Lutheran Worship Seeks To Edify Christ's Holy People (6 of 7)

By: A.L. Barry

There is a beautiful prayer that we say at the end of some of our worship services. It goes like this: “Grant, we implore you, almighty God, to your Church your Holy Spirit and the wisdom which comes down from above, that your Word may not be bound, but have free course and be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people.” When it comes to Lutheran worship, we could modify this prayer in this way: “Grant, we implore you, almighty God, to your Church your Holy Spirit and the wisdom which comes down from above, so that our worship services may be done for the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people.”

In our Synod today, there is a genuine point of tension between well-intentioned people who feel differently about worship. Some have referred to “worship wars” in our Synod. As we express our concerns about what are sometimes even dramatic novelties and shifts away from our church’s historic worship practices, we want to take great care that we do not trample underfoot those who may disagree with us. Nor do we need to pull out our six-guns and start blasting away, nor simply “write off” those with whom we may find ourselves in disagreement, no matter what side of these issues we are on.

As we struggle with questions of what is in the best interest of edifying Christ’s people, we recognize that the greatest challenge is the need for catechesis, that is, teaching. Many of the people in our congregations have never had a good opportunity to learn what Lutheran worship is all about. It is dangerous when a congregation just does the worship service without ever knowing why. If a congregation’s only explanation of why they worship the way they do is, “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it,” there is a great need for catechesis in that congregation. Ignorance about the liturgy is as a great a danger as throwing out the church’s liturgical worship. As we move toward the year 2000 and beyond, we have before us an incredible opportunity to teach the faith, and all the good, wholesome, Gospel-centered traditions of our faith. We must be very patient and loving as we work with people to help them appreciate the great liturgical heritage of the Lutheran Church.

In that connection, in order to edify Christ’s people as they gather for worship, we need to take great care not  to conduct the liturgy in a cold and lifeless manner. Simply “going by the book,” without quality presentation, makes for a dull, plodding liturgy. Nothing could be worse for the cause of increasing appreciation for Lutheran worship among us than worship done merely by “rote,” with little feeling or joy. Our worship services need to be well done. They need to move along at a good pace. Pastors should be familiar with their parts of the liturgy. Organists need to be well rehearsed and committed to providing excellence in leading the singing and music of the service. Choirs should be be dedicated to rehearsal and practice, to do the best they possibly can for the Lord and for the edification of Christ’s holy people.

All we do in our worship services is as a reflection of our love for God and a response to the tremendous gifts He gives us in the worship service. A well-done liturgical service is truly a joyful and edifying experience. Excellent worship services draw us away from the humdrum hype and hoopla of Madison Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard and bring us into the “holy of Holies” of the Lord’s presence where we receive His forgiveness through the Word and Sacraments. This is the goal of a well-done worship service. A poorly done service, on the other hand, detracts from the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people.

Another important way to make sure worship is truly edifying is to be sensitive to the needs of visitors to our  worship services. I believe an over reaction to this concern is to say that our services are to be designed for visitors. The person who visits one of our Synod’s congregations needs to be impressed with the truth that something awesome is taking place. The visitor may not immediately understand everything going on in the worship service. This will take time and patient instruction.

Let’s use an illustration to make the point. Suppose you knew nothing about baseball and were asked to come to a Colorado Rockies baseball game. Do you suppose they would change what was happening down on the field just because you were a visitor who didn’t know too much about baseball? No, of course not. They would play the game as it always has been played. But they would perhaps provide a scoreboard that would help you keep up with the game. Maybe someone would take you to the game, explain it to you, and talk about it with you afterwards to help you understand it even more. There would be books for you to read so you could learn more about baseball. I think you realize the point I am making.

We need  to take great care to help our visitors appreciate and understand what is happening without changing things just so that every point is perfectly clear to the visitor. Excellent materials are availableto help the visitor understand Lutheran worship. Our Synod’s Commission on Worship produces an excellent quarterly insert in our Synod’s monthly newspaper, Reporter. There is a tremendous book available, which is perhaps the most thorough-going, confessionally Lutheran presentation on worship that has ever appeared in English, titled, Lutheran Worship: History and Practice. There is a pocket-sized book titled Meaningful Worship: A Guide to the Lutheran Service, which would be good to use with new members and visitors. These books are available from Concordia Publishing House here in St. Louis.

“The joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people” is one of the important goals we must continue to hold high before us as we discuss and work through these important issues. I commend to you the goal of careful catechesis, that is, teaching the people of our congregations what is involved in being a confessional Lutheran in our world today.

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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