September 08, 2010

flexibility in worship planning

As a church gathers to worship, the service is bound to take a certain shape. This shape is called the liturgy, or “work of the people.” Intentionally or not, most liturgies maintain a consistent form over time for a particular congregation. This is a good thing. Regular forms allow for a degree of dependability for worshipers, allowing for open communication in worship without the distraction of an always changing service structure.

At times, though, content demands an alternate form. A few weeks ago at Grace, Drew’s sermon looked at the narrative of the prophet Nathan confronting King David about his sin with Bathsheba. That Sunday, we expanded our time of confession of sin with a Litany of Penitence from the Book of Common Prayer.

Last Sunday, we extended the Lord’s Supper portion of the liturgy, taking time to reflect on the breadth of Christ’s work on our behalf on the cross. The form reflects what many other churches use on a weekly basis: Creed, Sursum Corda, Doxology, Eucharistic Prayer, Lord’s Prayer, Words of Institution. Two elements (Doxology and Lord’s Prayer) are normally placed earlier in the service at Grace, right after the call to worship. Why should these elements of content be placed elsewhere in the service?

Most elements of worship don’t have a solitary theme or emphasis. They are more nuanced than having a single application for the worshiper (think about how the words of a hymn are experienced differently when backed with a full band arrangement versus just an acoustic guitar). Placing the Dox/LP at the start of the service emphasizes God’s character (“hallowed by your name”). Placing them during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper emphasizes the response to God’s mercy and provision in Christ’s work on our behalf (e.g. asking God to provide “our daily bread” takes on a unique meaning when we are sitting at the Lord’s Table).

John Frame reflects on this:
“There is no passage or principle in Scripture that dictates one invariable order of events in worship.… Consider the doxology. Some writers are very confident that they know the place in worship where the doxology truly ‘belongs.’ But the doxology is an expression of praise to God that simultaneously calls all creatures in heaven and on earth to praise him. Surely there are many places in worship where the doxology is appropriate, not just one or two. Consider how the apostle Paul in his letters breaks off his arguments in the oddest places to insert doxologies–as in Romans 1:25 and 2 Corinthians 11:31.
A recovery of biblical flexibility here can bring a new freshness to our worship, and freshness increases intelligibility, the power of our communication of God’s word.”
John Frame, Worship in Spirit and Truth, 71-72
What other places do you think that the Doxology or Lord’s Prayer be can used in worship? What about other aspects of worship, can they be moved as well?

1 comment:

jonvw said...

I realize this is an old post, and I don't know if you check comments this far back, but I'm wondering two things: 1) Where exactly did you use the doxology? Following the Sursum Corda? 2) Which doxology?

As for my responses: LP can be used anywhere, but in our (Lutheran) practice, it typically is part of the communion liturgy when it is used at a communion service. Doxologies are used all over the place and we will almost always have more than one of them during the service: at the beginning of the service following the singing of a Psalm or selection from a Psalm, and then again before the salutation/readings. They will frequently appear as the final stanza of hymns and sometimes as a part of the response following the dismissal from the Lord's Supper.