Called through the gospel: the Holy Spirit in Lutheran liturgy.

Author:Eller, Justin

As christocentric (solo Christo) Lutherans, the active role and presence of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is often overlooked within Lutheran worship and liturgy. The tendency is to focus praise and thanksgiving on the first two persons of the Trinity, leaving the third person to enjoy the leftovers. The risks in amplifying the Lutheran liturgy to focus on the Spirit can be seen in an excessively spiritualist flavor and sanctity-laced messages that lift up the gifts of the Spirit while diminishing salvation through Christ.

Despite the often separated Sanctifier from Savior, the Holy Spirit is integrally intertwined with the teaching oldie truth about Jesus Christ (John 14:26), speaking on what is heard from Jesus to glorify him and declaring to God's people the gospel (John 16:13-14). Therefore, it could be suggested that the Holy Spirit itself is christocentric. Teaching, declaring, and sanctifying are the principle communication roles of the Holy Spirit within and among the church. The Spirit is that which produces communications and establishes a vertical relationship between God and God's people as well as a horizontal relationship between God's holy people in community (Rom 8:14). God communicated with humans through the realm of the Spirit (2 Sam 23:2) and humans communicate with God through the same Spirit (Rom 8:26-27).

In Luther's Small Catechism the explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles' Creed about the Holy Spirit also highlights the Spirit's communicative nature:

The Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. (1) Luther's explanation points to the Spirit that manifests itself through the work of the people (leitorgia) when the gospel is proclaimed through word and celebrated through the breaking of bread to gather a community (koinonia) in Christ. The communicative gift of the Spirit always gathers the scattered into community and scatters the gathered into the world to be witnesses of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Since Christology often garners more attention than pneumatology in Lutheran theology, we who stand in the heritage of Martin Luther and who live out the liberation of justification by grace through faith should explore how and where the Holy Spirit is actively present. In order to live the dynamic ecclesiology of "always being reformed," we must reflect on the presence of the Spirit, which allows and empowers us to be able to focus on Christ and the cross as our center.

So where is God's Spirit in our worship and liturgical practices? How is the Spirit reforming, transforming, and instigating change in the church? What from our Lutheran worship and liturgical practice reveals Luther's theology of the Holy Spirit? Does exploring the vibrancy of the third person of the Trinity reduce the focus of the faithful from Christ or does it strengthen that focus? While the search for Luther's systematically summarized teachings on the Holy Spirit may prove a tough slog, the experience of the doctrine of the Spirit through worship and liturgy is one of the most accessible and revelatory means to understand what Lutherans believe and teach about God's sanctifying Spirit.

The newest hymnal of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW), presents Luther's understanding of the gospel-filled actions of the Holy Spirit in its pattern for worship. Presented as a cycle, the ELW identifies four main parts of Lutheran worship: gathering, word, meal, and sending. (2) Each of these four liturgical parts has embedded within it the divine presence and movement of the Holy Spirit. When the liturgy of Lutheran worship is closely explored, Luther's theology of the Holy Spirit is revealed. This article examines the vivid movement, presence, and activity of the Holy Spirit in the pattern for Lutheran worship in the liturgy of Holy Communion outlined in the ELW


Sanctification is the office of the Holy Spirit. God's Spirit alone is holy because it sanctifies all Christians in baptism and continues sanctifying through the work and presence of the community. In highlighting Luther's explanation of the Holy Spirit in his Large Catechism, Oswald Bayer points to scripture (Lev...

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