Liturgy…Good or Bad?: Part 1
One of the scariest words for people to hear in a Baptist church is the work liturgy. As soon as you mention the word people start to imagine priests walking around in solemnity—with all their pomp and circumstance—waving around a thurible filled with incense and speaking in Latin. This is what we associate with a liturgical church. Our disposition might lead us to suppose that liturgical churches are wrong. We might think they are just concerned with outward appearances and not concerned with changing the heart. You might even hear someone say that a liturgy is all about what we do and it leads us to believe in salvation through our works. Even though we associate liturgy with services that are full of ornate symbols and tradition, the truth is that every church whether Catholic, Episcopal, Non-denominational or Baptist uses a liturgy. No matter how hard churches try to escape from being labeled as a liturgical they will always use a liturgy because liturgy does not dictate what is done in a service, but is merely the order things will happen. Liturgy is just a formal way of saying “the service order”. Let’s look at a couple examples of liturgical services.
Generally speaking, a stereotypical Baptist liturgy might start off a service with a rousing congregational hymn. They might follow this with a time of hand shaking to welcome each other before someone comes and gives the announcements for the following week and says a prayer for the offering. After this they might sing a couple more songs before having some special music. Next the pastor comes up on stage and begins his message by telling everyone a joke that will hopefully relate to the message and make people laugh. He will end his message by giving people an
emotional appeal to come to the altar while the congregation sings all 10 verses of “Just As I Am”.
Contrastingly, a Non-denominational church typically seeks to make a comfortable environment for all people to walk into, and many times they try to stay away from typical church stereotypes. When you enter the building you might see the band or praise playing on the stage. As the service starts they will sing a couple songs that create an exciting atmosphere. After this the pastor, dressed in torn jeans and a T-shirt, might come up and give announcements and welcome people. They may even play a video that tries to explain “churchy things” for people who have never been to the church. A second section of songs that is typically moving and personal will be sung
before the message is preached. After the message (or some pastors may call it a talk) there will be a couple of songs sung before the people are sent off by a pastor. The church service is designed to have moments of high energy, levity to release tense moments with humor, and worshipful moments that make people feel the presence of God. In both of the above examples there was an order and purpose to how they did their service—or you could say there was a liturgy to help them accomplish their goals. I am not saying that one service order is better that the other—I am simply giving
examples of a liturgy.
Liturgies can be either good or bad because a liturgy is our ordered response to the truth we believe about God. In fact, the Bible God has given us has many examples of worship that was pleasing to God and examples of worship that was offensive to the Lord. Let’s look at a few examples of worship that pleased God. In Nehemiah 8, we see all the people gather to hear the Book of the Law read aloud, and they fall down and worship God. The Psalms are filled with examples of worship to the Lord (Ps. 3; 5; 75; 95…etc.). The epistles also help us see what should be included in our church worship (Acts 2; I Cor 11,14; Eph. 6:18). Also, in the book of Revelation we see get a glimpse of what worship will look like in the future (Rev. 4-5; 19). There is many more example of what Worship should look like, but let’s also see some examples of worship that was not pleasing to God
All through the Old Testament, God is concerned that his name be Holy and that Israel does not worship Him in the same way pagan nations worship their gods (Lev. 20:22-23; Deut.12:31; Jer. 10:2-4; Ex. 32). In second Samuel 6, we learn about a worship service with good intentions that ended in the death of Uzzah because he reached out and touched the Ark of the Covenant. In the New Testament, Paul rebukes the Corinthian church for the way they are taking the Lord’s Supper (I Cor. 11).
The scripture is filled with examples of good and bad worship, but my
intention in writing today is not to give you an in-depth look at worship practices in the scripture—I want you to see that worship is important to God and our liturgy (the order we use) matters. I am not saying that there is only one good way to order a service because the Scripture does not say that; however, Scripture does present us with patterns that we can follow as we approach God in worship. Next month, I plan to write on the patterns we see in scripture, and I hope that it will stir conversation and give you insight into the way I choose to order our service.
- Pastor Seth Peterson
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