“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.
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