Pentecost 18A - Augsburg Confession Article XIV Order In The Church

 

Ephesians 4:11–16 (NIV)

 

11 So Christ Himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

 

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

 

A common error in modern thinking is that the idea of “freedom” and “order” are opposites. It seems that many people believe that good “order” is the opposite of, even the enemy, of “freedom”. Those who propose freedom, it seems, must necessarily oppose “order” of any kind.

 

To see how ridiculous this analysis is, let’s consider it in terms of a trip in the car. Should you wish to drive from Hamilton to Auckland you are free to make trip and arrive safely – but only if there is good “order” on the roads between your starting point in Hamilton and the end point of your journey in Auckland.

 

You are only free to make this journey because people have learned to drive on the left hand side of the road, to pass on the right, to stop at stop signs and red traffic lights. When this “order” prevails you are free to travel relatively safely.

 

The same is true for all levels of society where people interact beside and with each other: in family, in business, in government and in the church there has to be order for us to experience freedom.

 

A family can only function when it operates according to some generally observable rules – when these rules are observed and followed family members are free to eat, sleep, work and play, love and be loved.

 

In a family where no rules are observed – where chaos reigns – children go hungry, jobs are lost, one or more members of the family breakdown. When you look at chaotic families where rules are not observed you don’t see much freedom – instead you often see hurt and pain, despair and frustration.

 

George Forell says, commenting on Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession,

 

“A business enterprise, a store, a factory, or farm depends for the freedom of employers and employees on order. The more orderly the operation the more freedom for all concerned; total disorder would in all cases mean bankruptcy, and that is hardly the basis for freedom in any meaningful sense.”

 

            Civil society depends on “government of law, not people.” What this means, is, that when a society is governed by individuals or groups of individuals whose personalities, personal preferences, tastes and prejudices dominate then what is produced is “always chaos and never freedom.”

 

            The Augsburg Confession acknowledges the need of order to maintain freedom when discussing the way the church should be administered as we read in Article XIV Order in the Church:

 

“Our churches teach that no one should teach in the church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call.”

 

            As the explanatory notes in Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions say,

 

“When this article speaks of a rightly ordered call, it refers to the Church’s historic practice of placing personally and theologically qualified men into the office of preaching and teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments. This is done by means of a formal, public, and official call from the church to do so. When this article was presented, it was understood that a call into the preaching and teaching office would be confirmed and formally recognised by means of the apostolic rite of ordination (with prayer and the laying on of hands).”

 

      St Paul, writing on God’s behalf wrote: 11 So Christ Himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

 

            Without this order, chaos would reign and the church’s public confession and witness would be confused.

 

            We are equipped for service through the preaching, teaching and administration of the Sacraments through which God’s Holy Spirit works gifts of faith which produces the fruit of the Spirit.

 

            Like all organisations and institutions, the Church depends for its freedom on order. We are reminded that the Church is called into existence by God to serve God and humanity while it is administered by people who are called to be apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.

 

This Church, God’s Church, is of Divine institution so we cannot impose human rules and order over and above what God has revealed to us in and through the Scriptures.

 

            There is freedom to choose how we do things – but always subject to God’s Word. When the order of creation, the commandments and instructions imparted by the Holy Spirit through the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers (which are always subject to and interpreted through the maxim that “Scripture interprets Scripture”) have the authority of God.

 

            History has proven that it is more difficult to bring order into the Church than a school or a business. Enemies of the Church are not always seen and may not be so obvious to us. Forell rightly suggests that sentimentality is an enemy of order in the church.

 

            We see this when St Paul admonishes the Corinthian Christians on the issue of speaking in tongues and order in the church in chapter 14 of his letter to them. He writes 1 Corinthians 14:36–40 (NIV):

 

36 Or did the Word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.

 

39 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

 

            Where a spiritually bereft person (or persons) attempt so lead and organize a ministry, that Church’s ministry is compromised – this no matter how sincere a person or the people are.

 

I have encountered sincere and committed Church leaders who had no idea of the spiritual implications of what they said and how they spoke. The Biblical and spiritual content will do its work because God promises that His Word never returns to Him empty but accomplishes what He sends it to do.

 

But how much more effective is that Word when the active living faith of the individual is seen and experienced by those who receive the ministry provided to them.

 

A sermon is a type of speech. To be effective it needs to be prepared and delivered with prayer. Some of you have heard the story of the preacher who was very sincere, who climbed into the pulpit having decided to let the Holy Spirit preach the sermon that day. The preacher had done no preparation and was planning to be led by the Holy Spirit.

 

In the pulpit he prayed, opened the Bible and read the text … and nothing. He had nothing to share. He had not spent the time allowing the Holy Spirit to teach him through His study and exegesis of the text so He could impart God’s Word to the congregation. He said, “Amen” and climbed down from the pulpit.

 

When asked by an elder of the congregation what had happened, the preacher responded, “I didn’t do any preparation for the sermon and the Holy Spirit has taught me that I need to prepare and let God speak to me through the text before I can proclaim the Word so that it may speak to the congregation.”

 

It is an offence against good order not to have properly prepared to preach publicly or share one’s faith personally one on one. Likewise, false piety is not an acceptable excuse. God wants a sincere and committed heart. He accepts us as ignorant sinners but doesn’t want us to remain ignorant sinners taking His grace and forgiveness for granted.

 

1st Peter 3:15 (NIV) encourages us to be prepared:

 

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

 

We need to know what God says, believe it and have some idea of how we might share this with others. The Scriptures and the Augsburg Confession have made it clear that all human beings are sinners. Forell says,

 

“…because of a false sense of piety people assume the usual safeguards against sin that protect us from each other in the institutions are out of place in the church.”

 

            There is a spiritual ignorance in the church which causes disorder. Society has become effective and efficient – society desires that we comply with this efficiency. In the market place we know how to produce effectively, and efficiently to increase sales.

 

Are we this shrewd in following the order God calls us to in our personal lives, congregational lives and public witness to God’s grace in the community with Jesus Christ?

 

            Is there ignorance about the work and order in the church which needs to be corrected?

 

“Teaching, preaching and the administration of the Sacraments,” says Forell, “can become subordinated to building maintenance. The result may be ecclesiastical chaos. … Out of a combination of sentimentality, false piety, and ignorance the fact of power and the control of power as a problem in the church is ignored.”

 

            It seems that we favour human emotion and values over against the good order and law of God in determining what we practice and teach. The danger is that he or she who shouts loudest determines the polity and witness of the church.

 

As a result, those who have not been allowed to share their views “pick up their toys and go home” – never to return – never heard - and we wonder why the church appears to be in decline.

 

God, speaking through James in Chapter 4:1–10 (NIV) asks,

 

4 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

 

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that He jealously longs for the spirit He has caused to dwell in us? But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

 

“God opposes the proud

 

but shows favour to the humble.” 

 

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.

 

As St Paul encourages us in Ephesians chapter four, we are to speak the truth – that is God’s Word in love, to grow in the grace of Christ who sacrificed Himself for us – then together as each of us do the work the Holy Spirit calls us to, the Church, Christ’s body is built up in love.

 

Amen.