Why do the Evangelicals Worship that Way? By Pr. Klemet Preus

(Editor’s Note: With this post Pastor Preus begins a five part series on worship in the LCMS.)


Have you ever wondered why American Evangelicals tend to have an expectation that their worship services will have an emotional impact upon them or lead to some type of faith experience? I’m going to explain to you why this is so in less than 500 words when, justly, it should require about 500 pages.


John Calvin, who lived a generation after Luther, taught that Jesus did not die for everyone. Rather, God chose or elected certain people from eternity to be in heaven and then sent Jesus to redeem only these. They are called the elect. Those whom God has predetermined will go to hell are called the reprobate. Jesus did not die for them. Further, the Gospel is powerful only when it is preached to the elect. It didn’t make sense to Calvin that the Gospel would apply and be powerful in the lives of people for whom it was clearly not intended. So Calvinists need to be certain that they are elect before they can be certain that the Gospel applies to them.


Lutherans, following the teachings of Jesus and St. Paul, believe that Jesus died for all and that the Gospel is intended for all. His good news applies to all and is powerful no matter to whom it is proclaimed. According to the Lutherans, pious Christians can conclude that God has predestined and elected them from eternity and called them based on the promises of God they hear in the Gospel. Calvinists turn it around and conclude that the Gospel is true for them based on their belief that they have been predestined or elected from eternity.


The difficulty with Calvinism is that people cannot conclude that they are loved based on the promises of God in the Gospel. So Calvinists tend to look somewhere outside the gospel for their assurance of God’s love and his call.


Calvinists over the years have attempted to respond to this difficulty in a number of ways. Some have said that you cannot really know. Others have said that you can know by the way in which God blesses your life. Others have pointed to their effectiveness as preachers or evangelists as proof that the Gospel be working in them. Still others have sited their church involvement as their source of hope. Still others point to the joy in their hearts as the “Blessed Assurance” of God’s election. Others still have said that “the hour you first believe” must be a mountain top spiritual experience for you to be certain. In all these explanations it is not purely the gospel and Sacraments which give you the assurance of God’s favor and love in Christ. Rather it is something about your response to the Gospel that counts.


The most popular type of Protestant Christianity in America today – American Evangelicalism – finds in your feelings about Jesus the assurance that you are loved by God and elect of Him. Even among those groups which have long since discarded Calvin’s theology there is still a strong tendency to rely on “the palpable presence of God in the Worship” as a sign of God’s love and favor. And that is why the worship services of so many have the goal to get you to have some type of emotional response to the service.


The problem is when Lutherans sacrifice their tradition in order to emulate American Evangelicalism, but that is another story.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Why do the Evangelicals Worship that Way? By Pr. Klemet Preus — 15 Comments

  1. “The worship services of so many have the goal to get you to have some type of emotional responce…”

    I think this is the real reason we wince at the term ABLAZE! It is a crass emotional appeal to convince the giver that he is doing something “palpable” before God and should feel good about that. Lutherans are very uncomfortable going there. I would rather concentrate on the message than the messenger. I would rather testify to the cross than pat myself on the back as to how I’ve advanced the cash flow of the central office. I suppose its a matter of priorities.


  2. Pr. K. Preus, I’ve known how the Calvinists differed from us but never quite understood *how* that came to be. Your first article is enlightening and I am really anticipating the rest!

  3. “…when Lutherans sacrifice their tradition…”

    Tradition: Is this the the dead faith of the living…or the living faith of the dead?

    I will look forward to reading why “the palpable presence of God in the Worship” as a sign of God’s love and favor” is so wrong.

  4. Martin Luther (comment #3):

    Typically, you’ve missed the point (or deliberately chosen to misrepresent it). The key word has been left out of you quote, which is “rely”. The reliance on a charismatic “presence” is, I believe, what Pr. Preus is refering to.

    We “traditional” Lutherans experience the palpable presence of God every time we take communion, in the form of Christ’s very body and blood.

    Eric Ramer

  5. Personally, I do rely on His presence in a palpable way…that is what the REAL presence is all about.

    When it comes to communion…since we receive the true body and blood of Jesus…and Jesus healed people via touch…would you teach and believe that one can be healed in/through communion (not just spiritually…but physically, etc as well)?

  6. Pastors,
    Can someone help me with Martins statement (5)
    I never remember being taught that Holy Communion was for physical renewal or healing. Would someone expand on that.

    Pastor Prues, Pr.Wilken, Pr.Rossow?
    Any real Pastor, not a hidden name Luther etc.
    I like to know where my information comes from.

    John Hooss
    trying to learn (or remember)

  7. John H.,

    The LCMS has had a tendency to downplay any physical healing that comes with forgiveness but not deny it. It is downplayed because there are so many abuses that come with an emphasis on physical healing, e.g. “name it and claim it theology,” mistaking Christ’s mission for one of physical well-being rather than spiritual, etc. My favorite way to get at the shortcomings of a “healing” emphasis is to remind people that Lazarus is dead, i.e. Christ’s miracles of healing were for a different purpose than to bring physical relief to the world. They were to testify that the one who would die on the cross is the all-powerful Son of God.

    Having said that, there is no reason to doubt that when and where He wills it God can bring physical healing with forgiveness and that an effect on the body can have an effect on the soul or spirit or vice versa. It is not something to put our faith in (Lazarus is dead), but spiritual healing does indeed have an impact on the body and mind as well as the soul.

    Ultimately, of course, our physical healing does not come until the old self is put into the ground perishable and Christ comes back and by His power it is raised imperishable.

    In short, the main thing is the forgiveness of sin but its power can also bring physical and emotional healing.

    Wish I had time for a more detailed answer and welcome other pastors to chime in.

    Pastor Rossow

  8. The presence of Jesus in his body and blood in the sacrament isn’t “palpable” in the same way my feelings are.

    The presence of Jesus in his body and blood in the sacrament is an objective reality produced directly by the Word of Jesus himself.

    My feeling are nothing more than that –my feelings.

    There’s no comparision, no matter how much pseudo-Luther wants there to be.


  9. John #7,
    Maybe that was in the Gospel of Mary Magdelen. Anyone have Dan Browns email address? But I don’t think he’s a Pastor?

  10. Rt. Rev. Jack,

    This is the crux of the problem. I am part way through a review of the “Biblical Principles” document for the Task Force proposals. The different definition of “mission” is where people part ways in the LCMS. Your continued listing of historic refernces is very helpful.

    Bishop Newton (who spoke at the convocation) gave a talk to the NID pastors a few weeks ago and it was very confused on the definition of “mission.”

    I hope to have more time for this but this week am a bit busy getting church and school started back up again for the new school year.

    Pastor Rossow

  11. Pr.Rossow (8)
    said “In short, the main thing is the forgiveness of sin but its power CAN also bring physical and emotional healing.”

    That’s what I thought and was taught. Maybe I put more into pseudo Martins statement than what was there.


  12. It is sad to think of all of the Christians who do not have the assurance of the forgiveness of sins which we have through confession and absolution, baptism and the Lord’s supper. It’s down right frightening for sinners when fleeting things like feelings, success, and good works become such a crucial part of the hope we have.

  13. It is shocking how many Lutherans don’t understand that our responsibility in outreach is to proclaim the Word out there and let the results to the Holy Spirit (AC V). The main thing about outreach is not attracting, enticing, people into the building because as the lie goes, “If we don’t get them in our church building, how can they hear the Word?” Uh, how about confessing Christ in your daily vocations in life? Missio, being apostolic, means being sent – not being a marketer.

    Catechesis is the bridge between witnessing out there in the world and the Divine Service.

  14. Martin, don’t forget that Jesus also healed people without touching them. The Canaanite woman’s daughter was exorcised without Jesus ever having to see her. The centurion’s servant was also healed without Jesus ever seeing him. That’s a couple of instances of it happening.

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