Bringing Order to Chaos
“We are in the midst of an identity crisis. Our culture bombards us with unrealistic images of what ‘normal’ human beings should be like. No one is immune to this identity crisis, not even Christians. And this is a great tragedy, for we know that our life is defined by Jesus Christ, our Creator and our Redeemer. Our identity is in conformity to His holy life. So why are we struggling to understand who we are?” (Just, 1).
Whenever I bring up the historic liturgy among a group of pastors whether it be at a Winkel or simply in casual conversation at a gathering, it only takes a few minutes for someone to talk about their “unique context” and how certain aspects of the liturgy just won’t work in their place. (In the quote below, this could be translated as “unique culture.”) With everything the world is throwing at us in its vain attempt to cause chaos among us, you would think that we would seek to cast off our individualistically driven “unique contexts” for the sake of unity in Word and Sacrament. If all of our 6000+ congregations each had their own “unique context” and freely chose what they wanted to do in each one of them, there would be absolute chaos instead of the unity that our Lord desires. Jesus even said that a house divided amongst itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25). And if you’ve been keeping up with your postcards lately, you’ll clearly see that unity among us is not being promoted, rather division is being fueled by sinful men seeking after their own will opposed to God’s. This division is most apparent not simply in politics but in the culture of worship, and this ought not be. Dr. Just continues:
“There is a common assumption today that the liturgy must reflect the language and the ethos of the current culture. If this is true, then liturgies will veer toward the pop culture in which we live. These culturally devised liturgies are at times exciting and entertaining, but are not transcultural. At most, they will only give immediate satisfaction. These liturgies then become just another expression of the culture’s malaise, a feel-good, shallow, artificially uplifting sentimentality.
Furthermore, focusing on the centrality of the worshiper’s experience in contemporary liturgies runs contrary to our Lutheran understanding of the hiddenness of the Kingdom in the world in which we live. The Church’s liturgy is a humble expression and demonstration of the nature of the Kingdom. No matter how difficult our hymns, how untrained our organist, how weak our singing, God is present in our liturgy, offering His gifts of salvation. We dare not be seduced into thinking that the Kingdom comes by our own relevant production and performance. We must always maintain that the Kingdom is hidden under the humble means of God’s proclamation of the new era of salvation in Jesus Christ through simple words, simple water, simple bread, and wine. This is why our liturgies are sacramental and why they give what we need the most: the forgiving mercy of God in Christ through which we are cleansed and made worthy to stand in His presence and receive His gifts. Believing that God is sacramentally present in our ancient but enduring liturgy is at the center of our understanding of God’s revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ and His salvation of the world through suffering and sacrifice. The liturgical structures of Word and Sacrament transcend all cultures and create our Lutheran theology of worship.
Lutheran worship is its own culture, distinct from both the pop culture of secular society and the worship that characterizes most evangelical denominations in our country today. The Lutheran Church must develop and maintain its own cultural language that reflects the values and structures of Scripture, not of the current culture. And this language can be shaped only by a biblical theology that affirms Christ’s work of making right what has gone wrong in declaring us righteous and offering His righteousness to us through His bodily presence in our worship in Word and Sacrament. Our belief that Jesus Christ is present in worship binds our Church together as a community, confessing one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all. This community is the body of Christ, the Church. One day, the liturgical problems will no longer exist for the Church, for we will worship the Lamb in His kingdom that has no end. For now, however, we must constantly remember that we have now the one God who is sacramentally present among us as Savior and who continually invites us to the ongoing feast” (Just, 28-9).
Only God can bring order to chaos. We have been given an amazing treasure from the earliest Christians, namely, the Divine Liturgy, through which God meets us and seeks to bring order to the chaos around us. May we repent of our sinful individualistic tendencies and return to the one true God who comes to us not because we’re relevant enough or because we’re tied to a certain movement, but through these simple means of Word and Sacrament—in heaven on earth.