The Order of Christian Worship

By Chaplain Mike

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.

• Justin Martyr, First Apology c. 150 AD

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42, ESV)

I became convinced long ago…

  • That Christian worship follows a certain order.
  • That this order has been proven sound and salutary through the church’s history.
  • That the main parts of this order involve Christians meeting around (1) the Word, and (2) the Table (and Baptism on occasions when it is practiced).
  • That the purpose of these two main parts is to lead us to Christ through the retelling of the Gospel.
  • That the subsidiary parts lead to and from the main parts: (1) Gathering, and (2) Sending.
  • That whatever elements are practiced in worship should serve the liturgy (music, prayers, testimonies, readings, drama, etc.) by enabling the congregation to prepare for or respond to the revelation of Christ in Word and Table.

So, in my view, Christian worship follows this pattern:

  • Gathering
  • The Service of the Word
  • The Service of the Table
  • Sending

I guess that makes me a liturgical Christian.

As with many evangelicals of my generation, it was Dr. Robert Webber who opened my eyes to the historic traditions of worship in the church. Webber, who came from a fundamentalist background himself, became a practitioner and student of worship, and then became a guide to many who grew dissatisfied with the lack of emphasis on worship in the non-liturgical traditions. You can read more of his story in this earlier IM post.

One of the simple lessons Webber taught about worship was its basic historic order, which from the days of the apostles and apostolic fathers was the common practice of the church.

Accepting this teaching about worship and its traditional pattern is one of the main reasons I became dissatisfied with non-liturgical evangelicalism. In the “free” churches, there is also an accepted order, but it differs from the long-practiced pattern and is rooted in a different history. Generally, it has looked like this:

  • Preparation
  • Sermon
  • Invitation

This order for church services grows out of historic “revivalism,” a movement that finds its primary roots in the awakenings of the early 19th century. Often, its “father” is deemed to be Charles Grandison Finney, who implemented “New Measures” for bringing about “revival” in church meetings.

The basic revivalist meeting order for the service looks like this:

  • The time of preparation is designed to “warm the heart,” primarily through singing.
  • The sermon is the high point of the service and is designed to lead those in the congregation to a crisis of decision.
  • The service concludes with an invitation to make a decision for Christ. This may be a decision to become a Christian or to dedicate one’s life to Christ in a fresh way.

In the past forty years in particular, many evangelical churches have altered the elements in this pattern somewhat, emphasizing the teaching of the Bible more than preaching for decision. In a number of churches, the invitation has dropped out of use, the teaching sermon has become longer, and the service may end with a song designed to “seal” the truth of the Word on the hearers’ hearts, or it may simply conclude with a prayer. The expectation is that the congregation has heard God’s instructions; now it’s time to share what we’ve learned with one another (fellowship) and to practice it in our daily lives (mission).

And so, at least in my experience in such congregations:

  • The “song service” has replaced rites of entrance and some parts of the service of the Word.
  • The service of the Word is viewed exclusively as the sermon (Scripture readings are rarer).
  • The service of the Table is not observed each week. In cases where the invitation is given, it has replaced Communion as the means of response.
  • A sending of some kind may or may not still be observed.

Speaking broadly, the traditional liturgical pattern is designed for worship, the revivalist pattern for bringing people to a place of decision.

In the churches that have more of a teaching style, the revivalist/teaching pattern functions primarily to instruct and equip Christians through Biblical knowledge. The decisional aspect is not as immediate. Life change is encouraged through applying the Word.

• • •

I became more and more dissatisfied with the revivalist/teaching pattern of church service primarily because I found it did not assist me in truly worshiping God. It did not lead me into Gospel realities week after week. It focused too much on specific instruction or areas of decision that did not always include the entire congregation. It did not enable me to feel that I was part of the communion of saints gathered around the throne. There may have been a “praise” portion of the service, but as a whole it did not seem to me that the service was centered on Christ and what he has done for us, but rather it was mainly about learning or making decisions about what I should be doing for Christ.

On the other hand, the historic worship order made sense to me as a pattern for meeting with God and focusing my attention on Christ and the Gospel.

It seemed to me like what would happen if I were to receive an invitation to a banquet at a king’s palace. There would be a protocol, set up by the king’s staff, for guests to follow. We would enter the palace and show our respect and gratitude for being invited. We would be introduced to the king and he would address us as his citizens. We would sit down at the banquet table and he would lead us in partaking of the feast prepared for his honor and our blessing. We would be dismissed in peace to go and live as his loyal subjects.

If that sounds too formal and “high church” for you, then think of it like this. The same pattern would hold if my wife and I were invited to the home of dear friends. When we arrived, we would be greeted at the door and as we entered we would say, “Thanks for having us over; boy, that sure smells good; I love what you’ve done with your house” — we would offer words of thanks and praise. Before dinner was served, we might sit down in the living room or out on the deck together. We would catch up with one another through conversation. Then, summoned to the table, we would sit down as guests and enjoy the meal our friends had prepared and served us. Finally, after more conversation, we would bid them goodnight, saying, “We must do this more often. We’ll be in touch.” We would go home, hearts warmed after a time of renewing a special relationship.

Entering. Word. Meal. Sending.

And in case some of you are automatically thinking this is about being “high church” or participating in elaborate rituals or following suffocating formalities, forget it. It’s just a simple pattern that can be worked out with as much or as little fanfare as a congregation desires. It can contain any style of music, any number of creative elements, and it can fit any cultural setting. It’s just the way we meet with God.

But some of you are probably saying, why do we have to talk about an “order” for worship at all? Aren’t we just called to come to church and worship God? Can’t we just gather and worship from our hearts?


Every meeting has an order. No congregation that I know of is truly and absolutely spontaneous when they meet together. Everyone has a “liturgy,” a pattern of what we do when we gather. (Surprisingly, you might discover that the “non-liturgical” churches are stricter in their patterns and less “free” in their worship than many “liturgical” congregations!) This order is simple and centered on the Gospel. It provides the basic form in which we can freely worship God through our Lord Jesus Christ in the fullness of the Spirit.

As a worshiper and a pastor, I became increasingly dissatisfied with the revivalist/teaching pattern for the reasons I’ve stated above. And my main dissatisfaction, it seems to me, grew out of the relative neglect of the Lord’s Table in that way of meeting. At this point in my Christian journey, I cannot conceive of corporate worship in terms other than “Word AND Table.” I think a strong case can be made that this is the NT and historical pattern for Christian worship.

What host would welcome people into his home for fellowship and not provide food and drink?

I would also argue that it is the Table that guarantees our worship is always “Christian” — that it always includes the proclamation and reception of the Gospel of Christ. If the preacher fails to make it clear, the Table will. The Table assures that we will always hear of Christ, see Christ, be invited to come to Christ, partake of Christ, and be renewed and nourished by Christ. “This is the Body and Blood of Christ, given for you.”

So then, let us worship together.

64 thoughts on “The Order of Christian Worship

  1. “Christ has died;
    Christ has risen;
    Christ will come again.”
    — The “Mystery of Faith” I hear & repeat at every Mass


  2. Secret Knowledge as in Occult Gnosis?

    And doesn’t “Gnostic” mean “He Who Has Secret Knowledge”?


  3. I can’t find the reference now, but I believe that I’ve read recently that Finney, the “father” of today’s concert-style “praise and preaching” worship style, actually didn’t want it used for Sunday morning services, but that churches should use the “traditional” liturgical style for weekly worship, including weekly Communion. If anyone has a reference for that, I’d love to have it.

    John Wesley also encourged the members of his “societies” and “classes” to regularly attend Sunday services weekly at an Anglican church, where they could receive Communion and hear the Word “proclaimed”, and based his “Basic Pattern of Worship” for American Methodists on a simplified version of the worship service from the Book of Common Prayer.

    I’m currently attending a United Methodist church that’s using the “praise and preaching” style (in vogue currently for new church plants), and, like others that have posted similar comments, find that I miss the significant elements from the BCP service that just aren’t included, especially the confession and pardon, the “proclamation of the Word”, the Credo, and weekly communion. The other thing that I find missing, and seems to be common with this style of service, is the missional aspect of the “sending” at the end of the service. The sermon is in the teaching style, but doesn’t leave the listener with the impression that they don’t need to *do* anything with the message other than absorb it, and the “sending” is just a blessing – “so long, have a nice week, see you next Sunday” kind of thing. No expectation that the congregation is actually supposed to take what they heard and apply it to their lives the other six and a half days.

    Have others had similar experiences with “praise and preaching” worship styles?


  4. To put it another way, our worship is (or should be) of necessity informed by the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. So he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to observe it. If we are to go the “primitive Christianity” route, we should be looking for something Peter and Paul would recognize.


  5. The absence of any scriptural reading was to me the most startling aspect, the first time I attended an Evangelical service. I was not so naive as to expect any recognizable traditional liturgy, but I expected scripture readings to play a prominent part in the activity. I left the building with the feeling of wondering when the actual worship service was going to start.


  6. I think the issue with history with evangelicals and their churches is that history and tradition tend to be one and the same so if you cite, in this case liturgical worship, from a historical standpoint as CM has done with this post then the first thing that many evangelicals think is tradition or traditional. Tradition/traditional are the “four letter words” in evangelical circles and my circle was southern baptist and believe me the two churches I’ve been involved with would have a rather loud and violent reaction to this post. The pastor at my last church pretty much “tore me new ones” anytime somthing along this line was brought up and the last pastor at a church previous did the same and have mercy on anyone that even mentioned Rome, Roman, Catholic or Roman Catholic…… those were fighing words and hell has, in their minds, a special place for them and those interested! They didn’t fare much better on Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Episcopal etc – they just tolerated them and had the “well if we have to” attitude in calling them brothers/sisters in Christ.

    No, history means nothing to many of these folks and besides most don’t know it to begin with and wouldn’t, in most cases, take the time to find out. What CM posted here finally made clear something that had bugged me for many years…… I’ve known for quite awhile (as in years) that something was amiss in evangelical worship but I could never put my finger on it and CM hit the nail on the head in this post and I can easily see what the issue is and what’s been missing. Oh that I had known this years ago – it would have saved half a lifetime of confusion, uncertainty/doubts. Things are beginning to change and I think for the better. Quite honestly the best thing I’ve ever done is get out of “church” for a little while – brings lots of perspecitve when it isn’t clouded each week with the mess that many times is evangelical worship.


  7. Never mind what all us Gentiles did to mess up the Perfectly Perfect Purely Pure Early Church with our strange customs that were non- Jewish (wasn’t there some little thing about certain persons requiring certain other persons to be circumcised and follow the dietary laws, and somebody or other wrote a few letters about it and annoyed Peter and the rest of the guys for a decision?)



  8. Martin, what scholars of a certain bent nowadays like to refer to as “alternative Christianities”, we rough, primitive types knew as “heresies”.

    For example, Montanus, Priscilla and Maximilla who were the instigators and heads of what could be considered either an early form of Pentacostalism, or an ecstatic cult (depending on your view). They may have started out orthodox, but they didn’t end that way – “Followers of the New Prophecy called themselves spiritales (“spiritual people”) in contrast to their opponents whom they termed psychici (“carnal, natural people”).”

    In other words, same old, same old. We are the Specially Anointed Chosen of the Spirit with the Secret Knowledge and the rest of you are just common clay and possibly damned to boot.


  9. Mid-week discipleship is the key IMO. And I’d venture to say that small groups are the key to mid-week discipleship (and more in-community evangelism… again, Robert Webber has a great work on this, Ancient-Future Evangelism). One of the things I like about classical Anglican tradition that is sadly lacking in most modern parishes is the twice-daily public prayer/scripture services (i.e the Daily Offices). The main reason for the institution of this practice by the English Reformers was to provide a venue whereby the people would hear the entire Bible each year and recite the entire Psalter each month. Also, the Offices are ideal for lay leadership, and thus really good for use as individual devotions and as the backdrop for the small group meeting.

    But ultimately, detailed teaching is an essential element of discipleship. Getting good discipleship off the ground is a long process, but I’d submit that it’s worth it. A good start would be for the Pastor to work with a small group of folks who will eventually make other disciples in small groups, etc. And if this is going to be done in the context of a congregation with a strong sense of ecclesiology, I’d submit that it’d be good to have the various small groups on the same page. Perhaps everyone is studying the same Scripture passages at the same time.

    For my class on Adult Christian Education for my Master’s we had to do a project where we proposed a program for education/discipleship. I based mine on using the Offices and their systematic reading of the Scriptures. I’d be happy to share more details with anyone who needs it. Just send an email in FaceBook. I’m the only person on the Interwebz with my name, so it’s a simple search.


  10. My guess, Martin, is that “alternate traditions of Christianity” is referring to the heresies that were condemned by the Ecumenical Councils. From a purely secular point of view they could legitimately be called “alternate Christianities”; however, to the orthodox Christian, these things are not so.


  11. “However, I think that many evangelicals have little interest in history.”

    It isn’t just evangelicals, but people in general. Our culture has become quite a-historical, to be honest.


  12. First of all, IMO the goal is not “to reconstruct a form of primitive Christianity that Christ himself might recognize.” The simple form for worship I outlined grows out of apostolic and post-apostolic forms (see the quotes at the beginning of the post), but it has been practiced for centuries in the historic churches. It is only in the past 200 years that vast numbers of churches have departed from it.


  13. “If the goal is to reconstruct a form of primitive Christianity that Christ himself might recognize, shouldn’t we be looking (for example) to Jewish tradition? Yes, many of the same elements are present in a synagogue service, but the ethos is completely different.”

    I don’t know how much the modern synagogue service resembles what Jesus would have experianced. From my understanding many things changed in Jewish observance after the Temple was destroyed in the first century.


  14. Good question, Derek. And frankly, this is one of the things I struggle with in the liturgical tradition such as the Lutheran church we now attend. Our congregation has not yet (IMO) found a way to incorporate serious teaching for adults into the life of the church. I also miss an emphasis on Biblical exposition in the sermon at times. I would hope that classes and smaller groups of various kinds would begin to be the place where teaching takes a central role. And I think the sermon could be more robust in this area.


  15. That’s nearly the bit I like best in the Mass; it’s very quiet and workman-like and everyday, as you say – doing the dishes 🙂

    (It also has to do with the respect for the elements, in that every crumb of the Host and every drop of the Blood are to be consumed and nothing left to be a prey of decay or disrepect, but yeah – it arose out of the simple act of cleaning up after the meal).


  16. Speaking of the Romish…

    I want to go off-topic to recommend this post by Michael Flynn (on the vexed question of Adam’n’Eve’n’evolution) not alone for its overview of how grown-up religious thinking (and not the caricature of ‘you Bible-bashers are so silly with your quaint little myths!’ that materialists like to present as their real opponent) actually works.

    I also want to recommend it particularly for this little side-note about Thomas Aquinas and the thought-experiment about Eve and Original Sin, because I want you all – the next time someone gets on about Christianity is all about oppressing women and until we bring ou the feminine nature of God and have the first (or second, if you believe the fairy-story of Pope Joan) female Pope, women should not participate in it – to rub the noses of such persons in this. I’m not talking about this from the viewpoint of Catholicism alone, but for all Christianity. No, guys and gals, women are not solely blamed for all the evil in the world – it was the fault of Adam (and the next time the whole ‘headship of the man versus egalitarianism’ thing comes up, remind everyone that this too is part of the primacy of the male – the fault of Original Sin):

    “Article 5. Whether if Eve, and not Adam, had sinned, their children would have contracted original sin?

    …On the contrary, The Apostle says (Romans 5:12): “By one man sin entered into this world.” Now if the woman would have transmitted original sin to her children, he should have said that it entered by two, since both of them sinned, or rather that it entered by a woman, since she sinned first. Therefore original sin is transmitted to the children, not by the mother, but by the father.

    I answer that, The solution of this question is made clear by what has been said. For it has been stated (1) that original sin is transmitted by the first parent in so far as he is the mover in the begetting of his children: wherefore it has been said (4) that if anyone were begotten materially only, of human flesh, they would not contract original sin. Now it is evident that in the opinion of philosophers, the active principle of generation is from the father, while the mother provides the matter. Therefore original sin, is contracted, not from the mother, but from the father: so that, accordingly, if Eve, and not Adam, had sinned, their children would not contract original sin: whereas, if Adam, and not Eve, had sinned, they would contract it.

    …Reply to Objection 2. Some hold that if Eve, and not Adam, had sinned, their children would be immune from the sin, but would have been subject to the necessity of dying and to other forms of suffering that are a necessary result of the matter which is provided by the mother, not as punishments, but as actual defects. This, however, seems unreasonable. Because, as stated in the I, 97, A1, 2, ad 4, immortality and impassibility, in the original state, were a result, not of the condition of matter, but of original justice, whereby the body was subjected to the soul, so long as the soul remained subject to God. Now privation of original justice is original sin. If, therefore, supposing Adam had not sinned, original sin would not have been transmitted to posterity on account of Eve’s sin; it is evident that the children would not have been deprived of original justice: and consequently they would not have been liable to suffer and subject to the necessity of dying.”

    The mediaevals and earlier get whacked for allegedly not believing women had souls or the like, so it’s simply justice to show that the older forms of biology (where all the form of the embryo comes from the father and the mother is merely a seed-bed) did redound to the advantage, as well as the disadvantage, of the status of women.


  17. Ryan — If you haven’t already, you might enjoy reading “For the Life of the World” by Alexander Schmemann. He writes compellingly about liturgical worship and life being intertwined.


  18. Dear Mike,

    Thanks for this summary of worship. For those of us who are in a ‘revivalist’ tradition, this is something that we are lacking so much in, and could really benefit from.

    One question – if Sunday morning is primarily about ‘worship’, where would you locate detailed teaching of the flock (doctrine, ethics, etc), and when would you do it?

    Thanks in advance.


  19. I guess I should clarify my question: “alternative traditions of Christianity existed” would these alternative traditions of Christianity be acceptable for most reputable protestant theologians or are we talking about those who were rejected by the ecumenical councils as heretics?


  20. “One of the dangers of patristics is that almost all the material has been preserved by what we would call the Orthodox / Catholic tradition. We know that other, alternative traditions of Christianity existed, but were suppressed by this tradition”

    Hmmm, I have read similar statements many times but I have never read any historically credible support for this statement. So I guess my question would be “Is their a reliable historical proof for this statement?”


  21. That’s well said. However, I think that many evangelicals have little interest in history. I feel that the idea is “get everything from Bible” which is done according to a quasi foundationalist, scientific reading thereof. I sometimes think that Paul and the rest of the early Christians would scratch their heads at some of those interpretations.


  22. If the Holy Spirit is present in worship, then God is active. When the Word is read I believe the Spirit is present.


  23. What about the practice of sitting in silent meditation?

    One of the dangers of patristics is that almost all the material has been preserved by what we would call the Orthodox / Catholic tradition. We know that other, alternative traditions of Christianity existed, but were suppressed by this tradition.

    It is to me strange that Protestants would reject the authority of Catholicism–and Orthodoxy, to the extent that anyone thinks of it–but cling (unconsciously? or out of inertia, or for want of viable alternatives?) to so many of their beliefs and practices. If the goal is to reconstruct a form of primitive Christianity that Christ himself might recognize, shouldn’t we be looking (for example) to Jewish tradition? Yes, many of the same elements are present in a synagogue service, but the ethos is completely different.


  24. I like to do my daily devotions from an older version of the Book of Common Prayer. Usually, this means doing the Morning or Evening Office, which typically consists of:

    1)Introductory sentences from Scripture and an exhortation (standing)
    2)Confession, Absolution and the Lord’s Prayer (kneeling)
    3)Psalms and Canticles (standing)
    4)Lessons/Readings from Scripture (sitting)
    5)Petitions and Thanksgivings (kneeling)

    I’ve noticed that when I’m lazy and try to do it all sitting, I inevitably fall asleep sometime in the middle of the first lesson (despite the fact that I’m doing this by myself and out loud), but if I go through the prescribed sit/stand/kneel, I finish the liturgy more awake than when I started.


  25. The constant emphasis on “invitation” is what eventually made me … bored … in church. For a long time I thought, “yes, I know this. However, there is probably someone in this church who needs to know Christ. So its okay that the sermon emphasis conversion…. again.”

    That changed once I started to disagree with the practice of altar calls. That practice of evangelicalism starts to feel superficial and even manipulative. Once that was out the window, all that was left was superficiality.

    Even in times of “solid biblical teaching” or whatever it still leaves me bored. The message seem so broad and generalized that it is hard to take them seriously after awhile. Furthermore, I resent the fact that music-worship serves the purpose of getting the congregation to “shut up and listen” to the pastor. I go to church to worship God. Not listen to some guy make values for me.


  26. Ours (Anglican) is open to any baptized Christian. Historically, Anglicans only allowed those who were confirmed as Anglicans to take communion, but that trend seems to be gone in most of our parishes.


  27. I suppose the liturgy at my church falls somewhere in between these two. The sermon is long and is certainly the focal point of the service, but an emphasis is also placed on responding with worship to what was preached. The weekly response includes giving of offerings, taking of communion, and singing of hymns / songs. We intentionally load the songs heavier on the back end to be a response in worship rather than a preparation (2 up front, 4-5 at back).

    Stand-alone scripture reading is practiced only occasionally and we have never recited the Creed (although a song version of it used to be in regular rotation).


  28. CM, I generally peruse comments to see if I can start any trouble, but all I can say today, is “Amen”.

    I think of “liturgical churches” that follow the pattern of gathering:word:table:sending as offering me spiritual exercise, nourishment, and discipline. I kneel, I rise, I take, I eat, I make the sign of the cross, I lift up my heart, I recite, I learn, I remember, I repeat, I receive the blessing in the benediction, and I’m sent out the door to repeat the good news I have heard. Honestly, I care not a bit about what century the music was composed in, as long as it makes sense theologically. The liturgy, though, challenges me to be a part of a worship community that extends beyond the church doors. All over the world, people are praying common prayers, lifting their own hearts, confessing their sins, taking the meal, and being sent. It’s much more active worship than “three fast songs, two slow songs, offering with special music, read one verse, and preach for an hour”.

    Wonderful, wonderful thoughts today. I’m reminded of the old series on “Evangelical Liturgy”, which got me hooked on iMonk a couple of years ago. Good stuff.


  29. I do not have any question about K’s Lutheranism. In addition to his gadfly tendencies, he has been seen as a seminal thinker, spreading ideas seeds in all directions and then letting others take them to their logical conclusion. I think the logical conclusion to his stage metaphor is that God is the receptor of worship and worshippers are the ones doing the work of worship (liturgy). Therefore, worship is what we do for God, not what God does for us.


  30. I have no problem with the idea that God acts in history and in the lives of God’s people. I find little biblical evidence that it is in worship. Most of the thin places-between and God and humanity come as they are going about life-Moses and the burning bush, Paul on the road to Damascus, Peter on the rooftop, etc. Worship is what we do after God comes to us. At least that is how I see it.


  31. I have taught Kierkegaard’s illustration often, and for some points I find it quite helpful, especially in reminding people that worship involves active participation rather than being spectators. However, it falls short in one vital aspect — God is not a mere “audience” for our worship. In the corporate worship gathering, we meet with the God who acts.

    Worship is a meeting between ACTIVE participants: the congregation and God, and our actions always involve RESPONDING to his actions:

    1. Our very gathering for worship is in response to his work of forming a people in Christ and in response to what he is doing in our lives between Sundays.
    2. Our hymns, prayers, and testimonies are offerings of praise and thanksgiving for who he is and what he has done on our behalf.
    3. When we recite the Creed, hymns and prayers in the Service of the Word we are responding to his Word spoken.
    4. Our coming to the Lord’s Table is the response to his saving work in Christ and his invitation to come to Christ.
    5. Our going into the world is a response to his call to participate in his mission and his sending us in the power of the Spirit.

    God speaks and acts in our lives and in our midst and we respond to him — that is my understanding of what worship is about.

    One wonderful Biblical illustration of this is the Emmaus story in Luke 24. The 2 disciples perform actions: they welcome the Stranger, they pour out their hearts to him, they listen to his teaching, they invite him into their home as an honored Guest. But when they sit at the Table together, who takes the bread, blesses it, and breaks it? The Lord himself! The One they welcomed as their honored Guest became the Host at the Table, and by his own act, he was made known to them.


  32. The service of the Word in liturgical services includes the sermon (or homily, a shorter version), Scripture readings (often from a lectionary) usually from OT, Psalms, NT epistles, and Gospels. Response to hearing the Word read and preached is usually done through reciting the Creed as an affirmation of faith based on the Word that has been heard, hymns of response, and prayers of the people.

    In revivalist services, the sermon often stands alone. Sometimes there may be a reading from the text to be preached, or a song of preparation, but accompaniment to the sermon is minimal.


  33. The Service of the word encompasses reading of the bible (usually Psalm, Epistles, Gospel), a sermon and reciting the Apostles creed. So the focus is affirming christian belief and education/exhortation.

    The Service of the table encompasses Confession of sin (to God), repentance, passing the peace and then communion. The focus here is getting right with God and man, then taking communion as remembrance that Christ died for us. Perhaps these can be labelled issues of the heart.


  34. K’s assumptions are that worship is not what God does for us-not a time to get more divine goodies-whether it be more grace at the table or more forgiveness at the kneeling bench, but worship is what we do for God.

    I’d like to know where you get that. Read his prayers on communion, he clearly believed reception of God’s gifts was extremely important in the life of a Christian. The hard part about Kierkegaard was that he was a demagogue writing in the context of a state church and cultural Christianity as the norm, and his agenda was to force people to recognize that simply attending services and calling oneself a Christian had little to do with actually being a Christian. He was a professional devil’s advocate. Private letters and such show he really had few theological objections to traditional Lutheran doctrine, though he was ambiguous on a few issues due to his tendency to hyperbole, like whether faith is ultimately an act of will or a gift of God and the efficacy of infant baptism.


  35. JSturty
    You may be right that there may be more than one biblical form for worship. The number of verses that directly mention it seem to me to be few. So what we are left with is trying to infer. I don’t have a problem with throwing the net a bit wider, that is, what do we get from extra biblical sources like church fathers and perhaps even what Jewish worship context looks like.

    But just because there may be several ways of biblical worship I don’t see how that necessarily opens the door to saying it is a wide open field (and I don’t think you are saying that).

    Is it possible to come down to ‘this is what it seems to look like and here are the possibilities?”


  36. CM, I don’t think I am grasping the difference between “The service of the Word” in the proper liturgy and “Sermon” in the improper liturgy. You wrote many words dissecting the revivalist / teaching sermon but did not really build up what servicing the Word looks like. Is servicing the Word simply reading scripture without exposition? I haven’t been to a “liturgical” service but surely the pastor does more than simply read directly from the bible and then sit down. If there is exposition on the word, isn’t that simply a teaching sermon? Clearly many sermons in evangelicalism stray quite far from the text, is these in-particular that are objectionable? Thanks.


  37. I need to respond to you at a couple of points of disagreement here.
    First, I do not believe there is a biblical form, but many biblical ways of worship. I believe those who find a “form” of worship in the NT are “reading it in”, based on Christian history rather than “pulling it out” with sound hermenuetical principles. There is just not enough there for us to be so dogmatic about it.
    Secondly, I differ with you somewhat, on your understanding of worship, although you do not define it. My understanding of worship has been heavily influenced by Kierkegaard’s assumptions about worship. No doubt you are familar with K’s metaphor of worship as a stage presentation, with the worshippers as actors, the worship leaders as prompters and God as the audience. K’s assumptions are that worship is not what God does for us-not a time to get more divine goodies-whether it be more grace at the table or more forgiveness at the kneeling bench, but worship is what we do for God. The word liturgy means ‘the work of the people”. God’s blessings and grace come to us at every moment in our lives and worship is the time the community gathers, not to get more, but to give our praise, our thankfulness, our wonder and our adoration, whatever form that takes incarnated into the local community. It seems worship in the Old Testament gets at this better than alot of worship through Christian history. To take these assumptions into your metaphor of worship as dinner party, God becomes the guest at the party, we Christians are the hosts and the worship leaders are the servers. This would make less significant the table as the center of worship without a memorialist emphasis. Actually, it would fit the memorialist approach to the table rather than the sacramental, for the memorialist focuses on grace that has already come to the worshipper, rather than getting more grace and, for the memorialist, the table is a way of expressing thanksgiving, literally the word, eucharist.
    Thanks for your grace in allowing me to push back. I find after 36 years of ministry and now my 6th decade of life, I have many more questions than I have answers. After leaving the dogmatism of the evangelical fold I am not really interested in falling into the clutches of the dogmatism of the historically Euro-churches.


  38. “…every individual element of the worship trains us for life.”

    One of the things that struck me when I started going to Mass was watching the priest take all of the leftover Eucharist from the extraordinary ministers’ dishes and consolidating it all into one or two dishes to be placed in the Tabernacle, and watching the deacon wipe out the inside of the cup, and seeing all the linens and dishes sent back to the Sacristy. It is the highest point of the service, the focal point of Catholic worship–and we still take time to do the dishes.


  39. Ken,
    I can relate. I was raised in the Anabaptist tradition (Mennonite offshoot), attended a Pentecostal Bible college, pastured for 10 years in a Charismatic church, and for the past 10 years have been a lay member in an Evangelical congregation. I have so appreciated how each of those traditions added to and enriched my walk with Jesus in some way but I can say with Bono that “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” This post touches a real nerve for me.


  40. My heritage is Pentecostal and I think you have been pretty accurate in describing the service as patterned after revival services. A more effective service was one where at the end when an altar call was made most of the congregation came up for prayer.

    What I love about my heritage is that the gospel is real, not just a textbook. The Bible is meant to be lived today in the here and now and is not just an intellectual exercise. The Holy Spirit transforms our lives and gives us hope. And our willingness to question tradition led to a movement that has touched most of the Christian world.

    Having said that, we were weak in what happens after salvation and baptism in the spirit. We did not understand the gospel lived out over a period of 30-40 years. Our belief that the gospel is not just an intellectual exercise turned into anti-intellectualism and a shallow spirituality that does not necessarily promote deep growth. Our question of tradition turned into throwing out many good things and spiritual practices as well as all Christian history. We have amnesia. The problem with amnesia is you not only forget your loved ones, but also who you are.

    I have never stopped being Pentecostal in my heart in the sense of the reality of God to be lived out today. I have had to peel away the unhealthy bits. But my heart has gotten bigger as I have been able to look at the early church and embrace Christian worship as Michael talks about it. We have settled into an Anglican tradition and quite love it.


  41. I don’t really disagree with you. I guess I was pointing out that churches that may on the surface appear to be far apart on the issue might actually not be so different. I actually think that the mindset that there must be an altar call or point of decision at every service has actually fallen from popularity as of late, at least in my experience.

    As far as Christ’s presence in the sacraments, I think many younger Protestants are starting to re-think their position on this. I think people are realizing that the Lord’s Supper shouldn’t just be something we do once a month, and it’s not purely symbolic.


  42. In one of those two books I mention above, Webber relates how that would work out.


  43. While I would not be completely opposed to assigning some sacramental sense to congregational singing– see Eph 5:18-21 for the text — it is not THE gospel sacrament that the Eucharist is (and Baptism). praise and worship through song does not necessarily point clearly to the gospel and is therefore not sufficient apart from the signs Christ himself gave us.


  44. The first thing I would observer is that Paul’s purpose in writing that passage is to bring MORE order to their worship, not to encourage a free-for-all. Second Paul does not say much about a specific pattern to follow, so my take would be that the congregation should be encouraged to participate and use their gifts within the order I have outlined here


  45. I know that many of Pentecostal friends would read this article and say something like the point of their service is to lead people to Christ also. However, they would not think it happens through the Eucharist, but rather through the presence of Christ simply being with His people. And really, doesn’t this come down a lot to how we view the sacraments? If we believe Christ is present in some way in the elements, than the view you’re describing makes perfect sense. If we just see communion as a symbol, it doesn’t really.

    In one of the worship threads, someone made the comment about churches seeing the praise and worship music itself as a sort of sacrament. And actually, when I think about it, that’s probably not too far off. If I were to ask people at the church I used to attend where they meet Christ, I would bet that a majority of them would say during the praise and worship.


  46. I like your observations. Makes me think of my 15 year old daughter. Lately when I have asked her how youth group was she has responded, “It was OK, but I really didn’t learn anything new.” I have tried to explain that “learning something new” isn’t really why we go and I have wondered where she got that impression. Thinking about it in light of this post, I guess it is subtly and ubiquitously communicated in my church tradition through emphasis and order of worship. Hmm.


  47. CM – Great post! It really gives me some things to think about. I would love to hear your thoughts on a passage like 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 which serves as the basis for order of worship in more charismatic type congregations. How or where would that fit in with the order you have laid out above?


  48. Regarding the absence of Scripture reading in many churches, I’ve got two stories that are kind of neat.

    In the first one, at my old Messianic congregation, I remember one of the elders musing that he’d like to skip the sermonette attached to the “Torah service” and just read from the Scriptures. That got me thinking.

    In the other story, last Christmas, on the Sunday before Christmas, we had a “Lessons and Carols” service where the Liturgy of the Word consisted of nothing but various (nine, I’m thinking) relatively lengthy readings from Scripture that began with the Fall and culminated in the Messiah’s coming with songs between them. No sermon. It was a REALLY neat service. I hope we do that again this year.


  49. One church I used to go to had a really simple evening service with no sermon, just extended readings from the Bible (often several chapters) interspersed with worship songs, then a time of prayer, and concluding with communion. It wasn’t exactly “high church,” but it was certainly following that ancient pattern, and it was deeply nourishing. That, combined with liturgical services elsewhere, taught me, as an Evangelical who used to define spiritual growth purely in terms of increasing knowledge, to be able to treat worship as something other than an intellectual exercise aimed at self-transformation.

    What I miss now in much Evangelical worship is a sense of the mystery of God. We act as if the only way we can be transformed by worship is if we “figure out” something new during worship, rather than accepting that we might be transformed simply by participating in worship or in the rhythm of the church year. We certainly don’t accept that the eucharist might be a way to receive spiritual nourishment from Christ in a way that defies explanation or analysis. So, we feed only our heads (or our emotions, in other types of church) but our spirits are left hungry.

    I also appreciate the restraint of liturgical worship, for lack of a better word – being open to receive from God, but not grasping at some sort of religious experience or trying to bring it on through music and emotion. If we truly stood in awe of God and understood how far beyond our comprehension God is, we might be a bit less cavalier about going charging into God’s presence. And we might not be so quick to think we have God figured out or can control God by doing certain things or living a certain way.


  50. I forget whether it’s in Blended Worship or it’s in <i<Worship is a Verb, but in one of those two books Robert Webber gave examples how that Entrance/Word/Table/Sending pattern could work in a variety of liturgical traditions. It was really neat.


  51. Amen. Wonderful testimony. Mine is very similar, including being wuined by Webber.

    One thing I noticed as I read your words is that this four-part structure of worship is actually part of life rhythm, as evidenced by the dinner with friends analogy. Everything we do in worship is and should flow out of everyday life activity. And not only that, but everything we do in worship trains us to do everyday life activity righteously.

    David Fitch recently got me thinking about how every individual element of the worship trains us for life. (I write about it at my blog linked to my name above ;). E.g., gathering trains us to be physically present in the lives of each other; the Practice of the Peace trains us to share the peace of Christ with everyone in our life; silence trains us to make space to hear from God in our life; confession trains us to confess our sins one to another everyday; creeds train us to pledge our allegiance to Jesus Christ and to no other worldly person or power; the Proclamation of the Word trains us to submit to the declared reality of Jesus as Lord of our life; prayers train us to intercede and to uphold one another in prayer throughout our days; Eucharist trains us to give thanks and fellowship with one another at every meal and other mundane activities; songs of thanksgiving and praise train us to constantly give thanks and praise to God throughout our days. benediction trains us to receive the blessing of Christ and to bless others in our life.

    But what happens with these elements are missing, or the overall structure of worship is out of order? In my experience, revivalist/teaching worship services are “out of sorts” with normal life activity. They train into a life of trying to relate with God in ways detached from our normal lives.

    Good stuff. Thanks.


  52. “It’s just a simple pattern that can be worked out with as much or as little fanfare as a congregation desires.”

    Yes. You can get a bare-bones daily Mass done in half an hour or so (that’s with skipping the sermon, but even an ordinary sermon/homily in your average Catholic church wouldn’t go much over five minutes, and a ten-minute one would be extraordinary).

    Entrance, Liturgy of the Word, Liturgy of the Eucharist, Dismissal, out the door to school or work (or what you do as a retired person).


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