Pagan Christianity Discussion – The order of worship: Sunday mornings set in concrete

This is the fifth installment of our series covering Pagan Christianity, the book by Frank Viola and George Barna. In this post we look at their chapter on the order of worship. Their basic question is: “Why have we been doing basically the same things in church every Sunday for the last 500 hundred years when they are mostly not found in the bible and also often unhelpful?” The authors claim that, despite slight variations, most Protestant Christians across the world go through the same predictable rituals every time they attend church – rituals closer to those of Roman Catholicism than they realize.

They assert that the last church service you went to probably contained most of the following elements (and probably in this order):

  • The greeting
    “As you enter the building, you are greeted by an usher or appointed greeter – who should be smiling! You are then handed a bulletin or announcement page.”
  • Prayer or scripture reading
    “Usually given by the pastor or song leader”
  • The song service
    “Led by a professional song leader, choir or worship team. In charismatic-styled churches, this part of the service typically lasts thirty to forty-five consecutive minutes. In other churches, it is shorter and may be divided into several segments.
  • Announcements
    “News about upcoming events. Usually given by the pastor or some other leader.”
  • The offering
    “Usually accompanied by special music by the choir, worship team or a soloist.”
  • The sermon
    “This is the highlight. Typically the pastor delivers an oration lasting twenty to forty-five minutes. One or more of the following post-sermon activities may be included: a pastoral prayer, an altar call, singing led by the choir or worship team, the Lord’s Supper and praying for the sick or afflicted.”
  • The benediction
    “This may be in the form of a blessing from the pastor or song to end the service.”

The authors find this incredible: “With some minor rearrangements, this has been the unbroken liturgy that 345 million Protestants across the globe observe religiously week after week. And for the last five hundred years, few people have questioned it. Look again at the order of worship. Notice that it includes a three-fold structure: (1) singing, (2) sermon and (3) a closing prayer or song. This order of worship is viewed as sacred by many present-day Christians. But why? Again, it is simply due to the titanic power of tradition. And that tradition has set the Sunday morning service in concrete for five centuries… never to be moved… you can scour your bible from beginning to end and you will never find anything that remotely resembles our order of worship” (page 50).

The reason you will find no order of service in the bible, say the authors, is that the first Christians knew nothing about such a thing. Their meetings were a fluid gathering, not a static ritual. They could be unpredictable and spontaneous, unlike most churches today. So from which eras in church history do the elements of our order of service come from then (see here for more on the eras)?

The Jewish, Greek and Roman eras
Interestingly, fixed orders of worship are such a late development in the history of the church that the first two eras contributed very little to our current day church service. According to Viola and Barna, many Christians assume church services were modelled on the 1st century Jewish synagogue – but this is simply incorrect historically. Besides, they say, synagogues have no biblical precedent and were actually developed during Israel’s exile in Babylon. Actually, during both the Jewish and Greek eras of the church there was no order of service as we know it. There may have been apostolic traditions, but there was no prescribed pattern like we have today.

Fixed church programs came as a much later development (even later than the closure of the New Testament canon) – after the conversion of the Roman Empire. The first one was what we now call the medieval Catholic Mass which originated with Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century AD. Gregory was apparently a highly superstitious man who was heavily influenced by pagan magical concepts as well as Christianity. He decided to create the Mass ‘church service’ using a blend of pagan and Judaic rituals sprinkled with Catholic theology and Christian vocabulary.  It wasn’t a pattern passed down from Jesus or his apostles, it was a programmed theatrical performance steeped in Gentile mysticism and Greek drama. With the introduction of the Mass, more than half a millennium after Christ, Christianity inherited its first prescribed liturgy with pagan clothing for the priests, pagan incense and holy water for purification, candles for worship, the architecture of the Roman basilica for a venue and much more. Amazingly, this official order of service for the Roman Empire remained mostly unchanged for another thousand years during the dark ages until the Reformation led to a campaign against it.

The European era
As an alternative to the Roman Catholic Mass, famous reformers such as Martin Luther, Ulricht Zwingli and John Calvin actually wrote out strict lists and programs (like the one given above!) for their churches to follow every Sunday. Again, these changes were not derived from the New Testament church recorded in Scripture, they were just the Mass repackaged. Luther’s main problem with the Mass was the idea that Jesus was being sacrificed again for sins at every service during the Eucharist, which he said was based on an inaccurate understanding of the cross. He set forth revisions to the Mass which remain the foundation for most Protestant church services today. In a nutshell, Luther made preaching the centre of the gathering instead of the Eucharist. He replaced the altar table with the pulpit. It is Luther who gets the credit for making the sermon the climax of the Protestant order of service, even though this actually has no biblical precedent (according to the authors). On a positive note, he also introduced congregational singing and changed the Mass from Latin into the common language of the people. Most of the other reformers used Luther’s basic liturgy with slight adjustments. Zwingli, for example, replaced the Catholic altar table and doctrine of transubstantiation with the Protestant “communion table” and symbolic view of the bread and wine.

John Calvin, despite making many positive contributions, also caused a lot of damage according to Viola and Barna. His order of service was even more focused on the sermon than Luther, and his preaching was intensely individualistic, theological and academic. Although he allowed acapella, he was fiercely against instrumental music and choir singing in services. Rather, he encouraged Christians to embrace a quiet, somber, self-critical attitude as repentant ‘sinners’ before a great and austere God. Probably the most disastrous aspect of Calvin’s order of service, however, was that he personally controlled practically the whole service from the pulpit. According to Viola and Barna, Christianity has still not fully recovered from all these unbiblical influences. Unfortunately, Luther and company still retained the underlying formalism of the Catholic ceremony. The meetings were still controlled by ordained clergy with a predetermined program and the people were still passive spectators (besides the singing). There was seemingly no desire to return to the open (Holy Spirit led) and participatory (every-member functioning) meetings seen in the New Testament.

The Anglo-American era
In the next four centuries the structure of church services was heavily influenced by revivals led by famous evangelists such as George Whitfield, John Wesley, Charles Finney and D. L. Moody. In America, George Whitfield redefined the purpose of preaching with his famous outdoor crusades. To Whitfield, sermons were almost exclusively about making individual converts. Following his example, churches across the country were now becoming solely focused on ‘winning souls’ and God’s ‘wonderful plan for your life’. Music began to be seen as an emotional tool that could be designed to soften people for conversion, and almost all evangelists had a musician on their team for this purpose. The Methodists in England, with the help of Charles Wesley’s hymns, also introduced a much more emotional dimension to their services where loud and vigorous singing was encouraged and made more prominent. Unfortunately, more emphasis began to be placed on the individual experience of church and less on the corporate nature of gatherings. This was also the era of the “altar call”, popularized by Charles Finney in the 19th century, where people were asked to respond to the sermon and come forward to the platform for prayer. Finney’s influence on church services is still massive today. He turned evangelism into a science, which has contributed to the manipulative and ‘seeker friendly’ methods of ministry commonly practiced in modern church services. Finney was a pragmatist – he believed that it didn’t matter how we do church “as long as it works”.  Following along this trend, D.L. Moody was the person responsible for introducing the method of asking people to follow in the ‘sinner’s prayer’ to become a Christian. Billy Graham perfected this technique, including the steps of raising ones hands “while everyone closes their eyes”. It was also during the time of Moody that Christians first began to be concerned with saving as many people as possible before the world ends. Interestingly, although church services across the world were changing drastically in their approach and emphasis, they still stuck to the basic structure handed down from Martin Luther. The surface was altered, but the roots remained in Gregory’s Mass.

Riding on the back of the revivals, the last century has seen the rise of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements which have brought more emphasis on the leading of the Holy Spirit during services. However, just like their revivalist predecessors, they are highly subjective and individualistic. And just like all the rest before them, they still retain the same basic order of worship. They are still officiated and directed by clergyman, they still make the sermon central and the people are still unable to minister to each other. Protestants have made major breaks away from Catholic doctrine, but they have never fully broken away from the liturgical constraints inherited from Rome. In terms of the actual practice of church, there have been many adjustments but no vital change.

Viola and Barna claim that a fixed order of service is not rooted in the bible, but that it is pagan and therefore unnecessary. Do you agree?

They also seem to think that a fixed program is restricting and perhaps even harmful because the Holy Spirit is not free to lead the meeting and members cannot participate. Do you experience it like that, or do you find a structured approach is more helpful or enjoyable than an unstructured approach to worship?


30 thoughts on “Pagan Christianity Discussion – The order of worship: Sunday mornings set in concrete

  1. Ok. I just spent half an hour writing a response – and somehow managed to delete it.

    But basically, I disagree with their claim that some of the points (there are some minor sub-points that I might agree with) listed above are pagan in origin.
    It is recorded on several occasions that when the congregation of Israel met, the Scriptures were read publically in their hearing, by a priest or other teacher of similar stature. In NT times, there were people who had the task of teaching Scripture – the Rabbis.
    Interestingly, the people recognised that the Lord Jesus Christ had an absolute authority to his teaching which was lacking from even their most learned teachers.
    In OT times they also sang Psalms together – which were led by the professional musicans that David set apart specifically for this task. (eg particularly the temple.)

    Order does not prevent the Holy Spirit from working. Can anything prevent God from working out his plans, ever? There is far more to this than just this question.
    What edifies the believer and results in God being glorified? And, what framework of meeting together to declare God’s praise do we find in the Bible, where it does reveal anything about this?

    The Reformers did not simply keep the Mass of Rome – they rejected those parts that were unbiblical, and they certainly went back far past the 6th c. AD! Fixed ‘programs’ – specifically centred around the worship of God, and the reading of his Word – were around in the 2nd c. AD already – I’ll post an extract from Justin Martyr (1st half of 2nd c) when I can to substantiate this.

    • As promised.
      Please note how this places emphasis on united worship, apparently led by a particular person. Note the emphasis on the reading of God’s Word, and the exposition thereof – i.e. a sermon… . most of the points that PC picks on above as being ‘innovations’ by the Reformers, or things copied from the Romish Mass are found in this one passage from about 140 AD.
      The Reformers did not “play down” the importance of the Lord’s Table – which is the impression that PC/your summary above gives. So the comment below is also applicable in light of this. God’s Word written and and the Word of God made man and crucified for the forgiveness of our sin – which is remembered in communion – are the proper centre of the gathering for worship, praise and thanksgiving, and this is what the Reformers strove to achieve in their services.

      Ante Nicene Fathers (ANF) vol I
      Justin Martyr – 1st Apology Ch 67 – written around 140 AD
      Chapter LXVII.—Weekly worship of the Christians
      “… And on the day called Sunday, * all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place *, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. …”

  2. Thanks for the comment, I would be interested in any historical facts you can add! I would tend to agree with your point on congregational singing being biblical rather than pagan. I might have been a bit unfair on the authors on that point – they do say that singing stands out as the one participatory aspect of modern services, although they lament that it is not more ‘open’ so as to allow people to contribute with a song (as it seems they were encouraged to do in Paul’s churches). Like you say, this ‘new’ way of gathering does sound different to how it was done in the ‘old’ Temple, which is interesting. Similarly, the congregation of Israel on irregular occasions might not have a direct relevance to NT church meetings. I am not sure.

    It seems you are concerned for the reading of Scripture – I am sure that the authors would agree with you on the need for bible teaching. But they are making the point that the method of teaching the bible through weekly monologue sermons (as well as making these sermons the climax of a meeting at the expense of other participatory elements of ministry) is not found in Acts or the epistles. As to your difficult question about order preventing the Holy Spirit from working; my opinion is that we definitely can quench the Holy Spirit like Paul said. Jesus might remove our lamp stand. When that happens, I guess we are the ones that lose not God.

    • Howdy howdy.

      So, two quick comments:

      I think one of the main elements of early Christian gatherings we miss is prayer. Prayer. Prayer. Prayer. How we so often neglect this most privileged and powerful exercise.

      Today, prayer is boring. To be done before meals. Or when unexpected, terrible things happen. It’s not how downtime should be spent. Downtime is for TV shows, netsurfing (that is, if you have fast internet…ha), Angry Birds, and sleep.

      I think we forfeit so much power and oneness in our local gatherings due to our neglect of prayer—in both our bedrooms and our respective sanctuaries.

      Second comment.

      I agree with the authors: our over-reliance on a single man to explain “the mysteries of the Bible” to us is to our demise, as 1) it places an ungodly (as in unhealthy) emphasis on one man’s heart, mind, and strength, 2) it encourages sluggishness among the “lay” people, and 3) which dovetails with 1), it elevates one man’s reading over sometimes Scripture itself, detracting from the living nature of God’s Spirit-inspired words to teach, rebuke and encourage for themselves.

      Basically, I think we should have a lot more boring services where we sit around and read, and read, and read—but only after prayer, and breaks for prayer and closure with prayer.

      These two elements, I think, have been swapped for things like predictability (e.g. what song we singing next, and when are we gonna get to go eat lunch?), efficiency (e.g. an emotional appeal can best be fabricated by following this song with this one and a 2 min testimony with video), quantification (e.g. how many people were baptized last year compared to this year), etc.

      In the end, it seems to me that we’ve traded the Wind for control.

      • Hi krislyle, good to hear from you. What you said about the wind really struck me. Can the Wind be forced to blow, or sent in a desired direction? And if you wanted to direct Him, wouldn’t that mean that you fundamentally don’t LIKE Him? The issue of control is at the heart of our human condition. The scary thought is, what if we took our Sunday service structure away? Would there be even a breath of Wind left?

        • Exactly. Your last two questions get straight to my point:

          I think we’ve opted out of following the Spirit—letting the Spirit be the wind—in exchange for a largely controlled, fabricated experience.

          (“Experience” being another carefully chosen word, as it seems our economics of Materialism have turned from people-buying-products to people-buying-experiences. This new form of economics, of course, finds its way into the church through manipulating a service that offers a grande experience for the attendees.)

          I’m not trying to be cynical or doom-and-gloomy, and I don’t think we’ve opted out completely for control in place of the Spirit—just to a large extent, I think we have and it’s starting to bite us in the butt.

          We—the church—lead spirit-less, power-less, prayer-less lives. And we all know, the Kingdom of God consists in Power—not mere talk and routine.

          I want to start seeing us do deeds greater than Jesus did during his stay on earth… and I know the humdrum of Sunday services isn’t going to get us there.

    • You said: “Similarly, the congregation of Israel on irregular occasions might not have a direct relevance to NT church meetings. I am not sure. ”
      Point is – this can hardly be claimed as being a pagan practice with no biblical basis if churches have modelled their services on it in any way, which seems to be the point the authors are trying to make, unless I have misunderstood your summary?

      • What I can say for sure now is that they feel that there is no strong biblical basis for the sermon being the center of a regular church gathering. Do you believe we should model our services on these specific OT passages? What do you think about the other things I said?

        • Whether we should model church practice on these passages or not, the point is that it is not of pagan origin, and therefore their argument falls flat. It cannot be called ” Pagan Christianity “. It becomes an issue of NT/OT understanding.

          They believe there is no strong biblical basis for the sermon being the center of a regular gathering – well, where do they find a strong biblical basis to support their case? Where does it say or imply that Scripture and the teaching of it is not central to the gathering of Christians to worship God?

          You note above that “sermons [as] the climax of a meeting at the expense of other participatory elements of ministry [are] not found in Acts or the epistles” – where is the description of the events of a typical weekly gathering of a congregation that states or implies (at least) that the reading and teaching of God’s word, and the remembrance in communion, was not the ‘climax’?
          I could point out that there is no express command found anywhere in the NT that permits women to partake of communion (it is implied) – yet I imagine that the authors would not question this?

          Note also the quotation I gave from Justin Martyr far above – church history is not in favour of this statement.

          Nor, so far as I can see from the 3rd ed of the New Bible Dictionary (NBD) [IVP; IH Marshall, AR Millard, JI Packer and DJ Wiseman consulting eds.], is synagogue history as far is it is recorded in this entry. NBD p 1142-1143 gives an inscription from Theodotus that synagogues were literally meeting-places ‘for reciting the Law and studying the commandments’. Sabbath services supposedly consisted of 5 parts (NBD ref to the Mishnah) – the Shema, a prayer based on Deut 6:4-9 and Num 15:37-41; then pre-set prayers, such as the eighteen petitions and benedictions, followed by the reading of the Law, an exposition on a reading from the Prophets, and an exhortation. The service closed in a benediction.
          [NBD does not specify a date for this description as pre- or post- AD 70. However, it makes no mention of alteration in this synagogue practice due to the destruction of Jerusalem.]

          At best, the authors of PC can claim the practice has been copied from OT Jewish roots – so once again, the claim of pagan Christianity falls flat.

          • Let’s not get too caught up in whether or not the title of the book is appropriate – the authors do point out that there are some aspects they tackle that are scriptural and yet not necessarily Christian, so there will be some stuff they question that have OT roots instead of pagan. Similarly, we shouldn’t want them to present a biblical case AGAINST sermons. Their point is that there is no biblical argument FOR them, and so they are not commanded as the primary form of teaching. They are not saying that God’s Word should not be read or taught in meetings, they are saying that we have made sermons synonymous with teaching it and should accept that they are not scriptural. The main point of all of this remains that our services are in many respects fundamentally different to the ones that were held by the NT church that we see in places like 1 Corinthians 12-14. I feel that we would be dishonest to claim that we are obeying Paul here completely. Maybe I should do a post on this passage specifically…

  3. So krislyle, are you saying that the type of church services we need are ones in which we wait (reading and praying) for God to initiate something? I get what you mean about relating to God personally and that’s important, but is that all they were taught to do in Paul’s churches? What about the blowing of the wind through gifts and members interacting during a service? The authors of PC seem to emphasize this as the missing puzzle piece, rather than your suggestion of prayer and reading… I’d like to know what you think about 1 Corinthians 12-14 in this regard, its a cornerstone of Viola’s view of NT christian meetings…

    • Sorry. I’m being a lot more generalizing than specific in my comments.

      Certainly we’re to have more than prayer and Bible reading in our gatherings. From the NT we learn that songs, the outworking of various gifts, the sacraments, etc. all have their proper and necessary places.

      It’s just that straight up scripture-reading and prayer-concentrate, I think, are customarily found lacking in a typical service. And that without these key ingredients we diminish the potency of the other services—like various spirit-gifts—we render to one another.

      So indeed, in a healthy church, the effects of Wind will be felt through multiple avenues; but I think it is corporate prayer and corporate reading that are cornerstones in fueling a spirit of oneness—a wind of one current, so to speak.

      • I agree – corporate united prayer and reading are absolutely important.
        And I agree with your previous comment that we should not sit like blobs in a pew and just expect one person to feed and teach us without making an effort to pray, read and learn ourselves. The laziness of most Christians from this point of view is totally unbiblical.
        However, having said this, I should also point out that the ability to teach, and insight to teach and help other people, are specifically stated (and highly emphasised in the Bible) as gifts of the Holy Spirit which are given to selected individuals. We are not all enabled with the same gift of learning, comprehension and teaching etc, so it is perilous to discard our need for teachers who are specially gifted by the Holy Spirit and trained specifically to help others come to understanding.

        • I don’t think Krislyle is saying that we should pray, read and learn merely by OURSELVES, I think he is saying we should do it TOGETHER. I agree that teachers are needed – but do you really believe they are the only gifts remaining today? Where is the space for all our other word gifts i.e. prophecy, tongues, words of knowledge/wisdom etc? Let alone non-verbal gifts… It seems to me that church gatherings are geared almost exclusively to the use of one type of gift exercised by one type of person (teaching by a member of clergy). Surely this is not the New Testament pattern… is it?

          • No, teaching is by no means the only gift remaining. Ministry, serving, exhorting or consoling, giving, leadership, showing mercy … ? (some specifically mentioned in Rom 12:4-8, along with prophecy and teaching). I see all of these present in weekly Christian life; they are gifts that can and should be used outside of congregational gatherings. They are not specifically and only given for use on Sundays, though there is no particular reason why they may not be used/visible in a gathering if there is an appropriate need.
            Many typically are used in some measure in Reformed gatherings: giving – ministry – serving – exhorting – consoling – leadership. Showing mercy… ?
            The fact that there are many gifts does not mean they have to be used in gatherings on a Sunday; it simply means that there are many people with different gifts that should be used in all spheres of church life (evangelism, daily life, organisation etc included)

            As to an emphasis on ‘together’, you will note that Reformed services placed a great deal on ‘together’ – reading (or hearing, if the people couldn’t read), praying, declaring God’s praises, singing psalms etc, as instituted by Luther, Calvin and others.

            Words of knowledge and wisdom easily fall within a sermon, or whoever leads the service or prayers.
            If someone has the gift of tongues – and if there is no interpreter – Paul commanded it to be used in private, not in the congregation.
            Prophetic utterances – if they remain after the apostolic era – have to be tested by Scripture, so Scripture and the teaching of Scripture is still supremely important and takes precedence.

            Where in the Bible is there an emphasis anywhere other than God’s Word taught, and the Word of God remembered and celebrated in communion, as the focal point for weekly gatherings to worship the Lord God?

          • It’s interesting to me that although we echo Reformed services—reading a blurb of Scripture here or there, passing around a community-giving-bowl, singing a couple songs and scattering short one-person prayers before and after these activities—I’ve often felt that I could have a similar experience in my car of the church parking lot, tuned in to a local service on the radio.

            After all, I can hear the sermon by myself, I can hear the verses read and say “amen” at the end of the prayers, I can even send my offering online in total secrecy. In fact, some things I can do things better in my car. I’m often told by worship leaders to “forget about everyone else around me… just focus on you and God… hear what he has to say to me”. They even dim the lights to help me with this. Well this is quite easy in my car with no one around. No need to even close my eyes. And the fact that most of our new songs are centered around how much “I” love God and he loves “me”, it really helps to forget about the “us”.

            So why bother gathering as a body when we don’t function like one when we’re together?

            Yes we read. Yes we pray. Yes we give. Yes we sing. Yes we’re taught. But—with all cynicism aside—how can we start acting like a community, a body, when we gather together as a BIG group once a week. We should capitalize on this moment. Not instruct brothers and sisters to close their eyes and do corporate closet worship.

            I suppose this is where church leadership would argue that Sunday School steps in.

            I’ve got no answer for how we’re to move forward corporately, except that within my own immediate context of friends we must pray more together, read more together, and digest God’s Kingdom more together. Maybe renewal must come from the “grass-roots”…

  4. The question is – if you’re ever part of church leadership one day, how are you going to deal with this? How are you going to structure your meetings to allow for these things to happen easily? I don’t know, it feels to me that you would need to train people to function like you are talking about because we are all used to being generally insulated and passive in services. If you tried to make a change, I wonder what that change would have to be and I wonder how people who are loyal to tradition would view that change.

    It is quite interesting to consider whether being formal e.g. liturgy, has any place in our faith? Some people would say we definitely need to show some respect to our King in worship, while others would say that we need to be natural with our Father. I think some people see being formal as a way of containing our fallen human nature as well, so that our services do not descend into fleshly chaos. On the other side, some people would say that being formal is fake and missing the point of relationship. I might be wrong, but I must say I like the idea of a natural (organic?) Christianity, rather than gathering in a place and manner that is otherwise unnatural and removed from real life settings. The divide between sacred and secular is part of the issue here for sure…

  5. You present “showing some respect for our King in worship” and “being natural with our Father” as an antithesis, which I question. I’m not sure what you mean by natural – but I should point out that from a human point of view, our ‘natural’ [original intended, as created before the fall] relationship with out earthly fathers should be [ought to be] one of great respect and humility [children, honour your father and mother] … and there is a right and a wrong way to speak to and behave around them.

    Because we are fallen and sinful, the fallen nature does not abide by this… so what has become natural in a fallen world is very different from what should be natural – what we are commanded to be and what we should be.

  6. Kenguy, I agree – respect, humility and obedience are important. I also think that this is very different to saying that we need to continue formal liturgies in gatherings, since they are not commanded. Don’t you think that ritual worship can equally appeal to our fallen nature?

    • My point above was to show that formality – in humility and respect – is not necessarily contradictory with a relationship, which your previous post almost seemed to take for granted.

      Ritual worship can equally appeal to our fallen nature – the Romish and other religious rituals show that clearly enough. But abuse and misuse of something does not automatically mean that the ‘something’ is wrong or bad.
      For example, the misuse of the Bible does not automatically mean that the Bible is bad.
      At a more mundane level, the (mis)use of science to destroy people in times past and present does not automatically mean that science is bad…

      I’m not going to go into this fully yet. However, for starters, one point that is really useful about a liturgy is that you can read it – before and after the service – which means you can ponder on it, check you understand it correctly, and take the words to heart and prepare yourself by careful prayer-filled biblical meditation, so that when you do say them or hear them, you can say them or assent to them with total conviction and with Understanding.

      • Those are interesting reasons for a liturgy. Do you think the same logic applies for so called open-participatory meetings – that just because some are abused and chaotic doesn’t mean that that they are all bad or disorderly?

        • I think that, generally speaking, the abuse of something is just that: abuse… it doesn’t automatically imply the thing itself is bad, provided it is actually abuse.
          The question that should be asked is, is it abuse? i.e., is there a reason that it should be used in another way? Has it been used consistently or inconsistently?

          In relation to your question above, what is the definition of chaos and disorder? What defines what that is, and limits it?
          As soon as you fix guidelines, definitions and limits to prevent chaose and disorder, and appoint people to oversee that these are not transgressed, you don’t have a fully open participatory meeting [in the sense in which you are using it] where everyone is free to do as they will / please or feel …

  7. Anyway, I think the main point of this comment thread has been lost. I want to focus on the following aspects – do you think the bible instructs us to have church gatherings that are open (regulated but unpremeditated – not the same every week), or closed (liturgical and scripted – same every week)? Secondly, do you think that the bible teaches that we should have every-member participation in meetings, or that only a select few leaders should contribute? Does liturgy facilitate the reality of the priesthood of all believers or negate it?

    • How can you have something that is regulated but unpremeditated? IF you regulate it, the implication is that you have already premeditated what to allow and what not to…
      By every-member participation, it depends what you mean by participation. As mentioned before, prayer, the reading of God’s Word, singing, etc, with understanding is participation. So is preparing in advance…
      I certainly think that leaders who have shown themselves approved in the Lord should control and contribute (or at least pre-check) the substance of Sunday getherings. Their primary function is to edify the flock, and that is the main opportunity to do so.
      What does the priesthood of all believers have to do with liturgy or any other form of church service?
      Isn’t it about access to God through Jesus Christ without having to go through some intermediary?

  8. One other point – since when is something not Christian just because it comes from the OT (see your post above – Nov 24th 12:14 pm)?

    • I think there are definitely some things in the OT that are not Christian – check out the very first post on Pagan Christianity for what I mean by saying some things are biblical without being for the church… Of course, this would not be everything in the OT

  9. Hi JC and Kenguy: I would like to comment on something you mentioned Kenguy “How can you have something that is regulated but unpremeditated?”

    To me this statement/question your saying/asking means, you can not have something regulated unless it is premeditated am I correct? To be quite frank and not intending to be rude, perhaps you have a point, but are you sure that its undoubtedly necessary to premeditate something in order for it to be regulated? In my experience, I have been on both sides of the different main churches in the body of Christ for quite some time, the spirit led and the liturgy led. Basically, yes, I agree one needs some sort of structure to help guide the large gatherings we have today, but within that structure start allowing time and a place for people to excersize their giftings from God and i’m quite sure the Holy Spirit of God will be allowed to move then to greater lengths, God Himself will help alongside the leaders He has appointed, to maintain order. Have you perhaps visited other churches for a brief time to learn how they do things? And questioned some of your views or perceptions?

    I have learned that sometimes one can “premeditate” or prepare before hand how a service should go (yes, preparation of a basic structure is necessary), and then if you have given God the Holy Spirit a place in the service to perhaps bring a message of exhortation, prophesy or even a word of knowledge or wisdom, from other members in the congregation, some of your plans might have to be moved aside and you have to rely on God to help guide the proceedings in that time.(it also helps people to become involved in church services and helps them to learn how to and when to use their gift as God instructs them to)
    In our church I have seen how the leaders make the time to allow other members to bring a prophesy or word or vision of what God shows them, and two or three people are usually allowed to do so, the leaders guiding them and God using them to keep order and God has never sent a whole mass of people to the front, often only a few.
    The main thing is, as church leadership, they allow the body of Christ to function as a body in the service, before a teaching usually follows (a teaching currently the majority of the services as is in the universal church), and to my “surprise”, God always uses them and others to contribute and edify the church and it fits in with the message that the Pastors have prepared, it even fits in with what God teaches myself and others in our time alone with him, the week before, several people always “surprised” and quite amazed, and “surprise” has become a realisation of the confirmation of the wind of the Holy Spirit moving.
    None of us pre-discuss what to say, but God allows the pieces to fit together, in order, and quite a large portion is not premeditated. Yes the sermon is prepared, but definitely inspired by the Holy Spirit and confirmed by the other gifts when God is allowed to use the rest of His body, and perhaps some premeditated preparation is necessary here, since we all have to learn to correctly discern/devide and use the word of God when teaching others. A few questions as i’ve read through most of what you guys have discussed to remind us of: Shouldn’t a service be representing the whole body? Do most gatherings currently, especially in a strong liturgy structure, not focus too much time on teaching, and from a single man? One part you did not highlight, is the fact that the Jewish people made place to debate on the word of God in the Synagogues, we certainly have made very little room for that in the modern church currently. Our church is very soon going to try quite a different approach to services, structured, but allowing the body to function more like a body and allowing the body of Christ, that houses the Holy Spirit, to be allowed to move more than before!

  10. Hi NC. Sorry for the delayed response – much water under the bridge!
    I have actually been attending non-liturgical services for at least 16 years, and the last fully liturgical service (as in a complete and proper use of the Book of Common Prayer or something similar) I attended was probably at least 8 years ago (excluding private worship at home).
    Of the two services I currently attend each Sunday (2 different denominations), one is partly liturgical in that it has retained some elements of liturgical worship. Members of the congregation take part in the service by preparing congregational prayers, readings, and occasionally other inputs.
    The other has no particular form from week to week – whoever is leading the service basically puts something new together every time, independently of whoever is preaching.

    Here are my observations from these three cases (liturgical, partly liturgical, non-liturgical):

    You asked, “Shouldn’t a service be representing the whole body? ”
    The congregation is actually far more involved in the liturgical and partly liturgical cases than in the completely non-liturgical. They can unitedly partake in the prayers, confession, repentance and worship in many ways apart from singing. They can prepare prayerfully and carefully, ensuring that they fully comprehend what they will be singing, saying, and assenting to. In truth, there is union.

    In the partly liturgical services, on at least 2 occasions in the last few months, the congregational prayer had requests for the dead (!) However, I have, collectively over time, had more problems with some of the statements with the non-liturgical.
    The whole point of a set liturgy is to prevent false teaching creeping in (whether intentionally or unintentionally) – and this is exactly what I have observed as a problem in practice.
    You asked, “Do most gatherings currently, especially in a strong liturgy structure, not focus too much time on teaching, and from a single man? ”
    I would say – this is exactly what a liturgy can avoid. It specifically prevents a single person from having too much authority in his teaching.

    I don’t know much about the details of the Synagogue services, apart from what I checked up on in the NBD, so I’ll take your word on the debate. For your interest, the denomination that is liturgical has churches which have made time – after the service and sermon are complete – for questions and discussion.

    Can something be regulated but unpremeditated – I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit.
    I agree that it is possible for the Holy Spirit to move people without particular preparation of a specific and carefully layed out plan on their part. . However, this is likely to be the exception, not the rule. Hence, presumably, the explicit comment in the NT to the disciples not to worry about what they would say when they were taken prisoner and put on trial etc.
    God usually works through us and the abilities and gifts He has given us. And those abilities and gifts include the Bible, the Holy Ghost to give understanding and conviction, in addition to memory, reason, logic, etc. I think this is well summed up in a quotation by JC Ryle in “The Upper Room” p 52: “A young and careless clergyman once said to Richard Cecil, ‘I think I want more faith’. ‘No’, said the wise old man; ‘you want more works. You want more pains. You must not think the God will do work FOR you, though He is ready to do it BY you’.”
    On a somewhat related topic, Bible study sessions without someone specifically preparing and teaching are almost inevitably unprofitable, at best. I have been at some of these, and they left no favourable impression or edifying teaching.

  11. Hi Kenguy and JC, at the moment I’m in the process of moving and starting with a job in the next month or two, and access to internet is going to be a problem, for the time being I am going to have to join the talk at a later stage again. Kenguy, thanks for your last reply, in short, yes, some pre-meditated order is probably necessary, but having been guided by God in the first place. My last comment for the time being is, that even a preacher/ teacher has to make sure he is led by the Holy Spirit, pre-prep necessary, but should be discussed with fellow believers (such as the elders or other pastors/ or revs or accountability partners) before just teaching or preaching anything final, confirmation through accountability from other believers that are also committed to follow God and able to give wise counsel or confirmation, before one preaches/ teaches to help prevent the premeditation of a “one man show” if I can express it as such. For myself it is great when I can hear confirmation from God through fellow believers, His children, before doing anything, its submission to God and authority (His body) and a way to monitor my own heart to prevent myself from possibly making a mistake due to lack of submission to others (the heart is a deceitful thing, and care should be taken to really seek out your heart and intentions, to monitor your maturity and ability to hear from God properly also). Humility and teach-ability. Anyways, cheers for the time being, i’ll read again when I get the opportunity.

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