Because we have certain beliefs (doctrines) concerning God, who He is, what He does, how He acts, etc., these doctrines determine the way we live, how we act, what we do and do not do in life. They inform us, or at least should inform us in all areas of our lives. They also inform us in how we operate as a church, as a congregation, that is, how we do evangelism, how we teach, what our worship area is like, and how we conduct our worship service. Our beliefs (doctrine) should help us define and outline what we do and what we do not do in worship (practice). The following is presented to help you understand how our worship (facility and practice) flows out of our beliefs (doctrine). To help you more fully understand our worship, not only will you be given reasons why we do the things we do, but also why there are things we do not do and why we do not do them.
The Worship Space
A rhetorical question is one that is asked without needing an answer or that the answer is presumed in the question. The rhetoric of a building or building space is the unspoken statement of the meaning of that space. In other words, when one walks past a building or into a church building, what does the building, or what do the furnishings, etc. suggests to you about the function of the building? Does the building, do the furnishings, does what you see tell you that you are in a church?
When it comes to a church building, a sanctuary if you will, there are two important words that need to be defined. They are nave and chancel. The nave of the church is the large area of the worship space where the congregation gathers. The chancel is the sacred space and is set off from the nave.
“We practice what we preach” means that doctrine (teaching) and practice (worship) go hand in hand; doctrine informs practice and practice teaches doctrine. Thus, the practice and doctrine of the church building go hand in hand as well, which means the rhetoric of a church building should, in an unspoken way, make a statement concerning what is believed, taught, and confessed. In other words, the building should express the confession of those who worship in the building, and the confession of those who worship in the building should be expressed in the aesthetics of the building. So what do we see and know about our Lutheran Christian faith as we enter the church building of St. Matthew Lutheran Church of Westfield?
As we enter, the first thing which catches our eyes is the cross which is the focal point of our Divine Service. As our eyes move down, we see the altar where we are given the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. As we move our eyes to the left, we see the baptismal font wherein we are made members of the body of Christ through the waters of Holy Baptism as God promises 1 Peter 3:21a “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you.” To the right we see the pulpit from which we hear the Gospel, the Good News, the message of salvation. As our eyes move further down, we see the communion rail and the kneeler wherein we kneel before the Lord in confession so that we might hear His wonderful words of forgiveness. So we see our confession of faith that we believe Jesus comes to us to give us the gifts He has to give through the very means He has given to give us His gifts, the means of grace: Holy Baptism, His Holy Supper, His Word, and Confession and Absolution.
On the altar we see only the two Eucharist candles, the missal or book stand and the elements of the Lord’s Supper. To the right and left in the chancel area we may see stands on either side for the chancel flowers we might bring to adorn the Lord’s house. Finally we might notice that the chancel area is set off with a different flooring marking the chancel as holy space.
With a freestanding altar, the Lord’s Supper is set up with a chalice setting where a corporal (square linen) is placed on the altar. The chalice (common cup) is placed on the corporal. Over the chalice a purificator (napkin) is draped. Next the paten (plate) is set holding the celebrant’s host (the large communion wafer), then a chalice pall and the chalice veil is draped. The chalice pall is not to be confused with the funeral pall. The funeral pall is place over the casket of a dead body. The chalice pall is placed over the paten holding the host (Jesus’ living body in, with and under the bread) and the chalice (holding Jesus’ living blood in, with and under the wine). You may notice that only the chalice is covered until after the Lord’s Supper is complete at which time the Post-Communion veil will be draped over the sacred vessels.
The Baptismal Font is an eight-sided font symbolic of entrance into the family of God at His covenant with His people in the Old Testament through circumcision which was on the eighth day, as well as, the first day of Jesus’ resurrection (the eighth day after the seven days of Holy Week and the first day of the forever life of heaven). The communion rail reaches around toward the front wall separating the chancel or Holy Place. The gradine is a shelf where the candles and the cross rest. Finally, we have the credence table on which the elements for the Lord’s Supper are kept before and after the Supper is presented.
Please notice how there is no confusion in the chancel area as there is nothing secular to confuse the laity of this part of the church. There are no musical instruments nor screens to confuse someone into thinking this may be a building for entertainment. There are simply the things of God for usage in presenting the Means for Grace through which the Holy Spirit gives and distributes the gifts of God. Thus, the rhetoric of the building and the worship space teach what we believe according to our Lutheran Confessions, that God comes to us through the Means fo Grace given to us in the Divine Service.
The Divine Service
What happens in this worship space and building, this sanctuary? From where does our Divine Service come? Some would suggest that the Divine Service is a German service from the time of Martin Luther. Other suggest that it is simply a tradition or a preference style, but is it more than that? In Scripture when Paul speaks about traditions very often he is not speaking of tradition in the way in which we speak of tradition today, that is something like having turkey for Thanksgiving. When Paul is speaking about tradition, such as in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter,” he is speaking about the Word of God. The same may be said of our Lutheran confessors. When speaking about rites and ceremonies as well as traditions, they were usually speaking about those rites, ceremonies, and traditions grounded in Scripture and understood as something not devised by human minds and not to be changed according to the whims of man.
So from where does our Divine Service come? Author Frank C. Senn in Christian Liturgy traces the Divine Service back to the first century being used in the Christian Church (before there was an East and West, Catholic and Protestant) around the world. We may surmise from this history that the Divine Service is not simply tradition, nor is it German as some would suggest, nor is it a stylistic preference, but that it is grounded in the early Christian Church. With a study of Leviticus and the ceremonial laws given by God, one can see how the Divine Service flows out of these God-given ceremonies, except now in their fulfilled form in Christ. Thus, one might surmise that the Divine Service is just that, a Divine, even a God-given service for the purpose of pointing to Him, the Messiah, and being given the gifts He has to give through the Divine Service.
The Divine Service for the most part remained unchanged until the Reformation when Luther removed those parts pointing to sinful man and his actions which crept in during the rise of the papacy. It was not until the Reformation, and especially when those who espoused a different doctrine and pushed the Reformation beyond Luther’s intent, that the Divine Service was changed and/or eliminated. Again, however, it was those of a different doctrine who changed and/or eliminated the Divine Service from usage. Here again, we see the correlation of doctrine (teaching) and practice (worship style or preference). Those who pushed the reforms of the church, especially those who would no longer accept the Sacraments (especially infant Baptism) and taught a symbolic and obedience theology, sought a worship form that fit what they believed.
We believe worship is important, and because Scripture says the focus in worship is that we first come and are given to by God, our focus of attention is on the altar and the cross. On the cross, Scripture says Jesus died for us so that we might have forgiveness of sins and a restored relationship with Himself as God; thus, the focus of our attention upon entering church is the cross. Because Scripture says that worship is first and foremost
God’s service (thus, Divine Service) to us, we refer to our building as a church or a sanctuary. We do not refer to our building as a theater or an auditorium, nor do we refer to the chancel areas (the front where the altar is located) as the stage. We do not do this because we do not believe worship is an act, nor entertainment. Likewise, we do not place objects in the chancel area which take our attention away from the cross or obstruct its view.
What, then, is the Divine Service? We believe the way our Lord comes to us to give us the gifts and blessings He has to give is through means, namely the means of grace. These means of grace are the way our Lord gives us faith, strengthens, and keeps us in faith. These means of grace are the way our Lord gives us forgiveness of sins, life, even eternal life, and salvation. These means of grace are the Bible, the very Word of God; confession and absolution; and the sacraments defined as Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
The Bible is the Word of God, a Word which does what it says. In other words, when the Bible says we have forgiveness in the Lord’s Supper, then that is what we have, forgiveness. When the Bible says we have faith in Holy Baptism, then that is what we have, faith. Because the Bible is the Word of God and is a means of grace, that is, a way our Lord has to come to us to gives us His good gifts and blessings, then our worship should be permeated with this Word. Because God’s Word does what it says, we worship best when we say back to God the very words He has given us to say. For example, when Jesus gave His disciples and us the Lord’s Prayer, who are we to believe that we can make up a prayer better than His prayer? So certainly we will want to say His prayer, the prayer He has given us to pray back to Him. We do this, not because our own prayers are inadequate, nor to flatter Him, but because He is God, and what He gives us to pray is complete. So in worship, we speak and respond with the very words of His Word which He has given to us.
Confession and Absolution
Because God’s Word does what it says and because we know we are sinners and are in need of forgiveness and because Jesus has earned forgiveness for us, we begin almost every service with some type of public confession and absolution. Because only by faith and with forgiveness are the doors to heaven open, we want to confess our sins and hear those most beautiful words, “Your sins are forgiven.” It is after confessing our sins, and hearing God’s word of forgiveness (through the mouth of the called and ordained pastor) that we move into God’s presence.
Scriptures says, as Peter tells us, “Baptism now saves you,” so we constantly remember our Baptism. Every service then begins with a Trinitarian invocation, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” so we are reminded of water and God’s name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, being placed on us at our Baptism when He gives us faith. And we are also reminded again of our Baptism as the Aaronic Benediction is placed on us at the end of the service, again a Trinitarian blessing.
Scripture says that the Lord’s Supper is His gift of Himself, His body to eat and His blood to drink, in, with and under the bread and wine (as Jesus took the bread and said, “This is my body,” and the cup [of wine] and said, “This is my blood”). He instructs us that whenever we eat His body and drink His blood, we participate in His death and resurrection so that these are His as they are ours. His life is our life. His death is our death. His resurrection is our resurrection. Thus, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis, giving opportunity to eat and drink for our strengthening of faith and for forgiveness of sins.
• Because Scripture says we are not called to cooperate with God in our own salvation (synergism), we do not ask people to make a “decision” for Jesus; thus, we do not have an altar call.
• Because Scripture says worship is God giving to us (and our responding to Him), we do not draw attention to ourselves. Thus, our choir(s) are appropriately dressed and positioned so as not to be a distraction. Others assisting in the worship do so in ways that are not distracting. Nothing is placed in the altar area that draws attention away from nor covers the focal point of the cross and the altar.
• Because Scripture says worship is God giving to us (and our responding to Him), we are content with the pastor as the vicar of Christ leading us in worship and our being given to by being in worship. In other words, we do not believe our participation as leaders in any way is either necessary or important, only that we are there to be given to and to respond with hymns, prayers, and the giving of ourselves, offering our lives as priest (living sacrifices).
• Because Scripture says our forgiveness is so important and necessary, we do not shy away from a complete confession of our sins (our sins of thought, word and deed, and our sins of omission and commission [“I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess to You . . .”]).
• Because Scripture says a person can participate in the Lord’s Supper to their spiritual judgement, we do not offer open communion. But because of our care and concern for each one’s spiritual well being, we practice the loving practice of closed communion.
• Because God’s Word is His Word, because His Word is above all words, we do not attempt to make up quaint or creative liturgies, (i.e., responsive readings and the like). Instead, we use God’s Word saying back to Him the very words He has given us to say.
As we began, so we conclude. Just as God had given the Sacrament of Circumcision in the Old Testament and now in the New Testament gives us the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, and just as God had given the Sacrament of the Passover in the Old Testament and now from that Sacrament in its fulfilled form He gives us His Holy Supper, we would never dare change what God gives. In the Old Testament, in Leviticus, God has given us the Divine Service in the Sacrificial System and in the ceremonial laws, so as the Divine Service has now been practiced in the Early Church of the First Century throughout the world in its fulfilled form, why would we believe we would have any right to change that which has been given to us by God?
Because we have certain beliefs (doctrines) concerning God, who He is, what He does, how He acts, etc., these doctrines determine the way we live, how we act, what we do and do not do in life. As Lutheran Christians, our confessions, that is our statements of faith, (what we believe, teach, and confess) inform us or at least should inform us in all areas of our lives. It is our hope that this explanation of our worship area and service will help you to understand why our worship area is designed the way it is designed and why our worship service (our Divine Service) is conducted in the way in which it is conducted.