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What's Different About Our Worship?

Last week I visited over 120 Protestant church websites in Utah, southern Idaho, and western Wyoming. I was impressed when I saw who God has called to serve in LDS territory, and what they are doing.

One thing I noticed on those websites is how many of them included information about “what to expect” when visitors visit their church. Most Latter-day Saints need to be warned: our worship will be different! This will be true, no matter what kind of historic Christian church they visit: Catholic, Orthodox, or the many brands of Protestant. Chances are, the LDS visitor will be over-dressed, and will encounter lively praise and prayer, and music that they have never associated with “church.” Also, instead of an assortment of talks by congregation members, they will hear one sermon preached by someone who is trained in theology and (hopefully!) Biblical languages. Finally, there is an offering. (LDS are accustomed to sending their checks straight to their local ward office.)

As I’ve been sitting in church lately, I’ve tried to visualize what our churches must look like through LDS eyes. My tradition (Presbyterian) emphasizes corporate confession of sin at any early point in our worship. When I attend our neighborhood Methodist megachurch, they instead have a strong tradition of inviting people to come forward to the altar for prayer. Some churches have formal liturgical readings. Lutherans have lots of chanted musical responses. Many of us get very conversational with God in our style of prayer.

One place we really shine is in our music. Ours is wonderfully creative and diverse. While yes, we do have a few clunkers, we have all the great hymns, both ancient and modern. We have Handel’s “Messiah.” We have “How Great Thou Art.” We have “In Christ Alone.” We have “Shine, Jesus, Shine!” At Christmas, we have too many carols to do them all between Thanksgiving and Epiphany. LDS meetings borrow most of the hymns they sing from us. In their modern musical productions, they have shown themselves capable of very entertaining music, but their hymnody seems to be frozen in the 1840’s.

LDS folks tend not to expect their spiritual experiences in their Sunday sacrament meeting. For that, they go to their temples, and even there, they don’t get music. What they get when they arrive in the Celestial Room is a setting for silent meditation. This is where they go for what we expect to get every Sunday. Of course, to go there, they need to be worthy enough to hold a temple recommend (a pass from their local bishop).

One noticeable difference is in their “Sacrament,” where water is used instead of wine or juice. What a visual of the blood of Christ to someone who has been accustomed to drinking water! The words in the LDS sacrament are prescribed verbatim in their Doctrine and Covenants scripture, and are recited by rote by the young teenagers who preside and distribute the elements. What I have seen would make even the most low-church Baptist communion sound passionately hard-line Lutheran by comparison.

Logic would indicate that LDS folks have divided instincts on worship. Because they are gods in embryo, and because both Heavenly Father and Jesus are just further up the exaltation ladder than we are, it appears to me (as someone who has never been LDS) that there would be less reason for us to worship them. But in practice, LDS responses to God, while more subdued, look similar to ours, like atheists who deny the existence of a higher power but who live like they are answerable to Someone. We want to encourage that instinct, with the goal of pointing them to the infinite transcendent God who is not an exalted man, but whose grace and power truly blows us away.

Our worship is a testimony, to the LDS, and to anyone who does not share our evangelical faith: “God is truly among you!” (1 Corinthians 14:25) I am surprised how often people ask me to lead in prayer, especially liberal Protestants who do not exactly share my belief, but who seem to resonate with my enthusiastic conversational approach to God. As a pastor, when I lead worship, my task is to both point people to God, and to model how to praise God by example.

May our worship inspire the LDS and all who visit our churches to exclaim: “God is truly among you!”