What does it mean to grow in one’s sanctification? It simply means to grow in fear, love and trust in God and to grow in loving one’s neighbor as one’s self. And of course here, the most basic and concrete picture of this is the 10 commandments – which our Lord not only perfectly explained, but perfectly lived out.
And of course here, we can talk about this in great concrete and practical detail. Someone who gets married needs to – out of love – limit even the activities they did as a single person without sin because of their new situation. In like fashion, it does the Christian well to realize that we not only are to avoid evil, but its appearance (as even our Lord Jesus, according to his human nature, seems to have learned – see here). We also should keep in mind that while any number of activities may be pursued without sin, sometimes one route is an overall better choice than the other (as Paul argues in I Cor. 7). Finally, we are also to avoid certain activities that we, while free to do without sin we should not do – lest we cause our brothers in the faith to stumble (see Rom. 14 and 15). Taking all of this into account then, what does it mean for the Church as a whole, the Bride of Christ, to grow in her sanctification… to grow in true love? Where should we start when we talk about this?
Again, Pastor Holger Sonntag’s words follow. The bold is all mine, and again, pay particular attention to what I have bolded in blue:
“Church,” as Luther lamented, is really a pretty meaningless word. It would be better to speak of “a Christian holy people” to get to the full meaning more clearly, especially to that other aspect of being church: For by faith in Christ, we’re not only saved. We’re also placed in a new relationship with our neighbor. We’re made members of Christ’s holy people. This new relationship to our neighbors we call “love,” the automatic and necessary fruit of faith in Christ.
In other words, “church” is never just about “me and Jesus.” It is about that first of all, of course. But then it is also about “you and I together.” It’s not just about faith. It is also about love. While we’re saved by faith alone – made members of Christ’s church on earth by faith alone – genuine faith is never alone. It is never without love. So also, we cannot have Christ as our Savior by faith without serving our fellow redeemed by love.
What does this mean for church unity in general and worship in particular? If, as we said, faith is the highest worship and already reading or meditating on the word of God is an act of worship, then there evidently is a kind of outward worship that can be “performed” by an individual Christian for his or her own edification. In fact, we all need to be engaged in this type of worship at all times for our own salvation!
However, as here our focus is more on the joint worship service, we realize that it is an event where more than just Jesus and I are present. Other Christians are there, even if it is just the small communion service for the homebound or hospitalized Christian. We’re doing it together, to put it as simply as possible.
To do one thing together, instead of doing different things at the same time, you need love, because you need the humility to say: let’s come up with a plan of what we’re going to do together. According to the bible, humility is a key form of love: This is how our Savior loved us all the way to the cross. This is how we love one another, just like Christ, not just when it comes to worship. That’s all spelled out in Phil. 2, the epistle reading for Palm Sunday.
This means: we can’t play off faith against love, freedom against service to the neighbor by insisting that we’re justified by faith alone, set free! This is why we need not consider the neighbor when worshiping God or, for that matter, doing anything. Luther said: Not so! Freedom and faith – that’s how we relate to God. Service and love – that’s how we relate to the neighbor. And because in worship we definitely relate both to God and the neighbor, we need to consider both faith and love.
Considering faith, as we’ve already said, ensures that we, first of all, distinguish our human additions from Christ’s means of grace and that, second of all, those additions are of a generally simple form and promote the gospel of Christ. Considering love ensures that our human additions to Christ’s means of grace not only humbly serve the neighbor by promoting the gospel in form and content, but also serve him by not confusing him by offering a bewildering, ever-changing variety of additions that prevent any kind of learning of the faith. In other words, one of the primary considerations of love is: Hey, let’s do this worship thing together lest our people get confused, get antagonized, and ultimately are driven from the gospel.
For this is what the absence of love can do: it can create schisms and heresies out of envy or mistrust. It can also, in the very least, give the powerful impression of schisms and heresies to those on the outside and on the inside. Without love, then, the church’s unity in the faith is doomed.
That’s why Luther, the more experience he gained in leading the church, the more he insisted that churches in one region or area use uniform orders of worship in Christian love. Out of love for his people, not because he was antiquarian by nature, he also kept many of the old elements of worship: People were used to them and there was nothing doctrinally wrong with them. So why confuse them with novelty when they could instead be built up in love?
Traditionally, our Synod has acted on this key insight of the Lutheran theology of worship, even though the insight as such was not always clearly articulated. More recently, that insight has been lost, ignored, or possibly even denied, at least in practice.”
(Sonntag, pp. 48-52 bold mine, non-italicized words originally italicized ; again, from the materials given out at the 27th Annual Lutheran Free Conference: “The Character of Christian Worship: It May Not Be What You Think” – Saturday, October 25th, 2014 at Redeemer Lutheran Church in St. Cloud, MN. Full audio available here)
It would not hurt to repeat the Luther quotations from part I here as well…
Again, in one his last sermons, on Rom. 12:3, Luther stated about a month before his death (AE 51:376-377):
“Therefore, see to it that you hold reason in check and do not follow her beautiful cogitations. Throw dirt in her face and make her ugly. Don’t you remember the mystery of the holy Trinity and the blood of Jesus Christ with which you have been washed of your sins? Again, concerning the sacrament, the fanatical antisacramentalists say, ‘What’s the use of bread and wine? How can God the Almighty give his body in bread?’ I wish they had to eat their own dirt. They are so smart that nobody can fool them. If you had one in a mortar and crushed him with seven pestles his foolishness still would not depart from him. Reason is and should be drowned in baptism, and this foolish wisdom will not harm you, if you hear the beloved Son of God saying, ‘Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you; this bread which is administered to you, I say, is my body.’ If I hear and accept this, then I trample reason and its wisdom under foot and say, ‘You cursed whore, shut up! Are you trying to seduce me into committing fornication with the devil?’ That’s the way reason is purged and made free through the Word of the Son of God.
So let us deal with the fanatics as the prophets dealt with the spiritual harlots, the idolaters, the wiseacres, who want to do things better than God does. We should say to them, ‘I have a Bridegroom, I will listen to him. Your wisdom is utter foolishness. I destroy your wisdom and trample it under foot.’ This struggle will go on till the last day. This is what Paul [in Rom. 12:3] wants; we are to quench not only the low desires but also the high desires, reason and its high wisdom. When whoredom invades you, strike it dead, but do this far more when spiritual whoredom tempts you. Nothing pleases a man so much as self-love, when he has a passion for his own wisdom. The cupidity of a greedy man is as nothing compared with a man’s hearty pleasure in his own ideas. He then brings these fine ideas into the Scriptures, and this is devilishness pure and simple. This sin is forgiven, but when it reigns in one’s nature, not yet fully purged, then assuredly the true doctrine is soon lost, however willingly one preaches and willingly one listens. Then Christ is gone. Then they fall down before the devil on the mountain and worship him (Matt. 4 [:8–10]).”
(italics Pastor Sonntag’s)
Also note this quote:
AE 24:246: “It does not require such great skill to begin to love; but, as Christ says here, remaining in love takes real skill and virtue. In matrimony many people are initially filled with such ardent affection and passion that they would fairly eat each other; later they become bitter foes. The same thing happens among Christian brethren. A trivial cause may dispel love and separate those who should really be bound with the firmest ties; it turns them into the worst and bitterest enemies. That is what happened in Christendom after the days of the apostles, when the devil raised up his schismatic spirits and heretics, so that bishops and pastors became inflamed with hatred against one another and then also divided the people into many kinds of sects and schisms from which Christendom suffered terrible harm. That is the devil’s joy and delight. He strives for nothing else than to destroy love among Christians and to create utter hatred and envy. For he knows very well that Christendom is built and preserved by love. In Col. 3:14 Paul speaks of love as ‘binding everything together in perfect harmony.’ And in 1 Cor. 13:13 he calls love the greatest virtue, which accomplishes and achieves most in the Christian realm. For in the absence of love doctrine cannot remain pure; nor can hearts be held together in unity.”
(italics and bold mine)
 Cf. AE 41:143-144. The context of this reference, and Luther’s teaching on the church and its outward marks, is now available in a popular format under the title, A Christian Holy People (Minneapolis: Lutheran Press, 2012).