A church with such a long history (500+ years as Lutherans and 2000-ish years as Christians) can be quite intimidating for newcomers. Even for long-time Lutherans, all the symbols, traditions, parts of worship, and history can be overwhelming. In this section, we offer resources for better understanding our church and faith.
Liturgy, which literally means the work of the people, is a formula for our worship. It is as old as Christianity, being shaped and revised over the years, often through councils of church doctors and leaders. Every Sunday, the prayers spoken, the words sung, and the order of worship are undertaken across the globe, not just by Lutherans, but very similarly by Catholics, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Orthodox sects, and many others. The words, melodies, and timing of things may have slight variations and doctrinal differences, but remain mostly the same in essentials. Liturgy is an opportunity for every member of Christ’s body to participate in worship, not as outside viewers, but as an integral part of that body.
Our worship, along with most other Mainline Protestant denominations, is split into four parts and together called the "ordo", which simply means "order of worship". Liturgy, which literally means, "the work of the people" refers to each of the discrete parts of worship within these categories:
“The Holy Spirit calls us together as the people of God”. The gathering does just that: it gathers us in preparation for hearing God’s wordand receiving God’s presence in Holy Communion. Elements of the gathering may include song, prayer, confession/baptismal remembrance. It may be very brief or extended depending on local practice, season of the church year or other factors.
“God speaks to us in scripture reading, preaching, and song”. The corporate hearing of God’s word has its roots in Jewish tradition. From the earliest times, reading -- singing -- reading -- singing created a natural rhythm of proclamation and response. The rhythm provides quiet time for worshipers to listen attentively and active time to respond, reflect, and prepare for what is coming -- preaching on the proclaimed texts. The pattern of texts is: old testament, Psalm response, new testament epistle, and gospel text.
“God feeds us with the presence of Jesus Christ". The pattern surrounding the meal finds its prototype in the scriptural accounts of the institution of Christ’s supper: Jesus "took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it." The table setting, great thanksgiving, breaking of bread, and communion is how Christ’s command to "do this in remembrance of me" is lived out today, as it has been for centuries.
“God blesses us and sends us in mission to the world”. The objective of the sending is to empower the assembly to take God’s message into the world. This is typically the briefest portion of the service, often consisting of a blessing, sending, song and communion. Sending communion to the absent may also be included. Once strengthened by the meal, it is time for God’s people to be sent into the mission field: "Go in peace. Serve the Lord.”
While not strictly part of the liturgy, announcements are nonetheless an important moment we take before worship each week to lift up what is going on around our church and community. We are a body of believers, part of the body of Christ, and as such, it is important that we are made aware of what is happening around that body.
We are forgetful people. Sometimes we forget we sin at all; sometimes we forget that God can and does forgive our sins. In worship, the act of confession and forgiveness gives us a chance to remember both the painful reality of our human brokenness and the remarkable forgiveness God pours into us and into our world. God forgives our sins in the healing waters of baptism and in the meal of holy communion, and the power of the Spirit, God continues to forgive us day after day.
As the congregation gathers to worship we begin with a reminder of who we are before God. The Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness helps us to understand that we are a people deeply in need of God’s grace. Sometimes instead of the Brief Order we replace this liturgical element with the Thanksgiving for Baptism. This moment in our worship life reminds us how God has claimed us as children of God and delivered on the promise of Grace.
There are many reasons for singing in worship. One is that our song forms communal and individual memory and serves to nurture the faith from one generation to another. Through the songs sung in worship, God’s people, including children and those new to the faith, learn their language about God and the story of salvation. These songs remain with people through life, persist when other memory fades, give meaning in late life, and are a comfort in death. In addition, congregational song handed on across time and place links the memory of individuals and particular communities to the longer and larger corporate memory of the church
From Principles for Worship: Music and the Christian Assembly, ELCA. 1997.
The apostolic greeting is so named as it comes from the Apostle Paul, specifically from his second letter to the Corinthians, i.e. 2 Corinthians 13:13. Grace opens and closes all of Paul’s letters, just as grace encompasses every moment of the life of faith. Paul’s extension “be with all of you” affirms that all stand on the same ground and belong to one another.
The Kyrie Eleison (Greek for "Lord have mercy") has been used in Christian worship since the 4th century. It acknowledges our need for God’s mercy. It is only right that we should begin worship with an acknowledgment of who we are before God. The Kyrie always follows the order for confession and forgiveness.
The Canticle of Praise (a canticle is merely another name for a song). This worship element celebrates the goodness of God and lifts a note of praise and thanksgiving to the God of grace and mercy. While our hymnals suggest specific canticles of praise (such as "Glory to God" and "This is the feast") any song of praise is appropriate.
The first act of worship , the Gathering, concludes with the prayer of the day. Gathered by the Spirit, the family of faith, led by the presiding pastor offers prayer of the day to set the tone for our worship together. These prayers reflect on the season and readings that will be offered in worship.
Lutherans are Christians who accept the teachings of Martin Luther (1483-1546). Luther was a German theologian who realized that there were significant differences between what he read in the Bible and the practices of the Roman Catholic Church at that time. On October 31, 1517, he posted a challenge on the door of Wittenberg University, titled “95 Theses” (to debate 95 theological issues). His hope was that the church would reform its practice and preach to be more consistent with the Word of God as contained in the Bible.
What started as an academic debate escalated into a distinct separation between the Roman Catholic Church of the time and those who accepted Luther’s suggested reforms. “Lutheran” became the name of the group that agreed with Luther’s convictions.
Today, nearly five centuries later, Lutherans still celebrate the Reformation on October 31 and hold to the basic principles of Luther’s theological teachings:
- We are saved by the grace of God alone—not by anything we do
- Our salvation is through faith alone—a confident trust in God, who in Christ promises us forgiveness, life, and salvation
- The Bible is the norm for faith and life—the true standard by which teachings and doctrines are to be judged.
A merger of three Lutheran churches formed the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) in 1988. They were The American Lutheran Church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches and the Lutheran Church in America.
Now 30 years later, the ELCA is a church that shares a living, daring confidence in God’s grace. As members of the ELCA, we believe that we are freed in Christ to serve and love our neighbor. With our hands, we do God’s work of restoring and reconciling communities in Jesus Christ’s name throughout the world.
We trace our roots back through the mid-17th century, when early Lutherans came to America from Europe, settling in the Virgin Islands and the area that is now known as New York. Even before that, Martin Luther sought reform for the church in the 16th century, laying the framework for our beliefs.
- The Old Testament Explained
- The New Testament Explained
- The Bible Online
- Luther's Small Catechism
- The Use of Means and Grace - a Statement on the Practice of Word and Sacrament (adopted by the ELCA in 1997)
- ELCA FAQ - The ELCA website has a comprehensive list of common questions & answers