The concluding remarks of chapter 2, “Constantine the Great,” from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs are an encouragement to all Christians in every nation and country:
I doubt not, good reader, but thou dost right well consider with thyself the marvellous working of God’s mighty power; to see so many emperors confederate together against the Lord and Christ His anointed, who, having the subjection of the whole world under their dominion, did bend their whole might and devices to expatriate the name of Christ and of all Christians. Wherein, if the power of man could have prevailed, what could they not do? or what could they do more than they did? If policy or devices could have served, what policy was there lacking? If torments or pains of death could have helped, what cruelty of torment by man could be invented which was not attempted? If laws, edicts, proclamations, written not only in tables, but engraven in brass, could have stood, all this was practised against the weak Christians. And yet, notwithstanding, to see how no counsel can stand against the Lord, note how well all these be gone, and yet Christ and his Church doth stand.
In his 1960 Preface to The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes, “We must picture Hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.”
Spend any amount of time on social media or otherwise in our present day and age, and the description above is rather apt, isn’t it?
In 1996 at The Second Annual Conference on Worship: The Theology and Music of Reformed Worship, held in Nashville, TN, Dr. Robert S. Rayburn made the following remarks in his lecture, “Worship from the Whole Bible:”
Part of the reason why so many Christian worship services have no logic, no order, no movement, is because those who superintend those services of worship have not paid attention to the Bible’s main instruction in the formation of a worship service because that instruction is found in the Old Testament. It is this disregard for the importance of what is done that has led to the common pejorative use of the words ‘liturgy’ and ‘liturgical’ in many evangelical and Reformed circles. This is a mistake in more ways than one. Every church service is a liturgy, if it has various elements in some arrangement. That is what liturgy is. Liturgical churches are churches that have thought about those elements and their proper order. Nonliturgical churches are those that have not. It is no compliment to say that a church is a nonliturgical church. It is the same thing as saying it is a church that gives little thought to how it worships God.
I would imagine that most Christians think that the worship services in which they participate are biblical simply because of the content. If it is about God or Jesus then that is sufficient. There is singing, praying, teaching, and maybe the Lord’s Supper, and that is enough. But is it? Is it just a matter of the content of the elements of worship (the substance of which is also debatable) without any regard to the pattern in which those elements are placed? In agreement with Dr. Rayburn’s observations, the answer is “No.” There is a pattern for worship that the scriptures teach, foundationally given in the Old Testament and further exemplified in the New. There is a pattern for liturgy that tells the story of redemption from beginning to end each and every week, even as that story is the story of Jesus. Jesus told His disciples, These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled (Luke 24:44). Since the Old Testament is about Jesus, is it too much of a stretch to conclude that it might have something to teach us about how Jesus should be worshiped?
It is my intention in future posts to make a case for a biblical pattern for worship that is rooted in the Old Testament, and, therefore, fundamentally Christ-centered. Not surprisingly, this pattern is also reflected in the historical liturgies of the Church of the past two millenia. So remember, there is no such thing as a nonliturgical church. Not really. There are only churches that have given more or less thought as to what the whole counsel of scripture has to say about how God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit should be worshiped.
C.S. Lewis, in his Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, writes, “Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And [people] don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best – if you like, it ‘works’ best – when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe that you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.”
The analogy that Lewis uses is a good one, and raises two immediate points.