Liturgy, like coffee, is an acquired taste.
When other protestants visit our services the differences between our style of worship and those they are used to stand out more than anything else. Some, who are seeking a more formal and dignified style of worship really like our liturgies. Others just don’t get it. They wonder why we do things they way we do.
Why do we do what we do? In part, the answer is simply tradition. It’s what we’ve grown up with and what we’re used to. If in other places and other denominations people worship differently, that’s fine with us. But those who think there is something unchristian about liturgical worship are mistaken.
Liturgical worship among God’s people goes back to Old Testament times. The Bible talks about prayers accompanying the morning and evening sacrifices in the temple. Choirs were established to lead the people in worship. Ritual blessings and various forms of responsive prayers and recitations are recorded in the pages of the Bible.
In New Testament times there is freedom in regard to these things, but the writings of the early church fathers show that liturgical worship was the usual practice. Indeed, it’s relatively easy to trace the development of the liturgies we use back through the centuries. Sometimes they have been simpler, at other times more ornate, but the prayers, creeds, and songs of praise are ancient, far older than the errors that the Reformation corrected.
Lutheran congregations like ours, have retained these traditions not because they are old, but because they are still useful.
Our liturgies are composed primarily of Biblical texts that have been selected and structured to teach repentance and grace. These Biblical truths are set to music and committed to memory by frequent repetition.
In fact, one reason liturgies exist is to give illiterate people the opportunity to memorize key Bible truths. And, as the texts are learned, everyone is enabled to participate. That’s important when you consider that 20% of the adult population never learned to read well. Nor should we forget about young children and old folks. It’s easier for them to participate by memory as well.
Once learned, the prayers and songs of praise in the liturgy also serve to shape our private prayers and praise to God. Properly used, the texts we recite together become patterns for our private prayers, suggesting themes and phrases that we can use to call upon God for the many spiritual blessings that we need.
In addition to the basic texts, our liturgies include variable elements and lessons so that those who have mastered the basics can extend their knowledge of God’s Word. The key events of Jesus life are repeated annually and most of the epistles are read over the course of three years. These are further explained in the sermon. Over time, those who attend regularly have the opportunity to become well versed in the scriptures and their teaching.
Can the same things be accomplished in other ways? Possibly, but these methods have worked well for centuries. So we have chosen to retain them rather than seeking new methods that may not be as good.
And that’s another part of The Lutheran Difference.