Why the Liturgy?
I have not been able to verify this statement; however, I have been told that it was comedian Jeff Foxworthy that once said, “If your Baptist friends think you are a Roman Catholic, and your Roman Catholic friends think you are a Baptist, you might be a Lutheran!”
How very true! As Lutherans, our theology is indeed Protestant. In fact, we are the original Protestants growing out of the Protestant Reformation of 1517. Yet to many modern Christians, our form of worship appears very similar, to some too similar, to that of the Roman Catholic Church.
It is quite common for some people to visit a Lutheran Church and ask why we follow the order of service that we do. If a person has ever been to a Roman Catholic mass, they will recognize that the structure of the liturgy is very similar to worship in our Lutheran churches and the truth is, this is not an accident. Martin Luther and his followers, other reformers, did not seek to establish a new church, but to call the Roman Catholic Church back to true and faithful worship based entirely upon the preaching of the Gospel. The Protestant Reformers never argued with good, pious, historic customs, and traditions that were biblically based. They only wanted to remove – that is to reform the church – away from those false practices that were contrary to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures.
Martin Luther and other reformers saw great value in retaining those practices of the church that were in keeping with the clear teaching and practices of the apostles and the early church fathers. As Lutherans our worship, formally called “the Divine Service,” may be seen as formal when compared to other Protestant worship services, especially today’s more emotionally charged contemporary services that emphasize God’s provisions for “me and my needs” rather than on the biblical call to “worship in the beauty of holiness.”
As Lutherans, “the Divine Service” as the name implies, is worship that is always intentionally established, centered, and focused upon Almighty God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as He has revealed Himself to us in the Holy Bible. We worship in this manner because it is first of all biblical and because God has revealed Himself as our Creator and our Redeemer. He alone is worthy of our worship.
It has been said, “Worship is like one foot in heaven with the other here on earth. Worship brings heaven into our earthly lives.” In worship we praise the One Eternal God as we confess our sins, receive His forgiveness, praise His Name, affirm our faith, hear His Word, offer our hymns of adoration and thanksgiving, bring our petitions before Him, and receive His sacraments.
So, why the liturgy? Because the liturgy connects us with all of God’s people in all ages, past and present, as well as His people on earth and His people in heaven. Plainly defined, the liturgy is the service of worship. One dictionary provides us with this definition: “Liturgy is the customary public worship performed by a religious group, according to its beliefs, customs and traditions. Liturgy is a communal response to and participation in, the sacred through activity reflecting praise, thanksgiving, supplication, and repentance.”
Therefore, if we consider worship is “heaven on earth,” and in a very real sense that is indeed what it is, then it stands to reason that what we do and say in worship should give us a foretaste of that great feast to come – eternal glory in the presence of Almighty God!
In the coming months, I want us to look together at the importance of our Divine Service as we review just how each part of the ancient liturgy gives us a special glimpse into heaven and, perhaps more importantly, how traditional liturgy delivers to us, here and now, the eternal benefits of God’s forgiveness, acceptance, life, and salvation. Thanks be to God!
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