January 2, 2012


Part 1 in a series on the church's "liturgy"

Liturgy. Sometimes it almost comes across as a bad word in evangelical circles. We hear the word and immediately imagine bells and smells, robes and rites, hats and holy water. These forms of worship are often part and parcel of what are called liturgical churches. We, however – along with most other gospel-preaching churches – have none of the above. By design, our services are fairly simple … and free of elements not found in the New Testament. But the fact that we are not a liturgical church does not mean we have no liturgy. After all, the word liturgy simply means ‘order of worship’ – and of course we have that! We do have a liturgy!

So there are liturgical churches – so called because of their focus on liturgy, ceremony, and so on. Then there are non-liturgical churches, like ours – so called, not because they have no liturgy, but because they intentionally desire that their order of worship be biblically simple. We might compare the difference to a woman’s choice of vase for her dining room table. She can choose a vase that is itself a work of art – so that her dinner guests leave her home admiring both the vase, and the lily placed in it. Or she can be so taken up with the beauty of the flower itself that she intentionally selects an understated vase – so that the flower, not the container, is what her friends remember when they rise from the meal.

We have deliberately chosen the understated vase, when it comes to our worship – not because we are plain and simple folk, but because we believe that Jesus, “the lily of the valley,” is far more worthy of attention than the container in which we lift Him up week by week. We want an order or worship that simply holds Him up for all to see, rather than attracting attention to itself.

That does not mean, however, that we have no order or structure to what we do. Every flower needs a vase. Nor does the simplicity of the vase we have chosen mean that our order of worship should be homespun, slapdash, or off-the-cuff. There is a difference between a simple vase and an ugly, poorly chosen one! So the goal of our weekly liturgy is to provide structure with simplicity; to create beauty, but understatedly so.

Hence, a good bit of thought goes into each week’s orders of worship. A good deal of biblical insight has also been given to us on these matters. The Bible is concerned about liturgy – not the precise order in which particular things are done, but the fact that certain elements ought to be a part of New Testament worship (things like prayer, the public reading of Scripture, the preaching of the word, the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and the collection of offerings).

Over the next few weeks, my plan is to use this space to walk through each of the elements of our particular liturgy – explaining why we do what we do, what we hope to accomplish by it, and so on. My hope is that, if we understand what we are doing and why, we might be all the more moved to do it well – with an elegance and beauty that befit the lily of the valley; but also with a simplicity that keeps the attention centered on Him! Will you join me in this pursuit of structured simplicity and understated beauty?


Anonymous said...

O Kurt! Thank you for this. And I am already looking forward to what you will write. The vase illus is helpful--Christ in us, our hope of glory...the church-the pillar and ground of the Truth...lots of good thoughts immediately swirling 'round my mind! love to all the family,

Kurt Strassner said...

Thanks Ms. Kathy. I always appreciate your comments and encouragement. May the Lord bless your Lord's Day tomorrow!