In his critique of the medieval Roman Catholic distortion of the Mass as the repeated atoning sacrifice of Christ's body and
blood over and over again, Martin Luther made clear that when we "come to church" we are not primarily there to
do something for God but rather that He is there to bless us and serve us with His forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.
The cross on Good Friday is where salvation was purchased in full, once and for all. But in the means of grace, the Word
and Sacraments, there is where salvation is distributed here and now, according to Christ's promise and authority, until He
comes again. This is how what Christ did for the life of the world on the first Good Friday and Easter, comes to us and is
applied to individuals as they then are incorporated into the fellowship of the church. The sacrifice of Good Friday cannot
be repeated as Christ said, "It is finished." However, the benefits and fruits of that atoning sacrifice (objective
justification) continually are distributed in the missionary work of the church, catechesis, and the Divine Service as the
Holy Spirit creates faith through the Word and Holy Baptism (subjective justification).
While we do serve God "in church" in prayer, praise, offerings, and the life of repentance, the main thing about
Sunday morning or whenever the church gathers for a service, is what God does for us to deliver the benefits of Good Friday
and Easter to us. Contrary to the theology of many in the liturgical movement, the liturgy is not primarily "the work
of the people" or the "sacrifice of the priest." God doesn't need anything from us.
While God is everywhere, He locates or localizes Himself for us in Christ and in His Word and Sacraments for the sake
of faith that we may say of God's promises, "this is most certainly true." In the liturgy God initiates everything
- salvation is by grace even in its deliver in the means of grace.
"Divine Service" is just saying "sola gratia" (grace alone) in a liturgical way. In the Apology of
the Augsburg Confession, the Lutheran Confessions said it this way:
Leitourgia, they say, signifies a sacrifice, and the Greeks call the Mass, liturgy. Why do they here omit the old appellation
synaxis, which shows that the Mass was formerly the communion of many? But let us speak of the word liturgy. This word does
not properly signify a, sacrifice, but rather the public ministry, and agrees aptly with our belief, namely, that one minister
who consecrates tenders the body and blood of the Lord to the rest of the people, just as one minister who preaches tenders
the Gospel to the people, as Paul says, 1 Cor. 4, 1: Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ and stewards
of the mysteries of God, i.e., of the Gospel and the Sacraments. And 2 Cor. 5, 20: We are ambassadors for Christ, as 81] though
God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ's stead, Be ye reconciled to God. Thus the term leitourgia agrees aptly with
In view of this, Lutherans moved away from the term "Mass" (though they never condemned it) and toward terms
der Gottesdienst or Hauptgottesdienst (German)
All of these terms translate best as "God's Service" or "Divine Service."
"Worship service" or "worship" simply doesn't do these terms nor the theology represented full justice.
"Worship" and "worship service" are "one-way" terms - they connote only what we are doing for
God. Left out is the most important thing of all - what God is doing to deliver salvation to us here and now. But this is
why many Lutheran congregations and hymnals use the term "Divine Service" especially for the Service of Holy Communion.
Even Matins and Vespers are "divine service" in a general sense, but as the Germans put it the Holy Communion is
"der Hauptgottesdienst" or "the chief Divine Service."