“Liturgy”, derived from the Greek, leitourgia (literally, service), defined asservice given freely or obligatory, on behalf of the state, the private sector, or a divinity.” In the New Testament the word is applied to the service of Christ (Heb. 8:6) and of Christians for other people (Phil. 2:30). Gradually the word was applied to the worship prescribed by Mosaic Law and eventually to the Christian celebration of the Eucharist (Holy Communion). Today the word refers to any official form of public worship, although the use of The Service or Divine Service as a designation for the Eucharistic celebration is a more appropriate translation of liturgy.
Lutherans still understand liturgy as the “service of God” (Gottesdienst). God serves His people through Word and Sacrament and in this divine service they receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation from God. The liturgy keeps God’s people centered on the truth that in worship God is the One Who “does”—the One Who acts—while the people are the ones who receive. In thanksgiving for what God has done for them and continues to do for them through our Saviour, God’s people respond with their words and acts of praise and adoration.
Within the liturgy, the Pastor serves as more than just a “worship leader” or a “representative of God”. God has chosen him to be the means through which He speaks to His people and the means by which His grace is administered. In a very real way, the Pastor, according to his office, is an extention of God. The Early Church called the Pastor an “icon” or image of God.
While the Pastor has a unique part to play within the liturgy, so does the congregation. Members of the congregation actually have a dual role to perform. As true receivers of God’s grace, they must be totally passive, allowing God to be the Servant. But then as responders to God’s grace, the congregation is most certainly to be active in their participation. In their singing, confessing, and praying there is no room for anything but fully active and involved participation. For example, the Prayer of the Church matters nothing without the assembly’s “Amen” at its conclusion. It is their prayer!
The hymns that we use in our services of worship serve a very important part in our lives of faith—probably a more important part than many of us may think. Luther said that “next to theology, music is the highest art.” The hymns that we sing in worship serve to educate us and focus our thoughts primarily upon our Saviour and the way of salvation. Their use is not intended for the purpose of entertainment, although, our Lutheran hymnody, when properly sung, is a source of great enjoyment.
When we contrast the hymns contained in our Lutheran Service Book with many of the “snappy” hymns being sung in other churches, we find some major differences in the areas of doctrinal content and music.
Our hymns may be described as “heavy” or “meaty” because of their high doctrinal content. Our hymns teach the faith of our Lutheran Church. They give us a great deal of substance in the beautiful poetry of their texts.
Many hymns from other denominations are either lacking in this doctrinal substance or contain teachings that are in conflict with the Word of God. Many of the “old favourite” Gospel songs were written from a theological perspective in which key truths of our faith are denied or confused. For example, the song, “In the Garden,” may appeal to our sentimental side, but the message it gives is that Jesus communicates or deals with us apart from His Word or the Sacraments—not to mention the fact that the song nowhere really teaches the Gospel message. Other songs that are classified as “Praise Songs” contain little or no theological substance at all. These songs are designed for the sake of entertainment, not education or real spiritual development.
The music of Lutheran hymnody is, musically speaking, of the highest quality. In addition, the composers of our hymn music were careful to write the music so that it would serve the text and not distract the worshippers from the message being communicated. Lutheran hymns are sometimes criticized for only reflecting a narrow northern European background, but the reality is that the hymns of our hymnal, both words and music, come from a wide-ranging background. As well as originating in Germany and Scandinavia, some of our hymns come from the early Church in Italy, Greece, France or North Africa and some come from England and North America.
Rather than act as servant to the text of the hymn, the music of Gospel songs and “praise songs/choruses” used in other church bodies acts as master, overshadowing and obscuring what the hymn text attempts to communicate. The music of Gospel songs is very sentimental, appealing to the emotions of people. “Praise song/chorus” music is often much like pop music playing on a top 40 radio station.