Liturgy is a loaded word. Liturgy can communicate a myriad of things to different people. For some, it conjures images of dusty pews, stuffy worship, and archaic language. For others, it brings comfort, knowing the order and structure pertaining to the worship gathering. For those coming to the church that I pastor (Coram Deo), many are confused or unaware of why we do various things in our worship services. In this short series, I want to break down the various parts of our liturgy, explain why we do them, why we do them in a particular order, and what the biblical grounds are for each liturgical component.
What is Liturgy?
First, what is liturgy? Liturgy is simply a form or order of service, particularly for gathered worship. In this way, every church has a liturgy. It may be high liturgy (which is normally what we mean by saying a service is liturgical) or it may be low liturgy. For those coming from a high liturgy background, you’ll be familiar with a more structured order of service with various components of call and response. For those coming from a low liturgy background, you may be used to more contemporary songs, less structure, and less moving components in a service.
For example, growing up in a traditional Baptist church, our liturgy simply comprised of a few praise songs, a sermon, a moment of invitation and offering, and a few concluding songs. By and large, this low liturgy environment is still liturgical, in that it is structured around an organizing schedule of events. Growing up, I didn’t have an awareness that we even had “liturgy,” as I only saw that as more of a high church model. Nevertheless, liturgy was present.
Liturgy as Formation
Why is it important that we talk about the differences between low and high church? Why is liturgy important for the gathered people of God on Sunday morning? In order to grasp the significance of liturgy, we must understand what role Sunday morning liturgy plays in overall formation. James K.A. Smith writes helpfully, “Discipleship, becoming Christ-like, empowered by the Spirit to image God to the world is not magic. Nor is it merely intellectual. It’s a matter of re-forming our loves, re-narrativing our identities, re-habituating our virtue. And that is centered in the practices of the people of God gathered by the Spirit around Christ’s Word and the table.” Smith would argue that we are formed and shaped primarily through our liturgy—both on Sunday and throughout the week. Therefore, what we do on Sunday morning actually is shaping and forming us as a means of discipleship.
Historically speaking, the people of God have not haphazardly met on Sunday and “figured out worship.” By and large, there was a structured order of service that was intentional and strategic for the overall formation of the people of God and the praise of the glory of God. In other words, the church historically saw the purpose of Sunday worship as a means of formation for the people while also being a means by which we worship God (which, in turn, is also a means of formation). It is only in recent years that churches have abandoned a more formal liturgical structure, in order to appease a growing un-churched and modern demographic. Yet, sadly, as the church has moved away from more high church liturgy, we have lost a key component of spiritual formation in the liturgy itself.
Therefore, at Coram Deo, we think through strategically and intentionally the components of our service that will re-orient our lives around the story of God, the Gospel, and the spiritual rhythms of Christian living. In other words, if you were to ask me why we have a certain component in our service, I would be able to articulate not only why it is there but why it is located in the service at that particular moment. In the coming weeks, I will break down each section of our liturgy and explain why we engage in that component, while also demonstrating biblically why I believe each component is vital for the health of the church.
Below is an example of our most used liturgy for corporate worship on Sunday morning. The headings were borrowed from Joe Thorn.
Call to Worship – Scripture Reading
Scripture Reading/Catechism Reading
Confession of Sin (Public and/or Private)
Assurance of Pardon
Confession of Faith (Creed, Confession, Catechism)
Song of Reflection
Scripture Reading – Sermon Text
Invitation to the Lord’s Table
Prayer of Institution
Song/Hymn of Response
In the coming weeks, I look forward to unpacking the various components of our liturgy!