Adiaphora – plural of the Greek Adiaphoron, to mean “something that is neither condemned nor approved…indifferent.”
In the Church, there are the things that are central to a life of faith (prayer, forgiveness, love, sacrament, acts of service, etc.) and then there are adiaphora (denominations, hymns/songs, incense, paraments, stand up/sit down, purple for Lent, Kyrie or no Kyrie, German Mass, memorizing the Athanasian Creed, etc.).
For centuries the Church has been arguing over adiaphora…does tradition contribute to salvation, does it affect the work of God on the believer? Or does tradition communicate some basic truths about the nature of God, thus affecting the believer’s understanding of the Divine? The Reformers took a hard stance against the Roman church: “Customs are not necessary unto salvation…clearly human traditions do not enliven hearts and are not effects of the Holy Spirit.”1
BUT, that isn’t the end of the story. The Reformers also stated that “We cheerfully maintain the old traditions made in the Church for the sake of usefulness and peace AND good order is very fitting in the Church, and is for this reason necessary.”2
So, while adiaphora may not be useful for the matters of salvation, that does not mean they are wholly indifferent in the matters of faith. And that is the fun of it. As dear Martin Lutheran stated, “Stop looking heavenward concerned with your salvation, Jesus has taken care of that…start looking to your neighbor.” God has called us by name and made an everlasting covenant with us. In faithful response to what God has done, we get to live into that covenant, and learn what parts of it we like, don’t like, find difficult, or just plain don’t want to deal with.
Our faith life is in constant flux, growing, and evolving. There will be things that may enliven parts of it and things that will be boring. Who knows, you just might be surprised where you find God.
Pastor Justin Baxter
1Apology VII and VIII, 36. Book of Concord
2Apology XV, 22