The Form of Worship

All things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40).

- 1 Corinthians 14:26–40

Today the so-called “worship wars” rage between those who prefer traditional services and those who want to adopt a more “contemporary” form of worship. Frequently, the choice is framed as one between “liturgical” and “non-liturgical” worship. However, the distinction is not so evident.

A liturgy is simply an order of service; thus, every worship service is liturgical. When people gather for corporate praise they must follow some sort of structure to prevent chaos. A liturgy can be complex and have many elements — such as responsive readings, kneelings, an introit, creeds, hymns, and a sermon. Other liturgies are simpler — a few songs, a prayer, and a sermon. Nevertheless, an order of service is discernible. David’s assignment of Temple duties (1 Chron. 23–26) and Paul’s instructions in today’s passage show that we should have an organized form to our worship.

When people distinguish between “liturgical” and “non-liturgical” worship, they are usually differentiating between the “high” liturgies of traditional Anglican, Lutheran, and Presbyterian churches and the worship style embraced by most modern evangelicals. These higher liturgies are often accused of promoting lifeless externalism. To be sure, there is a danger in such worship services to just go through the motions, yet those who disdain high liturgies should remember that the worship style they prefer is also susceptible to dead formalism. Whether we prefer traditional services or ones that are perhaps more “informal,” we must endeavor to worship God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).

The sacraments are an important part of any liturgy. These means of grace ordained by Christ visibly confirm the preached Word. The washing of water in baptism reinforces the reality of our spiritual cleansing that comes from trusting in Christ (John 3:5). The Lord’s Supper is a tangible way to recall and proclaim the atonement (1 Cor. 11:26). They do not magically save us in and of themselves, but when joined to the preached Word in the order of worship, the sacraments give believers continued confidence and grace in Christ.

Coram Deo

Take some time today to consider the liturgy used in your own church. Have its different elements become meaningless to you, things you do without consideration? Or, do you take care to contemplate the significance of the words you speak and the actions you observe or perform? What about the sacraments? Do you expect to meet Jesus by faith, in a special way, when someone is baptized or when you partake of the Lord’s Supper?

Passages for Further Study

Num. 4
Neh. 8
Matt. 6:5–6
John 4:24; 6:41–59

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