the weblog of Alan Knox

Luther on Making Decisions for the Church

Posted by on Sep 3, 2009 in church history, discipleship, gathering | 3 comments

Previously, I’ve written a couple of posts concerning Luther’s “The German Mass and Order of Divine Service.” (See “Luther and the Church” and “Luther and the non-Christian ‘worship service’.”)

In this short essay, Luther describes three types of “divine services.” The first two – in Latin and German respectively – are designed for non-Christians. Concerning these two meetings, Luther says in his preface, “They [the people attending] are not yet believers or Christians.”

But, what about for those who are Christians? Luther describes a third type of meeting in his preface for those who “are desirous of being Christians in earnest.” This meeting would be less public and more discipleship oriented. While this type of meeting may appear to be a modern-day “Bible study,” Luther says that this is the time for Christians to practice the “sacraments.” For Luther, this third type of meeting is the church meeting.

Unfortunately, Luther says that he does not know enough believers to hold this type of meeting. He says, “But I cannot and would not order or arrange such a community or congregation at present. I have not the requisite persons for it, nor do I see many who are urgent for it.” So, the majority of the essay is spent describing the first two “divine services,” which are for non-Christians and after which most churches pattern their “worship service.”

As I was talking about Luther’s essay with a friend recently, a portion of Luther’s statement stood out to me. Concerning putting together the “third type” of church meeting (the one for people who are really Christians), Luther says:

In the meantime, I would abide by the two Orders aforesaid; and publicly among the people aid in the promotion of such Divine Service, besides preaching, as shall exercise the youth and call and incite others to faith, until those Christians who are most thoroughly in earnest shall discover each other and cleave together; to the end that there be no faction-forming, such as might ensue if I were to settle everything out of my own head.

Luther understands something that many Christian leaders today fail to recognize. When leaders make decisions for the church – instead of waiting for God to bring the church as a whole to make decisions – the leaders’ decisions will typically lead to “faction-forming.” Regardless of good intentions, God never intended Christian leaders (even elders) to “settle everything” for themselves.

Notice what Luther says… even though he thinks this third form of meeting would be better for the church, he’s waiting “until those Christians who are most thoroughly in earnest shall discover each other and cleave together.” Luther is not willing to force the people to do something that they are not ready to do, even though Luther thinks it is best for them.

If you read a few lines before Luther’s statement, you’ll find something even more interesting. What happens to the “form and order” of this meeting once God has changed the hearts of the people so that they are ready for it? Does Luther then move ahead and “settle everything”? No, because at that point he won’t have to!

Luther says, “In one word, if we only had people who longed to be Christians in earnest, Form and Order would soon shape itself.” People who are earnestly attempting to follow Christ in their relationships with one another – including when they meet together as the church – do not have to be forced into a certain “form and order” by their leaders – not even a leader and important and impressive as Luther! Instead, we can safely trust God to handle the form and order as well!

Certainly, at times, there will be people in our meetings who are not following the Spirit and who are not concerned with edifying other believers. When these people become unruly, others can gently remind them of our purpose in meeting together.

But, overall, we do not have to force our methods of meeting on other people. We can teach and disciple and wait for God to change people’s hearts and minds in this area. Also, we do not have to force or design a certain type of meeting. Once again, we simply need to give God time and opportunity to work, and give people an opportunity to build up one another.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-3-2009

    I am so glad that you posted this about Luther. It goes to show that he struggled also with the proper order of assembling.
    Yet not saying it isn’t important, but all we ever hear about Luther is the justification by faith and that is it.
    And that would be enough in and of itself. Again not dismissing that issue at all.
    We really need to research the whole of history concerning the reformers to better understand where God was taking the church.
    Yet we usually stop short.

  2. 9-3-2009

    Hi Alan-

    Good post.

    I came across this viewpoint of Luthers while reading “The Torch of the Testimony”.

  3. 9-3-2009


    The reformers struggled with many, many things. Remember that Calvin wrote and re-wrote his “Institutes” several times. It was only after his death that his followers decided his last version was the right one.


    There’s alot of good stuff in old writings. But, those things are usually not brought up in theology or history books.



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