Today there is massive pressure to change Confessional Lutheran forms of worship in order to adapt to the culture. This pressure is not new. Here is an article from a century ago on this same topic. The pressures are the same. The dangers the same. The deceit the same.
But more importantly, the Word and Sacrament is the same. The same historical Lutheran liturgy presents the same Law and Gospel centered around the Sacraments. The author is Luther D. Reed. And the article is from 1906 pages 9-18, in vol. 1 of the Memoirs of the Lutheran Liturgical Association.
OUR DISTINCTIVE WORSHIP—THE COMMON SERVICE AND OTHER LITURGIES, ANCIENT AND MODERN.
Principle and Form are related as Soul and Body. The latter is the medium through which the former is able to express itself. The intellect, the will, the emotions, in fact the SOUL LIFE of the human personality is only able to reveal itself, and indeed only possesses objective existence, in the physical life. So abstract principles may have some quasi existence within the realm of the metaphysical, but in order to our real apprehension of them in time and space they must have a concrete, formal expression.
The animating principles of Christian faith constantly appear in the several spheres of Christian life, and nowhere more clearly than in the department of Christian Worship. The distinctive differences in doctrine held by different Churches may not be evident in the private lives of their members, but they will inevitably appear in the public worship of their congregations. Doctrines and principles of worship are proclaimed not only from the pulpit, but from the altar, from the pew, from the organ bench and choir room; in Liturgy as truly as in Confessional Symbol; in rubric often more clearly than in text; in manner, gesture, posture as surely as in spoken or printed word. Everything is pregnant with meaning when one learns to read it aright. We understand not the mannerisms of strangers, but the simple tone of voice, the glance of an eye, or the most trivial gesture of a dear friend conveys deep significance. So greater intimacy with the forms of devotion may reveal to us many qualities hitherto unperceived.
It is a very superficial opinion, oft expressed, that there is little difference between Churches. “We all are going to the same place,” it is said; as if it were immaterial in undertaking a journey to a distant city whether we kept in the King’s highway with its signboards and places of refreshment, or stumbled in danger and discomfort through the woods and swam swollen streams. Or as if because we all live upon what we eat, there were no difference in foods! A Lutheran is not a Romanist, a Quaker or a Methodist. We have a distinctive doctrine, a distinctive apprehension of God’s revelation, as have they; and our cultus, or form of worship, as expressing our belief, is just as distinctive in character. It is our purpose, therefore, by a study of our Service and a comparison of it with others to see wherein this distinctiveness lies.
We may look first at the Service as a whole. The first impression we gather is that it is not only in the language of the people, but that the latter actively participate in every portion of it. There is no suggestion of a vicarious performance, but of a personal participation. Pastor and people together enter the Holy of Holies and commune with God. Here is the living embodiment of a cardinal principle of the Reformation, and indeed of the New Testament,—the Universal Priesthood of All Believers. Hear what Dr. Rock, a most eminent Roman Catholic divine, says with reference to the celebration of the Roman Mass.
“In the performance of this sacred service no office is assigned to the people. The sacrifice is offered up by the priest in their name and on their behalf. The whole action is between God and the priest. So far is it from being necessary that the people shall understand the language of the sacrifice, that they are not allowed even to hear the most important and solemn part of it…. They do not act, they do not say the prayers of the priest, they have nothing to do with the actual performance of the Holy Sacrifice.” (Hierurgia I: 314.)
Hear again the words of Dr. Boardnian, one of the most prominent Baptist divines in this country, as he laments the vicarious character of worship in his own and other nonliturgical Churches. He says,
“No voice but the preacher’s is heard in adoration, thanksgiving, confession, supplication, intercession, aspiration, communion. So far as the vocal act of homage goes, the preacher alone worships. … Alas! this individual privilege of each member of the congregation we allow the minister to appropriate to himself. He alone lifts the veil, and enters the Holy of Holies, and communes before the mercy-seat; while the congregation stands mute in the outer court. The New Testament doctrine of the rent veil and the priesthood of all Christians gives way to the Old Testament doctrine of a sacerdotal order; or what is worse, to the Roman heresy of a priestly caste and a priestly worship. Even the pulpit has been removed from the side to the centre; so that the preacher is perpetually in the foreground, while the worship of Almighty God is consigned to a comparatively subordinate niche. How painfully true this is, may be seen in the fact that while it is not considered rude to enter the sanctuary during the earlier part of the service, such as the singing or the Bible reading,—that is to say, be it observed, during that part of the service which is distinctively liturgical or worshipful,—it is considered rude to come in or go out while the minister is preaching, as though, forsooth, the main thing in worship were ignorant, feeble, sinful man, instead of Jehovah of Hosts.” (Christian Worship, p. 291 sq.)
Out of their own mouths they stand convicted, the Romanist asserting the doctrine of the vicarious work of a priestly order, and the Baptist admitting its virtual practice. Take the Common Service and see pastor and people unite in common confession, and appropriation of God’s forgiveness; see them direct to the throne of grace common praise and petition in the Gloria Patri, the Kyrie, the Gloria in Excelsis, the Collect, the General Prayer, the Preface, Sanctus, Agnus and Nunc Dimittis ; hear their common confession of belief in the Creed as well as many other parts of the service; see them together honor and reverence and use the Word and the Sacrament, uniting in all that pertains to the administration and the reception of both. In its every line our Service is vocal with the principle of a Universal Priesthood engaging in a Common Ministry.
Worship is a transaction between God and Man; in it therefore are two active elements, the divine and the human. Theories of worship fundamentally differ as the emphasis is placed upon either of these elements. The Roman, and perhaps to a less degree the Greek Liturgy, reeks with the human, the sacrificial element. God is still to be appeased, His wrath averted by the work which the Church, through its priesthood, must do every day. All service centres about the work, the sacrifice of the Mass. It is not what God brings to man in worship, but what man does for God. The Reformed, by which we understand the other Protestant Churches except the Lutheran, also emphasize the human or sacrificial side.
Not indeed the propitiary sacrificial theory of the Romanists, but the eucharist-sacrificial idea. God is appeased, Christians gather to thank and praise Him, and to offer Him their prayer and grateful service, provoking one another’s devotion and sacrifice by mutual fellowship. But again it is not what God brings, but what man does. The Lutheran lays stress upon the Divine element in worship. The propitiary sacrifice has been made once for all by the death of Jesus; this, and this only, is the basis for our every approach to God in worship. God desires all men to receive most fully the benefits of Christ’s work. He conveys these benefits and blessings, pardon, peace, spiritual strength, GRACE in fact, through certain means. These are His Word and Sacraments. He says, “Thou art redeemed, O Man; Christ died for thee. Come, commune with Me; I will give thee My Word and Will; will assure thee of pardon; will give thee My Strength to help thy weakness; will give thee in My Sacrament a seal and pledge of thy acceptance, and will make and confirm with thee an everlasting covenant.”
The sinner, though assured of God’s mercy, is ever conscious of his own sin; and his every experience but impresses him with his own weakness. He comes to receive again what God offers him through the means entrusted to His Church. Hence our distinctive teaching is that we gather in Divine Service primarily to receive the gifts of God, and then secondarily to give Him our praise and prayer. We receive far more than we can ever give. The Divine element predominates; the human is governed by it. It is not what man does, but what God brings.
Examine the Service in the light of this distinctive principle; see the importance accorded the Divine element, the Means of God’s coming to us, the Word and the Sacrament. Luther in his very first liturgical writing said, “One thing is needful, namely‘, that Mary should sit at Christ’s feet and hear His Word daily, which is that best part which she has chosen, and which shall never be taken from her. There is one eternal Word. Everything else must pass away, no matter how much concern it may cause Martha.” See how he labored to give the Word to the people in their own language; how the Sermon as the exposition of it was restored; how the legends of the saints, the work of the priests; the penances of men, the figment of the Virgin’s powers, were all swept aside. Like another John the Baptist he came crying. “Make straight the way of the Lord.”
We, as his heirs in doctrine as in name, have entered into his works. The Greek and Roman Liturgies today are filled with works and ceremonies, with elaborate dramatic symbolism, with invocation of the saints and adoration of the Virgin; but of the pure Word of God, His message to human hearts, there is little. We put them down in sorrow and turn to Orders and Directories of Worship used by many Protestant Communions. Here is abundant provision of Hymns and Prayers and Anthems; even the Apostles’ Creed may be said and the Gloria Patri sung, and if the Lord’s Prayer be added yet it is regarded as a remarkably rich liturgical service. And yet that is all man’s work, his offering to God. All that God brings to man must come through perhaps a single short portion of His Word, for it is to be feared that the Sermon frequently is so filled with the social, political, or at best moral opinions of the preacher that there is scant opportunity for a morsel of Divine truth, an assurance, a promise, or a pledge, to trickle through. In sorrow again we place these down.
Let us examine our Service. At the very beginning pastor and people encourage each other to approach the throne of grace by the messages of God delivered to His people thousands of years ago, and so we say, “Our help is in the Name of the Lord,. . . .For Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” and after united confession we receive the assurance of His Gospel again that “Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, hath had mercy upon us, and given His Only Son to die for us, and for His sake forgiveth us all our sins. To them that believe on His Name, He also giveth power to become the Sons of God, and bestoweth upon them His Holy Spirit. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Then the Introit gives us in the language of the Psalms again the special message of the day, which we are to receive more fully later in Lessons and Sermon, and about which all our response is to cluster. The very words of the Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis and Collect bring before us, chiefly in the very language of Scripture, the Person and Work of our Saviour, and the assurance of His love, His intercession, His benediction. And then we have directly His particular message in the Epistle and Gospel: that portion of His Life, His Work, His Teaching that is to be His especial assurance, promise, warning or exhortation,—the particular Gift of His love for the time to those who gather in His courts below.
And now about this message, this Divine Gift, which is further explained and applied in the Sermon, based directly upon it and not determined by some passing whim or caprice of the preacher;—about this Divine Gift, gathers our grateful response in acceptance and affirmation in the Creed, and our further appropriation and thankful praise in the Hymns. And so it is the WORD that rules, that is the centre, that is the life of the Service. The Church in its Pericopes, or selection of Lessons, as related to the general plan of the Christian Year, has rightly divided this Word of Truth, and given us a proper portion for every service in the year.
“Worship,” says the President of Union Theological Seminary, and he voices the conception of all the Reformed Churches on this point, “worship has for its characteristic idea, its main object, not impression, but expression.” “Its two chief elements are praise and prayer.” (p. 312 & 306 in Christian Worship.)
“Not so!” says the Lutheran, with the Common Service in his hand. “The chief thing is God’s Gift to us, His Message in His Word, His pledge in His Sacrament.”
About these have grown up that rich devotional literature, as well as that wonderful body of Church Song,—the Hymns, the Graduals, the Chorale, the Chants and part compositions—that show most clearly that the Lutheran Church does not underestimate the subjective or human element in worship, but that she bases it upon the Divine element. God speaks first; we hear and answer.
It is hardly necessary to indicate the manner in which our Service emphasizes the Divine element in the Sacrament.
The Eastern Liturgy of S. James says “Remembering, therefore. His life-giving sufferings,. . . .we, sinful men, offer unto Thee, O Lord, this dread and bloodless sacrifice, praying: that Thou wilt not deal with us after our sins, nor reward us according to our iniquities.”
The Roman Liturgy says “Accept, O Holy Father, Almighty, Eternal God, this immaculate Host, which I, Thy unworthy servant, offer unto Thee, my living and true God, for my innumerable sins, offences and negligences, and for all here present, as also for all faithful Christians, both living and dead, that it may be profitable for my own and for their salvation unto eternal life. Amen.”
Here everything is human offering work and action.
Let us glance at some Protestant Liturgies. Here the Holy Communion is a service of commemoration, of Christian union and fellowship, a sign of faith and a promise of consecration on the part of men. In Zwingli’s Liturgy, as indeed in Knox’s and in many of Reformed services today the people remain in their seats, the bread and wine are distributed by the deacons or even passed from hand to hand while a Psalm or Hymn is sung or words of Scripture read.
The fundamental idea appears in a sentence of the recent Liturgy proposed for use in the Presbyterian Church by Dr. Shields,—“And here we offer and present unto Thee. O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and lively sacrifice unto Thee; humbly beseeching Thee, that all we, who are partakers of this holy Communion, may be fulfilled with Thy grace and heavenly benediction.” (p. 245).
The Liturgy of the Reformed Church in the U. S. says (p. 96), “Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, sanctify, we beseech Thee, by Thy Word and Spirit, these elements of bread and wine, that, being set apart now from a common to a sacred and mystical use, they may exhibit and represent to us with true effect the Body and Blood of Thy Son, Jesus Christ,” and in the Distribution the formula is “The bread which we break is the Communion of the body of Christ” and “The cup of blessing which we bless is the Communion of the blood of Christ.”
The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England in the formula for distribution says, “Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on Him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.”
Examples might be multiplied, but this will suffice to show us that here again is human work, human commemoration, human consecration, human fellowship, but not the Divine Gift for which we long,—the real Divine Presence in the transaction and the personal, individualized assurance of Divine forgiveness, for which we hunger and thirst. Take the Common Service and see its simple but soul-satisfying words. The communicants come to the altar and reverently kneel before the Lord Who has chosen this way in which to impart Himself to them. Their sin sees the pledge of its pardon in the Holy Elements; with holy reverence and deepest gratitude they receive the Divine Gift, as they hear the very words of the Giver, “Take and eat, this is the Body of Christ, given for thee.” “Take and drink, this is the Blood of the New Testament, shed for thy sins.” Devoutly, we appropriate to ourselves the message of pardon, peace, imputation, impartation; reverently we receive CHRIST, with all His Work, in all His plenitude of Power. No, in this solemn moment, not human works as offering, but Divine Gift and assurance.
There are many other distinctive traits in our beautiful Service, but time permits us to mention but one particularly. It presents Christ our Saviour as the object and center of all our worship; it is a living embodiment of the spirit of the First and Second Commandments, which declare that “thou shalt have no other gods beside Me;” and “thou shalt not take My Name in vain”.
We have already seen how the Roman Service centres, not in the propitiatory sacrifice which Christ once offered on the cross, but in that which the Church now from day to day continually offers. Its Liturgy is further crowded with references to the Virgin, the Archangel Michael, the Apostles, Martyrs and Saints, some forty of whom are mentioned by name; not simply references to them, but we should have said confession made to them, and prayers offered to them for their intercession with God And while the clergy are hastily mumbling or chanting this service in a foreign tongue the laity are busy in the pew “working out their salvation”, as with marvelous celerity they cover the decades of the rosary, reeling off the “vain repetitions” of Ave Marias, Pater Nosters, and Gloria Patris. Work! Work! Work ! Christ’s work ignored ; man’s work exalted ! The Church, Mary, the Martyrs, the Saints, traditions and legends, but little of Christ and His Word.
Now take up a Monday morning’s paper in any great city and read the reports of a majority of the sermons there given. Political situations, industrial conditions, sociological problems, criticisms of the national policy, reviews of recent publications, discussion of athletics or Art, disquisitions, philosophical, geographical, historical, ethnological, biographical,—but what of “Christ and Him crucified” than Whom Paul declared that he would know nothing?
Take up again the Common Service. Its very beginning is in the Name of the Triune God; His assurance of pardon meets our confession of sin; our cry of need ascends to Christ in our Kyrie, and Agnus Dei; our praise is given Him in the Gloria, the Hallelujah, the Response to His Gospel, the Sanctus, the Thanksgiving, the Benedicamus; we confess our faith in Him in Creed, in Canticle and in every part of the Service; our petitions ascend to Him in Collect, General Prayer and Agnus; we lift our hearts to Him in Preface and Nunc Dimittis; from Him we receive sacramental grace in Lessons, Sermon, Absolution, Communion and Benediction. His Life, His Work, His Teaching, His Intercession, His Exhortation, His Promise. We are on the Mount of Transfiguration,—Christ is with us in all His Divine Glory, Majesty and Power. All else is down in the valley, far beneath. Jesus is all in all.
Not only, however, does our Service reflect in its form our distinctive views of Divine Worship, but it is a living embodiment of our whole doctrinal system, from which, indeed, our conceptions of Worship naturally emerge, we believe that in the very words of the service not only every fundamental, but every distinctive doctrine of our Church finds expression.
The doctrine of the Trinity is proclaimed constantly in Invocation, Declaration of Grace, Gloria Patri, Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, Collects, Creeds, General Prayer, Proper Preface, Sanctus, and Benediction.
The doctrine of Creation and Providence in the very first Versicle, as well as in Collects, Creeds and General Prayer;
Human sin and God’s mercy and forgiveness appear in the Confession and Declaration, Gloria in Excelsis, Collects, Creeds, Offertory, General Prayer, Proper Prefaces, Verba, Agnus and Distribution.
Concerning the Person of Christ, the doctrine of His two Natures is shown in Collects, Creeds, Proper Prefaces;
The doctrine of His Offices passim;—as Prophet in Collect and Sanctus;—as Priest making intercession and satisfaction in Declaration, Gloria in Excelsis, Collects, Creeds, Proper Preface;—as King reigning in His kingdoms of Power, Grace and Glory in Gloria in Excelsis, Collects, Creeds, General Prayer and Gloria Patri everywhere.
Likewise the doctrine of His States:—The Humiliation appears in Confession, Collects, Gradual, Creeds, General Prayer, and Proper Prefaces;—The Exaltation in Gloria in Excelsis, Collects, Creeds and Proper Prefaces.
Of the teaching concerning the Holy Spirit, we see faith, justification, calling, illumination, regeneration, conversion, sanctification proclaimed in Confession, Declaration, Collects, and Creeds.
The doctrine of the Means of Grace not only underlies the whole conception of the Service, but appears specifically as well in individual portions of it.
The power and efficacy of the Word is not only emphasized by the dominating position accorded it as controlling every variable part of the Service, but the very words of the Liturgy itself are in great measure Scriptural, and if not literally so, entirely so in spirit.
The whole second part of the Service enshrines in forms of living beauty the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.
We have already spoken of at least one of the individual parts which shows that he who engages in this holy service in the spirit and words of this Liturgy cannot regard the Sacrament either as a sacrificial offering, or a mere commemorative or consecratory form, but as in very truth the way chosen by our Lord Himself to impart Himself in all His plenitude of saving grace and power to us personally and individually. And so we may mention every vital, fundamental doctrine of Christian faith, and every distinctive principle and tenet of Lutheranism and we find it not only dimly reflected but generally most clearly stated in our incomparable Service.
It had been our intention to give a concise summary or characterization of the different families of liturgies, and indicate the place of the Common Service among them;—in other words, to treat of the somewhat complicated questions of liturgical consanguinity and affinity, to present a few pages, at least, of the ledger in which History has recorded the debt and credit account of these near relatives in their dealings with one another,—but this manifestly lies beyond the limits of this paper. We trust that sufficient has been presented to show that not only in its general outline and spirit, but in its individual parts, our Service is at once a living embodiment and a luminous and lovely exposition of the Holy Christian Faith as apprehended by the Lutheran Church, and that as such it deserves to stand as a worthy contribution of American Lutheranism to the number of Confessional Symbols of our Church; not as a dry, dogmatic formula of belief to be taken down from dusty shelves in time of controversy and argument, but as a living thing of surpassing beauty, which our hands, lips and heart may together use whenever we enter the sanctuary of God to commune with Him.
Luther D. Reed.