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.

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