This is the last on on tradition from a Lutheran perspective.
A correct and proper liturgy supplies what may be scarce in, and even helps correct, poor preaching. Even more, it guides preaching according to the complete counsel of Scripture, not the whims or interests of your pastor or congregation (and that’s good!).
By supplying your pastor with the wisdom from the Church fathers before us (in sermons, hymns, and pairing Scripture together), properly “traditioned” liturgy helps him draw deeper into the depths of God’s Word in a Christ-centered way.
Properly “traditioned” liturgy also serves a church’s catholicity and helps unify.
- Discuss how?
Properly “traditioned” liturgy keeps the relationship between God and people as it should be. God is the giver; we are the receiver. Liturgy is not a matter of us responding to God in whatever way feels right or pleasing to us. Instead, God gives His gifts and we receive them, and this life-bestowing flow between Giver and receiver, Savior and saved, is all part of what we should mean when we say “worship,” “liturgy,” “Divine Service,” or even “Mass.”
For we do not even self-generate our thanksgiving and praise back to God. Psalm 51:5 says, “O Lord, open my lips . . .” And then the psalm gives us the reason why: so “my mouth will declare your praise” (Psalm 51:15).
Properly “traditioned” liturgy moves us to be reverent toward God. God is love, God is merciful--but He is also a consuming fire. He spews the unfaithful out of His mouth. He comes again in judgment. When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?
The how-to parts of the liturgy (rubrics) are designed to help make us more reverential. It helps us remember who we are before God--and that we are in His presence. Reverent liturgy recognizes that we are on holy ground!
Properly “traditioned” liturgy lets God be holy
The awe of God--His majesty and His holiness--are not reflected when we treat Him more casually than we would our politicians. Worship is not a leisure activity: it is where we meet the living God! He invites us into His presence, but that invitation also carries with it a threat--do not eat and drink without godly faith, do not pray with a double mind, work out your salvation in fear and trembling.
C.S Lewis wrote in his Narnia series: “God is not safe.” We die apart from God, for He alone is life, but He’s like electricity. He can fry us when handled carelessly. And nothing is more careless than when we ignore His instructions and dream up some ideas of our own, thinking they should serve just fine.
- What are some ideas that you’ve seen incorporated into worship that doesn’t match God’s instructions?
Remember Israel when they dreamed up the golden calf and thought it good as any other to approach God. In fact, they said they were worshiping the one, true God--but it was in the way of their choosing, through the golden calf. Of the Golden calf, Aaron said, “Tomorrow will be a feast to YAHWEH” (Exodus 32:5).
- What did God call the golden-calf styled worship?
God is not tame. But He is also life and He is loving. And so He provides the way for us to approach Him and live in His presence, where we find His presence to be the gift of everlasting life. And the way He provides is always through the Lamb. Find the Lamb on the altar and you’ve found access, a way to live in the presence of Him who is all-holy in such a way that His holiness wipes out your sin without wiping you out with it.
Find the Lamb. That’s the key:
- all the way from Eden, where the garments that Adam and Eve made up for themselves wouldn’t do, and God clothed them with skins;
- to Abel’s offering that was accepted;
- to the Passover and the Scapegoat, and the daily Lambs at the temple.
Everywhere you look in the Old Testament it was all about the Lamb.
“So when John points to Him and says: “Look, the Lamb of God!” He was saying: “There’s the access to the Holy One who will be your life. There’s the untamable God who comes down to you to give you Himself in such a way that you won’t be destroyed.”
Find the altar where the Lamb is, where His blood is poured out (into mouths) and you’ve found liturgical worship.
- Properly “traditioned” liturgical worship is all about the access to God provided through Christ, the Lamb.
- It’s not our dreamed-up way of offering stuff to God; it’s God’s own appointed way of giving life, forgiveness, and Himself to us.
God declares, “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” Or said another way: “Take and eat, this is my Body.”
In properly “traditioned” liturgy, forgiveness of sins is the key benefit
It’s not just talked about, but is actually given!
Properly “traditioned” liturgy makes clear where forgiveness of sins was won (on the cross) and where it is delivered (in the means of grace).
Without this clarity, worship usually devolves into other areas of focus. It may be where people:
- seek forgiveness at the foot of the cross--but they cannot go there;
- or, they try to find God in their hearts, experiences, and feelings
- or, they want worship simply to make them feel good with a patina of God-sounding words.
But these are unreliable. Seeking God where He doesn’t promise to be found is like chasing after the wind.
The pastor is given to be the steward of the mysteries. And the Church’s liturgy has the pastor give out God’s mysteries where He has promised to give them: in baptism, in the spoken absolution, in the preached Word, and in the Lord’s Supper. The properly “traditioned” liturgy focuses on those objective means, where the worshiper is pulled away from his subjective experiences and enters God’s objective means.
Properly “traditioned” liturgy gives all glory to Christ and all comfort to poor sinners. And what could be better than that? For that’s the way God wants it.
Rich Futrell, Pastor
Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, Kimberling City, MO
Where we receive and confess the faith of the Church (in and with the Augsburg Confession): The faith once delivered to the saints, the faith of Christ Jesus, His Word of the Gospel, His full forgiveness of sins, His flesh and blood given and poured out for us, and His gracious gift of life for body, soul, and spirit.