Paul R. Schilf, Ph.D.

Lutherans look at their worship as part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. Because of this, the way we worship looks to historic traditions and Scripture as the only important sources of defining proper worship practices. Lutheran worship does not hesitate to critically examine its heritage from the past and subject it to sound theological, psychological, and sociological examination for its meaning and usefulness for our own time. By theological review, Lutheran worship reminds the participant that the individual worshipper is not the primary focus of the congregational endeavor.

Such theological review reminds the participants about their sinful nature and their need for Christ's redemption. Additionally, psychological and sociological review, when acknowledged from a theological and historical perspective, suggests that each age or individual congregation must not start anew to fashions, trends, and sentiments of worship and prayer. But that solid, traditional Lutheran worship is an experience which has gathered the experiences of the church as a whole, through history and doctrinal scrutiny.

For Lutherans, the word tradition—in the sense of the gathered experience of the church at worship throughout its history—is an important working concept. For Lutherans, their worship tradition is always a living tradition, which builds on the experience of the past. In some places, the word tradition is misunderstood to mean merely conventional practices that may have developed in some place and have no relation to the experience of the whole church. Often it means no more than "what we in this parish are used to" or "how we did it last year." More often than not, such traditions merely reflect sectarian fads that have become conventional through individual congregational repetition.

It is Lutheran convictions and perspectives that place the [actual] needs of people central and where they are most effectively met by worship forms and structures of prayer which draw on the collective experience of the one whole, holy, catholic [universal], and apostolic church at worship. For some, such structures and practices—when used for the first time—will be new and, perhaps, disconcerting. Once they become a normal and integrated part of the life of worship, however, their richness, strength, diversity, power to nourish faith and life, and their ability to help Lutherans praise God and enjoy Him forever, soon becomes apparent.

Lutherans must never settle for second best in their worship life. They must strive to worship their Lord with the best possible music, worship forms, and structures of prayer. Never should sectarian fads and pop culture replace the solid doctrinal forms that have served the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church for centuries. Our Lord provides the best for us in His sacramental gifts. Worship styles that make us "feel good" or provide us with a link to secular society are inherently wrong, as their goal is self-serving and are attempts to dumb-down the church. We Lutherans must offer our best; we must attempt to "return to the Lord our God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love."

Notes:
Buszin, W.E. (1958). Luther on music. New York, NY: Lutheran Society For Worship, Music, and the Arts, by permission of G. Schirmer Inc.
Schalk, C.E. (1983). Music in Lutheran worship. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.
Coming In September: Youth of the church, what are their feelings about appropriateness of religious music?