We ran across this series of articles written for his parish by BJS member Pastor Mark Hein and got his permission to publish them here. With this third installment, Pr. Hein enters into the whole realm of “Etiquette in the Divine Service.”If you thought there was a fair amount of dialogue on the first two articles, just wait and see what this latest one evokes! Please be sure to share your thoughts and comments. You can access Parts 1 and 2 as well as his other posts on this site at //steadfastlutherans.org/pastorhein.
Part 3 — Standing on Holy Ground
At the heart of the Christian Church is the divine worship service. It is truly our lifeline for it is in divine worship that the Lord of Life comes to us and imparts His mercy and grace upon all the faithful who have gathered in His name. In the divine service we have the joy of hearing the Words of eternal life. It is also in the divine service that we receive into our mouths the very Bread of life, Christ’s Body, and receive the true Blood of our Savior poured out for the forgiveness of all of our sins. And for all of these priceless and eternal treasures, it is our joy in the worship service to give our Triune God all thanks and praise for His abounding love and the fact that we are His precious children and heirs of His eternal kingdom.
In the next several parts of this series on church etiquette, we are going to specifically focus on etiquette in worship – what we do and how we act in the divine service. Like so many other things in life, such behavior is learned. It is taught by faithful parents, by faithful pastors and others whom the Lord places before us to instruct us so that we may know and act accordingly. Indeed, left to our own devices, measures and ways, we would act differently, act up, act inappropriately as so many people do. And it is either because they have not been taught or they have left that teaching, exchanging the truth of God for lies and worshiping the creature rather than the Creator who is blessed forever. (Romans 1:25)
It is simply abominable and deplorable what is going on in some churches in what they call “worship.” It is more like a three-ring circus, Hollywood production or band concert. There is no reverence or proper decorum. In these churches, one is hard pressed to recognize that they are in a very special place because what they are surrounded with is the all too common place. You have people acting in church, in God’s House, the way that they act in their own house (which, in many cases, isn’t saying much).
More and more churches are promoting as a real “selling point” the informality of their worship services. They encourage people to dress down, dress casually, sit back and kick back. Go ahead, get up during the service and walk around, hit the big bright beach ball that is being tossed to and fro to keep things lively (yes, it really happened) or go get a cappuccino or some other refreshment that is offered in the back. One of the most telling statements I have heard from this type of congregation is that “church should be like your living room with you in comfy pajamas and your favorite slippers feeling right at home.”
Even the most novice of students of God’s Word will see that such informality and irreverence flies right in the face of the way that Holy Scripture describes and prescribes how we ought to worship the Lord God Almighty, the King of the universe… He who is the Alpha and the Omega. We are to exalt the Lord, giving Him all glory and honor. We are to bow down before Him… to humble ourselves before Him, realizing the great privilege of just being in His presence… we who once were far off.
Our Lord said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20) If people actually believed that the Lord was really, truly present… that He was really, truly in their midst, right there and then with them… would they act so irreverently and informally? Would they be so disrespectful and downright rude?
Well, we as Lutherans believe in the real presence… that Christ our Lord is truly present in the divine service… that He is truly present in, with and under the bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar… and He is also truly present in His Word… He who is the Word of God incarnate… the Word made flesh.
And so, such a realization and appreciation of Who is in our midst causes us to show proper reverence and respect. We would never think of doing anything less or act any other way. As was just said, before Him every knee shall bow. To Him all glory and honor shall be given. Indeed, we give Him our best, our highest and utmost and that includes our best behavior.
We as Lutherans also believe that when we enter the sanctuary of the Lord, we are “standing on holy ground.” It is no different, we are not different than Moses standing before the burning bush where the Lord God came to him and spoke to him. The word “holy” actually means to be consecrated, to be set apart, to be separated from all the rest. And so it is that His holy house has been duly consecrated. It has been set apart from all the rest, from all other places. When we are here, it is not the “same old, same old.” It is not “anything goes.” It is not the ordinary, but rather the extraordinary. It is not the worldly, but the divine. When we are in the Lord’s House, make no mistake about it – we are on holy ground with the Holy One in our midst surrounded by angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. Wow! So much for the sanctuary as being just another place!
We pray: O Lord we rejoice that in divine worship, in Your Word and blessed Sacrament, that You are truly present, that You are with us, in our midst, imparting to us all the eternal blessings won for us by Your Son, our Savior, Christ Jesus. Forgive us for the many times we have not shown proper reverence and respect while in Your Holy House. May all that takes place there and everywhere else be to Your glory and the building of Your Kingdom. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.