Covenant Renewal Worship: The Reason for Our Worship Liturgy
The Greek word leiturgia means “the order in a public service.” It has come to mean the order of service for churches; in English it is liturgy. If you have more than one element in your worship service, then you have a liturgy. This should help clear up any questions as to whether a given church is liturgical or not. Every church has a liturgy; the question then becomes, “what is our liturgy? Does it please God?”
These are important questions because so many Christians assume that their worship is pleasing to God because it is pleasing to them, personally, as a worshiper. Praise bands play songs of emotion more than doctrine, drama troupes stage skits, and sincere singers perform “special music.” It feels good to us; we feel like we are worshiping so God must feel it too. But this is wrong and even dangerous. God slew men for bringing “strange fire” to the alter (Leviticus 10:1-3); God slew Uzzah for touching the Ark of the covenant out of order (or liturgy; 2 Samuel 6:5-7); God slew and sickened some of the Corinthian congregation for participating in the Lord’s Supper unworthily (1 Corinthians 11:27-32). We can multiply examples. God takes his worship by his creatures seriously, more so than many of his followers.
Unbeknownst to most of us, the Bible does provide an order of service, or liturgy. While the pattern is repeated throughout the Old Testament and portions of the New, an early example from Leviticus will suffice:
- Call to Worship – God calls us to draw near. (Leviticus 1:1-2)
- Confession of Sin – God requires the death of a substitute for the sinner after confessing his sin. (Leviticus 1:3-5)
- Consecration – In the OT the sacrifice was prepared suitably to present to God. (Leviticus 1:6-7) The Word of God does that for us now. (Hebrews 4:12)
- Communion – In the Old Testament the substitute (the animal) was consumed either in fire and/or a meal becoming a part of God and the worshiper. (Leviticus 1:8-9) In the NT this happens in the Lord’s Supper.
- Commissioning – God sends out the worshiper prepared for service in the kingdom at the conclusion. (Leviticus 26:45)
This pattern is repeated throughout the Old Testament and was the structure of Temple worship and later the synagogue. The early church adopted it and it became the basis for early catholic worship (not the later Roman Catholic Mass) and much later that of the Reformed Churches. It is called Covenant Renewal Worship because God’s covenant with man in Jesus Christ is renewed and re-affirmed every Sabbath morning. When done according to God’s will, it is a “sweet savor in his nostrils” and a rich blessing to us, his people.
Several principles must be emphasized here:
- Our worship is guided by the Regulative Principle – This is an ancient Scriptural conviction that true worship is that commanded by God in his Word; false worship is anything done that is not commanded (e.g., The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXI, Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day). Therefore elements like prayer, Scripture, and the sacraments are a vital part of worship; drama skits, special music, and chorus’ are not.
- Sabbath worship is for the believer, not the seeker – Many unsaved people are off-put by complex and unfamiliar liturgies. Therefore, the church growth movement eliminates these and puts in elements the so-called seeker knows from his world. This is backwards. God requires the worship of his people on his day, not the pleasure of those with whom he is still at enmity, i.e., the seeker who is still lost, howsoever sincere his seeking may be.
- Our prayers are sincere, our worship unforced, and our hearts vibrant – Churches with a rich liturgy are criticized for having rote prayers that people merely repeat and repetitive motions they go through as they sit, stand, or kneel. They imply that liturgical worship is cold and mechanical. This actually says more about the critic than the worshiper. As one prays a written prayer as if it was his, lets the elements of the liturgy bring out feelings and thoughts, and comes to worship with a heart excited by what he finds in worship, he discovers what we who love liturgy have found.
- Covenant Renewal Worship is not merely one option among many but required – Biblical worship is not a buffet of elements from which we may choose what pleases us. God is quite adamant about acceptable and unacceptable worship all through his Word. He has not changed his mind for Baby Boomers (who started the “Seeker Friendly” movement) and subsequent generations. We are not at liberty to do as we please in worship but rather we are liberated when we worship God as he pleases. Throughout his Word he reaffirms the Covenant Renewal model. The reason the book of Acts does not have a liturgy to follow is not because we are now free to do whatever enters our head but because the Old Testament, the Temple, and the synagogue all provided an enduring model for the worship of the church.
We at New Geneva OPC hope that you not only understand why we worship as we do but that you discover (if not already) the blessing of obedience in worship and the joy of worshipping the Lord “in the beauty of holiness!”
For an example of how we put this into practice, view an example of our weekly bulletin here.