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Telling the Whole Story

January 19, 2010

I have had about a week to digest what I learned at the Worship Conference that I recently attended.  There is so much that it’s difficult to figure out what to talk about first.  So I will start with what first struck me: the presentation by Dr. Jeff Gibbs of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.  I will be quoting from the outline he handed out, as well as notes I took.

Dr. Gibbs entitled his presentation “Laying the First Shingle: Foundational Perspectives for a Scriptural and Confessional Theology of Worship.”  The first major point was that a congregation’s worship must tell the right Story.  This cannot be personalized, consumer-driven, or escapist (he gives an example of escapism as someone saying “The goal of Christian existence is for me to die and go to heaven.”)  While this last point is certainly true, it is not the full story.  Instead, we must tell the “grand Story of the Scriptures and Confessions – God coming down in Christ for the end of the world.”  Our worship must not be focused merely on what I get out of the service, but on Christ and all He has done for the world, myself included.  Yes, He does come to me and give me forgiveness, life, and salvation through His Word, as it is read, preached, and given physical form in the Sacraments, but it is not merely for me, but for the whole Church, and ultimately for the whole world.  (Not to sound like a universalist, but I am trying to drive home the incredible scope of Christ’s work.)

The second point Dr. Gibbs made that really hit home what that “God is not absent or impotent during the gaps” (speaking of the gaps in the phrase  “Scripture and Confessions.”)  Therefore, “the corporate worship of the congregation must be shaped by tradition.”  He points to traditions that developed between Malachi and Matthew, between St. John and Martin Luther, and between Martin Luther and us today.  In that way he notes that as Lutherans, we believe in Sola Scriptura (Scripture as the highest and final authority), not Nuda Scriptura (Scripture as the only authority.)  So while tradition is not put above or even on the same level as Scripture (as our Roman Catholic friends do), it is not ignored and not despised.  One example of good tradition is the historic liturgy, which was have today in Lutheran Service Book.  “The corporate worship of the congregation is, uniquely, the event when God becomes present with His people who are part of His great Story.”

The last major point Dr. Gibbs made was that, regarding Lutheran preaching, “there is a famine in the land.”  He told the story of a Roman Catholic priest who described a Lutheran sermon in this way: Part 1 – “I feel bad”, Part 2 – “I feel good.”  He then asks the question, “Are we, in worship, magnificently preaching God’s Word?”  In addition, he says, “Without preaching, the sacraments cannot be understood.”  With all this said, I was wondering to myself, “Ok, so what does this sound like?”  Well, Dr. Gibbs then went on to deliver a 3 minute homily that perfectly demonstrated what he was talking about.  It was fantastic!  When he finished, you could hear a pin drop in the room.  I sincerely hope that the audio of his presentation is available so others who were not there can hear what he did, it was so great!

So there is what I got from Dr. Gibbs’s presentation.  I don’t know how to sum it up, so I’m just going to leave it there.  I’m sure others got completely different things from it, but there’s my take.

More to come later.

  1. Dr. Gibbs presentation was worth the price of admission. I thought he was going to be the best of the presentations until Dr. Just gave his. Great stuff from both.

  2. I agree. Gibbs and Just were the best. I really did like all of the presentations (with one exception, which was a waste of my time). You should check out Dr. Gibbs’s sermons on CSL’s iTunes U site; they are awesome!

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