The Divine Service Can Be Like Going to Mars

August 12th, 2013 Post by

marsHave you ever been to a foreign country where the language and customs of its people were utterly strange to you? Visiting some countries is nearly an extraterrestrial experience and interestingly enough, going to the divine service for the first time can feel like one has traveled to Mars! Understanding what is going on in the divine service can be daunting for the “noobie” Lutheran, to say the least. I know something about this, since I am not a lifelong Lutheran and my first divine service was somewhat puzzling to me.

Prior to becoming a Lutheran, I was an atheist. I spent eighteen years of my adult life trying to push God out of my mind. Although, before I was an atheist I had grown up in Pentecostal groups and eventually found myself in a Conservative Baptist Association church. In fact, my last “worship service” was at that church, which followed all the cutting edge church growth methods of the day. All I ever knew about worship were the fads of the pop-church. The only exposure I had to pipe organ music, flowing robes, and chanting in a “service” was through science fiction movies like Beneath the Planet of the Apes where a nuclear bomb is the center of a liturgical service… of sorts. Ahem.

When our Lord plucked me up off the atheist trash heap and breathed faith into me through His precious Holy Word, I had no clue where to look for His Church. I firmly believe it was divine providence that brought me to my current congregation, Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle and that is where I attended my first Lutheran divine service.

I hesitatingly set foot into what was to become my church home to this day. Walking into the narthex sent me into culture shock. I tried to avoid as many people as I could while I quietly slipped into the nave, found a pew and sat down, not knowing what to expect. The pastor found me and introduced himself. Honestly, I was completely shocked by his appearance. He was wearing his clericals, and I thought I must have stumbled upon a Roman Catholic church by accident. After his warm welcome my pastor disappeared into the sacristy to get dressed into his vestments, which was yet another surprise for me. I was used to seeing pastors either wearing expensive handmade suits, or going business casual. What had I gotten into?

inside-lutheran-cathedralAs I sat in my pew amazed by all the colorful “thing-a-ma-jig-a-bobs” (which I later learned are called ‘paraments’ used to denote times of the Church year) hanging at specific places, the organist started playing some music. I wondered where it was coming from, since I saw no instruments at all. All the churches I previously attended had praise bands at the front of the sanctuary, but that wasn’t the case here. Looking behind me I found that the organ was in a loft at the back of the nave. At the time I found that very odd, having no idea why anyone would hide a perfectly good musician in the back of the church.

Earlier an usher had greeted me and welcomed me to the service, handing me a bulletin[1]. At first, I thought it was just the congregation’s weekly newsletter. The Baptist church I had attended years ago had a weekly newsletter. Didn’t everyone? When I opened up the bulletin I didn’t know what I was looking at. It was somewhat familiar. I saw where the sermon was to be given, and there was the point in the service when the offering would be collected, and here and there was a reference to a hymn number.  I could make something out of the bulletin, but I didn’t fully understand what I held in my hands. For instance, what is a “divine service setting”? What about “invocation” and “confession”? What are “introit” and “kyrie”? What did it all mean? I felt a little light headed and confused.

The organist warmed up to the opening hymn of the service. I turned the pages in the hymnal to find our music selection. Didn’t these people know there are projection screens? How was anyone going to wave their hands in the air if they have to hold a book? Several of these sorts of questions went through my mind; remember my only exposure to worship was Bapticostal. I began singing along with the congregation, clearing my throat and sputtering along for I am unable to carry a tune. I didn’t allow my less than average vocal talents dissuade me from loudly butchering the lyrics as I joyfully “sang” along. To this day I feel sorry for those who sit in front of me. It’s hard to listen to an ex-atheist with a horrendous voice belt out a hymn with gusto! Was that a sigh and a whispered “kyrie eleison” I heard from the parishioner within earshot of me?

bulletinThe song was over and everybody started standing up. Oh, yes, I saw the queue to stand right there in my bulletin, too. The pastor came out and faced this huge ark-like looking thing which I was to learn in adult catechism class is the altar. The pastor bowed, turned and faced the congregation and declared, “In the name of the Father and of the Son…”—all around me people started making the sign of the cross and as I was about to try to do the same when—“…and of the Holy Spirit…” everyone said with one voice, “Amen!” I couldn’t keep up and right when I thought I was at a complete loss, we arrived at confession. I didn’t have to know what was going on to understand this. “Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean.” Yes! That is me, O’ Lord! I have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed! And after confessing my sins something wonderful happened. My pastor told me that God Almighty, for the sake of His Son who died for me, forgives me all my sins. “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Tears began stinging my eyes. I didn’t see that the congregation members were crossing themselves again, my eyes were closed and my head bowed. For the first time in my life a pastor spoke with authority, with Christ’s authority. Jesus had spoken and forgave me of all my sins! That day I learned what a divine service is about: Christ coming to me with His forgiveness.

Over time the strangeness of the divine service became a blessed understanding of the intersection of heaven with earth at the altar of Christ. It took several months, but I eventually learned in my pastor’s adult catechism class about things such as Confession and Absolution, the Lord’s Supper,  the division of “Service of the Word” and “Service of the Sacrament,” and about church furnishings such as paraments, the altar, and the font. Through practice I learned to chant the Introit (Latin for “entrance”) and pray the Kyrie Eleison (Greek, “Lord have mercy”) and otherwise follow along through the divine service.

LanguageToday, I understand what is going on in the Divine Service quite a bit more than when I first attended it. I am still learning new things, but looking back I am not surprised by the lack of understanding I once had of the divine service. I had been dead in sin for quite a long time; not able to comprehend the things of God.

Just like going to a foreign country, I would never think about demanding the denizens of that country change its culture just so I could feel comfortable. Instead, I would try to learn something of the language and culture of the country of which I was a guest. Likewise, there was no sense in demanding the congregation change the divine service to cater to my lack of understanding. Instead, my understanding had to be changed through teaching and that is exactly what happened. Indeed, much of what I have learned about Christ was through the divine service itself. It doesn’t feel anymore much like what it might be like to go to Mars.

_______________

1] Here are some bulletin inserts from BJS to help understand what goes on in the Divine Service — Notes on the Liturgy.






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  1. Mac
    August 12th, 2013 at 09:44 | #1

    + soli deo gloria +

    thank you for this uplifting and encouraging post.

  2. Barry Bost
    August 12th, 2013 at 10:46 | #2

    Very well siad. This sums up my own experience 40 plus years ago ago when I found the LCMS through my wife and a Pastor who became a friend.

    Thanks

  3. Stef
    August 12th, 2013 at 11:15 | #3

    LOL, exactly like that!

    My first couple of services were the same thing.

    On Lutherquest someone kindly gave me a link to a little booklet about “How we worship” – that was brilliant. They should give those out to all visitors and newcomers to LCMS Churches!

  4. Wyldeirishman
    August 12th, 2013 at 11:34 | #4

    I, too, am a Lutheran convert (being raised an Evee-Free), and continue to marvel at the assumed necessity of importing distinctly non-Lutheran worship into the Divine Service.

    Thanks. :)

  5. Betty Montgomery
    August 12th, 2013 at 11:40 | #5

    I have been a lifetime Lutheran Mo. Sy. this bought tears to my eyes, We truly do have a beautiful worship, which we take for granted, nice to see it thru your eyes.

  6. Diane
    August 12th, 2013 at 12:00 | #6

    @Betty Montgomery #5
    As a lifelong Lutheran too, it was good to see the Divine Service through Jim’s eyes. What can we as Lutherans do to help people when they are new to the church? Just stepping up alongside them and helping them find the page of the liturgy or hymn is one way. Greeting them after the service is another friendly way. Being outgoing to a total stranger is not the easiest thing to do and it takes practice.

  7. August 12th, 2013 at 12:25 | #7

    “Over time the strangeness of the divine service became a blessed understanding of the intersection of heaven with earth at the altar of Christ. ” Lutheran hymnody is our glossolalia. Thanks, brother!

  8. Chris Schelp
    August 12th, 2013 at 14:05 | #8

    And, in an amazing completion of this circle, once you do understand the divine service, it itself can transcend language barriers, as I was privileged to find out a couple of years ago while traveling in Germany and worshiping in SELK parishes. I’ve never actually studied German, and the precious little of the language I know I’ve figured out for myself from singing it in choral settings. I knew exactly what was happening throughout these German services.

  9. August 12th, 2013 at 14:17 | #9

    You know, there is nothing that hinders you from lifting up your hands during Divine Service; I do it all the time :). As it is written in Psa 134:2: Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the LORD! It really hits me after I have received His Body and Blood (maybe that’s the Gary Native in me), but I love praising God in the sanctuary, and I don’t think any less of those who prefer to praise him in their spirit, but just like I ate His body, I like to worship Him with mine.

  10. August 12th, 2013 at 14:33 | #10

    This was brought up on a discussion list that I’m a member of; a suggestion was made, when visitors are identifiable before service, to have an experienced church member volunteer to sit with them and help them through the service.

    At my church, we have a visitor guest book staffed by volunteers each week. I intend to suggest that we do this — have a few people identified in each service that can help newcomers. The people guiding the people to sign the book will ask them if they are familiar with Lutheran worship, and/or want to sit next to someone experienced who can help then with the service.

    This may or may not work. I’d be inclined to think that as Jim said in the article, a newcomer may come in and hide among the crowd and not approach the guest book. But it’s a nice idea if it works.

  11. August 12th, 2013 at 14:40 | #11

    @Delwyn X. Campbell #9

    Thank you for your comment Delwyn, but yes there is something “that hinders” me from lifting my hands and waving them over my head during the divine service. What is hindering me is keeping good order in the divine service, you see, I don’t want to be a distraction to my neighbor. I also have “been there and done that.” When I was a Pentecostal I used to argue with my more less lively friends exactly what you state, “I like to worship Him with mine” i.e. my body. So, why not hop up and down? Why not skip around the pews yelling something like “Praise the Lord!”? In other words, where is the line drawn for good order in the divine service? The Pentecostal is going to tell you that it is perfectly fine to roll around on the floor and bark like a dog “in praise,” because they are doing it in “spirit and truth.” Just something to think about.

    Having come from a Bapticostal back ground, I am so very thankful that the service conducted at my congregation is orderly and more importantly about what Christ is doing in the service in His giving to us and much less about me and my responses to Him.

  12. quasicelsus
    August 12th, 2013 at 15:11 | #12

    @Jim Pierce #11

    there’s a notable difference between lifting your hands, lifting your hands and waving them back and forth, and rolling around on the floor. oddly enough, i had a similar discussion with some friends of mine that were exclusively high church, and the three of them would give a bow each time Jesus was mentioned in a prayer. it was done in reverence for “at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow.” I didn’t tell them not to do it. just had a discussion about it similar to the one we’re having now.

    it’s always awkward to me to hear clapping in a lutheran service. at any point. at the same time, there’s times i feel an amen should be totally appropriate. at the same time, i’ve seen people go overboard with the “audience affirmation” where it’s about as distracting as the whole floor thing.

  13. August 12th, 2013 at 15:34 | #13

    quasicelsus :
    @Jim Pierce #11
    there’s a notable difference between lifting your hands, lifting your hands and waving them back and forth, and rolling around on the floor.

    Yes, there is a “noticeable difference” just as there is a “noticeable difference” between not raising one’s hands at all from raising them. However, the point not to be missed is that over “good order” and one reason for practicing good order in the divine service is precisely due to a point you make with, “…there’s times i feel an amen should be totally appropriate.” Yes, many people “feel” what they want to do during worship “should be totally appropriate.” I am thankful that the divine service is not about what I want to do.

  14. August 12th, 2013 at 15:41 | #14

    Given the orderly structure of the Temple liturgy, I do not think that those worshiping in the Temple raised their hands in prayer when they felt like it. It was a liturgical action of prayer that was done the way we kneel or bow during prayer because it is “meet, right and salutary, so to do”.

  15. Stef
    August 12th, 2013 at 16:09 | #15

    @Jim Pierce #11

    Do you have to be an extremist to be Lutheran!

    You do realise that wearing spectacles means you won’t stop there and soon you will get a telescope and become a peeping Tom!

    Surely there is a middle of the road and if you want to take Temple worship as your example you have to go the whole route and do the sacrifice thing as well – Oh, wait, that has been done already, once and for all! So perhaps, so to has the mans definition of the ‘orderly thing’ as well!

  16. August 12th, 2013 at 16:12 | #16

    @Stef #15

    Stef,

    You’ve lost me. I suspect your comment was directed to Pr. Schroeder, since I didn’t make reference to temple worship and he did. But, since I am responding… can you elaborate a little more on what you meant with your sentence, “Do you have to be an extremist to be Lutheran!”? I don’t know where that is directed or what it means in this case. Thanks.

  17. John Rixe
    August 12th, 2013 at 16:18 | #17

    Rolling on the floor should probably be discouraged, but simple lifting up hands is beautiful and never distracting.   Go for it, Delwyn.

  18. Stef
    August 12th, 2013 at 16:21 | #18

    @Jim Pierce #16

    Referring to your earlier comment:
    So, why not hop up and down? Why not skip around the pews yelling something like “Praise the Lord!”? roll around on the floor and bark like a dog “in praise,”

    How do you get from lifting up your hands or sounding a hearty Amen to something that is said to you about what Christ has done and that just strikes you deep down inside?

    You do know that guitars, synthesisers etc are well able to play the music for hymns without having to go into a Metallica overdrive session and it is not a natural unstoppable progression into a praise band playing rock and roll music?

    Yeah, the Temple thing was not specifically for you but just thrown in along with the other stuff.

  19. August 12th, 2013 at 16:37 | #19

    @Stef #19

    Ah, I think I understand your point. I believe you are stating that I have argued a “Slippery slope” i.e. if we start raising our hands we will eventually be rolling on the floor. Is that your point? If so, no. There is a misunderstanding. The question is one over order in the liturgy. My question, “Where do we draw the line?” is not meant to entail a slippery slope, but is a call to attention towards the order of the service. For instance, in 1 Timothy 2:8 Paul writes about “lifting hands” in prayer. I see some in the divine service routinely putting their hands together and lifting them up to around chest height, or to their faces, during prayer. I don’t think that is going to lead to “barking like a dog” in the divine service. Although, you will find those in Evangelical circles, in particular amongst Pentecostals and Charismatics, who take spontaneity of action during a service as a physical sign that God is “touching” or “blessing” the person dancing, shouting, barking, rolling on the floor, running, waving their hands around, etc.

    More to your point about being an “extremist.” Why is it that I am an extremist if I don’t want to raise my hands above my head during the singing of a hymn?

  20. Stef
    August 12th, 2013 at 16:44 | #20

    @Jim Pierce #20

    Aha, great answer and that is a good explanation, thank you!

    No, if you do not want to raise your hands that is your choice and it does not make you an extremist – the extremist bit was because I thought you were doing the slippery slope thing, but you explained that well!

  21. August 12th, 2013 at 16:53 | #21

    @Stef #21

    I am happy that we could come to an understanding of each other. Also, what you have stated with, “No, if you do not want to raise your hands that is your choice…” would make for a good future article and discussion and especially over those two words, “your choice.”

  22. Marc from Cincy
    August 12th, 2013 at 19:25 | #22

    Back to the subject of orienting newbies to the Divine Service, one of the niftiest things I’ve seen in an LCMS church is what Bethany in Naperville has in their pews, at least when the BJS conference was going on last Feb. It’s a laminated guide in a matrix form, with helpful columns about the meaning of each segment of the service, scripture references, and history.

    If your planning to attend next year’s conference, look for these. Pastor Rossow will probably let you take one home, if you ask him.

  23. Abby
    August 12th, 2013 at 20:21 | #23

    @Marc from Cincy #22

    Maybe CPH could produce them and make them available? I’m sure other churches would like a resource like this.

  24. Marc from Cincy
    August 12th, 2013 at 20:39 | #24

    Nice thought Abby, but in the meantime, maybe we could talk Pr. Rossow & Co. into somehow putting it on the BJS website as a PDF, or something(?).

  25. August 12th, 2013 at 20:45 | #25

    @Abby #23

    @Marc from Cincy #24

    Is the PDF at this link what you have in mind, Marc?

  26. Marc from Cincy
    August 12th, 2013 at 20:59 | #26

    Not exactly, Jim, though what you linked is very similar. Bethany’s version is a matrix, likely based from this document. Theirs is less wordy, if you will, and better suited for a pew.

    I bet we’ll soon hear from Pr. Rossow when he comes up for air and he can elaborate. (Sorry to put you on the spot, Pastor R.)

  27. Abby
    August 12th, 2013 at 21:00 | #27

    @Jim Pierce #25

    Thank you! Very interesting.

  28. Marc from Cincy
    August 12th, 2013 at 21:07 | #28

    Not exactly, Jim, though what you linked is very similar. Bethany’s version is a matrix, likely based from this document. Theirs is less wordy, if you will, and better suited for a pew, IMHO.

    I bet we’ll soon hear from Pr. Rossow when he comes up for air and he can elaborate. (Sorry to put you on the spot, Pastor R.)

  29. Charles Austin
    August 13th, 2013 at 02:03 | #29

    When one is dating a fiance and goes to the holiday celebrations with the fiance’s family; one feels strange for a couple of years. Everyone has “in jokes,” there are “rituals” which people perform, certain members of the family seem to have particular roles to play, and the conversation is dotted with “code words” or phrases or references that you do not understand.
    But you are in love, you know you are going to be a part of this family; and your these gatherings are important to your beloved. So, rather than saying “I don’t understand most of that,” or “I feel uncomfortable there,” you keep going because you want to be a part of that family; and as time goes by you learn the in jokes, the rituals, the roles the various family members play; and the family of your beloved warms up to your presence and as time passes you are “in”.
    And if your “beloved” happens to be God, or Jesus or Lutheranism, or a particular congregation, the same dynamic applies.

  30. August 13th, 2013 at 05:40 | #30

    Great piece. The confession and absolution is one of the big things that attracted my wife and I to Lutheranism. Rarely if ever was there any sort of corporate confession in the evangelical church, and when it did happen it was often at the end of the service, solely by the pastor in prayer, without a congregational participation (save for the “altar call”–yeah, don’t get me started on that one).

    That corporate confession by itself sets a tone and atmosphere that immediately distinguishes Lutheranism from the rest of the Christian church, and it’s one of the things so wonderful to participate in during worship. It’s somber, thought-provoking, and makes one look at the self in light of the law of God. You cannot help but think about the violations of God’s law that fill your head when you’re reading that confession aloud. Contrast this with the “pep-rally” attitude found in evangelical CoWo, which seeks to give the congregation a sort of musical high with thumping, driving music and “7-11″ choruses (seven words, usually lacking on sound doctrine, sung eleven times).

    May this always be at the heart of the Lutheran service!

  31. Abby
    August 13th, 2013 at 09:48 | #31
  32. helen
    August 13th, 2013 at 11:20 | #32

    @Charles Austin #28
    So, rather than saying “I don’t understand most of that,” or “I feel uncomfortable there,” you keep going because you want to be a part of that family; and as time goes by you learn the in jokes, the rituals, the roles the various family members play; and the family of your beloved warms up to your presence and as time passes you are “in”.

    Well, thank you, Charles Austin!

  33. August 13th, 2013 at 15:24 | #33

    Came up for air. :) (Actually, literally since for the last week I was laying on a beach at Lake Michigan and/or swimming.)

    For some reason I always have a hard time finding that thing in my computer files. I have an email out to support staff here at Bethany to help me find it. I will get it up as a pdf as soon as I find it.

  34. jb
    August 13th, 2013 at 21:14 | #34

    Tim –

    Lake Michigan is pretty clean on the Michigan side – hope that was “your” side . . .

    Ya oughtta sell the things – I’d take 100 immediately.

    Hope you got your batteries recharged.

    Pax tecum – jb

  35. August 14th, 2013 at 14:29 | #35

    Jim, I love your last paragraph. The more I look at contemporary services the more I feel that the congregation and guests are being transported to a mirror universe where nothing makes sense.

  36. Carl H
    August 18th, 2013 at 13:45 | #36

    “Just like going to a foreign country, I would never think about demanding the denizens of that country change its culture just so I could feel comfortable.”

    But suppose you were hosting visitors from a foreign country. Might hospitality and mutual understanding be helped by being aware of their customs and making an extra effort to communicate clearly?

  37. August 18th, 2013 at 14:51 | #37

    Carl H :
    But suppose you were hosting visitors from a foreign country. Might hospitality and mutual understanding be helped by being aware of their customs and making an extra effort to communicate clearly?

    The answer to your question is obvious for me. Of course as a ‘host’ we should want to receive our guests and make them feel as comfortable as we possibly can. However, this is where the metaphor begins to break down when we talk about the divine service, since the divine service is not ours, but Christ’s. He is the host and we are His guests.

    On the other hand, and talking about unbelievers visiting, Christ is coming to us with the forgiveness of sins in the divine service, and my experience has been that even the most “open-minded” of atheists (as an example) will be smitten by the law just hearing about how Jesus forgives us our sins. Iow, if we talk about Jesus and sin in the divine service our ‘guests’ will not feel comfortable. So, for some, the answer is to NOT talk about sin (or anything that deals with sins) in the ‘church house’ lest a ‘guest’ is made uncomfortable. That is a terrible mistake resulting from treating the divine service as a revivalist treats it, as an evangelism tool.

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