Liturgical Worship

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.

Psalm 29:2, ESV

I believe that the primary activity of the Christian and the Church is to worship God. I think there is sufficient biblical support to this idea and the Westminster Shorter Catechism states it in the answer to the very first question.

What is the chief end of man?
Man’ s chief end is to glorify God, (1 Cor. 10:31, Rom. 11:36) and to enjoy him for ever. (Ps. 73:25–28)

Here is what A. A. Hodge wrote about these words “IN QUESTION FIRST affirms that by nature man is a religious being, created with the ultimate design of promoting the glory of God, and so constituted as to find his highest and permanent blessedness in his communion and service. The first of the great corner-stones upon which the theology of our Catechism rests is, consequently, the religious nature and endowments of man and the validity of his moral and spiritual intuitions. [1]

Is there any Christian in the world that does not believe we are to worship God often and regularly? Probably not. Yet, the issue of worship has been an issue of debate in every church I have served. What’s all the fuss about? Why do people choose a church or leave a church because they don’t like the worship?

It appears to me that the greatest tension over worship during my lifetime revolves around the words “traditional” and “contemporary.” Labels can be constructive helps to understanding. Or they can become the focus rather than lead to the truth. What do these two words mean? It depends upon who you ask. There are general characteristics attached to these words which have nothing to do with the words themselves.

TraditionalContemporary
LiturgicalFree and Spirit led
Robes; vestments; suits and dressesnone of the traditional – wear whatever you want
has a SanctuaryDoes not have a Sanctuary and often has a stage
Candles and possibly Incense are usedFire hazards – very limited use
Large Pipe Organ provides musical directionsemi Rock Band plays the music
May have someone direct the singing, but no director is more commonLed by a Worship Leader or Praise Team
Feels FormalFeels Casual
Sings old hymns that are barely comprehendedSinge contemporary Pop Songs
Long Sermons that take work to listen toLong talks that elicit an emotional response
Kid unfriendlyKid friendly
Worship is objectiveWorship is subjective

You may agree or disagree with these things, and you may have others to list. However, these two styles of worship have divided the people of God. Any division of the unity of God’s people is not supposed to be in the Christian playbook. So there have been attempts to bring the two sides together. Some of them include giving the word “liturgy” a different meaning suggesting that both traditional and contemporary worship has liturgy. I’m not sure they really know what liturgy is because so many Christians in America have never attended a church that uses liturgy. Anglican, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, older Reformed, and Presbyterian are examples that use liturgy.

Liturgy cannot be simplified by saying it is just a church service’s order. If that is the case, it is true that every church, no matter how formal or informal, would have a liturgy. But Liturgy refers not only to the order but to the way everything in a service is done. For example, a few years back, I attended another church, and it was communion Sunday. They had four stations around the room containing bread, juice, and a candle. During the welcoming time, the pastor told everyone that they are free to go take communion anytime they felt like it. This, to me, is the opposite of Liturgy.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.

1 Corinthians 11:23–27, ESV

Growing up, every church my parents took me to at least quoted part of the 1 Corinthians passage. Additionally, communion was distributed to everyone so that the eating and drinking were done together. That practice came closer to Liturgy because it had Biblical instruction with the participants following the commands to eat and drink. The participant was also reminded that the Lord’s Supper was not just something that we do in church once a month. It is something we have been commanded to follow as a part of worship, and it’s purpose is to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

When I was a minister in the Christian Reformed Church, the week before the Lord’s Supper, we took the time to read a form explaining why the supper, who is called to the supper, and how each person should prepare themselves for the supper. Some churches read the form(s) on the day of the Lord’s Supper just before serving it. This is Liturgy. Whether you agree with the form or how the service is performed, there are a couple of things to note. First, serving and receiving the Lord’s Supper is an act of obedience to the Lord by mandate of the Scriptures. Obedience is something one does for a superior, so it is an act of humility. Second, to not take the supper or to not follow Christ’s instructions are acts of rebellion. Rebellion is disobedience, and those who disobey are claiming authority over Christ.

To say that a Church is Liturgical is to identify it as a place where God’s people gather to worship the Lord according to his precepts. Churches that use a Book of Common Worship are churches that take seriously that God has ordered worship and that worship has little to do with human emotional reactions. Instead, worship is an act of cheerful submission and obedience to God. I like the reference to the Lord’s Supper as the Eucharist. The title means to give thanks for grace. For me, that concept is what the supper is all about, and it is what Christianity is all about.

There is more to say, which I will in coming blogs. We need to understand more about the Eucharist and its place in worship. And we need to understand what worship really is. Much of what goes on in many churches on Sunday mornings is not worship, but doing things to please man and, to a large degree, ignore God.

[1] Archibald Alexander Hodge, J. Aspinwall Hodge, The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: Opened and Explained., (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1888), 8.

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