What’s your worship like?
Every Christian church has its own style of worshiping Jesus. We think you’ll enjoy worship at Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church. But as with any church you’re not familiar with, you should expect it to take at least a couple services to become accustomed to our worship of Jesus.
We attempt to make our worship as "user friendly" as possible. Each week the entire order of service is printed in our service folder. The readings and prayers are also printed there for you. Of course, you’re always welcome to bring along your own Bible and follow along with the readings there if you choose.
Our worship is liturgical, which means that we have a set order of worship every week. Every service focuses on God’s Word and Sacrament because only through the words of Scripture and in the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion does God freely offer us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. These things are the only source of our spiritual lives and spiritual growth.
Music is also an important part of our worship. Through our singing of hymns and other songs we express our thanks to God for his wonderful salvation. As Lutherans we are blessed with a rich heritage of excellent hymnody called Lutheran chorales. These powerful hymns remind us of the many wonderful things our Savior has done for us and for our salvation. They take some time to learn, but once you’ve learned them you’ll never forget them!
In our worship we use traditional forms along with modern language and applications. The traditional features of our worship bring us the best from God’s Church throughout the ages, while the contemporary features remind us that God’s promises of forgiveness, guidance and peace still apply to our daily lives. We pray that through our worship your faith will be strengthened in those promises!
Our worship usually includes the following:
The Confession of Sins -
We confess to God that we have failed to live up to the perfect standards in his law, and we plead for his mercy.
The Announcement of Forgiveness -
The pastor announces the forgiveness of sins won for us by the perfect life and innocent sufferings and death of Jesus, our Savior.
A Song of Praise -
These songs of praise remind us of the wonderful things God has done for us, not the least of which is the salvation he gives through Christ.
Prayer of the Day -
The Church brings her concerns and prayers to a loving Father in heaven, who has shown great mercy and promised to hear our cries for help.
Scripture Readings –
The pastor reads three selections from the Bible. They usually include one selection from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament epistles (letters), and one from the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John).
The pastor offers instruction and encouragement in a sermon, usually based on one of the three readings. Expect to hear God’s guidance for dealing with the problems of life, along with the promises of forgiveness and eternal life in heaven through Jesus.
Response to the Word -
We respond with offerings and prayers for the things God has promised us and for strength to do what he has asked.
Holy Communion –
We celebrate Holy Communion at every service except those on the fifth weekend of the month. Before communing, however, we ask our visitors to please speak with the pastor. As a congregation we practice closed communion. For a further explanation of this practice, please see below.
Final Blessing -
We hear one last assurance of God’s guidance and love.
What is closed Communion?
One frequently asked question people have about worship at Bethany is our practice of closed Communion. First of all, a disclaimer: we do not practice closed Communion to be exclusionary or judgmental.
Nor is it out of a "holier than thou" attitude. Our greatest desire is that all of God's faithful people might join us for this heavenly banquet. So please don’t think that we want to exclude you or relish it. Nothing could be further from the truth.
That being said, the Scriptures do have some very definite things to say about who is to be invited to the Lord’s table. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St Paul offers some very specific guidance about who should receive Holy Communion:
- St Paul writes, "Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup" (1 Corinthians 11:28). Paul is talking about the necessity of spiritual self-examination and how important it is for communicants to recognize both their sinfulness and their sins (see also 1 John 1:8,10). Here Paul is simply stating that Holy Communion is only for those who genuinely recognize their deep need for divine forgiveness and who confess as much before God.
- In connection with this first point, St Paul also issues a warning: "So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:27). What does Paul mean: "in an unworthy manner"? The Christian church has historically understood the Apostle to be describing someone who is living in impenitence--who fails to recognize their deep need for God's forgiveness--or who is denying some clear word of Scripture. Holy Communion is only for those who accept and submit to all the teachings of Scripture, nothing more and nothing less (John 8:31-32).
- Finally, St Paul writes: "For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of the Lord eat and drink judgment on themselves" (1 Corinthians 11:29). One specific article of the Christian faith that Paul mentions here is the truth that in the Lord’s Supper all communicants – whether believer or unbeliever – receive Jesus’ very own body and blood along with the bread and wine. Penitent Christians receive the gift of Jesus' body and blood for their benefit (forgiveness and eternal life). Impenitent Christians and unbelievers receive those gifts to their judgment. Sadly, many in the Christian church deny that communicants receive Jesus' body and blood in Holy Communion. For such a person Paul has a stern warning: that they "eat and drink judgment on themselves."
Dr. Martin Luther summarized these three points in his Small Catechism, writing: "… he is properly prepared who believes these words: ‘Given’ and ‘poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ But whoever does not believe these words or doubts them is not prepared, because the words ‘for you’ require nothing but hearts that believe."
As a result of what St. Paul writes and what we believe and confess as Lutherans, we are very careful about our distribution of Holy Communion at Bethany because we want to make sure--to the best of our ability--that those who commune with us understand what they are receiving and are properly prepared to receive it to their benefit rather than to their judgment. As a result, our most common practice is to receive only communicant members of Bethany to our communion celebration since they are under the spiritual care of our pastoral staff.
Now, what if you agree with all these biblical principles set down in Scripture? What if you confess all your sins, believe that Jesus has freely forgiven all your sins, accept all the teachings of Scripture and believe that in the Lord’s Supper you are truly receiving Jesus’ very own body and blood? Are you welcome to commune at Bethany, even if you’re a member of another Christian church body? In such a case we would ask you – out of love for your fellow Christians at Bethany – to refrain from receiving Holy Communion until being received into membership at Bethany and are under the spiritual care of our pastors. Out of love, we are concerned that those who receive Holy Communion at Bethany are receiving proper pastoral care so that communicants are prepared to receive the sacrament for their spiritual and eternal benefit. In addition, holding membership in one church body while communing in another is a confusing and potentially unloving action toward the members of Bethany. Receiving Holy Communion together is meant to demonstrate our unity of faith (1 Corinthians 10:16-17), but before we express that unity by eating this sacred meal together, we would prefer to get to know one another's confession of the Christian faith. That’s why we ask even faithful Christians who are not members of our congregation to refrain from the Lord’s table until you are under the spiritual care of our pastors.
What should I wear?
Sometimes people wonder how they are expected to dress at a church they’ve never visited before. Since the Bible presents no dress code, aside from simple modesty, we don’t make any rules either. Like most people, our members try to make their worship time at church a special time. This is often reflected in the way they dress.
However, at any given service you may see running shoes and high heels, jeans and suits, open collars and ties. When a person dresses out of love for God, the choice of dress (casual or more formal) is acceptable to God . . . and us.
What about giving an offering?
"When will they take the offering?" "How will it be collected?" "How much am I expected to give?" "Do they want visitors to contribute too?" These are typical worries about church offerings.
Scripture teaches that our offerings to God should reflect our belief that everything we have a gift of God. He does not compel us to give "a tithe" as he did the Old Testament believer. Instead St Paul tells us that "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). In other words, don’t feel compelled by guilt or embarrassment to give an offering. We want all offerings to be made freely and with joy.
Like most Christians, our members bring offerings to God through their church. Since offerings are gifts of love for God, no one dictates what each person is to give. We pass an offering plate after the sermon so that our worship may include bringing gifts to God. Offering envelopes are available to members to keep their gifts a private matter. A child may bring the quarters and dimes his parents give him. Someone older may write a check. Both are remembering Jesus and giving their gift out of love for him. You may wish at first to learn more about our ministry before bringing your offerings to God through our church. But you are welcome to participate as the Holy Spirit leads you to give.
What’s the worst that can happen?
Attending church somewhere for the first time can be intimidating. Here are some common worries:
"I would just die if they made me stand up and say something."
We assure you, we won’t embarrass you in this or any other way. We want you to feel comfortable and at home with us. Church should be an enjoyable and uplifting experience. We promise to do all we can so you can learn about your Savior.
"I know my child is going to be too noisy."
We love to have children in worship. If they are crying, simply remove them from the worship space for a moment. Once they've regained their composure, rejoin us for worship. A staffed nursery is also available, if needed for small children.
"I know I will feel out of place."
We hope that this description will ease your mind, but if you have a question, please ask someone for help. Don’t hesitate to say, "I’m new. What is this about?"
"I am afraid I will say or do something wrong."
All of us have felt this way when in a new situation. But we hope you see our family at Bethany is full of ordinary people like you. Besides, we all have short memories!
"I just want to watch at first and I know that they will try to involve me or sign me up."
It is unpleasant to be pressured or to be part of a "membership drive" as though we were heads of cattle, isn’t it? We believe that church membership is a voluntary thing, and that the most important thing is to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness and salvation. It takes time for this to be cultivated. People need time to evaluate and decide if they want to get further involved. We respect that need.
"I don’t know that much about the Bible."
First a disclaimer: there are no "super-Christians" at Bethany. None of us have our Bibles completely memorized (at least not yet!). If we did, we might feel that church was unnecessary. Worship and Bible study are opportunities to grow in our knowledge of the Bible and faith in Jesus. You won’t have to answer any questions you don’t want to answer. And remember, sometimes the wisest words we say are, "I don’t know."
"Most churches I’ve been to are filled with ‘hypocrites.’"
This is a common complaint about Christian churches. People expect to enter a church and find "perfect people" there. We make no such claims about ourselves. People who would make statements like the above one need to realize that the church is a spiritual hospital. It’s not for healthy people; it’s for sick people. Jesus himself said: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick" (Mt 9:12). Jesus is the Great Physician of our souls. So don’t come to Bethany expecting to find perfect people. Bethany isn't the perfect church, but we do share a perfect Savior from sin and death.
How do I find out more about your teachings?
If you would like to read more about our beliefs and practices, check out our Teachings
page and the website of our church body, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS)
What’s the WELS or Wisconsin Synod?
Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church is a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS)
. The word "synod" (pronounced sin’ id) is a Greek word which means "walking together." The Wisconsin Synod got its name because it was founded in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1850. The WELS includes over 1200 congregations worldwide, with a membership of about 400,000. Bethany’s membership in this church body unites us with Christians across our country and around the world. It allows us to pool our resources for training church workers, doing mission work both at home and abroad, and producing published materials such as hymnals, Bible studies and other books.
Our congregation and Synod stand firmly on all the teachings of Scripture. We believe that Jesus is our Savior and the only way to heaven (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Through faith in Jesus we are united to him and each other.
The name "Lutheran"
comes from the great reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546). In a period in history when the Church had lost sight of its Savior and the truth of his Word, Martin Luther boldly challenged these errors and preached Jesus Christ alone as Savior. We are thankful to our Savior when we remember and celebrate Luther's work in bringing to light the truth of God’s Word, and we use his name to identify ourselves.
A Final Thought
We pray that this has helped answer some of your questions and alleviate your fears. Our mission as a congregation is quite simple. We want to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with all people on the basis of the Holy Scriptures. Everything we do is meant to accomplish that one goal. We pray that there is nothing that stands in your way from learning more about your Savior at Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Please do not hesitate to call if you have any questions or if there is anything we can do for you.
God’s richest blessings to you. We look forward to meeting you at Bethany!