Liturgy, Priesthood and Genuine Worship

And the issue of ‘appropriate expression’ is a question that needs to be addressed, regardless of which ‘wing’ of the debate to which we may happen to belong.

In all of this, we must never lose sight of the fact that worship as presented and exemplified in scripture is never without form and direction. It has an inherent logic and rationale that was literally built in to the architecture and furnishings of Old Testament temple worship as the God-given replica and preview of the reality into which Christ would lead his church.


The debate over worship and liturgy has been both long running and many faceted. Its spectrum ranges from the ultra-free self-expression of certain types of contemporary worship through to the high liturgies of traditional Roman Catholicism and its Episcopalian counterparts. A debate that is very much alive and well in Reformed churches.

Those that are more directly shaped by an awareness of their roots in the Reformation are likely to have a defined liturgical form – frequently reflected in established books of order or liturgy. Whereas those whose history and self-understanding owe more to the influence of the Puritans (and their costly stand against a legislated liturgy) often lean towards a simpler, less structured approach in worship.

In one sense the debate is semantic as all expressions of worship from the lowest of the low to the ultra-high are by definition ‘liturgical’ since they have some discernable shape or order. So the question really concerns the content of worship, the contours it follows and the most appropriate way to express this in any given context. And the issue of ‘appropriate expression’ is a question that needs to be addressed, regardless of which ‘wing’ of the debate to which we may happen to belong.

At with any debate over belief and practice in the church, this one is muddied by perception and misperception at both ends of the spectrum, not to mention at all points in between. So, those who eschew the use of set forms and liturgies in favour of more extempore expressions of worship, argue that the rigid form of set liturgies rob worship of meaningful personal engagement on the part of the worshipper. Conversely, those who are suspicious of extempore worship would counter by saying that it runs the risk of being too much ‘of the moment’, often lacking depth and cohesion. And, ironically, despite the objection to ancient forms, almost every ‘extempore’ worship leader ends up with their own idiosyncratic liturgical patterns and vocabulary.

Both sets of concerns have validity and manifest themselves to differing degrees in almost every worship setting. However, the response to both is not to argue for one at the expense of the other, but rather to recognise the commonality between them and realise that, whichever approach may be preferred, the authenticating key to worship, as Jesus states, is that it must be both in spirit and in truth.

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