Every Sunday, God’s people gather. On the first day of the week, there is a meeting between God and his people. Many fellow students in my classes at Liberty University are of the Free Church tradition. As a result, we spent much time discovering what worship is. When worship leaders “design” a liturgy, is their perspective on worship based on Scripture or their ideas? Or is it based on our understanding of worship? Based on what the people want? Is it our desire in worship to be free from liturgical rules, regulations, and traditions?


Our liturgy or order of worship gives an insight into our perspective and understanding of worship. For example, the introduction of the 10 Commandments might state that this is “when we usually meditate on God’s Law.” However, this particular point in the liturgy is not the people’s meditative moment but God addressing his people. Yes, we listen and reflect (meditate, if you will), but these moments in the liturgy are God’s Moments.

In the liturgical dialogue, God and his people take turns. In worship, God’s people respond to God’s Words. But, with a subtle change in phrasing, worship becomes all about us: we gather, we welcome, we listen to God’s greeting, we sing songs, we meditate on God’s Law, we pray, we meditate on God’s Word and the preaching, we respond, we present children for baptism, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we collect the offering, and we receive the blessing. This “we-perspective” on worship is prevalent in contemporary worship. “Contemporary Evangelical Christians have lost their awareness of the presence of the living and holy God as the central reality of all true worship,” John Jefferson Davis says (Worship and the Reality of God: An Evangelical Theology of Real Presence.)

Our Worship

In “Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice,” Bryan Chapell shares that contemporary churches distinguish between what happens at the beginning of worship and the sermon. He remarks,

“Because people have not been taught to think of the worship service as having gospel-purposes, people instinctively think of its elements of personal preference: what makes me feel good, comfortable or respectful.”

This often relates to singing favorite worship songs chosen by and for people who prefer to sing what they like.

Encountering God

C.E.B. Cranfied gives a different perspective: “In each particular act of worship, the chief actor is not man, but God.” This understanding of worship is rooted in the church of all ages. Larry Hurtado referred to the Early Church:

“Worship was not merely a religious exercise by the participants, or an opportunity to re-affirm their beliefs; it was an occasion for the manifestation and experience of divine powers (…) expectations were characteristically high that in the worship setting God would be encountered in demonstrative fashion.”

Liturgy and Scripture

Liturgy also conveys how a church understands the gospel. Chapell gives several examples, starting at the beginning of a service. Does the congregation begin the worship? It is not the gathering initiated by people singing their favorite songs, but God initiates worship, and we respond. God invites us to come before him. It is not our worship but God’s worship. The opening of worship is significant, holy, and divine. God calls us into worship. Chapell remarks: “We do not approach God on our terms, but his. The corporate dialogue in which we as God’s people respond to God’s revelation is the sacred rhythm of covenant worship.”


I love that phrase: “The sacred rhythm of covenant worship.” This rhythm reflects who God is in the dialogue of worship and his relationship with us. The design of the liturgy communicates and teaches the gospel. Our churches do not have the order of worship regulated by the Church Order, but I wonder if it should be. When we break the rhythm of covenant worship to “to make it more interesting,” “because it is the same every week,” or because “it is only recommended,” I feel we have lost something significant. And when the order of worship only has a role in making churches look uniform, we have lost crucial insights and awareness of the purpose and essence of the liturgy.

On The Shoulders

Chapell again: “If we do not learn from the past, we will lose insights God has given others as they have interacted with his Word and his people. God intends us to stand on the shoulders of those faithful before us. He gives us a mission for our time, but he also gives us a history to prepare us for our present calling. Without critically and constructively examining this foundation, we are ill-equipped to build the church God wants today. This is also true for the structures of worship.”

Let us be the shoulders for our children to stand on, passing on the gospel liturgy, and so continue “the sacred rhythm of covenant worship.”

Have a blessed Sunday tomorrow.
Wait quietly, as He calls you into worship.
Respond, in the sacred rhythm of covenant worship.
Let your heart be filled.
Let your soul be comforted.
Let your mind understand.
Love Him – remembering He loved you first.