WITNESS, WORSHIP, & 2 COR 6:14-18
Like many in Synod I have had conversations with proponents of syncretism. They have been friendly and pleasant and for this I thank Jesus. In the course of these conversations a theme comes to light which in the eyes of its promoters legitimizes syncretistic worship. It is the desire to “witness,” or, “evangelize” in such community worship services. Having participated in short-term mission work overseas in Guatemala and Kenya I wholeheartedly resonate to this desire to witness as do all Christians.
Proponents of syncretism claim evangelism is accomplished in a worship service where upon hearing the Word an unbeliever may be converted and brought to Christ. No one I know would disagree with such a possibility. No one. By the activity of the Holy Spirit this happens all-the-time in churches scattered around the globe—to God be the glory! It is this possibility and reality that is lifted up as the reason to worship alongside pagans in syncretistic worship.
First, we need to ask what is the purpose of the Divine Service? Is worship to feed and nourish the faithful in their Baptismal grace and to strengthen their vocational service out in the world? Or, is worship primarily an opportunity for missionary outreach? Do you see the divide in thinking?
Contrary to the laudable desire to evangelize in the Divine Service perhaps the order and the economy of things is the obverse—the other way around. Instead of bringing the non-Christian to the Divine Service to be evangelized, the Christian in his vocation is to interact, meet, witness, lovingly pray and evangelize such an individual in order to proclaim the Gospel. And then the individual is brought to the Divine Service.
Lutheran Worship: History and Practice addresses this issue and makes a confession: the Divine Service is for the believer. It is not for evangelizing the non-Christian though as said above it can and does happen by the power of the Word.
“That Lutheran worship is liturgical says nothing about the degree or extent of its ritualism or ceremonialism. It does bear witness that we are a people who desire to receive faithfully God’s blessings in Word and Sacrament according to the pattern He has set. Such worship is not understood to be missionary, evangelistic, or catechetical activity directed toward those who are outside the church. Rather, the church’s missionary, evangelistic, and catechetical activity follows from the preaching and hearing of the Word of God and the faithful receiving of the Lord’s body and blood. What comes forth from the Lord also returns to Him, as candidates are brought to the font and confirmands are led to the altar, thus, in turn, to worship the Triune God in Word and Sacrament. Rightly does David Truemper assert: “An understanding of the church based on the … [Augsburg Confession Art. VII] leads to the conviction that we do not worship in order to gain converts but rather we evangelize in order to gain worshipers.” [endnote 1]
To a large extant our synodical discussion around the “permissibility” of syncretistic services reflects differing views on what is the purpose of the Divine Service. Perhaps we can learn something from the world’s greatest missionary, St. Paul. According to St. Paul what is the purpose of the worship service?
Through the course of time many accusations have been leveled against St. Paul. You, the reader, have no doubt heard the litany; homophobic, misogynist, etc. But I have yet to hear anyone charge this servant of Christ who so suffered for the Gospel with not having a missionary heart. Any doubts ought to be erased when we read how Paul recounted his sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11:21b-29.
Paul took any and every opportunity to preach the Gospel trusting in the saving power of the Word, as has been stated above. Trusting and knowing this saving power of the Word however did not lead St. Paul to engage in syncretistic worship. To those who suggest we worship on the dais alongside non-Christians for the sake of “witnessing” to them I would ask them to read and ponder what the Spirit of Christ says through St. Paul.
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor 6:14-18).
Other verses in Scripture address the importance of being equally yoked in marriage (Dt 7:3-4; Ezra 10:2; 1 Cor 7:39, 9:5, passim) but not this one. 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 deals with syncretistic worship. This is seen by the use of: “unbelievers,” “Belial,” “darkness,” “an unbeliever,” “idols.” Even though the Word is always efficacious (having its own power) St. Paul lets it be known that syncretistic worship is not appropriate. We are not to worship among non-Christians even for the laudable goal of “witnessing.” Instead, we witness to them in the following manner; “go out from their midst,” “be separate from them,” “touch no unclean thing.” In these verses St. Paul is not telling us to shun non-Christians for how then would they hear the Gospel (Rom 10:15)? We are to shun worshipping with them.
The Lutheran Study Bible footnote on 2 Cor 6:16b-18 says the same thing. “… His people are to be separated unto Him not only for themselves but as witnesses to those who do not believe (cf Gn 12:1-3; Lv 20:24-26; 1 Pt 2:9).” [endnote 2] We are to shun worshipping with non-Christians, though we are not to shun non-Christians. Addressing these verses Lenski wrote:
“A pagan has room in his heart for many gods. A whole mass of them dwells on Olympus. … Their mark is unionism, syncretism. Thus also is everything for which they stand. Can God’s sanctuary be placed in their company? [endnote 3]
Our Synodical Catechism [endnote 4] has two references to 2 Cor 6:14-18. I will take them in the order found in the Catechism.
21. When do people have other gods?
They have other gods …
D. when they join in the worship of one who is not the triune God.
2 Cor. 6:14-15 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?
179. What do the Scriptures teach about our life in the church?
They teach that …
C. we should avoid false teachers, false churches, and all organizations that promote a religion that is contrary to God’s Word;
2 Cor. 6:14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. (see also vv. 15-18.)
Both references in our Catechism talk about shunning pagans at worship, not pagans for we seek to win them to Christ. The same theme and use of 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 is also found in the Lutheran Confessions. But due to the encroaching length of this paper I will leave that project for another.
Saying Elijah worshipped with non-Christians in 1 Kings 18 only proves the obverse and no one ought to follow Elijah’s example and no one has—thankfully. Paul’s time at the Areopagus is seen on college campuses every spring when individuals congregate on the commons to discuss the latest philosophical or religious views sweeping the community. In every new town Paul went to those who “…were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Rom 3:2) for understandably it was assumed they were looking for the Messiah. Whenever a particular synagogue rejected that the Christ was Jesus (Acts 18:28) Paul never returned for such synagogue and her congregants had fallen from the Trinitarian faith of the Old Testament.
National tragedies are sadly, not new (Eccl 1:9). What is new is a departure from the witness of the OT, NT, Apostolic and Early Church, Luther, the Small Catechism, etc., to worship with non-Christians for, admittedly, the laudable reason of witnessing. To simply quote a church council, i.e., The Commission Theology and Church Relations without reference in the sources just quoted and fundamentally the Scriptures is so reminiscent of how Rome does theology. It is something which flies in the face of sola scriptura.
If this reason to witness in syncretistic worship truly is laudable, there ought to be some evidence of it somewhere in Scripture as well as the orthodox Church Fathers—shouldn’t there—lest one being doing what is right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25)? For the sake of unity and witness one always does best to follow the witness of the Holy Spirit who spoke through the prophets.
 Charles Evanson, “The Divine Service,” in Lutheran Worship: History and Practice (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1993), 435.
 “The Lutheran Study Bible, Edward Engelbrecht, gen., ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), p. 1,989, n. 2 Cor 6:16b-18.
 R.C. Lenski, The Interpretation of I and II Corinthians (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1937), 1,085.
 Luther’s Small Catechism. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005.