Sunday, August 03, 2008

Scripture and the Liturgy (or: Why I am pro-liturgy)

From time to time I hear people from non-liturgical churches speaking of how unScriptural it is to have a liturgy. Nothing could be further from my experience. I am glad to belong to a liturgical church and would wish that as a blessing upon anyone I know. Why? To explain that to my non-liturgical (even anti-liturgical) acquaintances, I'd have to show them our order of service. I won't ask anyone here to read an entire order of service. But here I will briefly go through our most commonly-celebrated order of service in the liturgy and highlight a few things.

Blessing at the start of worship
M: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you. (2 Cor 13:14)

[Based on passages such as 1 John 8:10, we confess our sins and proclaim God's forgiveness. We follow a fairly simple order of confession and absolution.]

Prayers at the start of service
For the steadfast assurance that nothing can separate us from your love (Romans 8:38-39) and for the courage to stand firm against the assaults of Satan and every evil (Ephesians 6:11-14)

Before the reading of the Gospel Lesson
(Each week we have a reading from the Old Testament other than Psalms, then a prayer from the book of Psalms, a reading from the Epistles, and a reading from the Gospels. Before the gospel is read, the congregation stands and says the following.)
C: There words are written that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. (see John 20:30-31)

The Lord's Prayer
(Matt 6:9-13)

Prayers before the Sacrament
M: Praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In love he has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. (Ephesians 1:3)

(The next portion of the prayer varies by the season of the church year:)
Advent: Through his holy prophets, he promised a King to bring light to those living in darkness and in the shadow of death. (Isaiah 9, esp vv. 1-2)

Christmas: When the time had fully come, he sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Galatians 4:4)

Epiphany: In the past he spoke to us through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, who is the radiance of his glory. (from Hebrews 1:1-3)

Lent: He made his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)

Resurrection/Ascension: He raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms and placed all things under his feet for the benefit of the Church. (from Ephesians 1:20-22)

Sundays after Pentecost: He sends the Holy Spirit to testify that we are his children and to strengthen us when we are weak. (from Romans 8:16, 26)

(General close to the prayer)
Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ. To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and thanks and honor and glory for ever and ever. (Revelation 12:10, 5:13 and others in Revelation)

Holy, holy, holy
(Song preceding communion)
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of your glory. (Isaiah 6:3)
You are my God and I will exalt you, I will give you thanks, for you have become my salvation (Psalm 118:28)
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of your glory. (Isaiah 6:3)

Words of Institution
Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed, too bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.

Then he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." (I Cor 11:23-25)

O Christ, Lamb of God (Agnus Dei)
O Christ, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.
O Christ, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.
O Christ, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world; grant us peace.
(see John 1:29)

Blessing at the end of worship
The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you
The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace. (Numbers 6:22-27).

Is liturgical worship Scriptural?
I suppose it depends on what we mean by "Scriptural". If we mean "commanded by Scripture", then Scripture does not command our worship to be either liturgical or non-liturgical. But if we mean "holding Scripture close and dear, consulting it often and being shaped by it at every turn," then liturgical worship is Scriptural. Just from the parts I have excerpted here, on the average you can expect to hear 12 passages of Scripture during the order of service. This is in addition to the four passages which vary weekly (3 readings and the prayer of a Psalm), and does not count hymns or other songs which vary by week, many of which are also from Scripture, nor the Creeds which also track Scripture closely. That is why I would wish the liturgy on all the churches as a blessing.

If you belong to a non-liturgical church, what do you think: Would you hear more or less Scripture in the average service if you followed the liturgy?


Tony-Allen said...

Well said!

Wonders for Oyarsa said...

An Eastern Orthodox priest I knew used to joke that they ought to re-brand themselves "All Saints Bible Church" - since they recited the Bible so much in the liturgy of their service.

ProclaimingSoftly (PSanafter-thought) said...

I agree with you, but who knows this growing up unless a pastor or Sunday School teacher shows this or explains about the Bible passages. In most hymnals, the scriptural references aren't listed. That wouldn't be hard to do. Why aren't they listed? Is somebody afraid of showing that they are taken out of context, for example?

Weekend Fisher said...

I actually did my Sunday school lesson on this yesterday -- and one of the kids in the class said he had already been criticized by some cousin who attends a "Bible church" about how unBiblical they suppose the liturgy is. I think we have to do a better job explaining the liturgy not only to others but also to our own. The main thing that has stayed with me about my various visits to non-liturgical churches is how much less Bible-focused they are than the liturgical churches. I'd like to think I just had several purely coincidental bad experiences in those different places I've visited. But I'm not at all sure of that.

And I have *really wished* for an index of hymns by Bible passage. That is an overdue project ...

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

ProclaimingSoftly (PSanafter-thought) said...

To reply to what WF said [and I may have actually found the link through one of you or through Platypus]...There was a long listing on the web with items about how some of the emergent and other more modern forms of worship could improve the Sunday service. A couple of the commenters noted that the "improvements" would be what the Lutherans already include in their services.

BruceA said...

Yeah, I've never been able to figure out how reading Scripture during church could be considered unbibical.

My family only occasionally attended church as I was growing up, but it was a moderately liturgical church. At the time I thought liturgy was boring. Then I attended a Lutheran college, attended Lutheran worship services often, and fell in love with the order of worship. It's grown on me ever since.