Worship: What Does This Mean? is the name of the class that will begin on September 14th, during the Scripture Study hour on Sunday mornings. This is a class that’s for all of the adults and high school youth of the congregation. Similar to our study of the Lord’s Supper last year, I intend this class to provide a foundation for appreciating and understanding the worship that has been handed down to us over the centuries in Christ’s Church. I’ve observed that there is rampant confusion in the Christian Church in general and in the Lutheran Church in particular about worship.
Based on conversations, comments, and questions I’ve heard over the past two years I’ve been with you, I’ve realized that we must spend some time discussing these things here at Good Shepherd. It will be beneficial to us all – both as a congregation, but also as individual Christians – to better grasp just what is going on during the Divine Service, and the rich, amazing history behind it.
The class will begin on Sunday, September 14th. I would like all of the congregation to plan to attend. If your usual Sunday habit is to either not be at church at all, or to slip out after the Divine Service, I ask that you alter your habits for the next few months and attend. Again, adults and high school youth should plan to attend this class.
We’ll learn all about worship: the history; the meaning; “traditional” and “contemporary” music; chanting; bowing; kneeling; art; “smells and bells”; you name it. This will be an experiential class, making use of media and “hands-on” activities to help us learn. There will be time for discussion, plenty of time for questions, and I promise there will be a ton of food for thought. Much that is said about worship nowadays is chiefly opinion, without understanding the theology and history of worship. Much that is assumed to be “OK” in worship is founded on a false theology of worship and conversion.
To whet your appetite for the class, let’s discover the direction of worship. Our default way of describing a church service is to talk about us being present in order to praise God. Worship becomes an activity in which we work to bring some sort of offering to God – our praises – in order to please Him and receive from Him. But this is precisely the opposite of how it is! This is making worship into a law-based ritual, instead of one firmly grounded in the Gospel. In worship, God gives forgiveness in the Gospel read and preached, spoken in the Absolution, and fed in the Lord’s Supper. Here’s what the Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel, a wonderful professor who taught for many years at Concordia Seminary – St. Louis, has to say about the point of worship:
Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise. Music is drawn into this thankfulness and praise, enlarging and elevating the adoration of our gracious giver God.
Saying back to him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most true and sure is his name, which he put upon us with the water of our Baptism. We are his. This we acknowledge at the beginning of the Divine Service. Where his name is, there is he. Before him we acknowledge that we are sinners, and we plead for forgiveness. His forgiveness is given us, and we, freed and forgiven, acclaim him as our great and gracious God as we apply to ourselves the words he has used to make himself known to us.
The rhythm of our worship is from him to us, and then from us back to him. He gives his gifts, and together we receive and extol them. We build one another up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our Lord gives us his body to eat and his blood to drink. Finally his blessing moves us out into our calling, where his gifts have their fruition… (Lutheran Worship, Introduction)
Do you see the order of our worship? It’s always a move from God to us: He comes and gives His Gospel gifts to us; it’s only then that we respond. (In fact, it’s only then that we are enlivened to be able to respond!)
This right direction of worship is borne out of what Scripture teaches us about ourselves and about God. I am dead. I am a sinner. I cannot praise, or confess, or worship God. I am entirely opposed to Him. It’s only when He sends His Holy Spirit to call me by the Gospel, enlighten me with His gifts, sanctify and keep me in the true faith that I am able to do anything positive in response to Him. I can’t believe until He gives me belief. I can’t praise Him until He tells me what He has done for me. I can’t offer Him my thanksgiving until He has fed me with His Supper of Christ’s Body and Blood.
I can’t be saved unless the Son of God comes to pay for my sins and then gives me faith in His Word preached to, and washed over, me. And all this entirely as a gracious gift. A correct understanding of worship comes out of this correct understanding of God’s work of salvation and conversion.
I deeply hope that you’ll make plans to be here for Worship: What Does this Mean? beginning September 14th. Christians desire to grow in the wisdom and understanding of the Faith. I pray that our Lord will give you that desire.