While teaching catechesis yesterday, I realized something. I have heard of people getting “burned out” on worship. It’s actually not an uncommon occurrence in churches that worship according to the American Evangelical style. I’ve heard of it happening in Baptist churches, and in various baptistic churches (non-denom, etc.) I’ve even heard of it happening in Lutheran churches that have traded the birthright of Lutheran worship forms for the pottage of weekly reader contemporvant worship. But I’ve never heard of it happening in Lutheran churches that are actually Lutheran.
Oh, people do leave the church. They may come to despise the substance of Lutheran Worship (For that is what the proponents of “style” actually do). They may reject the doctrine behind it. They may decide that Jesus was not being serious when he said to baptize “all nations” or that he was only kidding when he said “this is my body.” There are many reasons for leaving the Lutheran church – Satan is always at work in our midst. And I have seen Lutherans get burned out on “church” – in the sense of the committees, and boards, and meetings, and activities, and, and, and… But I have never, in almost 25 years as a laymen and 20 years as a pastor, heard of someone getting burned out on the Divine Service itself.
And yet, it happens with startling frequency among the Arminian churches. And today while I was teaching the catechumens, I realized why. Because if we are worshiping according to a baptistic understanding, worship is primarily something we do to please God. We are fulfilling our obligation to serve him. We are fulfilling the great commission. We are, we are, we are. Which is to say, we are worshiping in the way of the Law. Worship is what we are doing. And, such worship is exhausting. I’ve been to services in Baptistic style Lutheran Churches. I’ve been to services in Baptist churches. And the worship of such churches is exhausting. Firstly, because you have to stay so focused on whatever new thing is being presented that you can never lose yourself in the word and promises of Christ, and in the comfort of the Gospel.
But mostly, such worship is exhausting because there is no rest given. Jesus is never presented as the one who takes your burden. And even when it’s mentioned that Jesus carries our burdens, then the burden is placed on you to give the burden up to him. You need to do that so he can take it. You must turn it over to him. You must decide. You must. I’ve heard sermons that wore me out – not because of their length, but because there was no rest offered for a weary soul. If I only did this, and trusted more, and worked harder. If I, then God can… But the focus was always on me. And I left not only without comfort, but tired. Physically, emotionally, spiritually tired.
And such weariness made me almost angry at God. Where was the promised rest for my soul? Where was the green pasture to lie down in? Certainly not in the church. That was a spiritual aerobics class. Let’s go! One more! One more! One more!
Truly Lutheran worship (Page 15/184) let’s God do the work. “God wishes us to believe Him and receive His gifts, and this He declares to be true worship.” That is so freeing; it does not exhaust; it refreshes.
Oh, the pure word of God certainly offends the old Adam. And Satan stokes that, whispering all manner of lies in our ears. “Not friendly…” “Inward looking…” “Out of date….” “Boring…” Any lie to push us away. But I’ve been to other services. I’ve talked to people who attend them regularly. And I’ve seen a lot of cases of people just getting burned out on worship. Because they are worshiping under the Law. The Law is God’s Alien work. That means it is an alien worship. And it is all work. Constant pressure to perform.
We can’t live that way. God doesn’t want us to live that way, and he certainly does not want that sort of worship. He wants to be the balm for our wounded soul. He wants to give us rest. Of course, the most important thing about the Divine Service is that forgiveness, life, and salvation are given through the Words. But the restfulness of the Divine Service is also a wonderful gift. That is the comfort of the Gospel. And the Divine Service, that is, the Historic Liturgy, offers it in a way that is unparalleled.
If you are burned out on church, try a Lutheran service. You will find rest for your soul, as God intended.
If you liked this, you will love the devotional nature of Luther’s writings. And with What Every Christian Must Know: Outlines of Luther’s Large Catechism, you can dive right in and enjoy the rest that comes from God’s Promises.
If you’re a pastor, take a look at “Teach These Things: Catechesis for the Lutheran Parish“. It offers a liturgical and prayerful approach to teaching scripture and the Small Catechism.