Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Article on Justification and Christian Worship

                                                 Every Lutheran knows that the article of justification is the central article of the Lutheran Confession.  Perhaps not every Lutheran knows this in those exact words, but ask any 4 year old in a Lutheran Sunday School, "Why are you going to heaven?"  He'll answer, "Because Jesus died on the cross!"  Ask him if he gets to heaven by works and the child will answer an emphatic "No!"  That is wonderful.  As the child gets older, he might memorize such Bible passages as Ephesians 2:8,9, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." And Romans 3:28, "28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law."  Whether the child memorizes these passages or not, he is a Lutheran if he confesses them.  

We seminarians like to quote the confessions.  When asked what we believe, we might answer, "The central article of the Lutheran faith is this, "Our churches also teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works but are freely justified for Christ's sake through faith when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ who by his death made satisfaction for our sins.  This faith God imputes for righteousness in his sight (Rom. 3, 4). (Tappert. AC IV. 30.)

Whether it is confessed by a little child or quoted from the confessions, the doctrine of justification by grace through faith for Christ's sake is the central article of our faith and one which can never be compromised.  In fact, we should not compromise on any article of faith we confess.  We believe that the confessions derive their teachings from Scripture, which is the norma normans of the faith (the norming norm).  The Lutheran Confessions make up the norma normata (the normed norm). Therefore, these confessions are incredibly important, since they are normed by Scripture.  And Scripture is "breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." (2 Timothy 3:16)  

People often assume that as long as you confess that one is saved by grace through faith on account of Christ, that it doesn't matter how you worship God.  Besides, didn't Luther write of the Mass of the Papacy, "It is an unnecessary thing that you can easily omit without sin or danger."  (Smalcald Article 2:3)  Also, aren't ceremonies in the Church adiaphora?  Meaning that they are neither commanded or forbidden by God as the Formula of Concord says in Article X, "In the same way a dispute arose among some theologians of the Augsburg Confession over ceremonies and ecclesiastical practices that are neither commanded nor forbidden in God's Word but have been introduced into the church with good intentions..."  Certainly it does not matter how we worship.
We worship God rightly when we come before Him with nothing but our sorrowful hearts and receive his gifts. We come to the divine service to hear the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins.  (The forgiveness of YOUR sins, it is personal).  There is both a vertical relationship between you and God and a horizontal relationship between you and the entire congregation, especially in the Sacrament of the Altar.  We worship rightly when we hear the preaching of the Gospel.  We worship rightly when we receive Christ's true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  We worship rightly when we receive God's blessings.  We also worship rightly when we respond to God's good favor with hymns of praise and thanksgiving.  We worship wrongly when we come to church to praise God, show him how much we love him, attempt to show him our works, and don't accept His benefits for us.

You cannot understand true worship unless you understand the doctrine of the article of justification.  Worship must reflect this doctrine, because worship must reflect your faith.  When your worship attempts to show God how good of a Christian you are, then you don't understand justification.  We are made right before God because of what Christ did for us.  A little child learns that Jesus saved him from his sins by dying on the cross.  He relearns that by receiving the gifts won on the cross every time he goes to worship.  If you take that worship away from him you take away from him the article of justification.  Worship cannot be adiaphora, because it comes from the article of justification, which is essential.  

It is true that ceremonies are adiaphora, but church practice should follow its confession as Apology XXIV on the Mass states, "Ceremonies should be observed both so that people may learn the Scriptures and so that, admonished by the Word, they might experience faith and fear and finally even pray."  Ceremonies therefore have a purpose.  There is a right and wrong form of worship.  However, to show you what true and right worship is, I am not going to use AC XXIV on the Mass.  I am going to go back to Article IV on Justification.

Our worship must connect with our central article of faith.  It makes sense that the most important part of the Christian life should be connected with the most important article of his faith.  Indeed practice must follow doctrine.  Melanchthon writes, "Faith is that worship which receives the benefits that God offers; the righteousness of the law is that worship which offers God our own merits.  God wants to be honored by faith so that we receive from him those things that he promises and offers." (Apology IV:49)

God does not want us to offer him our works or praise. "I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your fold for every beast of the forest is mine,  the cattle on a thousand hills." (Psalm 50:9-10)  We go to worship God to receive from him.  Our worship is intrinsically connected with our doctrine of justification.  We go to church to receive those gifts from God, which Christ earned for us on the cross.  Melanchthon continues, "This worship, this latreia, is especially praised throughout the Prophets and Psalms...Thus they received the free mercy and forgiveness of sins by faith, just like the saints in the New Testament."  Worship toward God has not changed in its truest form.  Just as the patriarchs and the psalmists before us, we worship God by bringing Him our sinful hearts, confessing our sins, and receiving His forgiveness.  We come with empty hearts and leave with hearts filled with Christ's righteousness.  However, as the psalmist in Psalm 4 wrote, "Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness!  You have relieved me in my distress; Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer."  We too must return to the God of our righteousness and receive more mercy and righteousness again and again. 

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