Whose liturgy is it anyway?

Worshiping the LORD with a self-chosen form taken from culture.

Worshiping the LORD with a self-chosen form taken from culture.

I was reading in Rev. Eric Andersen’s article‘s comments section when I happened across a very enlightening comment from a BJS reader who said, “I know you will join my prayers that God will continue to work through each of us, no matter what our worship preferences.”

This is a totally unscientific opinion, but I think this reader is onto something. Right at the heart of the matter is the issue of worship style preference.

If this is all just a matter of preference (and not substance–although, it certainly is about substance, too), then the proponents of contemporary worship are right. What makes my desire to chant TLH p. 5/15 or Divine Service III in LSB take preference over your desire to have a freeform liturgy packed full of the best of Hillsong United? Is it because mine is prettier? Is it because yours draws bigger crowds?

I submit that making “worship style” about preference, however, is dangerous, because it makes me the most important thing in the service. If we do Divine Service III every week because I like it, then the Divine Service is about me. If we sing Gerhard and Luther hymns because I like them, the focus of the worship is still me. In the same way, if we sing the aforementioned Hillsong United songs because you like them, then it’s all about what you like, rather than what God is doing.

Dr. Naomichi Masaki of the Fort Wayne seminary asked the question in one of my classes, “Whose liturgy is it?” If it’s about preference, it’s yours and mine to do as we see fit. If it’s the church’s liturgy as it has developed from the time of the Apostles (Acts 2:42)–and even from the time of the Old Testament prophets (Psalmody, anyone?), we really should show greater restraint in changing what is done. After all, don’t we say in the creed, “I believe in one, holy, Christian [catholic] and apostolic church?” The liturgy is the possession of the whole church. Who am I to exercise my preference in the matter? Yes, it has room to shrink, grow, or change, but it shouldn’t be based on preference. I suppose I don’t get much of a voice because I’m white and married to a German (being of Scottish heritage doesn’t gain me any points, does it?), it’s going to sound like I’m advocating an emotionless, Germanic traditionalism. You don’t have to listen to me, but you should listen to Dr. Masaki, who isn’t German, nor is he emotionless.

About Pastor Jordan McKinley

Rev. Jordan McKinley is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Vallonia, IN. He’s a 2012 graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN, and a 2006 graduate of Ball State University in Muncie, IN. He served his vicarage at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Pagosa Springs, CO, and served from June 2012 to August 2015 at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Bennett, IA, and St. Paul Lutheran Church in Stanwood, IA. He is the husband of one wife, Andrea, and the father of three (Naomi, Collin, and Theodore). Though he has a deep and abiding love of all things Star Trek, he will not likely be writing any theological treatises in Klingon.


Whose liturgy is it anyway? — 15 Comments

  1. Fantastic point. You’re right. The liturgy is the possession of the whole Church; it is not the preference of certain individuals or cultures.

    I am a 2nd generation Puerto Rican/Chilean. I love and prefer Salsa, Merengue, Bachata music over all other types of music. I lived and studied in Brazil for a year. I love Samba, and Bossa Nova. Not only that, I can dance, sing, and play it (pretty well).

    However, it would be ridiculous if I lorded my preference of this music over my congregation, whether it be Salsa, Samba, or Soft-Rock (Imagine singing the Sanctus, or Te Deum to Mariachi, or Merengue, even Rock and Roll!?!?) We sing the Liturgy as we have inherited it from the Church. I don’t believe that Hispanics, Brazilians, or any other culture is unintelligent enough, and incapable of learning something counter-cultural. The Liturgy isn’t emotionless German traditionalism. The Liturgy is reverent and stands apart from every other music, and sound that I hear on the radio, or in this world. My preferences die when we gather for the Word. I’ve learned to love the Liturgy not because of my preference, but because of its reverence.

  2. Love the TLH page 5/15 and Service III in the LSB.
    Singing the Matins on page 32 of the TLH is outstanding and the Vesper on page 41.

  3. This is an important point that we need to make with our parishioners. Often they are under the impression that the reason we sing the hymns we do on Sunday morning or follow the liturgy is because that is what the pastor prefers. No, NO, NO! If I chose the hymns according to my personal tastes we would be continually repeating approx. a couple dozen hymns and that would be the end of it.

  4. On another note: YOU MEAN THAT THE NAME NAOMICHI MASAKI ISN’T GERMAN? He should be thrown out of the synod forthwith! 🙂

  5. @Walt Raffel #2

    I agree with you,Walt.  That’s my preference also.  Does God have a preference? I believe the Lord delights in the many ways in which His people express their love.  As long as worship is Bible-centered, is it God-pleasing for congregations to badger one another over their worship preferences?

  6. @John Rixe #7
    Apology XV 51ff says that we as Lutherans believe that changing sin-free traditional rights and ceremonies of the church breaks the public harmony that we should prefer to all other advantages. So perhaps from a Lutheran perspective the question needs to be: “Does God have a preference between our keeping public harmony in worship or breaking it capriciously for reasons of personal preference?” I think I’m on solid ground when I say that our God does prefer love and unity to selfishness and disunity.

    Lenten Blessings+,
    -Matt Mills

  7. @John Rixe #7
    Yes, God absolutely does have a preference. He prefers we worship him with reverence. This would include gladly hearing His word and not minimizing it from the service they way most contemporary worship does. God prefers we worship Him in spirit and in truth. This means that enthusiastic hymnody that talks about His working apart from means should not be included, or anything else that goes against the teaching of the scriptures. God prefers our worship to be centered on Christ. This means that anthropocentric songs about me, my emotions, and intentions should not receive the dominant focus of our singing. God prefers we worship decently and in good order, which is why the very structure of our worship itself ought to reinforce Christian truth, not be designed to produce a reaction. God prefers all things be done for edification. This means that things that point us away from Christ should be systematically eradicated from our services.

    Truly, if you look closely, it’s quite amazing how well the Divine Service does all this! And it’s quite depressing how poorly most contemporary worship does (not that they’re usually trying). Contemporary worship is never started in LCMS congregations as part of an effort to be more faithful or closely follow these Scriptural guidelines for worship.

    Bible-centered is NOT enough. I’ve seen plenty of “Bible-ish” worship that was also Christ-less. Scripture should pervade our worship, but Christ is the focus. As a means of grace, the purpose of the Scriptures IS to reveal Christ. He is the visible image of the invisible God, and apart from Him we have a God that Jews, Muslims, and Mormons could potentially subscribe to. He is the voice of God speaking to us. We are told to listen to Him. The Divine Service is all about receiving those words, honoring them, and holding them sacred. When DS is discarded, it is rarely replaced by things that even try to do this, and never replaced by things that do it nearly as well.

  8. If you are breaking from scriptural church tradition, you’d better have a darn important and biblically sound reason for doing it.

  9. I don’t understand, why this seems, so complex.

    Start at the basics, the Foundation, & build up, from there.

    Who’s House, is it? Who, really owns, It? Who, do those that walk in or out, on any given day, for any given reason, who do they, belong to?

    His House & His Bride. Why do we complicate, what our Lord, made so very simple?

  10. This is an article I wrote several years ago in response to what I was seeing occurring within Christian congregations and sadly Lutheran congregations as well.

    How was worship? Did you enjoy today’s worship?

    How often have we heard or used this word “worship”? What do you mean with this word? What exactly is its meaning? If asked most Christians would likely respond that worship is primarily about what we do.

    In his book, The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren explains what he believes worship is about.
    “Worship is not for your benefit. . . . We worship for God’s benefit. When we worship, our goal is to bring pleasure to God, not ourselves. If you have ever said, ‘I didn’t get anything out of worship today,’ you worshiped for the wrong reason. Worship isn’t for you. It’s for God. . . . Our motive is to bring glory and pleasure to our Creator. . . . God’s heart is not touched by tradition in worship, but by passion and commitment.” [p.66].

    However, is that what we find in Scripture? For what purpose did God call the Israelites before Him in the tabernacle, then the temple? That He might serve them by forgiving their sins [Lev. 9:7ff].

    What was true in the Old Testament holds true in the New. The Son of God became man to take all sin upon Himself and thereby earn forgiveness for the entire world [1 Jn. 2:2].

    Contrary to Warren, God does not need our service. It is God who served humanity first by creating us in His image [Ge. 1:26]. After man’s fall into sin He announced that He would serve all mankind by sending a Savior to redeem us [Gen. 3:15]. Jesus Himself declared such when He said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” [Matt. 20:28]

    Speaking of worship as about what we do turns it on its head. The Triune God who called all things into existence calls us before Him that we may receive His good gifts. Does that mean that we play no part in worship? Definitely not! God’s people are most certainly active in worship. Yet, our activity is not the focus or heart of worship but the response to God’s forgiving our sins. As David wrote, O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise [Ps. 51:15].

    Worship is God speaking. It is our listening. Worship begins with God’s Word. He is the content. Biblical worship begins with God giving us His Word. It comes to us and we respond in faith and devotion. It is God’s action, not ours. He is the mover, the doer. Faith comes as the gift from God, not from our own doing or action. Such an understanding of worship is quite different from the dictionary definition of the word. It is for that reason that the Evangelical Lutheran Church has shown a preference for the word service. The chief gathering of Christians on a Sunday morning is called the Divine Service. In the Divine Service, God serves us. He gives us His Word and sacraments. Only after we have received the Word and the gifts that He offers do we respond in our sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise. The Divine Service (liturgy) is God giving to us and our response to Him. It is theocentric (God-centered) and Christocentric (Christ-centered), not the man centered activity that is usually defined and practiced as worship. [Lutheran Worship – History and Practice, Concordia Publishing House, p.45]

    The significance of all this is that true, biblical worship is at its heart Gospel. It is about Christ for us! To make it about our actions, our passion, our sincerity, our commitment turns it into law. And if that is the case then it is God’s judgment of our sins, rather than forgiveness, that we receive on Sunday morning [Rom. 3:20]. That so many Lutheran pastors and their congregations are following in the footsteps of The Second Great Awakening and Revivalism, which is the impetus for much of Evangelical worship, is more than a little distressing.

    In response to the salvation accomplished for you in Christ’s life, death and resurrection, may you cry with David , “O LORD, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells” [Ps. 26:8].

  11. @Carl H #14

    Great question. IMHO, no. Not, if we understand the word rightly. For we see throughout Scripture that it uses such language of God’s believers worshiping Him. Because of the current theological climate, and all of the nonsense that has crept into how we speak about worship, we need to use the word with great precision, which often affords us an opportunity to catechize. One text that I typically refer to in having this discussion is Ps. 51:15. This is because we do not want to give the impression that we just sit there and do not actively participate in our worship of God. Our worship, however, is always IN RESPONSE (caps for emphasis, not screaming 🙂 to what God has done and IS doing for us in Christ. We are very active in our worship. This activity is a consequence of God’s grace given through the means of grace. This language reflects how the Lutheran Confessions speak about our participation in sanctification (F.C.S.D. Art. II, Free Will, par.66).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.