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A Mercifully Brief Introduction to an Age Old Custom: Church Liturgy

A Mercifully Brief Introduction to an Age Old Custom: Church Liturgy

I grew up in the church. Literally. I grew up in a ministry family and if the church building was open, we were almost always in it. Youth group, prayer meeting, church camp, you name it--I was there. I’ve consistently served in music ministry since I was 13 years old. But even as I reached adulthood and began leading, no one ever sat me down and taught me about the word or the practice of liturgy.  Now, my family didn’t belong to a “liturgical style church”. That’s common Christian shorthand for churches that follow a number of practices, perhaps most distinctly the observance of the traditional church year.  (More on that in a later post.) But the truth is, every church has a liturgy.  
 
You might find a few definitions of the word “liturgy” floating around, but the Greek word for liturgy can be translated as “a work of the people”, and that’s how I like to think of it. When we view our gatherings through the lens of that definition, the role of the congregation shifts from that of an observer to a participant. The church body gives praise and honor to God as one. There is no separation between the congregation and the musicians on stage. They work together. Colossians 3:16-17 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” This is our work as the people of God, and this is why we gather. 
 
While all churches follow a liturgy, not all liturgies look the same. Some churches sing more songs than others. Some observe the Lord’s supper more often than others. Some regularly recite the Apostle’s Creed or the Lord’s Prayer. Some take a moment to welcome visitors, and others don’t. Maybe you grew up like me, and the word liturgy has almost no context in your mind.  Maybe you come from a Catholic or Anglican background and it carries some emotional weight—either positive or negative.  Maybe the word liturgy conjures up thoughts of dry, emotionally flat religious practices. Whatever your background or history may be, I want to encourage us all to be focused on our role as worshipers and not as consumers. 
 
At Grace Point Church we seek to rehearse our response to the gospel through each element of our liturgy. The elements of each gathering include: adoration, confession of sin, assurance of pardon, passing the peace, consummation of faith and sending forth.  We begin by proclaiming who God is, and what He has done. This leads us to remember God's call to worship Him; a call that was given once when He saved us and lasts throughout eternity. After we see God for who He is, we naturally see ourselves for who we are, sinners. This moves us to confess our sins or perhaps lament the brokenness of the world around us. Immediately following the confession of sin and brokeness, we hear directly from scripture God's assurance of pardon and affirmation of His sovereignty. Because of the redemptive work of Jesus we have peace with God, and peace with one another. Therefore, we then take a moment to pass on that peace we have been given by greeting and welcoming one another in the name of the Lord. Worship doesn’t stop when the singing stops, which is why we are invited to continue to worship through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. We then reflect on what we just heard from scripture, remembering that Jesus and his sacrifice is at the center of it all as we partake in communion. This leads us to respond in thanksgiving. Finally, we are not merely dismissed, but sent out into the world to continue worshipping, and proclaiming the gospel to a lost and dying world. When every element of our liturgy is thoughtfully and prayerfully structured around the gospel of Jesus Christ, no moment is wasted.  
 
I hope in the coming weeks you can find comfort in the familiarity of the rhythm of our church’s liturgy, and I look forward to worshiping together with you. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ. May it be seen in our lives, and always on our lips.
 
Steven Henry
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