Lutheran Worship Is a Reflection of Lutheran Theology (3 of 7)

By: A.L. Barry

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.

A Presentation to the Real Life Worship Conference
Sponsored by the LCMS Commission on Worship
Denver, Colorado
February 1998

Lutheran Worship: 2000 and Beyond
Seven Theses on Worship 

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