The reformers introduced "adiaphora" as an argument to uphold their understanding of liturgical practice in light of the Gospel. "Adiaphora" (lit. "indifferent things") was argued as a defense against the use of various traditions of the Roman Church that the reformers deemed unacceptable. Often overlooked is all that the reformers kept in the historic liturgy as a faithful continuation of both the Gospel and the catholic tradition. Today the idea of "adiaphora" is used to introduce new and different practices that make a clear break with the past. In other words, "adiaphora" is used against the same Gospel-bearing liturgy (the deposit of faith).
The continued emphasis on "adiaphora" as a basis for determining liturgical practice among the heirs of the Reformation has resulted in liturgical chaos and collapse. Without rehearsing all of the different manifestations of this that are present today it seems best to return to how this might have come about.
Below are some brief thoughts regarding the relation of "adiaphora" to liturgical collapse:
1.) As in other areas of life in the Church the reformers sought a true confession of the faith. In terms of the liturgy the reformers were concerned about subtracting anything in the liturgy that they considered as detracting from that true confession. One way this took place was in viewing the liturgy in terms of "confession" which unfortunately detracted from viewing the liturgy in its primary role as prayer. The liturgy, being public, was seen primarily as a contrast of the gathered group and that group's beliefs over against that of the Catholic Church on the one side and the radicals on the other. Hence liturgy marked one gathering from another but became considered "prayer" only in a secondary sense. Liturgy as prayer was no longer a primary purpose. This is reflected, for example, in the irresponsible rejection today of the historic lex orandi, lex credendi.
2) Related to #1 the reformers, both intentionally and not, created new liturgies that reflected best their view of the faith and the Church. As the Reformation spread and new branches were formed new strains of the liturgy became evident. Today, with the multiplication of denominations and groups within denominations of the protestant tradition every sort of "liturgy" is apparent. "Adiaphora" is used as a basis and rationale for the existence of this multiplication of liturgies. A consequence, whether intentional or not, is that even the inherited mainstays of the historic liturgy are denigrated and/or replaced. Newer is better. Even confession is denigrated in favor of style of music. The congregation gathered for prayer becomes an "audience" of religious consumers who gather for a variety of forms of Christian entertainment. The faith is neither prayed nor confessed but is synthesized with the feelings of popular culture. Liturgical prayer is replaced with musical and visual effects determined by marketing standards. The historic liturgy is more than an obstacle, it is the enemy. Liturgy as prayer is replaced with liturgy as a means to multiple ends.
3) "Adiaphora" as basis and rationale for liturgical practice is anthropocentric in that it is more concerned with being relevant to individuals than with uniting the liturgy and the Church with transcendent truth and reverent prayer to God above. The door is opened for unity that comes from above to be replaced with diversity that comes from below. While there is tacit acknowledgement of prayer and worship the liturgy is turned into more of a self-congratulatory reflection of the individual and/or group and their show of faith rather than the reception of God's gifts and prayer to God.
In conclusion, the concept of "adiaphora" has reached its logical end. "Adiaphora" as a basis and rationale for changes in liturgical practice should be abandoned. It not only confuses but actually works against the whole essence and purpose of the Church at prayer. Whether intentional or not, "adiaphora" has exchanged the prayer of faith with the desires of men and created divisions that are not unrelated to failures of the reformation to appreciate what was lost of the catholic faith and practice as they looked ahead.
Whit Monday 12 May 2008