THE ORDER OF WORSHIP: SUNDAY MORNINGS SET IN CONCRETE
"Custom without truth is error grown old."
—TERTULLIAN, THIRD-CENTURY THEOLOGIAN
"Son of man, describe to the people of Israel the Temple I have shown you, so they will be ashamed."
—EZEKIEL 43:10, NLT
IF YOU ARE A CHURCHGOING CHRISTIAN, it is likely that you observe the same perfunctory order of worship every time you go to church. It does not matter what stripe of Protestantism you belong to—be it Baptist, Methodist, Reformed, Presbyterian, Evangelical Free, Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, CMA, Pentecostal, Charismatic, or nondenominational—your Sunday morning service is virtually identical to that of all other Protestant churches. Even among the so-called cutting-edge denominations (like the Vineyard and Calvary Chapel), the variations are minor.
Granted, some churches use contemporary choruses while others use hymns. In some churches, congregants raise their hands. In others, their hands never get above their hips. Some churches observe the Lord's Supper weekly. Others observe it quarterly. In some churches, the liturgy (order of worship) is written out in a bulletin.2 In others, the liturgy is unwritten, yet it is just as mechanical and predictable as if it were set to print. Despite these slight variations, the order of worship is essentially the same in virtually all Protestant churches.
THE SUNDAY MORNING ORDER OF WORSHIP
Peel away the superficial alterations that make each church service distinct and you will find the same prescribed liturgy. See how many of the following elements you recall from the last weekend service you attended:
The Greeting. As you enter the building, you are greeted by an usher or an appointed greeter—who should be smiling! You are then handed a bulletin or announcement page. (Note: If you are part of some newer denominations, you may drink coffee and eat doughnuts before you are seated.)
Prayer or Scripture Reading. Usually given by the pastor or song leader.
The Song Service. Led by a professional song leader, choir, or worship team. In charismatic-styled churches, this part of the service typically lasts thirty to forty-five consecutive minutes. In other churches, it is shorter and may be divided into several segments.
The Announcements. News about upcoming events. Usually given by the pastor or some other church leader.
The Offering. Sometimes called "the offertory," it is usually accompanied by special music by the choir, worship team, or a soloist.
The Sermon. Typically, the pastor delivers an oration lasting twenty to forty-five minutes.3 The current average is thirty-two minutes.
Your service may also have included one or more of the following post-sermon activities:
An after-the-sermon pastoral prayer,
An altar call,
More singing led by the choir or worship team,
The Lord's Supper,
Prayer for the sick or afflicted.
The Benediction. This may be in the form of a blessing from the pastor or a song to end the service.
With some minor rearrangements, this is the unbroken liturgy that 345 million Protestants across the globe observe religiously week after week.4 And for the last five hundred years, few people have questioned it.
Look again at the order of worship. Notice that it includes a
threefold structure: (1) singing, (2) the sermon, and (3) closing prayer or song. This order of worship is viewed as sacrosanct in the eyes of many present-day Christians. But why? Again, it is due simply to the titanic power of tradition. And that tradition has set the Sunday morning order of worship in concrete for five centuries . . . never to be moved.5
WHERE DID THE PROTESTANT ORDER OF WORSHIP COME FROM?
Pastors who routinely tell their congregations that "we do everything by the Book" and still perform this ironclad liturgy are simply not correct. (In their defense, the lack of truthfulness is due to ignorance rather than overt deception.)
You can scour your Bible from beginning to end, and you will never find anything that remotely resembles our order of worship. This is because the first-century Christians knew no such thing. In fact, the Protestant order of worship has about as much biblical support as does the Roman Catholic Mass.6 Both have few points of contact with the New Testament.
The meetings of the early church were marked by every-member functioning, spontaneity, freedom, vibrancy, and open participation (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 14:1-33 and Hebrews 10:25).7 The first-century church meeting was a fluid gathering, not a static ritual. And it was often unpredictable, unlike the contemporary church service.
(THE AUTHORS ARE NOT FULLY CORRECT HERE. AS SHOCKING AS IT MAY SEEM IN TODAYS WORLD, WOMEN ARE TO REMAIN SILENT IN THE WORSHIP SERVICE; ALL FULLY EXPLAINED IN DETAIL IN MY STUDIES ON "CHURCH GOVERNMENT" - Keith Hunt)
Further, the first-century church meeting was not patterned after the Jewish synagogue services as some recent authors have suggested.8 Instead, it was totally unique to the culture.
So where did the Protestant order of worship come from? It has its basic roots in the medieval Catholic Mass.9 Significantly, the Mass did not originate with the New Testament; it grew out of ancient Judaism and paganism.10 According to Will Durant, the Catholic Mass was "based partly on the Judaic Temple service, partly on Greek mystery rituals of purification, vicarious sacrifice, and participation."11
Gregory the Great (540-604), the first monk to be made pope, is the man responsible for shaping the medieval Mass.12 While Gregory is recognized as an extremely generous man and an able administrator and diplomat, Durant notes that Gregory was also an incredibly superstitious man whose thinking was influenced by magical paganistic concepts. He embodied the medieval mind, which was influenced by heathenism, magic, and Christianity. It is no accident that Durant calls Gregory "the first completely medieval man."13
The medieval Mass reflected the mind of its originator. It was a blending of pagan and Judaistic ritual sprinkled with Catholic theology and Christian vocabulary.14 Durant points out that the Mass was deeply steeped in pagan magical thinking as well as Greek drama.15 He writes, "The Greek mind, dying, came to a transmigrated life in the theology and liturgy of the church; the Greek language, having reigned for centuries over philosophy, became the vehicle of Christian literature and ritual; the Greek mysteries passed down into the impressive mystery of the Mass."16
In effect, the Catholic Mass that emerged in the sixth century was fundamentally pagan. Christians incorporated the vestments of the pagan priests, the use of incense and holy water in purification rites, the burning of candles in worship, the architecture of the Roman basilica for their church buildings, the law of Rome as the basis of "canon law," the title Pontifex Maximus for the head bishop, and the pagan rituals for the Catholic Mass.17
Once established, the Mass changed little over a thousand years.18 But the liturgical deadlock underwent its first revision when Martin Luther (1483-1546) entered the scene. As various other Protestant denominations were born, they also helped reshape the Catholic liturgy. While the transformation was a complex one that is too vast to chronicle in this book, we can survey the basic story.
In 1520, Luther launched an impassioned campaign against the Roman Catholic Mass.19 The high point of the Catholic Mass has always been the Eucharist,20 also known as "Communion" or "the Lord's Supper."
Everything centers on and leads up to the moment when the priest breaks the bread and gives it to the people. To the medieval Catholic mind, the offering of the Eucharist was the resacrificing of Jesus Christ. As far back as Gregory the Great, the Catholic church taught that Jesus Christ is sacrificed anew through the Mass.21
Luther railed (often uncouthly) against the miters and staffs of the Roman Catholic leadership and its teaching on the Eucharist.22 The cardinal error of the Mass, said Luther, was that it was a human "work" based on an inaccurate understanding of Christ's sacrifice.23 So in 1523, Luther set forth his own revisions to the Catholic Mass.24 These revisions are the foundation for worship in most Protestant churches.25 The heart of them is this: Luther made preaching, rather than the Eucharist, the center of the gathering.26
Accordingly, in the contemporary Protestant worship service, the pulpit, rather than the altar table, is the central element.27 (The altar table is where the Eucharist is placed in Catholic, Anglican, and Episcopal churches.) Luther gets the credit for making the sermon the climax of the Protestant service.28 Read his words: "A Christian congregation should never gather together without the preaching of God's Word and prayer, no matter how briefly"... "the preaching and teaching of God's Word is the most important part of Divine service."29
Luther's belief in the centrality of preaching as the mark of the worship service has stuck till this day. Yet making preaching the center of the church gathering has no biblical precedent.30 As one historian put it, "The pulpit is the throne of the Protestant pastor."31 For this reason ordained Protestant ministers are routinely called "preachers."32
But aside from this change, Luther's liturgy varied little from the Catholic Mass,33 since Luther tried to preserve what he thought were the "Christian" elements in the old Catholic order.34 Consequently, if you compare Luther's order of worship with Gregory's liturgy, it is virtually the same.35 He kept the ceremony, believing it was proper.36
For instance, Luther retained the act that marked the high moment of the Catholic Mass: the elevation of the bread and cup to consecrate them, a practice that began in the thirteenth century and was based mostly on superstition.37 Luther merely reinterpreted the meaning of this act, seeing it as an expression of the grace Christ has extended to God's people.38 Yet it is still observed by many pastors today.
In like manner, Luther did drastic surgery to the Eucharistic prayer, retaining only the "words of institution"39 from 1 Corinthians 1 l:23ff. (web)—"That the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread . . . and said, 'Take, eat. This is my body.'" Even today, Protestant pastors religiously recite this text before administering Communion.
In the end, Luther's liturgy was nothing more than a truncated version of the Catholic Mass.40 And the Lutheran order of service contributed to the same problems: The congregants were still passive spectators (though they could now sing), and the entire liturgy was still directed by an ordained clergyman (the pastor had replaced the priest). This was in stark contradiction to the glorious, free-flowing, open-participatory, every-member-functioning church meetings led by Jesus Christ that the New Testament envisions (see 1 Corinthians 14:26; Hebrews 10:24-25).
(WELL PAUL DID PUT LIMITS ON THIS SO-CALLED OPEN-PARTICIPATION, IF YOU READ ALL OF WHAT PAUL WROTE IN 1 COR. 14. IT IS NOT AS OPEN AS THE AUTHORS WANT YOU TO BELIEVE - Keith Hunt)
In Luther's own words, "It is not now nor ever has been our intention to abolish the liturgical service of God completely, but rather to purify the one that is now in use from the wretched accretions which corrupt it."41 Tragically, Luther did not realize that new wine cannot be repackaged into old wineskins.42 At no time did Luther (or any of the other mainstream Reformers) demonstrate a desire to return to the principles of the first-century church. These men set out merely to reform the theology of the Catholic church.
In sum, the major enduring changes that Luther made to the Catholic Mass were as follows: (1) he performed the Mass in the language of the people rather than in Latin, (2) he gave the sermon a central place in the gathering, (3) he introduced congregational singing,43 (4) he abolished the idea that the Mass was a sacrifice of Christ, and (5) he allowed the congregation to partake of the bread and cup (rather than just the priest, as was the Catholic practice). Other than these differences, Luther kept the same order of worship as found in the Catholic Mass.
Worse, although Luther talked much about the "priesthood of all believers," he never abandoned the practice of an ordained clergy.44 In fact, so strong was his belief in an ordained clergy that he wrote, "The public ministry of the Word ought to be established by holy ordination as the highest and greatest of the functions of the church."45 Under Luther's influence, the Protestant pastor simply replaced the Catholic priest. And for the most part, there was little practical difference in the way these two offices functioned.46 This is still the case, as we will consider in chapter 5.
(THE AUTHORS CLEARLY DO NOT BELIEVE IN AN "ORDAINED" ELDERSHIP. WHICH I'VE PROVED IN MY STUDIES ON "CHURCH GOVERNMENT" WAS CLEARLY PRACTICED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH OF GOD - Keith Hunt)
What follows is Luther's order of worship.47 The general outline should look very familiar to you—for it is the taproot of the Sunday morning church service found in most Protestant denominations.48
Admonition to the people
With the advent of Gutenberg's printing press (about 1450), the bulk production of liturgical books accelerated the liturgical changes that the Reformers attempted to make.50 Those changes were now set to movable type and printed in mass quantity.
The Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) made a few of his own reforms that helped shape today's order of worship. He replaced the altar table with something called "the Communion table" from which the bread and wine were administered.51 He also had the bread and cup carried to the people in their pews using wooden trays and cups.52
Most Protestant churches still have such a table. Two candles typically sit upon it—a custom that came directly from the ceremonial court of Roman emperors.53 And most carry the bread and cup to the people seated in their pews.
Zwingli also recommended that the Lord's Supper be taken quarterly (four times a year). This was in opposition to taking it weekly as other Reformers advocated.54 Many Protestants follow the quarterly observation of the Lord's Supper today. Some observe it monthly.
Zwingli is also credited with championing the "memorial" view of the Supper. This view is embraced by mainstream American Protestantism.55 It is the view that the bread and cup are mere symbols of Christ's body and blood.56 Nevertheless, aside from these variations, Zwingli's liturgy was not much different from Luther's.57 Like Luther, Zwingli emphasized the centrality of preaching, so much so that he and his coworkers preached fourteen times a week.58
THE CONTRIBUTION OF CALVIN AND COMPANY
Reformers John Calvin (1509-1564), John Knox (1513-1572), and Martin Bucer (1491-1551) added to the liturgical molding. These men created their own orders of worship between 1537 and 1562. Even though their liturgies were observed in different parts of the world, they were virtually identical.59 They merely made a few adjustments to Luther's liturgy. Most notable was the collection of money that followed the sermon.60
Like Luther, Calvin stressed the centrality of preaching during the worship service. He believed that each believer has access to God through the preached Word rather than through the Eucharist.61 Given his theological genius, the preaching in Calvin's Geneva church was intensely theological and academic. It was also highly individualistic, a mark that never left Protestantism.62
Calvin's Geneva church was held up as the model for all Reformed churches. Thus its order of worship spread far and wide. This accounts for the cerebral character of most Protestant churches today, particularly the Reformed and Presbyterian brand.63
Because musical instruments were not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament, Calvin did away with pipe organs and choirs.64 All singing was a cappella. (Some contemporary Protestants, like the Church of Christ, still follow Calvin's rigid noninstrumentalism.) This changed in the mid-nineteenth century when Reformed churches began using instrumental music and choirs.65 However, the Puritans (English Calvinists) continued in the spirit of Calvin, condemning both instrumental music and choir singing.66
Probably the most damaging feature of Calvin's liturgy is that he led most of the service himself from his pulpit.67 Christianity has not yet recovered from this. Today, the pastor is the MC and CEO of the Sunday morning church service—just as the priest is the MC and CEO of the Catholic Mass. This is in stark contrast to the church meeting envisioned in Scripture. According to the New Testament, the Lord Jesus Christ is the leader, director, and CEO of the church meeting. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul tells us that Christ speaks through His entire body, not just one member. In such a meeting, His body freely functions under His headship (direct leadership) through the working of His Holy Spirit. First Corinthians 14 gives us a picture of such a gathering. This kind of meeting is vital for the spiritual growth of God's people and the full expression of His Son in the earth.68
(AGAIN IF YOU READ CAREFULLY 1 COR. 14 IT IS NOT A "FREE-FOR-ALL" IN ANY WAY. IT IS ORDERLY AND PAUL GIVES IT LIMITS - Keith Hunt)
Another feature that Calvin contributed to the order of worship is the somber attitude that many Christians are encouraged to adopt when they enter the building. That atmosphere is one of a profound sense of self-abasement before a sovereign and austere God.69
Martin Bucer is equally credited with fostering this attitude. At the beginning of every service, he had the Ten Commandments uttered to create a sense of veneration.70 Out of this mentality grew some rather outrageous practices. Puritan New England was noted for fining children who smiled in church! Add to this the creation of the "Tithingman" who would wake up sleeping congregants by poking them with a heavily-knobbed staff.71
It should be noted that Calvin sought to model his order of worship after the writings of the early church fathers77—particularly those who lived in the third through sixth centuries.78 This accounts for his lack of clarity on the character of the New Testament church meeting. The early fathers of the third through sixth centuries were intensely liturgical and ritualistic.79 They did not have a New Testament Christian mind-set.80 They were also theoreticians more than practitioners.
To put it another way, the church fathers of this period represent nascent (early) Catholicism. And that is what Calvin took as his main model for establishing a new order of worship.81 It is no wonder that the so-called Reformation brought very little reform in the way of church practice.82 As was the case with Luther's order of worship, the liturgy of the Reformed church "did not try to change the structures of the official [Catholic] liturgy but rather it tried to maintain the old liturgy while cultivating extra-liturgical devotions."83
THE PURITAN CONTRIBUTION
The Puritans were Calvinists from England.84 They embraced a rigorous biblicism and sought to adhere tightly to the New Testament order of worship.85 The Puritans felt that Calvin's order of worship was not biblical enough. Consequently, when pastors sermonize about "doing everything by the Word of God," they are echoing Puritan sentiments. But the Puritan effort to restore the New Testament church meeting did not succeed.
The forsaking of clerical vestments, icons, and ornaments, as well as clergymen writing their own sermons (as opposed to reading homilies), were positive contributions that the Puritans gave us. However, because of their emphasis on "spontaneous" prayer, the Puritans also bequeathed to us the long pastoral prayer that precedes the sermon.86 This prayer in a Sunday morning Puritan service could easily last an hour or more!87
(VERY FEW IF ANY PRACTICE THIS SILLY PURITAN PRAYER IDEA TODAY - Keith Hunt)
The sermon reached its zenith with the American Puritans. They felt it was almost supernatural, since they saw it as God's primary means of speaking to His people. And they punished church members who missed the Sunday morning sermon.88 New England residents who failed to attend Sunday worship were fined or put in stocks.89 (Next time your pastor threatens you with God's unbridled wrath for missing "church," be sure to thank the Puritans.)
(YES THE PURITANS WERE IN PRACTICE NOT THE "NICETY-NICE" PEOPLE MANY HAVE COME TO BELIEVE - Keith Hunt)
It is worth noting that in some Puritan churches the laity was allowed to speak at the end of the service. Immediately after the sermon, the pastor would sit down and answer the congregation's questions. Congregants would also be allowed to give testimonies. But with the advent of Frontier-Revivalism in the eighteenth century, this practice faded away, never again to be adopted by mainstream Christianity.90
All in all, the Puritan contribution in shaping the Protestant liturgy did little in releasing God's people to freely function under Christ's headship. Like the liturgical reforms that preceded them, the Puritan order of worship was highly predictable. It was written out in detail and followed uniformly in every church.91
What follows is the Puritan liturgy.92 Compare it to the liturgies of Luther and Calvin and you will notice that the central features did not change.
Call to worship
Reading of Scripture
Singing of the Psalms
(When Communion is observed, the minister exhorts the congregation, blesses the bread and cup, and passes them to the people.)
In time, the Puritans spawned their own offshoot denominations.93 Some of them were part of the "Free Church" tradition.94 The Free Churches created what is called the "hymn-sandwich,"95 and this order of service is quite similar to that used by most evangelical churches today. Here is what it looks like:
Does this look familiar to you? Rest assured, you cannot find it in the New Testament.
TO BE CONTINUED