Speaking of Faith: The Liturgy Is Tried and True Evangelism
By Katie Hill
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
To an outsider looking in, the historic liturgy of the Church might seem like something out of the Dark Ages, particularly in a culture that tries to make everything “relevant” or “relatable”. Liturgy, simply put, is a pattern of worship. Lutherans understand liturgy as God serving His people by the proclamation of the Gospel and administration of the Means of Grace, and in response we get to offer thanks and praise to Him. Good liturgy is evangelistic by design.
I was raised as a very traditional Roman Catholic but I chose to leave that church when I was 18. So, for a long time, I eyed anything even vaguely liturgical with great suspicion. Repeating the same words at church over and over again? Nope! Pastors wearing vestments? May it never be! Incense? Are you kidding? What I didn’t realize then was that much of that liturgy I had experienced every Sunday growing up had been evangelizing me all along.
After two decades of various denominational and non-denominational church experience, I converted to Lutheranism 10 years ago. In short order, the liturgy became something from which I learned to draw great comfort. My previous objection of “That’s just vain repetition,” was cast aside. That repetition became near and dear to me—it nurtured my faith. And when I reflected upon my Roman Catholic upbringing I came to a stunning realization that, although there were parts of the Mass or what was preached from the pulpit that clouded or even obscured the Gospel, much of the liturgy came straight out of the Scriptures.
It’s not as though Martin Luther set out to reinvent the liturgy wheel. Remember, he sought only to reform the church and promote the Gospel with as much clarity as possible. Luther took the liturgy that had been taught for centuries, translated it into the language of the people, and filtered it through the Lutheran confessions that sought to return the Christian Church to her biblical roots. And so today, we can experience a liturgy that is undergirded by centuries of practice and history, in the Divine Service, Daily Offices and other services.
Simply put, the liturgy’s job is to feed our faith. Our Confession puts it this way: “The purpose of observing ceremonies is that men may learn the Scriptures and that those who have been touched by the Word may receive faith and fear and so may also pray.” (Apology XXIV:3). It accomplishes this in various settings but we can zero in on a few areas in the Divine Service for a few examples:
Confession and Absolution
You’ve probably heard it claimed that there is a certain prayer that one must pray to “make a decision” for Christ. This is often called the Sinner’s Prayer—something one can point to and say “That’s when I became a Christian.” And believe it or not, our liturgy has a sinner’s prayer, too…every time we confess and receive Absolution! After we are faced with the demands of God’s Holy Law we cry out, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities.” “Forgive us, renew us, and lead us!” After this we hear, “I therefore forgive you in the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We recognize our sin, repent, and receive Absolution. This isn’t a one-time event. This is an as-much-as-we-need-it gift!
Why is this important? While it’s vital we seek to reach non-Christians with the Good news, we Christians need to hear the Gospel, too! Both you, and that friend from school you brought to church last Sunday to hear about Christ, got to hear the same thing! Liturgy is an equal opportunity evangelizer!
We say, alongside our brothers and sisters, three creeds—or confessions of belief—(Apostles’, Nicene or Athanasian), all of which speak of the God whom we worship and how He has saved us through the work of His Son. This goes counter to much of mainstream Christianity which will often assert, “No creed but Jesus!” That just doesn’t make sense, because the creeds are all about Jesus. Christians throughout the centuries have declared the same words, which is why it creates a unity that is faith-strengthening every time we recite the creeds.
The Lord's Supper
This is the ultimate altar call! We go to the altar, not to make a decision for Christ or to rededicate our lives to Him. Rather, because He has dedicated Himself to us, we get to receive Him. Our faith is strengthened by hearing His words “This is my body…this is my blood…for YOU” and our spirits are nourished when we drink from the cup and eat His body, broken for us. This is crystal-clear evangelism.
To the very end, our liturgy is reminding us of the Gospel. Benediction means “good words” and that’s exactly what we get to hear before Divine Service ends…the Good News. “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you and give you peace.” We are reminded to Whom we belong and that we have true peace through His Son, Jesus Christ.
These sections of the Divine Service are just the tip of the liturgy iceberg. We can turn to any page in our service books and find the faithful proclamation of the Gospel. The liturgy is designed from start to finish to point to and give us Christ. From the Sacrament of the Altar, to your pastor’s final words; from the Baptism of a new child in Christ to that tiny little “+” in the text, you’ll see it’s true. More than that, it is a small but delightful taste of what we get to look forward to in Paradise. And when it comes to communicating the Good News, that’s as relevant and relatable as it gets.
When she’s not silently correcting everyone’s grammar, Katie enjoys fostering and fine-tuning the writing of authors who deliver the sweetness of the Gospel to Higher Things readers and beyond. A Lutheran convert for 15 years now, Katie has been working for HT in some capacity for nearly that same amount of time. She relishes life in a small town in northern Arizona with her husband, Jeff, and five children, two and a half of whom have left the nest.
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