Saturday, August 15, 2009

"It is liturgy or it is nothing."

by Larry Beane

In this day and age when well-intentioned Lutherans see the main focus of the Christian life, including the Divine Service, to be personal evangelism and/or catechesis (both good, noble, and necessary things, but neither are the most important thing that a creature of God has been created to do), we often lose track of just what the Christian faith is, the primary reason we exist: to worship God.

The following refreshing reminder of the real reason for worship and for the liturgy comes from the pen of the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus in memory of his blessed professor, Dr. Arthur Carl Piepkorn:
"Piepkorn was, then, a theologian of the Church. And the Church, he insisted, is the community at worship. Of course the Church does many things, but worship is the source and the summit of its life. We do not worship in order to assist, to facilitate, to serve any other end, no matter how honorable or urgent that end may be. We worship God because God is to be worshiped. Worship is as close as we come here on earth to discovering an end in itself, for it is our end eternally. Piepkorn repeatedly invoked the words of the Athanasian Creed (which he would remind us is properly titled the 'Quicunque Vult'): 'The Catholic Faith is this that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.' All of our believing and all of our obeying, including all of our theology, is brought to the altar. It is liturgy or it is nothing."
("Afterward: Richard John Neuhaus On the Occasion of the First Awarding of the Arthur Carl Piepkorn Prize, 10 October 1984," The Church: Selected Writings of Arthur Carl Piepkorn, 338-339).


  1. Father Hollywood,this bugged me when I read it the first time--I think possibly because your premise reminded me of the 1st Q&A in the Westminster catechism--and it is still bugging me a day later. So I had to come back and ask.

    I knew that it seemed to me that I had read something in Gottesdienst that didn't seem to agree with this and tonight I found it: "The German word Gottesdienst...may be defined as both "divine service" and "public worship." The first and fundamental definition has to do with God's sacramental service toward man in the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. The subordinate definition portrays man's sacrificial service toward God in the offering of hymns, prayers, etc."

    Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but what you've posted seems to me to move that subordinate definition into the top position.

  2. Apology of Augsburg Confession, Article 4, sec. 49, "Faith is the divine service that receives the benefits offered by God." I think it works well with FH's post.

  3. Bingo, Matt! Life is for receiving the gifts of God (preeminently the gift of Himself, the Father giving us the Son who gives us the Spirit who brings us to the Son that the Son may present us to the Father and so God may be all and in all) and acclaiming Him together as our gracious Giver God - life is liturgy and liturgy is life. It was one of Piepkorn's great and joyous insights and it shines through all his work. It's not that Westminster is wrong; it just needs to be understood through the Apology. We glorify God above all by letting Him serve to us the gifts He would give; and thus we do enjoy Him forever - that is, we delight in Him and come throughout eternity to deeper and deeper appreciation of His boundless love.

  4. Dear Jane:

    Great point!

    I think this is yet another example of "both/and" theology. Gottesdienst is both the service of God in giving us His gifts, as well as our service to Him in the Eucharistic sacrifice. One does not offer thanks without having received a gift, nor should one receive a gift without offering thanks in return.

    The two go hand in hand together, just as our Lord is both God and man, and as the elements of Holy Communion are both bread and body; wine and blood. The Holy Scripture is both human and divine writing. The Christian is both sinner and saint.


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