SEQ CHAPTER \h \r 1 Connecting the Dots
Rev. Dr. Ronald A. Bogs
The First Dot
The Epistle lesson for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost, in the Lutheran Service Book Lectionary series is Ephesians 4:1-16. In this lesson Paul reminds us of our unity with other Christians. According to Paul, we do not strive for unity, but we strive to maintain a unity that is already there. Accordingly, two things are happening in this text. One thing is seen and the other is unseen. The unity that is seen is often what is confused with the unity that is unseen. The unity that is unseen is the unity that we are to strive to maintain. The unity that is seen is not mentioned. The unity that is seen is really no unity at all.
The ecumenical movement is a movement which strives for unity. Unfortunately, the unity the ecumenical movement strives for is an outward unity which really is no unity at all. The thought that a group of diverse people can bring about an outward unity where no inward unity exists is preposterous. The very word “diversity” contains the word divide which means to separate and not unite. There can be no true unity in diversity. In order for there to be any kind of unity the diversity must be resolved.
The twelve apostles of Jesus are an example of this outward diversity and inward unity which is the only true unity. If the twelve men chosen as Jesus’ apostles had met under “normal” circumstances, outside their relationship with Jesus, they may never have even been friends. The discussions and even arguments showed their diversity and the fact that there really was not much of an outward unity to speak of. However, they were unified. Their unity came from their faith in Jesus. Thus, apart from Jesus, apart from the Word made flesh, apart from a unity of Jesus’ teaching, and even apart from a unity of doctrine, there was no unity, even among the twelve apostles.
As denominations work toward ecumenical unity, the only way to achieve such unity is through doctrinal unity. In other words, apart from believing the same thing, there will be no true unity, just as it was the case with the twelve apostles.
The Second Dot
The definition of worship is that this is an act performed for someone or something deemed worthy of such an act. In other words, we worship or perform some act or ritual, rite or ceremony for someone or something we deem worthy of our worship. There are many who thus define Sunday morning worship as something a person does for his or her God. In other words, what is accomplished on Sunday morning in worship is that a group of people come together to act or perform for their God. God is the audience, the congregation are the actors and the pastor, organist, choir and so forth are the prompters.
The question we might ask, from the above definition and scenario is this, does God need us to act for Him? What kind of God asks something of His people? The underlining presupposition from the above scenario is that God needs something or requires something from His creatures. But, did God create His creatures in order to require something from them? If He did, what kind of God needs something from His creation? To push the analogy, do parents have children because they need these children to do for them? Or, do parents have children in order to do something for their children? Defining and understanding worship as such leads one to believe that we have a God, even a creator God, who is incomplete and needs something from His creation.
On the other hand, there are some who gather on Sunday mornings for what is called divine service. And just as the name implies, that is that this is divine, this is God’s service, then this is a gathering in which God does something, God serves those who have gathered. God is the creator, He made everything in the first place. If God is the creator and can make everything, what else does He need? And if He needed anything else, certainly He could create whatever it is. God is the creator, creating everything out of nothing, and then and thus, God is the server. God is the one who gives, and the congregation, the people gathered, are the ones to whom He gives.
God created all things. God created and gave life. And now God, in divine service gives even more gifts. What gifts does God give? He gives the gifts His people need. What is the most important gift His people, His creatures need? To answer that question we need to look at the nature of humanity, and the nature of humanity is that “every inclination from man’s heart is evil.” Human beings are sinners and are in need of forgiveness. Thus, at divine service, at God’s service He gives forgiveness. Not only does He give forgiveness, but He also gives, strengthens and keeps His people in faith. How does He give these gifts? He gives these gifts through the means that He has given to give the gifts, namely through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. Thus, we see the importance, in divine service, for the service to be permeated with these means.
Interestingly enough, one’s Sunday morning routine is determined by one’s belief system. And we might add that one’s belief system is built up by one’s Sunday morning routine. These two things run together and feed each other. Thus, if one believes s/he needs to do something for God, one worships. If one believes s/he is wholly incapable and must be given to by God then one attends divine service. And it is the attendance at worship or divine service that define and unite those who gather. So that, diversity in worship or divine service work not to unite, but (as we saw in the word diverse, the word divide) can only bring division, because either we have a God who needs something from us or a God who provides all our needs.
The Second Dot, Part Two
There are some who would suggest that the divine service of the Lutheran Church is something that is bound up in the German culture and that the hymnody is bound up in classical music. This cannot be any further from the truth. The truth is that the divine service has its roots going back to Adam, to Noah and his offering of sacrifices, going back to Exodus and the Passover and the rite and liturgy of the Passover, so that our divine service ties us with those who have gone on before us, and it will tie us to those who will come after us. It transcends time; and, thus, it brings unity.
And as for our hymnody, our hymns are not classical, but our hymns as well transcend various cultures. Church hymnody is its own genre of music and the hymns that churches sing are hymns from many and various cultures, not classical, nor Germanic. Again, the hymns transcend culture and thus bring unity as well.
The Third Dot
There are times when the Church influences the culture, but more often than not it is the culture that influences the Church. There is also another “arena” of influence, if you will. That is how churches and denominations influence other denominations. The church growth movement has had a great affect on many denominations. At one time the cry was what affect (what was called) fundamentalism was having on denominations. And of late, what has been called evangelicalism has had a great influence on many denominations.
Some of the influence of evangelicalism is the influx of such things as “seeker services” as well as “testimonials” and making a “decision” for Jesus. Other influences include what is termed “contemporary” worship and “praise” worship. Unfortunately the heart of these activities is a denial of original sin. Because of our nature, as King David reminds us, we are shaped in iniquity and conceived in sin, and as our Lord reminds us, “every inclination of man’s heart is evil all the time,” we rightly confess in Luther’s explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” Thus, the fact of the matter is that we do not seek God; thus, a “seeker service” is a misnomer. Also, because we cannot choose or make a decision for Jesus, all we can do, because of our being conceived and born in sin, because every inclination of our heart is evil all the time, is to only refuse and reject our Lord, which we do all the time as we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness.
When it comes to worship, as we have already discussed, God needs nothing from us, not even our praise. And as for what is called contemporary worship, all this means is that the this is some type of service which has a setting that is within a certain time period. Does this mean then that as the times change and times do change, that this type of setting will change as well?
Putting It All Together
Here again, we see how the culture has influenced the Church instead of the Church influencing the culture. The culture calls the Church intolerant, and so the Church moves to be more tolerant, and it does this by diversifying. The result is not unity but division, not saving people but, because of an acquiescence to the culture, a delivering of the world over to Satan.
Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one can come to the Father except through me.” For the Church to espouse a falsehood of tolerance is for the Church to be as uncaring as the culture. True caring is speaking the truth in love. True caring is the intolerance of God, that there is only one way and that everything we do in the Church should proclaim that one way, including a unity in Christ, a unity in faith, a unity in divine service, even a unity as a Church that transcends time and cultures.
Rev. Dr. Ronald A. Bogs is the pastor of St. Matthew Lutheran Church of Westfield. He is currently serving as the Theological Director for Crossties Lutheran Ministries.
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