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June 2014 - Theses on Lutheran Worship

Theses on Lutheran Worship

I ran across an old document that former Synodical President A. L. Barry presented on Lutheran Worship entitled: “Lutheran Worship: 2000 and Beyond”.  It was an excellent presentation, and I thought I would share a couple of the theses.  Barry’s comments still are applicable today. Enjoy – and God’s blessings to you!     Pastor Reiser


Thesis III: Lutheran Worship Is a Reflection of Lutheran Theology

The ancient church had a saying: "The law of prayer is the law of belief." In other words, how you pray is a reflection of what you believe. How a congregation conducts its worship service is a reflection of its theological convictions. Therefore, Lutheran worship must always be a clear reflection of Lutheran theology. This is a very important point.

When Martin Luther did the work God had given him to do in reforming the church, he did not throw out the historic liturgical worship of the church. His reforms were cautious and careful. Luther took the church's historic liturgical worship and removed the Roman Catholic errors that had crept into it. He brought the Gospel to the forefront and got rid of what conflicted with the Gospel. He did not discard the historic liturgy. Luther's concern was that the Gospel predominate and be the center of Lutheran worship. But unlike other reformers of the sixteenth century, Luther did not believe that the best way to preserve the Gospel in the church was by cutting off the church's connection to its historic liturgical practices. Luther recognized the great value of the church's liturgical worship.

While it is certainly true that we can and should borrow what is good from many traditions, Lutheran worship reflects the historic patterns of worship the church has known for thousands of years. Sometimes we hear people say that because the Reformation occurred in Germany, Lutheran worship is "German." This is really quite untrue. Our Lutheran worship is in line with the historic worship of the church of the ages. We need to recognize that our worship reflects traditions that are Palestinian, African, East Asian, Greek, Italian, French, Spanish, German and so forth. The historic Christian worship service is rooted in thousands of years of tradition and reflects the contributions of many ethnic groups. In this way, Lutheran worship transcends contemporary culture and does not bind us to any one culture.

But again, let me return to our thesis: Lutheran worship must always reflect Lutheran theology. What does this mean for our worship services? It means that we will not go out of our way to discard the treasures of the Christian liturgical tradition, for we recognize that these are good forms that transcend time and culture. Because Lutheran worship reflects Lutheran theology, we notice a strong emphasis on the proclamation of God's Word, in both spoken and sung form. We notice a high regard for our Lord's presence in His Sacraments, with a particularly high regard for the Lord's Supper. Lutheran worship is shaped and molded by our firm belief that God the Holy Spirit is present and active in Word and Sacrament, creating a people for God and continually renewing the people of God.

But let us examine the flip side of this thesis. If Lutheran worship is a reflection of Lutheran theology, what do you think might happen if we were, for example, to begin to conduct our worship services in a manner similar to what one might find in a Baptist church, a Pentecostal church, or a non-denominational Evangelical church? Do you think it is reasonable to assume that if Lutherans worship like Baptists, it will probably not be too long before they believe as Baptists do? Or, if Lutherans worship like Charismatics, how long will it be before we embrace the doctrine and practices of the Charismatic movement? If we Lutherans recognize our roots and why we worship the way we do, it will probably also be true that we will wish to remain with that basic pattern of worship. As we contemplate changes in this pattern, we exercise restraint, care and caution, for we recognize that genuine Lutheran worship is a reflection of genuine Lutheran theology.


Thesis V: Lutheran Worship Transcends Culture

It is very tempting for the Christian church to do whatever is popular for the moment in the culture around us. We need to recognize that Lutheran worship transcends culture. I am not saying that church is an "escape" from the world. This can never happen. I am saying that our worship services need to help us see clearly that when we gather as God's people, we have stepped out of our own human opinion and passing fads, and have moved into God's world.

We need to take great care in our worship practices that we not allow our church to be caught up in the latest trends that come along in our culture. We also need to take care that what we do in worship does genuinely communicate God's truths to God's people today. An excellent article appeared in a journal for church musicians that underscores the point I am trying to make under this thesis. Let me share a quote from the article:

Today's culture tells us that we deserve whatever we want whenever we want it. This mentality is rapidly invading the church. The ultimate blasphemy of a consumer culture is its desire to consume God. Though not church-growth advocated, televangelism has turned religion into magic, instead of the mystery we may all need. If the church roots itself in marketing and consumerism, it will always seek to please the customer. Worship planners will seek to use the "immediately familiar." The result will be the "tyranny of the familiar" that changes every few years even while we ignore our own traditions. The long-term implication will be that we can cut ourselves off from deeper and longer-lasting Christian roots and even our own unique denominational roots. . . . In a "get and go" culture, and in one which says, "Don't worry, be happy," how are we to proclaim that we depend on God, rather than having God depend upon our ceaseless activities that may masquerade as gospel? (Collman, "The Tyranny of the Familiar," The American Organist [March 1995], p. 39).

These are strong words. We need to consider such words carefully. As we seek to reach out boldly with the Gospel, let us take care always to remember that our worship services are not merely one more way people can be amused or entertained. We need to be gathered by God to receive His gifts, and to hear His Word applied to our lives. Then we are equipped to go out into our world to serve Him who so wonderfully serves us with His Gospel. We gather in worship to be strengthened for service to our Lord in our daily callings in life, whatever they may be, wherever they may be. If our worship only reflects what we find in our world, then something has gone seriously wrong. If our worship services become only a little bit different from what we might experience at a rousing musical concert or an exciting sporting event, haven't we missed the mark?

We would not wish to give people the impression that there is one specific and distinct period of time we must emulate. That is why the Christian church's worship has developed slowly and gradually down through the centuries and why, from culture to culture, there are differences in the style of music and the forms used. Underneath it all, at least in the historic Christian traditions, of which Lutheranism is certainly a part, there are common patterns and forms of worship that have come down through the ages. These forms have served the church well, and will continue to serve us well as we move toward the year 2000 and beyond.



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