A long-time friend was disappointed with my last post. He was hoping it would be something with wider implications than mocking a miniscule and laughably bad suggestion that is more ignored than kept. I think the two are related inextricably: Use of the Divine Liturgy in the broad sense is not at all saying right thumb over left. “The Liturgy” tells us what to do when we enter the house of the Lord. The specific ceremonies attached to that are, while not entirely optional (you can cross thumbs or not, but the thumbs will be doing something), certainly subservient to the overall grand sweep of salvation history which is recounted and given to us each week in the Divine Service. But, fine cars are praised because of their attention to detail, just as cheap cars are known for having less diligent craftsmanship in the finer points. Certainly, our worship of God is worthy of some thoughts on the finer points.
But those finer points must be drawn from broader principles. The one that the liturgical among us have been pushing for the last few generations is “reverence”. We should not come into the presence of God irreverently. Our confessions say “frivolity”. It’s the same basic idea.
And yet, the church continues to struggle against those who would bring secular and worldly things (eg. rock music, which is secular and worldly, no matter what words you put to it) into the sacred space and time of the Divine Service. In this, we both agree that the church is “asking for it” from God for such irreverence. And I think that is worthy of a few thoughts as well. So here they are:
In Genesis, proper worship is such an important issue that someone was killed over it. I question whether we moderns are willing to give up even our country club membership for such things. When I was in seminary – already a generation ago – the soccer fields there were rented out on Sunday mornings to local clubs. The seminary’s argument was that they needed the money. So, they needed the money from the godless as they were violating the third commandment in order that they could teach us to fear and love God and to gladly hear and learn his word. I’ll be honest, I think God would place such funds in the “Cain and his sacrifice” category. I pray the seminary has seen the light on this one.
In Leviticus, Nadab and Abihu bring unauthorized fire(?) before the Lord, and are consumed by fire for their offense. We don’t know what unauthorized fire means, but we know that God takes seriously the idea of coming into his presence, and we should perhaps come with some fear as we enter into the holy places.
Lest we argue that the Old Testament laws have been abolished, the New Testament record is also instructive.
Jesus poured his own blood into the ground in order to gain us access to our heavenly Father. Perhaps we should consider what that means when we come into his presence. He is not our buddy. He is the Divine Judge of all the earth. He loves us, but our proper worship is to hear and believe that Word, not engage in frivolity.
In Acts, Ananias and Saphira are killed by God. Their offense? Lying on the Stewardship form about the percent they gave. (Oddly, I’ve never seen this passage on the list of “Stewardship Sunday Sermon Ideas” – wonder why?)
Paul tells the Corinthians that their worship is so disorderly and frivolous that they no longer have the Sacrament. Jesus body is not present for them because the worship is disordered. In Addition, their behavior is why many are sick and some have died!!! God sent some sort of sickness among the Corinthians – and it was so severe that some died – because their worship was so frivolous that it was no longer acceptable to the Divine Majesty.
We live in an era that is without the fear of God. People celebrate one of the seven deadly sins with parades. People attempt to enter into the presence of God with electric guitars and snare drums placed front and center so the performers can be seen and applauded. We are asking for the judgment of God to come on us. And, looking at the statistics, it has. Pastors no longer speak against bi-vocational ministry (which Paul says will bring judgment on the church), because it is the reality now for many. District Presidents struggle to find positions for pastors that can actually support the pastor and his family. In the next couple of decades, three, four, and even five point parishes are likely to become the norm. And our members (and even pastors!) begin to wonder if maybe we should try something that is less faithful, but gets people excited. Maybe it really is just about the number of people we can drag across the finish line, not about how faithfully we followed the course to get there. Looking online, few congregations with a web presence do not have a so-called contemporary service. The worship wars are over, and faithful worship of God has lost. It seems, like Elijah, that “I, even I only, am left.”
And yet, God preserves his remnant. Those who abandon the truth of God’s Word, those who go against the scriptural and confessional prescription and description of worship will not long endure, will not long prosper. There will come a day when all is revealed, and those who were faithful will no longer be mocked, but praised by God himself. Think I’m being too persnickety?
Look at the descriptions in Leviticus. There is only one place I know of that has such ordered and liturgical worship. And for those claiming “but that’s the Old Testament!”, here is the bad news: That one place is the book of Revelation. The New Testament worship in the kingdom of God will be more orderly than anything we have seen on this earth. If we wish to mock that true worship of God, to ignore the biblical mandate and prescription, we do so at our own peril.
By way of encouragement to more faithful practice, let me merely note the following:
Jesus is not our fishing buddy, that we come before him in cut offs, with a beer in one hand and worms in another. Consider when Jesus did go fishing. Peter ended up confessing sins and seeking to send Jesus away. He knew that he should have been more inclined to listen to God, and shown more respect for the Divine Majesty.
Paul tells us that every knee shall bow. That’s not drinking-buddy behavior. That is “The king is coming, and he is greater than I” behavior. That’s what we must model in the church, if we are to give an accurate picture of who God is in Jesus Christ, and what he has done for us.
If you wanted to sum it up with one word, you might use the word “Reverence”. Two words, perhaps something like “Divine Service” or “Divine Liturgy”, which don’t really lend themselves to rock ballads or Arminian histrionics and frivolity.
Unfaithfulness will not be rewarded by God. So, when we come together, we must be careful not to be unfaithful. That doesn’t mean that faithfulness will reap many worldly blessings. That’s not what we’re after anyway. But faithfulness does bring us closer to the things of God, and more importantly, it brings the holy things of God to His Holy People. That’s worth doing. And it’s worth doing well. It means the details matter.
We attend to the Word. We speak it reverently and truthfully to the people. And we let God worry about the results.