It’s common enough to hear that “if we just got back to the New Testament Church we’d get rid of these petrified liturgies”! In this view of things 1 Corinthians 14:26 authorizes a free form service that could never really accommodate a liturgy. It reads (NIV):
What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.
Presumably this means the gathering of the church is “formless and void” to harken back to the old creation story. No forms are authorized, no real pattern exists, everyone just acts “as the Spirit leads”. It’s “organic”. It’s “simple”. Choose your descriptive term of the day!
The possibility exists, of course, that Paul is stating that this behavior is part of the problem at Corinth. Why? Because in in verses 27 -33 (NIV) he states his remedy.
If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.
It doesn’t mean in a house church setting that many people cannot contribute in some fashion, but that – along with everything else in Corinth it seems – things were abused and out of control. Paul appeals for order and functioning “in turn”. After responding to issues about women in the assembly, Paul concludes in verse 40:
everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
As far as exactly what “decently and in order” (the KJV version) means, of course, is open to question. He may have had the synagogue service in mind. That certainly was a familiar venue to him and a frequent arena for his ministry to take place – until they kicked him out, of course.
Philip Carrington who documented the patterns that are the basis for the Universal Disciple Pattern did a study of the book of Revelation. He discussed how the liturgy of the Jerusalem Temple informed the outline of the book of revelation. Carrington’s work can be found appended to a larger work greatly dependent on his theory here in the segment “The Levitical Symbolism in Revelation”. Carrington is not alone in his assertion that the Revelation of John inspired the liturgical outlook of the great historic liturgies. Carrington (Appendix A at the first link in this paragraph) on p. 611 demonstrates how the Lord’s Supper liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer and others relates to the Book of Revelation and – thereby – the Hebrew Temple Liturgy. Notably this is half the service. It presumes a “service of the Word” before it.
It’s possible that the Universal Disciple Pattern also suggests itself as an order of worship that could readily supply the framework for the Pauline congregations as it has for many others over the years (whether or not they realized it!). It includes (in my reading) both the “service of the Word” and “Holy Communion” essentially.
In plain English the pattern is that when God tells us to do something, He usually begins by saying what He has done for us to enable us to obey Him in the First Place!
We see it in the preface to the “Ten Commandments”. Before God says the first command to have no other gods, He reminds us that He is the one who has delivered His people from bondage into freedom. Grace goes ahead obligation.
The same in the Universal Disciple Pattern.As we focus on the things to be done (see image below) it is easy to forget they come at the end of long declarations about God’s decisive work of salvation for His people which we read in Ephesians 1-3 and Colossians 1-2 for example. They are the superstructure upon the foundation of God’s action for His people!
In the visual display of the pattern as a Temple (the top image) or a Body, the “indicative” of what God has done is envisioned by the “Rock” or foundation. Worship and exhortation not founded upon the Rock of God’s grace is ultimately powerless and in vain.
A “liturgy”(however formal or informal) based on the Universal Disciple Pattern might go something like this:
– “In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen” – a reminder that our Christian lives are based on our baptism, the sign and seal of our adoption as God’s sons and daughters.
– The Creed or other declaration of God’s Promises and Grace in Jesus Christ.
– The “Ten Commandments” or other “Summary of the Law” to remind us of our obligations in light of God’s grace.
– Promise of Forgiveness
“Faith, Love, and Hope”
– Reading of God’s Word
– Sermon or Bible Discussion
– Applications as to how Faith, Hope, and/or Love are drawn forth from God’s Word with mutual encouragement and time of praise
– Prayer requests (or “request via praying about something) then Prayer with Lord’s Prayer (this may be moved after the next item if desired)
– The Lord’s Supper
– Benediction to “go into all the world” and live out the precepts discussed this day….
Such a liturgy would not be uncommon historically. “Traditional Liturgy” is not intrinsically “unbiblical” though it may have other failings.
So again, the liturgy could be as formal or “relational” as one wishes. It can be highly embellished for a cathedral or something easily adapted for the house church. It can be as “participative” (yet orderly) as the person who considers 1 Corinthians 14:26 a “prescription” for the house church meeting wishes.
Whatever else may be said, the Universal Disciple Pattern can guide our worship, fulfill Paul’s plea for orderliness, and – each week – reinforce the overall pattern for Christian living laid out in Holy Scripture!
It’s all right there in the New Testament!