This article is part of the 5 Myths series.
Myth #1: Liturgy is not a biblical word.
The word liturgy tends to be used today in reference to the formal order of worship in church. It is often assumed that such language has come down to us from the Roman Catholics or Anglicans, who are “really into their liturgy.” However, the word liturgy is a biblical word. It comes from the Greek word λειτουργία, which means “service.” In the New Testament, it is used broadly to speak of our service to God (Rom. 12:1–2) or our service to others (Phil. 2:30). It is also used narrowly to speak of service in relation to the formal worship of God when his people gather together (e.g. Heb. 9:21; 10:11). So, liturgy is a Bible word before it is a church word.
Myth #2: Liturgy is only used by some churches.
Some Christians think that only Catholic and Anglican churches use liturgy, while their church does not. However, given that liturgy concerns the order of worship elements in a church service, it’s not whether a church has a liturgy; it’s just which liturgy the church has. Every church has an order to the worship elements in their service. In some churches that order is written down in a fixed form, like in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (1662). In other churches, the order is not written down and so the worship elements are more fluid on a week-by-week basis. But the fact remains that every church has certain worship elements (e.g. Bible reading, prayer, songs, offerings, etc.) that occur in a particular order. Liturgy, in this respect, whether written or unwritten, is inescapable. Every church is as liturgical as the next church. The real question is which liturgy the church has chosen to adopt.
Myth #3: Liturgy is not relevant for our quiet times or devotions.
The fact that liturgy is inescapable for churches means that it is inescapable for our daily quiet times or devotions. Just as every church has an order of worship elements when God’s people gather, so every person has an order of worship elements when they spend time with God. For most people, that order is a simple liturgy of a short prayer asking for God to speak to them, followed by a Bible reading, followed by intercessory prayer. So, it’s not whether we have a liturgy for our quiet times; it’s just which liturgy we have. This should at least make us ask the question, How good is the liturgy I have for my quiet times? Or, more practically, What can I do to enrich the liturgy of my daily devotions? The history of the church—with its liturgies, creeds, catechisms, and prayers—has left us a treasure trove to draw from.
Myth #4: Liturgy quenches the Holy Spirit and leads to nominalism.
A set liturgy involves saying set prayers, either in church or in daily devotions. If our church worship or personal devotions involve saying prayers written by others, and saying them repeatedly, then surely over time this will just become a case of us “going through the motions” and not really engaging God from our hearts. Such an approach, it is argued, quenches the Spirit of God and ultimately leads to being a Christian in name only. The liturgy kills, but the Spirit gives life! However, this is to ignore the fact that God has given us set prayers in both the Old and New Testaments. The Psalter is a hymnbook full of set prayers that saints throughout history have found helpful to read, pray, and sing—personally or corporately. The Lord’s Prayer is another example of a set prayer that Jesus expected his disciples to say together. The apostle Paul revealed the content of his personal prayers for the churches. These examples alone should indicate that since the Holy Spirit inspired such “set prayers,” we should not think that reciting them would quench him. Moreover, we should not think that extemporaneous prayers, while good and necessary, are somehow superior or sufficient.
The history of the church—with its liturgies, creeds, catechisms, and prayers—has left us a treasure trove to draw from.
Myth #5: Liturgy is restrictive, repetitive, and boring.
As Christians living in a culture addicted to novelty and change, we can be tempted to think that any kind of structure or routine in our daily life is stultifying. This is especially true when it comes to liturgy, either in a church service or in our quiet times. We can recoil from the idea of liturgy because we think that the structure will be too restrictive, the rote prayers too repetitive, the content too boring. We want flexibility, change, novelty. But if medical experts now believe that a daily structured routine benefits our mental health, how much more a fixed liturgy for the health of our souls! Having an order to our daily prayers, which moves from prayers of adoration and confession to prayers of illumination and intercession, can help keep us from merely offering up a list of requests after we’ve read our Bibles. But more than that, when we struggle to know what to pray, the prayers of saints who have struggled before us can refocus our minds on God and his grand purposes for us in the gospel. In this regard, a set liturgy can provide guide rails to help weak saints on their spiritual path; it can serve as a cord to bind their wandering hearts to God.
Jonathan Gibson is the author of Be Thou My Vision: A Liturgy for Daily Worship.
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