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Theology

With or Without Liturgy; Worship Requires Something of Us

Worship is…a spiritual experience to be grounded in truth. The benefits and challenges of the liturgical worship are the same as those of the experiential worship.

“Why can’t we skip the script and worship from the heart?”


I asked my pastor that question many years ago and it’s taken me most of the years since to understand the answer.

I belong to a liturgical church, part of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. Born and raised, as they say. I grew up knowing what we would say every Sunday. How it would start, how it would end, and all the little details in between. Slight changes stuck out like a sore thumb. We had a choir, not a band, but when we finally introduced a band to the late service, a lot of people started attending the early service. And I shook my head at their inflexibility.

In my early thirties, I went through a spiritual upheaval. The details really don’t matter. All that matters is I was certain I was right and everyone else was wrong. Part of the problem, in my view, was the liturgy. I didn’t understand why we were forcing worship to fit a mold. And why so many were so resistant to change. Why not just break free and worship from the heart?

I didn’t get the answer I wanted and ultimately I abandoned the church of my youth and for eight years attended a variety of different churches with different worship styles. I took a spiritual beating over those years. Not from other Christians, but from God’s methodical dismantling of my ego.

One day, with wife and children in tow and my tail between my legs, I walked back into the church of my youth. What happened was different than what I expected. First, if any one deserved the cold shoulder, it was me. That didn’t happen. I was welcomed back warmly, as if I had never left. Second, I realized the depth and comfort that the liturgy adds to the service and how it guided my heart through worship.

How does the liturgy do this?

By pointing us back to God’s Word with every sentence.

I know there are some who feel the liturgy is a cold and dead form of worship, but the more I look at it the more I see the benefits and challenges of the liturgical worship are the same as those of the experiential worship.

But all things should be done decently and in order.

1 Corinthians 14:40 ESV

Regardless of what church you attend, or how worship is organized, or not, worship is meant to be done decently and in order. You don’t need a rigid structure for things to be in order, but there are expectations.

God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

John 4:24 ESV

Worship is a spiritual experience that must be grounded in truth and Jesus Christ is the truth. In order to achieve this, a liturgical service requires you to bring your heart to worship while an experiential service requires you to bring your mind. A liturgy without engaging the heart is rote memorization. An experience without critical thinking is escapist entertainment.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV

Worship is a communal experience. As the writer of Hebrews urges, we need to come together to encourage each other. Liturgical worship begins with the community and expects them to reach out to the individual. Experiential worship starts with the individual and expects them to reach the community.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Colossians 3:16 ESV

Worship stimulates the intellect and soul. Teaching and singing bring out praise and thankfulness. In Experiential worship, the teaching is done through longer messages, contemporary songs, and video segments. In Liturgical worship, the teaching is done through shorter messages, multiple scripture readings, including the liturgy itself, and hymns which tend to be scripture put to music.

In recent years, an option practiced by some churches, including mine, is a blended service which mixes, to varying degrees, the liturgical and experiential services.

All things being equal if you’ve got good leadership and solid footing in God’s Word, these two forms of worship achieve the same goal; to glorify God. A worship service that is more about obligation, or entertainment, isn’t a worship service. It’s a waste of time. In any case, what is required of us in worship is to always look for Christ in a substantive way.