Taking Other Christians into the Divine Service, by Jon Townsend

(Jon’s posts can be seen on the Regular Columns page under the title “God Desires Mercy, Not Sarcasm. It’s been a while since he has posted, but most of us can relate to this post in attempting to bring people with a different understanding to experience worship as we do.)

My wife’s cousin came to visit us. She is working on her M. Div. at a Baptist University in the southwest. I have no doubt that she is a true and sincere Christian. She isn’t Lutheran, but yes, she is definitely Christian. From our conservations I know she leads worship and is a proponent of worship styles that I would never ever see as compatible with the Divine Service, der Gottesdienst, ie. the Mass mentioned in Article XXIV of the Augsburg Confession.

She openly and freely talks about her faith in Christ and of being saved. We also talk of our faith in Christ, but tend towards talking about the Means of Grace and do not use the word “saved” in the same way she does. She was staying with us through Sunday and it was a sure thing that she wanted to go to church with us and we really were looking forward to taking her with us – but the moment of truth came – The Closed Communion discussion.

I was really worried about it. I knew it was coming. How do I tell a person that is so “on fire” for Christ, sorry, but we only allow those who are in doctrinal fellowship with us and believe in the Real Presence to go to the Lord’s Table? So I used those words to explain it, hopefully not as sheepishly as I fear that I did. She took it very well and said she had learned about this in seminary and she understood.

I happily cleared what I consider the biggest stumbling block in talking with non- Lutheran Christians, the Eucharist, the John 6 stumbling block. Then the second wave of concern hit me, what in the world is she going to think of the traditional liturgy? To make it worse, I am in print and voice an outspoken proponent of the Mass freed of the abuses of Rome. Many times I have used sarcasm to say and write that baptistic worship practice has no place in the Lutheran Divine Service. Heck, there are poorly recorded commercials playing on Issues, Etc. daily, in which I poke fun at such practices. I have openly debated and fought with other Lutherans about proper worship and I am about to take a worship leader, evangelist, Christian music artist and female seminarian into the world of Page 15 with a be-chasubled pastor. Was I most worried about the body of criticism I have associated with my name about baptistic worship practice in a Lutheran context and that she would find out? No. If I am truly honest, I was worried that she would somehow find us lacking compared to her experience which is far more emotional and “spirit filled”.

The debates surrounding worship practice take many twists and turns, but I would say that the Confessional Lutheran arguments for the traditional liturgy lean heavily on Scripture and 2000 years of practice among sacramental and small c catholic Christianity. The Confessional stance on the liturgy is objective – the Lord comes to us in Word and Sacrament in the Divine Service. As Moses removed his shoes when I AM talked to him in the burning bush, so mortal flesh keeps still and reverent when Christ, who before Abraham was and is I AM, speaks through His ministers and knees bend as His body and blood are placed into our mouths for the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. Our praise and worship reflects this awe in the presence of the real and sacramental presence of Christ.

In addition to the objective truths of Lutheran doctrine “in practice”, the Confessional Lutheran experience in the Divine Service is not as bereft of emotion and spirit as it may appear to the outsider and I am starting to think that there is no great crime in describing the inward emotions and experiences of the average Confessional Lutheran. I saw these emotions revealed at the first elders meeting I have ever attended earlier this week. Sitting on a pontoon boat of one of the other elders, a few cigars lit and a few cans of beer opened, I expressed concern over my ability to help with communion. I was told not to worry and that I would be instructed. One of the other elders told us how a few times he has had to choke back the tears as he was giving the chalice to the communicants. He didn’t know if it was because he was thinking of his mother who is with the Lord or if he was thinking of his daughter who was half a world away. The truth remained, Christ was truly present and the dead in Christ are singing the Sanctus with us and those far away but still on earth are united with us in the Eucharist. I really don’t know if there can be a greater move of the Holy Spirit or greater joy than this.

I am still at a great loss as how to share this mystery with others and to open their eyes to the meaning of Christ’s words and to the less speculative interpretations the Relevation of St. John. But, I think I now have no fear to bring emotion and spirit into the debate – still waters simply run deep in the Confessional Lutheran experience.

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, LCMSsermons.com, 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.

More of his work can be found at KNFA.net.


Taking Other Christians into the Divine Service, by Jon Townsend — 14 Comments

  1. I’ll never forget leaning over to a four-year girl, the daughter of a dear friend, during the Sanctus and whispering, “Do you hear the angels singing with us?” Her brown eyes got as big as saucers as she looked up to the ceiling and back to the balcony and then back to me. “We can’t see them with our eyes, but they’re here,” I told her.

    The liturgy is not dead as Baptists and non-denominational types might think, not when you know what’s happening there in the service. I remember completely shocking Baptist friends at my missionary boarding school when I pulled out my hymnal and showed them *gasp* Bible references for the liturgical bits. The liturgy is about as “dead” as the Word is “dead.”

  2. Jon,
    I need to ask you what your Baptist friend thought of the Divine Service? Were you able to discuss it with her afterward? I know it most likely felt very foreign to her, but did she hear the pure Word in the liturgy? Just curious.

  3. I have experienced the gamut of Christian denominations at various times in my life and in none of them was the depth of emotion as deep as in our Lutheran liturgy. I think there are several reasons for this: We begin the service with confession and absolution, the service is focused on God’s gifts to us rather than our doing something for Him, the sermons (at least the one’s that I’ve heard) are also focused on God’s grace to us not the pastor’s ability to stir up emotion or impress with his cleverness and, at least in my church, we weekly have the Lord’s Supper so the service is an experience of Christ with us and for us. When the tears have flowed (and I’ve given up wearing mascara to church) it has been because of the realization of His unmerited kindness despite our unworthiness, rather than because they have been whipped up by a praise band or worship leader.

    The liturgy has its most ancient roots in the worship of Israel, including many of the hymns. It is scripturally based (as mentioned above there are scripture verses for the various parts) and we know that God’s Word accomplishes its purpose.

    I, however, would like to encourage other confessional Lutheran churches, including other members of our own LCC to have the Lord’s Supper at every Sunday service. In, fact, I wish we could have it mid-week, as well. It also keeps the service from getting off track into focusing that we’re doing something for Him. Why should we not want His real and sacramental presence at every opportunity? He died that He might give it to us and we might have life in Him. Jesus said to feed his sheep. Us sheep need two things to sustain us: the Word and the Sacraments.

  4. And then you have Lutheran pastors who tinker and fiddle with the historic liturgy or abandon it altogether for CoWo…
    A pity, really.

  5. It’s OK John. The ancient Lutheran practice of… err… Kolinahr, will purge you of all emotions. Oh, wait… that’s the Vulcan practice. 🙂

  6. Anyone who hasn’t had opportunity to read Heaven On Earth by Arthur Just ought to. It’s a very timely book and an excellent discussion of the theology of the Lutheran liturgy. You’ll never think the Divine Service is dead again.

  7. On the morning of November 4, 2001 (yes, I remember the exact day), I woke up a first-year Southern Baptist seminarian & a member of a church that was exclusively contemporary in worship style. That morning I had agreed to go to a Lutheran church with a friend; it was the church that his girlfriend’s mother attended, and he wondered if I wanted to go along to see what it was all about. I didn’t expect much, I remember … after all, I’d basically been taught in church history that poor Martin Luther was a good guy who was just unable to move far enough from those awful Catholics.

    By the time I left that particular church that day, I was no longer a Baptist. Oh, the service was confusing to me … it was definitely on the high church end of the spectrum, and all the chanting and kneeling and such confused me … but it was far from the dead worship full of “vain repetitions” that I’d heard about. In fact, I left feeling like the man who has been walking through the desert without a drink for a few days, and has finally had a nice, tall glass of ice cold water. It was clear to me that every element of the Divine Service was permeated with Scripture in a way I’d never seen before. I never did go back to my Baptist church after that. I didn’t want to …

    Of course there is more to the story than just me showing up at a Lutheran church one day and starting the adult confirmation process months later after devouring everything I could find about Lutheran theology. The process that culminated with my being confirmed in 2002 had started years earlier, but I had NEVER considered joining a liturgical church; I thought I was happy with the uber-contemporary drivel I’d been exposed to for the last ten years.

    So please … do not be concerned about how the Divine Service stacks up to the manufactured emotional experience of contemporary worship. There is no comparison, period. There is nothing in contemporary worship that can compare with singing the Agnus Dei, or the Kyrie. There is nothing like watching a helpless child, conceived in sin, be brought into the Kingdom of God through the waters of Baptism. There is nothing nearly as moving as receiving the true Body and Blood of my Lord and Savior for the forgiveness of my sins. The best I ever got out of worship as a Baptist was an emotional high … a good feeling about how much I loved Jesus … that quickly faded, only to be replaced with lingering doubts about whether I was committed enough to Christ to actually be saved. Every minute of the Divine Service points me toward the Cross of Christ, and assures me that though I am weak and frail and still a sinner, Christ has accomplished my salvation.

    So I say just tell them “come and see” … and if they come, they will see Christ everywhere in the Divine Service.

  8. Kari:
    Actually, we didn’t talk about it afterward. She made mention that it reminded her of a Roman Catholic church she had been to.

    The weather was nice and we just had a good peaceful afternoon hanging out with my wife and her catching up on about 25 years.

  9. Jim – as long as the Pon Farr is avoided at all costs, perhaps the Kolinahr may be a logical and useful practice.


  10. When I was a Baptist first attending Lutheran services (TLH 5&15), yeah, it felt foreign, but I’d been too well-raised with the Bible to not realize that everything we were hearing and reading was purely Scriptural. And since we did the same services every single Sunday, by the first couple of months I had everything memorized, though I’d never picked up the hymnal before then. That’s *real* user-friendliness, pastors, not trying to do something completely different every week.

  11. @Jeremy: You said it very well. The first time I visited a Lutheran service I felt I had come home and Christ was there waiting for me. I began the process of confirmation the very next week. @Rev. Reeder: Thank you for the book tip. it looks very interesting.

  12. Mr. Fisher,

    We had a similar experience a few months ago during our new born’s baptism, one side of our family, all SB, many invested in that ministry. We had the same “discussion concerns” you stated below, in fact the same feelings so I won’t reiterate them. We came from that background through reformed (PCA) finally to LCMS, just fyi. Her folks didn’t have a problem with closed communion because in some of the baptist churches they’d been in they practiced the same thing, so it wasn’t “new” to them.

    One family member, however, even though prepared and told didn’t react so well when he actually sat through it and couldn’t go up. At the time everybody, including her other family members got mad at him for acting the way he did.

    I’ve been “thinking about this ever since”. I told my wife, “I’m not sure which reaction was worse when all was said and done.” The family that reacted, “nothing new”, reacted so because they just saw it as more or less a idiosyncratic more or less denominational thing and nothing more. It was more like, if I might capture the idea, “That’s ok its not a big deal”. But his reaction was that we were dividing Christians up, etc…

    Though he was wrong in “that” being the reason for closed communion, I think he was actually getting closer to the reality of what’s being communicated, “this is not just some unessential idiosyncratic thing that’s not that big of a deal”. He got the “we are just splitting Christians up” wrong but he got the weight of the issue right. On the other hand, they reacted well to it but only because “it was not that big of a deal”. It was easy for us at the time to react to him “negatively” in the way he reacted to the closed communion, basically storming out of the church at the end of the services and giving my wife an ear full, and reacting “whew” good to our other families reaction (the “no big deal”). Who likes to have people upset with them? However, analyzing it X weeks since, I now wonder if I/we’ve not had it backwards? I mean he did “get” the gravity of the situation, the others “just accepted it” like “No big deal. You like cheese pizza we like pepperoni pizza.”



  13. I did forget to mention this reaction to the liturgy:

    Her dad reacted, “…yes but it looks so Roman Catholic”, I understand that reaction at first blow that’s beat into your head as a baptist. I considered myself pretty prepared upon our first visit to a LCMS church two+ years ago and I wasn’t raised “that much” within the SB church and mostly atheist/agnostic most of my life and STILL had to fight that reaction to the sights and sounds when I visited on my own that fateful day. I told my wife who was going to visit by herself while I watched the kids the next Sunday, two years ago, so she could pay attention, “don’t let appearances get to you, what are the things in the liturgy saying and doing…don’t get lost on ‘this looks RC'”.

    Now the other reaction, to finish this true story was from her mother back to her dad, “Perhaps, but one thing is for sure there is nothing from start to finished in that service being preached but Christ and Him crucified for you”. He nodded in agreement.

    So I would encourage Lutherans to stick stead fast to the liturgy, having come from the other side myself the grass is definitely not any greener, avoid the temptation, in fact there is no grass or pasture on the other side of the fence amid the protestant denominations, just hot parched dry religious spiritualistic pagan sand.


  14. @Jeremy Clifton #7

    I had a similar experience. I walked into a Lutheran Church as a Southern Baptist because I was sweet on a pretty German girl and walked out convinced that there was something lacking in my understanding of Communion. I was confirmed a year and half later and am starting Seminary this fall.

    I once heard a pastor say that the way to get a church to want Communion every week was to sing Communion hymns during services without Communion to make the congregation feel the absence. How much more so with closed Communion?


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