Examination

Professor Daniel Deutschlander often told his students that every Lutheran pastor should read Martin Chemnitz’ Examination of the Council of Trent (at least the first volume) every now and then—just to ensure that he is still a Lutheran.

A couple weeks ago I finished reading part II of Chemnitz’ monumental work, and I wholeheartedly agree with him. As Deutschlander says, “It’s so Lutheran!” The Examen is a Lutheran response to the Roman Catholic Council of Trent, which began in 1545 and was in many ways a response to the Lutheran Reformation. Many of the decrees of the Council are specifically condemning the teachings of the Lutherans. In other places, they continue to group the Lutherans together with the Anabaptists and other radical reformers. However, the main opponent seems to be the Lutheran teaching. The format goes like this: “If anyone says…let him be condemned (anathema sit).” Many have said that if you removed the anathemas from the decrees, you generally have a good statement of Lutheran teaching.

This second volume deals with the Sacraments. It first deals in a general way with the Sacraments, especially with the fact that the Roman Catholics insist on the number seven, and Chemnitz maintains that no matter how you define sacrament, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper stand out as distinct from all others. Then, Chemnitz works through each of the so-called seven sacraments and examines the doctrines and practices which the council commends and condemns.

One of the things that makes this work so brilliant is the way Chemnitz not only deals with the false assertions of the Council, but he manages to present the true, orthodox Lutheran teaching on each of these doctrines. And just because the Lutherans did not maintain seven sacraments does not mean that they had no teaching or practice concerning confession and absolution, ordination, consolation for the sick and dying, confirmation, and marriage.

That said, I think that many Lutherans would be surprised to read the way Chemnitz describes the way “our churches” practice. It appears that Lutheran practice and piety today has been shaped much more by American Protestantism than by the Lutheranism which Chemnitz describes.

Additionally, it always amazes me just how familiar men like Chemnitz were with the church fathers. And then, it strikes me that Chemnitz considers them worth listening to. The Council of Trent regularly made appeal to antiquity and tradition, and repeatedly Chemnitz shows that true antiquity was not what the Tridentine fathers were claiming. Many of the “ancient customs” to which Trent referred were not that ancient, or their writings were taken out of context, or the cited statements were exceptions to normal practice. History was on the side of the Lutherans.

But I don’t know anyone in Lutheran circles today who has this kind of knowledge of the church fathers—not even Seminary professors. And I know many more Lutherans (pastors, even) who wouldn’t particularly care. It is not as though we take our doctrine from the fathers, but I think Chemnitz (and many others) would make the point that they should be listened to. For me, reading more Chemnitz is a start down that path. I have just started reading Chemnitz’ Enchiridion, in which I’m finding much of the same stuff—brilliant. Definitely must-reads for every pastor.

Here’s a page where I started posting some quotes as I was reading: http://caauwejw.tumblr.com/

Lord, Have Mercy

Our practice of home devotions has evolved over the last several years. Naturally, as the children have grown, our devotions have grown as well. The tricky thing, I suppose, with a family that spans several ages, is to find something that engages the older kids and that the little ones can also participate with. We’ve tried Bible story books (some have worked well) and devotional books (not as well, because they’re usually written for a specific age group).

We take time for this at bedtime, so nighttime prayers have always been included. “Now I lay me down to sleep…” and Luther’s evening prayer. Sometimes we have also sung hymns, at devotion time or after the kids were in bed. But I was seeking something more. Perhaps, I thought, we could follow something like Luther’s orders for morning and evening devotion in the Small Catechism (which I have written about here). Or, perhaps we could use elements of hymnal services like Vespers (Evening Prayer) or Compline (Prayer at the Close of Day).

So I compiled two brief orders of evening devotion, one based on Vespers and one on Compline. It’s quite abbreviated, so that each one fits on a half sheet of paper, front and back. It has actually worked rather well. The kids were already familiar with music for Compline, and the short responses for both of them.

I have long maintained that a strength of liturgical worship is how it allows even little children to participate through the rich repetition, especially with brief responses like, “Lord, have mercy, “Alleluia,” and “Amen.” I should not have been surprised to find that this same strength applies to worship around the family altar.

It seems that the kids’ favorite part of these devotions are the prayers in our “Evening Prayer” order. It is very similar to the Kyrie on p. 59 in Christian Worship, though I took some of the petitions from its counterpart in the Lutheran Service Book. The response is the same every time: “Lord, have mercy.” Isaiah (4) and Miriam (2) sing it the loudest. It’s simple enough for the youngest to participate fully, but these words are so far from being trite or trivial.