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The Law of Worship

Back in the 4th and 5th centuries, early church theologian Prosper of Aquitaine declared, “Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi.”  This statement is often shorted to “Lex orandi, lex credendi,” which roughly means, “what is prayed is what is believed.”  He was looking at worship, the primary place of prayer, and how it isn’t just a matter of who we pray to or what we worship, but how we worship.  How we worship says a great deal about what we believe and can have a big impact on those beliefs.

We have to be careful in over-applying this idea, since it can lead to concepts like church traditions holding the same authority as Scripture.  This is what happened in the Catholic Church and Luther came along to push things in the other direction.  Much of his correction was essentially arguing that what we believe affects how we worship.  Still, we acknowledge that Prosper is correct as well.  How we worship can have a profound effect on what we believe.

It may not be immediately apparent, but everything you do in the worship service says something about what you believe. For instance, we pray in worship because we believe God hears and answers prayer. Not only do we pray for ourselves, but we pray for others because we know that is part of our priestly duty before God. We prioritize the reading of Scripture and the use of the sacraments because we believe God continues to be active in the life of the church and continues to grant us His grace. Every time we participate in worship we are making these statements and many more about what we believe. The service is trying to teach you about all of these different aspects of God and gives you the opportunity to publicly declare the grace and mercy of God before the world.

When you start tinkering with the liturgy you’re also changing what the church says about itself and God. If you start dropping sections of the service or swapping parts for others that aren’t usually there, really any change you might make affects the overall message the liturgy is trying to convey. If a pastor understands the function of the liturgy and what it is helping the church to do, those changes can be informed and beneficial. If not, then we remember that sometimes the influence needs to go the other direction, as it did under Luther’s reforms of the Catholic mass. Sometimes we need to bring out Scripture to correct where the liturgy has been allowed to go off track.

This back and forth between our following the liturgy and our study of Scripture is what constitutes the worship life of the church. Each side helps us understand the other. As you spend time in worship, make a point of examining every rite, every hymn, everything the pastor does, and everything the congregation does. What is the church saying by doing this particular thing? What would someone who heard or saw this say about what the congregation believes? Also, pay attention to when changes are made and consider how the church’s statement of faith also changes.

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