I recently received the following questions in one email blast. They all have to do with one another, but didn’t neatly fit under one heading:

“What is the reason behind having a different order of service for our Saturday service versus our services on Sunday?

Who determines the order of service on a given weekend, and do you take into account the length of the service? If so, is that why you cut out hymn verses sometimes and other parts of the liturgy?

“What’s the reason behind having a different order of service for our Saturday service versus our services on Sunday?

The Saturday night service is more “relaxed” or “casual”. It’s more casual in the sense that we don’t have ushers, the offering plate is left in the Narthex (the entrance of the church) rather than being passed at a specific point in the service, we don’t usually have special music, and we only use Common Cup during the distribution of the Lord’s Supper. We also don’t sing parts of the liturgy compared to times when we do so on Sunday mornings. The reason for these differences are a matter of the history of the congregation. I have heard various explanations, but the only thing I know for sure is that the Saturday service came into existence in order to keep a consistent communion service. While communion alternates on Sunday morning between the 7:45 and 10:15 services, the Saturday evening service always has communion.

Overall it isn’t much different compared to Sunday mornings and that’s part of the point. We worship the same Triune God and receive the same good gifts in absolution and the Lord’s Supper. We don’t worship one God who allows Starbucks in church and then another who doesn’t. The Saturday and Sunday services may have slightly different tones to them in certain ways, but we try to keep them as similar as possible because we all go to the same church. We don’t have three congregations at Immanuel, we have one. And that one body of believers is one with the church universal for all time. Therefore, we strive to keep everyone as close to the same page as possible. Twice a month everyone even worships using the same order of service to keep that bond of worship unity across the services (not to mention it takes a lot to plan two completely different services each weekend as some congregations do).

When people talk about a “more relaxed” atmosphere it should actually cause us to pause and reflect on what that means? How are we more relaxed? What’s the difference between the God we worship at one service and the God we worship at another service? There’s a Latin phrase that is very helpful to remember here: lex orandi lex credendi. Essentially it means, the law of praying is the law of believing. I bring this up because the point of that phrase and its meaning has been at the center of worship practice for centuries. How we pray and what we do in worship both shape and reflect what we believe. If that’s the case, what do we mean when we say, “I go to the ‘casual service’.”?

Now, if that ruffles your feathers, then that’s good because that means you agree, even if you didn’t realize it. If you get flustered by someone messing around with your worship service on the day you worship it means that you wholeheartedly agree with the fact that how we pray is how we believe. When you worship you go to worship with certain understandings of who God is and what praise looks like. While people always defer to “It’s a style preference” when discussing worship, it’s actually much deeper than that.

Certainly, we can personally like certain songs more than others. We might even like certain instruments in worship compared to others. We might have emotional baggage from other experiences that cause the playing of an organ to elicit sad or frustrated feelings regardless of the beauty of God’s Word that is relayed in the hymn or song. Or, perhaps, you came from a church that had the drums, guitar, and so on for their worship and you found out that their theology was far askew compared to Scripture, and therefore when you hear those instruments your mind is drawn to thoughts of heresy rather than towards the beauty of God’s promises that are shared in a given song. Or, perhaps, and I know that no one ever ever ever ever thinks about things this way, but I’ll just throw it out there in case: “We’ve never done it that way.” I submit to you that there was a day when the organ was “an instrument of the devil” to many people because it had never been used in church.

The overall point is, worship is worship. We might have personal preferences, favorite songs/hymns and so on, or even preferred instruments, but ultimately we join together not for what we prefer, but for the One to whom we direct our praise. We worship one God and we ensure that the body of Christ isn’t built on a stylistic preference rather than God’s Word. At Immanuel, we want to use the best that the church throughout history has to offer when we worship. We have no problem with guitars, drums, and other instrumentation, it just takes talent and coordination to get certain modern worship organized compared to our very talented music director simply sitting down at the organ or piano to lead and accompany the body of Christ in worship.

Also, I spoke of that whole “law of praying is the law of believing” thing a moment ago. Far too often, people don’t realize that worship itself relays what we believe as we worship. Many modern worship songs are written to be shallow in theology, repetitive and with the purpose of “bringing the congregation to a state of being where the Holy Spirit can ‘do His work’?” That’s a problem because it becomes an experiential thing that can be manipulative and void of God’s Word. You can have some of the most amazing words in a song that could never work in worship, just as you can have some of the most beautiful tunes that teach downright heresy.

Far too often there’s a sentiment that “If only we change the music people will come back to the church!” Actually, studies show that many people are going back to more traditional worship rather than rock concert worship (Check out these articles from Patheos, Effective Church, The American Conservative, and this segment from ISSUES ETC…). The thing that will save the church is Word and Sacrament ministry, parents teaching their children (through lifestyle not just words…none of this “Do as I say not as I do” stuff), going to church, and going to Bible Studies.

All of that is to say, there ultimately is no difference between the Saturday and Sunday service, the order of service is just slightly altered and has come to be titled the “relaxed” service by many members who attend that service in particular.

Who determines the order of service on a given weekend, and do you take into account the length of the service? If so, is that why you cut out hymn verses sometimes and other parts of the liturgy?

Pastor Troup and I look over the service from week to week. Whoever preaches is in charge of picking hymns and organizing the service. The typical worship rhythm at Immanuel is Divine Service Setting 4 on the first weekend, Creative Worship on the Second and Fourth Weekend and Divine Service Setting 1 on the third weekend of the month. The fifth Sunday is also Creative Worship as are weekends during Sermon series. Lent and Advent vary with regards to which Order of Service we use.

Regardless of the Order of Service that we use, we definitely take the time to reflect on the service as we prepare it. We take time into consideration, but that’s mainly because we have multiple services on a Sunday morning so we don’t want to cut too much into Bible Study. In general, our services are around the 60 min mark, but they occasionally come in just under or go a few minutes over. If we have baptisms or a lot of people in worship during communion, then services can go a bit longer. For the sake of order we strive to be as consistent as possible, but occasionally we finish early or run late.

Pastor Troup and I occasionally cut down verses on hymns, but more often we just divide the hymns to be sung at various parts of the service. When we cut down hymn verses, it kills me inside to do so. Not only is it difficult to decide where to cut apart a beautiful hymn, but by cutting here and there we give the impression that none of this is really important anyway. Any decision within the liturgy has to take into consideration the context and flow of the thought process throughout the service, and when we tinker we suggest there’s a lack of importance and we risk interrupting that flow. None of this is to say, “Lutheran Service Book is divinely inspired and anything that’s not directly from there is of the devil!!!” Not at all. My point, though, is that our order of service has been put together for a reason. Hymn verses are ordered the way they are for a reason. When we start messing around with hymns and services we should be asking “why?” Are we in a rush, or is there a really good reason that we need to save that 1-3 minutes by gutting part of the liturgy?

Take a look at this hymn, for example, and decide which verse(s) you’d remove and then try to justify why. (you don’t have to email me an answer, this is just a thought exercise)

1 All Christians who have been baptized,
Who know the God of heaven,
And in whose daily life is prized
The name of Christ once given:
Consider now what God has done,
The gifts He gives to ev’ryone
Baptized into Christ Jesus!

2 You were before your day of birth,
Indeed, from your conception,
Condemned and lost with all the earth,
None good, without exception.
For like your parents’ flesh and blood,
Turned inward from the highest good,
You constantly denied Him.

3 But all of that was washed away—
Immersed and drowned forever.
The water of your Baptism day
Restored again whatever
Old Adam and his sin destroyed
And all our sinful selves employed
According to our nature.

4 In Baptism we now put on Christ—
Our shame is fully covered
With all that He once sacrificed
And freely for us suffered.
For here the flood of His own blood
Now makes us holy, right, and good
Before our heav’nly Father.

5 O Christian, firmly hold this gift
And give God thanks forever!
It gives the power to uplift
In all that you endeavor.
When nothing else revives your soul,
Your Baptism stands and makes you whole
And then in death completes you.

6 So use it well! You are made new—
In Christ a new creation!
As faithful Christians, live and do
Within your own vocation,
Until that day when you possess
His glorious robe of righteousness
Bestowed on you forever!

I would ask the same for our Liturgy. If you take the time to look at Divine Service 1 or 4 which we commonly use and maybe do some digging as to why we say what we say and what Scriptures they pull from, then decide what you think (because we can’t go over 60 min) should be pulled. Again, we should maintain good order when we worship, and at Immanuel we have time constraints after the 7:45 service on Sunday mornings, but beyond that, we should strive to see worship bound by God’s Word, rather than the clock. Neil Postman in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, while discussing a work by Lewis Mumford, he says the following,

“Clocks created the idea of  ‘moment to moment’. ‘The clock is a piece of power machinery whose ‘product’ is seconds and minutes.’ …Beginning in the fourteenth century, the clock made us into time-keepers, and then time-savers, and now time-servers. In the process, we have learned irreverence toward the sun and the seasons, for in a world made up of seconds and minutes, the authority of nature is superseded. ….Eternity ceased to serve as the measure and focus of human events. And thus though few would have imagined the connection, the inexorable ticking of the clock may have had more to do with the weakening of God’s supremacy than all the treatises produced by the philosophers of the Enlightenment; that is to say, the clock introduced a new form of conversation between man and God, in which God appears to have been the loser. Perhaps Moses should have included another Commandment: Thou shalt not make mechanical representations of time.”

We have to be conscious of time, but it should not be our master. If the reason for cutting and moving around and shortening a service is because “We can’t go over 63 minutes or people will start walking out” then there are other problems. If “I don’t go to worship because they sing 6 instead of 4 verses of those hymns” is going through your heart and mind, then it may be time to step back and evaluate what those hymn verses are saying and contemplate the nature of worship.

There’s always a tug of war between the history of worship revolving around God’s Word, and a desire to accommodate our culture. Ultimately, worship is where we commune together and with our Savior through His Word and Sacrament. It’s going to be different than anything else we experience and we should always strive to make that time holy (set apart) from everything in order to grow in our Christian faith and rest in the peace of Christ where not even time can cause us harm.

I hope this was helpful. If you have any additional questions, feel free to let me know.