Why Liturgical Worship?
Hebrews 13:15–16 - Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
In preparation for our conference event next week (Reaching Out from the Word & Sacrament Church with Rev. Garrett Craw), let us consider our worship: “why liturgy?” Why do we worship as we do? Our vision statement says, “We gather to renew our relationship with Him and one another in the Biblical pattern of historic Christian liturgy.” “Liturgy” is a NT term from leitourgia - literally “work of the people” (laos + ergon). It is used of the temple service and order of sacrifices (Heb. 10:11) in the tabernacle (Ex. 28:35) and the temple (2Ch. 31:2). Our word, liturgy, is based on this and means, “an order of events observed.”
1) Why Liturgy? The Necessity of Liturgy - Public assemblies gathered to worship simply cannot avoid a liturgy: “an order of events observed.” All worship services have a “liturgy,” an “order” of events. Scripture says we should plan and execute a biblical liturgy/”order” (euschemenos - “good scheme” - 1Co. 14:40). The concern is to avoid “man-made” or an unbiblical “order of events observed.” Strikingly, the only way we can avoid a “man-made” liturgy is to get our liturgy from Scripture, if possible.
2) Why Liturgy? The Sacrificial Liturgy - The Old Testament provides extensive instruction relating to worship with details and patterns in the sacrificial system of offerings at the Tabernacle (e.g., Lev. 1-10). These inform on the old covenant means of “drawing near” to God. In Lev. 9: “Aaron then brought (qoreb) the offering (qorban, “near bringing”) that was for the people. He took the goat for the people’s sin offering (chattat - “hiding”) and slaughtered it and offered it for a sin offering (yechatte - “hiding/offering”) as he did with the first one. He brought the burnt offering (olah, “ascension”) and offered it in the prescribed way. He also brought the grain offering (mincha, “gift”) took a handful of it and burned it on the altar in addition to the morning’s burnt offering (olah, “ascension”). He slaughtered the ox and the ram as the fellowship (shelem) offering (zevach, “offering/feasting”) for the people . . . . Then Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them.” (Lev 9:15-23 NIV). Lev. 9:22 summarizes: “And having sacrificed the sin offering (chattat), the burnt offering (olah) and the fellowship offering (shelamim), he stepped down.” These are the three basic offerings: the Purification Offering, Ascension Offering (tribute offering/mincha is added to this), then Peace Offering. This sequence is also seen in Hezakiah’s renewal of covenant (2Ch. 29:1–35). “The order of the last group [of sacrifices] was significant...” (IVP NBC). “This order of sacrifices indicates that the congregation first sought expiation for their sins and then celebrated the occasion with a festive meal from the offerings of well-being” (Hartley, WBC). “The order in which they are presented here: always first the sin offering, then the burnt offering with its grain offering, and last, as always, the peace offering. . . Perfect fellowship with God in peace, joy, and life is possible only after one has fully consecrated to God all that one is and produces; but one is unable to consecrate anything to God until one’s sin has been forgiven and the wrath of God against all unrighteousness has been satisfied” (Kaiser, NIB).
3) Why Liturgy? The New Covenant Liturgy - The NT does not provide an explicit liturgy. However, the theological affirmations of the NT provide continuity with the sacrificial liturgy of the OT fulfilled in Christ. The NT describes our actions in terms of the tabernacle/temple “service” (Heb. 10:11/Rom. 9:4- Acts 13:2, Rom. 12:1). We do this now by grasping the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus by faith, such that our “sacrifices” are the fruit of lips (Heb. 13:15-16). Thus our liturgical actions renew our covenantal relationship with the Lord on the Lord’s Day. These steps mirror the original sacrificial liturgy. Just as the OT saints looked forward to the Lamb of God, so Christ has fulfilled each aspect of the sacrificial liturgy in which we participate: Christ is our sin offering, our ascension, and our peace. We are Called into His presence (Heb. 10:24; 1Co. 11:33) to Confess sin (Sin offering, 1Jo. 1:9) so that we Consecrate ourselves (Ascension offering, Rom. 12:1)
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as receive a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more