On the Plains of Moab Blog
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October 24, 2016, 3:40 PM

"All Those Words" or "Bla, Bla, Bla"?


Once upon a time, in a church far, far away, a church member came to me and asked why our church service was littered with “all those words,” to the tune of “What’s All This Mess?” I asked for clarification, and she said, “You know, all those words we say, over and over.”

It took a few thuds to my left brain to realize that “all those words” (said, by the way, with a distinct note of disdain in voice, flailing arms and contorted facial expression) was referring to the liturgy. Things like the Call to Worship; the Call to Confession and the Promise of Forgiveness, etc. etc. Apparently, she thought these words were not meaningful or even necessary to a church service. (Never mind that these “words” are the words of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in Scripture.)

I know a similar thought must often occur to many a pew dwelling saint. One of my college room-mates from Liberty University told me emphatically that a formal liturgy was a bad thing because it “regulated the Holy Spirit.” [!] …As if God never said all things should be done decently and in order. (1 Cor. 14:40 ESV).

Let me wax emphatic for a moment. What we do with the liturgy on Sunday morning is not merely words for the sake of words, and we sure as lima beans ain’t trying to “regulate the Holy Spirit” – as IF we could! A formal liturgy reflects heavenly worship. A formal liturgy is patterned on the kind of worship dialogue found particularly in Revelation 4:1-11 and 7:9-12.

A church service was never intended to be a disjointed, passive spectator event, which points to the problematic nature in the way some larger churches structure their services with ever more professionalism and less intentional participation from the “audience.”

But, that is a topic for another day.

Another aspect of a formal liturgy is that it gives form to the pattern of being called by God into worship; hearing the need of redemption; confessing sins and hearing the sweet words of forgiveness as we gather to sit at the foot of the Throne to hear and taste God in Word and Sacrament. At the close of the service, we don’t say, “Y’all come back.” Or “You’re dismissed.” We speak a word of charge and pronounce benediction as we return to the world.

This salvific shape of our worship service is something we find in the fabric of Scripture. Recently, I have been going through Old and New Testaments looking for those redemptive patterns in blocks of Scripture. Take, for instance, this upcoming Lord’s Day liturgy. Here it is:

Call to Worship           Exodus 3:2-6

The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, "I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

Call to Confession      Exodus 3:7-8

The LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Prayer:

Almighty and most merciful Father, we thank you for your mercy which is higher than the heavens, wider than our wanderings, deeper than all our sin. Forgive our careless attitudes toward your purposes, our refusal to show mercy to others, our envy of those who have more than we have, our obsession with material possessions, our indifference to the treasures of heaven, our neglect of Word and worship. Help us to desire what is good, love what you love, and do what you command, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Assurance        Exodus 3:16-17

The LORD said to Moses, “Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, ‘I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites [and the Mosquito Bites ;-)], a land flowing with milk and honey.’” My friends, in Jesus Christ, this has been fulfilled. Believe the Good News!

Now, this is Old Testament stuff from Exodus. It’s about Israel. But, what does it have to do with us? Well, one of the first things you do when you read Old Testament narratives with Israel mentioned is see the end of the matter where Israel is a forerunner of spiritual Israel – which is the Church of Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Peter 2:9-10; Romans 9:25-26). The OT narratives do involve us.

The Old Testament looks for its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Israel was delivered from bondage in Egypt. “The Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16) (us) was delivered from sin and death. The former being a foretaste of something even greater to come in Jesus.

With this picture in mind, the Old Testament liturgy becomes something beautiful and meaningful. Our Call to Worship is the Burning Bush experience. Drawing closer to God on sacred ground for worship. The Call to Confession is the recognition that God sees our need, and promises deliverance. The Promise of Forgiveness secures our portion in the “Land flowing with milk and honey.” Heaven. The New Heavens and the New Earth. The New Jerusalem. Eden: Paradise Restored.

Make sure you take a look at the liturgy each week to see if you can discern these patterns in the works. As you do this, it is good training ground for reading God’s Word for all its worth.

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