Liturgy

Preaching and Worship Resources about Liturgy

All churches have liturgies. The question is whether they are good or bad. Do they faithfully tell God's story and engage worshipers with the living God? There is no "non-liturgical" worship; all churches follow a certain script, or order, through which they bring their worship to God. The Greek word leitourgia was a technical term describing the financial burden a political leader carried in the service of the people. It has come to describe the order, words, and actions of a public worship service, especially for Christians.

In Scripture

Leitourgia The word leitourgia occurs several times in the New Testament (Phil. 2:17, Heb. 9:21) and is usually translated "service" or "ministry," but is never used as a word for a worship service. Only later did it come to be used to describe the worship of the church. The initial meaning also explains why we talk about a "worship service."

In the Old Testament, besides the regular sacrifices and offerings at the temple, Israelites were called from time to time to a "solemn assembly," which enacted a covenant renewal. In one of them (Neh. 8) we see several key liturgical aspects: 1) the Torah was read and explained, 2) the people offered a prayer of confession, and 3) some kind of feast was celebrated.

Descriptions of Worship Services in the Bible Nevertheless, there are some descriptions of actual worship services in the Bible. They seem to have been held on what became known as the Lord's Day (Rev. 1:10) or "the first day of the week," and were patterned on the liturgy of the Jewish synagogue, especially in the twin foci of Word and sacrament.

Worship of the Church at Corinth In 1 Corinthians 11-14, Paul describes various aspects of the worship of the church at Corinth, which seems rather fluid. He upbraids them for their lack of unity at the Lord's Supper and guides them in providing some order within a worship that seemed to emphasize the more charismatic gifts of tongues and prophesy. Here he offers his famous advice: Let all things be done properly and in an orderly manner.

In Hebrews, the author pays special attention to the difference between Christian worship and the covenant renewal assemblies of Israel. Israel came to a fiery Sinai, with its fearsome trumpet blast and untouchable reality. Christians, by contrast, come to Mt. Zion "to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel" (Heb. 12: 22-24).

Revelation is also instructive about liturgy. John receives his vision on the Lord's Day, and in several places he describes the worship of heaven, which was, undoubtedly meant to influence the worship of the church on earth (Rev. 4 and 5).

Points to Ponder

Word and Sacrament Even a cursory study of church history reveals that from the earliest days the liturgy of the church had two foci: Word and sacrament. It is only in the last four hundred years or so that many Protestant churches have yielded to a liturgy dominated by the Word, with the Eucharist celebrated only infrequently.

Fixed liturgy One of the benefits of a fixed or written liturgy is the power of well-thought-out words. A well-crafted liturgy, such as one found in the Book of Common Prayer, despite the most humble setting or ill-equipped pastor, provides a rich, gospel-centered, soul-stirring experience.

N.T. Wright "Good Christian liturgy is friendship in action, love taking thought, the covenant relationship between God and his people not simply discovered and celebrated like the sudden meeting of friends, exciting and worthwhile though that is, but thought through and relished, planned and prepared — an ultimately better way for the relationship to grow and at the same time a way of demonstrating what the relationship is all about."


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.