Welcome to the Linwood Worship Podcast! Follow along for weekly episodes about worship, written and recorded by AJ.
Want to engage with the Podcast in written form? Check out the script of each episode below.
Last week we talked about how the content of our services is meant to be Christ-centered rather than human centered. This week we’re going to zoom out a bit and take a look at how even the structure or order of our service should also retell the saving work of Jesus.
A theologian named Bryan Chapel uses a really helpful metaphor—he suggests that just as an egg container takes the form an egg, our worship should also be formed by the gospel.
Our liturgical structure is designed to retell the story of the Gospel.
The basic movements of the Gospel are Creation, Fall, Redemption, and The Return of Christ.
1. Creation—“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…”
2. Fall—in Adam all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and even creation groans with the pain of childbirth—the result of the fall.
3. Redemption - For God so loved the entire cosmos that he sent his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish…
4. The Return of Christ-Recreation - Christ will return in the end and all things will be made right—in the meantime the church also gets to participate in Christs redeeming work building the kingdom here and now.
Our liturgy retells these same movements—
1. In the gathering we recognize that God is the one who initiates worship by his word, just as he initiated creation by his word. We gather together and get a picture of who God is in the call to worship and we praise God for that in the first few songs.
2. in the confession we engage with the reality that we are all sinners and fall short of the holy standard that God has called us to. We are honest with God and ourselves about who we are and how yes, indeed, in Adam all have sinned—even us.
3. we are reminded of the saving work of Jesus in the assurance of pardon who has taken our sin upon himself and made us holy and righteous in the sight of God. We respond in thankfulness through singing and giving our gifts and offerings, we show our dependence on God in our congregational prayer when we lift up our churches concerns to him. The liturgy continues with the Sermon. God reveal himself to us by his Spirit through the preaching of his word. We are again reminded of the saving work of Jesus and our ultimate hope in him.
4. and finally, we are sent out into the world with God’s blessing, encouraged to look to the return of Christ and live as people saved by him—participating in his redemptive work in the here and now, and assured that Christ is with us even to the end of the age.
So ultimately, the point here is that both liturgical content—what we talked about last week—and liturgical structure, or order of worship—matter. Both content and structure should be centered around Jesus and his story of salvation.
To conclude, a brief story of how order communicates.
I was at a congregation that had a really great orphan ministry that raised funds, supported an orphanage, and supported adoptive families. Each year we would have orphan Sunday, a service where the Orphan ministry would plan and lead, and highlight the work that they had been doing.
Orphan Sunday began with a call to confession, acknowledging how God calls christians to care for Orphans, and then confessing that often we fall short of this command.
Following the prayer of confession a number of statistics and highlights were read, outlining how effective the Orphan ministry had been at caring for orphans that year. We heard about how much money was raised, we heard about how the committee was instrumental in helping families who had adopted orphans etc…
and I don't remember anything beyond that.
This service failed in both content and structure. The content was focussed on what the orphan ministry had done for orphans and for God instead of what God has done for us. The structure began with confessing failure to uphold God’s commands but never reminded the people of how where we fail, Christ succeeds. Instead, it told the people that where they may have failed, the Orphan ministry has succeeded.
The content and structure of this liturgy tell the story of moralism—that God calls us to a holy standard, and we can accomplish it, thereby achieving righteousness by our own work. It is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the orphan ministry or people involved with it were self-righteous and self-glorifying. In fact I know they aren’t and I know they were doing their vital ministry work out of thankfulness for what God has done for them and out of faithfulness to what God called them to do. My only point here is to highlight the fact that when these liturgical details are overlooked we can accidentally tell a much different story than what we intend.
A much better Liturgical structure may have told the story of how God reveals himself to us as a loving father and that we were once orphans, lost with no inheritance and no hope, and God adopted us into sonship and made us heirs with Christ—giving us hope and an inheritance that can never spoil or fade. We then, knowing the value of being brought into a family and given hope, are then motivated to proclaim that same hope to and care for the orphans in our world. I’d like to say that we did it this way the next year, but I cannot honestly remember.
So to beat the horse and make sure it’s good and dead: the content of our worship AND the order of our worship tell the story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Last week we talked about now the word Liturgy encompasses the regular routines or form that our Sunday gathering takes.
Over the next two weeks we are going to dig into how both the structure of the Liturgy --ie the order of events, and the content of the liturgy —ie the songs, prayers, and scriptures—tell the story of the Gospel.
To start, it is worth mentioning that in the Pslams, and indeed in much of the OT, worship was oriented around retelling the saving work of God. In Deuteronomy 26, God instructs the Israelites on how to worship him when they enter into the promised land. Those instructions include retelling the story of Israel and how God redeemed the them from Slavery in Egypt and delivered them to the promised land. In Exodus 15, the song of Mariam (composed on the banks of the Red Sea) tells the story of how God saved his people from the Egyptians. In Psalm 77 the Psalmist retells the same story. Worship for the Hebrew people was always a recital—or a retelling—of the work that God performed on their behalf.
We approach liturgy similarly. All our songs, prayers, and scripture readings are designed to retell the story of what God has done on our behalf through the life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus. This is important to keep at the forefront of our minds when we consider what type of content we use in our services. I always want our songs and prayers to focus on what God has done on our behalf, not necessarily what we do for God. As an example, let's consider the song “Great Things” by Phil Wickham. I love this song because even though the verse encourages the worshiper to come and worship—to DO something for God, it primary focus is on what God has done for us. God is the primary actor in this song, not the worshiper. Verse 1 says “Come let us worship our king, come let us bow at his feet—he has done great things… See what our savior has done, see how his love overcomes— he has done great things.”
So, to summarize, our worship must primarily be centered around what God has done for us in Christ, over and against worship that talks primarily about what we are doing for God. Christ centered worship makes Jesus the hero of the story—human-centered worship makes us the hero of the story.
One final side note to add before we close for this week—our concept of retelling and remembering is much more cognitive and mind focussed than the people of the bible, and even Christians of the past. In our culture, if we were remembering our wedding anniversary we might pull out an old photo album and reminisce about how the day went and who was there—who stood in the wedding and how it was the hottest day Michigan had seen in 20 years. In Hebrew culture, remembering the anniversary of one’s wedding might include getting out the old wedding gown, seeing if it fit, and maybe even re-confirming the wedding vows. Remembering to the people of God was not so much a brain exercise, they wouldn’t just think about it the event, they would re-enact the event. This is also what we do in Christian worship. We don’t just think about the saving work of Jesus, we re-enact the story and in so doing find our part in it, as if we were there when it all happened.
My hope is that you would listen to each weekly podcast regardless of whether or not you are scheduled for worship team that week. Each week we will discuss that week’s episode, but we will also have opportunity for people to share about previous episodes from weeks that they were not scheduled.
Think of Listening to this podcast and thinking more deeply about worship as a muscle or a skill that we are all developing together. For example, I’m not going to get much better at golf if I only go practice my swing once a month, I might get a little better, but not much. But if I spend time at the driving range once a week I’ll find myself getting better much quicker. Imagine how great of a golfer I’d be if I went every day! Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to golf every day and I don't have time to create a podcast every day, so we’re sticking with a weekly rhythm. Think of this podcast as your weekly practice session at the driving range. Lastly, many of these episodes will build on each other—listening once a month may leave you in the dark, confused about how we got here.
So, last week we did some brief work defining the word worship and highlighted the fact that worship is an “all-of-life” endeavor. This week, we are going to dig in a bit deeper into how to think about what happens on Sundays when we meet with the body of Christ. We’re going to do that by taking a look at the churchy word “Liturgy.”
There are three essential ways to think about the word liturgy.
First, liturgy means “The work of the people.” When we think about this in the context of gathered worship, liturgy essentially means what the people do in worship. This definition reminds us of an important component of gathered worship—that is that gathered worship is meant to be participatory. It is not a performance or concert that people come to watch or consume, it is an event that people come to participate in. The voice of the congregation is an essential part of gathered worship.
Second, the word liturgy refers generally to the structure of a worship service. To some people it has negative implications of stuffy repetitive traditions, and so they throw out the idea of liturgy. But the fact of the matter is, all church’s have a liturgy, even modern non-denominational anti-liturgical churches. For some it may be as simple as a song set, announcement time, and a sermon. For some like our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters it is much more complex. But after a while, every church will end up forming it's own default order of worship: a liturgy is inevitable.
Third, the word liturgy can also mean “The work for the people.” When the term is used this way, it often refers to the priestly work of the Old Testament where the priests would carry out sacrifices on behalf of the people and act as a mediator between God and his people. As new covenant Christians we know that the Old Priesthood was a foreshadowing of the Priestly work of Christ, the great high priest. Thus, the old Liturgical work of the Old Testament priests is a foreshadowing of the completed and continuing liturgical work of Christ for us now.
This definition gives us a clue as to what content should be included in our liturgy; mainly songs, prayers, and scripture readings that point us to the finished and continuing work of Jesus on our behalf. And also gives us confidence because it reminds us that Christ continues to mediate for us. He takes our imperfect prayers and songs and presents them to the father on our behalf.
Liturgical worship is worship that is centered around Jesus. We’ll get more into that idea next week.
So, to begin, I need to start with a confession. In recent a worship committee meeting we were on-boarding some new members and doing some introductory work, explaining some of the why’s behind what we do on Sunday mornings. A few long-time members of the worship team, but new members of the worship committee, shared how a lot of the info I was sharing was new to them.
I realized that while I have done an excellent job of explaining the why’s—the reasons behind what we’re doing on Sunday morning, to the worship committee, I have not done a great job of doing that with the entire worship team. Our rehearsals are focussed only on what we’re doing on Sunday morning with little talk of the reasoning behind it. So this podcast is my attempt to remedy that imbalance. My intention is that you would listen to each episode at some point during the week before rehearsal—ideally on the way to rehearsal so that it’s fresh—and then we’ll begin each rehearsal with a brief discussion on the topic covered by the podcast.
So welcome again to the inaugural episode of the Linwood Worship Podcast. This week we are going to try to define the term worship. The word worship comes from the Olde English term Worth-ship, which implies acknowledging the worth of something or someone. In the Bible there are numerous words that get translated into the English word worship. We’ll briefly look at three.
The word proskynein means to bow down in submission. Imagine a servant bowing before a king. It implies a physical posture of submission—but even more, prosekynein implies an entire life-pattern of submission and devotion to God.
The word Latreuen is another word that often gets translated into the English word worship. It means “service.” Just like a servant would serve a good king because he is worthy of it, we serve our God because he is worthy of it. Like the word proskeynein, latreuen also has all-of-life implications. The Sunday morning gathering is obviously not the only place where Christians serve the Lord.
The final biblical example we’ll look at today is a group of words with the stem “seb.” Words with this stem have implications of reverence, fear, and trembling. I imagine Moses at the burning bush taking off his shoes because he is in the presence of God. This word also has implications beyond just what occurs in the weekly worship service. It implies an entire life posture of reverence for God.
All three of these words imply that worship in the Bible is about more than what happens in the weekly gathering of God’s people. David Peterson writes, “Acceptable worship in Old Testament terms involves homage, service and reverence, demonstrated in the whole of life.” This is important for us to grasp before we dig in deeper to what specifically happens on Sunday morning. Your worship is does not start when Pastor Joel greets you, and it does not end when he gives you the parting blessing. What happens on Sunday is simply one part of your entire life of worship.
That being said, what happens on Sunday is vitally important to the worshipping life of the Christian and as such, it is valuable to give it some deep consideration. We’ll dig in deeper next week.