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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Luther on worship

As long as we're on the topic of things Luther had to say, I might as well toss this out there. Not only was Luther offensive to those who wanted to have a Christian state; he also had some ideas that threatened those who wanted to keep the church under strict control. Here is a lengthy quote on forms of worship. This quote -- and especially Luther's third preference for worship -- has become an important point of reference for us at Central Lutheran in Elk River as we seek to understand where God is leading us.

Luther said:

Now there are three kinds of divine service or mass. The first is the one in Latin which we published earlier under the title Formula Missae .  It is not now my intention to abrogate or to change this service. It shall not be affected in the form which we have followed so far; but we shall continue to use it when or where we are pleased or prompted to do so. For in no wise would I want to discontinue the service in the Latin language, because the young are my chief concern. And if I could bring it to pass, and Greek and Hebrew were as familiar to us as the Latin and had as many fine melodies and songs, we would hold mass, sing, and read on successive Sundays in all four languages, German, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. I do not at all agree with those who cling to one language and despise all others. I would rather train such youth and folk who could also be of service to Christ in foreign lands and be able to converse with the natives there, lest we become like the Waldenses in Bohemia,  who have so ensconced their faith in their own language that they cannot speak plainly and clearly to anyone, unless he first learns their language. The Holy Spirit did not act like that in the beginning. He did not wait till all the world came to Jerusalem and studied Hebrew, but gave manifold tongues for the office of the ministry, so that the apostles could preach wherever they might go. I prefer to follow this example. It is also reasonable that the young should be trained in many languages; for who knows how God may use them in times to come? For this purpose our schools were founded.

The second is the German Mass and Order of Service, which should be arranged for the sake of the unlearned lay folk and with which we are now concerned. These two orders of service must be used publicly, in the churches, for all the people, among whom are many who do not believe and are not yet Christians. Most of them stand around and gape, hoping to see something new, just as if we were holding a service among the Turks or the heathen in a public square or out in a field. That is not yet a well-ordered and organized congregation, in which Christians could be ruled according to the gospel; on the contrary, the gospel must be publicly preached [to such people] to move them to believe and become Christians.

The third kind of service should be a truly evangelical order and should not be held in a public place for all sorts of people. But those who want to be Christians in earnest and who profess the gospel with hand and mouth should sign their names and meet alone in a house somewhere to pray, to read, to baptize, to receive the sacrament, and to do other Christian works. According to this order, those who do not lead Christian lives could be known, reproved, corrected, east out, or excommunicated, according to the rule of Christ, Matthew 18 [: 15–17 ]. Here one could also solicit benevolent gifts to be willingly given and distributed to the poor, according to St. Paul’s example, II Corinthians 9 . Here would be no need of much and elaborate singing, Here one could set up a brief and neat order for baptism and the sacrament and center everything on the Word, prayer, and love. Here one would need a good short catechism  on the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Our Father.

In short, if one had the kind of people and persons who wanted to be Christians in earnest, the rules and regulations would soon be ready. But as yet I neither can nor desire to begin such a congregation or assembly or to make rules for it. For I have not yet the people or persons for it, nor do I see many who want it. But if I should be requested to do it and could not refuse with a good conscience, I should gladly do my part and help as best I can. In the meanwhile the two above-mentioned orders of service must suffice.

[1]Luther, M. (1999, c1965). Vol. 53: Luther's works, vol. 53 : Liturgy and Hymns (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (Vol. 53, Page 62-64). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.


  1. What I read is that in Luther's day they were moving from a traditional (Latin Mass) service to a contemporary (Modern Language) service, yet he hoped to implement what we call a small group.
    Luther also seen wisdom in learning/teaching multiple languages. Was Luther saying more about the Church/Christianity?

  2. Luther certainly meant a great deal more about Christianity and about the church. I don't think Luther is pushing toward what we would understand as a "small group." Rather, I understand him pushing toward a full-fledged church that meets in a home with both full authority and full accountability. As Luther realized just how far his people had to go to begin to approach this kind of mature faith, he backed off from this idea a little bit -- but the ideal remains there in his thinking. Much of his later work -- using princes to fill the role of bishops, and such -- were things Luther saw as temporary solutions to be used until the church matured to the point where true, gospel-oriented solutions came about. Trouble is, in many of these situations Luther's temporary fixes became permanent. So with the example of princes functioning as bishops -- that gave rise to the "state churches" of Europe where the head of state is also seen as the head of the church. That has led to a tax-driven, watered down practice of Christianity in much of Europe. That was never Luther's intention.

    Oh, we could go on and on and on ...