How church oughta be

Notes on Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck’s
Why we Love the Church:
in praise of institutions and organized religion

Chapter 5 : The Historical (One Holy Catholic Church)

For the first half of my notes on Chapter 5, check out Traditional or Restorationist?

Question 2: How should church services be conducted?

DeYoung criticizes Viola (author of Pagan Christianity) sharply for what he sees as Viola’s absolute rejection of the traditional order of worship. According to DeYoung, Viola claims that the order of service is unscriptural and pagan, and that it “strangles the headship of Jesus Christ.” Instead, Viola encourages a return to the “glorious, free-flowing, open-participatory, every-member-functioning church meetings that we see in I Corinthians 14:26 and Hebrews 10:24-25.” (Having not read Pagan Christianity, I base my understanding of Viola’s position on what I have read in Why we love the church, which may or may not be a correct representation of Viola’s position. Caveat emptor.)

What Viola, apparently, argues for is a restoration of a 1 Corinthians 14 “order of worship” in which “whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation” (I Cor 14:26). Each person shares their part and, as Viola mentions, there is a “glorious, free-flowing, open-participatory, every-member-functioning church meeting.”

But does I Corinthians 14 really describe this free-form manner of conducting church meetings as being ideal? Certainly, I Corinthians 14:26 makes clear that this is how church meetings in Corinth were being conducted. But Paul’s commentary on this form of worship indicates that “free-form” was not at all the ideal.

The context of I Corinthians 14, far from encouraging a “free-flowing, open-participatory, every-member-functioning church meeting”, instead encourages order and silence in church meetings. Paul lays out standards for how many people are to speak (two or at most three), for how they are to speak (in turn, with interpretation for tongues), and for who is not to speak (women). Rather than encouraging the Corinthian’s free-flowing style, Paul places limits on their meetings and insists on decency and order in their services.

Is this to say that a free-flowing, participatory service is Scripturally inappropriate? By no means. As long as the prescriptions of I Corinthians 14 for decency and order are carried out, this appears to be an appropriate form for a worship service to take–although logistically, this form is generally confined to a smaller body of believers. I understand that this is how the Plymouth Brethren conduct their breaking of bread services and my mom has told me that my uncle and his wife belonged to a fellowship (part of the Charismatic restorationist movement of the 70s) that conducted its services in this way. These services can be beautiful–but they also require great discipline and obedience on the part of the church body in order to ensure that all things are indeed done decently and in order.

So this open-participation form of worship appears to be Biblically permissible, when conducted according to Paul’s standards in I Corinthians–but is this open-participation form of worship ideal or required? Does Scripture say anything about what specific form church gatherings are to take?

The New Testament has little to say on this topic. Acts 2:42 indicates certain important components of church life: doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers. I Corinthians 11 indicates the importance of communion in early church life–and the necessity that it be taken in an appropriate way. But as far as an order of service? I see none.

However, the Old Testament is filled with liturgy. After delivering the people of Israel from Egypt, God set up a specific calendar for worship and celebrations. He prescribed a certain way in which worship in the tabernacle was to take place. In Numbers 6:22-27, God gives the priests a specific benediction by which they are to bless the people of Israel. We see examples of liturgical-type worship taking place in heaven such as when the living creatures give glory to God and then the twenty-four elders bow down and worship in chorus in Revelation 4. Historical documents from the early church (AD 95-200) include orders of worship and liturgy.

So, while the New Testament does not prescribe a specific order of worship, I see no evidence to suggest that liturgy or set orders of worship are opposed to Scripture or to the example of the early church. I see no evidence to suggest that liturgy is a Pagan component that has been mixed into Christian worship. Rather, I see liturgy as a continuation of the liturgical tradition of Judaism and of the early church. Scripture does not insist upon liturgy for a New Testament church–but neither does it forbid it.

What Scripture does say clearly about the order of service is that there BE order in the service.

Scripture gives great latitude with how church meetings are supposed to be carried out: where meetings occur and what order the service takes. But Scripture is clear in the need for order in the meeting of the church–an element I fear is neglected in this newest form of Restorationism.

6 thoughts on “How church oughta be”

  1. Hi Rebekah!
    I am Lauren’s mom (from Lloyd and
    I am a Lutheran Christian (LC-MS) and I love your blog. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind an older person commenting on your blog. I am especially enjoying the “liturgy (traditional) vs restoration” thoughts that you have expressed.

  2. Thanks!
    As you probably know, our church (LC-MS) is primarily a traditional (liturgical) church body, although both traditional and contemporary forms of worship are used.
    Traditional is not unscriptural or pagan, as Viola apparently claims. Nearly all of the spoken and sung words are directly from the Holy Scriptures, -Matthew 28:19b, 1 John 1:8-9, Mark 10:47, Luke 2:14, John 1:29 and I could go on and on throughout the worship service.
    What I like about it is that the very young children and the very old people know what to expect, – what comes next. Last Sunday, a very young child who was sitting in the balcony spoke the Lord’s Prayer so firmly (and loudly) that all were following him! Also, my own mother who had lost her sight from macular degeneration and most of her hearing, was still able to participate in the worship service because she had learned it from her childhood.
    I have no objection to the way others chose to worship. I love the order. I also love the hymns which witness to Scripture and especially to Jesus and have endured the test of time.

  3. I definitely agree with you that good liturgy witnesses to Christ–what better thing is there than to have a congregation speaking the Word of God together, and coming together week after week to a service spoken straight from Scripture?

    I belong to a non-liturgical church, but my parents were from the LCMS tradition–and I fondly recall the communion liturgy. I think there’s something powerful about reciting the creeds together as a church body and praying the Lord’s prayer together.

    I especially love that in participating in the liturgy, I am not only joining with the church of this age, but with the church throughout the ages in declaring the greatness of God and His redemptive work through Jesus Christ.

    I’m with you, Nancy, when it comes to liturgy–it’s a lovely thing and I’d hate to lose it!


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