“Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.”
Some Lutheran churches have begun using “contemporary worship” services and other somewhat casual formats instead of the traditional liturgy. The reason for that is often the statistically unsupported belief that our liturgy is at least partly responsible for a general decline in church attendance.
We know that God has not prescribed any specific form of collective worship services for New Testament Christians. He does tell us not to forsake “ the assembling of ourselves together ” (Hebrews 10:25), but the particular form of our worship service is a matter of Christian liberty.
However, it would be a mistake to conclude therefore that how we structure our worship services does not matter, or that all forms of public worship are equally pleasing to God or equally edifying to believers. Worship, rightly understood, involves reverent love for and devotion to the one true God. The church is not an entertainment venue. Evaluated by the standard of what the Bible tells us about Law and Gospel, the nature of God, the nature of man—and about worship itself—we see that some expressions of public, collective worship are better than others.
Consider—for just one example—the careful sequencing of the liturgy parts used by liturgical Lutheran churches. Perhaps you’ve never thought about why the various parts of the liturgy are in the order they are, but the fact is that each separate part of the liturgy has Biblical significance in and of itself, and those parts are arranged in a systematic order.
Our worship services begin with the Invocation , in which we call upon the one true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—as the object of our worship. This is consistent with the First Commandment, and it establishes at the very beginning of every service that we are worshiping only the one true God. What more appropriate beginning to a worship service could there be?
After the Invocation comes the Confession of Sins , a necessary prerequisite to worship, without which sinful man cannot approach the holy God. Having confessed our sins and our sinful nature, we then receive the Absolution , in which the pastor announces that for Jesus’ sake, all our sins have been forgiven. It is only with our confession and Jesus’ forgiveness that we can approach and worship God. Our liturgy makes that explicit.
Having been assured from God’s Word that our sins are forgiven, the Introit is next. The word introit means “entrance,” and as Pastor Klatt stated in last month’s article, “With assurance of God’s grace in Christ we are able to enter into God’s presence and begin our service of prayer, praise, and instruction in His Word.” The Introit includes a Psalm passage, usually linked to the theme of the day’s worship.
Then we come to the Gloria Patri . This thirty-word element of our service is a short doxology (a praise of God) that connects the Old Testament Psalm passage we heard in the Introit with our New Testament Christian worship. As such, it is consistent with and echoes such New Testament passages as Romans 16:27 ( to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever ), Ephesians 3:21 ( to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever ), and Philippians 4:20 ( Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever ).
May God grant that we understand and appreciate the blessings of our liturgy, lest we weaken a form of worship that glorifies Him and edifies believers.