Sabbath Liturgy is Not All About Me

Written by Carl Greene

May 8, 2024

Liturgy is not a word that we drop in our Seventh Day Baptist circles very often. Even less often do we use the word as a positive descriptor of ourselves. We prefer to say that we are non-liturgical and simply use an order of service for gathered worship. We tend to see the label of liturgical as representative of worship that has become routine to the point of mindless repetition.   

I will confess. I like the word liturgy. I am out to convince you that liturgy is a lovable word.  

Liturgy is derived from the Greek work leitourgia. It gets better. Two words are contained within liturgy: people (laos) and work (ergon). Hence, leitourgia is literally a “work of the people.”1 Liturgy is not some stodgy approach to worship—it is the intentional way that we worship together as a body. What I like about using the word “liturgy” is that it keeps us focused on Biblical worship rather than attractional worship.  Our only metric for assessing worship can all too easily be reduced to an assessment of if people like it. This constitutes seeing worship mainly as an attraction to get people through the doors of a church building. One way we do this is by directly demanding our worship personal style preferences—because any normal person will agree with my worship preferences. That usually does not end well. We can also be indirect in communicating our worship wants. We refer to the wants of people who do not attend worship (yet) but we are confident will come to worship if we make some strategic changes. It just so happens that the worship preferences of the currently-not-attending are the same preferences as mine. I do not even have to ask them.  

 Liturgy Beyond Wants 

 Worship designed by personal preference is not the most holistic of approaches. Remember, I am out to convince you that liturgy is a lovable word. The liturgy of worship is often captured in four key movements: gathering, Word, response, and sending.2 The gathering is where we invite one another into a deeper sense of belonging to God’s Kingdom family. The reading of the Word and expounding of the Word through preaching and teaching is a key portion of our SDB liturgy. Response is a portion of our worship where we experience intimacy with God and with one another—whether through shared practice of the Lord’s Supper or through prayer, song, and reflection. Sending is where the church gathered intentionally commissions one another to be the church scattered, joining God in His Kingdom work throughout the week.3 

Sabbath Liturgy 

So, our practice of liturgical worship is not so much focused on how I feel or what I want but focused on our great God. This also is a hinge matter when it comes to our practiced Theology of Rest. Living the Sabbath as Seventh Day Baptists is actually a liturgical practice, something that is intrinsically connected with our gathered worship and scattered service. The fullness of Sabbath living is experienced in community. We tend to make Sabbath a very individualized practice though, where we only examine the value of Sabbath based on its impact on ourselves. Did I get recharged? Am I rested to handle another week? Did I experience the blessing of Sabbath delight? These questions are all well and good, but this individualized assessment of Sabbath undersells the impact of our liturgy. The liturgy of Sabbath practice is a counter formative experience that orients us toward God as a community, all seven days of the week.  

Isaiah chapter 56 catches my attention. In this chapter, God is calling the people to “keep justice, and do righteousness.” (v. 1) That is not a shocker to me—Scripture is very consistent in that call. What surprises me is what comes next. Alongside the call to keep justice is the call to keep Sabbath. (v. 2, 6) Sabbath is a practice that is linked with the public good of justice, not just the individual blessing of rest. The liturgical practice of Sabbath reforms our lives. When we live weekly rest, idols of self, work, achievement, and accolades are broken. Less focus on self-promotion and self-advancement naturally reorients us toward loving God and one another. When we rest in community with one another, we experience one another as human beings rather than human doings trying to get the next task done. 

 The liturgical practice of Sabbath rest is the practical application of gathering, Word, response, and sending. It is not just an hour-long service in which we go through an order of service (which is truly a blessing to cherish in and of itself). Sabbath Day is a lived experience that reshapes our hearts and reorients our minds. As described in Isaiah 56, we are reoriented to “hold fast my covenant.” We trust God more than our own efforts. That is the beauty of liturgy. We often think of worship only as a reflection of what is going on inside us. Worship from the heart is clearly important—but the impact of worship on the heart must not be missed. God clearly uses worship liturgy to reshape what is going on inside us. The practice of biblical liturgy in our gathered worship is an opportunity to be reshaped for Kingdom living all seven days of the week. Practicing Sabbath is a further opportunity to be reshaped by our liturgy. The liturgy of healthy living by God’s design reshapes our hearts and priorities. The liturgy of being reoriented toward loving God and people more than the love of our idols is captured in rest. The liturgy we practice in community with one another changes life. For us.           

Liturgy for gathered worship is not all about me.  

It is public work. 

Practicing Sabbath liturgy is not all about me. 

It is public rest. 

May we savor the reshaping experience of liturgy. Together.

 

1 Cruse, Jonathan Landry.https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/ liturgy. “What Is a Liturgy?” 

2 Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. https://worship.calvin.edu/ resources/resource-library/four-fold-pattern-of-worship/.  

3 SDB liturgy has been surveyed and studied by the SDB Vital Worship Team thanks to a grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Their report is available by emailing the author at cgreene@seventhdaybaptist.org. 

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