Search This Blog

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Archbishop Obare's Sermon, Luther, and the Marks of the Church

Archbishop Obare Preaching 11 September 2010
Installation Service LCMS Presidents and Officers

The entire sermon can be listened to here in audio format and the text can be downloaded here.

Ever since Archbishop Obare preached his sermon for the installation of Synod Presidents, Officers, Boards and Commissions on Saturday, 11 September 2010, I have been pondering some of the comments people made to me after the service. In general, the comments I heard were positive. A few comments about it being hard to hear in the chapel with the echo, etc. One comment stuck in my mind, "Bishop Obare didn't really say the liturgy was a mark of the church did he?" Well, Archbishop Obare did say something about the liturgy being a mark of catholicity as you can see from the quotation below or watch in the video above:

The confessional church and a confessional church leader must keep the clear biblical stand in the teaching and preaching of the Word. He must also be an example for the sheep over which he is made an overseer. This is your call Matthew and all of you newly elected into your new positions. Bring the doubting, those who are not sure whether to follow the Bible or to follow the post-modern views of our day. Help The Lutheran ChurchMissouri Synod to remain a confessional church within the church Catholic. The catholicity of the church is known by these marks: 

  • The Holy ministry headed by the faithful ministers of the Word. 

  • The Holy liturgy as has come down to us through the ages. The so-called contemporary that I only compare with the spontaneous fashions in ladies dresses that appear in the market almost every six or even four months in Kenya deviates from it. 

  • The pure preaching of the Word - Law and Gospel. 

From the text here, it appears that Archbishop Obare has identified three marks of the church. If you watch the video, you will note that under the first mark, "The Holy ministry," he adds who "administer the sacraments." Now with the mention of the "sacraments" you have at least four (or more) marks for the church. The "marks of the church" might be unfamiliar language to some people. It is a term used in dogmatic theology (systematics) to describe how a person can identify where the church on earth is located. If certain things or marks are found in a place, there is the church on earth. As noted previously, Archbishop Obare in the quoted segment of his sermon listed at least four marks by which you can know that the church on earth is located.

Perhaps, the most controversial or confusing remark for people was Archbishop Obare's identification of the "Holy liturgy" as a mark of the church. Upon reflection, I can see why a couple of people asked me what he meant. Within the Missouri Synod, we are not accustomed to speaking about the "liturgy" as a mark of the church, as a way of identifying where the church is at. Indeed, congregations within the Missouri Synod have diverse worship practices. Among some pastors and congregation members, the mention of the "liturgy" evokes page 5 or page 15 from The Lutheran Hymnal, or at the very least a hymnal rather than some media seen as more contemporary. Yet Archbishop Obare's comments were much broader than liturgy as a hymnal. (I can say this with some certainty because currently the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya does not have a hymnal -- they are working on producing one now -- yet the ELCK has the liturgy.)

A good Lutheran question at this point is, "Was ist das?" "What does this mean?"

First, before going into what might be meant, is Archbishop Obare correct when he mentions the "Holy liturgy" or should we sic doctrinal review and the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) on the Archbishop?

To answer this question, I would like to turn to a work by Dr. Martin Luther. The work is called "On Councils and the Church," published in 1539, a few years before Luther's death. (C.F.W. Walther also was very familiar with this work of Luther's. We could go into a discussion on Walther's Church and Ministry and other writings are in agreement with Luther's "On Councils and the Church.")  Luther wrote this document in light of the newly appointed and about to convene Council of Trent. Toward the start of the Reformation, Luther had great hopes that a general church council could address many of the problems in the church. Later in his life, Luther lost hope that a council could solve the problems of the church. He wrote "On Councils and the Church" in three parts. Part I states Luther's thesis that the church cannot be reformed on the basis of councils and the church fathers because throughout history both the councils and the church fathers have deviated from the true source or spring, that is, the Holy Scriptures. In Part II, Luther examines the Apostolic Council (Acts 15) and the first four ecumenical councils —Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), and Chalcedon (451). Luther recognizes the value of church councils (which today would include the Synodical convention) but concludes at best they can help protect the church from false doctrine by affirming the true doctrine which has its source in the Holy Scriptures. Councils cannot create or invent new doctrine. In Part III, Luther deals with the Scriptural marks of the church. It is Part III that we are interested in today. The English translation of "On Councils and the Church" can be found in the American Edition of Luther's Works, volume 41, pages 3 - 178.

In Part III of "On Councils and the Church," Luther identifies "seven marks of the church," of which the One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church can be recognized:

  1. The Holy Word of God. Luther writes, "First, the holy Christian people are recognized by their possession of the holy word of God. To be sure, not all have it in equal measure, as St. Paul says [1 Cor. 3:12–14]. Some possess the word in its complete purity, others do not. Those who have the pure word are called those who 'build on the foundation with gold, silver, and precious stones'; those who do not have it in its purity are the ones who 'build on the foundation with wood, hay, and straw,' and yet will be saved through fire. More than enough was said about this above. This is the principal item, and the holiest of holy possessions, by reason of which the Christian people are called holy; for God’s word is holy and sanctifies everything it touches; it is indeed the very holiness of God, Romans 1 [:16], 'It is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith,' and 1 Timothy 4 [:5], 'Everything is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.'" (AE 41, 148)
  2. The Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Luther writes, "Second, God’s people or the Christian holy people are recognized by the holy sacrament of baptism, wherever it is taught, believed, and administered correctly according to Christ’s ordinance. That too is a public sign and a precious, holy possession by which God’s people are sanctified. It is the holy bath of regeneration through the Holy Spirit [Titus 3:5], in which we bathe and with which we are washed of sin and death by the Holy Spirit, as in the innocent holy blood of the Lamb of God. Wherever you see this sign you may know that the church, or the holy Christian people, must surely be present..." (AE 41, 151)
  3. The Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Luther writes, "Third, God’s people, or Christian holy people, are recognized by the holy sacrament of the altar, wherever it is rightly administered, believed, and received, according to Christ’s institution. This too is a public sign and a precious, holy possession left behind by Christ by which his people are sanctified so that they also exercise themselves in faith and openly confess that they are Christian, just as they do with the word and with baptism." (AE 41, 152)
  4. The Office of the Keys Exercised Publicly (Confession and Absolution). Luther writes,"Fourth, God’s people or holy Christians are recognized by the office of the keys exercised publicly. That is, as Christ decrees in Matthew 18 [:15–20], if a Christian sins, he should be reproved; and if he does not mend his ways, he should be bound in his sin and cast out. If he does mend his ways, he should be absolved. That is the office of the keys. Now the use of the keys is twofold, public and private. There are some people with consciences so tender and despairing that even if they have not been publicly condemned, they cannot find comfort until they have been individually absolved by the pastor. On the other hand, there are also some who are so obdurate that they neither recant in their heart and want their sins forgiven individually by the pastor, nor desist from their sins. Therefore the keys must be used differently, publicly and privately. Now where you see sins forgiven or reproved in some persons, be it publicly or privately, you may know that God’s people are there." (AE 41, 153)
  5. The Calling, Consecrating, and Ordaining of Ministers (The Holy Ministry). Luther writes, "Fifth, the church is recognized externally by the fact that it consecrates or calls ministers, or has offices that it is to administer. There must be bishops, pastors, or preachers, who publicly and privately give, administer, and use the aforementioned four things or holy possessions in behalf of and in the name of the church, or rather by reason of their institution by Christ, as St. Paul states in Ephesians 4 [:8], “He received gifts among men …”—his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some teachers and governors, etc. The people as a whole cannot do these things, but must entrust or have them entrusted to one person. Otherwise, what would happen if everyone wanted to speak or administer, and no one wanted to give way to the other? It must be entrusted to one person, and he alone should be allowed to preach, to baptize, to absolve, and to administer the sacraments. The others should be content with this arrangement and agree to it. Wherever you see this done, be assured that God’s people, the holy Christian people, are present." (AE 41, 154)
  6. Prayer, Public Praise, and Thanksgiving to God (The Liturgy / Public Worship). Luther writes, "Sixth, the holy Christian people are externally recognized by prayer, public praise, and thanksgiving to God. Where you see and hear the Lord’s Prayer prayed and taught; or psalms or other spiritual songs sung, in accordance with the word of God and the true faith; also the creed, the Ten Commandments, and the catechism used in public, you may rest assured that a holy Christian people of God are present. For prayer, too, is one of the precious holy possessions whereby everything is sanctified, as St. Paul says [I Tim. 4:5]. The psalms too are nothing but prayers in which we praise, thank, and glorify God. The creed and the Ten Commandments are also God’s word and belong to the holy possession, whereby the Holy Spirit sanctifies the holy people of Christ." (AE 41, 164)
  7. The Sacred Cross. Luther writes, "Seventh, the holy Christian people are externally recognized by the holy possession of the sacred cross. They must endure every misfortune and persecution, all kinds of trials and evil from the devil, the world, and the flesh (as the Lord’s Prayer indicates) by inward sadness, timidity, fear, outward poverty, contempt, illness, and weakness, in order to become like their head, Christ. ... Wherever you see or hear this, you may know that the holy Christian church is there, as Christ says in Matthew 5 [:11–12], “Blessed are you when men revile you and utter all kinds of evil against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” This too is a holy possession whereby the Holy Spirit not only sanctifies his people, but also blesses them." (AE 41, 165)

At first glance, it seems that Martin Luther has outdone Archbishop Obare by having seven marks of the church while the good Archbishop only four marks. The tally is much closer in reality. Archbishop Obare used the shorthand phrase "word and sacraments" which include three or four items that Martin Luther broke out separately. By my count in that short section of the sermon quoted above, Archbishop Obare listed six of Luther's seven marks of the church. While I don't recall the Archbishop specifically mentioning the cross as a mark, the entire context of the sermon contained the cross, which are the things that prevent the church from being faithful to her calling to proclaim God's truth to a world that doesn't want to hear it.

So back to Archbishop Obare's comment about the holy liturgy being a mark of the church. We see that Archbishop Obare stands in good company with Martin Luther. Some might quibble that Luther didn't actually use the word "liturgy" but instead spoke of the prayers, praise, and thanksgiving of the church. Notice that Luther unpacked "prayers, praise, and thanksgiving" as the Psalms, the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, etc. He is describing a structured worship, a liturgy. Neither Luther nor Obare mention a specific order of service or a particular hymnal. In short, if you want to sic the doctrinal reviewers on Obare, you need to go after Luther first.

This post has become rather long. We didn't have time to look at the Lutheran Confessions, or other quotations from the history of the church that could provide further explanation. Archbishop Obare's sermon has certainly provided us an opportunity to discuss many things and to become more familiar with parts of our church's confession that might have atrophied over the past century.


  1. It should be noted that there is a very good Lutheran hymnal in Swahili called Mwimbieni Bwana with 385 hymns. Some of these hymns are from Germany (many by Luther and Gerhardt), Sweden, USA, and also local African Lutheran hymns. This hymnal also has an extensive liturgy section with Divine Services, but also Wedding, Funeral, Baptismal and other rites. It also includes the one-year lectionary and collects for each Sunday.

  2. Rev. Collver, I thought the installation service was outstanding. I've seen some video clips and printed off the worship folder. I've listened to, and read, Pastor Obare's sermon. His comments on the liturgy were quite interesting, and are comments that I agree with. On hearing it, the concept of 'confession' came to my mind, as in: who does this service confess, what does this service confess, why are we making this confession. I suppose you could even ask where is the confession being made (within the body of believers) and when is this confession being made (in the now, with the times, contemporary).

    Thanks. Peace and prayers.

    Jeremy Loesch

  3. If the Liturgy is the Word of God, the God-ordained Word and Sacraments preached and administered according to Christ's mandate, then what was preached by the Reverend Archbishop was entirely orthodox Lutheran.

    Note the Archbishop's contrast: Liturgy vs. the ever-changing contemporary understandings of worship. This hints at true Liturgy being something solid, meaty, substantive, passed down through the ages, Christ-focused and based on and exuding the Word of God.

    No orthodox Lutheran should have a problem with that understanding of Liturgy. That is, unless he or she really really believes that Liturgy should change like the latest women's dresses in the market.

    Thanks be to God for such a powerful, much-needed, Law/Gospel sermon from Archbishop Obare!

    Robert at

  4. I have pointed out elsewhere, that saying something is a mark of the catholicity of the Church and something is a mark of the Church are two different things. There is some overlap for sure. The former speaks to continuity, the latter answers the question of "Where is the Church?"