Perhaps the title of this article puzzles you. What is the liturgy of life? By this I am suggesting that Christians must recover the comprehensive view of living life before the face of God. The church must diligently call her members to view life as an opportunity to work out the Word proclaimed from the pulpit each Sunday. Like Moses’ face radiated the glory of God when he came down the mountain, our lives must radiate the reality of our worship service: that each Lord’s Day, God announces the glory of the gospel to His covenant people.
To revive the liturgy of life, we must restore the centrality of the church’s worship. In doing this there are two prominent errors to avoid. The first is thinking that worship is exclusively a “church” activity. The second is thinking that everyone is a church-unto-himself. These errors are not as foreign as they may appear. If you listen closely to the conversations of others and examine your own conscience, you will hear these ideas portrayed in a variety of ways.
Those who think that worship is restricted to a “church” activity mean that they can meet God on Sundays and live how they please the remaining days of the week. This ultimately is the root of hypocrisy which leads to cold formalism. It stems from the idea that God is served formally. That is, as long as I have the proper formula of 1 + 6, I have my relationship with God nailed down. One day is for God.
The other six are mine. This makes Sunday and the gathering of God’s people a disjunction of the week. Like a toothache that comes and goes, the day of worship is something to be endured rather than a source of joy and delight. For many, even the consecration of an entire day as God’s holy day has been reduced to an hour of worship. In this way the disruption in the commerce of life can be minimized. This distortion is excused this way; “We’ve given God what He wants; now we can get on with life.”
The second error is intensely individualistic. The church-in-worship is not God gathering His people, but a gathering of godly people. Christians are not members of one body, but members with their own body. It lays stress on the informal and exalts the individual and his/her gifts. Sunday worship is something the members agree to do all together so that I can serve the Lord better. It is the means to the greater end of my salvation.
This error looks at worship through utilitarian eyes. If it’s useful and beneficial I will attend. The church’s worship is merely a step-ping-stone. Where and how I worship depends on what benefits me and what helps me serve the Lord. The Christian life is like a battery. Worship becomes the place where I have my batteries recharged. For some this means the church of yesteryear is obsolete, we need new models and new methods. This fits well with the consumerism of our society. It tends toward audience-tailored worship rather than God-centered, God-focused and Word-dependent worship.
To avoid these two errors, we need to connect the corporate worship of the church to the private life of the individual. How do we do this? The most significant connection that we can make is recognizing that the liturgy of corporate worship reflects both a view of God and a view of life as members of His body. My intention in this article is not to offer a full biblical defense for worship. Rather, being fully convinced of the Biblical character and necessity of reformed worship, I offer these reflections as a means to help Christians integrate worship with weekly life and vice versa.
To do this some definitions are necessary. The first term that requires a definition is corporate worship. Corporate worship is when God’s covenant people officially assemble to reflect back to Him the radiance of His worth. There are some elements of this definition which require further comment. According to the American Heritage Dictionary the term “worship” comes from the Old English “weorthscipe” or “worth-ship”. We are called to assemble as God’s people to praise and honor Him for His worth.
1 Chronicles 16:8-36 resounds with the summons for this activity. What God’s people must recognize is that in Him they live and move and have their being (Acts 17:28). Their entire life is a reflection of God’s sovereign care as He preserves and protects them from week to week. The loving and caring God of the Bible is the only One worth our worship. We must reflect His worth. That is worship. In worship the focus must shift from “me” to “Him”. We are to reflect the radiance of God’s glory. What is amazing in this context is the privilege that God affords to His people. He does not need our worship (Acts 17:25), yet He invites/calls His people to gather for this purpose.
How does this invitation come? It comes from God’s word through the overseers or elders of the congregation. This is what makes corporate worship an official activity. Similarly it is the assembly of God’s people. There is a covenantal relationship between those worshipping and the God who is worshipped. This helps to understand the role that each party (God and His people) plays in the actions of worship. These actions are best understood as a conversation or a dialogue between the two parties. In this dialogue God is present and speaks by His Word through an ordained servant and His people respond to His Word.
The components of worship are what we call the liturgy. This is the second term that requires a definition. Liturgy is a term used in the Old Testament to refer to the work of the priests in connection with the tabernacle and temple. With the Reformational emphasis on the priesthood of all believers, this term came to be associated with the worship of the church. Thus we can say that the liturgy of the church is the work which God and His people perform in corporate worship. This has direct implications for the order of worship.
The order of worship is what is normally printed in our bulletins. The order of worship is a schedule of events. It is the description of God’s dialogue with His people with each party doing their part.
To better understand our order of worship, it is helpful to recognize the overarching structure of this conversation. The liturgy of God’s people can be broken down into several components: a service of praise; confession; petition; Word; and gratitude. In what follows is a brief description of these components and how they help connect worship with life during the week.
The components of the liturgy are:
Praise – We are urged by the inspired Psalmist “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name” (Ps. 100:4). The service of praise is how we enter worship. The gracious character of God’s call to converse with Him in worship should fill our hearts with praise.
Confession – There are two types of confession employed in our services. The confession of sin and the confession of faith. The confession of sin comes after the reading of God’s law. God’s law is holy, righteous and good (Rom. 7:12). It is a reflection of who God is and how God’s people are to live. It convicts as well as it directs our life of sanctification. Thus a confession of our own sinfulness is an appropriate response to God’s law.
God’s people who live in the light of His holy law are penitent people. We live by grace received through faith which causes us to cling to God’s promise that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). The confession of sin is also a confession of faith. By confessing our sins before God we believe that He will wash us and cleanse us from our sins. That’s the gospel. This gospel is summarized in the teaching of the Apostles’ creed. This is the Church’s historic confession. A confession that is to be believed in the heart and proceed from the mouth of every Christian (cf. Rom. 10:9).
Prayer – The service of prayer is almost a mini-liturgy in itself. There is adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. Typically, the prayer is offered by the minister. He is not praying by himself, however. He is praying on behalf of the congregation. It is for this reason that he should use collective language. That is, he should pray as if the congregation were speaking using we, rather than I. (i.e. We pray that You…, Not, I pray that You…).
Word - The service of the word is best understood as the work of God’s people hearing the word in faith. Listening with a believing heart to the word is an act of worship. It is the way that we reflect the radiance of God’s worth. It is the source of spiritual life and growth for the Christian (Rom. 10:14–17). It is the way that the Holy Spirit takes the imperishable seed of the gospel and plants it in the hearts of God’s people (cf. Mt. 13:23; 1 Peter 1:23–25). This is the pinnacle of worship. It is the time when God’s people are brought into the most intimate conversation with God and have opened up to them the mystery of His will through the person and work of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:9,10, 13).
Gratitude – The service of gratitude is the response of God’s people to His present work of redemption through the proclamation of the word. We respond primarily by offering ourselves as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). We also offer gifts of gratitude that we may support the work of the ministry of the Word and share the burdens of fellow Christians (1 Cor. 9:12).
These five components should be reflected in every order of worship. One question remains, how does this affect the daily life of a church member? It is fundamental that we recognize what we are doing in corporate worship in order to avoid the hypocrisy of formalism and the arbitrariness of individualism. We must have a reason for all that we do in worship. John Calvin warns that if we worship God in any way without knowing why, we are engaged in superstition. For this reason I have attempted to outline the main reasons why our worship is the way it is.
The best way to overcome the formalism of worship is to understand what we are doing and why. The liturgy is not a formality but must be recognized as the reflection of our intimate relationship with a Sovereign God. The liturgy is the service of God’s people under the direction and oversight of the elders. This also avoids making the worship of the church arbitrary (i.e. it’s just what we feel like for the week). Worship is the arena where we pursue the glory of God above all else. This is not arbitrary but must be regulated by what God teaches in His word.
Finally, we must put the liturgy of our corporate worship into the extended service of our private lives. Our lives as individuals are to flow out of the reality of our membership in the body of Christ. Here is the wonder of knowing what liturgy is all about. We can reflect the radiance of God’s worth through the week when we make the components of worship the display of our daily lives. This is how we are called to live as Christians. Our lives are to reflect the components of praise, confession, prayer, the Word and gratitude. No worship is complete without these components, and no life is complete without them either.
How do we incorporate the liturgy of the church in personal lives? Self-consciously examining our lives to see if they reflect these elements. This is the way Christians can show that they have been in the presence of the Lord: by showing with their lives the components of praise, confession, prayer, the Word, and thanksgiving. From the greatest endeavors to the most menial, these are an opportunity to reflect the truth that a Christian lives for the service of God. His daily life flows from his worship. That is the liturgy of life.
Rev. Peter Kloosterman is the pastor of the Grace URC in Waupun, Wisconsin.