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Why Do We Worship?
What Is Worship?

by The Rev. Thomas L. Weitzel
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

 

INTRO

     A. Label Eucharistic liturgy parts, explaining briefly the names

     B. Worship is an active word that has an object.

     C. For Christians, the object of worship = God

               The God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob

               The God of the Hebrew nation

     D. Seeking answers to basic worship questions = seeking God's Word itself.

 

I. WHY DO WE WORSHIP?

     A. Scripture teaches: Worship is our response to God.

          1. God commands us through the Prophets and the Psalmists to worship him.

"You shall worship the Lord your God, and I will bless your bread and your water; and I will take sickness away from among you." (Ex.23.25)

"You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship, to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen." (Deut. 10.20-21)

"Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts. Worship the Lord in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth." (Ps.96.8-9)

"O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!" (Ps.95.6)

 

               a. Worship is our response to what God does for us

                    This worship is:

                         Awe, respect, reverence

                         Bowing down, kneeling = postures of worship

                         Sacrifice, offering in thanks to the Lord

                         Prayer - communion with him who is our creator.

 

          2. Christ commands:  "Do this in remembrance of me." (Luke 22:19, I Cor 11:24)

               a. This is a reference to the sacrament of Holy Communion
                   and by Christ's institution and example, it would include:

                         Prayer

                         Thanksgiving

                         Giving of bread and wine

                         Eating of bread and wine

 

          3. Christ commands us also:
               "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them ...." (Matt. 28:19)

               a. This implies the proclamation of the Word . . .
                   the Word of God and the witness of Christ contained in the writings of the Bible.

 

     B. Then WHAT IS WORSHIP?

          1. Through these commands we have the essentials
              of what is expected of us in our worship of God.

          2. By the Lord we were created, by the Lord we were redeemed,
              and so by the Lord's command we worship with:

                    bowing down

                    reverence

                    giving of ourselves

                    proclamation of his Word

                    Prayer, praise and thanksgiving

                    Eating and drinking of bread and wine in remembrance of him.

 

          3. God has not given us the form for worship,
              but he has indeed suggested to us the content.

          4. Peter Brunner in his book Worship in the Name of Jesus
              (Concordia, 1968, p. 25) writes:

"The worship of God depends on what is pleasing to Him. And whatever pleases God must be enclosed in His Word and commandment. God did not proclaim what He demands of us in vain. And those who would serve Him, disregarding this proclamation, must know that they can never please God. Only that worship which in its implementation is obedient to God's proclamation, God's communications, and God's institution is pleasing to God aud is deserving of its name. Just as we can serve God in our whole life only by pursuing the ways He revealed to us, so the Christian worship assemblies are worship only if they consist of nothing other than what God himself instituted."

 

          5. That is why any study of worship begins with a study of scripture.

 

     C. If we remain faithful to this "proposition of the Reformation"
         (scripture as source and norm), then we can expect to find and
         experience the following in our corporate worship:

          1. The spirit of obedience:

We follow the command of God, for we know that obedience is the way to life and salvation. And we know that the employment of all these forms in our worship, in our liturgy, will give us an effective administration of the divinely appointed Means of Grace.

          2. The spirit of reverence

We are humbled before the presence of our creator and redeemer. We approach him with reverence and awe, and ascribe him majesty, might and supreme worth.

          3. The spirit of communion

Our thought reaches out beyond mere aspiration or mystical contemplation. It achieves a spiritual contact and establishes a personal exchange with the divine Spirit. And by this exchange, the fabric of worship is woven.

Here we find all the sacramental elements in which God imparts his gifts of grace - the hearing of the Word, the declaration of absolution, the administration of the sacraments and the benediction.

          4. The spirit of fellowship

Here we find the Reformation idea of the horizontal and the vertical: "Love the Lord your God" . . . "Love one another" - and we find that they are the same . . . that they meet in our communing actions.

Corporate worship draws us not only to God, but to one another and binds us together in Him. We share our strength and inspiration with one another and with "all the company of heaven."

          5. The spirit of sacrifice

Our very understanding of communing with God implies our response to HIS gifts. We are moved to give and to do as well as to accept.

          6. The spirit of celebration

Every service is a lifting of our eyes to God, above the level of the ordinary, and a celebration of the many things He has done for us.

          7. The spirit of edification

Of this Luther D. Reed writes in his book Worship (Muhlenberg Press, 1959, p.5):

"The church is on lofty levels. The faithful have left the plains of earthly ambition and the daily struggle for bread, honor, power, and wealth. They have abandoned the battlefields of politics, science, and even theology. They have climbed out of the valleys of doubt and discouragement. While they worship they dwell on the heights. Here, and here alone, they hear the command from heaven, 'Be still and know that I am God.' Here, line upon line and precept upon precept, they receive godly admonitions, and are edified and built up in their holy faith by the power of the living Word. For there is not only peace, but power in this transaction. From our communion with God and with our fellow-believers there come new resources for righteousness and service."

(the seven "spirits or worship" from Reed, Worship, ibid.)

 

     D. Let's take it back to scripture

          1. All of this says that worship should be a glimpse of heaven

          2. Two glimpses - one OT and one NT

Psalm 29:  "Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor. The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, "Glory!" The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!

 

Revelation 7:9-17:  "After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen." Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

          3. How can it get any better than that?

          4. So we have in scripture the essentials of worship as commanded by God.

          5. These are the experiences which we can expect by following his command.

          6. What form all this should take is not anywhere handed to us in one liturgical package in scripture, but what takes root in Judaism is further developed in its own unique way by the early church, setting examples for worship that have been followed for centuries.

 

BREAK (as needed)

 

II. THE ORIGINS OF CHRISTIAN WORSHIP

               (Distribute handout on comparative liturgies.)

     A. Christian worship most certainly finds its roots in Judaism

           1. Temple - place of worship, praise, prayer, teaching, offering,
                    Major emphasis on offering = Sacrifice

                a. The Psalms reflect all these elements

                b. Jesus and disciples went to the temple to pray, make offerings
                    (John 8:2, Acts 3:1)

                c. When in Jerusalem, Jesus went to temple daily to teach and pray
                    (Luke 21:37-38)

                d. After Jesus' Ascension, disciples were "continually in the temple
                    blessing God" (Luke 24:53)

                e. Roots are pretty formal here - just read Exodus 24-31 for instructions on worship

                f. Rich in symbol and ritual

 

          2. Synagogue - also place of worship, praise, prayer, not initially offering
              Major emphasis on teaching = Word

               a. Less formal because it arises in captivity

               b. Loss of temple, loss of objects of worship

               c. Therefore sacrifice could not be made in old way

               d. After restoration of Temple, synagogues sprout up in local areas

               e. Not all could go to Jerusalem = temple substitute = still emph. On teaching/Word

               f. Can be seen in that form in Jesus' day:

"He came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power?" (Matthew 13:54)

"They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught." (Mark 1:21)

               g. While less formal because of emph. on teaching, don't read that to mean no ritual

               h. BOTH Temple and synagogue emphasize continuity and tradition, as well as participation

 

           3. Christian worship takes Word and Sacrifice of Judaism
               to make Word and Sacrament

                a. Christ as final sacrifice

                b. Destruction of the Temple seems to confirm this for Christians

                c. So synagogue service becomes main model for at least part
                    of what becomes Christian worship

          4. But shaping of the "feel" of Christian worship comes even more so
              in the 50 days which followed that first Easter and
              which culminated in the Pentecost event.

               a. Apostles all together -- wondering, questioning, rejoicing

               b. Communing with the risen Lord in various appearances

               c. An intenseness in feelings - - a unique experience which
                   had its effects on the shaping of future worship.

               d. After this, the regular meetings of the faithful kept alive the memory
                   of Christ's death and resurrection and the promise of his presence.

 

     C. FIRST CENTURY - New Testament records two types of worship

          1. "Jerusalem Type" -- people continued to go to the temple and synagogue,
               but participated in daily assemblies of Christians in private meeting.

"So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved." (Acts 2:41-47)

               a. These daily assemblies involved:

                         A common meal

                         Prayer

                         Psalms or hymns

                         An exhortation

                         Eucharist in some form

               b. Certain Jewish forms persisted, but new interpretation involved in Scripture --

                         presence of Christ emphasized, expectation of Second Coming

                         more emphasis on ministry of serving love

               c. This is the earliest type of Christian worship known.

.

          2. "Gentile-Christian Type" -- developed 20 years later in Corinth and Asia Minor.

               a. Quite separate from Judaism and its daily and yearly observations, simply because these areas involved mainly Paul's work with non-Jewish converts to Christianity.

               b. Eventually the precedence of this group had its influence over all other Christian worship.

               c. Here the "Lord's Day" was emphasized as the time for assembly instead of daily gatherings (1 Cor. 16:2):

               d. The Lord's Day and the Lord's Supper were features universally observed before any of the books of the New Testament were written late in the first century.

"On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting." (Acts 20:7-8)

               e. The service

                         First part was general in character

                         Non-Christians were allowed to attend

                         The second part, which involved the Eucharist, was for believers only.

                         Readings from Old Testament and letters from Apostles

                         Psalms or hymns

                         Prayer

                         Teaching

                         Prophecy

An ordinary meal of semi-religious character -- emphasis on fellowship -- continuation of Jewish practice.-- later dropped as the celebration of the Lord's Supper shifted from simple remembrance to more of an institution of formal and ceremonial character and one of universal importance.

                         Eucharist

                         In addition, we know that Baptisms were held regularly

                         And offerings were taken for the poor

                         We also know it was lively. Listen to St. Paul trying to get control:

"What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged. And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets, for God is a God not of disorder but of peace." (1 Corinthians 14:26-30)

               f. Somehow, I don't think it fit into an hour!

 

     D. SECOND CENTURY

          1. Lord's Day was time for assembly and Eucharist was always celebrated.

          2. Eucharist of primary importance because it was the event of the last days of our Lord's life that Christians could tangibly be involved in and thus feel intimately related to Christ and his death and resurrection.

"The past, the present, and the future were woven into one devotional concept as the worshipers recalled the days when the Master had blessed and broken the bread for his disciples; as they became convinced of his continued presence with them; and as they meditated upon his words concerning the heavenly feast to be spread at his return and the consummation of the kingdom. Their services included the singing of hymns and a lengthy prayer of thanksgiving for the blessings of creation and redemption.. This prayer introduced the Words of Institution." (Luther D. Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, p. 28)

          3. Certain writings and letters of the period already assume the existence of common ideas concerning ordered worship in Rome and Corinth.

          4. The Didache, a manual of instruction dating from early in the second century, describes a Jewish-Christian type of worship

               a. Agape meal and Eucharist were combined.

               b. Confession of sins before the breaking of bread "So that your sacrifice may be pure." (Matt. 5:24)

               c. Specific Prayer of Thanksgiving to be said over the bread and cup (collect form)

               d. Post-communion prayer (Reed, p. 30)

 

          5. Justin Martyr -- philosopher -- died c. 165 A.D.

               a. Wrote Apologia to the emperor defending Christian practices. Describes worship vividly and for the first time elaborates the division and connection of the Service of the Word and the Service of the Holy Supper.

 

               SERVICE OF THE WORD

                         O.T. Readings

                         Memoirs of the Apostles = Gospels

                         Homily by the president

                         Common prayers said by all standing

                         Kiss of Peace

               SERVICE OF THE LORD1S SUPPER

                         Bringing of elements (offertory)

                         Solemn prayer of thanksgiving, extemporized

                         Consecration, also extemporized, with Words of Institution

                         Distribution

               6. Clearly there are difference that can be recorded from place to place, but what is more noteworthy is how much alike the basic forms were.

               7. Although worship during first and second centuries still had its free elements, time was moving everything into a pretty common form across the church as worship became increasingly an "institution" or "tradition."

                         (Do it once, it's novel, do it twice, it's tradition!)

               8. Extemporized prayers still very common.

               9. Short exclamations like "Amen," "Alleluia," or "Kyrie eleison" were spontaneous.

             10. Habit and memory established a common order

             11. Simple habitual responses (litanies), along with Psalms and the Lord's Prayer, were memorized and said by heart.

 

     E. THIRD CENTURY

          1. Hippolytus -- theologian -- c. 189

               a. Wrote the Apostolic Tradition -- marks the close of the freer forms of worship by specifying formalized ritual patterns for the central action of the Eucharist.

 

               SERVICE OF THE EUCHARISTIC MEAL

                         Kiss of Peace

                         Offertory

                         Salutation (explain)

                         Sursum Corda (explain)

                         Prayer of Thanksgiving

                         Distribution

               b. Since these texts are much more elaborate, one can only assume that ceremonial had become increasingly more elaborate also.

 

          2. Cyprian -- Bishop of Carthage -- died 258

               a. In his writings he makes mention of much the same Thanksgiving section as Hippolytus, but specifies the Lord's Prayer to follow the consecration.

               b. Also mentions:

                         use of Kyrie

                         Standing for Gospel

                         Order in which people would commune

                         Ceremonial moving of Gospel book from a holy table
                         to the place where the lesson was to be read.

 

     F. FOURTH CENTURY

          1. Edict of Milan in 313 A.D. "legalized" the Christian church and brought with it great expansion in the church.

           2. With expansion came great liturgical developments, with great changes over a brief span of time - differing ceremonies for differing places -- processions, pilgrimages and pageants on a grand scale

"Within a generation or two the church had invested public worship, and particularly the administration of the sacraments, with a dignity and beauty which not only brought spiritual satisfaction to believers but also impressed the pagan world. Chateaubriand describes the introduction of many of these features in striking, even grandiloquent, phrases: 'Incense, flowers, vessels of gold and silver, lamps, crowns, lights, linen, silk, music, processions, festival days, passed from the altars of the vanquished to the altar of the victor. Paganism attempted to borrow from Christianity its dogmas and its ethics; Christianity despoiled paganism of its ornaments.'" (Reed, Liturgy, p. 35-36)


               a. These additions were external -- basic elements of the liturgy already described remained the same

               b. "Elaborating" additions of more Psalmody or simply Psalm phrases -- introits, graduals, offertories -- to cover ritual movement.

               c. More collects -- more dialogue between congregation and ministers

 

          3. After Hippolytus (third cent.), there is no definite text of the Mass (Eucharist) until about the seventh century.

          4. But we know that the core of the Roman Rite, as it is called, was fixed by the beginning of the fifth century.

                    (Go over Roman Rite on HANDOUT)

 

     G. LATER DEVELOPMENTS

          1. Further elaboration of the Roman Rite both textually and ceremonially, leading eventually to increasingly less congregational participation except as "spectators."

               a. This saw the addition of the Gloria in Excelsis, the Creeds, and the Agnus Dei.

          2. By the 16th century, the Roman Rite had been so polluted with elaborations, that it reflected a far different theology than was evident in earlier worship of the first centuries after Christ.

               a. Luther attempted to "clean up" the rite by returning to the basic biblical elements and what he felt was the purer fifth century form, eliminating the questionable material and returning the Mass to the people by encouraging a move toward the vernacular = participation

               b. Go over Luther's Formulae Missa on HANDOUT

               c. Luther's later German Mass of 1526 maintained the same basic outline, but substituted German hymns for various parts of the Mass. (LBW "Chorale Service of Holy Com.")

               d. Luther maintained the integrity of the Mass and many of the ceremonies that were common in his time. He also upheld the supremacy of the Eucharist as the norm for Christian worship each Lord's Day.

               e. Overzealous reformers pared the Mass down even further, eliminating all ceremonial, dropping the frequency of Communion along with it.

          3. American Lutherans came under the influence of the founding Puritans with their plain worship practices, as well as the influence of the Anglicans as German Lutherans increasingly went to English speaking liturgies.

          4. Christians during the latter half of the 20th century, seeing that overzealous reforms have been as far from early Christian worship and theology as was the overelaborate Mass of the pre-reformation period, have made an attempt to do what Luther did by looking back to the fifth century and beyond to scripture to understand what Christian worship was originally.

 

 

III. GETTING IT RIGHT, GETTING IT WRONG

          What do we learn from all this history?

     A. Worship changes, yet remains the same

          1.There is continuity in tradition, yet each century seems to put its own stamp on it

          2. Therefore worship is always BOTH traditional and contemporary

          3. = a MUST, because God continues to reveal his love in traditional and new ways

 

     B. We learn that worship is something that constantly is in need of reform

          1. We learned that from the reformation

          2. Reason? To keep it both contemporary and traditional

          3. People change, language changes, word meanings themselves change

          4. The Church must keep up or be lost and irrelevant = losing call, faith, mission, purpose

          5. The Church is renewed every day, as is our faith:
                     "See, I am making all things new." (Rev. 21:5)

 

     C. Can we get it wrong? Oh boy, yes

          1. Listen to St. Paul scolding the Corinthians about how they have the Eucharist:

"Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord's supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you! For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves." (1 Corinthians 11:17-29)

               a. The point is in the last line: they failed to "discern the body"

               b. That's not just the body of Christ in the bread and wine

               c. That's also the body of Christ, the one fellowship, the family of God, the unity of worshipers

 

     D. That takes me back to the beginning about why we worship

          1. If God in Christ is not the center of our focus, then we fail in our worship and in our faith

          2. Worship is a faith matter, not a style matter

          3. I said at the very beginning that the "how" seems of less concern to God than the "do"

          4. But the "do" does not leave us free from tradition (it's either gospel or it's not)


     E. Which brings me to the last point

          1. I see all that history, all those changes even within all that continuity and see freedom

               a. Freedom IN the tradition (not from it)

               b. Freedom to reform and be relevant

               c. Freedom to experiment and try new things

               d. Freedom to participate in the creative guiding Spirit of God

               e. Freedom to follow biblical principles such as I outlined at the beginning

               f. Freedom to learn what others already found valuable

               g. Freedom to make old things speak in new ways

 

          2. God is alive in that history, because God is alive in our worship of him

          3. If we stay close to him, then we got it.

          4. And let the people say, "Amen!"