Ceremonies and Adiaphora in the Lausanne Articles

The Lausanne Articles of 1536 were written by Guillaume Farel and Pierre Viret. They show a similar sort of theology of adiaphora as preceding Reformed confessional statements. They begin with a strong criticism of ceremonies which were not ordained by Christ, and yet it does not lay down an absolute law on this matter. Rather, it offers the principles of love of God and love of neighbor, as well as wisdom and charity.

Article 7 states, “Further, this same Church denies all other ways and means of serving God beyond that which is spiritually ordained by the Word of God, which consists in the love of himself and of one’s neighbour. Hence it rejects entirely the innumerable mockeries of all ceremonies which pervert religion, such as images and like things” (Reformed Confessions of the Sixteenth Century, ed. Chochrane, pg. 116.). Clearly, the Lausanne reformers believed that liturgy had been abused and needed to be reigned in. “Mockeries of all ceremonies” are rejected, especially the use of images in worship. If things ended here, one would reasonably interpret this as a proto-Puritan statement against all ceremonies and such except for those specifically commanded by the Holy Scriptures. And yet another article follows.

Its 10th Article reads, “Finally as to things that are indifferent, such as foods, drinks and the observation of days, it allows a many as the man of faith can use at all times freely, but not otherwise than wisdom and charity should do.” This article does not mention ceremonies, but it does address fasts and feast days. It says that they allowed, so long as they are governed by wisdom and charity rather than an assumption of absolute necessity. “Things indifferent” is a legitimate and valid category.

The Lausanne Articles are brief, and these statements do not answer many questions which readers familiar with history will have. Who decides on behalf of the group? And what exactly is permitted in the Bernese liturgy? The answer to these will have to be found in other documents. Still, for our purposes, we can see a line of continuity with earlier Swiss Reformed statements on worship and liberty. The mood is definitely critical, and perhaps minimalist, but it does not have an absolute restriction on holidays and similar things. Instead of strict law, principles of wise judgment are given. This perspective will continue to appear in later documents, including Genevan confessional statements.


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