Liturgy in the Bible/The Bible in the Liturgy

Liturgy in the Bible/The Bible in the Liturgy October 23, 2017


Contrary to what some people say, there is liturgy in the Bible.  Moreover, the Bible is in the liturgy.  In fact, nearly all liturgical texts are passages taken directly from the Bible.

At Jonathan Aigner’s Patheos blog on worship, Ponder Anew, Les Lamkin wrote a post entitled But There’s No Liturgy in the Bible!  He goes on to show that big portions of Scripture–such as those that give exhaustive instructions for worship in the Tabernacle and the Temple–are taken up with God’s commandments about how worship should be conducted and describing ceremonial liturgies.

In this guest post, Mr. Lamkin, a musician, sums up his point:


God instituted ceremonies and sacrifices for worship in Leviticus. The sacrifices typically ended with a “communion” meal involving the worshiper who offered the sacrifice, the priest and any other worshipers present. All the sacrifices described were followed throughout the history of Israel.

David introduced an element of personal lyricism and devotion into worship with the Psalms. The sacrifices continued.

The prophets corrected deviations in worship.

The first Christians, all Jews, continued to worship in the temple, but found in the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus the culmination, the fulfillment, of the sacrifices instituted in Leviticus. Jesus himself instituted a new communion meal, the Eucharist.

The church of the first and second centuries continued the practices faithfully. We can find records of their practices in the writings of the early Church Fathers.

True, we are no longer bound by Old Testament worship.  But the principle remains.  Temple sacrifices point ahead to the sacrifice of Christ, God’s true Temple who is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Christ fulfills the whole of the Law, so the ceremonial laws are all superseded.  But that God ordained liturgies proves that He is not opposed to them.  And those Old Testament sacrifices, washings, and sacred meals–all taking place in the actual presence of God–did help to shape Christian worship in Word and Sacraments, which likewise proclaim the Gospel of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins.  (See Arthur Just, Heaven on Earth:  The Gifts of Christ in the Divine Service, which describes how Christian worship developed out of synogogue worship, which, in turn, developed out of Levitical worship.)

But not only is there liturgy in the Bible.  The Bible is in the liturgy!  Not only in the three extensive Bible readings from the Old Testament, Epistles, and Gospels every Sunday, with the sermon that exposits them.  But also in just about every liturgical text except for the confession of sins, creed, and the prayers (all of which are based on God’s Word and often reflect its language).

Here are the set-pieces of the liturgy and the Biblical texts they recite:

Invocation [“in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”]:  Matthew 28:19.

Introit:  a Psalm

Kyrie [“Lord have mercy. . . ]  Mark 10:47

Gloria in Excelsis [“Glory to God in the highest. . .”]  Luke 2:14; John 1:29

Offertory [“Create in me a clean heart. . .”] Psalm 51:10-12

Sanctus [“Holy, holy, holy. . . “]  Isaiah 6:3; Matthew 21:9

Lord’s Prayer [“Our Father who art in heaven. . .’}  Matthew 6:9-13

Words of Institution [“Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed. . .”]  Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Cor 11:23-25

Agnus Dei [“O Christ, thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world. . .”]  John 1:29

Nunc Dimittis [“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace. . .”]  Luke 2:29-32

Benediction [“The Lord bless you and keep you. . .”]  Numbers 6:24-26

Even the brief responses are generally lines from Scripture.   [“The Lord be with you” (2 Timothy 4:22);  “Lift up your hearts” (Colossians 3:1); “Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God” (Psalm 1:36); “Bless we the Lord” (Psalm 103:1).]

I realize that not all Christians worship with the liturgy and that different theologies of worship will manifest themselves in different practices.  What I object to is some of the criticism that I hear about the liturgy; for example, that it’s idolatrous, that it’s the traditions of man, that it’s not authentic, etc., etc.

When I hear that kind of thing, I want to ask, “What portions of the Bible that we say or sing in church do you object to?”


Photo of the altar at St. John’s Lutheran Church by Leon Brooks [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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