If asked why Christians go to church, most people and most churches would answer, “to worship God and to praise His name!” While this is indeed a correct answer, biblically speaking, it is not the first answer that we should give. The first reason we go to church is not give something to God but to receive something from Him! We go to church to receive the gifts of heaven that come to us through the Means of Grace – the life giving World and Sacraments.
God, therefore, desires His people to gather together that He might bless them with forgiveness, life, and peace and that He might build up their faith. The movement is firstly from God to man, not man to God! Theologically, this is correct because it reflects the centrality of the Gospel rather than the Law. In so doing, it also affirms the central teaching of Scripture – Justification by Grace!
Unless God first comes to fallen man, man cannot know Him. Unless God first opens man’s heart, man’s heart cannot of its own doing be open to Him. Unless God first opens man’s lips, man cannot praise Him. Unless God first finds the sinner and blesses Him with the gifts of the Spirit, man is lost. God coming to save and bless man – this is called “Divine Service” in Lutheran circles. God first serves the sinner with the gifts of heaven.
Only then, after man’s heart. soul, and mind has been opened by God to know Him and believe in Him can man respond with worship and praise. This is reflected, for example, in the ancient Order of Matins. This service begins with the words of Psalm 51:15, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will show forth Thy praise.” The psalmist had his theology of worship right! Only after God revealed His word to him could he then respond by “open his lips” as a converted creature with worship and praise.
Seen in this light, biblical worship has not always been properly understood by many Christian churches in America today. For many, going to church is only about man praising God and nothing more. This reflects a “law” approach and forgets the Gospel – that God first comes to man to serve him. This is what Jesus taught when he washed the feet of the disciples on Maundy Thursday. “Unless I was you, you have no part in me”, He said to Peter teaching Him the way of true worship.
For this reason, we correctly title what happens on Sunday morning. “Divine Service”. God, the Divine, comes to man, the sinner to serve him with grace and peace, and life. The sinner, given new life through Holy Baptism and the Living Word of God, now has a new status before God. He is a “saint” that is a “holy one”, made holy not by his works or deeds but by the blood of Christ and the justifying decrees of God who acquits the sinner for Christ’s sake. Having received the gifts of heaven, God’s new child now responds with praise. When this “Law/Gospel” dynamic is properly understood, worship will be properly understood as well!
It is becuase of this powerful theology of worship that we at Emmanuel cherish and use the ancient liturgies of the Christian Church. Their purpose is not to entertain man but to foster a dignified and Christ-centered worship that reflects not only the holiness of God but the centrality of the Gospel – that God comes to save the sinner! We, therefor invite you to join us for “Divine Service!” To God alone be the glory!