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.”