Saturday, March 21, 2015

Ballroom Dancing Lutherans

For those of you whose spouses have at some point badgered you into watching an hour (or more!) of Dancing with The Stars: here's an excerpt from A Sermon on Dancing by Rev. J.R. Sikes (Lutheran Church of Ashland) January 6, 1897:

 I. The Physical Results.—Injury to Health.
 I know that many argue that it is good for their health. I shall content myself at present with showing that the contrary is true. The mode of dressing for balls, the unnatural excitement, and the excessive exercise all tend to invite and develop disease. Cold is contracted, fever, rheumatism or consumption follows, and death often ensues as thee result. I have a case in point. Some years ago a young lady of, amiable disposition and the daughter of wealthy parents received and invitation to a ball. It was her first invitation; It came from a highly respectable young man whom she highly esteemed and very much desired to please. Her classmate said to her, "You are not going, are you?" "Why not?" was the rejoinder. "It is a dancing party," was the reply. "So much the better, I have long wanted to attend a ball, and now I mean to go just this once and see what it, is." She did go. But she was not satisfied with this once. Charmed with its fascinations she went again and again. Scarcely a ball came off in the town without Ellen being present: After some months had passed thus her friend and classmate one day surprised her in tears. Finding she was discovered, she said, "I have been reviewing, my life for the past few months." "And are you resolving to do better?" asked her classmate. "Not just yet. I have one more engagement for Christmas eve. I must fill that, and that shall be my last." She did fill that, and it was her last. She took cold, went home and, took her bed, grew worse from day to day, and after an illness of several weeks she died. In her last hours, as her classmate stood beside her bed, she looked up and exclaimed, "I am lost, forever lost!" When they spoke to her of Christ and his willingness to save, she would only repeat, "I am lost—forever lost! .... That ball—that, first ball has been my ruin!" and thus she died. Now, reviewing the direct moral results in this case, we argue that it is a sin thus wontonly to destroy the health of our bodies which God has given us, And as the ball room does, in many instances, lead to such results, therefore it is wrong.

OK, so maybe this archaic argument won't get you out of viewing Dancing With Stars (unless Ebola gains strength) but it does raise the issue as to whether or not dancing is appropriate for Christians. My quick 2 cents is that obviously dance as an art-form and as a social means of expression is similar to music in that it can demonstrate how people are made in the image of God. When I see a gifted musician or a skilled dancer (whether they are Christians or not), I'm awestruck as to the abilities God gives to certain people. Whether they know it or not, their skill and creativity speaks of God's glory as creator.  On the other hand, it doesn't surprise me at all that sinful people take their God-given abilities and use them in sinful ways, denying the very God that created them, or that dance can be combined with sin to produce even more sin. It also doesn't surprise me that two people watching a couple dance in a graceful and almost acrobatic and seemingly effortless way can come to very different conclusions: one sees the skill produced by the glory of God, the other sees a sinful display of lust and lewdness. It doesn't surprise me that a Christian could go to a wedding and dance to the same tired songs without feeling even a pinch of conviction, while someone else struggling with sexual addiction needs to turn the other way to watch the wedding cake melt.

Luther and Dancing
Digging around I came across this old Lutheran sermon being cited in Adversaries of Dance: From the Puritans to the Present (Ann Louise Wagner), so of course, I did a quick search of the book to see what she said about Luther. She does so on page 25 in an undocumented statement:

Then in a footnote on page 41:

The Luther quote referenced by Wagner was interesting enough for me to look up. It's from WA 17 II: 64, which I cross-referenced to it's English equivalent, Lenker's Luther's Church Postil, Volume 1. Note the asterisk in the quote:

10. What then is moderation? Reason should teach that, and cite examples from other countries and cities where such pomp and excess are unknown. But to give my opinion, I would say a farmer is well adorned if for his wedding he have clothes twice as fine as he daily wears at his work; a burgher likewise; and a nobleman, if he have garments twice as costly as a townsman; a count, twice as costly as a nobleman; a duke, twice as costly as a count, and so in due order. In like manner food and drink and the entertainment of guests should be governed by their social position, and the purpose of the table should be pleasure not debauchery.
11. Now is it a sin to play and dance at a wedding,* inasmuch as some declare great sin is caused by dancing? Whether the Jews had dances I do not know; but since it is the custom of the country, like inviting guests, decorating, eating and drinking and being merry, I see no reason to condemn it, save its excess when it goes beyond decency and moderation. That sin should be committed is not the fault of dancing alone; since at a table or in church that may happen; even as it is not the fault of eating that some while so engaged should turn themselves into swine. Where things are decently conducted I will not interfere with the marriage rites and customs, and dance and never mind. Faith and love cannot be driven away either by dancing or by sitting still, as long as you keep to decency and moderation. Young children certainly dance without sin; do the same also, and be a child, then dancing will not harm you. Otherwise were dancing a sin in itself, children should not be allowed to dance. This is sufficient concerning marriage.
Lenker's translations of Luther's sermons were rarely adorned with extensive explanatory notes, but in this instance, Lenker actually wrote a short essay. Dancing must've been something he was rather concerned about. He included the following directed at "those who quote Luther to support the modern dance":
We are to remember that when Luther did not protest against the dance at a wedding he had in mind the dance of his day. The round dance in vogue among us was not then the general custom of the country. The dancers touched one another only with their hands and moved about in the room in measured time or sprang here and there, especially when in the open air. To be sure at that time also there were connected with dancing all kinds of immorality. But "all intemperance and whatever was unchaste" Luther did not approve, but forbade and chastised it. And we know that he considered the round dance as unchaste, and condemned it with sharp words.
In Luther's Letters by De Wette, 6 vol., 435p. in his "Sendschreiben und Bedenken," he gives his judgment on the conduct at dances thus: "Dances are gotten up and allowed that politeness in conduct may be taught and that young men may learn to honor the female sex and that friendship may be formed between young men and refined young ladies in order that later they way be the more sure of that friendship. The pope condemned dances because he was the enemy of the true and natural marriage festival. Therefore certain honorable women and men were invited to the wedding festivals to see that every thing was done in a becoming way. But there is one thing that does not please me in the conducting of dances, and I would that it might be prohibited by the government; namely, that the young men swing the girls around in a circle, especially publicly, when many are looking on." And as a result many governments, especially city councils in the days of Luther and later, passed public ordinances against "Dancing in a circle without a cloak." In these ordinances "the swinging and whirling of the girl in a circle" was forbidden. Consequently, the round dance in vogue today does not belong to the unchaste dances, and not to dances that are allowed, and Christians should avoid them. See St. Louis Ed. vol. 11, 467.
Walch says in his II vol. p. 2: Luther's books have been subject to gross misuse, especially his Church Postil. Those who advocate the modern dance think they have here found a strong argument. Those who conclude from these words, however, that the modern dance is not sinful and it is not to be avoided and condemned, have no ground for their conclusion. Those who quote Luther to support the modern dance, because he had so deep an insight into the things of faith and life and is so highly esteemed in our church, accomplish nothing. For you can quote Luther against Luther. How if you cite the places in his writings where he clearly condemns the dance in general, as his explanation of the third commandment, in his short explanation of the ten commandments and his exposition of Gen 4, 21, etc. Then the passage here will give you no support in your defense of the sinful lust of the dance. For what you find here in Luther's words, you imagine. When I take this passage in its entire connection I find something entirely different.
Luther is not speaking of the dance here in general, but of the chaste dance that is conducted in childlike simplicity. Luther opposed sour-faced hypocrites and self-grown saints, who like the Pharisees could tolerate nothing, not even a child to dance. Luther, like Christ in this miracle, kept the middle way.
I found this fascinating because it speaks of a battle that ended long ago, with Luther being cited for support (the times have not changed in this regard). Since I have little knowledge of the history of dance,  I'm not exactly sure what Lenker meant by "modern dance." That is, was he battling against something akin to the Jitterbug or the ballet, or both? I don't know. My guess is he would not tolerate sitting through Dancing with the Stars. On the other hand, Rev. J.R. Sikes would probably rather have a drink (if in fact, he was the same author of this book, which I'm not sure if he was).


Carl Vehse said...

For more historical Lutheran views check out Back-To-Luther's Pieper on Modern Dance, with a link to former Missouri Synod President Franz Pieper's original German article in Lehre und Wehre (Vol. 73, 1927, pp. 191-192):

"Pieper referred to Luther's sermon on the marriage feast at Cana (St. Louis Edition, vol. 11, pp. 466ff) and Walther's books, Tanz and Theaterbesuch (English translation: Dance and Theater) and Americanisch-Lutherische Pastoraltheologie [p. 102ff] (Pastoral Theology)."

James Swan said...

Thanks for the links. The "Back to Luther" person posts some interesting info, but comes across as a little kooky sometimes. But then again, people probably say that about me as well.

Carl Vehse said...

The internet links are major contributions in Back To Luther's blog, as well as the Beggars All blog! They allow a reader to check or spot-check translations or unstated context using the original article, book, or manuscript.

And with such access to original sources (whether German, Latin, Greek or Hebrew) as well as multiple translation engines, laymen are no longer dependent on pontifications by others (in blogs or elsewhere) or references to alleged quotes of Luther or other church fathers.

With more original historical sources available on line, it is becoming more difficult to sell the laity some of the fairy tales regarding Martin Stephan, the Saxon immigration to Perry County, and the Altenburg Debate, which led to the founding of Die Deutsche Evangelisch-Lutherische Synode von Missouri, Ohio und andern Staaten.