What Is a Liturgy?
The way a service is structured will inform the way we are structured. A God-centered and gospel-focused service will produce people who are the same. Corporate worship is one of the primary ways we behold the Lord and are “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).
I recall guest preaching at a church once and the blank stares I received from the congregation. Blank stares are never ideal, especially when you are a visiting preacher. I had said early on in the service, “I invite you to turn with me in your liturgies…” None accepted the invitation. No one turned. Then I realized the problem: we were lost in translation. I started again, “Turn in your bulletins…” There we had it!
Who Is Liturgical?
“Liturgy” does sound like a foreign word to some of us, and, in one sense, it is. It comes from the Greek leitourgia, which is a combination of two other words: people (laos) and work (ergon). Literally, a liturgy is a “work of the people,” or perhaps more helpfully, a “public service.” Therefore, at its most basic, “liturgy” refers to the order of a corporate worship service.
All churches from every denominational stripe have an order of worship. Sometimes we think “liturgical” is only a fitting adjective for churches that meet in cathedrals and still use Gregorian chant. Not so. If your church worships, it has a liturgy. Churches that claim to be “non-liturgical” still follow a pattern of worship. Maybe it begins with announcements, then singing, a sermon, and some more singing, before concluding with a sending prayer. That is a liturgy. “Liturgical,” therefore, is perhaps not the most helpful descriptor—much like “canine” would be a less-than-satisfying answer when someone asks what type of dog you have.
Since we are all liturgical, the question to ask is what kind of liturgy do we have? What should our services look like? While the Bible’s relative silence on this point offers latitude and freedom, the Reformed have sought to structure their services on key principles gleaned from Scripture. I will mention four.