- Introduction: A person stands and welcomes people for coming followed by a short prayer;
- Congregational Singing: A few songs strung together with maybe a short prayer in between, all sung while standing;
- Offering: Gifts are collected while there is a solo or performance by the band;
- Scripture Reading: The text for the sermon is read;
- Sermon: The message is introduced and closed by short prayers;
- Closing Song
I have argued that there are biblical reasons for including God's greeting and call to worship (God must initiate the dialogue of worship, not us), confession of sins and assurance of pardon (our feet must be continually washed --- John 13), Scripture readings (we must be quick to hear the Lord and slow to speak --- James 1), congregational prayer (all of the New Testament commands concerning the content of prayer --- 1 Timothy 2), and a benediction (note all of the greetings and benedictions in the Epistles). But I want us to look at the typical liturgy today from another angle: the angle of love.
I would argue that there is a selfishness in much of what we do in the typical Evangelical liturgy that is grievous, and unloving toward those who are weakest among us: older people and children.
How is the typical liturgy unloving toward older people?
While those who are younger and stronger may prefer to stand while singing, love does not seek its own advantage, but is willing to forego its preferences for the sake of others, especially those who are weak.
How is the typical liturgy unloving toward younger people?
By standing for every song, and foregoing the use of hymnals, most short people cannot see the screens. We taught our children when they were young to follow the words of the songs using a hymnal, but today there are no hymnals. Most churches that have big screens do not print the words they are singing in the bulletin, so children and shorter people are just out of luck. Again, there seems to be a lack of concern about those who are weaker by those who are stronger. As long as the stronger are pleased is all that seems to matter.
Finally, by eliminating the systematic reading of the Psalms and the Gospels from our liturgies we are doing a great disservice to our young people---a disservice that amounts to a lack of love. The only exposure many children will get to the Bible during the week is the church service. If all they hear is four or five verses a week, this is not enough. How sad it is to think that a young person can leave for college having never heard all of the Psalms and all of the Gospels more than once. Yet, some of our kids are leaving home having never heard the Psalms and Gospels at all, even though they grew up in the church.
I was 16 years old when I began to be puzzled by the Gospel readings at church. I kept hearing that Jesus must go to the cross as it was written. This went against the grain of my young secular mind: you mean to tell me that Jesus was fulfilling some sort of plan? How could that be? What about choice? I thought human choice was sovereign. These verses didn't make sense to me and they started raising questions. The Lord was using his written Word to awaken me out of my spiritual slumber.
On top of this, consider the fact that some people have a difficult time reading, and never will read the Bible privately on their own, because reading is so hard for them. Reading does not come easy to everyone, and so some people will never hear God's Word unless the church is publicly devoted to the systematic reading of Scripture. Do we ever consider poor readers as we design the liturgy? Are we acting in the long term interest of love for the church's children when we eliminate the Psalms and the Gospel readings from our churches, so that we can sing more? Are our worship services loving to those who are the weakest in our midst?
Love and the liturgy---is it an issue we consider at all?