Great Stuff — I wish the liturgy were more accessible. . .

Another great post over on Pastoral Meanderings by Pastor Peters:


6936911514_b9a3573c32_z“Wow! That is a lot to take for someone who has had only a passing association with church before!” So said one visitor to a Sunday morning Divine Service at my parish. She did not say it but clearly her comment meant “I wish the liturgy were more accessible” to a stranger to the church like me…

It would not be the first time someone has uttered those sentiments. It IS a great deal to take in for those who have not had much association with the church before. I will not deny it one bit. Neither will I suggest that it is a fruitful pursuit to try and find a way to dumb down the liturgy just in case there may be (and there always are) people who are strangers to the church and to the mass). I am sure it is overwhelming and even shocking. I would be disappointed if it were not — for what would it say of us if the Divine Mystery of Christ (both efficacious Word and Sacrament) were easy enough to get and dismiss out of hand!

I tell such folks not to make a judgment quickly but to return to the liturgy over and over again. Only then, with familiarity, can come the deep appreciation for the mystery and its grace bestowed upon us by Christ through His Word and Spirit. The liturgy is one of those things learned by doing as much as by studying.

If you are an avid reader of this blog, you know that I do not quote Aristotle — not ever — but one of his tidbits of wisdom certainly applies to the Divine Service:

For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.

— Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics

Though some find it offensive that any person off the street, a stranger to God and His worship, cannot enter the church and feel perfectly at home, I find just the opposite offensive. If a stranger to God and His worship feels at home in the liturgy, there must be something wrong with the liturgy. The liturgy or mass is off putting — not because it is designed to offend but because it goes against all that the sinful heart values most — easy, comfortable, feeling oriented, self-centered pleasure. What is most disarming about the liturgy or the Divine Service is that it compels us to shed ourselves and to become focused upon and open to the work of the Lord through His means of grace. Such is the domain of the Spirit and not simply the training of the human heart but, that said, it is discipline whose value is learned by experience.

We tell parents all the time that the repetition of the liturgy is helpful to the child learning by the experience of it who God is, what He has done, and how He communicates to us the fullness of His grace and gifts. Would not the same be also true of adults who come as infants into the presence of God in the holy ground of the liturgy?

Hardly any sport is transparent or obvious upon first view. Watching the game being played is one of the most important ways we learn its rules and an appreciation for the sport. In the hospital we have interns and residents who continue their education by watching and doing — believing that this is the most effective way to train our doctors. Why do some insist that we must make worship cogent for and accessible to the unchurched who know little of God or His ways? Why do some visit once and presume that they have seen and learned enough to make a reasonable judgment against the church?

To the stranger come upon us, I say stay here long enough to get to know the liturgy. Study it and learn the faith from it, to be sure, but resist the great temptation to judge what you see or experience until you learn its words, its rhythm, and its tempo. To the parent worrying about a child growing distracted from or bored with the liturgy, I say hang in there. Children learn by doing and they are absorbing from the liturgy more than is obvious to you. Reinforce what happens in the Divine Service, to be sure, but do not reject what happens as they experience the church’s liturgy and song over many years of growing up.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

Norm has been involved behind the scenes in many of the "go-to" websites for Lutherans going back many years.


Great Stuff — I wish the liturgy were more accessible. . . — 9 Comments

  1. Dear Norm,

    Thanks for finding another Great Stuff! This one is right on, regarding the issue Pastor Peters addresses.

    Dear BJS Bloggers,

    People who have not grown up with the liturgy in Lutheran, Anglican, Catholic, or Orthodox churches find it strange. They find it strange, because they expect to be a “spectator” (i.e., someone who looks, from Latin specto).

    In our Lutheran liturgy, participation is expected because of our doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers,” i.e., the whole congregation is serving as priests in prayer, praise, thansgiving, supplication, etc., whether spoken or sung. That is our priestly role.

    We also have a more passive “consumer role,” where we spiritually eat (i.e., “consume”) Christ in his Word and Sacrament (see Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, VII, 61-62). But even this requires “reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting God’s holy Word” to truly benefit what is offered.

    If you attend a liturgical service expecting to simply be a “bump on a log,” that is all you will be. We probably do people a dis-service if we invite them to worship and do not warn them in advance that the congregation is not a group of “spectators.”

    Kudos to Pastor Peters for another “grand slam” right out of the ballpark!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  2. WOW, thanks Norm for posting this little gem of an essay from Pastor Peters. I’ve been attending church all my life and I thank God I had faithful parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who encouraged me to come to church with them through the years. I love the historic liturgy-the prayers, the responses, the singing of the hymns, etc, etc. I took it all for granted until some well-intentioned pastors and laity tried to take it away for the sake of the ‘seekers’ in the world.

    Why is it that in the LCMS today a pastor or church council or worship committee can wreck havoc on the Divine Service on Sunday morning, by leaving out the Introit, Kyrie, and Gloria for the summer? Or not speaking the Apostles’ Creed or Nicene for months because we are reading portions of the Small Catechism, which is a good thing, but not at the expense of the Creeds! Isn’t the article ( I forget which one it is) in the Augsburg Confession about adiaphora being abused?

    Thanks for letting me blow off some steam:)

    In Christ,

  3. “I wish the liturgy were more accessible” to a stranger to the church like me…

    Last month I watched more soccer than I ever believed I would. Now, it would have been helpful if I’d known all the rules and conventions of the game when I started. [How is it that the ref can arbitrarily add time when the 90 minutes are up? Why don’t they kick that overgrown toddler out for biting opposing team members?]

    So I read things and asked questions. [The “overgrown toddler” is said to be one of the best soccer players in the world. Heaven forbid he should be expected to have manners, too!]

    Why is it that people know that they have to learn the rules of a game, but think that worship of God should be dumbed down to their level?
    Yes, the churches can provide a more helpful bulletin, hymns set off in bold and integrated into the order of service. But that doesn’t require changing the order, or the names of things (the Latin is all translated in LSB anyway).

    Payton Manning didn’t get where he is by asking for the game to be simplified for his convenience. [“Hey, can’t we have weight limits for those elephants who are intent on sacking me!?” Yeah, right!]

  4. Visitors can handle the participation. What they cannot handle is skipping all over the hymnbook to keep up with you.

  5. @Richard Lewer #4
    If there is a visitor who doesn’t seem to know the hymnbook, just sit with them and show them where to turn. It will also give them a new friend and someone to ask questions afterwards.

  6. @Richard Lewer #4
    Visitors can handle the participation. What they cannot handle is skipping all over the hymnbook to keep up with you.

    There is a lot less “skipping over the hymn book” than “TV watchers” imagine.

    And that can be simplified. Churches can fold a bulletin to have a 2.5-3 inch “border” which sticks outside the hymnal when the bulletin is slipped into the back cover. That reference column has the page numbers for the service, which are consecutive except for hymns. The hymn names and numbers are placed where they will be used in bold type. Anyone who can read can follow along.
    Come three times and you’ll be a veteran at any consistent liturgical service.

    [IF you have a “creative” pastor/worship committee who think they’ll impress the “seeker” with a different “show” every Sunday, all bets are off and you deserve the results.]

  7. and having a little booklet to inform people of what the liturgy is and stands for including all the meanings of order of service, is a great thing to hand out to visitors who often have no clue what is going on or why it is going on.

  8. @Stefan #7
    ABSOLUTELY. Better yet, have bible studies on the topic so that, along with catechism study, the laymen have yet another great weapon in their arsenal against the devil the world and their own flesh. I’ve even found it very useful when talking with joe baptist who’s favorite accusation against us is “rituals.” Joe Baptist gets really quiet really fast when he realizes he is criticizing none other than God’s word.

  9. As much as I appreciate traditional liturgy, I have also found it refreshing to visit a non-liturgical church where simplicity is the order of the day: Pray, praise, hear the Gospel, bless your brothers and sisters.

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