Why I love the Liturgy

19 02 2010
Truth Matters Newsletters – February 2009 – Vol. 14 Issue 2 – Why I love the Liturgy – by Rev. Bob Liichow

Discernment Ministries International

Why I love the Liturgy

By Vicar Bob Liichow

Every Church is “liturgical” to one degree or another. It is impossible to escape having some set format of worship. Even the charismatic extremists who declare that they worship God in spirit and truth {see John 4:24} end up with some regular worship style.

No matter what denomination you are in there is a set format even in places where they pride themselves on having no “liturgy” they still fall into certain rhythms each Sunday. Offerings are taken at a certain place, so many songs are sung, the sermon is preached here, an altar call is given now, etc.

So the question for us to begin to consider is whose “liturgy” is it we are practicing? Did it come from the direction of God or the creativity of man? One of the things charismatic extremists pride themselves on is striving to practice New Testament Christianity and having a New Testament Church, i.e. having what they consider to be a style of church that is patterned after the Book of Acts. Really what it can be boiled down to is having a format that includes the use of the sign-gifts and accepting the role of restored prophets and apostles giving immediate direction from God the Spirit alone with new revelations and insights from Him. I will readily admit that was part of the history of the early church, but it was not the format of worship expected to be carried on until the return of Jesus for His people.

One thing about God is that He is very specific in all His dealings with mankind. When God interacts with man He does not leave it up to mankind’s fallen abilities to come up with ideas on how God’s will is to be accomplished. A good example of this is seen in God’s dealing with Noah in building the ark,

So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood: make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. Make a roof for it and finish the ark to within 18 inches of the top. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. Genesis 6:13-16

Notice that God did not simply tell Noah to build a “big boat.” He gave him a specific design to follow. God told him what type of wood to use, what type of sealant to caulk the joints with and the exact specifications regarding its size and how many floors it was to have. Noah obeyed God and followed His directions to a “t” and in the end he and his family were saved. There is little dispute over the fact that the ark is a type of the Church; ergo the Church is built and established according to the direction of God. Probably another more familiar example in the Old Testament is found in Exodus 25:

Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you. Have them make a chest of acacia wood-two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide and a cubit and a half high. Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it. Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the chest to carry it. The poles are to remain in the rings of this ark; they are not to be removed. Then put in the ark the Testimony, which I will give you. Exodus 25:8-16.

Notice again that God reveals to Moses exactly how His house of worship is to be constructed. God did not leave it up to Moses to be “creative.” God was so exacting in His details that He even gave specific instructions as to the colors used, the size and weights of the implements and the location of each piece of furniture, etc. It is a fascinating study when one looks at every aspect of the Tabernacle and one can easily see it fulfilled in the life of Jesus. The very structure they worshipped around was a picture of Christ.

As with Noah we see that God had a specific design in mind. He did not tell Moses “worship Me anyway you want.” He gave Moses detailed instruction not only on how the tabernacle itself was to be built, but also specific instruction on how He was to be worshipped within the context of the tabernacle. From the tabernacle in the wilderness up to the Herod’s temple in the life of Jesus we find God’s people worshipping Him according to the pattern (let’s call it the liturgy) He Himself established.

In fact, it is only fair to warn my “anti-liturgical” brethren that they are in somewhat of a surprise when they get to heaven. How so? Where do you think Moses got the pattern for the tabernacle?

In heaven there is the true tabernacle or temple. There is an actual place within heaven where God is worshipped by innumerable angels and people from every tribe, tongue and nation {see Rev. 5:9}. When we get to heaven God has a liturgy for divine worship and a divine temple in which every facet of it undoubtedly declares His awesome splendor as did the copy Moses built on earth, corrupted as it was being made of cursed materials. After all if every part of the earthly tabernacle pointed to Christ how much more the original? If God gave Moses specific directions on how He was to be worshipped do you think when you get to heaven that it will be a free-for-all? I think not because God does not change {see Malachi 3:6} and this is the God who directed the apostle Paul to write “let everything be done decently and in order” {see 1 Corinthians 14:40} so our worship of the Ancient of Days shall be done in an orderly, but no doubt exuberant manner.

Liturgical worship goes back to the Jews and was carried over into the Church by saved Jews. The Jews had a specific format in their temple worship, in the local Synagogues and even at home during the sedar meals or Passover celebration. The order of liturgy used in the Synagogue was this: 1) a reading from the Torah; 2) a psalm; 3) a reading from the Prophets; 4) a reading from Psalms; 5) a reading from the historical writings; 6) a psalm; 7) interpretation of the Word by the Rabbi; 8) the Shema or O.T. creed; 9) the Sanctus and 10) a closing prayer. Conservative Synagogues follow this pattern of worship to this day.

The early Jewish Christians continued to go to the Temple at the hours of prayer {see Acts 3:1} and continued to practice the Jewish liturgy but in light of what Christ had done for them by His sacrificial death, burial and resurrection. Acts 2:46 reminds us they were in one accord daily in the temple. In Acts 5:20 we read that the angel commanded them to go speak in the temple “all the words of this life.” Please keep in mind that Jesus never rebuked the Jews regarding temple worship, He himself went to the temple and into synagogues to worship and teach {see Matthew 13:54}. Oh yes He drove out the money-changers on two occasions but they were in the outer courts and were not part of orthodox Jewish worship.

The early believers in Christ continued to the tradition of their Jewish forefathers, worshiping as they had in both the Temple and the Synagogue. To this worship practice they added the distinctly Christian components which were in fact, transformed Jewish worship practices. These included Baptism,

The early believers in Christ continued in the traditions of their Jewish forefathers, worshiping as they had in both the Temple and the Synagogue. To this worship practice they added the distinctly Christian components which were in fact, transformed Jewish worship practices. These included Baptism, the Eucharist, the Agape meal, and others. Baptism was also present in Jewish religious practice as a personal repentance for sin. Baptism, like the Lord’s Supper, was transformed in both meaning and content by our Lord Jesus Christ. Baptism became not only a repentance for one’s sins, but being baptized in the name of the Trinity now also assured forgiveness and incorporation into the Body of Christ, the Church. Baptism was the once and for all initiatory rite whereby one received the Holy Spirit and came into the Church. (1)

Over time as the Church to include both Jews and Gentiles the liturgy was shaped and re-shaped to focus solely on Christ Jesus while incorporating aspects from the ancient Jewish format,. Historically the Orthodox Church has always been liturgical and still is. Liturgical worship is the original worship format of the earliest Christians who met in homes and which became more formalized as the Church grew and became accepted.

For the first three hundred years of its existence, the Christian Church was illegal and frequently persecuted. Therefore, very ancient liturgical documents before the fourth century are quite limited because the early Church was not “producing” liturgies but focusing on celebrating the Eucharist and surviving persecution. (2)

In the East

Some of the earliest writings concerning liturgical worship can be found in the following texts: The earliest rises in the Eastern Church include the Jerusalem liturgy of St. James, the Alexandrian liturgy of St. Mark, the East Syrian liturgy, the West Syrian liturgy of Antioch, the Armenian liturgy, and the Coptic liturgy and scholars agree all of these agree more than disagree with one another. All of these liturgies were written in the very late 300’s and early 400’s A.D. Liturgical formats began to be written down and codified once the Church was no longer an “illegal” cult and could practice its worship openly, but also as a means to stop heresies and false practices. Two of the earliest liturgies that are still in use today in the Eastern Churches are those of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil.

In the West

The early Church had two main centers of influence, Constantinople (east) and Rome (west). Both centers had formed liturgies reflected their cultures while adhering to some of the ancient Jewish format. We can gain some insight into early western liturgical practice in the following

Who stands in front of the assembly)—presumably the bishop or his designate — preaches a homily. After the gifts of bread and wine are brought forward the president improvises a prayer of thanksgiving or Eucharistic in which all assembled participate with their acclamation of Amen. From the texts of all the later Eucharistic prayers that come down to us, we may assume that this presidential prayer was not freely invented, but followed standard structure and form similar to the Jewish hodayah prayer of praise and thanksgiving. (3)

Around 251 A.D. Latin replaced Greek in the liturgy and a more direct Roman language was used as opposed to the more flowery Greek in the eastern liturgies. The Roman Presbyter Hippolytus gives some detailed accounts of these early Roman liturgical practices.

So we see that from the days of the house church in Jerusalem to those more organized in the Grecian communities up to those communities in Italy and Spain that worship has always followed a liturgical format.

Copyright ©  2009 Robert S. Liichow

End Notes

1. Obtained from http://www.liturgica.com/html/litECLitWEC.jsp on 02-09-09

2. Obtained from http://www.liturgica.com/html/litEOLitEarly.jsp#Heresies on 02-09-09

3. Ibid. Underlining and bolding added for emphasis

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