Sanctify Them by the Truth – Hallowed be Thy Name: Prayers for Doctrine and Practice

“These are Your Words, Heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the Truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.” I cannot count how many times I have heard this prayer. My dad, who was my pastor for the first eighteen years of my life, often used this prayer before his sermons. This prayer, which comes from Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer (John 17:17), is very much connected with the first petition, “Hallowed be Thy Name.” We learn in the Small Catechism that God’s Word is kept Holy When His Word is taught in its truth and purity and we as children of God also lead godly lives according to it. We pray that God would help us to this end, and we pray that He would protect us from ungodly doctrine and living (SC III). When Jesus teaches us how to pray, He gives us light into our questions about church fellowship and practice.

That They May Be One

So Jesus teaches us to pray that God’s Name would be kept holy among us, and then He prays for us, “Sanctify them by the Truth. Your Word is Truth.” With these words of Jesus we gain the confidence that if God speaks, then it is Truth. It is God’s declaration that makes us what we need to be. When His Word is pure among us we have His Truth. Where God’s Truth is there is true sanctity; there is true fellowship; there is true worship.

Our Lutheran heritage carries with it this conviction. The Lutheran Church is the true church because she possesses and gathers around the pure preaching of God’s Truth. She is not identified as the true church with respect to her size, synodical structure, planning, and polity, however helpful these things might be to us. Here is how silver age Lutheran dogmatician David Hollaz (1648-1713) explained it:

 Is the Lutheran Church true and catholic?

The Christian Church that is joined to the Augsburg Confession embraces the truth and catholic doctrine; by reason of quantity and size it is not catholic, or universal, but particular.

A. The Church that is joined to the Augsburg Confession, which by the ministry of Luther is commonly called Lutheran, is true because it embraces and teaches the truth revealed in Sacred Scripture, John 17:17. For the Lutheran church has one mystical head, Christ; neither does it commit to another Word than the proper norm of faith and morals, than that which has been left behind by the prophets and apostles; neither does it know of another basis for salvation than Jesus Christ; neither does it use other sacraments than those which Christ Himself instituted, namely baptism and the Lord’s Supper; neither does it say that her righteousness and salvation are received by any of her own qualities, dispositions or works, but solely of divine grace and by the merit of Christ. Meanwhile, it fiercely holds that pains (opera) should be given with zeal in good works ordered by God. Therefore the Lutheran Church is the true church.

B. The doctrine is catholic, which has been left by Christ and the Apostles, commended to all the faithful always and everywhere, and by their unanimous consensus has been received and believed. The Church that is joined to the Augsburg Confession receives, believes, and professes that catholic doctrine. Therefore, by reason of doctrine it is truly catholic.

C. By reason of quantity or size the Lutheran Church is not catholic, or universal, because it does not embrace in her own orbit all the reborn and elect of all places and times. Accordingly the Lutheran church is certainly orthodox, but particular.1

Notice that Hollaz makes the point to call it the Church that is joined to the Augsburg Confession. This is why Confessional Subscription is so important. The Lutheran Church is the true catholic church on earth because her doctrine is the true catholic doctrine handed down by the Apostles and Prophets. A quia subscription to the Lutheran Confessions is a quia subscription to the Lutheran Church. It isn’t just about being on the right side. It is about confessing the Truth, and confessing it clearly. This is the Truth that sanctifies, the Truth that has at its very core the justification of the sinner through faith in Christ. For the increase of faith and spreading of the Gospel – for the planting of the seed – we don’t need special plans and programs. We need the Truth taught and confessed purely and clearly. This need never goes away. We must remember this need for a clear confession in our worship, our missions and evangelism, and in our daily lives.

So here is the question I have for those who want CoWo or some kind of blended service. So you have a blended service… Why?  To make a clearer confession of pure doctrine?  No?  That isn’t why? Well, if that isn’t the reason, then CoWo deters from the true marks of the church, and it hinders from clearly identifying the true catholic church. Any change should be for the purpose of making a clearer confession of the Truth.

This has been the church’s constant endeavor. When we pray in our hearts with the preacher, “Sanctify us by Your Truth,” we are also praying, “Hallowed be Thy Name.” Since this is the first petition our Lord taught us, it is our primary prayer. And this prayer is a bold one. While the voices of artificial unity and the doxological mentality of “good enough” or “nothing wrong with it” would accuse the Lutheran of splitting doctrinal hairs for insisting that we sing the most doctrinal and didactic hymns, this prayer dauntlessly ascends to God from the new man who delights in the Truth. This prayer is not that we would see numerical growth or even that the youth would get more “involved.” Our prayer is that God’s Truth would shine clearly through the darkness of all sin and unbelief so that we, our children, and our children’s children might firmly cling to it. Growth comes according to God’s Will where and when it please Him (John 3:8; AC V). Meanwhile, our prayer is that the old Adam who insists on feasting in the famine foretold by Amos (Amos 8:11,12) would be drowned in the waters of our Baptism so that we would hear with joy and yearn continuously for God’s Truth with which it pleases Him to feed us. It is from this petition that the rest of the church’s petitions follow. So we pray:

Sanctify us by the Truth. Hallowed Be Thy Name. Amen

1David Hollaz. Examen, De Ecclesia Synthetica, 1309

About Pastor Andrew Preus

Pastor Andrew Preus is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran/St. Paul Lutheran, Guttenberg/McGregor, IA. He is the eighth of eleven sons, with one sister. He received his seminary training at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, ON (MDiv) from 2009 to 2013, and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN (STM) from 2013 to 2014. His main theological interests include Justification and Church and Ministry. He is married to Leah Preus (nee Fehr), and they have five children: Jacob, Solveig, Kristiana, Robert, and Marian.


Sanctify Them by the Truth – Hallowed be Thy Name: Prayers for Doctrine and Practice — 5 Comments

  1. “silver age Lutheran dogmatician David Hollaz”

    This may be a dumb question, but what do you mean by “silver age?” Thanks!

  2. @Joe #1

    That is not a dumb question at all. I apologize for not being clear enough. The silver age is the last of the three ages in Lutheran Orthodoxy (late 16th to early 18th century). The first age was the Golden age (1580’s to 1610’s), then High Orthodoxy (during Thirty Years War, 1618-1648), and finally the Silver Age (From the close of the Thirty Years War until the early 18th century). The age of Lutheran Orthodoxy was one of great theological and dogmatic preaching and teaching. After the pietist movement started in the late 17th century, having much more influence over ecclesiastical doctrine and practice, and rationalism in the 18th century heavily influenced the way people thought, Lutheran Orthodoxy basically ended, even though some people still adhered to it. The pietists pegged orthodoxy as a cold scholasticism. For an explanation of the three ages of Lutheran Orthodoxy, see Robert Preus, The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism, volume I, pp. 45-47.

  3. I’ve been asking the “Why?” question for years. I never seem to get an answer. The preference is to retreat to the safety of Christian freedom.

  4. From the main post: “Where God’s Truth is there is true sanctity; there is true fellowship; there is true worship.”

    Let’s be clear: The Word of God is “sharp and active” (Hebrews 4:12) and accomplishes the purposes for which he sends it. (Isaiah 55:11) Nevertheless, that very Word also testifies —

    –No true sanctity arises where the Word is sown but the ground is not blessed. (Luke 8:4-15)
    –There is no true fellowship where the Word is preached but love is not demonstrated. (1 Cor 13:1-2; John 13:35)
    –There is no true worship where the Word is recited but hearts have not embraced it and spirits are not participating. (Mark 7:6; John 4:23-24)

    “For the increase of faith and spreading of the Gospel – for the planting of the seed – we don’t need special plans and programs. We need the Truth taught and confessed purely and clearly.”

    Can “special plans and programs” not be undertaken in ways that please God (Luke 14:28) and spread the Gospel? Does the mere existence of “special plans and programs” militate against the Kingdom? Is God displeased when His people organize and undertake new initiatives to “declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light”? (1 Peter 2:9)

    “This prayer is not that we would see numerical growth or even that the youth would get more involved.”

    Shall we not pray for both numerical growth (Luke 10:2) and more meaningful involvement by our youth (1 Tim. 4:12)?

    “Growth comes according to God’s Will where and when it please Him (John 3:8; AC V).”

    Certainly we should not presume that God will bless any particular plan or program or strategy that we develop. But is God not honored and served when we prayerfully evaluate and adjust how we interact with the world, for the sake of the lost? (Mt. 5:14-16;1 Cor. 9:22; 1 Cor. 14:16-24; Luke 15:7)

    Do we honor God when we endeavor to follow the examples he has provided in Scripture? Of course! So then, to the contemporary let us become contemporary, that we might win our contemporaries.

    Recently seen in a Lutheran church on a projection screen in a blended service hosted by and for African immigrants (Ps 129:23-24):

    Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
    And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting!

  5. @Carl H #4
    Carl, your proof-texting is impressive.

    First of all, yes, one does not obtain sanctity from the word if one does not receive it by faith or if one chokes the spirit by wicked deeds and not faith, as you pointed out. I am saying that the Word of God is in and of itself efficacious. I can’t read the hearts of anyone, but I do know that even if some do not believe, God is still faithful (Rom 3:3).

    Second of all, yes, that’s right. We don’t need special programs. Special programs more often than not hinder the word. Of course it is necessary to organize and plan, but this must not be what pushes the Word, but rather serves the Word.

    Third, Jesus tells us to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers (i.e. Pastors to preach the Word and administer the sacraments). He doesn’t ask us to pray for numerical growth. Praying for numerical growth implies that we are telling God how many bodies we want in church. We pray for growth, and we trust God to make the seed grow. In the mean time, as you cited, we pray that God would send faithful laborers to preach His Truth. Paul tells Timothy not to let people despise his youth, in the context of Timothy being a pastor. Paul is warning Timothy that people will not take him seriously as a pastor because he is young. Of course we pray for and care for the youth. But the method of getting them “more involved” isn’t the way to go about it. The way to go about it is to teach them God’s Word, encourage them in the way they should go, and encourage their parents to teach them properly.

    Finally, in the passage in 1 Cor 14:16-24 you just cited, Paul is making the exact same point I am making. You need to be clear so people can actually understand you. Also, being all things to all people doesn’t mean that we throw out or “blend” the liturgy with “up-beat” music. It means that we meet them where they are SPIRITUALLY. So we don’t preach the law to those who are already convicted. We don’t preach the gospel to those who need to be driven to repentance.

    Finally, why is it that African Immigrants need a blended service? What is so different about them that they need a blended service? Is it to clearly confess the gospel to them? I am just asking that people think about that rather than assume that because they are of a different culture they must not be taught our rich Lutheran hymondy and liturgical heritage.

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