Note that we don’t keep holy days for the sake of intelligent and learned Christians. (They have no need of holy days.) We keep them first of all for bodily causes and necessities, which nature teaches and requires. We keep them for the common people, manservants and maidservants, who have been attending to their work and trade the whole week. In this way they may withdraw in order to rest for a day and be refreshed.
Second, and most especially, on this day of rest (since we can get no other chance), we have the freedom and time to attend divine service. We come together to hear and use God’s Word, and then to praise God, to sing and to pray [Colossians 3:16]. (Large Catechism I:82-84)
Peace in Christ,