Biblical songs, biblical preaching, biblical prayers … but what about biblical liturgy? Is there a biblical recipe for putting it all together?

Adam McIntosh, a pastor in Texas, seems to think there is, as he explains in a talk that was recently released as an episode of the Theopolis Podcast.

You can listen to the full episode below, but here is a summary:

  • Every church has a liturgy: there is always a structure to what takes place.
  • There is no New Testament command for how to order a church service. But the biblical story should guide us.
  • God has always given instructions for how we approach him: the trees in the Garden of Eden, the pattern of the Tabernacle, etc. This carries over into the New Testament. All Scripture is written for our edification.
  • Hebrews makes the connection between Tabernacle worship and New Testament worship.
    • Hebrews 8:1-2. Jesus is the heavenly worship leader.
    • Hebrews 8:3-5. The earthly Tabernacle was a copy of the heavenly Tabernacle.
    • Hebrews 9:9-10. The Tabernacle was symbolic for the present time: for what Christ is still doing on our behalf.
    • Hebrews 9:11, 24. Christ entered the heavenly Tabernacle, which is now the central place of worship.
    • Jesus isn’t the only one who ascends: we ascend to heaven when we gather for worship.
    • Hebrews 10:19. We enter heaven, by faith, with Christ, in worship.
    • Hebrews 12:18, 22. We have come to the heavenly Jerusalem. New Covenant Christian worship takes place in heaven.
  • Ephesians 2. We are seated with Christ in the heavenly places (see chapter 6).
  • So the order of a church service should depict the heavenly reality to the best of our ability.
  • The Lord’s Prayer: our mission is to make earth like heaven. This should happen in all that we do, not least in worship.
  • Revelation: John sees worship taking place in heaven. Revelation is a model for worship, as is the Tabernacle system. Leviticus and Revelation follow the same pattern.
  • Leviticus 9. The inaugural sacrifices show us the pattern.
    1. Leviticus 9:1-6. The people are called together. (Then Aaron prepares…)
    2. Leviticus 9:15. The sin offering cleanses from sin.
    3. Leviticus 9:16. Next, literally, is the ascension offering. Hebrews: we ascend into heaven. The sacrifice ascends as smoke into heaven. The animal represents the worshipper, ascending as a sweet aroma, once sin has been dealt with. God unites his people to himself.
    4. Leviticus 9:17. The grain (tribute) offering is something made by the worshipper. God accepts the work of our hands.
    5. Leviticus 9:18. The peace offering is shared between God and the worshipper. It is a meal with God.
    6. Leviticus 9:22. The people receive God’s blessing.
  • Revelation reflects this sixfold pattern, in the context of worship (John is worshipping on the Lord’s Day: Revelation 1:10).
    1. Revelation 1. John is called.
    2. Revelation 2-3. Churches are summoned to repent.
    3. Revelation 4. John ascends into heaven.
    4. Revelation 14:13. Their works follow them (like the tribute offering).
    5. Revelation 19:21. The marriage supper: a meal with God.
    6. Revelation 22:7, 14. A blessing is given.
  • This is the model of heavenly worship.
  • Historic liturgies often follow this same pattern.
    1. Call to worship.
    2. Confession of sin. The pastor, representing Christ, declares that the people’s sins are forgiven.
    3. Scripture reading and the sermon. The ascension offering was cut up: consecrated. Hearing the Scripture and the sermon is our consecration. Hebrews describes Scripture as sharper than a two-edged sword.
    4. Tithes and offerings are brought forward.
    5. Communion: the people have a meal with God.
    6. Dismissal of the people with God’s blessing.
  • This liturgical structure mimics heavenly worship.
  • We ourselves are the sacrifices offered in worship.

Much here to ponder. I’m sure I’ve heard similar material in a talk by James B. Jordan, and I suspect there’s a fair bit of overlap with Jeffrey J. Meyers’s book, The Lord’s Service. Pastor Adam McIntosh has also preached a series of five sermons on liturgical worship. Some of the connections seem a bit tenuous, but I think I’d be willing to agree (1) that we should look in the Bible for some principles to guide us when structuring our church services, and (2) that there is much to be learned from the sacrificial system in Leviticus. Generally we don’t even bother to look. We assume the Bible has nothing to say about how we should structure a church service, and then we either blindly follow our traditions, or simply do whatever seems good to us.

Here is the full talk (also available through iTunes: episode 131)…