Christian Worship: What is This?

Often times people have ideas for the church in order to get more people in so that they may hear the Gospel. But as some of these ideas run up against the test of time, they are proven as epic failures to serve the Gospel and sometimes end up working against the Gospel.

Among these I include most of the principles of the church growth movement, and most especially “seeker sensitive” worship services. The biggest problem with the idea of changing the worship service so it will be appealing to an unbeliever who walks in the door, is that you must abandon your own heritage and your own identity. What a disappointment it must be for someone who came to see what Christian worship looks like, but instead sees a cleaned up version of worldliness.

There’s an ancient saying in the church, lex orandi lex credendi which literally means, “The rule of prayer is the rule of belief.” This simply says that one prays, worships and practices according to one’s belief. Therefore, if you go into a Jewish synagogue, you will see Jews worshipping according to what they believe. If you go into an Islamic masque, you will see Muslims worshipping according to their belief. Therefore, you would expect Christians to be worshipping according to what they believe. Before people became overly concerned with numbers and growing the church, Christians had a heritage of worship that was maintained for 2000 years in the liturgy. If you wanted to see what Christian worship looked like, that was it. The liturgy of the divine service crosses cultures, generations, and even musical preferences. So when an unbeliever came to a Christian Church to see what Christian worship was all about, they didn’t walk in expecting to see a cleaner version of the world—these are the Christians who believe Jesus was born of a Virgin, that Jesus was fully God and yet fully man and that He died and rose from the dead. The Christians, in the eyes of the world, are already a little weird—so one would expect their worship to be a little weird. If I visit a country that has a culture different than what I’m used to, I don’t expect them to make their culture to match what I am used to just so their tourism will increase. I am going there to see and learn their culture. The divine service is the place where God gives His gifts that are not of this world: life, salvation and forgiveness. So then we should expect the service where these gifts are offered to be other-worldly, not this worldly.

This, I’m afraid, is a concept that is nearly lost in the Christian church as a whole. We’ve gotten to the point in the church today where the young adults, the ones getting married, starting families, settling into jobs, joining communities and now looking for churches, have always grown up with a style of worship that has been more worldly than it has been Christian. The only concept of worship they have ever known is one that has always watered down the uniqueness of Christianity for the sake of being non-offensive to unbelievers. So when this Christian finds himself in a truly Christian worship service, he doesn’t even recognize his faith’s own worship. “This is isn’t Christian, it’s too weird,” he might say. But it’s the worship of his Fathers in the faith and even the worship of his Lord.

I imagine it’s a bit like your children who grew up eating family dinners at the dinning room table. You’ve spent your years of parenthood teaching them good manners and what it means to sit down and have a decent meal at the dinner table with the family. After eighteen years of training you think you have them taught what a good and decent meal is. That is, until they go to college and are eating in the cafeteria or fast food for every meal. Upon returning home, they have forgotten what it means to sit down at the table and have a family meal. Your own children whom you’ve spent eighteen hard years training has forgotten it all. But one day you invite a friend from work to dinner, a friend who never grew up knowing what a family dinner was like. But they are in your house and they are being served by you so they will eat dinner according to your custom.

It’s a sad state that we’re in, that our very own brothers and sisters in Christ who have grown up in the faith don’t recognize their own faith’s worship service. But it is the unbeliever who comes in expectation of something other worldly and finds it in the historic liturgy of the Christian church. As a church, let us stop trying to change how our Lord serves us so that others will be less offended. Instead, let us teach others their need for what the Lord serves us. Namely, that we are all poor miserable sinners in need of God’s grace and forgiveness—grace and forgiveness that is given to us in the Divine Service of the church through His Holy Word. Let us come to this service of our Lord and receive what He gives us and how He gives it to us.