Continued from part 2
Then there is liturgical worship. This word may raise suspicions, calling up images of elaborate vestments, candles, incense, and written prayers. Those who react in this way say under their breath, “From all these, Dear Lord, deliver us.” But clarification can help.
Liturgy does not mean merely ornate ceremonies with their candles and incense, bells and genuflections, such as one might find in the Eastern Orthodox rites. Instead, think of liturgy as planned worship. It may include worship folders to outline the progression of the service, and signal how the congregation is to participate. Or, it may include other ordered elements — saying the Lord’s Prayer in unison, singing together the Doxology. For weddings, it involves hearing the wedding ritual, or it may include attending to the words of consecration for the Lord’s Supper. Liturgy is unavoidable. Whether the number of the congregation is 50 or 500, a set way of doing things tends to take shape, for better or for worse. That is its liturgy.
So, we need not brush the term lightly aside. First, it comes from “leitourgia,” a gold-plated word with an honorable place in the Scriptures. For example, in the Greek-based Septuagint it is used to describe the “services” of priests and Levites in the temple (Nu 8:22,25; 18:4; 2 Chron 8:14). In the New Testament, it also describes temple services (Lk 1:23; Heb 9:21), but as well the word refers to Christian worship (Acts 13:2). To say it simply, liturgy is the service the people offer their God.
This very word, service, is common in all traditions. We have worship services, prayer services, song services, baptismal services, communion services, etc. The word, service, comes from the language of liturgy. In all acts of true worship fundamentally we offer service to God. For example, a soloist does not sing first to the congregation. She offers her song first as an act of worship to God. The people affirm with the biblical, Amen. She is not an entertainer to be applauded, she is a worship leader whose message is to be affirmed.
Consider the apostolic church. It modeled its worship on Jewish patterns of temple and synagogue, and practiced worship liturgically — that is, in ordered ways by praise, prayer, Scripture reading, exposition, and the Lord’s Supper (1 Tim 3:16; 4:13). Immediately following apostolic times, a first Book of Discipline for the young church, the “Didache,” was basically a manual of church practices — liturgy. We also find this word in the writings of the church fathers after the first century, expressing the whole service of God.
Admittedly, liturgy can become a substitute for genuine worship of the heart. Worshipers may be moved by the beauty and grandeur of an esthetically pleasant service and confuse this sensation with true spirituality. They are not the same. To go away from church merely feeling “better” is not the same as leaving worship feeling lifted up, cleansed and renewed by the Spirit of God.
Nevertheless, liturgy has its value. Consider: it puts a holy restraint on worship leaders, cuts down on verbosity and other distractions, keeps triteness at bay, and provides actions or words that convey truth to God’s people in inspired, established ways. Wise use of simple liturgy makes way for God himself to break in upon the spiritual awareness of his worshiping people — bringing a sense of awe and wonder. It is this sense of awe and wonder that is too often lacking in modern worship.