Worship Values: Worship Must Be Historically Informed
[ We've been working on rewriting our mission and also creating a series of "values" about worship that will communicate our vision for what worship should be all about. While those aren't completely finalized, I think it will be helpful to share some thoughts about each value in a series of short posts. ]
What kind of worship do we want to cultivate? Fourth: Historically Informed
Our second value stressed the importance of rooting our worship in Scripture, the only infallible source of direct revelation concerning a right understanding and practice of worship. We pointed out the fact that while there are commands to include certain kinds of service elements in public worship, there is no prescribed liturgy (service order) given in the Bible. We are left to assemble the elements of worship that God has commanded in a way that will edify our particular local churches, by the leading of the Spirit and in accordance with the rest of Scripture’s general teachings. So how do we make decisions about the specific order of worship or even the style of building, architecture, dress, or music that we should use to worship God? Various teaching of Scripture will help inform our worship planning, such as the congregational nature of singing (precluding certain types of music that people just can’t sing along to).
Before we begin planning our worship services with biblical principles in mind, it is important to remember our sinful tendency to invest our own ideas with much more meaning and significance than the ideas of others. We often assume that in order to create a dynamic and fresh worship service, we need to follow the latest cultural trends and our own innovations, leaving the stale traditions of bygone generations behind. We assume that old ideas are “dead” and new ideas are “alive,” even though they have not been time-tested. By God’s grace, He has given us the example and wisdom of twenty centuries of church history to help keep us from spiraling into a whirlpool of our own short-sighted and often downright foolish ideas about worship. If you have even a passing familiarity with church history, you’ll find that the ideas you think are so new are not that new at all and you’ll see the problems and pitfalls associated with those innovations. There have always been a multitude of ideas about how services should be structured, what kind of music or instruments to use, and even how the architecture and room should be laid out for public worship.
One of the most important periods of church history to be familiar with in relation to worship planning is the Protestant Reformation. Several biblical principles of public worship were restored during this period, including services and songs performed in a language that people understood, the idea of the priesthood of all believers (all have access to God in worship, not just the select few ministering on behalf of the people), and the re-invigoration of congregational hymns.
It is also important to know the history of our particular church and denomination, and to draw from the wellspring of worship wisdom that our grandfathers of the faith have left for us. By using service orders or elements from previous generations, we help include rather than alienate our older generations. At the same time, we should feel free to refresh older service elements to make them understandable (and more readily edifying) for today. There is nothing more godly or reverent about using archaic language or terminology that is hard to understand.
In conclusion, while Scripture does not give us a manual for public worship containing service orders and cultural forms, church history does. Even though historical liturgies are not infallible, they can be a gold-mind of helpful ideas and approaches to public worship that have been time-tested. By using and updating various worship elements from church history including hymns, creeds, prayers, and readings, we will not only stem the tide of our own pride in worship planning, but also give our people a tangible connection to how our grandparents in the faith have worshiped God for centuries.