The Form of the Liturgy is not in the Bible! Oh Really? by Pr. Rossow

It is a fairly common assertion amongst church growthers and confessionals alike that the liturgy is not in the Bible. Actually the liturgy shows up in the Bible in many places. Of course, ninety percent of the liturgical texts are biblical (thank you editors Vieker and Grime for putting those Bible references in the LSB) but that is not what I am talking about. I am talking about the actual format of the liturgy. It is not as biblically scarce as we think.

First of all consider Jesus at the synagogue in Nazareth. As we learn from Art Just in the excellent video series on the liturgy from Lutheran Visuals,* the basic form of the liturgy comes out of the practice of the Jews and is what Jesus was practicing at Nazareth – first the readings, then the commentary/sermon on the readings. What a powerful sermon that was – “I am the one Isaiah is talking about.”

But what I want to point out today is the liturgy in the book of Revelation. A few years ago I ran across a book by Scott Hahn, a protestant turned Roman Catholic in which he shows how the book of Revelation flows like the liturgy and how so much of our liturgical practice is found in the book of Revelation. (From what I could tell, Dr. Hahn was formerly a straight-forward sin and forgiveness guy when he first went over to Rome but has since, sadly in my estimation, become a sort of gobbledy-gook-speaking, liberal, semi-gnostic, neo-Thomist. Also, sadly, this gobbledy-gook has found its way into the LCMS via the University of Notre Dame and is at the heart of the erroneous contextualization argument supporting the praise band at the seminary in St. Louis.)

The book of Revelation in great part flows like the liturgy. It starts out with the presence of God, approximating the invocation with Jesus meeting John (chapter 1). It then continues with the hymn of praise at the throne of the Father lauding the Lamb who has been slain from which “This is the Feast” is derived (chapters 4-5). After that is a sort of service of the word (readings and sermons), the cycles of sevens (trumpets, bowls, etc.) in which the end times are described, the end times having started when Jesus said “It is finished” (chapters 6-16). Then follows the service of the Supper with the great feast in heaven (chapter 19) and then finally there is the benediction (chapter 22).

On this liturgical path in the book of Revelation we see Jesus dressed like a liturgical pastor wearing a white robe and a gold sash (chapter 1). (Sorry church growthers, he is not wearing a polo short or a flowered Hawaiian shirt.) Behind Jesus are seven candles lit, just like in liturgical churches. During the Revelation hymn of praise we hear responsive singing and throughout the book everyone is bowing and prostrating on nearly every page. There is no hint of “the great fun party” in heaven that the false teacher Rob Bell and the church growthers like to talk about. Instead, everything is done in fear and reverence. (I have written a small pamphlet that goes into greater detail that is available at Blue Pomegranate Press if you are interested in further reading on this.)

For sure, worship has a noticeable element of adiaphora to it (neither commanded nor forbidden) but there is no need for us to cave and say that the form of the liturgy is not Scriptural. It’s right there in the last book of the Bible – the book that gives us the clearest picture of worship life at the heavenly Divine Service.

*Lutheran Visuals has a new video out on the liturgy by The Rev. Dr. Daniel Brege titled Eating God’s Sacrifice which I have not had time to review but from what I understand, is quite good.

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