Sunday Spirituality: Order in the Church!

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[Pastor Matt Davis, Helena] There are few things stranger and more irritating than informality in the services of a church. Dispensing with an ordered liturgy and trusting the subjective and emotionally driven sentiments of the leader (or people) as the guiding principle of worship is always an embarrassingly sinful way to do church. I have been in services where the “pastor,” with his eyes full of fabricated tears, says in a deeply wounded voice, Today, I just want to pour out my heart to you.. And -POOF!-just like that, the order of service is interrupted, the bible is closed, and sobbing Joe the heartfelt egotist spends the next hour telling you about his emotional experience watching the latest episode of his favorite tv series.

Other variations of this sort of modern day pietism (let the reader understand) include handing over the time set apart for the preaching of the Word so people can give testimonies, (which typically turn into autobiographies). We’ve all been through the dreaded end of service altar calls, watching movie clips, long periods of prayer where we are all supposed to be repenting for some sin we never knew we were committing, and giving the whole service over to singing songs. We could go on and on. Sadly, most people are not annoyed by this. In today’s church culture it is considered bold and super-spiritual to do something different and edgy with the service. But I don’t think God is impressed based on how that kind of plan didn’t work out so well for a multitude of people in the Bible, (Nadab and Abihu come to mind) but so what, it’s cool and it gets people in the door.

Pastor Matt Davis, Helena

In 1 Corinthians 14:40 Paul says something that is very important as to how the church should order its corporate worship. “But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.” Specifically he is talking about the use of spiritual gifts and the apparent chaos that would unfold when people, led by nothing but their own emotions, would burst out in tongues, prophecies and all manner of hectic (super-spiritual) activity. But it most certainly has bearing on the church today and we would do well to heed these words, and in doing so, begin to truly appreciate a well-ordered liturgy in our churches.

First of all, there is a proper way to do church. And everything in the service should be done properly and in order. Which means there are a multitude of improper ways to do church. That’s an enormous topic that we can’t cover here. But we can, and should, at the very least, admit that it must be true according to this passage. A good question to ask your Pastors and Elders is “Why do we do this?” Find out the reasoning for the elements in the worship church and ask if they have a biblical precedence. Your Pastor/Elders will either be delighted to explain it to your or embarrassed because they have no idea. Either way, at least you know.

The fundamental idea is that in the gathering of the church on the Lord’s Day, there are particular elements of worship and there is a proper way to carry them out. It’s not a time where we are at liberty to do whatever we feel like doing, it is a time set apart to worship God corporately according to the regulations for worship found in His Word.

T. David Gordon put it simply, “For Theism, human life is significant because we bear the image of God. The world we live in is significant because it is God’s creation. And some of the things that we bearers of God’s image do in God’s creation are more important than others, and we invest these significant things with appropriate meaning through ritual and form.” (1) (emphasis mine)

Ritual and forms are not bad things that suppress the worship of God, they are the good things that God has instituted for properly worshiping Him. Ritual and form make corporate worship significant and wonderfully different than the things we do normally in our week. To put them off in favor of the inclinations of one’s wicked heart (Jer. 17:9) is to lean on one’s own understanding and dismiss the wisdom of God as being subservient to emotion and tastes. We are not at liberty to “do our own thing” during corporate worship.

It is a special time of worship that is made that way through biblical ritual and forms.

Secondly, while the church must worship properly, it also must worship in an orderly manner. The urge to suddenly drop an element of worship based purely on one’s subjective heart movements, puts the congregation at risk for imbibing the spirit of the age and folly. The well-ordered liturgy protects the people from the sinful inclinations of an individual. It may appear cool or edgy when a pastor does something strange and unexpected, but the reality is, you are going suffer loss for the sake of his chance to play at church.

Leland Ryken notes, “Earlier in this century someone claimed that we work at our play and play at our work. Today the confusion has deepened: we worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.” (2) You shouldn’t go to church on the Lord’s Day to play or be entertained. I hope we can all agree with that.

The corporate worship service must be treated with the utmost respect, reverence, and awe. It is the eternal destiny of believers to gather together and worship God. At church we are currently those who “have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God and the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and the church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood which speaks better than the blood of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:22-24) Lord’s Day services are tastes and glimpses of the experience of eternity, and eternity is filled with form and ritual regulating the worship of God among the glorified saints. With this emphasis, Gordon writes, “We cannot deformalize or deritualize worship without turning it into play.”(3)

Once we turn worship into play it loses all of its significance and all of its power. It becomes nothing more than another hour of entertainment for those who are bored, and an embarrassing annoyance for those who came to worship God. So, if you go to a church with a well-ordered service, thank your leadership for not playing at worship.

In the meantime, go to church, love the truth, and help your neighbor.

(1) T. David Gordon. Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal (Philipsburg New Jersey, P&R Publishing, 2010), 144,
(2) Leland Ryken, Redeeming the Time: A Christian Approach to Work and Leisure (Grand Rapids, Baker, 1995), 12.
(3) Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns, 146.

[Editor’s Note: Sunday’s religion column is written by Pastor Matt Davis of Helena Reformed Baptist Church]




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