Liturgy: Introduction

I would like to begin a series of posts on the topic of ‘Liturgy’, specifically explaining and defending the liturgy we use in our worship services at Grace. We will examine each element in turn, providing the biblical rationale. 

This first post, however, deals with liturgy as a general concept. What is ‘liturgy’? The word is commonly understand to connote a particular form or order of worship. The origin of the term goes back to the biblical (NT) Greek noun leitourgia (along with the corresponding noun leitourgos and its verbal cognate leitourgeo). In the NKJV it is translated as ‘service’ or ‘ministry’ and is found in the following passages: Luke 1:23, 2 Corinthians 9:12, Philippians 2:17,30 & Hebrews 8:6, 9:21.

Each of these passages either explicitly comes with a priestly or temple idea or implies it in context. Indeed this corresponds with the use of leitourgia in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) where it is often used in the context of the priests who ministered or served the Lord in the temple and the giving of sacrifices. So we might better define (refine) liturgy in this way: the form of worship that we as priests offer to God for His glory under the supervision of and through our High Priest, Jesus Christ. (cf. 1 Peter 2:9 & Revelation 1:10).

Therefore liturgy is, by its very nature, formal and organized. Just as the Old Testament rituals and sacrifices were performed according to certain rules or order, so should our New Testament worship.[1] Liturgy is meant to provide structure to our worship so that all we do is pleasing to God. This does not make worship a formality but indicates that our God is a God of peace, not confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33) so everything must be done decently and in good order (1 Corinthians 14:40).

For Reformed churches this means we worship God in accordance with His will and not our own. We have expressed this in our Heidelberg Catechism as follows:

Q. 96: What does God require in the second Commandment?

A. 96: That we in no way make any image of God, nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded us in His Word.

This has been called the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) which simply means that we only do what we are told to do and avoid anything that is man made or devised (“self imposed religion” Colossians 2:23). God determines what He wants, not us. We worship Him in Spirit and in Truth, the latter being defined by God not man (John 4:24 cf. John 17:17). We worship a God who is a consuming fire so therefore we worship Him in reverence and in awe. (Hebrews 12:29)

And we understand this to mean that worship is not first of all for us. This means that our liturgy is not an advancement of our agenda, or for our entertainment, nor is it formulated or presented to be pleasing to the eye, ear, or even the heart of fallen man. After all, what do we know what is right according to our deceitful and wicked hearts (Jeremiah 17:9) and slavish, sinful wills? (Romans 8:7 cf. Romans 1:18ff.) This is not to say that worship cannot be pleasing or that we should do everything in our power to make it as ‘sterile’ and boring as possible. It simply means that our liturgy may only please us insofar as it pleases Him because it is done in faith to and for Him (cf. Hebrews 11:6).

And since we are priests our liturgy must also reflect the special relationship we have with God; the relationship between God and His people. (Psalm 100) We worship the LORD, not some nameless, common denominator god. (see Psalm 115) Liturgy is a means of us drawing nearer to Him, which also means being drawn away from the world. God’s covenant people are to commune and assemble in the presence of the true God, offering true sacrifices, in light of and against the world that serves idols and whose worship is not pleasing to God. (2 Corinthians 6:14-18) We should not be surprised that our liturgy seems strange and foreign to the average man, anymore than when the unbeliever rejects the gospel as foolishness. (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18) For spiritual things cannot be understood by the natural man (1 Corinthians 2:13-14) Thus we should not use or adapt our liturgy to evangelize or even attract the world. It is done in a heavenly ‘place’ (Hebrews 12:22ff.) and thus uses heavenly speech and form to be conformed to Almighty God.

This is not to say that divine worship is an exclusive club or for a select few. Indeed God is seeking worshippers (John 4:23) and invites all to come to Zion (Micah 4:1-2) to join their voices in praise to Him. Yet our liturgy is to reflect the exclusive relationship that God has as Father to His children, those who are adopted by grace and cry out ‘Abba, Father’ in the Spirit. (Romans 8:15).

Next post – Liturgy: Silent Prayer


[1] It may be alleged that since the Old Testament system of worship has passed away we are no longer required to follow the order or style of the law. More could be said in defense of our point here but we would point out that the author of Hebrews provides the rationale in his epistle by demonstrating that we still: 1) have a High Priest: Christ 2) have sacrifice(s): Jesus 3) have a tabernacle (heaven) and so on. The external form has changed because of the coming of Christ but the essential elements and their function in worship remain the same.


One thought on “Liturgy: Introduction

  1. Pingback: Liturgy: Songs of Praise « Grace Reformed Church of Leduc

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