Incorporating Liturgy in a Modern Context

By Jonathan Jones, Contributor
June 07, 2018

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In recent years, there has been sort of a return to liturgy in the church. When the church took move away from liturgy in the 20th century, many in younger generations are seeking a return to it. I find that the older I get and the more I grow in Christ, the more formal my approach to worship becomes. This has nothing to do with style, for I still enjoy modern stylistic elements, but my approach to how I worship becomes more formal. Worship is certainly a very serious matter and should not be taken lightly. Robert E. Webber often spoke of the ancient-future concept of worship. In other words, worship transcends eras and time and has an ancient aspect to it but is applied to a future context. Stylistic elements are ever-changing, but the content and structure of worship never do. As a worship leader then, it is my job to facilitate the corporate worship experience for God's people. This means applying liturgy to the context I am called to serve. Whether we admit it or not, everyone has a liturgy including non-liturgical churches. A liturgy is simply a structure. While many churches might not incorporate a lectionary, they certainly have a structure. My aim here is to provide some helpful reminders for those who desire to apply historical liturgy in a modern context. This can be a difficult task, but when done well has tremendous benefits. Most of what I would like to deal with is structure and content (the most important aspects of worship, more than style), but I will also end by giving some practical application to employing liturgy in a modern context.

Liturgy Is Informed by the Word

It has been said that "the finger of liturgy is connected to the first of theology, which is informed and shaped by the divinely inspired arm of scripture, which reveals God's grand story of salvation throughout the shoulder of history." What worship leaders and worshipers alike must realize is that correct liturgy is informed by the word. Doxology is right worship, and for right worship to happen, the word must be the governing authority of all of faith. It is a sad day when the word is informed by liturgy. Liturgy is created around scripture, not the other way around. Worship leaders must strive to not only remember this but to also apply it to the context they serve in, and all worshipers must be careful not to let liturgy change their lives but to allow God's holy word to mold and shape them. Liturgy is informed and shaped by scripture.

The Service Serves the Text

We must also note that the worship service serves the text. Whether a liturgical or a free tradition, every aspect of the worship service must serve the text. A common problem in modern society is that most things are adapted to fit people. In corporate worship, however, we should not adapt the text to fit our lives, but we should adapt to fit right worship. Worship has little to nothing to do with our own desires and wants but everything to do with proclaiming and telling the story of God and who he is as revealed in scripture. Therefore, the liturgy or the structure is a non-negotiable. This might be carried out in various ways and through disparate stylistic approaches, but the content and structure is absolutely imperative. The content is the word, and the structure is the gospel story and message. This is the liturgy. When we stray from that, we no longer have Christian worship. That is why the worship service serves the text of the word.

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