Luther’s 3 Divine Services

With the recent celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, many us were focused on the single event of Luther nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenberg door (October 1517), which he posted to generate academic debate.  However, caution should be exercised in pinning a single event or day to such a widespread and complex movement.  There was much more to come for Luther and the Reformers, with arguably more significant events.

One area of neglect that I’ve noticed in most studies of the Reformation in general, and Luther in particular, is the significant attention that a reformation of worship garnered.  Yes, it is true that we read of Luther’s (eventual) formula of justification by faith and yes, the authority of the Scriptures under-gird all that Luther did.  Yet once the break with Rome had been made, and the unfortunate marriage with the State had been formed, Luther recognized the need to modify worship in order to break with his perceived errors of Rome and provide an alternative for the people.

In January of 1526, Luther wrote instructions titled “The German Mass and Order of Divine Service”.  Having realized the changes that needed to be made to his earlier 1523 order of worship, Luther writing in the opening Preface of his later work informs readers that his order of worship is not intended to

“make of it a compulsory law, or to ensnare or make captive thereby any man’s conscience, but to use it agreeably to Christian liberty at their good pleasure, as where, when and so long as circumstances favour and demand it.”

Clearly then, though Luther would proceed to make recommendations for the order and liturgy of worship services, his intention is in no way to bind the consciences of men to this order, and most certainly not to allow it to fall back into the trappings of formal rigidity as with Rome.  He even leaves a caveat that should these instructions become unnecessary or outdated, discontinue them.

Additionally, he points out that the Order to follow is not for the “sake of those who are Christians already…but for the sake of those who are to become Christians.  For the sake of such, we must read, sing, preach, write, and compose….”  In other words, the service order that Luther was about to set down was meant strictly for unbelievers, with the goal of evangelizing them.

Don’t gloss over that, it’ll come back up later.

As Luther begins to outline his recommended order of divine services, he identifies three separate and distinct services.  First, is the Latin Divine Service or Latin Mass, called the Forumla Missae.  This service was a holdover from the services administered by the Roman Catholic Church, with perhaps the lone omission being the Canon of the Mass.  However, in Luther’s own words concerning this divine service, he writes,

“This I do not want to have set aside or changed; but as we have hitherto kept it, so should we be still free to use it where and when we please, or as occasion requires.  I do not want in anywise to let the Latin tongue disappear out of Divine Service; for I am so deeply concerned for the young.”

This service was to have singing and reading on “alternate Sundays in all four languages – German, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.”  So with this first service, Luther maintains, at least partially, the worship from the Roman Catholic experience with the purpose of maintaining Latin proficiency and exposure among the public, particularly the youth.  Further justification for keeping this service maybe deduced from its defense written in 1523

I have been hesitant and fearful, partly because of the weak in faith, who cannot suddenly exchange all old and accustomed order of worship for a new and unusual one, and more so because of the fickle and fastidious spirits who rush in like unclean swine without faith or reason, and who delight only in novelty and tire of it as quickly, when it has worn off (Luther’s Works 1965, 53:19).

Remember that prior to Luther’s own translation of the Scriptures in the modern vernacular of German, Latin was the only language the Scriptures were available in and the Roman Catholic services were conducted by the priests solely in Latin.

Luther’s Second Divine Service was the German Mass.  Luther considered this for the “sake of the simple laymen” where both this and the previous divine service should be “held and publicly celebrated in church for the people in general.  They are not yet believers or Christians.”  Remember that these divine services are not intended for believers.  They have exclusively unbelievers as their focus, as Luther adds, “So far it is no question yet of a regularly fixed assembly wherein to train Christians according to the Gospel: but rather of a public allurement to faith and Christianity.”

Without question, according to Luther’s own words, these divine services with all of their vestments, singing, preaching, readings of Scripture, celebrations of the Mass, attention on language, etc., were in their entirety meant for the evangelism of unbelievers.

The Third Divine Service, according to Luther, was one in “which the true type of Evangelical Order should embrace, must not be celebrated so publicly in the square amongst all and sundry.”  In the opening description, this service is meant to be in complete contrast with those mentioned earlier as it was considered exclusively for believers.  In this particular service, Luther goes into more specific detail.  Below is an extended quote

“Those, however, who are desirous of being Christians in earnest, and are ready to profess the Gospel with hand and mouth, should register their names and assemble by themselves in some house to pray, to read, to baptize, and to receive the sacrament and practise other Christian works.  In this Order, those whose conduct was not such as befits Christians could be recognized, reproved, reformed, rejected, or excommunicated, according to the rule of Christ in Matt. xviii.  Here, too, a general giving of the alms could be imposed on Christians, to be willingly given and divided among the poor, after the example of St. Paul in 2 Cor. ixHere there would not be need of much fine singing.  Here we could have baptism and the sacrament in short and simple fashion: and direct everything towards the Word and prayer and love.”

Now, this particular Divine Service outlined and described by Luther may not strike you at first, but it should, for Luther has often been credited as the designer of the Protestant Order of Worship, as well as credited for the introduction of congregational singing.  The problem is that the modern features of worship, primarily from the German Mass, which we so freely incorporate today, were intended by Luther to be strictly for unbelievers as an aide to evangelism.  The Divine Service for believers was to be private, intimate, sans singing, and centered around the Word, prayer, and love.

We might ask, why then were the evangelistic services of Luther’s copied and not his divine service for believers?  Because it never happened.  Divine service number three, in Luther’s descriptions, never existed.  It was for him, idyllic, but unrealistic.  Why?  Because the quantity and quality or depth of Christians during this time was limited.  In Luther’s own words

“In one word, if we only had people who longed to be Christians in earnest, Form and Order would soon shape itself.  But I cannot and would not order or arrange such a community or congregation at present.  I have not the requisite persons for it, nor do I see many who are urgent for it.  But should it come to pass that I must do it, and that such pressure is put upon me as that I myself unable with a good conscience to leave it undone, then I will gladly do my part to secure it, and will help it on as best I can.”

In the meantime, Luther was resolved to proceed with the previous two Divine Services, “until those Christians who are most thoroughly in earnest shall discover each other and cleave together.”

It is more than likely that when we read of Luther’s services in his works, post-1526, we are not reading of services designed for believers to worship God.  We are not seeing the celebration of worship music introduced to the congregation and removed from the choirs so that Christians might sing praises to God.  We are seeing divine services designed to reach the masses for the purpose of evangelism.  Luther was ready and willing to use any means necessary to bring them to Christ.

Though we’ve seen how Luther retained much of his Roman Catholic influence and tradition, with of course some obvious objections to the Mass, one additional note that we must mention is in regards to his overall philosophy of worship.  Whereas the Regulative Principle of Worship was advanced by Calvin, a reform upon Luther, Martin Luther advanced what is called the Normative Principle of Worship.  The former restricted worship to only those things which Scripture commands or offers as examples, while the latter broadens worship to include everything not expressly forbidden in Scripture.  This is why we see such wide variety in Luther’s worship services.

Given all this, how then does it impact how we view our present day “divine services” knowing that in many respects Luther’s model was the prototype for Protestantism?  How should this impact the order for believers, in their own divine services?

If God should be willing…more to come.

Soli Dea Gloria.


The Abrahamic Tipping Point


One of the primary areas of disagreement over the interpretation of Scripture is the relationship between the Old and New Covenants and the implications that flow downstream from this,  such as: Israel vs. the Church, infant baptism vs. believer’s baptism, and the Future of ethnic Israel.  The tipping point in each of these debates, and the key to unraveling the continuity/discontinuity issue between the Old and New Covenants, is the meaning and significance of the Abrahamic Covenant.

On the one hand, finding too much continuity between the Old and the New Covenants, results in a continuation of the practices regarding infants, i.e. infant circumcision under the Old is continued under the New by means of the practice of baptism.  Additionally, this view collapses Israel and the Church and sees them as a (near) continuous unit.  On the other hand, finding too much discontinuity between the Old and the New, results in two distinct purposes and plans of redemption for the people of God, namely Israel under the Old Covenant and the Church under the New Covenant .  Historically, the distance between these two views has been approached from a variety of angles with a myriad of different solutions, each of which must reconcile what to do with the Abrahamic Covenant.

Keep in mind, when we are mentioning the Abrahamic Covenant, we are referring to the progressive unfolding of the covenant that God makes with Abraham, which begins in Genesis 12 and is woven throughout Genesis until around Genesis 22.  While there are many passages which one could examine to arrive at a solid conclusion on the issue of how to interpret this covenant, one passage of particular interest occurs in John 8, within the context of Jesus’ dialogue/sermon with the Pharisees and those who claimed to believe in Him.  We pick up the debate in verse 31

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Here, the dialogue centers around Jesus’ statement that the truth is freeing.  It’s rather obvious that He is not talking about  being in physical captivity, as the Jews assume, rather He is talking about being enslaved by sin.  The truth, says our Lord, will set one free from this enslavement.  The reply by the Jews assures us that they do not have the ears to hear what Christ is saying, because they immediately state their heritage with Abraham, followed by an affirmation of their physical freedom.

Though He certainly did not have to clarify His statements, our Lord condescends to the Jews misunderstanding with the following

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

With this, we have a crystallizing statement that Jesus is not talking about physical slavery, rather the slavery to sin.  The contrast in the dialogue is between Jesus’ spiritual analogy of slavery and the Jews physical concept of slavery.  Next, Jesus addresses their claim to Abraham

37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

Jesus affirms the statement that the Jews are the offspring of Abraham.  Remember that their statements were affirming physical realities: 1. We’ve never been enslaved 2. We have Abraham as our Father.  Remember too that Jesus was talking spiritual realities.  In verse 37, He affirms their physical relationship with Abraham, yet in verse 38, He goes back to the spiritual, “you do what you have heard from your father.”  The following verses add clarity

39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” 

Notice again that the Jews assert that Abraham is their father.  Clearly they recognize that in verse 38, Jesus is talking about a different father.  Our Lord’s next statement is the focus of our post and serves to highlight the duality with Abraham

Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.”

After previously affirming the Jews relationship with Abraham, Jesus (who we may be reminded was Himself a Jew) now questions their relationship with Abraham by focusing on their deeds, or works.  Either Jesus has forgotten what He said earlier or He’s confused right?  What gives?

Well certainly He’s neither.  How can one’s works determine whether or not you have a physical ancestor in Abraham?  Clearly, Jesus is now back to an emphasis on spiritual realities.  The works that Abraham did were the results of the “obedience of faith” (see Genesis 15:6; 22:12, 16-18; Romans 4:3ff; James2:23ff).  Again, Jesus references another father in contrast to Abraham.  Let’s finish out this section of the dialogue and then summarize what we’ve seen

They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.”42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

The above passage is an important conclusion because for the first time we see the Jews finally grasping the spiritual realities that Jesus has been discussing.  They assert that yes, Abraham is their physical ancestor, but God is their true Father.  Jesus immediately debunks this superficial claim by again looking to the fruit in their lives and seeing a lack of love for Himself.  In contrast to their claim of God as their Father, Jesus goes to the heart of the matter by stating they have the devil as their father.

Summarizing then

  • The Jews claim and Jesus affirms their physical relationship with Abraham.
  • Jesus presents a paradigm wherein the Jews do not have a spiritual relationship with Abraham.
  • The Jews claim and Jesus denies their spiritual relationship with God as their Father.
  • Jesus presents a paradigm wherein the Jews have the devil as their spiritual father.

So what does all this contribute towards understanding the Abrahamic covenant?

In the context of this dialogue, Jesus presents a duality with respect to Abraham, that he has BOTH physical AND spiritual descendants.  The physical covenant with Abraham was marked by circumcision.  The “spiritual covenant” more properly called the Covenant of Grace, was marked by faith and obedience, the evidence of a circumcised heart.  All of Abraham’s descendants were to be marked by physical circumcision, remarkably, this included both Ishmael and Isaac, as well as the servants in Abraham’s house.  All of Abraham’s spiritual descendants are marked with heart circumcision.

17th Century Baptist, Nehemiah Coxe summarizes this duality in Abraham with the following words,

“Abraham is to be considered in a double capacity: he is the father of all true believers and the father and root of the Israelite nation.”

While the physical and the spiritual seed of Abraham at times had overlap, as in Isaac not Ishmael and Jacob not Esau, and the promises to Abraham, both physical and spiritual had overlap, nevertheless recognizing and maintaing this duality is critical to understanding the relationship between the Old and New Covenants.

One final note for consideration, both the seed and the promises given to Abraham are fulfilled in Christ, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.” Galatians 3:16  This fulfillment in Christ reaches its pinnacle through His death on the cross, shedding His own blood for the inauguration of the New Covenant*, see Luke 22:20; Hebrews 8:6-13.



(*essentially this is the fulfillment of the Covenant of Grace that we mentioned earlier).


The Folly of Will Worship


One of the key themes in the Old Testament, and really all of Scripture, is worship.  It is useless to read of who God is and what He has done, is doing, or will do, if it does not lead us to worship.

Beginning in the book of Genesis, worship is central as the God WHO creates reveals that He is worthy of worship, and then that this same God has determined HOW He will be worshiped by His creation.  Adam and Eve’s failure in the Garden was primarily a failure of proper worship.  In Genesis 2, Adam was instructed to “work” and “keep” the Garden, both words in the Hebrew conveying the priestly functions of “minister” and “guard” (see Num. 3:7-8).  A priest, as we know, was given charge to mediate the worship of God.

Fast Forward some 2500+ years, to the infant stages in Israel’s history, and again we see the centrality of worship (Exodus 32:1-6).  As Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the Law of God, including regulations for worship, the people had given themselves over to the folly of will-worship.  Here, the principle offender is Aaron, who leads the people into this false system of man-made worship.  Aaron’s construction of the golden calf was bad enough, but he went a step further in declaring that this lifeless idol was the god who had delivered Israel from Egypt, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” Ex. 32:4  Not satisfied with the violation of the newly minted First, Second , and Third Commandments, Aaron next instituted an unsanctioned day and feast, accompanied by sacrifices, to this graven image.  As would be expected, this unapproved worship provoked the wrath of God.

Fast forward again, around 400-500 years later, to a time when the nation of Israel was fracturing into two kingdoms, the North – called Israel, with its capital in Samaria, and the South – called Judah, with its capital and original center of worship remaining in Jerusalem.  In the North, comprised of 10 Israelite tribes (excluding Judah and Benjamin), Jeroboam is made king and almost immediately constitutes unsanctioned, man-made worship (see 1 Kings 12:19-33).  Echoing the scene described above from Exodus, Jeroboam fashions golden calves to prevent the Northern Kingdom from turning, “back to the house of David” by rightfully sacrificing at the temple, as God had commanded.

“‘You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough.  Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.’  And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.”  1 Kings 12:28

Jeroboam, following in the footsteps of Aaron, created a worship of his own to replace that which God had ordained.  “He also made temples on high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites.  And Jeroboam appointed a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the feast that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar.” 1 Kings 12:31-32

This scene of Jeroboam’s own folly of will-worship is perhaps best summarized by the statement, “that he had devised in his own heart.”  Jeroboam set the course for decades of idolatrous worship in Israel.  Collectively, their failure to repent and turn from Jeroboam’s folly eventually led to their exile and ultimately their destruction.  Their exile was the punishment of a failure to worship God as He had commanded.

21 When he had torn Israel from the house of David, they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. And Jeroboam drove Israel from following the Lord and made them commit great sin. 22 The people of Israel walked in all the sins that Jeroboam did. They did not depart from them, 23 until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day.” 2 Kings 17:21-23

Bringing this theme of worship to the New Testament, in Colossians 2:23, the King James Version translates the Greek word ethelothreskia (e-the-lo-thra-ske’-ä) as “will-worship.”  According to Thayer’s lexicon, this word is defined as, “worship which one devises and prescribes for himself, contrary to the contents and nature of the faith which ought to be directed to Christ”.  This definition describes perfectly the examples shown above where will-worship was imposed upon the worship that God had commanded.  While Colossians has little to do with golden calves and worship on high places, nevertheless, it is concerned with worship, specifically false, man-made worship.

In Colossians 2, we read of 4 specific warnings regarding worship, before the Apostle arrives at his concluding statement against “will-worship”.  The first occurs in 2:4 and warns of the dangers and influence of human wisdom.  Next, in 2:8, we read that believers, Colossae in particularly, should be on guard against the influence and practices of human tradition.  Third, in 2:16 the Apostle reaches a summary point, therefore, and exhorts believers to guard against human opinion.  Finally, in 2:18, he warns against the dangerous influence of human experience.  Each of these four warnings apply specifically to the context of worship, or perhaps more accurately when believers gather together.  Just like for Colossae they are warnings for us to guard against these influences in our own gatherings.

It’s often easy to see that God regulated His worship in the Old Testament, specifically through the giving of the law.  It’s therefore no surprise to read of the consequences that God levied against those who profess to be His people when they violated his commands for worship.  However, sometimes when we arrive at the New Testament, we are guilty of forgetting that this same God continues to take His worship seriously.  Everything that we do must be regulated by the Word of God, otherwise, we will fall prey to human wisdom, human tradition, human opinion, and/or, human experience.

Will God’s wrath against will-worship be provoked any less today than it was in the days of Aaron or Jeroboam?

Lest we be quick to dismiss this, let us be reminded that this letter with warnings for the Colossians was to be shared with the church at Laodicea (see Colossians 4:16; 2:1), the same Laodicea of the strongest warning given by our Lord in Revelation 3:14-22.  Clearly then, God’s concern for right worship has not waned one iota.

Though a topic for another day, the Apostle concludes his section on worship in his letter to Colossae with a positive command for when believer’s gather

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  Colossians 3:16-17



Ephesians 4:15 "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ"