Summary: Living according to the pattern that the Apostles have handed down to us.
Philippians 3:17: “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”
As a Lutheran convert, I can only go by what others tell me about what we did as a church body 60 years ago. But I’m told back then, it didn’t matter where you traveled. If you walked into an LC-MS church, you knew how to worship. You knew what to expect, for we all used the liturgy on pg. 5 or pg. 15 from the old hymnal.
That was good, but also bad. Most of us worshiped in a particular way, not knowing why, or ever having learned to appreciate the worship forms handed down to us from the previous 2,000 years, parts of which even hail back to Old Testament worship.
We’ve used the liturgy as far back as we can remember. But we never became liturgical, much to our spiritual harm. And so we began to resent the sameness, the stodginess, the seemingly never-ending boredom of pg. 5 and pg. 15. When we could finally be free of those chains, we would!
It’s now 2009. We are now free of those chains. But something else has enslaved us! When you travel and step into an LC-MS church you never know what you may find. Often the preached Word is devoid of doctrine, filled with fun stories that may make you laugh, but leaving you spiritually famished. Rock bands have replaced the reverence of being in the presence of God. These entertainment-driven worship forms go against the grain of who we are to be as Christians. Even our confessions say that our worship services are “celebrated with the highest reverence”? (AC 24, para 1) But you wouldn’t know that today, would you?
And so instead of boredom, many of us are entertaining ourselves straight into hell. Instead of us being brought into the Church, where God’s truths and doctrines are to change us, we’ve let the world and our worldly desires take the Church hostage. In the name of missions, or so we think, we’ve become more like the world--the exact opposite of what the Church is supposed to be! We are to be in the world, but not of it!
Each congregation is to be a mission outpost, a reflection of Christ in the world. The Church is not a place where the world tells her how to live, move, and have her being. When the world controls what we do instead of God, we commit idolatry.
After hearing today’s Epistle reading, this lusting after the ways of the world is something we should grieve and repent over. We are committing idolatry, using missions as the reason, twisting Scripture just like Satan does. The Apostle Paul--the most-mission minded of all the apostles--tells us to join with others in following his example, of living according to the pattern that he has handed down to us.
So let us move back in time to learn what we’ve long-forgotten, so that we can move forward in this time and place. Let us go back to the Reformation to see how Luther tried to restore the pattern the Apostle Paul gave the Church. While visiting congregations, Luther learned how little the people knew of the faith they were to believe, not unlike today. Luther found many pastors who didn’t preach faithful sermons, not unlike today. And so, in response, Luther wrote the Large Catechism.
Part of the idea behind the Large Catechism was that, even if a pastor was an ill-equipped barker of the Word, he could at least take the Large Catechism into the pulpit and read it to the people. By doing so, the pastor would be following a “pattern of sound teaching,” as Paul wrote Pastor Timothy to do (2 Timothy 1:13). That way he could provide his congregation with the “milk” and the “solid food” of God’s Word (Hebrews 5:12), nourishing them in the one, true faith.
The Large Catechism allowed the poorly trained pastor to live the word of the Apostle Paul. It allowed him to “take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you,” and so to pattern his life in that way, even in the pulpit.
In our Epistle reading, the Apostle Paul implies, although we don’t like that implication, that we are like herd animals. But that’s true. Doesn’t Scripture also describe the Church as a flock? Like a flock of sheep, we are not given to go off on our own, to choose our own way of following Jesus. Doing that is not following Jesus, but becoming a lost sheep.
A Christian is not a lone ranger; he is part of a flock, the Church. Each Christian, as the Apostle Paul says, is to join with others in following [his] example, noting those who live according to the pattern he gave us. Paul is saying, “Fix your attention on, and mimic those, who live out the faith as we have taught. Identify them; imitate them.”