Lutheran Worship Transcends Culture (5 of 7)

By: A.L. Barry

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 a “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. 

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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