In I Peter the Church is richly described as a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his (God’s) own possession.” And it has this identity “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (I Peter 2: 9 ESV) What does “proclaim the excellencies” mean? In his commentary (Word Biblical Commentary), J. Ramsey Michaels asserts that this proclamation occurs in the worship of the church. (p. 110) The excellencies remove a person from darkness into God’s light.
How can worship involve witness and apology? Those who worship in the communal setting of the church, visitor and member, believer and non-believer, are hearing the message of Christian faith through the text of the liturgy and the preaching. It is important that all that is said and sung accords with the faith of the church as expressed in the Holy Scriptures, the creeds, and the Confessions (in the Lutheran Church those confessions are found in the Book of Concord). To deviate from orthodox belief is to betray the mission of the church.
Saint Prosper of Aquitaine, an ally of Saint Augustine whose doctrine of grace he defended, wrote these words in a work on the grace of God. “Let us next look also at the sacred prayers which in keeping with the apostolic tradition our priests offer after one norm the world over in every Catholic church. Let the rule of prayer lay down the rule of faith.” (Prosper of Aquitaine: Defense of St. Augustine. Pronouncements of Apostolic See, translated and annotated by P. De Letter, p.183) In Latin the principle is the well known lex orandi, lex credendi. It is important, then, that the text of the liturgy and the preaching conform to the apostolic faith. The victory of those who stood with Augustine can be found in the Second Council Council of Orange held in 529 A.D. Canon 1 of the Council reads, “If anyone denies that it is the whole man, that is both body and soul, that was “changed for the worse” through the offense of Adam’s sin, but believes that the freedom of the soul remains unimpaired and that only the body is subject to corruption, he is deceived by the error of Pelagius and contradicts the scripture which says, “the soul that sins shall die” (Ezek 18: 20): And in Canon 5, “If anyone says that not only the increase but also its beginning and the very desire for faith, which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly and comes to the regeneration of holy baptism-if any one says that this belongs to us by nature and not by the gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness, it is proof that he is opposed to the teaching of the Apostles . . . ” (The Canons of the Second Council of Orange, ed. by Dennis Bratcher) Heresy undoes any good that witnessing intends. It is vital to hold to orthodoxy in our witness and defense.
In liturgical churches (in the West Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran) the text of the liturgy is given and represents centuries of faithful development from the earliest times. What we pray in corporate worship is what we believe.
Our witness and defense of the faith includes our worship as a Christian congregation. Proclamation is an exercise in worship in a communal setting. While we are built up into a spiritual house, those who do not believe stumble over “a rock of offense.” ( I Peter 2)
There are several points to observe. Witness takes place inside and outside the precincts of the church. Worship is central to this witness and so is its communal nature. Witness and apologetics are never done in isolation from the people of God. Even if you are the only Christian in the room, you witness and defend the faith as Christ’s churchly representative. The communal nature of apology and witness is best represented in the worship of the church.
No true witness of Christ is unattached from the life of the church. This assertion is not based on whim but of the Scriptural fact that Christians are those who belong the body of Christ, the church. Christians also show exemplary behavior as I Peter clearly emphasizes. As orthodox doctrine cannot be separated from true witness, neither can ethics.
And finally, witness and apologetics must follow faithfully the teachings of the church; otherwise, we are distorting what we are to say, sing, and share.
With all of this in mind, we defend the faith with gentleness and respect.
October 5, 2023