Have you ever heard the word "liturgy"? In a nutshell is means "order of worship" All churches have an "order of worship" or "order of service" though some don't like to admit it. Some have weekly bulletins, some don’t – but they still have their own order. You can rely on it Sunday after Sunday.
It doesn’t matter what “flavor” church you attend – there is an order. It matters not if it's Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Non-denominational or somewhere in between. They all have an order of service. In many cases it comes down to tradition. Have you ever heard, "We've always done it this way"? Don’t try to mess with tradition in some churches. People take it rather personally.
Some churches say, “We do everything by the Book.” Oh really? You can search your Bible from front to back and you will never find anything that remotely resembles an "order of worship" in the NT church. It’s just not there. The early church had no bulletin. The early church had no set order of worship each time they met. Can you believe it? There was a great deal of spontaneity in the NT church. Every member functioned – or had opportunity to function. You sure don't see this today in our services. You deviate from that bulletin and you will be reminded of it!
The early church believers were free to follow the leading of the Lord as opposed to a printed program (or an unprinted one for that matter). The NT church gatherings were casual and often completely unpredictable. One man even set in the window sill when Paul was sharing overnight.
The order of worship had it's origin in the Catholic mass which had it’s origin in ancient Judaism and, you guessed it, paganism. No wonder today's church is so messed up!
In our order of worship today, preaching is the center of the church gathering. Yet there is no Scriptural basis for this. This was the result of the reformation Martin Luther started. Up to this point the Eucharist had been the central point of the gathering. While the reformation brought some changes in theology, it brought little reform to church practices.
Shouldn’t we be emphasizing the centrality of Jesus? After all, It's HIS church!
Today the pastor is the MC as well as the CEO of the morning service. In most churches it has become a one man show. What happened to the open participatory meetings of the early church? Can we really say we are a NT church if we continue to do things “our” way? This has to be a far cry from what God had in mind. I propose that Jesus should be the leader, director, organizer and CEO of the church meeting when we gather – not some man!
Those gathered in our services, today, are mere spectators. Our gatherings should be participatory events not a spectator sport! We see from 1 Cor 12 that every member of the body is important. God will speak through each member if they are given the opportunity. He will speak through the entire body, not just one member. The body functions best when it’s allowed to function under the headship and leadership of Jesus. 1 Cor 14 describes these types of meetings where every member has opportunity to function.
What about the somber attitude of most churches today? Walking in some churches is like walking into a funeral home – and not much different spiritually, I might add. If the people smiled they might crack their faces! What’s up with that? Some churches have broken away from this somber attitude, others still embrace it. The attitude is, “Be quiet and somber. This is the house of God.” Give me a break! WE are the temple of God! Not some building. The JOY of the Lord is our strength. Shouldn't we be joyful people? Here I go again - I digress.
No matter what order of service you use in a church service, you won’t find it in the New Testament. It’s simply not there. Very few churches even allow a testimony time for the body to share. Today we have gimmicks and models we use to “grow the church”. These things are unscriptural. These things depend on techniques rather than God to have the desired impact. Psalm 127:1 “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that built it…” Jesus, Himself, said, “…for without Me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). The Bible should be our rule and guide to building a church. Jesus is Head of the church, He knows what we need and when.
Looking back at the Liturgical history of various denominational “flavors” we can see over the past five hundred years the protestant order of service has changed very little. And we wonder why the churches are in the condition they are in. The biggest problem with the way we “do” church today is that it does not lead to the spiritual growth God intended. Our order of worship is not conducive to the mutual participation gatherings of the early church where each member of the body functioned. The body is forced to remain silent and become pew-sitters. We have “professional clergy” thereby silencing those gathered. “We mustn’t deviate from the bulletin” is heard by many. The entire service is directed by one person often times without regard for the leading of the Lord. When only one member of the body is leading the service you are limited to the knowledge, gifting and experience that person has. Jesus has no freedom to express Himself through His body at will. In short, our order of service does a disservice to the body and cripples the body of Christ through the limitations of the order of service.
For most Christians the Sunday morning service is very boring. It’s predictable and lacks spontaneity. It becomes very mechanical (going through the motions). In the book, “Pagan Christianity?” Frank Viola and George Barna write, “The Protestant liturgy that you quietly sit through every Sunday, year after year, actually hinders spiritual transformation. It does so because, 1) it encourages passivity, 2) it limits functioning, and 3) it implies that putting in one hour per week is the key to the victorious Christian life.”
The fact is, the order of worship churches have today does little to recharge the average Christian. We grow best by functioning not by watching and listening. Today’s church meetings are so far removed from the NT that, in most cases, even Jesus wouldn’t be allowed to have a say - and, I might add, He doesn’t! Let’s be under the headship of Jesus when we gather. Good things happen when we let Jesus lead!
Until next time, enjoy the journey!
This blog post is another in a series looking at the practices of churches today and how they line up with the New Testament. Perhaps this series could be better called, "Kicking Over Sacred Cows". For further reading and research, I recommend the book "Pagan Christianity?" by Frank Viola and George Barna.
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