Conscience and Worship

When pastors engage others in conversation about their conscience – the sense of one’s self in relation to God and creatures – we are usually dealing with those who understand conscience as an inner voice. But one must realize that in the Lutheran tradition we are not referring to merely an inner-voice. We are not concerned with the popular understanding which posits the conscience as an inner voice, or blank slate, or a clear conscience. Instead, one’s conscience already has voices in it. These voices are like the mythical siren which lured sailors to their death. Also, psychologists, anthropologists and sociologists make their living describing these voices: their origin, their purpose, their goal, etc. Finally, some have preferred to define the conscience as the collective unconscious. Liturgists in particular love playing in this stuff!

Worship or ritual theory traces repeated patterns in human religious practice as they attempt to deal with God inside and outside words preached and unpreached. The question is asked: “How do we make the absent God present?” “How do we appease an angry God?” “How do we answer the God who waits for a response to His ordinances?”

What occurs then is worship is viewed as a pattern ritual for shaping one’s conscience into one of the old Adam’s confessions of faith, practice of religion, etc. that is somehow deemed useful for those exercising power in and over another’s spiritual development.

Worship, some have asserted, is about completing a great circle (completing a covenant) God gives in order to receive back praise. It also renders judgment according to how sincerely and enthusiastically you praise God in words and deeds.

Others have stated that worship is able to bring one ritually and emotionally to a great dividing of ways: Choose this day who you will serve!

Some have even viewed worship as the mystical return of the wayward soul who has fallen and wanders aimlessly as a broken fragment until he can be reunited with the whole through the mystic means of contacting the higher form of spiritual life.

But for all these interesting variations, it all moves in the same direction: from earth up to heaven.

In the writings of Martin Luther and the Lutheran Confessional Writings we encounter something different – one option amongst a marketplace brimming with the same ideas dressed up as different products – than what has been previously described. For Lutherans since Luther, there has been understood to be a sacramental reversal in how one encounters the living God. In fact, there is a constant reversal going on regarding worship and the use of the sacraments: instituted by God for the creating, sustaining and building up of your faith! This is a total reversal of direction for the worship of the old Adam. A reversal from offering to receiving. A reversal from absent Christ to present Christ. A reversal from faith as a work to faith as a gift. A reversal from sacraments as a synergism of activities for God’s benefit to the unfettered gift from God given to you for faith.

The reversal occurs in the proclamation which gives one Jesus Christ: Present and on whose account justice is imputed, declared and given as Christ himself sitting in our conscience! And what does that sound like?

“That Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, ‘was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification,” and He alone is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” for, “the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

Jesus Christ is already free, unbound by the resurrection, and is running freely among us, running down sinners like you so that your conscience can be quieted, unbound, freed and put at rest: “Be still and know that I AM the Lord.”


Comments

Conscience and Worship — 8 Comments

  1. Very nice. Well said. I wish this had gone a little further for the layperson in the explanation of passive justification and sanctification, or even borrowing heavily from Bondage of the Will. Still–Good stuff! Thank you!

  2. From the main post: “This is a total reversal of direction for the worship of the old Adam. A reversal from offering to receiving.”

    Total reversal from offering to receiving? Do we not still come with offerings? Does the Lord not receive them?

    After all, we still use these words from Psalm 116:

    What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me?
    … I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD.
    I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people,
    in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem.

    Psalm 116:12, 17-19

    If I knew God only as the Father Almighty who provides me with breath and daily bread, I would have reason enough to worship him.

    Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.
    Psalm 96:9

    Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!
    Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the LORD is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

    Psalm 100:4-5

    Do you think God accomplishes nothing praiseworthy in His people between Sundays?

    The main post above says that Jesus Christ is “running down sinners like you so that your conscience can be quieted, unbound, freed and put at rest: ‘Be still and know that I AM the Lord.’”

    Indeed, through faith in Jesus we cease striving for ourselves. But that is not the end; we strive now for His glory, for He enlists us as his privileged people with a purpose:

    But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
    1 Peter 2:9.

  3. @Carl H #2
    Yes. Total reversal. Even my “offerings” to God are His gift to me. Look at the Psalm you quoted: What shall I render to the Lord? Essentially, nothing–all I do in that Psalm is “render to the Lord” the passive receiving of His gifts–I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. In other words, the direction is totally reversed.

    I’m uncomfortable with language like “we strive now for His glory”. It can be understood properly–and 1st Pet. 2:9 is an appropriate connection–proclaiming His excellencies to those around us–confessing the cross of Christ. However, that sort of language lends itself to a misunderstanding: God doesn’t need my “worship” or “striving”–I don’t “strive” for *His* sake. 1. Worship is simply passive faith–that’s how our Confessions define it. 2. My *neighbor* needs my “striving.” And now it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me–who loves and serves my neighbor. That is, even my own good works are His gift to me.

    But wrt worship and conscience, it is clear–God wishes us to believe Him and to receive His gifts, and this He declares to be true worship. “There is also an antitype which now saves us–baptism–not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience with/to/before God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The cleansing of the conscience is pure gift–baptism.

  4. Rev. David Mueller :
    @Carl H #2
    “Yes. Total reversal. Even my “offerings” to God are His gift to me. Look at the Psalm you quoted: What shall I render to the Lord? Essentially, nothing–all I do in that Psalm is “render to the Lord” the passive receiving of His gifts–I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. In other words, the direction is totally reversed.”

    So, is Lutheran theology deterministic? Are human beings automatons? Robots?

    Granted men possess no free will vis-a-vis justification, do they possess free will vis-a-vis sanctification? How about in secular matters such as in purchasing a car, or determining whom to marry?

    Is there a third use of the Law? What is it? Do Christians actually obey the Law with a willing and cheerful spirit, or is that also something that God does without our cooperation?

    Does the following equation make sense:

    God does something for me = I do something for God?

  5. Carl H :
    If I knew God only as the Father Almighty who provides me with breath and daily bread, I would have reason enough to worship him.

    Carl, we don’t come to church to do the things rocks and rivers and all of creation does. We come the church not to know God because of His creation, but because of and through His Son (John 14:6; Heb 1:1).

  6. “…I live by faith in the Son of God…” meaning I’ll let Christ worry about what He is or isn’t doing in and through me because it’s Him doing it in and through me.”

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