Thursday, November 29, 2018
For the sake of the one. . .
I am not sure that there is a pastor whose practice is the Divine Service and ceremonies incumbent upon him as flowing from that Divine Service, who has not heard people object. It is easy to object to those who plead preference. That is just not me or I don't like it or I don't get anything out of it. But when the person objecting pleads the cause of the one person who may be lost to Christ because of the liturgy or vestments or chanting or any one of a thousand other things, what then do we say?
It might seem at first that Jesus would side with those who insist that for the sake of the one, the practice must be altered. After all, this is the same Lord who said to leave the 99 for the one, who said to love and serve your neighbor, and who seemed to imply that charity ruled over all things. And then there is St. Paul who was all things to all people for the sake of saving even the one. So, if there is one person who may be lost to Christ because we follow the Divine Service or wear vestments or chant or genuflect or any one of a thousand other things, only the worst possible excuse for a disciple of Jesus would insist that what we do remain the same -- no matter what. Right?
Well, maybe not. Is there any record of Jesus ever changing any of the worship practices of His day? Did Jesus suggest adapting the synagogue service to win over those who were not drawn to it? Did He ever criticize the Temple worship practices as wrong in and of themselves (though certainly He did offer critique to the priests leading and the Pharisees following whose empty hearts betrayed their faithful practice)? Can anyone point to a place where Jesus ever counseled His disciples not to attend the synagogue or not to heed the ceremonial laws of Scripture because someone might find it an impediment to the faith, hold an objection to the practice, or be turned off by it?
It seems that there were things Jesus was prepared to challenge because they are not faithful to the Scriptures but outside of those cases Jesus did nothing to challenge or change the worship practices of synagogue or Temple. Just the opposite. As was His practice, Jesus was regularly in the Temple and faithfully in the synagogue. He grew up in this discipline and He commended it to His disciples and He Himself followed this practice without question or condition.
Yet we find ourselves in the predicament today of being painted as worshipers of form instead of lovers of people, like Jesus. We who hold to the Divine Service are routinely characterized as being more concerned with those inside than those on the outside, rigid and unbending people who would sacrifice people on the altar of religious practices at best adiaphora and at worst downright idolatrous.
While I am sure that there are those who think like the Judaizers of old, our concern for the Divine Service is not about preference or a refusal to change. What it is about is making sure that we have something real to offer those on the outside looking in, faithful to the Word of the Lord and intent upon historic and catholic practice that is not the child of either the moment or a particular culture or preference. I am also sure that there are those who hide behind a seemingly noble concern for someone outside who may not understand or like liturgical practice but who really find a personal objection to it and use one excuse to change for themselves. What it ought to be about is not a battle of personal preferences but which practice best honors the doctrine and which practice is faithful to the catholic and apostolic practice, handed down through the ages.
No one is saying that the liturgy can never change. Of course it has and it does. But it is a slow and deliberate change, an incremental change and not a wholesale transformation. The goal of that slow and deliberate process is the preservation of the faith even as the means of grace feeds the faithful. Without this, we have little to offer those not yet of the Kingdom except a feeling, desire, and connection apart from the Word and Sacraments. Mission and liturgy go together -- not because we want them to but because God has intended them to. The Christ whom we proclaim is not an idea or a dusty fact from the past or even a moral imperative but the Living Lord who still speaks through the voice of His Word, still washes in the baptismal water, and still feeds with His flesh and blood. This was and is and will always be the heart and core of the Divine Service. To reject the liturgy is to reject this living voice, this living water, and this living bread and cup. To offer people a Christ who is not where He has promised to be is to offer them merely the barest idea of the Gospel and to leave them on their own to find out how and where this faith is fed, nourished, and sustained. Finally, the Divine Service is, in reality, our practice for the eternal Marriage Feast of the Lamb, a blessed rehearsal complete with the real presence of the Lord doing what He has pledged and promised to do. This we must do for the sake of the one, the several, and the many who are not yet of the Kingdom.