Why We Use Liturgy in Worship: Part 3

Visitors to Coram Deo’s worship gathering will immediately recognize the use of liturgy in our worship. We follow a definite pattern every week. We employ scripted confessions, creeds, prayers, and professions of faith to structure to our worship. The question is: why? This series of posts seeks to answer that question for those new to this type of worship and also for those called to lead it.

Reason #3: Liturgy is Formative

Think about the rhymes, songs, and cadences you learned as a young child: the Alphabet song, “Happy Birthday,” the Pledge of Allegiance. Maybe you can remember the theme music to your favorite childhood cartoon or the lines you had to memorize for your first school play. Why are these things so ingrained in your memory? Because they had a formative effect on you. They shaped you. They created “grooves” in your soul and in your memory that are easily recalled to this day.

James K.A. Smith refers to these shaping experiences – and others like them – as “secular liturgies.” Our cultural institutions – education, media, corporations, government – have a liturgical motive. They want to shape us. They want to inculcate into us a certain “vision of the good life.” They want to make us into a certain kind of people – people who buy their products or are loyal to their cause or embrace their ideals.

The liturgy of Christian worship is a subversive counter-measure against the shaping influence of culture. By using liturgy in worship, we are seeking to re-form or re-shape people according to the gospel. Rather than being defined by the world, we want them to take on the values of the kingdom of God. This formation takes place on a number of levels:

  • Theological Formation. Theological convictions are formed not just through teaching and study, but through singing, confession, creeds, and catechisms. A church’s theology can be “felt” in how it prays and how it sings and how it treats the Lord’s Supper. As a church committed to historic Reformed theology, we want the sovereignty of God and the sinfulness of man to be consistently portrayed in our rhythms. We want the redemptive drama of Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation to be felt and experienced regularly in every aspect of our worship.
  • Spiritual Formation. What we do in worship shapes the way we approach God in private. By reading Scripture aloud each week, by confessing our sin each week, by hearing the promises of the gospel spoken each week, by celebrating Jesus’ death and resurrection in communion each week, we are forming our souls in a certain “cadence” or rhythm of worship. We are building habits that shape our desires and inclinations in unseen ways. Smith notes: “We don’t wake up each day thinking about a vision of the good life and then consciously, reflectively make discrete decisions about what we’ll do today… Instead… our desire for the kingdom is inscribed in our dispositions and habits and functions quite apart from our conscious reflection.”[1] Children, especially, are formed by the familiarity and regularity of liturgy: “Christian worship that is full-bodied reaches, touches, and transforms even those who cannot grasp theological abstractions.”[2]
  • Gospel Formation. If it’s true that we never outgrow the gospel (Col. 1:6, Romans 1:16), then we need our hearts to be shaped more and more by the reality of that good news. In Christian worship we are celebrating the gospel story. We are reminding ourselves of the truth of who we are and whose we are. We are “learning the language” of the gospel – becoming fluent in speaking it to ourselves and to others. A gospel-infused liturgy shapes us more fully into a gospel-centered people.

We use liturgy at Coram Deo because of the way it forms us theologically, spiritually, and redemptively.

[1] James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 56.

[2] Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 136.

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