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Why have a liturgy?

At Redeemer we have what some would describe as a "liturgical" service. What most people mean by this term is that our service has a very clear order to it, including the use of various printed prayers, confessions, and other congregational recitations within the service. From week to week, the way we worship changes very little.

Certainly, such a highly structured service could lead to dry, formalistic worship that lacks true heart engagement. Sometimes people are suspicious of liturgical churches such as ours for precisely this reason. Using pre-printed forms seems to take the Spirit out of worship, keeping us from being "spontaneous" or "original" in our response to God. It is true that "going through the motions" is always a danger, and at a church such as ours we must always remember not to trust in the forms themselves, but to use them as a vehicle to express authentic worship to God. However, the danger of "going through the motions" is one that every church faces, no matter how structured or unstructured the service is. As one author has noted, "One can sing the same praise songs repetitively and without much thought, just as one can say the Apostles Creed each week without adequate reflection on what one is professing." Moreover, we must be very careful not to equate "spontaneous" with the work of the Spirit. The Spirit can work through study and preparation; just ask your pastor who no doubt spent several hours preparing his sermon for you this week.

The truth is that every church has a liturgy. The word "liturgy" is based on the Latin word for service, and refers to the order of service that a church follows week to week. Even if it is very simple, every church follows some order of service, and has some rationale on which that order is based. Many churches, for example follow the order of: Opening prayer, singing, preaching, singing, closing prayer. This is not a very complex liturgy, but it is a liturgy that is followed week to week. The question is not then whether a church has a liturgy, but rather whether the liturgy best reflects what the Bible teaches about how we should worship God. At Redeemer, we have thought through every part of what we do each week, and made our best attempt to base our service on what we believe the Scriptures teach about how we should worship God. 

A structured liturgy that remains the same each week has many practical benefits. First, it becomes a tool for teaching the essential truths of the Christian faith. When familiar forms are used again and again, we quickly learn them without realizing that we are doing so. I never tire of hearing some of our youngest children recite the Apostle Creed and Lord's Prayer, which they have learned simply by being in service week after week.

Second, a fixed liturgy each week helps us worship God more authentically. Why is this? Because using the same forms each week enables us to focus more on the content than on form itself. Have you ever tried to sing a song for the first time at church? It is very difficult to worship because you are distracted trying to learn the words and rhythm of the song. But once you have become familiar with the words and tune, you can begin to ponder the words of what you are singing and begin to truly worship. C.S. Lewis once said that he could "make do with almost any kind of service whatever if only it would stay put. But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship." If we are routinely changing our worship in an effort to be 'novel' or 'spontaneous,' it actually becomes an obstacle to worship. 

 

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