Toward a Biblical Liturgy
“But all things should be done decently and in order.” 1 Cor 14:40
This sentence concludes Paul’s thoughts on the mess that was called “worship” in Corinth (1 Cor 11-14). Paul actually begins this unit by stating that their corporate worship was to their detriment rather than good (1 Cor 11:17)! Can you imagine things being so bad that an Apostle actually says, “Look, when you guys get together it’s not for better but for the worse!”? Well, this was certainly the case in Corinth- the Lord’s supper, the agape feast, and the use of spiritual gifts were all completely off the rails. I will let you read Paul’s argument for yourself, but his conclusion is simple: All things should be done decently and in order.
In our little church how do we worship “decently and in order?” Let’s think through our order of service (or, our liturgy) for just a moment…
- Our Call to Worship: Each Sunday we begin by reading the Word of God together. This passage is usually a Psalm (or, part of a Psalm) selected from the Revised Common Lectionary. The use of a lectionary is both common and historic. We even see Jesus preaching from a lectionary text in Nazareth in the synagogue (cf. Luke 4:16-20). The RCL follows the Christian calendar (including Advent, Christmas, Easter, etc.) and is designed to present the Scripture in three year cycles. The passage is not arbitrarily chosen- Rather, each week it tells us the story of redemption through the life of Christ as we move through the calendar.
- Public Confession: After reading the call to worship, we recite together Isa 40:8: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” Essentially, we are saying that as a church of Jesus Christ, we happily align ourselves under the authority of the Word of God (cf. Neh 8:6). This turns our posture to one of readiness. We have heard the Word read and we have publically confessed it’s authority and divine nature. In coming months, we will develop our public confession to include corporate repentance and recitation of biblical and historic creedal statements. When we teach our kids the catechism, we are learning a public confession of faith.
- Music: Our music communicates and expresses in poetic form what we believe theologically. We care far more about the truthfulness of a song rather than the style (hymn or contemporary). Of course, this is in keeping with Paul’s statement in Colossians 3:16: “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” We agree with Martin Luther that “…the prophets did not make use of any art except music; when setting forth their theology they did it not as geometry, not as arithmetic, not as astronomy, but as music, so that they held theology and music most tightly connected, and proclaimed truth through Psalms and songs.”
- Preaching: At Antioch, we maintain that expository preaching should be the main diet of the congregation. Rather than chasing rabbits or building soapboxes, we seek to be faithful to the Word of God. The proclamation of the Word is not a secondary or tertiary matter for us. The proclamation of the Word is the proclamation of Christ. Therefore, the pulpit is front and center because the Word is front and center. We believe that “faith comes from hearing and hearing the Word of Christ” (Rom 10:17).
- Trinitarian: Our liturgy is also Trinitarian, meaning we seek to glorify Father, Son, and Spirit in each gathering. After the preaching text is read, I pray specifically to the Holy Spirit to illumine what He has revealed (the Word). These details might seem minor. However, the historic church has always kept a Trinitarian focus in her worship, whereas the modern church… well, not so much.
- Freedom: Something that I think is often overlooked in discussions of liturgy is the freedom of corporate participation. Sometimes, churches can build a service that is wooden, structured, and dry. Often, this is reactionary to the charismatic movement and done to avoid the very thing that Paul addressed in 1 Cor 11-14. While understandable, we needn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. The church is a people, not a program. Therefore, there should be a certain sense of freedom- to share our burdens, to change a song, or to encourage and entreat one another. Having worship that is “decent and in order” does not justify an overcorrection or denial of the people to use their spiritual gifting. Charismatic chaos should not produce dry doxology and vice versa.
While there is so much more we could say, perhaps we will save it for a part II?
Soli Deo Gloria,