Into Liturgy: My 5 Reasons Why Liturgical Worship Matters

I belong to a Southern Baptist church. I know it sounds strange for a member of an SBC church to advocate for a liturgy style worship but I was truly astounded on my first visit. Over the past two years, I’ve been studying Lutheranism, and along with it a lot of the early church fathers’ views on worship and the sacraments. Though I’m not a member of a Lutheran church I highly enjoyed my experience at one last year when my family and I attended for a few weeks.

I had been captivated by the use of the Sacraments, order of worship, and the soaking of Scripture that is present within liturgical worship. The sacredness of the entire service was joyful and a refreshing change to the modern-driven, program-saturated, and fluffy “Christian” songs that are typical of most Evangelical mainstream churches. With that in mind, I would like to offer my five reasons why I believe Liturgical services, especially those that incorporate a lectionary, are superior to most modern worship services.

1. No Pressure on the Pastor

If you’re a pastor or one who teaches regularly you understand the pressures of planning and executing a sermon/lesson each week. In a liturgical setting that uses a lectionary, the pressure to come up with the next “big sermon” is eradicated. That’s because the lectionary is a guide in and of itself. It gives several options of Scripture from which to draw the sermon. While I don’t have a hard copy of a lectionary check out the screenshot below from one of the lectionaries in my Logos collection.

Lectionary Passages to Preach from

You can observe that there is an Old Testament, a Psalm, an Epistle, and a Gospel reading. The pastor will choose one of these four passages to preach from. This keeps things in line and ensures that the pastor doesn’t go off on a tangent or personal soapbox, as has been many a person’s experiences, including my own. Lectionaries are a wonderful guide and it keeps the flow of preaching nicely all year long.

2. Liturgical Services Follow the Church Calendar

This is much like the first point. Lectionaries follow the Church calendar, marking the seasons and times of the year. There’s no need, then for the pastor to come up with a Christmas service or Easter sermon every year. And the cool thing is that the lectionary is divided into these seasons automatically.

Lectionary Church Calendar

As you can see the services are conveniently divided by the calendar and provide the Scripture and service details according to the different seasons. This makes it quite easy to choose a text and study and prepare for the sermon. Of course, most will chide the idea and state that simply choosing a book of the Bible and preaching expositorily through it (vers-by-verse) would be far superior. While I agree that expository preaching is the best way to present Scripture, using a lectionary does not do away with it. The preacher may still preach in this fashion. The only difference is that the congregation is getting a well-rounded view of Scripture rather than waiting 1-2 years, depending on the length of the book, to move along to the next portion of Scripture.

3. No Smoke & Mirrors

Most worship services I’ve been in have a high-focus priority on entertainment. The choir sings, the soloist solos while the congregation sit back, smile, and clap when the performance is done. It’s all seemingly harmless and most would say it falls under the scope of Christian Liberty. But there’s something a little sinister (at least to me) about applauding a performance in a setting where the focus should solely be on one Person. Consider the video below of North Point’s Christmas Eve service back in 2016.

This video represents the extreme of self-centered worship but there are far too many churches adapting worldly measures in the name of reaching people. The Body of Christ is supposed to gather in order to pray, encourage one another, and be equipped to go into the world and make disciples. While I certainly believe there is a place for singing (I’m not referring to congregational singing) and artistic expression I hold the view that the worship service should be as sacred as possible. Call me legalistic, but many of the things I’ve experienced in some churches is inappropriate, in my opinion.

4. Congregational Participation

This sounds a little strange. I’m not talking about singing as a congregation or giving to the Church financially. I’m strictly speaking of the Sacraments ordained by the church, namely Absolution & Confession, the Eucharist, and Baptism. During these times, and especially the former two, each congregant participates in a personal way that is very meaningful. This participation then becomes participation, not just in the worship service itself, but in the body of Christ, along with His atoning work and redemption. This was probably the best part of my experience at a liturgical service. The reality of the Godhead and His grace washed my soul anew and I walked out of the service refreshed and exhilarated

5. Scripture Soaking

My favorite reason and argument for liturgical worship is the amount of Scripture present within it. From the time the service began until it ended I was soaked with Scripture. I understand most Evangelical churches base their services around the Word, but truthfully I’m accustomed to hearing only the Scripture passage of the sermon read and then other Scriptures read for support of the sermon text. For the Christian, the Word of God is life! It is what we base our doctrine, practice, and all of life upon. And the amount of Scripture I received was astounding. Along with the catechism book I received upon my initial visit I am always surrounded in the Word of God. The catechism book is one that I’ve been reading to my children at night. It is neatly divided into sections for easy reading.

A Lutheran Service Hymnal has all the Scriptural & responsive readings for the Sunday listed in the Church calendar.

Liturgical Worship was a change for me. I walked in the first time not really knowing what to expect. To be honest, my expectation was that it would be some kind of quasi cult-like ceremony with foreign chanting and figures walking in, dressed in ceremonial robes. But what I found was a God-honoring, sacred assembly of God’s people meeting together to bring glory to the King of Kings. What I experienced was a realization of the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s work and atonement. I’m not saying those things weren’t just as real as they were at my other church. I’m simply pointing out that at a liturgical service I saw those things more clearly than I ever had.

A lot of folks would disagree, and that’s okay. The conclusion for me is that a liturgical service is much more structured, sacred, Scripture-focused, and participatory. I would encourage you to find a church with liturgical worship and at least attend a couple of times. You may just end up coming to the same conclusion that I have. Have a wonderful Lord’s Day and a happy Father’s Day to all you dads!

Considering Context – Psalm 46:10

This week’s Considering Context looks at a popular meditation/peace verse.

Psalm 46:10  Be still and know that I am God.

The Perceived Meaning of the Text

I often hear this verse interpreted as a means for quiet meditation on God in order to bring peace to oneself. To be sure, a peaceful, quiet assurance of God is certainly thematic but that is only true, partially, as we will see by examining the full context of this Psalm.

The Text in its Original Context

There are are a lot of factors that need to be considered when we interpret the Psalms. The most important factor is the type of genre one is reading. Because the Psalms are poetry they must be interpreted within the poetic genre. And Hebrew poetry is much different from  English poetry.

Hebrew poetry typically uses parallelisms and structure rather than rhyme in its composition. This may seem a bit odd to us but in an ancient context this style greatly aided in memory since many of these psalms were used during the worship at the tabernacle. When interpreting the Psalms and any type of Hebrew poetry it is a good practice to understand some of the basics. Before moving on to the the interpretation we will spend a little time looking at the basics of Hebrew poetry. For more information I would highly recommend Dr. Mark Futato’s book Interpreting the Psalms.

Parallelism is the major defining factor in Hebrew poetry. Scholars have identified several, but the three major categories are synonymous, antithetic, and synthetic. Each will be briefly discussed: 

  1. Synonymous – this parallelism has two lines of text that mean the same thing but said in different ways. Psalm 33:2 is a good example

    Ⓐ Give thanks to the Lord Ⓑ with the lyre; Ⓐ make melody to him Ⓑ with the harp of ten strings!
  2. Antithetic – this is when two lines are contrasted, showing what one is or should be and what the other should not be. Psalm 1:6 illustrates this form of parallelism

    for Ⓐ the Lord knows Ⓑ the way of the righteous, but Ⓑ the way of the wicked Ⓐ will perish.
  3. Synthetic – often times the author will make a statement and then develop or further elaborate the point. This development is known as synthetic parallelism. Psalm 147:16-17 is synthetic in nature. The explanation of line B is that no one stands before His power, which is pictured as cold and snow. 

    Ⓐ He gives snow like wool; Ⓐ he scatters frost like ashes. Ⓐ He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; Ⓑ who can stand before his cold?

Structure is also an important theme in Hebrew poetry. Like parallelism the structure is usually categorized three different ways.

Acrostic – each new line or stroph begins with the next successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Psalm 119 is an excellent example of this style. As you can see the first eight verses begin with the letter Aleph and the next eight begin with the letter Bet. This pattern will follow until the end of the Hebrew alphabet has been reached.

Chiastic – the parallels in this structure branch out to a central theme. Then the parallels are reversed until reaching the conclusion. See the screenshot below for an example.

Strophic – this is more of a thematic type of poetry where the lines are grouped together by themes to conclude to a main theme. Note the the thematic elements of the grouped lines in the below Psalm. They culminate in the Lord being the Psalmist’s refuge.

Though it seems a bit much to review all of this it is necessary when interpreting the context for our Psalm. Now, we can look at it in its entirety and interpret it correctly.

The first thing to be noted is that the Psalm is usually not quoted in its entirety. The full text of the Psalm is, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

As you see this verse is a little bit more than simply being still and meditating on God. Our Psalm is of the chiastic structure, paralleling ideas to a central theme and then reversing the parallels. To understand the structure more fully it would be helpful to see the entire Psalm laid out.

As you can see, the Psalm peaks at verse 6: the nations rage, the kingdoms tooter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The context of the Psalm can be found in 2Chron 20:1-30, when Jehoshaphat is king and the destruction of Jerusalem seems imminent. God gave His people a remarkable deliverance and this Psalm was written as the response. The culmination at verse 6 is God winning the victory for Jerusalem. This is the theme or central portion of the Psalm, not meditating on God.

Verse 10 falls in parallel to verse 2. Looking a little closer at these two verses helps us even more with the context. verses 2 and 10 state, respectively,

2 Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.

10 Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. 

Examining these two verses side-by-side we quickly see how they relate to one another. Jerusalem is in danger! But the God of Jacob is our refuge, and because He is we won’t be afraid. Be silent and watch God work. He will overthrow our enemies and His Name will be exalted over all the earth.

The second part of our interpretation must deal with the type of parallelism found in verse 10. Synthetic parallels state a single point and then develop or expound upon that idea. Verse 10 is synthetic and the parallel can be seen below.

The parallels are marked with the letters ‘a’ and ‘b.’ Since synthetics expound the meaning of the original statement we must then ask what it means to be still and know the He is God. The two following lines explain the meaning. It is God’s exaltation upon the earth, plain and simple.

The Application of the Text

This might seem to be a killjoy for some because they have clung to this verse during the chaotic times of their lives. While we cannot claim a meditative peace for Psalm 46:10 we can certainly know that God watches over His people and that His deliverance of them will bring greatness to His Name throughout the entire earth.