I’ve noticed a lot of talk about liturgy lately. The only problem is that it’s become very philosophical and some people are just dancing around what it is. You can read some excellent books on the historical and theological background for liturgy, but it becomes too much for quick blog snippets, worship magazine articles and our short attention spans today. Just being honest. I’m right there with you. It’s easy to then get defensive for your style of worship and prove which one is right. I’m not going to go there either, because many forms of worship and flow are leading people to Christ everyday.
Here’s the thing I’m realizing… some people like the idea of throwing in some old chants, songs, rewritten hymns or scripture to liturgicalize (new word alert) their worship. Then others are looking to understand why we use a liturgy and how they could practically apply it to their worship services for the faith strengthening and growth of their congregation.
There is nothing wrong with the first group, because adding into your worship service tried-and-true music and lyrics that the church has sung for generations doesn’t ever hurt. They’re beautiful and scriptural. But, I have to ask. If you’re going to do it, shouldn’t you know why?
If that’s you, let’s dig a little deeper and look at two things in this blog:
- A quick background on liturgy and how it began.
- An analogy for liturgy: a journey or relationship of worship.
The English term liturgy comes from the Greek word leitourgia. Its roots are leos (people) and ergon (work). Basically, it means public work or public service. The Greeks who translated the Hebrew Old Testament began using the term to describe sacrificial rites in the Temple of Jerusalem. It was a service of the people to God. Over time, it became common use in both the secular and religious sectors.
After Constantine opened up Christianity to the Roman Empire, Christians were free to bring their liturgy to the streets. This “work of the people” became a journey of worship through their loving relationship with The Creator. They literally walked from place to place based on that location’s reminder of what God has done in their lives. It may have been a sacred place, a statue which reminded them of God’s grace, a baptismal font, a painting that reminds them of their need for mercy, etc. Later, those works (which symbolized many scriptures telling the history of God’s relationship with His followers) became songs, hymns, spoken creeds, prayers and portions of our common liturgy. NOTE: Despite being a secular term, some Christian theologians have also translated liturgy to mean “work FOR the people,” because of God’s work of salvation and affecting the lives of the worshippers through His Word and sacraments in worship.
(The specific part of the liturgy is listed under each section of the analogy story.)
You go over to a friend’s house (God’s house), but you don’t just walk in. You greet each other by name and embrace your friend. Then you discuss what you’re excited about doing together that day. (Welcome, Invocation and Collect)
There are times when you and your friend may have had a disagreement or there’s tension. We’ve all been there before. You want to work it out before really getting comfortable to avoid having to keep your distance throughout the night. You share your concerns humbly and your friend forgives you. That relationship is restored. (Confession and Absolution)
With the air cleared, your heart feels lighter and you can kick on some tunes and really enjoy yourself! (Praise and Thanksgiving Songs)
Conversation begins to grow and you start sharing more about yourselves: your life, your joys, your fears and your stories. (Scripture readings for the day, Congregational Prayers from the Pastor, Responsive Prayers and the Lord’s Prayer)
If your friend has shared something important with you, that relationship is strengthened when you publicly affirm your acceptance and support of your friend. There’s a commitment to the relationship and others witness it. That’s a powerful thing. (Historic Christian creeds/statements of faith: Athanasian, Nicene and Apostles.)
You may bond over a meal. We know that food always brings us together. (Communion – the ultimate meal)
You get into deeper conversations and truths about your lives. Now you can wrestle with these ideas and speak love and wisdom into each other. This is where the analogy falls apart. God is the one speaking through the Pastor. We are listening. (Sermon/Message)
With a relationship so rich as this, how could you not be moved to give gifts to your friend? You’ve shared so much, the desire just pours out from your thankful heart. (Offering)
You leave feeling filled, forgiven, encouraged, warmed and with the inspiration to share the same so that others can know what we have experienced. So you thank your wonderful friend, who sends you on your way with their love. (Benediction)
There is so much more to say about liturgy, it’s use, history and more specific parts, but hopefully this gives a good overview of its power in our worship lives. Liturgy helps us live out our redeemed relationship and journey with God each week in a beautiful way.
I’m planning to explain the background and use of many of these liturgical pieces in following blogs, as well as practical ways you can include them in your services right now. I will also be outlining our modern/liturgical style of worship flow.
NOTE: You can also find this post at The Church Collective, which is a wonderful collaboration of worship leaders who are sharing their love, passion, wisdom and experience with the church at large.