The Common Language of the Gospel in the Liturgy

As many of you know, I was in Amsterdam at the end of August getting my son Frederick settled there, as he is spending this academic year studying at the European School of Ballet. Sadly, there are no orthodox Lutheran congregations in the Netherlands where he would be able to receive the Sacrament. We are very grateful, therefore, for the Lutheran Church in Antwerp, Belgium, and its pastor, Rev. Gijsbertus van Hattem, with whom we are in fellowship. We were able to visit the congregation while I was there with Frederick, and we were warmly received by the congregation and the pastor and his family. My wife and I are so relieved and thankful that our son has a pastor and a church to care for him while he is overseas.

The one drawback is that the Liturgy in Antwerp is entirely in Dutch, which Frederick will no doubt be learning over time, but which neither of us knows at this point. Yet, as daunting as that sounds and seems on the surface, we were actually able to follow along and participate to a large extent – because the congregation follows the order and form of the Lutheran Common Service (Divine Service Setting Three in LSB). We knew exactly what was happening at every point, and we were able to pray, confess, and sing (in English) all of the ordinary parts of the Service with relative ease, in spite of the difference in language. In addition, Pastor Van Hattem provided us with copies of LSB and indicated the corresponding LSB hymn numbers, so that we were able to sing along (in English) with the hymns, as well. It actually worked out very nicely.

I’ve had this same sort of experience at various times in the past, on those occasions when I’ve been teaching in Russia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. It is a marvelous thing to know exactly what is happening, and to participate in the Liturgy along with brothers and sisters around the world, because of this common heritage that we have received from those who have gone before us in the faith and confession of our one Lord, Jesus Christ. Indeed, our “Lutheran” Common Service is an inheritance far older than the Lutheran Reformation, really continuing a legacy that traces back to the earliest centuries of the Christian Church. And of course, so much of the content of the Divine Service is either directly or indirectly from the Holy Scriptures, confessing what the Father has spoken to us by His Son and conveyed to His Church through His Holy Apostles.

Truly, the miracle and blessing of Pentecost continues to the present day and around the globe. Not that we all speak one and the same human language, but that one and the same Holy Gospel is preached and confessed, prayed and sung in a vast variety of tongues and dialects. The historic order and form of the Liturgy maintains and conveys that common language of the Gospel, and it thereby contributes to the clarity and consistency of our catechesis and confession of Christ.

I was reminded of these same blessings and benefits of the Liturgy back here in Indiana this past month, as I was privileged to worship with Hispanic brothers and sisters from Indianapolis and Columbus, Indiana, at St. Paul-Clifty. Pr. Daniel Fickenscher preached and presided in Spanish, of course, a language I do not know. Yet, again, although I could not understand his sermon, I was easily able to follow along and participate in the Service from start to finish – because it followed the common order and form of the Lutheran Liturgy. Though we do have freedom in those things that our Lord has neither commanded nor forbidden (adiaphora), such consistency of practice – from generation to generation, from week to week throughout the years, and from congregation to congregation – is a boon to both faith and love in the unity of the one Gospel.