It is helpful to recognize the difference between liturgical narrative and liturgical elements. I am convinced from Scripture that the only liturgical elements we should include in worship are those with New Testament warrant. But I am a big advocate of giving more careful attention to the liturgical narrative of our corporate worship services exactly because of the biblical example. What I mean by narrative is the story the order of our corporate worship tells.
Carl Trueman recently addressed the phenomenon within Millennial evangelicalism that is increasingly regarding ancient liturgical practices (especially Ash Wednesday and Lent) as cool. He’s right: it has apparently now become “hip” to add to (otherwise band driven contemporary) worship elements from ancient liturgical practices.
Trueman and others over the past several years have dealt well with some of the theological problems with many of these practices. We have dealt with them here as well. Here’s just a taste:
But what I’d like to focus on today is a caution for those of us who have a healthy appreciation for tradition and a thoughtful liturgy. How do we avoid what a friend referred to as the “grab bag” approach to liturgy where we pick and choose traditions to the degree that we forsake biblical simplicity and even find ourselves in theological error?
First, we must remember that the regulative principle of worship applies just as much to extra-biblical pageantry as it does to extra-biblical puppet shows. Just because a particular liturgical ritual is more reverent and pregnant with meaning than a skit doesn’t make it acceptable for corporate worship. Making sure that our worship practices are carefully regulated by Scripture means that we will trust that what God has prescribed for us in his Word is sufficient, even if we find a particular tradition rich with meaning.
Second, we must learn to recognize those traditions that are “circumstances concerning the worship of God” that by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture (Second London Baptist Confession 1.6) and those that are simple the “imaginations and devices of men . . . not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures” (LBC 22.1).
For example, reading Scripture is an element prescribed in the New Testament (1 Tim 4:13). Since the form of many sections of Scripture (especially many of the Psalms) are clearly antiphonal or responsorial, the tradition of reading Scripture antiphonally or responsorially is a good and necessary deduction from Scripture. It does not add an element to worship that has not been prescribed in Scripture. On the other hand, lighting incense, putting ash on one’s forehead, or crossing one’s self are more than circumstantial; they are actual liturgical elements that go beyond Scriptural prescription.