Worshiping the One True God In Unity
One of our members vividly remembers planning a vacation in California’s wine country with his wife several years ago. It seems that our dear ladies have a way of cutting to the chase with us men. Knowing that he really, really does not like so-called “contemporary” worship services, she advised him: “Sweetheart, I really don't want to listen to you gripe and grouse about sitting through a contemporary service, so please get on the phone or the Internet and find a place where we can worship without that.” As always, she was quite right.
So he got out his Lutheran Annual, looked up five LCMS congregations in the approximate area they thought they’d be in on the Sunday in question, and he began making the calls. It was an interesting experience. All five congregations referred him to a congregation of the ELS (Evangelical Lutheran Synod). Not one of the LCMS congregations had a Liturgical Divine Service (non-blended), nor did any of them indicate that they practiced closed Communion! He was upset, but sadly not surprised. The more he thought about the situation, the more he realized that this matter goes far beyond mere personal preference.
Worship is the central activity in which the Church of Jesus Christ engages. It is from worship that all other activities flow, and it is our Lord’s service to us through the giving of His Word and Sacrament which empowers the Holy Spirit to generate in us all other Christian activity. To put it another way, worship is the one thing we really must get right!
Worship that pleases God really ought to reflect the nature of God Himself. And what is that divine nature? Above all, His nature is divine unity. It is simply inconceivable that there be any kind of variation within the Godhead. Certainly, the Triune God does not have internal debates about doctrine and practice. Assuredly, within the Godhead there is no difference in will, thought, or action. If any of that were the case, then God simply couldn’t be God!
This concept and reality concerning the nature of God is expressed by our Lord in His high priestly prayer recorded for us in John 17:20-26, where He says: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (ESV)
Here Jesus prays that just as He is united with the Father, so must we also – because we are His people – be united as one. (Please note: Twice Jesus makes the point that this unity is for both this age and the next when He says, “...so that the world may know that you sent me.”)
Then it dawned on him: Unity is the reflection of the divine God, but division/diversity is the mark of the sin-fallen world. Who is it that seeks to divide? Who is it that desires a diversity of doctrine and practice? Who is it that relishes in breaking what was meant to be whole? Satan and none other!
No wonder St. Paul made it unmistakeably clear to the divided Corinthian congregation that their divisions must cease when he wrote: "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (I Corinthians 1:10 ESV)
Have you ever examined the various Old and New Testament passages which describe worship? They never portray worship as a place for individual preferences or personal license. Especially look at the Book of Revelation and the multiple glimpses God gives us there of what worship looks like in heaven. The picture painted for us there is that all God’s saints are before His throne of grace, and that all of them are saying precisely the same thing at the same time. All of them are perfectly united with the One they worship. And all of them have only one desire: to reflect that unity in their worship!
Perhaps this is why our Synod’s first Constitution described their desire as a Synod “To strive after the greatest possible uniformity in ceremonies.” (Constitution of the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States, Article IV - Business of the Synod, 10) In the same original Constitution it also states, that as a condition of membership, we bind ourselves to “The exclusive use of doctrinally pure church books and school books (Agenda, hymnals, readers, etc.).” (Article II, 4)
The same paragraph then continues as follows: “If it is impossible in some congregations to replace immediately the unorthodox hymnals and the like with orthodox ones, then the pastor of such a congregation can become a member of Synod only if he promises to use the unorthodox hymnal only under open protest and to strive in all seriousness for the introduction of an orthodox hymnal.” (Article II, 4)
Were our fathers in the faith only being pig-headed and hard-nosed, or was there a sound theological reason for writing their Constitution as they did? Just because these people of God lived over 100 years ago doesn’t mean they weren’t theologically astute. They understood quite well that the very soul of any Christian congregation is their worship together. There is where Christ serves His people with His gifts of Word and Sacrament. Therefore if we are to worship the One, True God, then we ought to engage in the kind of worship which gives proper testimony to His unity. The historic liturgies (which date back to the early Christian way of worshiping), do precisely this.
This is but one reason why the ACELC has written concerning our Lutheran faith: “In accord with the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, Confessional Lutherans retain, honor, and will not dispense with the liturgical worship of the Church and will resist any attempt to conform the worship of the Church to the expectations of the world. This is done so that the unity of the faith and of our Triune God is expressed through the unity of our worship and the faith it conveys.”
(Genesis 13:18; Exodus 12; Exodus 25:9; Exodus 28:1-2; Exodus 40; II Samuel 24:25; I Kings 8:22-66; II Chronicles 29:27-30; Luke 4:15; Acts 14:1; I Corinthians 14:26-33; Hebrews 10:24-25; Revelation 4; Revelation 5; Revelation 7:9-12; Revelation 15:2-4; Revelation 19:1-8; AC Article X, 1-2; AC Article XXIV, 5; AP XV:4; AP XXIV:1; AC XXIV:40; AC XXIV:34; LC I:94; AP XV: 20-21; AP VII/VIII:33; AP XXIV:99; AC, epilogue to XXI, 4,5) (Definition of Confessional Lutheranism In Light of Present Day Issues, 5)
It is time for us to recapture our own Lutheran heritage with respect to our Church's worship practices. So that the world will know the Father has sent the Son, let us be one just as the Son is one with the Father. Let the world show itself to be divided, but let the Church show the unity of God in her worship.