In Hebrews 10 23-25 we read:
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
First of all, I note that just because we might fail to spur our brothers and sisters on toward love and good deeds does not mean that we, or they, can not be saved (If this were the case, I think none of us would be saved!) – or even that either one is necessarily sinning!
In addition, as you read this, depending on your attitude about what the church and worship is, you may question whether or not I really am trying to spur you on toward love and good deeds (perhaps more like “dead works” some might think…)!
But let me try out my reasoning on you: because babies trust and love their fathers and mothers, they treasure what their parents treasure.
Therefore, as Christians who are called to be child-like, we to should trust and love our fathers and mothers in the faith: treasuring what they have treasured, namely, the Church’s liturgy (“bunny trail” comment: so keep the young ones in the service!), which has its root in the Word of God.
After all, the Lutheran Reformation was the “Conservative Reformation“. As much as was possible, liturgical ceremonies were preserved. Even those that did not endorse the Gospel, but were “neutral” (i.e. they simply did not contradict the Gospel), were retained.
One of my online students, referring to the incarnation said, “Not only did [God] come for us, he came in the most humble manner imaginable”. The Son of God, though perfect, submitted himself to be born into a sinful race. Would that we be as eager to humble ourselves to before our spiritual ancestors!
Christians in the past were more eager than we to do this. And because of this, those who still use the historic liturgies today, passed on from Christians from generation to generation (developing only very gradually), have the following benefits:
- We preserve that which not only teaches the faith, but preserves our faith, since the words in the liturgy are saturated with Gospel comfort (and there is a seriousness there that is sometimes desperately needed)
- The liturgy protects us from poor preaching – it delivers the comfort of the Gospel even when the preacher does not
- It protects pastors – and therefore, laypersons – from the wrong kinds of innovation and creativity: even Aaron truly believed that he was giving appropriate worship to Yahweh when he fashioned the golden calf for the people, adopting the practices of the culture around him – it is better to stick with ceremonies that seem to have developed naturally from, and complement, the divinely instituted (and “spiritual”!) ceremonies God has ordained (calling of pastors, absolution, baptism, Lord’s Supper)
- It enables the Church to do all things in good order and to maintain peace and harmony (like keeping the main worship day on Sunday!) – hence, when people think and explicitly say that ceremonies should serve this function (as opposed to being necessary for salvation), in what sense can it really be said that they are trying to “impose” something on others?
- Although many of its ceremonies are not divinely ordained, in following the reformers in retaining these we learn to use our Christian freedom in moderation, thereby showing love and respect for our fathers and mothers in the faith – and showing concern for the weak in faith who may be overcome by great changes
- “It is a proper way of practiced love that serves the neighbor in that it powerfully expresses doctrinal unity and avoids schisms[splits due to non-essentials] and heresies [disagreements in what is essential which schisms can easily lead to]” (Sonntag, 79, 67)
- Re: the “weak”: while they need to be taught that they cannot believe that others must do this or that thing to be saved (as they are disputable and indifferent matters), they are also told “whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat [of something they don’t think they should do…], because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
- It is a valuable connection with other historically liturgical Churches, like the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, who may not hear clear Gospel words in preaching, but only in the historic liturgies (with words like “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed”)
- Uniformity! In this way, confusion is avoided. The recent Eight Theses on worship said uniformity is desirable as well. A man in our I.T. department here talked to me about how, for their department, it was practical for them to say and mean the same thing – to give directions in a consistent fashion, in written docs or otherwise. This way, people don’t get confused, and the department knows among themselves what they mean when they use the same form of words…
But what of evangelism? No doubt – each Christian, like Jesus, desires to “seek and save the lost”, and this should be a huge focus for us. At the same time, let us note what Paul says: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:10)
First things first. Why should we not think that what Paul says here in one context has at least some relevance for this discussion as well?