Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Question of Christian Freedom

Is it permissible for thoroughly Lutheran Christians to use prayer beads (ala rosary) in their daily devotional lives? I don't mean to ask is it permissible for Lutherans to pray to Mary using a rosary, but to pray using beads or a rosary.

What do you think? Is this too "hyper-ritualistic"? Let's use our heads to rationally discuss this issue. I have some thoughts that I will keep to myself until after some discussion has ensued.


Pr. Lehmann said...

Christian freedom? What's that?

Arellanova said...

I think you have to define use, if I may comment. I have often held something in my hands, weather a beaded keychain, or some otherthing of mechanical or tactile variety to diverty the energy of my mind so that I may better focus on a prayer or thought.

I know roughly, from a Catholic school friend, that some chains are used to direct the prayer....aka I am on bead 37, time for another hail mary.....and I think that gets you know where if you are trying to have a "better" prayer than the average christian.....

but that opens up a whole 'nother discussion about the purpouse of prayer.

Jim Roemke said...

Brother Lehmann,
Indeed, it seems to be in short supply amongst some. I guess Christians are only free to tear down the faith and practice of the Church. A sad thing.

My dear Miss A, by use I mean using a rosary to, for example, concentrate on a specific Bible verse, to focus using a specific prayer, or even focus on the Small Catechism. I am not suggesting in any way that the theology of a truly Roman rosary be maintained. You do well to point out the temptation to have a "better" prayer. What do Lutherans believe about prayer? Can a rosary or prayer beads fit in with a Lutheran understanding of prayer? And, if a Lutheran CAN use prayer beads (again, what's Christian freedom?) how can they be used in a God pleasing way? Good start to discussion, I hope more people will chime in!

Paul McCain said...

First, that portrait of Chemnitz is not, as some would hope, "proof" of the use of the rosary by our Lutheran fathers. In fact, it was simply a portrait using the standard conventions of the time, in which well known symbols were used to communicate something about the person being portrayed. Theologians are shown with books, usually open. Pious persons are shown holding beads, which we assume to be rosary beads. So, we can't make all that much out of the portrait of Chemnitz. I did quite a lot of research into this and consulted period art experts and they all confirm that this is a case of simply standard portrait painting conventions than anything else.

Having said that, of course a person can use beads to pray if that is what his/her private devotion finds helpful.

Here is the problem though with what I've termed "hyper-ritualizing." As happened on the Wittenberg Trail, when a person advocates for gestures or practices that are not commonplace in the church, have no standing or status in the church's rubrics, and such and then with such advocacy effectively suggests that those who are ignorant of them, or not making use of them, are somehow "missing" something or not quite doing the liturgy "as it should be done" -- therein is the problem.

And that is precisely what "Hyper-Ritualizing" the Divine Service is all about. The theory that if there are those not using the historic liturgy, a good way to counteract that is not merely to teach, in a Gospel way, the hymnal and its practices, but to layer on rubrics, rites and rituals which are not part of our tradition, or our hymnal's rubrics, and then give every impression that those not observing such things are really not quite "doing it as it should be done."

I will happily concede a person can use beads, coins, corn cobs, lego bricks, or whatever else they find useful in their prayer life, as long as they do not attempt to give anyone a guilty conscience for not using such things.

Yes, we have Christian freedom in such matters, but no, we are not always free to use our liberty.


Jim Roemke said...

I'm glad that you make that important distinction, Paul. It does go contrary to the gospel and the freedom that was presented this day in 1530 to Charles V to suggest that one is only a good Christian if things are done in such and such a way. I would like to stick with the specific question at hand, namely the use of aids to prayer, i.e., prayer beads (I know you are trying to show your openness by using such outrageous and ridiculous items as "coins, corn cobs, or lego bricks" however, some might be offended by the ridiculousness of your argument): you do make a good point about the dangers of insisting things be done in certain way for them to "count."

We sinful humans are constantly riding the swinging pendulum between extremes. At my congregation we follow the rubrics of the Lutheran Service Book, as I fervently desire all Lutheran congregations in the Missouri Synod would do. I was recently a part of an outdoor service in which Christian liberty was stretched to the very breaking point. And I readily admit, I do not think that the service was done properly or with any reverence to the Triune God or with any level of respect for the range of people in attendance.

But, in any case, I will put Paul McCain down as a supporter of the Lutheran rosary and will anxiously await the new CPH catalogue to pick out my Luther's Seal beads! ;)

Jim Roemke said...

For what its worth, we also do well not to let our own feelings about someone else's practice influence our reaction. Just as it would be sinful of me to think that people who do things irreverently somehow are less Christian than I, it is also a sin to assume that someone who strives for the best practice possible, or wears a head covering, or prays with beads, or genuflects at a different time than I would is somehow saying that I am less of a Christian. From what I have been able to discern in regards to various conversations on the WT, no one has ever said or even really inferred that their "high" practice makes them a better Christian.

It's kind of like that classic catechism question, "Do I HAVE to be baptized to be saved??"

Also, for what its worth, I purposely put the portrait of Chemnitz up to bait my good brother Paul into commenting! Aren't I a little stinker ;)

Jim Roemke said...

In the line of my last comment, hasn't the argument, "you think you're better than me" been used against pastors who seek to reinstate every Sunday communion or private confession/absolution? I know it has been with me.

Just because someone will feel bad or even feel inferior because of a better practice does not mean that we abandon it or do not pursue it.

Arellanova said...

Well....PR, after reading your commentary, I would wonder why the Pastors in question (regarding the very last comment) even care.....

I have had of recent, (and you KNOW whom too) had to give an apology in the traditional fashion as to why Good Shepherd is the way it is....communion every sunday, the bowing at the alter, the raising of the book at Gospel reading, and so on and so forth (cause it is a LOOOOOONG ride back down m-37)

What I said in the end, and I hope this to be accurate, was that was just how Pastor Roemke does his stuff. The response was "but I thought you couldn't change things in your church. That is why you are so proud of it."

To which I replied "I can not change certian things, neither can Pastor Roemke."

Upon reflection of that conversation I do ask to all, how can the Lutheran Church, Missouri synod exist as we believe it (and love it) to exist without some way to express our worship to God in different manners....lest, I fear, we worship the manner of the feast itself.

Paul McCain said...

I've been unable to find any evidence in Luther, or our Lutheran fathers, that they used prayer beads and rosaries. The portrait of Chemnitz does not establish the use of rosaries/beads by our Lutheran fathers.

Paul McCain said...

it is also a sin to assume that someone who strives for the best practice possible, or wears a head covering, or prays with beads, or genuflects at a different time than I would is somehow saying that I am less of a Christian

If you can document such as taking place, please do so.

I, on the other hand, can show you how one well-known devotee of rubrics engages in a whole host of put-downs and condescension toward those are not making use of them.

Pr. Lehmann said...


You and Latif are both friends of mine. I'm going to ask you both to calm down and try to be civil to one another.

I don't like seeing my friends behave poorly toward each other, and I'd say you're both being a bit passive aggressive.

jWinters said...

Hey Jim,
While I was at the seminary, over Lent, I actually tried a "Lutheran Rosary". It was an amalgamation of something I found online (and I just googled it...still there...the url is something about "orthodox lutheran",) and my own little tweaks. I did it because I wanted to get into a Lenten discipline of praying for an hour straight through every day. As Lenten practices go with me - it proved to show me more that I was a sinful human being and couldn't even do a relatively simple task such as that without my mind wandering, forgetting certain days, etc. I proved I was in need of grace.

As devotional practices go, it wasn't bad. It forced me to consider Scripture (in the "mysteries") and then pray while remembering those pieces of Scripture.

However, some of my Roman Catholic friends thought that what I was doing was a second cousin to heresy. Some of my Lutheran friends thought I was just plain weird. (And such may be the case).

I think you guys hit the nail on the head here - it really has more to do with the "why" behind the practice than the practice itself. I think the seminary term for that was "adiaphora".

But rosary beads do constitute an interesting adiaphora because they could very easily cause the weaker brother to stumble. This would especially be the case if somehow the "Lutheran rosary" became a commonplace practice amongst Christians in a given community of believers and somehow thought themselves as more cutting edge or "cool" than other Christians. See Corinth.

Having done it, I was rather unimpressed with the results. I found the repetitions of the prayers to be inane. I loved the sort of "lectio divina" sense of reading the Scripture in the process of praying though. I adopted that aspect into my prayer life without the repetition.

I don't know if any of that helps. Blessings to you if you try this out. If you want to hear more indepth about what my practice with the rosary beads ended up being, I'd be happy to share.

in Christ,
p.s. Is every Sunday communion and private confession and absolution that big of a deal where you are? People here in my context already had every Sunday communion and were interested in hearing more about individual confession/absolution (although they don't do it that much)

Jim Roemke said...

I have been using prayer beads in my own devotional life for about 3 years. I also got started with what sounds like the same thing you did, but I adjusted it to focusing on the chief parts of the Small Catechism. I agree wholeheartedly, if this is done, it must be seen strictly as a crutch for a weaker brother or sister and by no means a necessity or as making those who do it somehow super-spiritual. For me it has been a great blessing and aid in devotional living.

In regards to everys Sunday communion and private c & a, my congregation was doing those things when I arrived, however a few in the church did not agree with it and saw the new pastor as a possible way to regain control of the situation and re-instate their less desirable practice of less frequent communion and NO mention of private c & a. I have offered a regularly scheduled time for private c & a since I got here, the congregation was familiar with the concept, but still no one has taken me up on it, which is ok. I will still be in church for private confession and absolution every Wednesday evening from 6-7 for anyone who is particularly troubled by some sin. And I will still offer communion (now twice a week) as often as God's people will receive it. Its my job.

jWinters said...

Do you find that Wednesday at 6-7 is a decent hour for that to happen? I usually just tell people that they can do it anytime during any of my "office hours" (times when I promise to be in the office and available here for conf/abs, counseling, etc). Have you considered having your confirmation students try confession/absolution as a part of their catechesis?

in Christ,

Paul McCain said...

So, back to the whole prayer-bead thing.

It is only hyper-ritualistic if you obsess over it, try to chat it up as if it the sine qua non of "really doing Lutheranism" right and if you start to have visions of Mary, then you've gone too far.

: )

Chuck Wiese said...

There is some evidence in the New Testament to suggest that Jesus may have had prayer tassels on his robe that served a similar function to rosary beads. For a time I was praying the "Ecumenical Miracles Rosary": which really isn't as scarry as it sounds. I'm not using them currently but I certainly don't see a problem with it or prayer ropes as long as people are seeking their justification in such things or thinking themselves to be some sort of super-Christian.