Where theology and liturgy meet

Whether or not we realize it we are engaged in liturgy every time we meet in God's house for worship and follow an established order of service. The author expresses his concern that we develop a distinctive form of Adventist liturgy that will facilitate the preaching of the Word.

C. Raymond Holmes, D.Min., is director of student life, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

Previous articles in this series have stressed two foundational concepts, both of which have been stated by Norval Pease in his book "And Worship Him" (Nashville: Southern Publishing Association, 1967). (1) Worship cannot take place without liturgy. And (2) it should be the right kind of liturgy, reflecting Seventh-day Adventist theological beliefs. It is in the order of service that theology and liturgy meet. Here they will harmonize or clash.

God's last message begins with a call for His followers to worship Him as a united people (see Rev. 14:7). John describes the worship of the last-day church in this statement from his Gospel: "That He might also gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad" (chap. 11:52, N.A.S.B.).' The worship of the last-day church should reflect its unity of belief and give liturgical expression of that unity. Therefore, Seventh-day Adventist worship services ought to emphasize the centrality of the Word, the eternal gospel, and the three ecumenical doctrines of Adventism: the Sabbath, the heavenly ministry of Christ, and His second advent. These are the truths that will bring about the final unity of God's people. Adventist worship is more than a collection of congregations around the world, all confessing Jesus as Lord: it is the gathering together, under His lord ship, of those who are bound together in a unity of belief, set apart and identified as His body by their faith in Christ and their obedience to His commandments.

What we say and do when we worship is a collective act that defines and illustrates the truly ecumenical nature of the Adventist Church and the final gathering on Mount Zion. While other denominations are moving in the direction of similarity in liturgy, thus illustrating commonly held beliefs, we must respond more fully to the first angel's message of Revelation 14 and move in the direction of liturgical distinctiveness. The contrast must be more apparent and thus contribute to the incisiveness of the eternal gospel we are called to preach.

Seventh-day Adventist worship must avoid the extremes of formalism on the one hand and purposeless disarray on the other. Regarding the first, Ellen White affirms that God's "service should be made interesting and attractive and not be allowed to degenerate into a dry form" (Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 609). However, form itself does not constitute dryness or degeneration. It is the lack of interest and attractiveness caused by an absence of the Spirit that causes this condition. Revival is not brought about by a change in the order of service. Worshipers who have been born again and filled with the Holy Spirit will bring life to the service no matter what its form may be.

Regarding the second extreme, Ellen White has also written: "There should be rules in regard to the time, the place, and the manner of worshiping." —Ibid., p. 491. If the worship of the last-day church is to reflect its unity of belief, it should exhibit an orderly progression toward a predetermined goal. The events of the end time are not necessarily chaotic or ambiguous. The Holy Spirit has nothing in common with disorder and confusion. The whole last-day message exudes progression and order. Events will occur according to plan and on time. Thus the worship of the last-day church should reflect the orderliness and progression of the Creator rather than the disruption and confusion of uncertain mankind. It would seem too that the gifts of the Spirit for the last day would bring about an orderliness in keeping with God's own character.

The worship of the last-day church, therefore, should be well ordered and edifying. It would not be appropriate or in harmony with Adventist church policy for the church as a whole, through the agency of the General Conference, to establish rules concerning the manner of worshiping and then impose them on congregations. However, it is certainly not contrary to Adventist tradition to suggest orders of service that will reflect Adventist beliefs. The revision of The Church Hymnal provides a clear opportunity to do so. Each congregation would do well to select a worship committee to work closely with the pastor and musicians in developing an order of service that meets its needs and that reflects what the congregation and the world church believes. The liturgical life of the congregation should be subjected to periodic review and restudy. Adventist worship ought to be worthy of Adventist theological traditions and under standing.

If we are to have liturgy but not excessive liturgy, what should be the criteria for at least minimum form? For Seventh-day Adventists our criteria must be based on the Word of God and our theological understanding of that Word and worship. The Word helps us understand what should or should not be included. Freedom in the ordering of our worship services must always be exercised within the restraint imposed by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.

First of all, therefore, Seventh-day Adventist liturgy must stress the communication of the Word of God. The entire worship service should be considered a proclamatory event. Second, the structure of the service should provide opportunities to emphasize the ecumenical doctrines of Adventism, while at the same time leaving ample room for innovation and spontaneity. Our ecumenical perspective and understanding indicates that in preparation for the return of Christ there is to be a new and united institution, that a new name has been given under which we are to assemble as the people of God, that in these last days the historic message of salvation in Christ is rooted in the Sabbath, His heavenly ministry, and His coming again, and that the celebration of His expectant church is to be reflective of these elements (see Rev. 14:12). A certain timelessness of divine truth is to be evident in the worship of the last-day church. Still it must be conscious of the times and stand ready and willing to respond to mankind's searchings by casting eternal truth in contemporary language.

The content of our worship forms needs to have an enduring faithfulness that is substantive, timeless and timely, as well as Biblically sound. The worship of the last-day church ought to bear the imprint of its Lord until the time He appears in the midst of His gathered people on Mount Zion. If, as we believe, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the true ecumenical movement calling God's people to a unity based on the Scriptures, then the form of its worship ought to reflect that conviction. The ecumenical character of worship ought to rest firmly on the ecumenical character of the message we preach. Thus the form of our worship, its liturgical expression, will be effective in the gathering of God's people into one faithful body, an attractive movement, tending toward unity, a movement of inclusion.

It would seem, then, that we have certain obligations when it comes to planning the form of our worship services: (1) to the ecumenical character and obligation of the times, (2) to the nature and content of the eternal gospel, (3) to the tradition of the church to which we belong, and (4) to that which the Spirit would teach us on our way to the marriage feast of the Lamb.

The suggested order of service given here (see box) is an example that attempts to provide as much structure and form as necessary to emphasize the centrality of the Word; to emphasize the ecumenical doctrines of Adventism; to express the past, present, and future dimensions worship has for our existence; and to provide opportunity for celebration as the Word is heard and responses made.

The service, as you can see, has two main divisions, the first focusing on the ministry of the Word of God and the second on the response of the congregation to that Word. This reflects our belief that God must speak first before man speaks, that man's proper stance before God is penitent, expectant silence bro ken only when God has spoken and a proper response can be made.

Following the prelude, the organist should modulate into an appropriate theme for the entrance of the worship leaders, such as "Break Thou the Bread of Life." The elders enter and stand before their seats (or kneel); the first elder then steps forward for the invocation, after which he returns to his place and joins the congregation in singing the introit, which introduces into the service the first ecumenical doctrine, the Sabbath. A hymn that could be used is:

With joy we hail the sacred day

Which God has called His own;

With joy the summons we obey,

To worship at His throne.


Then hail! thou sacred, blessed day,

The best of all the seven,

When hearts unite their vows to pay

Of gratitude to heaven. (See Fig. 1)


Following the preached Word, the congregation enters into the praise portion of the service. All that follows now is in response to what God has spoken in the form of Scripture reading and proclamation. A fitting initial response is music by a choir, soloist, group, or instrumentalists. At this particular point in the service such special music provides a meditative transition to the spirit of prayer. The prayer, in the kneeling position, is followed by congregational singing of the prayer response. One possibility is:


Where high the heavenly temple stands,

The house of God not made with hands,

A great High Priest our nature wears;

The guardian of mankind. He hears. [Adapted.] (See Fig. 2)


The prayer response thus provides the liturgical opportunity for introducing the second ecumenical doctrine, the heavenly ministry of the Lord.

The doxology that follows the sacrifice in giving may be selected each week in harmony with the message or the theme for that Sabbath, or it may be one of the nonvarying constants in the service and be repeated every week, such as "Praise God, From Whom All Blessings Flow." The doxology is followed with a testimony given by a member of the congregation, appointed by the pastor or the director of personal minis tries. This is an addition in harmony with the counsel of Ellen G. White.

The benedictory response is sung by the congregation and introduces the third ecumenical doctrine, the second advent of Christ. One of the best in terms of both message and stirring music is:


We have this hope that bums within our hearts,

Hope in the coming of the Lord.

We have this faith that Christ alone imparts,

Faith in the promise of His Word.

We believe the time is here

When the nations far and near

Shall awake, and shout, and sing

Hallelujah! Christ is King!

We have this hope that burns within our hearts,

Hope in the coming of the Lord.


This suggested service has a minimum of form; there are but three constants: introit, prayer response, and benedictory response (with the possible addition of the doxology). The other elements are variables, providing ample room for creativity, innovation, and spontaneity. The introit, prayer response, and benedictory response should be printed in the bulletin each week, preceeded by a statement such as "The introit and responses below are to be sung by the congregation; they provide the emphases that make our worship service distinctively Seventh-day Adventist."

We must always be keenly aware that it is possible to veil the eternal gospel behind the irrelevant trappings of an ornate and involved liturgical tradition. However, the Protestant Reformation taught us that if truth is not reflected in liturgy, error will be. It is also possible, of course, to veil the eternal gospel in liturgical ambiguity. We must not imagine ourselves liturgically clothed when, like the fairy-tale king who believed he was robed in the finest of invisible garments, we might actually be naked.

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C. Raymond Holmes, D.Min., is director of student life, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

June 1983

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