Let’s say you stumble into a church on a Sunday morning. How could you tell if the worship service is Lutheran or not?
That’s a tricky question to answer. While there are some within my little corner of Lutheran land that believe that there’s only one valid form of worship and that any deviation from that style or order is wrong. But that isn’t an opinion that’s shared by every Lutheran. There are a wide variety of styles and forms that are used, and sometimes within just one congregation. For example, at my current congregation, there are some services that hew a bit more traditional and some that much more “contemporary” (a term that I despise, by the way. All worship is contemporary. If it isn’t, it happened last week). So what makes a worship service Lutheran? Is it the use of an organ? Does the pastor have to wear robes? What factors contribute to a worship service being Lutheran?
While there are some common externals in most Lutheran worship services, there are some non-negotiables when it comes to a Lutheran understanding of worship.
For starters, the focus has to be on God and Christ. It’s always about what He has done for us. Lutherans typically speaking don’t focus on the worshiper or in generating emotional experiences within them. Instead, we focus on what God has done for us. It’s all about Him and His work for us. If the focus ever shifts from Him to us, we’ve done it the wrong way.
There’s also a rhythm to our worship. God speaks, we respond. God does something, and we reply. We are not the ones who initiate the worship experience. God starts it with what He’s done. We are simply responding to His grace.
We also tend to base our worship on Scripture. We want it laced through what we hear, what we say, what we sing. We want a depth of theological richness to what we do and experience in worship. Let me put it to you this way: if you pick up a Lutheran hymnal and just read the lyrics, you’ll gain an understanding of who God is, what He does, and see allusions to numerous Biblical stories and theological concepts. You’ll be able to learn a lot about what Lutherans believe and teach. This is a point of pride for many Lutherans.
Most Lutherans tend to put together very traditional, very structured worship services. These are not designed to stir up emotions (Lutherans tend to mistrust worship experiences that are focused on ginning up emotional responses in the worshipers). Instead, these worship services are designed to follow that rhythm I mentioned earlier, a way for God’s Word to speak to the worshipers, to feed them and strengthen them by reminding them of the awesome things God has done for us.
We’re almost done with this series, I think. There’s just one subject left to touch on, and it’s going to be a lot more boring than you may expect. But tune in next week to see what it’s all about.