Paul R. Schilf, Ph.D.
Lutheran worship must place the focus squarely on Jesus Christ, who is present for us and with us through His Word and Sacraments in the divine service. Lutheran worship is only Christ-centered, not man-centered. Our hymnal describes worship: “Our Lord speaks and we listen… Saying back to Him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure…. The rhythm of our worship is from Him to us, and then us back to Him.” Lutheran Worship is not some gathering where man is in control and the use of every new fad or trend becomes the norm. The fact is, Lutheran worship is not our action, but it is Divine Service, God’s action on our behalf. It is God giving His gifts and our thanksgiving with His Words in return.
The Divine Service is “holy” time, meaning, “set apart.” It is a time that we are set apart from the secular, working world. Our holy or set apart time is just that, our worship is set apart from our daily routines and every-day life. In order to have this perspective complete, one must therefore realize that worship is not some form of man-made amusement to “touch our hearts” or “uplift our spirits.” Rather, it should be a real and thorough immersion in the thought process of God’s Word, equipping and strengthening us for greater service to Him and to His people. It is not only a Sunday morning phenomenon, but appropriate any time. As a corporate body of believers, Sunday is the time when we gather together for worship, the divine service. Most certainly in worship we are gathered together in the presence of the almighty, holy God, and we are a part of the time of “heaven on earth.”
We frequently hear from other church denominations and even churches of the LCMS that we need to make worship “relevant to today’s generation,” or worse, “marketable.” The very sad wrong that is committed here is that making worship relevant is not our job! We limit the power of the Holy Spirit when we believe we can improve upon God’s action. It’s not the job of some praise band, or the job of some emotion-filled speaker, or of high-tech facility to create sensations. The relevance in worship only comes from the Word of God and how the Holy Spirit interacts with us through that Word. Society’s perception of “relevance” of the text, music, and actions should never be the issue; we should leave “relevance” to the Holy Spirit. Without placing the emphasis on ourselves, or what we can do to make worship relevant in some emotion-filled stupor, we simply come to His house, where we are fed with His gifts in Word and Sacrament.
Holy Scripture is quite clear on what is involved in worship. “I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind” (1 Cor. 14:15b). The mind is also emphasized in Paul’s letter to the Romans 12:1-2 “Therefore, do not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” With these words St. Paul emphasizes in unmistakable terms that corporate worship, specifically singing, must be with understanding—with the “mind,” attesting the intense intellectual activity that the Holy Spirit produces in worship. Worship is not a form of entertainment, or even a passive attendance. Worship is dignified, reverent, and sacred. Furthermore, we do not worship by conforming to the “patterns of this world” but by engaging in a time set-apart for Him to come to us in Word and Sacrament. God provides all the relevance that is needed for true worship!
Barry, A.L. (1996). What About Lutheran Worship? St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House
Buszin, W.E. (1958). Luther on Music. New York, NY: Lutheran Society For Worship, Music, and the Arts, by permission of G. Schirmer Inc.
Precht, F.L. (1992). Lutheran Worship, Hymnal Companion, St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House
Schalk, C.E. (1983). Music in Lutheran Worship. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.
What belonged to the theater was brought into the church—and what belonged to the church [was brought] into the theater. Everything was so changed into light jesting, that earnestness was stripped of its worth by wit, and that which is holy became a subject for banter and scoffing in the refined conversation of worldly people.
Yet, worse it was that the unbridled delight of these men in dissipating enjoyments threatened to turn the church into a theater, and the preacher into a play actor. If he would please the multitude, he must adapt himself to their taste, and entertain them amusingly in the church. They demanded also in the preaching something that should please the ear; and they clapped with the same pleasure the comedian in the holy place and him on the stage. And alas, there were found at that period too many preachers who preferred the applause of men to their souls’ health.
— Gregory of Nazianzus (ca. A.D. 330-390), Prolegomena