Archive for November 20th, 2017

Luther Tract GottesdienstThe blog’s header is the cover of Luther’s 1523 tract about worship which I am holding here at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA  (the artwork has been verified as designed by Lucas Cranach).  This tract is the first selection in Volume 53, Liturgy and Hymns in Luther’s Works.   In another post, I told about my excitement in looking at this tract, and three other Luther tracts in the possession of Washington and Lee University.  I comment on the 1523 tract’s content.

Luther was asked to provide evangelical guidance on the way the reformed worship services should be conducted.  Karlstadt,  the pastor in Wittenberg while Luther was protected for his own safety at the Wartburg Castle, proceeded with a violent reformation of the order of worship.  Karlstadt had done away with daily masses. Luther promised to respond and this tract was the first. 

Luther is responding to “three serious abuses which have crept into the service:

First, the Word of God has been silenced so that there is only reading and singing in the services without preaching.

Secondly, this void of the lack of God’s Word,  resulted in,”…such  a host of un-Christian fables and lies, in legends, hymns and sermons were introduced that it is horrible to see”.

Thirdly, the divine service became merely an external work to be performed that “salvation might be won” without faith.

When the Word of God is silenced because the Scripture is no longer considered solely authoritative and inerrant for the Lord to guide His Church, then Luther’s insight is keen in that something replaces the void.  Churches teach heretical theologies and made up stories of golden tablets or  the blessed Mother of God ascending into heaven.  Churches become religious social clubs.  Social action and social justice, i.e. our own self-chosen works, become the means of ‘saving the world’.  The criteria of a worship service becomes our “uplift” and “good feelings” instead of being filled with the Lord’s Word and gifts to live day by day in actual service for our neighbors in faith toward God and in fervent love for one another. “…such  a host of un-Christian fables and lies, in legends, hymns and sermons were introduced that it is horrible to see”. We can see and hear the silencing of God’s Word in the very Protestant Churches that boast as being “churches of the Reformation”! 

In this tract, Luther’s encouragement to address these grievances, was the replacement of daily Mass with Matins and Vespers.  Five hundred years later, these daily prayer offices have been retained in Lutheran worship books.  The guiding Scriptural principle for the daily prayer and all worship services was simple and over-arching:  the preaching of the Word of God.

“Now in order to correct these abuses, know first of all that a Christian congregation should never gather together without the preaching of God’s Word and prayer, no matter how briefly, as Psalm 102 says, “When the kings and the people assemble to serve the Lord, they shall declare the name and the praise of God.”  And Paul in 1 Corinthians 14: 26-31 says that when they come together, their should be prophesying, teaching and admonition.  Therefore, when God’s Word is not preached, one had better neither sing nor read, or even come together.” (emphasis added)

Luther was so centered on God’s Word preached and taught for the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people, then why bother getting together if the Word is not at the center? At the end of the tract:

And this is the sum of the matter: Let everything be done so that the Word may have free course instead of the prattling and rattling that has been the rule up to now.  We can spare everything except the Word.  Again, we profit by nothing as much as by the Word.  For the whole Scripture shows that the Word should have free course among Christians.  And in Luke 10: 42, Christ himself says, “One thing is needful,”, i.e., that Mary sit at the feet Christ and hear His word daily.  This is the best part to choose and it shall not be taken away forever.  It is an eternal word. Everything else must pass away, no matter how much care and trouble it may give Martha.  God help us achieve this.  Amen.”

The literal translation of the tract’s title is:  “An Order of God’s Service for the Community”.  Gottesdienst, God’s Service, is primarily God’s service to us not what we offer to the Lord and preaching is the way the Lord gets hold of us.  As a northerner in the south, a pastor is regularly called, “the preacher” and this is meet, right and salutary so the congregation hear the Word.  Luther’s sole goal in this tract is the restoration of the Service of God’s Word, and the preaching of the same,  in the services of the Lord’s holy Church.  This goes for us as well in the 21st Century.




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