WORSHIP, GOTTESDIENST, CULTUS DEI by James L. Brauer
Interest in worship, particularly among confessional Lutherans, continues to grow. Dr. James L. Brauer, professor and chairman of practical theology and dean of the chapel at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, offers a tool to aid in this engagingly dialogical conversation. In nine quotation-filled chapters, covering a variety of related topics, Brauer compiled pertinent phrases related to worship from the German and/or Latin texts of the Book of Concord in their somewhat larger contexts.
Noting the continuing value of our Lutheran confessional writings, Brauer shows how the Gospel focus of these documents provides the scriptural foundation for Christian worship (Gottesdienst in German, cultus dei in Latin). Drawing very heavily upon a handful of secondary studies of the history and tradition of worship (Catella, Fink, and White), Brauer introduces the theology and practice of Lutheran worship. He concludes: “Only when worship follows God’s commands and suits his way of creating faith and producing fruits of faith can it be true spiritual worship—Gottesdienst—cultus Dei” (29).
Sacramental worship is a key to understanding Lutheran worship. This is immediately evident by the fact that, after the two initial chapters which deal with the topics of “Worship” and “Word,” the next three chapters are on “Baptism,” “The Lord’s Supper,” and “Absolution,” followed by the confessional perspective on “Praise” and “Rites and Ceremonies.” These chapters provide the basic structure of the book.
Insights into contemporary worship issues are provided in the chapter on “Rites and Ceremonies.” Especially insightful are answers to the editorial question, “How should Christians handle their liberty in matters of rites and ceremonies that are neither commanded nor forbidden by God?” (276-286). Brauer then returns to the category of “rites and ceremonies” in his final chapter, where he concludes a discussion about “tradition” (298) which he raised at the very beginning of his book (5-6).
Particularly helpful are the summaries within and a synopsis at the end of each chapter. Such précis give novice readers an opportunity to draw some meaning to the organization of the quotations. Although a rationale for occasionally only citing single words (e.g. #159 sacrificium and ministerium in Ap XXIV) and at other times providing longer quotations (e.g. #822 from FCSD X) is never made clear, providing selected portions of the Latin and German texts allows a scholarly appearance to this collection. In the final chapter, “Conclusion,” three central concepts are offered by which worship can be evaluated—worship is a spiritual activity of God’s people, the Spirit works through the means of grace, and rites and ceremonies contribute to good order through proper use in the public ministry.
In spite of the benefits of this resource, a few inadequacies are evident. No clearly defined basis nor scholarly support for several of translation interpretations called “textual notes” (7) are given (e.g. #808), although Brauer maintains that skilled readers of Latin or German can conduct their own “deeper exploration” (7). Evidence of broader scholarly corroboration could be supplied through a Bibliography reflecting recent research. Editorially, the “Textual Overview and Table of Cross-References” (31-40) would be better placed at the end of the book and methodological information in the last chapter at the beginning. Finally, the arbitrary numbering of passages “for easy reference” (6) gives an aura of authority with uncertain benefits.
Debates over worship issues will continue, but Brauer’s assiduously prepared resource encourages individuals interested in the confessional understanding of worship to pursue further analysis. While not replacing the Confessions, Brauer avers that his study could be “a tool for pastors and students of the Lutheran Confessions who wish to review and explore what was said, how it was said, and how the confessors argued their points.” (6)