Martin Luther: Arrange Worship Around God’s Word

Martin’s 9 Mottoes for Worship

Every church has its own worship traditions, items or practices that have become indispensable. In Luther’s circle, Communion was gaining prominence over God’s Word. One cannot argue against Communion, but Luther would argue about its priority in worship planning. “The daily masses should be completely discontinued; for the Word is important and not the mass” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 53, Worship and Liturgy, p 13). (A note for reading Luther: Sometimes the “Word” means the Bible; sometimes it means preaching the good news of Jesus.)

Luther’s Priority
Arrange worship plans around God’s Word. “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” (p 14).

Luther’s Reasons
God’s Word is the one essential. “[A] Christian congregation should never gather together without the preaching of God’s Word and prayer no matter how briefly…. Therefore, when God’s Word is not preached, one had better neither sing nor read, or even come together” (p 11).

God’s Word is the gatekeeper against error. “Three serious abuses have crept into the service. First, God’s Word has been silenced, and only reading and singing remain in the churches. Second, when God’s Word had been silenced such a host of un-Christian fables and lies, in legends, hymns, and sermons were introduced that it is horrible to see” (p 11).

The greatest benefit of worship is in God’s Word. “We can spare everything except the Word. Again, we profit by nothing as much as by the Word” (p 14).

What in your experience supports, or differs with, Martin Luther on this point?
What have you observed as overly prominent in a worship service?

Martin’s 9 Mottoes for Worship:

About Ben Unseth

Executive Director at Project Understanding (2014-2017), social service agency in Ventura, CA
This entry was posted in Bible, Church, leadership, theology, worship and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Martin Luther: Arrange Worship Around God’s Word

  1. HalfNorsk says:

    Every Sunday I experience a diet of mostly contemporary (spiritually intense) Christian music, with a dash of contemporized oldies. Each song is chosen with one thing in mind: To complement the sermon and its Scripture text. I would like to think that Luther would be rather pleased.

    • Ben Unseth says:

      From one half-Norsk to another: May you continually delight in worshiping our holy, loving God! When the elements of a service are planned to weave together, the tapestry can be breath-taking.

  2. John Seboldt says:

    “What in your experience supports, or differs with, Martin Luther on this point?” Sorry, my experience is that you’re reading these passages WAY out of context, like proof texts used by fundamentalists. He’s talking about all the proliferation of daily Masses offered for various intentions, and all the stipends people paid for those daily Mass intentions. Communion was NOT OPTIONAL in the total context of his teaching and writing, (and it was “the Mass” more often than not), and in the Lutheran confessions later. The Word and Sacrament (with song as one bearer of the Word) are always in balance. At times he needed to exaggerate his point and say some things that may not be literally true in every detail – that’s the nature of polemic and debate.

    • Ben Unseth says:

      If I were recommending that Communion be discontinued, that would be taking Luther out of context. As you say, when Luther wrote that “daily masses should be completely discontinued,” he was exaggerating his point for debate. Because my focus was on exalting the Word and not on diminishing Communion, I didn’t even include Luther’s blast from the Smalcald Articles: “[T]he Mass, as a human trifle, may be discontinued without sin and that no one will be damned who does not observe it but may in fact be saved in a better way without the Mass…. The Mass is a dangerous thing.” Now that’s incendiary out of context. Luther often wrote to specific circumstances as a pastoral theologian rather than as a systematic theologian.

      It is consistent with Luther and Scripture to wrap worship planning around the Word.

  3. I belong to a Lutheran church that celebrates daily mass and there is always a short sermon as a part of this 30-minute spoken service. I think this is probably more of what Luther really had in mind.

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