*Quotes from Luther's Small Catechism
Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Is Sunday Worship a Biblical Command?
Certainly we have all heard the question, “Do I have to go to church to be a Christian?” Some have suggested that a fair, simple answer is, “No, you do not have to go to church to be a Christian because Jesus fulfilled the law, so we are no longer subject to the law.” Is that answer completely true? Let us take a look at what God says.
Again, it has been said that Jesus came and fulfilled the law so that we are no longer under the law. That statement is only one third true. There are actually three different laws in the Bible. There is the civil law, the moral law and the ceremonial law. When Jesus was born, He was born under all three laws and He obeyed all three laws completely and fully. Most especially is the fact that He completely fulfilled the ceremonial laws which were the laws that regulated the sacrifice that pointed to the one ultimate sacrifice of Himself on the cross. Thus, logically, if He fulfilled all the laws that pointed to Himself, they are no longer in effect. However, there still remains the civil and the moral laws. The civil law is simply the law of the land. We live under the civil law of the United States of America. If you think we are no longer under the civil law, go run a red light (don’t actually do this) and see what happens. The moral law is the Ten Commandments and although Jesus did fully obey the Ten Commandments He did not do away with them so that even today we are still governed by the Ten Commandments.
When it comes to Sunday worship we are not talking about civil law, nor ceremonial law, but we are dealing with the moral law, that is we are dealing with the first three commandments. According to the first commandment we are commanded us to not put anything before God because anything we put before God is truly our god and is idolatry in other words we break this commandment when we fail to put God first on Sunday mornings and instead put some other idol before Him, i.e., fishing, golfing, hunting, sleeping in, etc. May God keep us from such idolatry.
According tot the second commandment we are commanded to have care for how we use God’s name. Luther explains this commandment by telling us, “We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” In other words, we obey this commandment especially by praying, praising and giving thanks which we do best in Divine Service.
According to the third commandment we are commanded to have a day of spiritual rest, i.e., Divine Service. Luther explains this commandment by telling us, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” In the explanation to Luther’s Small Catechism the following three questions and answers are quite telling: “37. Does God require the church to worship together on any specific days? A. God requires Christians to worship together. B. He has not specified any particular day. C. The church worships together especially on Sunday because Christ rose from the dead on Sunday.” “38. When do we sin against the Third Commandment? We sin against the Third Commandment when we despise preaching and the Word of God.” “39. How is this done? We despise preaching and the Word of God A. when we do not attend public worship; B. when we do not use the Word of God and the Sacraments; C. when we use the Word of God and the Sacraments negligently or carelessly.” We might summarize by saying that although God does not specify any particular day of worship, He does require that Christians worship together regularly, i.e., on Sundays as that is the day we have agreed as the day of worship in remembrance of Christ’s resurrection. And we understand that we sin the sin of omission (and commission) in despising God’s Word by refusing and rejecting the gifts God gives by absenting ourselves from Divine Service, not partaking of the Sacrament, failing to remember our Baptism, and neglecting to read God’s Word.
The Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer tells us to hallow God’s name and we do that, we hallow God’s name especially by being in Divine Service. Luther explains, “Hallowed be Thy name.” “What does this mean? God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also.” “How is God’s name kept holy? God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!” In the explanation to Luther’s Small Catechism the following questions and answers are helpful: “210. How do we keep God’s name holy? We keep God’s name holy: A. when God’s Word is taught among us in its truth and purity; B. when we live according to the Word of God.” “211. How is God’s name profaned? God’s name is profaned, that is, dishonored, A. when anyone teaches contrary to God’s Word; B. when anyone lives contrary to God’s Word.” We might summarize by being reminded that we hallow God’s name especially through our making regular (each and every day) and diligent (each and every Sunday) use of the means of grace and we profane God’s name by refusing and rejecting, even teaching something other than what God is teaching on Sunday morning.
One good way to help understand what it is that we believe, teach and confess is to contrast our doctrine with the opposite. So, what is the opposite of God’s command? The opposite would be the Pharisees with whom Jesus spoke about: “16And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ 17And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Mark 2:16-17 also see Luke 5:31-32). The opposite of recognizing one’s sin, is to think one is not a sinner, even to think that one has no need of being in Divine Service and Bible Class, even perhaps that one already knows it all or is simply a really good person. While the desire of one having faith is to be where the gifts of God are given and to be given those gifts, for the one lacking faith there is no desire for the gifts of God or for being where the gifts are given and thus there is a refusal and rejection of those gifts. Even King David, a man after the Lord says, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’” (Psalm 122:1). And Luke tells us about Jesus, “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read” (Luke 4:16, also see Acts 17:2 concerning Paul’s custom).
What does all this mean? Although God’s command to worship on a particular day is no longer in effect, His command to be in Divine Service every week is in effect, but even more we can see one’s faith and faithfulness or lack of faith and faithlessness in one’s desire or refusal of the gifts God gives and in being where the gifts are given or absenting oneself from the place where the gifts are given. As for me, I speak with David and I would encourage you to do the same: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’” (Psalm 122:1).
*Quotes from Luther's Small Catechism