Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What is the Biblical definition of worship?

We found this comment buried in a discussion on Brothers of John the Steadfast and thought it was well worth posting here on IL.



First, you can’t reduce the definition of worship to one or two sentences. That would be like trying to reduce the definition of a “safe and legal car” to one or two sentences.

Second, among us Lutherans, we answer questions on the basis of Scripture with reference to the Confessions. Reference to the Confessions mainly avoids having to “reinvent the theological wheel.”

Third, the English word “worship” is one of those undefined fundamental words that even a kindergarten kids knows, “It’s what we do on Sunday morning in church.”

Fourth, if you complain that I am avoiding the constraints of your question, Jesus did that all the time! :)

Fifth, our Lutheran confessions succinctly give the purpose of worship: “Places, times, persons, and the entire outward order of worship are therefore instituted and appointed in order that God’s Word may exert its power publicly.” (LC 3rd Comm, 94; Tappert, 378); and to hear, learn, retain, seriously ponder, and put to use the Word of God (LC 3rd Comm, 95-102; Tappert, 378-379).

Sixth, the “entire outward order of worship,” is structured on these biblical principles:
    a) First, Second, and Third Commandments, as explained in the Small and Large Catechisms.

    b) The Lord’s Prayer, as explained in the Small and Large Catechisms.

    c) The Three Sacraments, as explained in the Small and Large Catechisms.

    d) Various principles and rules found throughout the New Testament, particularly 1 Corinthians 11, 1 Corinthians 14, and Colossians 3:16.

Seventh, Lutherans recognize that all who follow the fifth and sixth points (above) conduct Christian worship, though there may be some error involved here and there. Some churches have significant error in worship, such as the Reformed denial of the Lord’s Supper (i.e., denial of its nature, power, and benefits) and the Roman Catholic invocation of the saints (against the 1st commandment).

Eighth, Lutherans do not eliminate traditions of the “entire outward order of worship,” but rather affirm traditions of the Christian church. This is in contrast to the Reformed religions deriving from the Anabaptists, Zwinglians, and Calvinists, who reject all traditions in principle. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession states that: “The holy Fathers . . . instituted [traditions] for the sake of good order and tranquility in the church.” (Ap XV, 13; Tappert, 216). “The holy Fathers . . . observed these human rites because they were profitable for good order, because they give the people a set time to assemble, because they provide an example of how all things could be done decently and in order in the churches [1 Cor. 14:40] and finally because they helped instruct the common folk. For different seasons and various rites serve as reminders [i.e., memory aids] for the common folk. For these reasons the Fathers kept ceremonies and for the same reasons WE ALSO BELIEVE IN KEEPING TRADITIONS. . . . This good order is very becoming in the church and IS THEREFORE NECESSARY” (my emphasis; Ap XV, 20-22; Tappert 218). The Formula of Concord echoes and affirms the Apology when it says that ceremonies and church rites serve good order, decorum, preserve Christian discipline, and the edification of the church (FC SD, X, 1, 7, 9; Tappert, 610-612).

Ninth, Lutherans accept change in worship, so long as the changes:
    a) serve good order, decorum, preserve Christian discipline, and the edification of the church (FC SD, X, 1, 7, 9; Tappert, 610-612).

    b) are not contrary to God’s Word (FC SD X, 5; Tappert, 611).

    c) are not useless and foolish spectacles (FC SD X, 7; Tappert, 611).

    d) do not give the impression that the Lutheran church is not greatly different from other religions or denominations (FC SD X, 5; Tappert 611).

    e) do not give the impression that opposing religions or denominations agree with the Lutheran church, or that agreement will gradually result due to the use of these worship practices (FC SD X, 5; Tappert, 611).
Tenth, for further study, you can look at the Index in Tappert, under the topics of Worship, Ceremonies, Human Traditions, and Holy Days. Also the recently published book by Dr. James Brauer of Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis “Worship, Gottesdienst, Cultus Dei.” It is an excellent resource for seeing all the passages in the Lutheran Confessions which pertain to worship, and therefore the full treatment of the Bible’s understanding of worship from a Lutheran perspective.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland


Daniel Baker said...

"And the difference between this faith and the righteousness of the Law can be easily discerned. Faith is the latreiva [divine service], which receives the benefits offered by God; the righteousness of the Law is the latreiva [divine service] which offers to God our merits. By faith God wishes to be worshiped in this way, that we receive from Him those things which He promises and offers" (Ap:IV:49).


A very germane quote, Daniel.
When I was at seminary the limitations of the English term word 'worship' were pointed out to us and the rich meaning of the old German term 'Gottesdienst' was extolled, thus my preference for 'Divine Service' to this day.

Daniel Baker said...

Pastor Henderson,

Thank you. I am growing to dislike using the term "worship" as well. Most lay people understand it (including myself until relatively recently) in an anthropocentric context. In English, worship seems to imply our action toward God (i.e. prayer, praise, and thanksgiving). Ultimately, "going to church" is seen as our time to "worship" God, i.e. honor and praise him. Obviously, proper catechesis can dispel this faulty notion in the Lutheran context, but I sense that proper catechesis is something many people lack. Regardless, I am with you on using "Divine Service" as a worthy - and Lutheran! - alternative.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

If I recall correctly the words of a former German professor of mine, in German (at least older German), you don't "go to church." You don't "go to a worship service." "Wir besuchen den Gottesdienst." "We visit the Divine Service."

It's God's house, after all. He is the Host, He is the Servant and He is the Meal. We are His invited guests, not the paid entertainment.

Pastor Spencer said...

While it has been maligned as legalistic, I believe that, keeping Pastor Rydecki’s comment in mind, the motto of the Gottesdienst group can be understood as quite correct and laudable; namely, “The Divine Liturgy is not adiaphora.”

Pastor Spencer

Daniel Baker said...

Do you mean to tell me that, if we bind ourselves to something in Confession, we are not free to hypocritically disregard it on a whim? Next you'll tell me that the doctrine and practice of the Augsburg Confession and its Apology should be followed by those who claim to be its spiritual heirs!

"This is about the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known from its writers. This being the case, they judge harshly who insist that our teachers be regarded as heretics. There is, however, disagreement on certain abuses, which have crept into the Church without rightful authority. And even in these, if there were some difference, there should be proper lenity on the part of bishops to bear with us by reason of the Confession which we have now reviewed; because even the Canons are not so severe as to demand the same rites everywhere, neither, at any time, have the rites of all churches been the same; although, among us, in large part, the ancient rites are diligently observed. For it is a false and malicious charge that all the ceremonies, all the things instituted of old, are abolished in our churches" (AC:XXI:5-8).

"At the outset we must again make the preliminary statement that we do not abolish the Mass, but religiously maintain and defend it. For among us masses are celebrated every Lord's Day and on the other festivals, in which the Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved. And the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other like things" (Ap:XXIV:1).

Surely, wearing a stole and following p. 38 in the hymnal (of course making sure to write an innovative collect every week and choosing unique Scripture readings to fit the general theme of the sermon) are well within the scope of the preceding texts.

Pastor Spencer said...

Dear Daniel,

Thank you for your comment. Good point – well made.

One warning: You are developing a very sharp use of irony and sarcasm, with a healthy dose of critical cynicism. Watch out, or you’ll be labeled as “negative,” not to mention downright Spencerian! That’s not the way to win friends and influence people in the WELS!

Still – keep up the straight thinking!

Pastor Spencer

Anonymous said...

May the Mind of Christ My Savior" #467

May His beauty rest upon me,
As I seek the lost to win,
And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him.

Sang this in church this morning...thought the last line seemed relevant to Christian worship as well. IMO, that is what the the early Christians strived to do and the purpose of the "traditions" of the church that Luther & the confessors retained. ~~Tammy Jochman

Daniel Baker said...

Pastor Spencer,

I have found myself developing a growing sense of pessimism over the course of the past couple of weeks. Could there be a correlation between "negativity" and the number of church-related meetings and functions one attends?

On a more serious note - I was slightly taken aback the first time I read the previously quoted section of the Augsburg Confession. Many in our circles are afraid to even discuss the 'catholicity' of our worship practices and flee at all costs from any possible charge of the "Catholic" moniker; start throwing around "not at variance with the Roman Church" and you'd have a riot on your hands. Of course, I am sure that the Confession is merely being descriptive in this instance, so this is all of little consequence.

Ms. Jochman,

How ironic - we sang that particular hymn this week as well. The second line of the verse you quote causes me to hesitate briefly, but as you rightly point out the third and fourth lines put the context in an appropriate perspective. Our focus should always and only be on Christ Jesus and Him crucified, not on our works of love and acts of praise. Like the hymn implies, we want others to focus on the Master, not the unworthy servants; we could take a lesson from the angelic hosts of Revelation in this regard.


'I am growing to dislike using the term "worship" as well. Most lay people understand it (including myself until relatively recently) in an anthropocentric context.'

Precisely, Daniel, that is the problem; correct them gently, though, that you may win them over.

(I should point out that my teacher was Dr John Kleinig - his commentary on Leviticus and his book on Lutheran spirituality 'Grace Upon Grace' are available from CPH. I am a non-WELS interloper here, by the grace of the administrators.)

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Pr. Henderson - you're most welcome here. We count you as a friend, not an interloper.

Pastor Spencer said...


Yes, you have discovered a great hidden truth of church life: i.e. One’s attitude about one’s congregation and about the state of the Church in general is in direct proportion to the number and length of church meetings of any and all kinds that one attends. The more and longer the meetings, the more negative one tends to feel.

Re: “catholicity” – you are also correct in that in WELS especially, her long history and deep roots in Pietism has given rise to a nearly palpable “catholiphobia,” or perhaps to be a bit more charitable, “Romanophobia.” However, both are misplaced and even harmful to our work in Christ’s kingdom. That quote from the Confessions, among others, is exactly what separates us from the sects. It’s what ties us to the Apostles and the early Christian Church. It’s what keeps our focus on Christ and not on man.

True, some of our members are sometimes take aback by things such as clerical collars, every-Sunday communion, private confession, the sign of the cross, terms “Father,” and “Friar,” and so on. But are we giving offense, or are they taking offense? It is most often the later, in my experience. I for one institute none of the above practices, and many more like them, without thorough instruction first. This removes any problems of offense 99% of the time. And usually, even the 1% come around in due time – actually quite quickly in fact.

What irritates me is that many of the very Pastors who boast of their Confessional subscription, including the passage we are talking about, do not even attempt to begin the education process to bring practices such as I listed above back into the normal life of their congregations. Simply put, they are still in their fear of things “catholic.” How sad. How tragic. How needless. How foolish!

Perhaps it will not always be so in our little synod. One can always hope and pray.

Pastor Spencer


I'm honoured to be regarded as a friend, Pr Rydecki. I hold the WELS in high esteem.

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