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Theologian—defines 'evangelical worship'

by Betsy Carlson (Editor, WordAlone Network)

December 5, 2003

Evangelical worship is proclamation of God’s Word, not eucharist or thanksgiving, explained Prof. Steven Paulson at a recent WordAlone Network Conference on Reclaiming Evangelical Worship in Anoka, Minn.

“Christian worship that is evangelical is nothing but ‘that our dear Lord himself speaks to us through his holy word and we respond to him through prayer and praise.’ Nothing else should happen there. So Luther preached at the dedication of the Castle church in Torgau, Oct. 5, 1544,” stated Paulson.

He is an associate professor of systematic theology at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., and a member of WordAlone’s Theological Advisory Board.

The WordAlone Network sponsored the conference to discuss proposed new Evangelical Lutheran Church in America worship resources, “Renewing Worship,” which include new hymns and orders of service.

Paulson asserted that the proposed ELCA worship resources, in some ways, take the church away from its Reformation roots in which the reformers, “took out noxious elements that couldn’t possibly stand because they moved in the wrong direction—from us up to God in the mode of sacrificing.”

They removed praying to saints, unnecessary symbols in Baptism and, “most importantly,” the canon of the mass or eucharistic prayer, he said.

The proposed resources, Paulson indicated, stand on multi-culturalism, a “growing ecumenical consensus” and “a renewed understanding of the central pattern of Christian worship.”

That central pattern for the liturgists working on the new resources, he explained, “is brought to its pinnacle in what is called the action of the ‘eucharist.’”

The new resources introduce the term “eucharist” as a way to see the communion meal as a thanksgiving, he said, and a priest presiding as a “witness that this sacrament is a celebration of the church, serving its unity.”

However he insisted: “The Lord’s Supper is not eucharist—[it is] not our celebration that makes it what it is. That direction is wrong. The words of Christ at the Last Supper cannot be confused with prayer up to God.

“Instead, the Lord’s Supper is Christ’s last will and testament, in which the maker of the will is Christ himself, who names his estate: ‘the forgiveness of sins,’ and his heirs ‘given and shed for you,’—who are, after all, his betrayers. He also bestows this in the promise itself: ‘Given and shed for you,’beneficium, not sacrificium. With the seal of bread and wine.

“The direction is always from God to us, the act of his giving, his promising to sinners.”

Paulson also warned that terms such as “celebrated” in the proposed resources turn the direction backward, from us to God.

He asked, “With a whole host of problems on each flank what do we do?”

To which he responded: “Just what the earliest Lutherans did. We preserve the Reformation and unleash the Gospel by using the Small Catechism.”

He explained at one point that the early reformers used the Small Catechism in prayer and song and direct proclamation to sinners of the justifying faith.

“We sometimes observe that the Reformation was preserved by the catechism. So it was and so it must be today. Though these forces are great, they are no greater—maybe even less—than those faced by the Reformers,” he said.

“Despair is not allowed, since God’s word alone will stand against them.”