A Lutheran Version of an FAQ
Dear Redeemed in Christ,
When you visit us, you may experience things you don’t understand. This page is designed to explain what goes on in the Divine Service, as well as the things you see.
if you have any further questions I can be reached at (503) 648-1393, or Pastor@ReformationChurch.org
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Rev. Steven R. Brockdorf, Pastor
WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?
Everything that happens in a Lutheran Church is supposed to be rooted in salvation distributed. The fact that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world (salvation won), would not be a benefit to us if we never heard about it. So, Lutherans “worship” God not by constantly repeating words like, “Glory” or “Praise,” but by receiving God’s gifts. In many places, God tells us to be quiet and listen (e.g. Habakuk 2:20). St. Paul wrote: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). For this reason, even the hymns we sing are to proclaim salvation in Christ, and not simply express our emotions which often lie to us (consider the example of the Psalms).
Lutherans are also sacramental. That is, we believe the Scriptures when they tell us that certain things God connected with His promises actually convey what God says. When Jesus says the consecrated bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper are Jesus’ body and blood given for our forgiveness, we do what he said. We also believe what we read in 1 Peter 3:21, that Baptism saves us (cf. John 3), and that forgiveness spoken through Christ’s called ministers is the forgiveness of Christ (cf. John 20:21-23).
WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?
Only Jesus knows. What we strive to do is obey Him. We cannot die on a cross to win salvation, but we do those things that He says bring salvation to us. When Jesus said “Do this…” we do it. Rather than endlessly musing on what Jesus might do, we proclaim what He did do—lived a perfect life in our place, died on a cross to save us, and rose again on account of our justification. In regard to living a good life, Christianity is no mystery in the sense that we don’t know what God wants from or for us. He has told us all we need for salvation, and what is right and wrong. For this, we thank and praise Him.
WHAT DOES YOUR PAINTING MEAN?
We consider our painting to be a translation of portions of the Bible. Just as a book is symbols made in ink on paper, our painting is symbols made in oil paint on linen. The one can tell about Jesus as well as the other. As they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Just as we learn what the symbols of the alphabet mean so that we can read, so it is helpful to learn what the symbols of a painting mean so that we can read them. Here is a brief primer for our painting:
The painting was done by Professor William Bukowski of Bethany Lutheran College, who put a lot of thought into its composition. The panel on your right (Jesus’ left cf. Matthew 25:33) shows Moses in a barren land. He holds the Law and stares at us in an accusing manner. The Law always condemns us and leaves us without life. Yet the bronze serpent is behind him, pointing to Christ and reminding us that God provides salvation for all who repent in faith (cf. John 3:14, 15).
In the middle is one of the many “Reformation moments” in Jesus’ ministry—the Sermon on the Mount. In that sermon Jesus guides us away from human understanding back to the Word of God, saying: You have heard that it was said…but I tell you… The scene presents people from “every tribe and nation,” even some that look like us today. It is intended to remind us that Jesus came for all people, even us. The people are in a fruitful landscape because they are at the feet of the Giver of life.
The panel on your left (Jesus’ right) shows Martin Luther holding the Bible. Behind him stands a crucifix because the faithful pastor preaches Christ crucified. Luther looks not at us for righteousness but to Christ. He stands in a lush landscape because the Gospel brings life. The landscape is ripe for harvest reminiscent of Jesus’ words and because the Lutheran Reformation began in the autumn.
MARTIN LUTHER IS NOT IN THE BIBLE, WHY IS HE IN YOUR PAINTING?
While Lutherans are often shy about Luther, and even embarrassed to be called by his name (it was assigned to us by our detractors), he was God’s chosen instrument to restore the purity of the Gospel and right use of the sacraments. Since the days of the Apostles, there is no more important individual in the history of the church, and arguably the world. We do not in any way worship him. He symbolizes for us the reality that God will always protect the Gospel for us. Most often He does so through sinful men like Martin Luther. In a sense, Luther embodies the angel who has the everlasting Gospel to preach (Revelation 14:6).
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF PEW CANDLES: (present on certain Holidays)?
There are 12 pew candles representative of the 12 apostles and 12 tribes of Israel. They are white when the focus of the day is directly on Christ, and red when the focus is on the work of the Holy Spirit. For weddings, 10 candles are used reflecting the parable of the 10 Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13).
WHAT IS THE RED LAMP HANGING FROM THE CEILING?
While it is given many names such as “Eternal Light,” its symbolism is simple. Red is symbolic of the Holy Spirit, and the oil lamp hanging from the ceiling reminds us that the Holy Spirit remains with His Church forever. The lamp is not meant to say that we reserve consecrated bread from the Lord’s Supper, something we emphatically do not do (Jesus said to eat it, not keep it). If it were for that purpose it would be white, symbolic of Christ.
WHY DOES THE MINISTER SOMETIMES TURN HIS BACK ON US?
The pastor is an ambassador of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). In general, when he faces us, he is speaking God’s word to us. When he faces the altar, he is speaking to God on our behalf. The custom of the Christian Church is to worship toward the east in expectation of Jesus returning as “Lightning flashes in the east and is seen in the west.”
DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE YOU RECEIVE JESUS’ BODY AND BLOOD IN THE LORD’S SUPPER?
That’s what He said He was giving us to eat and to drink (cf. Matthew 26:26-28), and we trust that He meant what He said. This is certainly the understanding of the Apostles as well (cf. 1 Cor. 11:17ff). We do not believe that the bread and wine turn into the body and blood of Christ, but as He said, the bread and wine are His body and blood. This is a sacramental, supernatural presence, which is different from how Jesus was present when He sat at the table with His disciples, hung on the cross, etc., but is more than a mere spiritual presence. We believe communicants receive Jesus’ body and blood by mouth whether or not they have faith. How this can be is God’s problem.
WHY DOES YOUR MINISTER DRESS THE WAY HE DOES?
According to custom, the church owns the vestments the minister wears for services. The s that mark him as belonging to Jesus and acting as Jesus’ agent. We believe it is distracting for the minister to be wearing clothing that reflects his own sense of fashion.
WHY WRITTEN PRAYERS AND WORSHIP FORMS (liturgy)?
The prayers and worship forms we use are carefully worded. They have been “put to the test” over generations and unite us to our ancestors in Christ as well as protect it us from making mistakes in the moment.
Copyright 2008, 2021 Reformation Lutheran Church. You may copy and use this as you wish as long as it is to the glory of God and not for material profit.