from “The Augustana and Lutheran Worship” by Pastor Joel Otto
I. The Augustana’s Definition of Lutheran Worship
A confessional Lutheran understands the axiom that the article upon which the church stands or falls is justification by faith. The Augustana confesses that truth. The entire confession revolves around Article IV.
Furthermore, it is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness in his sight, as St. Paul says in Romans 3[:21–26] and 4[:5].
No pilgrimages or prayers, no decision or experiences, no human works or worship – forgiveness, righteousness, and eternal life are gifts of God’s grace because Jesus paid the price with his life on the cross. Faith in Jesus receives these gifts. Everything in Scripture, and therefore everything in the Augustana, is centered in the doctrine of justification.
Therefore, everything the Augustana has to say about Lutheran worship flows from the teaching of justification by faith. Article V, which is connected grammatically to the preceding article, explains the “how” of justification by faith.
To obtain such faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe.
Since faith is only worked by the Holy Spirit through the Word and sacraments, the Augustana lays before us the definition of public worship. Christians gather together to receive the blessings God gives in Word and sacraments. Melancthon explains this in the Apology as he equates faith with worship.
Faith is that worship which receives the benefits that God offers; the righteousness of the law is that worship which offers God our own merits. God wants to be honored by faith so that we receive from him those things that he promises and offers.
So Lutheran worship is first and foremost about God’s actions for us.
In fact, the Augustana emphasizes that the Lutherans retained the ancient liturgy of the church. All of this doesn’t compute until we factor in the centrality of justification by faith. Since worship is all about “giving the gospel” – proclaiming the Word and administering the sacraments – and receiving the blessings the gospel gives, the forms, rites and ceremonies are retained because they do just that. In fact, “giving the gospel” and receiving the blessing of the gospel often occur at the same time in Lutheran worship. Pastors not only preach a law-gospel sermon, but they also are fed by that same sermon. Worshipers who sing “Dear Christians One and All Rejoice,” not only proclaim the gospel in song, but also receive the blessings which the gospel content of that hymn gives. Consider these two statements from the Apology to illustrate this.
This is how God wants to become known and worshiped, namely, that we receive blessings from him, and indeed, that we receive them on account of his mercy and not on account of our merits. This is the richest consolation in all afflictions, which the opponents destroy when they trivialize and disparage faith and only teach people to deal with God through works and merits.
Luther’s dichotomy stands true. “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” Considered in terms of worship, we could say it this way.
• The church is perfectly free from all prescribed forms, rites and ceremonies because the gospel has given us that freedom.
• The church is bound to use forms, rites and ceremonies that proclaim the gospel in Word and sacraments.
In other words, both of these statements flow from the central teaching of Scripture, justification by faith. So the Augustana made it clear that because of gospel freedom the forms of public worship are adiaphora. Yet, the Augustana insisted on using the ancient forms of the liturgy because they served that gospel freedom by centering on the means of grace.
Lutherans historically have referred to public worship as Gottesdienst, divine service, with the emphasis on God serving his people. Klemet Preus offers this expanded definition.
Most people, when they think of the word worship, think of something that we do. By this way of thinking, we are active in giving God our honor and praise and God is passive in receiving our worship. Actually, the primary direction of the communication in worship is the other way. In true Christian worship we are passive and God is active. We are receiving and God is giving. We are learning and God is teaching. We are getting and God is giving.
Consider what the Apology says. “The service and worship of the Gospel is to receive good things from God… The highest worship in the Gospel is the desire to receive the forgiveness of sins, grace, and righteousness.”
It wasn’t just for political purposes that the confessors retained the historic liturgy. What makes the historic Lutheran liturgy what it is? Scripture-based, gospel-centered canticles; music that carries and solidifies the Word of God without obscuring it; sacramentally-focused confession and absolution; well-worded prayers and responses; theological hymns; Christ-centered Church Year; and meaningful art and symbolic action. Lutheran worship as carried out in the historic liturgy revolves around justification by faith because it is focused on the words of Jesus and centered in the means of grace.
What Warren fails to understand is that when we sing about God, we’re singing to God. And to sing to God, or to praise God, is to repeat what he has done for us. Klemet Preus comments, “The greatest way to praise God is to tell everyone what he has done. The praise of God is neither in the use of verbs to describe me nor is it in the use of adjectives to describe Him. Praise of God is using verbs to tell what He did for us in Christ.” Just read the psalms. When the encouragement to praise God is given, it is usually followed by a proclamation of what God has done to make him worthy of praise. Following this scriptural example means that what is sung in worship should primarily proclaim who the true God is and what he has done to save, not my love for Jesus or how I should respond. There is a place for such expressions of the believers’ response to God’s gift of eternal life, but always in the context of the proclamation of the gospel. Many great Lutheran and Christian hymns follow the example of the psalms and express the believer’s reaction to the gospel, while also stating why the believer is reacting. In other words, these hymns proclaim the gospel. The same cannot be said for a majority of praise songs which express the believer’s reaction without stating the basis for this reaction.
Lutheran biblical worship places worshipers on the receiving end of God’s gifts given in Word and sacrament where God has promised to come to us and bless us. Paul’s words to the Colossians find application here. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual song with gratitude in your hearts to God.” It is true that worshipers are also serving God in worship. We are expressing “gratitude in our hearts to God.” Worshipers are moved to respond, but their response is always gospel-motivated and gospel-centered. That’s how we truly “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” When we praise God, we proclaim why God is to be praised. And so we proclaim the gospel.
In other words, the focus of Evangelical worship is the law, not the gospel. This makes sense when we consider the purpose of worship in Evangelical circles – “expressing our love to [God].” This requires a law emphasis centered on man’s work. In contrast, Parton relates what he discovered in Lutheran worship.
In Lutheranism I indeed found the evangel – the Good News – as the focus of its prayed, spoken, and sung confession. Yes, I found some things I thought were foreign additions – vestments, altars, candles, pipe organs, corporate confession of sin, kneeling benches, old hymns, written prayers, and a “liturgy” (whatever that was) conducted according to an equally unheard of “church year.” But I also found Christ at the center of all of it and the reason for all of it.
What he discovered in Lutheran worship was justification by faith proclaimed in Word and sacrament, taught in the ceremonies, rites, hymns and preaching. Lutheran worship pointed him to Christ’s work, not his own.
So we have freedom. But that freedom is exercised with responsibility. The freedom comes because the gospel gives that freedom. The responsibility is exercised for the sake of the gospel. Applied to worship, we have freedom in what we do. But what we do must be about justification by faith. It must have the duality of “giving the gospel” and receiving the blessings of the gospel.
Bach inscribed on many of his music manuscripts the initials “INJ” and SDG.” “In Nomine Jesu.” “Soli Deo Gloria.” Isn’t this the Augustana’s summary of Lutheran worship? We worship in the name of Jesus. We come together to receive the gifts Jesus won for us on the cross. Those gifts are given to us through the words of Jesus – words preached by the pastor, sung and chanted by God’s people, confessed in the creeds, connected with bread and wine in the Supper. Justification by faith is at the center of it all. Since justification is all God’s work, since worship is really God’s work as he gives us forgiveness, life and salvation, he receives all the glory. Through the words of Jesus and using the words of Jesus, God’s people are moved to give God all the glory with hearts and hands and voices.
May we never lose sight of the connection our Lutheran theology has with our Lutheran worship. Law and gospel. Justification by faith. Word and sacraments. God serving his people through the proclamation of the gospel. His people serving God and each other by proclaiming what he has done and using his gifts of music, language and the arts to do this. We have a song of glory to sing. This song was begun when our Lord won the victory with his resurrection. We prepare this song of glory when we use all of God’s gifts to proclaim the message of justification. We repeat this song, week after week, year after year, in the name of Jesus and for the glory of God, until at last we join the saints around the throne of the Lamb repeating the song for all eternity.