Ash Wednesday – Lent begins

The penitential and catechetical season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.    This year we will have Ash Wednesday Divine Service at 6:30 PM on Wednesday, February 26th.   

We will have potluck supper beforehand at 5:30 PM in the fellowship hall.   

Our service will be following the Ash Wednesday rubrics from Lutheran Service Book and will feature the voluntary imposition of ashes.

The imposition of ashes was mostly discontinued among Lutherans at the time of the Reformation. For a long time, then, this practice was associated with the Roman Catholic Church among modern day Christians. However, properly understood, there is nothing uniquely Roman Catholic about it, so long as we do not make the ashes into a meritorious work or a sacrament.    Recently, however, Lutheran and some Protestant communions have recently witnessed a renaissance of this ancient, medieval ceremony for the beginning of Lent. Two questions might occur to us:

  1. Is it wrong for Lutherans to impose ashes for Ash Wednesday?
  2. If it isn’t wrong per se, what does it mean or teach?

 

Truthfully, in Scripture, there is no ongoing command to impose ashes, but neither is there a command against the imposition of ashes. We are free to do so and free not to do so, when all things are equal.  If we were being persecuted for not imposing ashes we might be obliged to continue omitting such. If we were being persecuted for imposing ashes we might be obliged to continue the practice to confess the truth.

ORIGINS

The earliest references to ashes and dust in a Christian context may be found in numerous Scripture passages, bold Old and New Testaments. It is not difficult to observe, on the basis of Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:21 and Luke 10:13, the primary use and meaning there was to provide an outward or ritual expression for the repentance of sin. It is this self-evident biblical understanding that carries over into the practice of the early church. The early church theologian Tertullian (ca. 150-225) described the use of “sackcloth and ashes” in the penance of an adulterer. In the fifth century the early church fathers Eusebius, Cyprian, and Jerome also associated ashes with public repentance. The last of the early fathers, Isidore of Seville (ca. 560-636), described the practice of his day with these influential words: “It is good, therefore, that a penitent deplore his sin in sackcloth and ashes, for in sackcloth is harshness and the prick of sin; and the ashes, moreover, display the dust of death.”

In regard to ashes in connection with Lent, scholars have traced the origins of Lent to perhaps the beginning of the fifth century A.D. The earliest clearly datable rite directly associated with the opening day of Lent (as opposed to other occasions of public repentance and pastoral discipline) is AD 960, from a pastoral manual issued at Mainz, which became precedent for this practice. The practice had its Lenten origins in western Europe, rather than Rome. In the mediaeval era this practice became more standardized. In the 11th century the imposition of ashes for the beginning of Lent was commended by the bishop of Rome. Now it became to take shape as a cross-shaped mark made with ashes upon the forehead, and the words, “Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” recalling God’s words to Adam after the fall into sin.

REFORMATION

Put in common terms, Luther’s approach to liturgical reform could be described as, “IF it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and any fixing that had to be done was determined according to the article of justification by grace through faith. This ceremonial conservatism would consequently shape and inform Lutheran theology and practice, and preserve the catholic heritage of the church among Lutherans, since they sought to be both “evangelical” and “catholic.” Liturgical scholar Frank Senn notes with regard to the imposition of ashes among Lutherans in the aftermath of the Reformation: “How and why the use of ashes fell out of Lutheran use is difficult to discern from the sources… [C]hurch orders don’t specifically say not to use ashes; they simply stopped giving direction for blessing and distributing them and eventually the pastors just stopped doing it.”

The primary concern of the Lutherans is the multiplication of sundry “blessings” upon “things” rather than “people” especially outside of Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Absolution. The primary concern wasn’t that Ashes or other items were wrong, but that they don’t need special “blessing ceremonies.” They didn’t want the clear gospel blessings obscured or confused by extra man-devised ceremonies that weren’t focused on salvation by grace through faith. And yet the Lutheran confessors steadfastly affirmed the maintenance and use of “accustomed rites” and customs and liturgical practices. Their critique of “human traditions” in no way implied abandonment of good catholic liturgical practice and ceremonies that did not confuse Law and Gospel. Rather, because of the clear confession of justification by traditional liturgical forms were best suited than newly made-up orders. Ceremonies were to teach the faith and inspire reverence in God’s House, especially during the Divine Service.

USING ASHES TODAY

In his Pastoral Theology, C.F.W. Walther, first LCMS president, states that when it comes to ceremonies that are neither commanded nor forbidden (mitteldinge), what at one time and place may be forbidden may at other times be used once again. Therefore, is it possible for Lutherans to once again recover the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday? From their use in Scripture, once must certainly conclude that the impositions of ashes is neither commanded nor forbidden and we are free to use such to teach the faith.

The imposition of ashes slipped out of Lutheran usage without much specific reflection or writing on the matter.   Certainly Lutherans have gladly retained many other rites and ceremonies inherited from our rightful catholic heritage and interpreted them “in an evangelical way.” Certainly we do not need to bring along the “baggage” of what was problematic in the Roman Catholic use of ashes. For instance, Luther commends in many places the use of the sign of the cross, something that dates back to the early church. The abuse of a practice or ceremony does not invalidate its proper use. Just because something can be misunderstood or abused doesn’t mean it should be abandoned or forbidden.

The imposition of ashes for Ash Wednesday certainly makes better sense of the day’s actual name.    Not using ashes on Ash Wednesday (Aschenmittwoch) makes about as much sense as not celebrating the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday. The words of the rite are certainly drawn from Scripture (Genesis 3:19), and ashes are mentioned in numerous places in Scripture in connection with repentance – an outward sign of the inward fact. Afterall, our mortality (death) is a result of original sin, and the only way through death to life is by death to self and selfishness (sin as being “curved in toward one’s self”) that repentance brings. In this way, the imposing of ashes can teach of Christ and His benefits given in Baptism, as well as in Confession and Absolution. The mark of the cross with the ashes suggests a correlation between the penitential character of Lent (and Ash Wednesday) and the Lutheran focus on the passion of Christ. The ashes are a reminder of the death sentence upon mankind since Adam and Eve. By allowing this ceremony, we confess our agreement with God’s truthful verdict upon sin. Yet the ashes, in the shape of the cross, show that our sin is covered and atoned-for by the death of the Son of God.   Of course, all this must be taught repeatedly.

The imposition of ashes is neither commanded nor forbidden in its current usage but it does have meaning derived from biblical usages in times past.    The imposition ashes is a symbolic reminder of important facts of our existence if understood properly.   But it is not obligatory, not a sacrament, and not a good work that merits blessings nor salvation.   Is is a ceremony and catechetical reminder with historic continuity with Christians gone before us.   Our practice as confessional Lutherans is not based upon being “not Catholic” but affirming positively our confession while carefully distinguishing from errors, misunderstandings.

Lutherans as catholic but not Roman Catholic

 

19th Pastor Wilhelm Loehe of Neuendettelsau, Bavaria, Germany, was an “unofficial” founding father of the Bavarian side of the LCMS.   The LCMS was founded in 1847 as a coming together of northern German Lutherans with Bavarian Lutherans.    In a book that was often used by early LCMS pastors before the establishment of regular LCMS publishing Loehe wrote of Lutheran identity and the Divine Service:

The Lutheran Liturgy is an outgrowth from the Roman. The Lutheran Church itself is not a new building, but the old, cleansed from the unauthorized additions. For more than three centuries the Church has advanced no new doctrines, but on the contrary has been purifying the old systems from added perversions. In a liturgical way, likewise, no new path has been marked out; but after the removal of inexpedient innovations, that which has proved valuable from the beginning has been preserved. It is for this reason that our Church possesses in common with the Roman the principal parts of the Communion Service. For the same reason it was possible for the framers of the Augustana [Augsburg Confession] to assert: –“Nor has any perceptible change taken place in the public ceremonies of the mass.” Also: — “It is well known that the mass is,

without boasting, celebrated with greater devotion and sincerity among us than among our adversaries.” If anyone is inclined to charge this Order with a Romanizing tendency, the same must then be brought against every Lutheran Order, if not against the whole Church. It would, however, be more correct to say, that the Romish Church had a tendency to Catholicize in those parts of the Liturgy which it holds in common with us, because in those parts the Romish Church stands high above its own standard, and agrees with that which is truly universal [catholic]. [Wilhelm Loehe. Liturgy for Christian Congregations of the Lutheran Faith – Third Edition. Translated by F.C. Longaker (Newport, KY, 1902 – Reprinted by Repristination Press, 1993); p.ix]

Johann Gerhard, 16th-17th century Lutheran father on Lutheran identity

It is not we who call ourselves Lutherans. Rather, our adversaries call us that. We allow this to the extent that this title is an indication of the consensus that our churches have with the orthodox and catholic doctrine that Luther set forth from Holy Writ. Therefore we allow ourselves to be named after Luther, not as the inventor of a new faith but as the asserter of the old faith and the cleanser of the church from the stains of Papist dogmas. Consequently, we also do not reject the names “Christian” and “catholic,” nor do we render ourselves unworthy of them by the approval of any heretical dogma, as did the Arians, Nestorians, Eutychians, etc. Rather, we are called “Christians” from Christ as the only Author and Teacher of our faith. We are called “catholics” from our consensus with the catholic faith. We are called “Lutherans” from Luther as the asserter and defender of that faith, but especially as the reformer whom God raised up.

+ Johann Gerhard, On the Church (Theological Commonplace XXV), § 156.

Quotations from Walther, the first LCMS President, on Lutherans and liturgical practice that reflects our beliefs

A QUOTE FROM THE FIRST MISSOURI SYNOD PRESIDENT
ON MATTERS OF LITURGY OR WORSHIP:   Lutherans aren’t generic protestants
The historic Divine Service isn’t just one “flavor” preference for Lutherans.
+++
lutheran_divine_service_16th_century

The first president of the Missouri Synod worked long and hard to restore a common historic liturgy to the church when so many churches were following their own devices. C. F. W. Walther’s efforts received some negative feedback. He responded in a publication that he edited for many years: Der Lutheraner, as in this example, translated from the July 19, 1853, issue, volume 9, number 24, page 163.

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 every element in the divine service “Romish” 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 tie 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.

More thoughts from C.F.W. Walther:

“We know and firmly hold that the character, the soul of Lutheranism, is not found in outward observances but in the pure doctrine. If a congregation had the most beautiful ceremonies in the very best order, but did not have the pure doctrine, it would be anything but Lutheran. We have from the beginning spoken earnestly of good ceremonies, not as though the important thing were outward forms, but rather to make use of our liberty in these things. For true Lutherans know that although one does not have to have these things (because there is no divine command to have them), one may nevertheless have them because good ceremonies are lovely and beautiful and are not forbidden in the Word of God. Therefore the Lutheran church has not abolished “outward ornaments, candles, altar cloths, statues and similar ornaments,” [AP XXIV] but has left them free. The sects proceeded differently because they did not know how to distinguish between what is commanded, forbidden, and left free in the Word of God. We remind only of the mad actions of Carlstadt and of his adherents and followers in Germany and in Switzerland. We on our part have retained the ceremonies and church ornaments in order to prove by our actions that we have a correct understanding of Christian liberty, and know how to conduct ourselves in things which are neither commanded nor forbidden by God.

We refuse to be guided by those who are offended by our church customs. We adhere to them all the more firmly when someone wants to cause us to have a guilty conscience on account of them. The Roman antichristendom enslaves poor consciences by imposing human ordinances on them with the command: “You must keep such and such a thing!”; the sects enslave consciences by forbidding and branding as sin what God has left free. Unfortunately, also many of our Lutheran Christians are still without a true understanding of their liberty. This is demonstrated by their aversion to ceremonies.

It is truly distressing that many of our fellow Christians find the difference between Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism in outward things. It is a pity and dreadful cowardice when a person sacrifices the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American denominations just so they won’t accuse us of being Roman Catholic! Indeed! Am I to be afraid of a Methodist, who perverts the saving Word, or be ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather rejoice that they can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them?

It is too bad that such entirely different ceremonies prevail in our Synod, and that no liturgy at all has yet been introduced in many congregations. The prejudice especially against the responsive chanting of pastor and congregations is of course still very great with many people — this does not, however, alter the fact that it is very foolish. The pious church father Augustine said, “Qui cantat, bis orat–he who sings prays twice.”

This finds its application also in the matter of the liturgy. Why should congregations or individuals in the congregation want to retain their prejudices? How foolish that would be! For first of all it is clear from the words of St. Paul (1 Cor. 14:16) that the congregations of his time had a similar custom. It has been the custom in the Lutheran Church for 250 years. It creates a solemn impression on the Christian mind when one is reminded by the solemnity of the divine service that one is in the house of God, in childlike love to their heavenly Father, also give expression to their joy in such a lovely manner.

We are not insisting that there be uniformity in perception or feeling or taste among all believing Christians-neither dare anyone demand that all be minded as he. Nevertheless, it remains true that the Lutheran liturgy distinguishes Lutheran worship from the worship of other churches to such an extent that the houses of worship of the latter look like lecture halls in which the hearers are merely addressed or instructed, while our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which Christians serve the great God publicly before the world.

Uniformity of ceremonies (perhaps according to the Saxon Church order published by the Synod, which is the simplest among the many Lutheran church orders) would be highly desirable because of its usefulness. A poor slave of the pope finds one and same form of service, no matter where he goes, by which he at once recognizes his church.

With us it is different. Whoever comes from Germany without a true understanding of the doctrine often has to look for his church for a long time, and many have already been lost to our church because of this search. How different it would be if the entire Lutheran church had a uniform form of worship! This would, of course, first of all yield only an external advantage, however, one which is by no means unimportant. Has not many a Lutheran already kept his distance from the sects because he saw at the Lord’s Supper they broke the bread instead of distributing wafters?

The objection: “What would be the use of uniformity of ceremonies?” was answered with the counter question, “What is the use of a flag on the battlefield? Even though a soldier cannot defeat the enemy with it, he nevertheless sees by the flag where he belongs. We ought not to refuse to walk in the footsteps of our fathers. They were so far removed from being ashamed of the good ceremonies that they publicly confess in the passage quoted: “It is not true that we do away with all such external ornaments”

(C.F.W. Walther, Explanation of Thesis XVIII, D, Adiaphora, of the book The True Visible Church, delivered at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, Beginning August 9, 1871, at the 16th Central District Convention, translated by Fred Kramer, printed in Essays for the Church [CPH: 1992], I:193-194).

From Walther’s important book, Law and Gospel:

“The Protestant churches, so called, which are outside of the pale of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, know nothing of the true way to forgiveness of sin by means of the Word and, in general, through the means of grace. This is evident, in particular, from their rejection of absolution as pronounced by the minister from the pulpit, or in general and private confession. These so-called Protestant churches assert that of all Protestant churches the Lutheran has really been reformed least; for, they say, it still retains much of the leaven of the Romish Church. For proof they cite the gown worn by our ministers when officiating, the wafers used by us instead of ordinary bread at Communion, the crucifix and the lights on our altars, the liturgical chanting of our ministers at the altar, signing persons with the holy cross, and bowing the head at the mention of the name of Jesus. All these matters are innocent ceremonies, on which our Church does not condition man’s salvation here or hereafter, but which it will not permit to be pronounced sin. For no creature has the right to declare something a sin which God has not declared such. Anything that God has neither commanded nor forbidden is a matter of liberty. But the aforementioned churches go a step farther when they assert that the worst papistic leaven and the most abominable remnant of the Papacy in the Lutheran Church is absolution.”
Seventeenth Evening Lecture, Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel., C.F.W. Walther
Quotations from our Lutheran Confessions:

 

We see how far modern Lutherans have often drifted in many places by lack of thorough catechesis and continued study of God’s Word, the catechism, and our hown heritage.   Our confessional writings are the creedal standard of our church, but sadly not all know this or where instructed in this:

1] Falsely are our [Lutheran] churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among 2] us, and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved, save that the parts sung in Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns, which have been added 3] to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned 4] be taught [what they need to know of Christ]. And not only has Paul commanded to use in the church a language understood by the people 1 Cor. 14, 2. 9, but it has also been so ordained by man’s law. 5] The people are accustomed to partake of the Sacrament together, if any be fit for it, and this also increases the reverence and devotion of public 6] worship. For none are admitted 7] except they be first examined. The people are also advised concerning the dignity and use of the Sacrament, how great consolation it brings anxious consciences, that they may learn to believe God, and to expect and ask of Him all that is good. 8] [In this connection they are also instructed regarding other and false teachings on the Sacrament.] This worship pleases God; such use of the Sacrament nourishes true devotion 9] toward God. It does not, therefore, appear that the Mass is more devoutly celebrated among our adversaries than among us.
+ The Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV,1-9 +

At the outset we must again make the preliminary statement that we 1] do not abolish the Mass, but religiously maintain and defend it. For among us masses are celebrated every Lord’s Day and on the other festivals, in which 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 like things.

+ Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV,1 +

“For since private absolution originates in the Office of the Keys, it should not be despised [neglected], but greatly and highly esteemed [of the greatest worth], as [also] all other offices of the Christian Church.” 

+ Smalcald Articles, Part III, Article VIII +

 

 

Walther quotations

C.F.W. Walther, first LCMS president, wrote:
The Book of Concord should be in every Lutheran home. For that reason our church should provide a good, inexpensive copy, and pastors should see to it that every home has one. If a person isn’t familiar with this book, he’ll think, “That old book is just for pastors. I don’t have to preach. After working all day, I can’t sit down and study in the evening. If I read my morning and evening devotions, that’s enough.” No, that is not enough! The Lord doesn’t want us to remain children, who are blown to and fro by every wind of doctrine; instead of that, He wants us to grow in knowledge so that we can teach others.
(C.F.W. Walther, Essays for the Church, Vol. II, pg. 51).

It is true, brethren, as you well know, that in our day it is common for people to say, “Emphasizing doctrine so much only harms and hinders the kingdom of God, yes, even destroys it.” Many say, “Instead of disputing over doctrine so much, we should much rather be concerned with souls and with leading them to Christ.” But all who speak in this way do not really know what they are saying or what they are doing. As foolish as it would be to scold a farmer for being concerned about sowing good seed and to demand of him simply to be concerned about a good harvest, so foolish it is to scold those who are concerned first and foremost with the doctrine, and to demand of them that they should rather seek to rescue souls. For just as the farmer who wants a good crop must first of all be concerned about good seed, so the church must above all be concerned about right doctrine if it would save souls.

    (C. F. W. Walther, “Our Common Task: The Saving

    of Souls” [1872], Essays for the Church [Saint Louis:

    Concordia Publishing House, 1992], Vol. I)

 

Advent & Christmas Schedule at Trinity

ADVENT/CHRISTMASTIDE AT TRINITY, BOULDER JUNCTION

Midweek Advent Vespers

Wednesday December 4, 11, 18

Supper at 5:30 PM (sign up to help with suppers on December 11 and 18!)

Vespers at 6:30 PM – sermon theme for 2019 – Preparing for the Last Things

Children’s Christmas Service within the regular Divine Service

Sunday, December 15th at 9:00 AM

Christmas Eve Candle Light Divine Service

4:00 PM – December 24th

Christmas Day Divine Service

9:00 AM – December 25th

New Year’s Eve Service

6:30 PM – December 31st

Sunday Services are at the usual times

 

Movie Night – Friday, Oct 18 – 6:30 PM

Patterns of Evidence:  Exodus

The credibility of the Bible is under attack. Many experts say there is no archaeological evidence for events like the Exodus. They claim these stories are just myths.

But that is about to change. Twelve years in the making, the critically acclaimed film “Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus” presents convincing new evidence that clearly matches the Biblical account!

Investigative filmmaker Timothy Mahoney journeyed to Egypt, Israel and throughout the world in search of answers to one very important question: Did the Exodus, as written in the Bible, really happen? What he finds is astounding! A pattern of evidence matching the six major events recorded in the Bible.

We understand the Bible is the inspired Word of God and we also understand that it is without error and history continues to back this up.

JOIN US FOR A FUN MOVIE NIGHT THAT IS ALSO EDUCATIONAL!

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 18TH AT 6:30 PM

BRING A BEVERAGE AND SNACK TO SHARE!