In the CCLI (for those of you who don’t know what CCLI is, they take care of copyright licensing for most evangelical praise music) monthly newsletter, there was an article by Tom Krauter about the order of worship services. You can find the entire article here
As you read this excerpt, pay close attention to the relationship between worship and the sermon.
The majority of churches today have the same general order or format for their services. Some of the elements may change periodically, or from church to church, but, overall, the corporate gatherings are very similar. Everything in the services leads to the climax: the sermon. Certainly, there may be other segments of the service that occur after the sermon—an altar call, communion, benediction, announcements, etc.—but the high point is the sermon.
Usually, in such services, the praise and worship time immediately precedes the sermon. Part of the idea behind this is that focusing on God will open the hearts of the people to receive the Word. I have heard an analogy used where the worship leader is the plowman, plowing up the soil of the hearts, and the preacher is the sower, planting the seed of God’s Word in those prepared furrows. Actually, I don’t really find much fault with this analogy. I have seen this scenario happen many times. People come to the church service in various states of mind, not all good. Some are tired. Others are frustrated. Still others may even be despondent. But as they begin to focus on the Source of strength, they are changed. Consequently, they have become prepared to receive the truth of God’s Word.
I highlight this article because it allows me to explain a big difference between the Lutheran perspective and other perspectives on our corporate worship. Look carefully at the second paragraph and answer the question, “Where in the worship service is the truth of God’s Word explained?” Judging from the above paragraphs, it seems that the truth of God’s Word is proclaimed in the sermon. Everything else in the service, referred as the “worship”, serves to get the people in a frame of mind to hear God’s word.
Lutherans, by contrast, believe that everything we do in the Divine Service preaches. The truth of God’s word is proclaimed from beginning to end, not just in the sermon. Just look at a few examples from our hymns and liturgy for this Sunday:
The sign of the cross may be made by all in remembrance of their Baptism.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Lutheran Service Book, p 203
Here, at the very beginning of the service, we proclaim the truth that we are gathered here by the Triune God, in whose name we are baptized.
Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. LSB p 203
Here, in the words of absolution, we hear the Gospel clearly proclaimed and we receive the very words of absolution from the Pastor as from God Himself!
From the cross Thy wisdom shineth
Breaking forth in conquering might;
From the cross forever beameth
All Thy bright redeeming light. Stanza 4 of Thy Strong Word. LSB 578
Here is proclaimed the truth that, by the power of the cross, sin, death, and the devil have been defeated and we are redeemed.
These examples are really just the tip of the iceberg. In the Divine Service, you will hear the Gospel beautifully proclaimed every week. You will receive God’s good gifts and respond with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. You will hear God’s Word, sing it, meditate on it, and be comforted by it. You will be forgiven of your sins and strengthened to live as a child of God. The sermon, readings, songs, liturgy, and everything else partner together in this wonderful event we call the Divine Service.
What does this mean?
This means that everything in the worship service is important. This means that the hymns in the Lutheran church are going to have strong theology because they help teach you the faith. This means that Lutheran worship is an hour or more of full immersion in the Word of God.
Later in the article, Krauter says that at his church, they switched the order to having the sermon first and then the worship. This is a certainly a step in the right direction as in our worship we have time for praise and thanksgiving as we thank God for His love and salvation. Perhaps someday his church will be able to participate in the constant proclamation and response that we are so blessed with in the Lutheran church.