More Paulson–On What Worship Is For

Posted: 30 May 2012 in Authors, Christianity, Jesus, Liturgy, Lord's Supper, Lutheran, Lutheranism, Lutherans, Preaching, Theology, Worship
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[T]he “essence” of worship lies in the act of proclaiming. To say it doctrinally, justification by faith alone is the center of true worship. Christ, his divinity, humanity, death, resurrection, and Lordship of a new kingdom are to be given presently to his betrayers. They are to be given to the ungodly, who are already dead in their sins by God’s own judgment. What the dead need is resurrection, which is no less than the specific forgiveness of their sin of rebellion against the Creator in the killing of the Son.To the great dismay of most, this makes Christian worship repetitive—almost without end. Worship’s greatest temptation is satiety, whose voice says, “We’ve done that before; couldn’t we do something else?”

Christian worship is for the forgiveness of sins. People need this day in and day out for their vocations in life, which otherwise become sheer bondages that carry the weight of making ourselves and others righteous. Forgiveness is needed in order to be raised from the dead—daily. Worship is for the justification of the ungodly, day in and day out. It does this by means of a preacher proclaiming God’s words of law and gospel. By this means the dead are cured of their blindness and they are raised to new life. God has seen to it that these words are put in things (objects of the old world) so that faith has specific, historical, personal, communal, concrete “somethings” in which the word is put so that hearers may have something to believe in. So, worship concerns giving the proclamation in what the tradition has come to call word and sacrament. …

It is good to remember that theological enthusiasm is finally the same thing under different liturgical guises: the search for better words than God has given us, in particular the words that bestow the forgiveness of sins to actual sinners here and now—in bread, wine, water—and the public, verbal announcement of the gospel. Worship wars are not about different tastes or conservative versus progressive social groups, nor are such wars the mere result of generational differences in musical styles. Worship wars have one common goal: the desire to get rid of the forgiveness of sins and the cross of Christ and subsequently the cross each person must bear. Unfortunately, trading cross for glory rids worship of the gospel. Then, all that remains is a grand fight to the death over who has the better piety. …

Worship in the evangelical sense must mean that these promises are the free gifts of Christ to sinners for the forgiveness of sins, or to say the same thing, they are the benefits given to those dead in their sins in order to raise them from the dead. When these words go out they make hearers (even among those who are lacking in individual and communal piety) who assemble and want to listen again and again—daily, weekly, and throughout the year. That means that in each of the promises we find the same forgiveness of sins repeatedly being given, yet given in different ways appropriate for making faith. It would be better never to meet if you do not preach the word that is read out publicly. When you believe in the promises given there, you believe in none other than Christ himself, clothed in his word for you. After receiving such a gift, you will pray by way of giving thanks and asking freely for what is needed in the world and in the church, for ourselves and for our neighbors. So we confess and absolve, baptize whenever possible, give the Lord’s Supper as needed, read Scripture and preach from it, and pray by way of thankful response, despite our experiences and feelings to the contrary—especially in great hymns that bring the word deep into the heart and express our deepest need and thanks. This is true worship of the preached God, who is Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Steven Paulson, “What is Essential in Lutheran Worship?” Word and World 26:2 (Spr 2006), 156, 158, 161)

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Comments
  1. Lawrence says:

    It is good to remember that theological enthusiasm is finally the same thing under different liturgical guises: the search for better words than God has given us, in particular the words that bestow the forgiveness of sins to actual sinners here and now—in bread, wine, water—and the public, verbal announcement of the gospel.

    Indeed. Well said.

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