Does the Bible tell us to worship this way?

This is part 6 of a 10-part series.

I have spent the last five installments in this series discussing our liturgical worship which we as Anglicans perform. My next question is rather simple, but profound: “Does the Bible tell us to worship this way?”

Well, yes and no. One the one hand there are passages such as the following:

In Isaiah 6 we behold scene in God’s throne room / temple in which we see that confession and absolution precede sending out into the world.

Nehemiah 8 gives us an example of the public reading of Holy Scripture in which God’s people stand in unison to hear the Word proclaimed.

In the Words of Institution (Matt 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; 1 Cor 11) in which Christ instructs us in the particular actions to perform in the Service of the Table, or Holy Communion.

The Book of Acts gives us snapshot after snapshot of first-century worship in which we see the preaching of the Word and the breaking of the bread, going hand-in-hand.

Revelation 4-6, in which we are shown a worship scene in Heaven which gives us many images and precedents for us to implement in our worship of God.

As you can see, the Bible is full of useful instruction on how we are to order our lives of worship. And yet, nowhere in Holy Writ do we find something like a manual or a “how-to” guide for worship. Why is this?

I can think of several reasons.

First, God does not tell us explicitly how to worship him because we are free in the Spirit to figure it out for ourselves. After all, God wants us to be mature and discerning in our decision making, not like little children who must be given direct instructions all the time (Eph 4:13).

Second, the liturgy of the Church predates most or all of the New Testament texts. One of the oldest liturgies of the Church we have, The Didache, is dated by contemporary scholarship to around the year 100 AD, which means that Christians were worshiping in the way it prescribes at least as early as 60 years after the birth of Christ. (The Didache is the same in basic shape as most liturgies used in the East and Western churches of “The Great Tradition” to this day.) That is, the liturgy is older than much of our New Testament Scriptures, a realization which makes sense when one remembers that the first Christians were mainly of Jewish descent.

Third, and related to the second reason above, “faith comes by hearing” (Rom 10:17), which indicates that the Holy Scriptures are primarily something to be heard, not something to be read from a book. That is, the Holy Scriptures are first and foremost a liturgical thing. They are not an instruction manual worship; rather, they are intended to be used in the worship, as worship (which is why something like 80% of the BCP is composed of Scriptural texts)!

Fourth, Scripture itself presents us with multiple examples of what can only be called “oral tradition:” Luke 1:1-4; John 20:30; John 21:25; 2 Tim 2:2; 2 Thes 2:15. The Church has always held that it is from this “source” that much of our worship is derived and passed down, and not simply from the Bible alone.

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I agree and it is from this oral tradition that the texts became canonized as the ‘Word of God’. I have a problem with cettain protestant sects that claim “sola scriptura” because without tradition it would be doubtful that the scriptura would even exist. My question and one that I struggle with is what changes, if any, to the tradition of the Eucharistic meal are acceptable forms of worship. Should we as Christians worship through the liturgy of some idealized past or should we evolve a new liturgy?

Jonathan,

Good question. Couple of thoughts:

1. Radical Orthodoxy (search my blog for this if you want) speaks of “non-identical repetition” as a way to think about how worship & theology can faithfully change to minister in our culture.

2. As an Episcopal priest, I’m glad that I can depend on my bishop to let me know what changes are and are not acceptable!

Peace,

Matt+

Hey Matt,

Are you sure you don’t mean Hippolytus rather than the Didache? I don’t really read the Didache as having a liturgy per se, but the liturgy of Hippolytus is pretty well worked out by the end of the second century. Just wondering. Good post nonetheless.

Wayne,

In the hast with wh this post was written I probably did not communicate as well as I should have. Nevertheless, I meant the Didache, and not Hippolytus.

Its been a while since I’ve looked at the D., but I know that there are liturgical instructions sufficient to deduce various crucial components of the liturgy, and these, in turn, give us a fairly clear picture of what worship must have been like a few decades prior to that.

At least that is what we learned in liturgy class at the Episcopal Seminary.

Of course Hippolytus (see here http://www.religiocity.org/2008/09/16/eucharist-four-ancient-sources/) does something similar, but a few decades later, as you know.

Hey, no problem. Yes, there is certainly instruction on various elements (teaching, eucharist, prayer, etc.).

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