(article from Living Lutheran June 2019 By Meghan Johnston Aelabouni )
Any class or discussion on worship could begin with questions about what Lutheran worship is, how Lutherans worship and why do we do so.
Sometimes these questions arise from specific, concrete concerns: whether a hymn or praise song is a good choice for a congregation; whether to plan a foot-washing or a first communion; how material choices for worship—paper bulletins, plastic cups, gluten-free bread—reflect our faith.
Other times, we might find ourselves in a pew or at a campfire reciting the Lord’s Prayer and suddenly wonder what this is really about. When we experience a worship style that is new to us, we may wonder how it can be so different and still be the same thing. Or we may seek to answer the nonreligious friend who inquires, “Why do Christians keep meeting together and doing the same things, over and over?” Or the child who simply asks, “Why are we going to church again?”
Since the earliest days of the church, Christians have identified worship as the heart of faith and sought to describe what lies at its core.
Since the earliest days of the church, Christians have identified worship as the heart of faith and sought to describe what lies at its core. As early as A.D. 150, philosopher Justin Martyr identified at least four essential components of worship—gathering, word, meal, sending—that are still found today in Christian churches throughout the world.
Lutherans and other Christians have also long sought to balance Christian unity with human diversity in worship. The Augsburg Confession proposed that the “one holy, Christian church” is “the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel.” As long as word and sacrament are in place, the confession stated, “it is not necessary for the true unity of the church that uniform ceremonies, instituted by human beings, be observed everywhere.”
Still, we might wonder what kinds of gathering, word, meal or sending “count” as Lutheran worship. And then there’s the question of how we can tell if the word and sacraments are being preached and administered “according to the gospel.” The whats, hows and whys of Christian worship among Lutherans are as old as the roots of our faith, but these questions live anew in every gathering, word, meal and sending.
In the next few Summits, we will continue this article. Touching on each of the subjects of gathering, word, meal and sending.