Worship by Ligon Duncan

Matthew Pinson, J., Perspectives on Christian Worship: Five Views has this from Ligon Duncan

The Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century, from whom traditional evangelicals have learned much about what Scripture teaches about worship, understood two things often lost on moderns. First, they understood that the liturgy (by which I simply mean here the set forms of corporate worship), media, instruments, and vehicles of worship are never neutral. So exceeding care must be given to the “law of unintended consequences.” Often the medium overwhelms and changes the message. For example, singing “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “Gilligan’s Island” (the meter works, but the tune does not—a light, quasi-sea-shanty, with comedic associations, coupled with gravely serious words) changes the whole tone of what one is doing in singing that text and easily becomes a sacrilege. Second, the Reformers knew that the purpose of the elements and forms and circumstances of corporate worship is to assure that one is actually doing worship as it is defined by the God of Scripture, that one is worshiping the God of Scripture, and that one’s aim in worshiping Him is the aim set forth in Scripture.

So traditional evangelicals care about how we worship, not because we think that liturgy (again, simply meaning the order of service) is prescribed, mystical, or sacramental, but precisely so that the liturgy can get out of the way of the gathered church’s communion with the living God. The function of the order of service is not to draw attention to itself but to aid the soul’s communion with God in the gathered company of the saints by serving to convey the Word of God to and from God, from and to His people. C. S. Lewis puts it this way: ‘As long as you notice, and have to count the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t have to notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.’ This is why the great Baptist preacher Geoffrey Thomas can say that, in true worship, worshipers ‘have little thought of the means of worship; their thoughts are upon God. True worship is characterized by self-effacement and is lacking in any self-consciousness.’ That is, in biblical worship we so focus on God Himself and are so intent to acknowledge His inherent and unique worthiness that we are transfixed by Him. Thus worship is not about what we want or like (nor do His appointed means divert our eyes from Him), but rather it is about meeting with God and delighting in Him. Praise decentralizes self.

So how was your worship today?


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