How We Worship
For Lutherans, worship matters. In fact, worship lies at the heart of how we understand ourselves together. While some of the approaches to worship may differ from one congregation to another, we hold certain things in common.
There is a pattern for worship among Lutherans. We gather. We encounter God’s Word. We share a meal at the Lord’s table. And we are sent into the world. But we do not think about worship so much in terms of what we do. Worship is fundamentally about what God is doing and our response to God’s action. Worship is an encounter with God, who saves us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Think about it this way: God’s Spirit calls us together. God speaks to us through readings from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, through preaching, prayer, and song. God feeds and nourishes us in a saving way. And God blesses us and sends us in mission to the world.
Taken together, the Word proclaimed and the sacraments — both Holy Baptism and Holy Communion — are called the means of grace. We believe that Jesus Christ is present in these means th
rough the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we describe worship as a “gathering around the means of grace.” This is a way of saying that we trust that God is genuinely present with us in baptism, in preaching, and in sharing the bread and wine of Holy Communion. In that sense, Lutherans believe that God’s presence permeates all of Christian worship.
Lutherans hold that sacraments are sacred acts of divine institution.
Whenever they are properly administered by the use of the physical component (water, bread and wine) commanded by God along with the divine words of institution, God is, in a way specific to each sacrament, present with the Word and physical component. God earnestly offers to all who receive the sacrament forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation. God also works in the recipients to get them to accept these blessings and to increase the assurance of their possession.
Martin Luther defined a sacrament as an act or rite:
1. instituted by God;
2. in which God has joined God’s Word of promise to the visible element;
3. and by which God offers, gives and seals the forgiveness of sin earned by Christ.
This strict definition narrowed the number of sacraments in the church down to two: Holy Baptism and the Eucharist.
Within Lutheranism, the sacraments are a Means of Grace, and, together with the Word of God, empower the Church for mission.
Lutherans hold that Baptism is a saving work of God, mandated and instituted by Jesus Christ. Baptism is a “means of grace” through which God creates and strengthens “saving faith” as the “washing of regeneration” in which infants and adults are reborn. Since the creation of faith is exclusively God’s work, it does not depend on the actions of the one baptized, whether infant or adult. Even though baptized infants cannot articulate that faith, Lutherans believe that it is present all the same.
Because it is faith alone that receives these divine gifts, Lutherans confess that baptism “works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” Holding fast to the Scripture cited in 1 Peter 3:21 “and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Therefore, Lutherans administer Baptism to both infants and adults. In the special section on infant baptism in his Large Catechism, Luther argues that infant baptism is God-pleasing because persons so baptized were reborn and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
The Eucharist or Holy Communion is above all a meal. And it is not mere bread and wine. We actually eat the Lord’s body, and we drink the Lord’s blood. It is an eschatological feast, that is, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. Lutherans call the elements, the bread and wine, the means of grace, for through the eating and drinking we receive nothing less than the absolute presence of Jesus Christ. And we become what we eat, little Christs.
Lutherans hold that within the Eucharist, also referred to as the Sacrament of the Altar, the Mass, or the Lord’s Supper, the true body and blood of Christ are truly present “in, with, and under the forms” of the consecrated bread and wine for all those who eat and drink it.
When is the best time for children to receive their first Holy Communion? First communion can and does happen at many different ages throughout congregations of the ELCA. There is no command from our Lord regarding the age at which people should be first communed. As a result, the age at which baptized members of our congregations receive their first communion reflects a variety of practices and understandings.
At St. James, no particular age is prescribed, but one guideline is offered. Because admission to the Sacrament is by invitation of the Lord to the baptized, baptized children begin to commune on a regular basis at a time determined through mutual conversation that includes the pastor, the child, and the parents or sponsors involved, within the accepted practices of the congregation.