Life Together: Luther on discussing Worship
Koinonia. This word can be translated or understood as “Life Together.” How does the Church have life together? The Augsburg Confession answers this question saying, “It is also taught that at all times there must be and remain one holy, Christian church. It is the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel. For this is enough for the true unity of the Christian church that ther the gospel is preached harmoniously according to a pure understanding and the sacraments are administered in conformity with the divine Word. It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that uniform ceremonies, institutued by human beings, be observed everywhere. As St. Paul says in Ephesians 4:4-5 ‘There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism’” (Augsburg Confession VII Kolb-Wengert 42).
The cross of Christ Jesus unites the Church. The means by which the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, comes to us in the Gospel proclaimed, Holy Absolution, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper unites the Church. Is it neceesary that we all use the same Hymnal? No. Is it necessary that we all use the same lectionary? No. Are these the right questions to be asking? NO! These questions lead to division and legalism. They are questions designed not to comfort the terrified conscience, but to protectthe complacent sinner. How much do I have to do to have fellowship with everyone else, says the lazy sinful creature. The better quesitions are as follows. Would it comfort the sinner in his justification if all the LCMS churches used the same Hymnal and liturgies? Would it comfort the terrified conscience if all the churches used the same lectionary? Let us look and see what Dr. Martin Luther of blessed and holy memory says about these quesions and about the discussion of unity in Doctrine and Practice.
In 1525, Luther wrote a letter entitiled, A Christian Exhortation to the Livonians Concerning Public Worship and Concord. This letter was in response to the divisions concerning public worship practice in Dorpat, Livonia. In the editors notes before the letter it says, “In this exhortation we see Luther applying the basic insights of his treatise on The Freedom of a Christian to the field of worship. He tries to show how the church may tread the narrow path of liberty without falling prey either to license or to legalism” (Luther’s Works 53.43). Is this not our problem today. Do we not abuse the freedom given to us in baptism by making worship either a license to adopt every passing cultural fad, or on the other hand by forcing ceremonies not given by God Himself, but institued by sinful legalistic man?
A few paragraphs into the letter, Luther addresses the brothers in Livonia saying, “First of all, I hope that you still hold pure and unblemished the teachings concerning faith, love, and cross-bearing and the principal articles of the knowledge of Christ. Then you will know how to keep your conscience clear before God, although even these simple teachings will not remain unassailed by Satan. Yes, he will even use external divisions about ceremonies to slip in and cause internal divisions in the faith. This is his method, which we know well enough from so many heretics” (Luther’s Works 53.46). The devil uses external ceremonies to creep into the church and cause division. His havoc eventually reaches the depths of justification and the church falls. While we debate the externals, the devil plunges his fangs into the articles of faith.
How do we deal then with these divisions in the church? Do we seek the trouble makers out and command them to be obedient little Lutherans or else? Do we send them to a three week training camp in liturgics? Do we call them out in Voter’s Meetings, Circuit Meetings, and District Conventions? No, rather Luther encourages, follwing the example of St. Paul, to “entreat them with friendly exhortations, for people who will not give in willingly when exhorted will comply far less when commanded” (LW 53.46). Luther concludes this little section saying, “There is no better way to do this than for each not to take himself too seriously and to think little of himself, but very highly of the others, or-as Christ teaches in the Gospel-to set himself in the lowest place among the guests at the wedding (Luke 14:7-10)” (LW 53.47). How many men have said, “I have the perfect praise service that will really bring people into the church and once their in, I can start working on them with the Holy Spirit.” On the other hand, how many men have said, “The liturgy shall fall when I fall. I shall defend the sacred Divine Service setting III until God calls me home. It shall not pass while I am alive.” We must repent of this self-righteous piety that thinks we somehow control how the Spirit works or how the Church remains whole and united.
What should we do then about this division in the church about worship? Should we ignore it. Let the one LCMS church have only contemporary services (which really means doing it 10 years after the Mega Church down the street has already done it). Lets let that little bitty church in the country keep their TLHs or let that hyper liturgical church downtown keep kneeling every five seconds. I’m happy with my church becuase we have it all, a traditional service for the older folks, a blended service for the boomers, and a contemporary service for the younger crowd becuase that is what really draws them in, not the power of the Holy Spirit who blows when and where HE wishes (John 3:8). Should we just agree to disagree and talk about those articles that really matter?
Luther says that we have the freedom to do so, but it is not beneficial for the life of the church. Luther continues saying, “We should consider the edification of the law folk more important than our own ideas and opinions. Therefore, I pray all of you, my dear sirs, let each one surrender his own opinions and get together in a friendly way and come to a COMMON DECISION ABOUT THESE EXTERNAL MATTERS, so that there will be ONE UNIFORM PRACTICE THROUGHOUT YOUR DISTRICT instead of disorder-one thing being done here and another there-lest the common people get confused and discouraged” (LW 53.47). As Luther says, from the viewpoint of faith we are free to have the division, but from the viewpoint of love we must seek unity for the sake of the common man lest he get discouraged and begin to doubt the faith.
We should seek unity in doctrine and therefore in pratice. Lets be Lutheran about our worship. We are not descendants of Rome or Geneva, but Wittenberg. We should, in the words of Luther, “diligently seek to promote unity and to hinder this work of the devil, becuase God appoints the devil to do this in order to give us occasion to prove our unity and in order to reveal those that have stood the test. For in spite of all our efforts, enough factions and disunity will remain” (LW 53.49).
Let us learn from Luther about our Life Together. It will only happen when we abandon our preconceived notions about one another, stop acting like we know the hidden will of God, and open the Scriptures and the Confessions and have a true dialogue about the externals. It doesn’t matter what we think, nor what some 8th century Pope said about worship, nor what some Spray taned Mega Church Guru thinks about church growth. What matters is that we receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit as He comes to us in the Word and the blessed Sacraments, for in this do we have true and lasting unity. Let us live our Life Together by bearing the cross of the consolation of the brethern. Let us hear the words of the Blessed Doctor and continue our Koinonia.