Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Decently and in good order. . .

Perhaps it is my Germanic background but this phrase is one of my favorite tidbits of Scripture.  That all things may be done decently and in good order is the will and command of St. Paul to the Church.  We have used this passage to justify our long and often tedious constitutions and by-laws that govern and order our life together in congregation, district, and synod.  We have used these words to explain the liturgy, here meaning liturgy in terms of a page number and rubrics that tell us what we are to do, what we may do, and when all these things fit together.  But I wonder if we really understand what Paul means here.

God is not obsessive compulsive as I often am.  He is not a neatnik.  He does not desire order for the sake of order.  God is not German (a shock to many of us with German ancestry, I know).  When Scripture calls us to order, it is a call to specific order.  God’s order.  The Lord is not telling us that it does not matter what we do or how we do it as long as we do this in an organized and not chaotic manner.  The Lord is telling us that He has an order for the things of earth and His Kingdom.  It is HIS order that we are called to follow.

Creation is ordered even though it is no longer orderly.  God had plan and purpose that was realized in what He made, as very good as it was.  God created man in creation, ordered His life within creation and in relationship to Him, and ordered the estate of marriage and its resulting family.  Man and woman are ordered and not simply slightly different versions of a generic human being (the lie of modern day culture).  Even though we feel into disorder in the Fall and with the advent of sin, the order of God was by no means set aside.  It is with the advent of the new man, Jesus, that God restores to us the potential to live within this order.  This is surely what Luther means in the catechism when he says that we should live under Him and then describes this ordered life in the Table of Duties.

Look into the New Testament and it may seem on the surface that things were spontaneous and haphazard but this is a fallacy.  God has an order to things.  Volunteers do not do well with Jesus.  Jesus calls people and does not issue a call for volunteers.  As some have said before, Jesus does not call the equipped but equips those whom He calls.  God has a time for things.  What seems sudden and even abrupt is God’s deliberate time (sometimes ploddingly slow to us).  Jesus faces enemies all throughout His ministry but “His hour is not yet come;” so He walks through His enemies or simply disappears into the crowd until the day when He chooses to face those who come for HiJesus extends His time and order even after His ascension.  He tells His disciples to remain in the city until the Spirit comes to bestow power from on high.  Even their waiting is ordered and not simply their going forth.  When disorder threatens the Church over a dispute between Judaizers and those who welcomed Gentiles without impediment, James rose to speak order to the confusion and it was considered not a personal opinion but order from God.

When the apostles found themselves overwhelmed with mercy work and the proclamation of the Gospel, the Church ordered a solution with deacons to assist them.  This was not seen as a simple emergency solution but an ordering of this ministry for now and for the future.  When Timothy was set apart for the Pastoral Office, it was ordered to mirror our Lord’s own Easter Eve ordination of the apostles with laying on of hands, the prayer for the Spirit, and the conferral of the authority of Jesus’ name and Jesus’ Word.

I challenge those who think decency and order are merely in contrast to disorder, confusion, chaos, or anarchy.  The order that is at work in the Church is the order of God, His order for His purpose in His time.  What we seek is not an order to rein in people or control them but an order which reflects God’s will and purpose, for the sake of the Gospel, and to the glory of Jesus Christ.  This is why we do things orderly and decently.  It is not the fruit of an obsessive compulsive disorder or a desire to exercise control but to reflect God’s order in all that we do as the Church of God.m.

The ministry is not some human arrangement.  The priesthood of all believers (always a corporate term for the Church) is not the priestly order of one to assume for himself or herself.  No, God has ordered the ministry of the Word and Sacraments not as a caste but as an order within His creative and redemptive will and purpose.  The Church exercises the priesthood of all believers when one man is prepared, examined, called, and ordained into this office.  This is not for convenience or because it might be messy if everyone did it but an order.  It conveys no indelible character or chrism but confers the authority of the Church to be exercised by a specific individual in a specific place.

God is a God of order and this order flows both from His creative will and purpose AND from His redemptive will and purpose.  They do not compete and one does not abrogate the other.  In fact, His redeeming grace opens to us the door to know and begin to live within the creative order -- something lost to us when we were sinners and enemies, distant from Him and the knowledge of who we are and what we are to be.  It is order that is behind the idea of baptismal vocation.  Our lives are not some random happenstance of choices but either an rebellion against who we were created to be or a submission to that purpose given to us as one of the manifold gifts of baptism.

The liturgy is an order -- not some rule for rule's sake but an order through which God imparts faith, nurtures this faith, and equips the faithful through the means of grace.  When we see the liturgy as a human tradition or rule imposed by the Church, we miss the fact, as Nagel often says, who drives the verbs.  It might be good to see the whole of the idea of decently and in good order as God continuing to drive the verbs, in the world around us and within the veil of His Church.

Just thinkin.... and you know how dangerous that can be!

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