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Many people who do not come from churches with a liturgical tradition tend to have a rather negative reaction to the idea of liturgy. They associate it with a very formal service, with rigid ritual and prescribed prayers. This kind of worship service can seem contrived and artificial to people who are used to less formal worship styles.
However, if we only consider liturgy in that context, we miss something important. Liturgy is not just something that the “high churches,” like Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Eastern Orthodox Christians do. Liturgy, whether we recognize it or not, is something we all do as part of our daily routine, the order or pattern of our lives.
Our English word, liturgy, comes from the Greek words latreuo and leiturgeo. In the Ancient Greek world, leitourgio was used to describe a public duty or a service to the state undertaken by a citizen. A leitourgos was "a public servant". Any general service of a public kind could therefore be described as liturgy. Someone who did not accept this public duty was known as an idiotes – an idiot!
In Romans 12:1, Paul wrote, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
The Greek word translated “worship” was latreou, and his readers would see the connection. As citizens of a community they did not want to be thought of as idiots, so they accepted their responsibility for public service. In the same way, as Christians they should make themselves available to God for the work of the Kingdom. In Romans 12:2, Paul continues, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
We are to be conformed to Jesus Christ whose whole life was one of self-giving service to lead others to the true worship of God. He is, then, as the author of Hebrews put it, our Leiturgos, our Great Worship Leader (Hebrews 8:2)
Do you see then how “liturgy” is not just something “religious?” what we do in church–it is part of the rhythm of our daily lives. For example, when, in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul admonished Christians to “pray without ceasing,” he was not saying that we continually pray and never stop. The Greek word he chose is used outside the New Testament to describe a hacking cough. When you have a hacking cough, you do not cough all the time, but you feel like you are. That is what it means to pray without ceasing. It does not mean to pray without stopping, but we should have an attitude of prayer all the time. We “pray without ceasing” just as we “breathe without ceasing.”
The temple in Jerusalem was a very liturgical place in the religious sense, with ceremonies going on all the time. At the dedication, Solomon prayed, “May your eyes be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your Name there. May you hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place” (2 Chronicles 6:20 NIV).
We no longer have a physical temple. Now God’s people are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, where acts of sacrifice and service, or liturgy, continue day and night, “without ceasing” as we share God’s love and life with those around us.
I’m Joseph Tkach, Speaking of LIFE.