Taking Other Christians into the Divine Service, by Jon Townsend

(Jon’s posts can be seen on the Regular Columns page under the title “God Desires Mercy, Not Sarcasm. It’s been a while since he has posted, but most of us can relate to this post in attempting to bring people with a different understanding to experience worship as we do.)

My wife’s cousin came to visit us. She is working on her M. Div. at a Baptist University in the southwest. I have no doubt that she is a true and sincere Christian. She isn’t Lutheran, but yes, she is definitely Christian. From our conservations I know she leads worship and is a proponent of worship styles that I would never ever see as compatible with the Divine Service, der Gottesdienst, ie. the Mass mentioned in Article XXIV of the Augsburg Confession.

She openly and freely talks about her faith in Christ and of being saved. We also talk of our faith in Christ, but tend towards talking about the Means of Grace and do not use the word “saved” in the same way she does. She was staying with us through Sunday and it was a sure thing that she wanted to go to church with us and we really were looking forward to taking her with us – but the moment of truth came – The Closed Communion discussion.

I was really worried about it. I knew it was coming. How do I tell a person that is so “on fire” for Christ, sorry, but we only allow those who are in doctrinal fellowship with us and believe in the Real Presence to go to the Lord’s Table? So I used those words to explain it, hopefully not as sheepishly as I fear that I did. She took it very well and said she had learned about this in seminary and she understood.

I happily cleared what I consider the biggest stumbling block in talking with non- Lutheran Christians, the Eucharist, the John 6 stumbling block. Then the second wave of concern hit me, what in the world is she going to think of the traditional liturgy? To make it worse, I am in print and voice an outspoken proponent of the Mass freed of the abuses of Rome. Many times I have used sarcasm to say and write that baptistic worship practice has no place in the Lutheran Divine Service. Heck, there are poorly recorded commercials playing on Issues, Etc. daily, in which I poke fun at such practices. I have openly debated and fought with other Lutherans about proper worship and I am about to take a worship leader, evangelist, Christian music artist and female seminarian into the world of Page 15 with a be-chasubled pastor. Was I most worried about the body of criticism I have associated with my name about baptistic worship practice in a Lutheran context and that she would find out? No. If I am truly honest, I was worried that she would somehow find us lacking compared to her experience which is far more emotional and “spirit filled”.

The debates surrounding worship practice take many twists and turns, but I would say that the Confessional Lutheran arguments for the traditional liturgy lean heavily on Scripture and 2000 years of practice among sacramental and small c catholic Christianity. The Confessional stance on the liturgy is objective – the Lord comes to us in Word and Sacrament in the Divine Service. As Moses removed his shoes when I AM talked to him in the burning bush, so mortal flesh keeps still and reverent when Christ, who before Abraham was and is I AM, speaks through His ministers and knees bend as His body and blood are placed into our mouths for the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. Our praise and worship reflects this awe in the presence of the real and sacramental presence of Christ.

In addition to the objective truths of Lutheran doctrine “in practice”, the Confessional Lutheran experience in the Divine Service is not as bereft of emotion and spirit as it may appear to the outsider and I am starting to think that there is no great crime in describing the inward emotions and experiences of the average Confessional Lutheran. I saw these emotions revealed at the first elders meeting I have ever attended earlier this week. Sitting on a pontoon boat of one of the other elders, a few cigars lit and a few cans of beer opened, I expressed concern over my ability to help with communion. I was told not to worry and that I would be instructed. One of the other elders told us how a few times he has had to choke back the tears as he was giving the chalice to the communicants. He didn’t know if it was because he was thinking of his mother who is with the Lord or if he was thinking of his daughter who was half a world away. The truth remained, Christ was truly present and the dead in Christ are singing the Sanctus with us and those far away but still on earth are united with us in the Eucharist. I really don’t know if there can be a greater move of the Holy Spirit or greater joy than this.

I am still at a great loss as how to share this mystery with others and to open their eyes to the meaning of Christ’s words and to the less speculative interpretations the Relevation of St. John. But, I think I now have no fear to bring emotion and spirit into the debate – still waters simply run deep in the Confessional Lutheran experience.

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