The Main Purpose of Lutheran Worship Is to Receive God's Gifts
If you were to ask most people what "worship" is, they might say, "Worship is praising the Lord" or "Worship is what human beings do to express their thanks to God" or "Worship is going to church," or something like that. While there is some truth to each of these answers, they do not adequately describe the main purpose of Lutheran worship.
We Lutherans have a unique perspective on worship. We know that God's Word and His holy Sacraments are His precious gifts to us. They are the tools the Holy Spirit uses to give us forgiveness, life and salvation. The main purpose of Lutheran worship is to receive these gifts from God.
Our Lutheran Confessions explain this truth as follows: "The service and worship of the Gospel is to receive good things from God" (Apology to the Augsburg Confession, Article IV.310).
God gives His gifts. We receive them. That is the main purpose of Lutheran worship. He does this as His Gospel is proclaimed, as His Word is read, as His forgiveness is announced and sinners are absolved, and as we receive our Lord's body and blood in Holy Communion. In these wonderful ways, God is present with us, His people, drawing us to Himself and giving us what we need so much-His mercy, forgiveness, love, joy, peace, power and comfort! The purpose of worship, therefore, is to be gathered by God around His gifts.
Lutheran Worship Is Christ-Centered
If the main purpose of Lutheran worship is to receive God's gifts, then it follows that Lutheran worship is Christ-centered. Just take a look at the liturgical orders of service in either of our two hymnals. Everything said and done is filled with His Word. Why? Because our focus is on Christ and His work, that's why. The focus of Lutheran worship is on Christ, not man. Therefore, Lutheran worship is always Heliocentric-Christ-centered-and never anthropocentric-man-centered.
The Christ-centered nature of Lutheran worship has direct impact on every other aspect of our worship services. We hear His word read and preached. The hymns sung in our services give Him the glory, honor and praise. We spend a great deal of time singing His praises, and less time singing about our own personal spiritual experiences. With the focus on Christ, we notice that even the art in the church portrays the great saving events of our Lord's life and ministry and the great events of God's saving work among His people. Lutheran worship takes our eyes and sets them firmly on the cross of Jesus Christ, for there the Lord of the Universe suffered and died for the sins of the world. Lutheran worship points us to the Resurrected Lord who lives and reigns to all eternity, and promises us everlasting life. Christ-centered Lutheran worship lifts our hearts and minds to the things of God and helps us to understand our place in Christ's kingdom better as His redeemed people. Yes, Lutheran worship must always be Christ-centered.
When we say Lutheran worship is Christ-centered, this is not to say that those who gather for worship are mere blocks of stone. Our worship focuses on Christ, who is present for us and with us in His Word and Sacraments. He is truly among us. We are not contemplating a far-off Christ, or meditating on abstract ideas. Lutheran worship is not like going to a self-help group or a therapy session. It is God who gathers us for worship around the gifts He gives to us through Word and Sacrament. We are worshiping the One who is very near, as close as the preaching of the Word. We are worshiping the One who is actually present under the bread and wine of Holy Communion. He promised, "I will be with you always." In our worship service He fulfills that wonderful promise. He is living and active among us, right here, right now, where He has promised to be-in His Word and Sacraments. Therefore, it is important to say that while our focus is on Christ, His focus is always on us! Thanks be to God that this is true!
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.
Lutheran Worship Is Characterized by Reverence and Dignity
Our Lutheran worship services should be known as truly sacred events, marked by a deep sense of the holiness and majesty of God. We need to realize that when we attend the worship service, truly holy things are going on. God is with us. He is present among us through Word and Sacrament. The great struggle of God against Satan is taking place as life and salvation are given out. These are serious matters. The angels in heaven sing, "Holy, holy, holy is God the Lord of Sabaoth!" and cover their faces at the sight of the holy God. Dare we behave in a manner that clearly conflicts with this wonderful sense of reverence and dignity?
Lutheran Worship Seeks to Edify Christ's Holy People
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."
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.
The preceding is taken from a post written by Dr. A.L. Barry, President of the Missouri Synod dated 1998 titled: “Lutheran Worship: 2000 and Beyond Seven Theses on Worship” . The post can be read in its entirety by clicking here.