January 7, 2014 - Christ, the Divine Service, and the Church
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Christ, The Divine Service,
and the Church

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16f).
“Here we have the establishment of the church before there was any government of the home and of the state; for Eve was not yet created. Moreover, the church is established without walls and without any pomp, in a very spacious and very delightful place” (Luther, LW, AE, Vol. 1, p. 103).
In these two verses the Lord God is preaching to Adam. Here He is setting the Word before him, and in that Word the Creator forbade only one thing to the crown of His creation, and this He did for man's well-being. In doing this He also revealed to man how He would serve man, and man in turn would worship, praise, thank, and serve Him. It was an ideal plan, for there was nothing elaborate nor laborious asked of man. “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat.” Here the Lord God reveals His unreserved goodness toward His creation. Furthermore, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.”  Here the Lord God unveils His altar, at least as far as man is concerned. That is, this forbidden tree “in the midst of the garden” (Gen. 2:9) was off-limits to man because God reserved that place for Himself alone. At the same time He gave man “the tree of life” which was also located “in the midst of the garden.” Thus, by gathering “in the midst of the garden” on the day of rest Adam would worship, praise, and extol God by obeying Him and at the same time have full access to “the tree of life” which was there to be eaten from without restriction. Truly, it was an ideal plan!
The hitch came, however, once the plan was compromised when Eve listened to another voice and fell into sin. Then the Lord God had to ban Adam and Eve from the garden lest they eat of “the tree of life” in their sin. He sent them out into the wilderness to survive, but not without the promise of a Coming One who would again restore what man had so foolishly rejected by crushing the head of the serpent who had perpetrated the fall.
Christ, the original headbanger, crushed that serpent's head in His Good Friday death, and in this peculiar way mankind once again had been given direct access to “the tree of life,” the cross of Calvary. Though we are unable to travel back in time to partake of it, the fruit of the Calvary “tree of life,” the Body and Blood of Christ “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” has been given to the Church from the day the Apostles first partook of it in the upper room. Considering the giver and the gift of Himself in it, it is not surprising that partaking of it's fruit is recognized as the high point of the Divine Service, for here Christ Himself is “the Donor, the Baker, the Waiter, the Brewer, yes, the Cook, and also the Dish and the Plate that gives us the imperishable food” (LW, AE, Vol. 23, p 14).
The book of Hebrews records this regarding this One who is the Christ: “Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister (leitourgos - liturgist) of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man .… But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry (leitourgia - liturgy), inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Heb. 8:1,2,6).
Christ, the heavenly liturgist, is the Mediator of the “better covenant, which was established on better promises.” And that “better covenant” is the “new covenant” which Jeremiah speaks of in terms of forgiveness: “But this is the covenant that I will make … I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer. 31:31, 34). The “imperishable food” (Christ) given out by the liturgist in the Divine Service (Gottesdienst) and received in faith by the Church (the Baptized, catechized, and examined) is called “the medicine of immortality” by Ignatius of Antioch. He calls it this for good reason, for it delivers into the mouth the fruit of “the tree of life” and with it “the forgiveness of sins,” and reconciliation to God.
The Service of the Word has as its primary task the bringing of the Baptized from the Lectern to the Altar to partake of “the tree of life” in the Service of the Sacrament. This is no different than God Himself did in preaching to Adam, seeking to bring him into “the midst of the Garden” to partake of “the tree of life” without restriction. Thus not only did God establish the Church in the Garden, but the dual nature of the Divine Service as both Word and Sacrament is something that He instituted in the Garden too, and this has tremendous significance for how we view the way we worship and any desires we may have to change it.
Let me be frank. Anything done by pastor or people which desecrates, denigrates, diminishes, or deserts that which God has given His Church in the Divine Service – be it in the name of “freedom” or “evangelism” or you name it – is harmful in that it demonstrates a lack of love for Christ and His Church and brings harm to the Body of Christ. It is time – no, it is way past time! – for the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, congregations and pastors alike, to repent of sins against the first and second table of the Commandments regarding Christ, the Divine Service, and the Church!
And may I suggest that after repentance you consider adopting or affirming something on this order for the future: I affirm that true worship is not a matter of orders or liturgies, but the exercise of faith (which believes in the Triune God and receives His blessings and consolation) struggling with unbelief and despair (concerning the promises of the Gospel); and yet, love for Christ and His Body engenders a limiting of personal freedom and promotes seeking consensus in all matters of worship because unity and uniformity of orders and ceremonies in a given Synod, Diocese, Territory, et al, best give expression to continuity with the Church catholic, promote tranquility, and avoid offenses.
This is precisely what the ACELC has been, is, and will continue doing and we invite you to read our documents and join our efforts.
Pastor Bruce G. Ley
Documents Chairman, ACELC

P.S. If you would like to assist the ACELC in this effort you may encourage your congregation to join as a full Member of the ACELC. As an individual you may join as an Associate Member. You may also support our work by making a donation online. Or, if none of those options work for you, we would like to ask that you remember our efforts in your prayers – that all we do would be pleasing to God and beneficial for the building of up His kingdom of grace
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