Dutch Lutheran Worship

The Dutch Lutherans in colonial New York were served by pastors who used for their ministrations Het Formulierboeck, vervattende VII Formulieren, die by de Christelyke Gemeentens, toegedaan de onveranderde Augsburgse Confessie in deeze Nederlanden, gebruykt worden (The [Church] Order Book, embracing seven Orders which are used in the Christian Congregations adhering to the Unaltered Augsburg Confession in these Netherlands). The liturgical forms of the Lutheran Church in the Netherlands were not based on the Latin Mass, as were the orders of service used in most other Lutheran churches, but they were based instead on the less formal precedent of the medieval Preaching Service. (The Lutheran Church in Württemberg likewise used a liturgy that was based on the Preaching Service, and not on the Mass.)

Henry Eyster Jacobs describes the worship life of the early Dutch Lutherans:

Their public service was very similar to that of their Reformed neighbors; and yet it had some noteworthy features. The gospels and epistles for the church year were read in course and explained. Besides Luther’s Catechism, questions prepared by John Ligarius were used in the instruction of the young. ... The church prayers of the Dutch Lutheran churches of the sixteenth century were not extemporaneous, but those which the church appointed were read before and after the sermon. Baptism was without exorcism. Before communion, instead of the private confession that had been usual in other portions of the Lutheran Church, a preparatory service with public absolution was held the preceding Friday. ... The church constitution of 1597, as revised in 1614, 1644, and 1681, binds all preachers to teach according to the rule of the divine Word, as declared in the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures, and forbids them to depart from either the doctrine or the modes of expression “of our symbolical books, viz., the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, its Apology, the Smalcald Articles, and the Formula of Concord, together with the two catechisms of Luther.” All sermons are to be directed to the edification of the congregation, by teaching God’s Word purely, distinguishing between true and false doctrine, and, with all plainness and directness, reproving sin. The constitution directs that the morning sermons must always be on the gospel for the day, and the afternoon sermon on the epistle, Luther’s Catechism, or some other edifying text. The Sunday morning service is limited to two hours, and the afternoon and weekday services to an hour. ... The Lutherans of that purer period, which the emigrants who founded our church in America represented, during Lent heard the Passion History explained, and, as children, were examined every Sunday afternoon in the catechism. No private religious meetings were held without the knowledge and approval of the pastor. The administration of the Lord’s Supper was announced two weeks in advance. Before their first communion, a careful examination was made of all young persons. To prevent those from coming to the Lord’s Supper who had not been properly instructed and been present at the preparatory service, or otherwise privately conferred with the pastor, the custom widely prevalent in the Reformed Church had been adopted by the Lutherans. Those entitled to commune were furnished with “tokens,” which the elders standing by the side of the Lord’s Table received as the communicants approached. At the previous distribution of the tokens by the elders to applicants, one or more of the pastors was present to see that none received them who should not commune. As they received the communion they knelt, and psalms and hymns were sung by the rest of the congregation. (A History of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, fifth edition 1907], pp. 40-42)

What follows are English translations of the Order for the Absolution (which was to have been preceded by a “Sermon of Repentance”) and the Order for the Lord’s Supper, as found in the Dutch Lutheran Formulierboeck. They are taken (with slight adaptations) from Harry J. Kreider, The Beginnings of Lutheranism in New York (New York: 1949), pp. 53-60. The hymn, All Glory Be to God on High, was originally written in German by Nikolaus Decius. The Lutherans in the Netherlands sang it in a Dutch translation. Catherine Winkworth’s English translation is used here.

The Order for the Absolution

Dear friends, we have seen that the Sermon of Repentance demands of us a sincere confession of our sins, and that the divine Word of grace promises us the forgiveness of the same, as the Apostle John says: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”; and David: “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” Therefore you should heartily confess your sins, and trustingly beseech the Lord for mercy, that you may receive the forgiveness of the same. And that your repentance may be manifest, you will first clearly and truly before the holy face of God and of this Christian congregation, answer me the following questions:

I. In God’s stead, I ask you, do you acknowledge and confess with contrite hearts that you are poor and lost sinners, who have many times greatly angered the Lord your God, secretly and openly, knowingly and unknowingly, by thoughts, words, and deeds, and have also offended your fellowmen in many ways, and thereby deserved every form of temporal and eternal punishment: are you heartily sorry for these your sins, and do you implore God to forgive you of the same?

So answer, Yes.

II. I ask you, do you firmly believe that God, in his everlasting mercy and through the precious merits of Jesus Christ, His Son, not only forgives you all your sins, but also seals with His true Body and Blood those who shall, under the Bread and Wine, eat and drink in the holy, consecrated Communion: Do you heartily believe this?

So answer, Yes.

III. I ask you, do you intend to better your sinful life by God’s grace, to bring forth good fruit as evidence of your penitence and faith, to prove yourself a new creature in Christ, and to walk in the Spirit according to the new man; furthermore, will you from your hearts forgive your fellowmen their offenses against you, and make it manifest by showing them all your love; moreover, will you remain steadfast in the eternal Word of God and our true Christian Religion until death?

So answer, Yes.

May the faithful and merciful God give you both the will and the power to do these things, to the honor of His holy Name and to the eternal salvation of every one of you, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

And now humble yourselves further before the Lord your God, and confess all your sins to Him with broken and contrite hearts, entreating Him with me, saying,

Righteous, merciful God, we poor miserable creatures confess that we were conceived and born in sins, and that we have frequently misused Thy holy Commandments, even trespassing greatly against them. But forasmuch as Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, we beseech Thee, for Christ’s sake, O faithful God and Father, forgive us all our sins, receive us in grace, and give us eternal life: grant us, O heavenly Father, a heartfelt penitence, a firm faith, a true godliness, and a steadfastness unto the end of our lives, through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Hereupon the Minister of the Word speaks as follows:

Upon this your sincere confession to God, I, as a Minister of Jesus Christ (by the authority of His words in John, the 20th chapter: “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained”) declare unto all who are penitent, the entire forgiveness of all their sins, in the Name of God the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: but to the impenitent I declare that their sins are retained until they change for the better, for which God Himself grant them grace, through Jesus Christ, in whose Name we pray:

Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name;
Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven;
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;
And lead us not into temptation;
But deliver us from evil;
For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.


The Order for the Lord’s Supper

Dearly beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ! Forasmuch as on this day we administer the gracious and comforting Supper of our dear Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, which He has instituted and in which He gives us His true Body as a heavenly food, and His Blood as a life-giving drink, wherewith to strengthen our faith; therefore it is right that we should diligently and carefully examine ourselves, so that we do not through unseemly pleasure receive death instead of life, as the Apostle Paul earnestly admonished us: “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup; for he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” Therefore you who come to the holy Supper should truly know and remember:

First, that the Son of God Himself is here among you, and gives you to eat and to drink His true body and blood, in the same manner in which He took the bread, and said: “Eat, this is my body,” and took the cup and said: “Drink, this is my blood of the New Testament.” Wherefore you should worthily receive such food and drink, by true repentance and faith in Him.

Second, that this Holy Sacrament has been instituted and given to us poor sinners for the special comfort of our weak and sorrowing consciences and for the strengthening of our hearts, knowing that we have deserved God’s anger and eternal death because of our sins; for, as St. Paul says, “the wages of sin is death.” For we find in us, if we examine ourselves carefully, nothing but all manner of grievous sins and the eternal death which we have thereby deserved: from which we can by no means free ourselves.

But our dear Lord Jesus Christ graciously has had mercy upon us, and because of our sins became man, in order that He might fulfill the law and the whole will of God for us and for our good, and has taken upon Himself our death and all that we by our sins have deserved, making payment for our redemption with His sufferings and death.

And to the end that we may be confident of this, He gives us His true body and blood in this His Holy Supper, as a pledge and assurance, so that we may never doubt that this is done for us because of our sins and for the welfare and redemption of us poor sinful creatures.

Therefore, all who are beloved in Christ should here be mindful of what poor and condemned creatures we are, and how bitter and grievous it has been to the Lord Christ to deliver us from our sins and eternal death: because we are redeemed not by an angel or a patriarch, neither by the blood of goats or of calves; but by the blood of the Son of God our Lord Jesus Christ: otherwise we should have died and perished, and have been lost and condemned forever. Therefore let us heartily praise and thank the Lord Jesus Christ in this Holy Supper, for He died for us that we might have eternal life.

Third, this Holy Sacrament should exhort us to brotherly love, so that, even as Christ has loved us, we also should love one another: for by this shall men know that we are Christ’s disciples, if, says Christ, we love one another.

Therefore, let us remember that in this Holy Supper we are all one bread and one body, even as we are all partakers of this one Bread and drink of this one Cup.

And just as out of many grains of wheat a loaf of bread is baked: so should we love as brothers, in deed and in truth, for Christ our Saviour’s sake, all those who by faith dwell in Christ and who in this Sacrament grow in that indwelling life in Him; and in love should we serve one another.

Finally, let us walk in the footsteps of Christ our Lord, take up our cross gladly and patiently and follow Him: for He suffered for us and left us an example, that we should follow in His steps. To that end may the Almighty merciful God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ help us through His Holy Spirit. Amen.

Now let us call upon the Almighty, merciful God, beseeching Him graciously to sanctify our bodies and souls, that we may long for and receive His Holy Supper in true faith and thankfulness, saying:

Almighty God, merciful heavenly Father, forasmuch as we cannot truly please Thee save through Thy beloved Son our Lord Jesus Christ, we therefore pray Thee to sanctify our bodies and souls, and to grant unto us His blessed communion as we long for and receive His Holy Supper in true faith and thankfulness: guard us, O blessed God, that we may not be guilty of the Body and Blood of Thy Son, nor through unseemly pleasure receive death instead of life: grant that our souls may all hunger and thirst after this food and drink so rich in grace; quicken our weary and burdened hearts, and strengthen our weak faith; that we, being assured anew of Thy mercy and love, strengthened in the inner man, and our spirits united more closely to the bridegroom the Lord Jesus Christ, may henceforth live in holiness of life in the same, love our fellowmen after His example, be patient in suffering, blessed in death, and joyful in the resurrection from the dead to eternal life through the power of His life-giving Body and Blood: for the sake of the same, Thy dear Son Jesus in Whose Name and with Whose Words we pray further:

Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name;
Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven;
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;
And lead us not into temptation;
But deliver us from evil;
For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Now let us listen earnestly and attentively to the words of institution, wherewith our Lord Jesus Christ has ordained and established His Holy Supper:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the night in which He was betrayed, took bread; and when He had given thanks, He brake it and gave it to His disciples, saying, “Take, eat, this is my Body which is given for you; this do in remembrance of Me.”

After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them saying, “Drink ye all of it; this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins; this do, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

These are the very words of our Redeemer and Saviour Jesus Christ, which we are in duty bound to believe. Therefore, they who heartily believe these words and who have prepared themselves worthily for this Holy Supper, shall now come forward with heartfelt devotion.

In the distribution of the Bread, the Pastor says:

Take and eat, this is the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for your sins: this strengthen you to eternal life.

In the distribution of the Cup:

Take and drink, this is the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, shed for your sins: this keep you to eternal life.


Let us now most heartily give thanks to our merciful God and Lord Jesus Christ, who has so richly given us food and drink in this Supper with His holy Body and Blood, and pray that the same may reach out to strengthen our faith: that we may be steadfast in the true faith unto the end, and gain eternal life in Christ Jesus; saying,

We thank Thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, that Thou hast so greatly pardoned us poor sinful creatures, that Thou hast not only died for us for our redemption, but also given unto us Thy holy Body and Blood to eat and to drink unto eternal life. We heartily pray Thee to grant us richly Thy grace and Spirit, that we may never forget the same, but may always grow and increase in faith through deeds of love: that with our whole life we may serve Thee to Thy honor and praise, and to the blessing of our fellowmen; until we are all united in eternal life, when we may honor and praise Thee face to face: Who livest and reignest in eternity with God the Father, in oneness with the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Let us sing our hymn of praise to the Lord:

1. All glory be to God on high,
Who hath our race befriended!
To us no harm shall now come nigh,
The strife at last is ended;
God showeth His good will to men,
And peace shall reign on earth again;
Oh, thank Him for His goodness!

2. We praise, we worship Thee, we trust,
And give Thee thanks forever,
O Father, that Thy rule is just
And wise and changes never.
Thy boundless power o’er all things reigns,
’Tis done whate’er Thy will ordains:
Well for us that Thou rulest!

3. O Jesus Christ, Thou only Son
Of God, Thy heavenly Father,
Who didst for all our sins atone
And Thy lost sheep dost gather:
Thou Lamb of God, to Thee on high,
From out our depths, we sinners cry,
Have mercy on us, Jesus!

4. O Holy Ghost, Thou precious Gift,
Thou Comforter unfailing,
O’er Satan’s snares our souls uplift
And let Thy power availing
Avert our woes and calm our dread.
For us the Savior’s blood was shed;
We trust in Thee to save us.

Hereupon receive the blessing of the Lord:

The Lord bless thee, and keep thee:
The Lord make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. Amen!


As mentioned above, the Lutheran Church in Würrtemberg, like its sister church in the Netherlands, followed a liturgical order that was based on the medieval Preaching Service and not on the Latin Mass. In 1577 Lucas Osiander, Jacob Andreae, and Martin Crucius described a typical Sunday morning Communion Service as it would have been conducted in Württemberg at that time. (Andreae was one of the co-authors of the Formula of Concord, which also dates from the year 1577.) This description is from George Mastrantonis, Augsburg and Constantinople (Brookline, Mass.: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1982), p. 144.

The All-Holy Communion is celebrated among us today with a minimum of ceremonial. The church assembles at an appointed time. Hymns are sung. Sermons are preached concerning the benefits of Christ for mankind. Again, hymns are sung. An awesome exhortation is read, which in part explains the words of institution of the Most-Holy Supper, and in part demands that each person should prepare for a worthy communion. A general but sincere confession of sins is made. Forgiveness is publicly pronounced. With devout prayers we ask the Lord to make us partakers of the heavenly gifts and benefits. The words of institution of the sacrament are read, after which the congregation approaches with reverence and receives (offered by the holy minister) the body and the blood of Christ. Again we give thanks to God in prescribed words for the heavenly gifts. Finally, the holy minister of God says the blessing over the assembled congregation, and all are dismissed to go to their homes. We think that these rites are sufficient, because a multitude of distracting customs, beyond those which are necessary, prevent the people from properly paying attention to the important and necessary ones. Certainly, we do not contend with anyone about customs so long as they do not include anything which contradicts the Word of God, or (contrary to Christian freedom) is insisted upon as necessary for salvation. We judge that this use of the Lord’s Supper by us agrees with the command of Christ and serves the Church in the work of salvation.

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