A few weeks ago, we began our third session on “The Dangerous Act of Worship.” These sessions have allowed us to discuss worship in a way that is both educational and challenging. I hope this article will also educate and challenge, and perhaps encourage you to think more deeply about worship.
Each week, Christians in churches across the world gather for worship, and when they worship, there is, for most of them, a set order for how the service unfolds. The traditional word for this unfolding is “liturgy.” Derived from a Greek word that means, literally, “the work of the people,” liturgy allows us to express our worship actions in numerous ways. Having this reliable, familiar set order for worship can also bring comfort. We know what comes next in the service and we can anticipate our response.
So what happens when things are out of order? Is our worship somehow less worthy? In 1 Corinthians 14:40, the apostle Paul writes that “all things should be done decently and in order.” Worship studies scholar John Witvliet has written that, “Scripture does not mandate a specific order of worship. And having a certain order of worship does not ensure that worship will be authentic, biblical, honest, and alive … [T]hat said … a well-conceived order of worship ensures that the main purposes of worship are carried out. In other words, a thoughtful pattern for worship maintains its integrity as worship. It protects worship from degenerating into a performance, into entertainment, or into an educational lecture.” Witvliet provides a wonderful chart that I will share with you below that helps explain the ways in which Christian worship functions as an ongoing dialogue. “God’s words are first, inviting us to worship, and we respond,” writes Witvliet, “[reflecting that] worship is a conversation between God and the gathered community.”
Obviously, what Witvliet offers here is not a prescription for how worship has to be, but rather a resource to help us better understand how we communicate in worship. It is my prayer that our worship will always bring us closer to God – and in turn, closer to one another.
May the peace of Christ be with you. Tim