What is Worship? by Rev Joshua Scheer

Rev. Joshua Scheer of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church, Bagley, MN has this article available as a PDF file on his church website; we’ve posted several similar to this in the past, but wanted to make it available to any new readers or to continue the discussion on what Worship is.

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. – Psalm 51:15 (NKJV)

Just what is it that we gather in a church for? Is it just fellowship, fun, and social interaction? How about to catch up on news, or to enjoy donuts and coffee? No, those things are only in addition to the real reason to come to Church. We come to church to worship. But what is worship? Whose work is it?

The real meaning of worship is that it is God’s work first, and we come in a very far second. That is sometimes confused as we view church as a time to be active in singing, praying, and speaking. But don’t let all of that activity fool you, worship is passive, worship is receiving from God those things that He gives.

I chose the opening verse of this article for a couple of reasons. First, some of you may recognize it as the beginning of a few services, were the pastor reads (or chants) the first half, and the congregation responds with the second part. The liturgy is built on top of the Scriptures. It is not boring, dull, or dusty because it is made of the very Word of God. Secondly, and most importantly, the passage emphasizes that worship is primarily God’s work. God is the one who opens our lips to declare His praise.

God acts first. Our worship should reflect salvation, where God acted first. The Scriptures teach that while we were still trapped in sin, Christ died for us. God took action. We couldn’t do it. Our worship should reflect that reliance on God’s action.

How does this work? Well, we hear from God first, He speaks, we listen. His Word gives what it says. Faith is created from that Word of God, and the heart acknowledges the gifts of God that have been received with eager thankfulness and praise. Out of this, we sing hymns, which are a natural way to praise God, who has acted first.

Hymns make up a good portion of our part in worship. Through our song, we declare His praise. Our hymns should not be chosen by chance, but should reflect a focus on the work of God. Hymns do not try to create the right atmosphere or mood for worship, but they serve as a vehicle for the Spirit-filled Word of God. Hymns are never entertainment, but proclamation (declaring His praise). Hymns are shaped by an understanding based upon the cross of Christ. Hymns do not have to be exact quotes from Scripture, but instead are based upon Scripture, interpreted in reference to Christ. Hymns are not bound to any culture except the culture of the universal church of all times and places.

What we sing on Sunday morning should reflect these points, otherwise we are just playing and singing to ourselves. Church should not be entertaining, but should serve you with the gifts of God. Again, the focus is on God and His work in Christ Jesus. Even what we sing about should be about God’s work. A good way to analyze what you are singing is to ask “who is doing the verbs?” That means that you look at the verses of a hymn, or lyrics of a song and ask who is the focus, who is the one doing the action of what you are singing? If the answer is anything but God, then maybe the song should be saved for our local radio stations and kept away from the sanctuary.

In the Lutheran tradition, our worship services are often called “Divine Service”. This name reflects exactly what I have been talking about. It is God’s service. And what happens in church is for us. God does not need anything from us, but He does have a lot of things to give to us. These gifts of God are very important, and our Divine Service or worship serves as a time to receive from God.

I often encounter people who are intrigued about the work of a pastor who leads worship. They often think very highly of such work, and rightly so. It is a humbling thing to lead God’s saints in receiving His gifts. But I would suggest that the most precious place in any sanctuary is the pew, where you can sit, stand, kneel and receive from God freely. Pastors serve as Christ’s servant to bring those gifts to you in an orderly way.

Our Lord speaks and we listen. God acts first. We respond by speaking back to God the Words He has given us to speak. This is worship. It reflects the God we have, the God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the God of our salvation, who acted first while we were still dead in sins and trespasses. Blessings as you seek out worship this week.

Sources: “Lutheran Worship” Introduction

“Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing: An Apology for Lutheran Hymnody” by Chad Bird


What is Worship? by Rev Joshua Scheer — 3 Comments

  1. As a guy in the pews, I’ve come to realize this fundamental Lutheran distinctive (one of many): The the method is the message. Christ for me, word and sacrament. Outside of Lutheranism this is confused because people see baptism, communion, service as us to God, therefore the “methods” are works and their power are subtly/subconsciously rejected. Once I grasped the word and sacraments are gifts to us (Christ’s chosen method of Grace) certainty and eternal life become absolute. It took 2 years in the Lutheran church, The Bondage of the Will, Large catechism (baptism/Lord’s supper), and the Heidelberg Disputation to beat the Free Evangelical and Christian Reformed teaching I was previously exposed to out of me. Yet this message of Christ for us (rather than the other way around) is offensive, even to Christians I have found.

  2. Beautiful article. Having grown up Methodist and not being a “from the womb” Lutheran, Gottesdienst is such a blessing that I thank God for. Prof. Just’s “Heaven on Earth” is a must-read.

  3. Thank you Pastor Scheer for a good article about worship.

    The term “Divine Service” as you explained, captures what is really happening–God is coming to us. He is doing all the giving and we are doing the receiving.

    This morning we had a Divine Service that was a little different. As we were going through the service, the Pastor gave brief explanations to help us understand the structure and biblical content of everything that was happening.

    As we began in the name of the Triune God, the Pastor explained how God has put His name on us in Holy Baptism–the Divine Service begins in His Name as we acknowledge that our only help is in that name.

    After the Confession & Absolution, we entered into the life of heaven and shared the “Peace of the Lord” with each other, thus reconciling with one another.

    There were brief explanations for the Introit, the Kyrie and Gloria in Excelsis and on through the service. The Pastor even touched on the garments he wears, the meaning of the Collect, our anticipation of the Gospel in the Alleluia Verse, and the enormity of the Pastor’s responsibility to bring us the Lord’s Law and Gospel in the sermon.

    We used LSB Divine Service 4 and continued on with the Sacrament of Jesus’ Body and Blood. Like Simeon we go in peace and joy singing Simeon’s Song.

    As we began the service, we also ended in the name of the Lord. We went away marked with the Lord’s name in the Benediction as we go out into the world to our various vocations.

    It was wonderful! And it added so much meaning to the Divine Service. Maybe not something to do EVERY week, but once every few years to remind the people that our Divine Service is so biblically based, it comes from God, and there is so much meaning to it.

    God’s Blessings,
    Ginny Valleau

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