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This statement is from the fourth international consultation of the Lutheran World Federation's Study Team on Worship and Culture, held in Chicago, United States, in May 1998. The members of the Study Team represent five continents of the world and have worked together for five years. The first consultation, in Cartigny, Switzerland, in 1993, focused on the biblical and historical foundations of the relationships between Christian worship and culture, and produced the "Cartigny Statement on Worship and Culture: Biblical and Historical Foundations." The second consultation, in Hong Kong in 1994, explored contemporary issues and questions in the relationships between the world's cultures and Christian liturgy, church music, and church architecture/art. The papers of these first two consultations were published as Worship and Culture in Dialogue. (1) The third international consultation, held in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1996, focused on the Eucharist in its relationships to culture, and issued the "Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture: Contemporary Challenges and Opportunities." The papers and statement from the Nairobi consultation were published as Christian Worship: Unity in Cultural Diversity. (2) The 1998 Chicago consultation examined the dynamics by which world cultures relate to Holy Baptism and certain rites of human passage (healing rites, burial rites, marriage rites). This Chicago Statement builds upon the prior Cartigny and Nairobi Statements, applying their insights to the topics considered at the Chicago consultation.
1.1. The foundational event in the life of any Christian community is the "one Baptism" (Ephesians 4:5) which constitutes the Church to be a "royal priesthood," proclaiming the mighty acts of the life-giving God for all the world (1 Peter 2:9). Baptism is the burial of Christians together with Christ in order that they may be raised with him to newness of life (Romans 6:4) as signs of God's new creation. It is the "washing of water by the Word" (Ephesians 5:26) which proclaims and gives the forgiveness of sins and, at the same time, identifies the Christian community with Jesus Christ who identifies himself with outsiders and sinners and all the needy world. It is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit who draws the baptized into communion with the Triune God and with each other. As such, Baptism always introduces the newly baptized into life in a local community of Christians, but in communion with all the churches of God. And Baptism has a life-long significance, giving Christians the dignity and responsibility of their vocation in Christ. All other changes and transitions in the life of a Christian must be seen to reflect this basic transition and this basic dignity: "Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people" (1 Peter 2:10). Baptism thus informs and shapes rites related to the life-cycle.
1.2. Rites of passage are those communal symbolic processes and acts connected with important or critical transitions in the lives of individuals and communities. In almost all cultures, giving birth, coming to adulthood, marrying, reconciling, leave-taking, passage into and sometimes through sickness, and dying and grieving, among several other transitions, are marked by diverse communal rites that express the process of separation, liminality (the transitional or "in between" stage), and incorporation. To accompany people in many of these moments of transition, the Christian community celebrates rites of passage. These rites whereby the Church invokes God's care and providence for people in transition/liminality find their efficacy in the power of the Word. Foremost among these rites observed by the Church are those associated with sickness, funerals, and marriage. For Christians, however, these are rites that extend or renew or conclude their original and essential rite of passage through the waters of Baptism. Therefore, it is good that Baptism should be often remembered and affirmed in these diverse life-cycle rites. And, for Christians, these ways of marking life's transition are appropriately celebrated in the community of the baptized.
1.3. All Christian worship, whether the sacraments or rites of passage, relates dynamically to culture in at least four ways. First, worship is transcultural, the same substance for everyone everywhere, beyond culture. Second, worship is contextual, varying according to the local natural and cultural contexts. Third, worship is counter-cultural, challenging what is contrary to the Gospel in each given culture. Fourth, worship is cross-cultural, making sharing possible between different local cultures. (3)
1.4. Among the various methods of contextualization, those of dynamic equivalence and creative assimilation are particularly useful. (4) Dynamic equivalence is the re-expression of components of Christian worship with elements from a local culture which have an equal meaning, value, and function. Creative assimilation is the addition of elements from local culture to the liturgical ordo to enrich its original core.
1.5. The design of worship space, the selection of music, and other elements of all rites should never be dismissed as matters of indifference or of personal choice. Rather, they stand under the imperative to do everything in accordance with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in ways that make clear the baptismal values in the rites.
2.1. The transcultural nature of Baptism arises from God's gift of this "visible Word," this tangible proclamation of the Gospel, to all the Church in all the world. Water, the tangible earthly element of the sacrament, is everywhere available where human life exists. But the pattern or ordo of Baptism is also a universal ecumenical inheritance. (5) Baptism involves: a) formation in the one faith (traditionally known as the catechumenate) (6), b) the water-bath, and c) the incorporation of the baptized into the whole Christian community and its mission. This latter incorporation is expressed by the newly baptized being led to the table of the Lord's Supper, the very table where their baptismal identity will also be strengthened and re-affirmed throughout their life. The events around the water-bath itself have also come to be practiced in a widely used pattern which is very nearly transcultural. In a gathering of the Christian assembly, in which the Word is proclaimed, the following events usually occur: God is praised and thanked over the water; together with the Church, the candidates and their sponsors renounce the forces of evil and confess the universal Church's faith in the Triune God; water is used generously in the Triune Name of God; prayer is made for the Holy Spirit's gifts; and several "explanatory symbols" e.g., anointing, hand-laying, signing with the cross, and often also clothing and illuminating may accompany this prayer, disclosing and teaching something of the powerful act which God does in Baptism. Any contextualization of Baptism or of the rites of passage will depend upon the churches allowing these transcultural characteristics of Baptism to be continually renewed in their midst. "We should do justice to the meaning of Baptism and make of our practice a true and complete sign of the thing Baptism signifies." (7)
2.2. But this transcultural gift needs to be contextualized in each local place. The local community will have its own ways of teaching and passing on the faith to baptismal candidates and their families, forming them in heart and life as well as mind. These ways may best be developed in connection with other local Christians, in witness to the baptismal unity of the whole Church. The assembly of Christians will have its own ways of gathering. The space for Baptism may be locally designed, as long as this design recalls the need for the baptismal event to take place in the presence of the worshiping assembly, with the generous use of water. In many places this may mean that communities will recover the use of fonts or pools which enable Baptism by immersion (as Luther so strongly advocated (8)). The traditional "explanatory symbols" of Baptism may need to be replaced, by the means of dynamic equivalence, or reinforced, by the means of creative assimilation, so that the power of the water-bath may be more clearly perceived in local context. Each local church will need to ask: what local symbols may express the gift of the Spirit, the adoption of a new identity, baptismal dignity and vocation, death and resurrection, and the unity of the community, and do so without obscuring the central importance of the water and the Word? The "explanatory symbols" should never overshadow the water-bath itself.
2.3. Baptismal unity will never be that of an "insider" group. Baptism, which constitutes the Church, also calls Christians to identify in solidarity with all people. Its celebration will therefore have certain counter-cultural elements as well. The poor will be baptized with at least as great a dignity as the rich. Women and men, children and adults, and people from all ethnic/class/caste backgrounds will stand here on equal footing, equally in need of God's mercy, equally gifted with the outpoured Spirit. Baptism, which creates members of the local community, also at the same time creates these people as members of the one universal Body of Christ. Baptism calls us to unity, not to division. (9)
2.4. As the churches once again find this gift of God renewed in their midst, they may also be assisted by cross-cultural gifts between the churches which share the one Baptism. The hymns and music of one church may helpfully illuminate the meaning of Baptism in another church in a different culture. One local church's use of baptismal space (fonts/pools and the surrounding area) may suggest possibilities to other churches, elsewhere. And, new "explanatory symbols" discovered or developed by local churches in one area may be used by Christians in other places, who may thereby discover a depth of meaning in Baptism they had not previously imagined.
3. Healing Rites
3.1. When we call on Jesus as the Christ for healing, we appeal to what is close to his heart: concern for those who suffer because of physical illness and other afflictions of the human spirit. Through rites of healing, the Church, represented by its pastors and the local community, invokes the comforting presence of Christ and the Spirit, especially in serious illness which can cause anxiety, break the human spirit, weaken faith, or isolate the human person from society and even from the church community. Churches which have no such healing rites may wish to consider developing them, thereby ministering to and expressing solidarity with those who suffer (1 Corinthians 12:22-26).
3.2. Anointing, hand-laying, and the prayer of faith, whenever possible in the presence of the community, are the core elements of Christian rites of healing. They are handed down to us by apostolic tradition (Mark 6:13; Mark 16:17-18; James 5:14-15). They are transcultural in the sense that they have been preserved, though possibly re-expressed ritually in the course of contextualization. The Eucharist itself is a primary transcultural expression of the Church's concern for the sick. The congregation's care of the sick includes the eucharistic celebration by the pastor (together with representatives of the congregation) in the home or hospital (or other) room of the sick person, or the ministry of sharing the Word and bringing the Holy Communion from the Sunday assembly to those who, because of illness or disability, are unable to be present in that assembly. All the rites of healing and all the extensions of eucharistic ministry are intended to surround people who are isolated or excluded with God's gift of the baptismal community.
3.3. To enrich and make Christian rites of healing understandable to the people (the task of contextualization), it is necessary to identify elements of local rites of healing that can suitably, after critical evaluation, be substituted for elements of the traditional Christian rites through dynamic equivalence, or as will more often be the case, illustrate the original core of the rite through creative assimilation. Elements of local rites of healing include pertinent gestures, symbols, and material elements that can be integrated into Christian use.
3.4. In situations where certain types of illness are regarded as the result of sorcery or witchcraft, Christian catechesis and health education should be instituted. In no way should elements of healing related to sorcery or witchcraft be integrated into Christian rites. The counter-cultural aspect of Christian healing should also challenge practices based on those superstitions which sometimes lead to injustice and cruelty toward persons suspected of witchcraft, as well as such health practices that are based on wealth or egocentrism, or such modern institutions that demean the dignity of the sick.
3.5. The biblical readings and prayers should stress that the Church's rites of healing embody Christ's concern for the sick, that they express faith in the power of Christ's death and resurrection, and that they are intended primarily to heal (make whole) the entire person as well as to enable the community to pray for the curing of an illness (whether physical or mental). Rites of healing should include varying provisions for situations of acute, chronic, and terminal illnesses.
4. Funeral Rites
4.1. Christian funeral rites conclude the passage from this world to God (John 13:1) which began at Baptism. They celebrate the baptized's transitus or Exodus and mark the day of her or his dies natalis (birthday) unto eternal life. At the same time, they accompany the bereaved in the time of loss by the comforting words of Scripture and the support of the Christian community and its singing.
4.2. The funeral practices of Christians have traditionally included the following elements, arranged as a pattern: a) washing, anointing, and dressing the body rites reminiscent of Baptism; b) a communal vigil (wake) and then a service of the Word or the Eucharist rites expressing the baptismal community; and c) a final commendation and a procession to the place of entombment while hymns or paschal psalms are changed rites alluding to the Exodus.
4.3. In some places outside Christian tradition, a number of the aforementioned rites already exist, such as the washing and clothing of the body and the funeral procession. In such cases the work of contextualization is to infuse these rites with baptismal and paschal dimensions through reading and singing from the Word of God and through prayers. 4.4. It is clear that texts, gestures, dirges, and symbols that contradict the foundational Christian faith in the resurrection cannot be integrated into the rite: this is a counter-cultural task in developing funeral rites. Another counter-cultural task necessary in some contexts is the avoidance of practices (e.g., expensive coffins, elaborate meals) which impose a severe financial burden on the family of the deceased. On the other hand, Christian funeral rites might include provision for funeral processions as the final stage of the paschal journey in which the community accompanies the dead and the bereaved.
4.5. When cremation is practiced, Christian rites should provide biblical readings and prayers that affirm the faith in the resurrection and norms for the appropriate disposition of the ashes.
4.6. The tradition of chanting or singing psalms during funerals should be encouraged, as should the use of the local and worldwide treasury of hymnody. In all cases, the texts and music should appropriately express the Christian faith.
4.7. Christians have always shown care and respect for cemeteries and other places where the faithful who "sleep in Christ" await the day of his coming. Efforts should be made to express the Christian character of the diverse burial places used by our churches. As well, church buildings where the Eucharist is celebrated in the presence of the body should be designed interiorly for such occasions.
5. Marriage Rites
5.1. The process of transition in which a couple moves from being unmarried to being socially recognized as married may be regarded as itself transcultural in its shape and general character. Still, for Christians, the truly transcultural gift is: a) the proclamation of the Word of God in connection with such a transition, and b) the prayer for God's blessing on the couple and their household. The Word of God and the nuptial blessing are the universal Christian additions to the human process of marriage.
5.2. But these additions are made within a ritual which will have deep cultural connections, and here is the task of contextualization. The ways in which the process of marrying is unfolded, the ways in which the couple is betrothed, in which their assent is expressed, in which the society gathers around them these all may be richly different from culture to culture. The type of music used in the celebration may borrow from the local musical tradition, provided that both music and text are appropriate to the communal intention to proclaim the word of God and pray for blessing. As well, the marriage rite may take place in the church, or in the home or in another assembly place. However, when a civil marriage has taken place and the couple comes to the Christian community asking for the nuptial blessing, the consent and marriage vows need not be repeated in the church.
5.3. There are counter-cultural aspects of weddings. It is important that the rite maintain and express the baptismal dignity of the parties to the marriage. Thus, the couple must both freely assent to the wedding, and neither bride nor groom should be dealt with as if "property." Furthermore, the status of being married must be seen as neither better nor worse than the status of anyone else in the assembly these all are the baptized. Baptism is their basic dignity and vocation, and a particular marriage will be seen as one wonderful unfolding of that vocation for the sake of the life of the world. It may be that such baptismal dignity will come to expression by the wedding being held within the context of the Eucharist of the assembly. Or it may be that the nuptial blessing will express the vocation of baptized Christians who are married. In any case, the Church may do well to resist the spread of consumerist or dowry-system patterns of marriage which are often inappropriately expensive without expressing authentic Christian values.
5.4. Among the cross-cultural gifts which the churches may share with each other may be new ways in which the baptismal vocation of the married is brought to expression in signs, songs, or gestures in a local dialogue with the communal cultural traditions of marriage.
6. Call to the Churches
6.1. We who have served on the Study Team offer our work during 1993-1998 to the glory of God and for the renewal of the Church. We call on the Lutheran World Federation and its member churches to receive this work in ways that will renew their life and mission. Such reception involves the translation of the LWF Worship and Culture Statements and books into local languages, and their wide distribution; local, regional, and/or subregional workshops and meetings of various sorts; pastors' retreats; courses in seminaries and theological institutions; regional newsletters on worship and culture for networking and communication; articles in ecclesial and academic periodicals; consultations with parishes; consultations with architects, artists, and musicians; and so forth. Reception also involves sharing with ecumenical partner churches, seminaries, and journals, and other ecumenical efforts.
6.2. We continue to call on all member churches of the Lutheran World Federation to undertake further intentional study and efforts related to the transcultural, contextual, and counter-cultural natures of Christian worship, and its cross-cultural sharing. We call on all member churches to recover the centrality of Baptism for their life and worship, and as the foundation of rites of human passage, and to do so whenever possible in ecumenical partnerships with wide participation. The challenge is to develop and use forms of worship which are both authentic to the Gospel and relevant to local cultural contexts.
(1) Geneva: Lutheran World Federation, 1994. Also published in French, German, and Spanish.
(2) Geneva: Lutheran World Federation, 1996. Also published in German.
(3) For further explanation and examples of this fourfold dynamic, see the Nairobi Statement; Christian Worship: Unity in Cultural Diversity, pp. 24-27.
(4) For methodology and criteria, see the Nairobi Statement, 3.2. - 3.6.; Christian Worship: Unity in Cultural Diversity, pp. 25-26.
(5) Parallel to the LWF Worship and Culture Study has been work by the WCC Commission on Faith and Order. A part of that work has focused on Baptism; regarding the ordo for Baptism, see the statement on "Becoming a Christian: The Ecumenical Implications of Our Common Baptism," 1997.
(6) Pre-baptismal catechumenal formation is not merely education; rather, it involves the whole person being formed by the Holy Spirit in the Word, prayer, worship, Christian community, and service in the world.
(7) Martin Luther, "The Holy and Blessed Sacrament of Baptism," 1.
(8) Martin Luther, "Large Catechism," 4; "The Holy and Blessed Sacrament of Baptism," 1; "The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ," 3; and "The Babylonian Captivity of the Church," Luther's Works, vol. 36, pp. 67-8.
(9) See the papers of the Strasbourg Institute/LWF consultation on this subject, in Baptism and the Unity of the Church, ed. Michael Root and Risto Saarinen (Geneva: WCC Publications; Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 1998).