Why Congregations Should Use One Service and Stick With It
Each year when I have the first catechetical lesson with the older children of the school, we read together Blessed Doctor Martin Luther’s Preface to the Small Catechism. Since the children either live in the villages of Hamel or Worden or in the country they like to hear Luther’s words about how the common man in the villages “knows practically nothing of Christian doctrine and many of the pastors are almost entirely incompetent and unable to teach. Yet all the people are supposed to be Christians, have been baptized and receive the Sacrament even though they do not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed or the Ten Commandments and live like poor animals of the barnyard and pigpen. What these people have mastered, however, is the fine art of tearing all Christian liberty to shreds.” I go on from there and say that because we are all simple country folk of Madison County, Illinois, we will follow Luther’s instruction and “take the tables and charts for catechism instruction and drill them word for word.”
Luther then continues in the Preface exhorting the Pastor to stick with one text of the Catechism and keep it unchanged. “Young and inexperienced persons must be taught a single fixed form or they will easily become confused, and the result will be that all previous effort and labor will be lost. There should be no change, even though one may wish to improve on the text.” Here is where Luther’s advice can be brought directly to what happens on Sunday morning when the children of God gather to hear His Word, receive His Sacrament and offer their prayers, praises and offerings in true faith. Here in Hamel we make use of the Common Service and I desire to stick with it for the sake of those same children I catechize and for all the children of God. I know my own children were able to pray and sing right along with the rest of the congregation from the time they were able to speak because they heard and sung the same words Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day. Sticking with the one service means that the pre-literate or even the illiterate can and do join in. You don’t have to read to sing and pray. The desire for “variety” and “options” which we have seen put into practice since the 1970s has caused practical and doctrinal confusion. Our Synod has mastered the fine art of tearing all Christian liberty to shreds.
In Christian liberty, pastors and people should be thinking of the little children, and in fear remember the warnings our Lord gave to those who cause those little ones who believe in Him to sin. So, in Christian liberty, in pastoral care and love for the little ones, in holy fear of God, and as one who unconditionally subscribes to the Symbols of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, what is a pastor to do? Guard your life and your doctrine closely and then follow Luther’s wise catechetical counsel and stick with a single fixed form of the Divine Service (The Common Service preferably).
Jesus Christ loves children. He said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14). One child He loves is Alex; a member of St. Paul, Hamel who has Down Syndrome. His parents faithfully bring him to church with his siblings and because he is there every Lord’s day and because of sticking with the Common Service, Alex is not confused and the labor of his parents and pastors in teaching him the faith is not lost. He is a baptized child of God and because he is, he sings the Common Service - with gusto! And here is the great and unique part about that singing. Alex just doesn’t sing the ordinary of the service (i.e. the Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, Sanctus and Agnus Dei), Alex sings the Pastor’s parts right along with me.
Now it would be cacophonous if there were anyone else doing it but him. If it were anyone else doing it but him (my 8-year-old son for example) I would gently tell them to stick with their own part of the holy conversation. Alex’s faith, and his confession of it, simply should not be constrained. He knows the words, and so he sings them. The Lord has used His Word and the song of His Church (in Alex’s case, The Common Service) to keep this little one in the One, True Faith. What happens on the Lord’s Day is that the Good Shepherd’s Voice rings out from preaching and His Word (the Bible) and the lambs who hear their Shepherd’s Voice call out to Him. They sing according to a certain form, as every congregation uses a form of some kind. In the Evangelical Lutheran Church the form is not prescribed but used in Christian liberty to “teach the people what they need to know about Christ.” (Augsburg Confession 24:3) Christian liberty is rightly used when it serves the little ones and directs them to their Lord. The use of a fixed liturgy assists in teaching the little ones what they need to know about Christ along with the lectionary and the multitude of gifts we have received from our fathers in the faith. Sticking with a single fixed text in the use of the Catechism and at the Divine Service drills the Lord’s Word into the hearts of His people, word for word, so that Alex and all the little ones who believe in Jesus would remain steadfast in the true faith, and in the end receive the Kingdom which belongs to them.