The Catholicity of Our Faith and Worship

One of my hopes and prayers for the fellowship of our Synod, and so also for our Indiana District, is greater unity and harmony of worship practice among our pastors and congregations. Over the past few months, in particular, I’ve described what I have in mind as a recognizable similarity and a “family resemblance” across our parishes, notwithstanding their differences.

I’ve never imagined, nor even desired, that every congregation should be identical or act exactly the same. That would hardly be feasible, in any case. The Lord has actually left many particulars free – neither commanded nor forbidden – for the sake of pastoral discernment and discretion in serving the Church on earth in a vast variety of circumstances, in the face of many challenges.

Nevertheless, there are tremendous benefits and blessings to a consistency of practice from one week to the next within each congregation, and so also from one congregation to the next. Such consistency contributes to the clarity and coherence of our catechesis and confession of Christ Jesus and His Word, which are the very things that constitute the unity of our fellowship.

As one brother rightly pointed out at a recent gathering of the three Fort Wayne circuits, it is our common catechesis and confession of Christ and the administration of His Sacraments according to His Word that bind us to one another as a “Church family.” That is true. It is not necessary to the unity of the Church that human ceremonies and customs be everywhere alike or the same. Of course, that is not to say that those things which the Lord has left free (adiaphora) are incidental, irrelevant, or inconsequential; for what we do – and how we do it – does communicate what we believe and point to what we prioritize as most sacred and most important in our life together.

I was reminded of these things, but also given to think of them in a new way, in confessing the Athanasian Creed on the Feast of the Holy Trinity. Significantly, it identifies “the catholic faith” with the worship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the one true God in three divine Persons. The Church worships God rightly by confessing the way that He has revealed Himself in the incarnate Son and in the Holy Scriptures; and by the same token, the Church rightly confesses “the catholic faith” by worshiping the one true God in accordance with His Self-revelation.

“Catholicity” here refers not only to the universality of the Christian faith and worship, but so also to the fullness of the Church as the Body of Christ in each place where His Word is taught in truth and purity and His Sacraments are administered in conformity with His Gospel. We can and should unpack what that entails in all of its beautiful particulars within each congregation – and across our fellowship of faith in Christ Jesus. But as a starting point, it occurred to me that this “catholicity” is another way (perhaps a better and more accurate way) of describing the unity and harmony of worship practice that I have been hoping and praying for.

The catholicity of our faith and worship is given to us and established for us in the way that the Lord, the Holy Trinity, has chosen to reveal and give Himself to us in the Word and Flesh of Christ Jesus. The preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name, the washing of water with His Word and Spirit in Holy Baptism, the ongoing catechesis of His Word, and the administration of His Holy Supper in remembrance of Him are the foundation, the structure, and the beating heart of all that we do in our life together as the Church, especially in our worship. These sacred things of Christ are not simply the “minimum” of what is required, they are the keynote that ought to guide and govern, inform, and shape everything else that we do and say; and the way in which we go about all of this should clearly confess their central importance.