Today I was visiting with a fellow clergyperson in my circuit about an ordination service that I recently attended in our circuit. The preacher (father of the ordinand) focused heavily on the inevitable changes that will occur now that the church has called a second pastor. The new pastor might pick hymns that are not familiar, or that might not even be from the hymnal. He might once in a while preach outside of the pulpit, or do children’s sermons. He discouraged the congregation from arguing over such silly, insignificant things. As long as the Word is taught truthfully and the sacraments administered as our Lord intended, nothing else matters. Keep Christ as the central focus and you pretty much are free to do things however you would like.
My first thought was, why in the world is he talking about this in an ordination sermon? My second thought was, why build pulpits if you’re not going to use them? They are there for a purpose. They serve to extol the preached Word. As I have done more thinking on this, I have concluded that this is really a devilish attitude to have as a pastor and servant of Christ. The line of reasoning goes like this: Christ simply willed that His Word be preached and His Sacrament administered. Since he did not give any instructions on how this was to be done, but left it free and in the hands of his followers, then that means that we also are free to do things however we want. Didn’t Paul say something to the effect of: “All things are permissable, but not all things are beneficial”?
I think this is a point that is so frequently set aside by defenders of the “wandering preacher” and other unorthodox liturgical behaviors. Christ didn’t say anything about it, so that means feel free to do it! But shouldn’t we make distinctions? Shouldn’t we say, “All things are permissable, but not all things are beneficial”? In matters of adiaphora can one practice be stronger or weaker than another? I think so. Besides all this, don’t we believe that Christ is one? “Is Christ divided?” Don’t we as clergypersons represent one Christ and not many? If that is so, then doesn’t it make more sense to have liturgical uniformity rather than liturgical and ceremonial diversity? I realize that our Confessions say that it is not necessary that ceremonies be uniform in every place for there to be unity in the Church. But shouldn’t a little bit of uniformity be expected of those who worship one Christ? Or are we not the one Body of the one Christ? Does not the fact that we share one baptism, one Supper and are children of one heavenly Father have any impact on the way that we worship as the Body of Christ?
Certainly the Reformers understood that one of the greatest witnesses to our unity in Christ was our uniformity in worship. Why else would they have created Church Orders and rubrics to govern the public liturgical rites of the Church? I guess I just don’t understand the mentality that says: “Brother Joe, you go right ahead and wear your clown suit during the service. Christ didn’t give any instructions on what clothes to wear. Don’t listen to those legalists who would dare restrict your personal expression!” All I’m saying is that if we really all worship the same Christ, and have the same baptism and Supper, let’s do our best to demonstrate that unity in our worship practices.