Monday 10 February 2014

Liturgical Worship and Orthodoxy 8

We've seen that the early Church was structured around the ministries of Bishops, Priests and Deacons and that the life and worship of the Church was to be conducted according to order and not with the chaos of each person acting as they saw fit. Each ministry, including that of the laity, is to serve within its own bounds, and there is to be no celebration of the Eucharist apart from the Bishop.

We have also seen that the worship of the early Church was liturgical and that some of these earliest liturgical fragments are still used by the Orthodox Church and those other traditions which still maintain the use of the ancient liturgies.

In this short post I would like to consider some passages in the Old and New Testaments which we can now read in the light of the liturgical nature of the worship of the early Church. Of course we know that the worship of the Old Testament was liturgical, but there are passages in the Old and New Testament which seem to speak clearly of the worship of the Church according to the will of God.

In these few paragraphs I would like us to begin by considering the worship of heaven. Since we hope to spend eternity in the presence of God we can understand that the nature of worship in the heavenly realm is that for which man is created.

We know that Moses introduced the liturgical worship of the tabernacle after the detailed instructions which he had received from God. Yet in the Letter to the Hebrews 8:5 we find it said of those who offer this Mosaic liturgical worship that they ...

...serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle

So the complex liturgical worship of the Old Testament is an example and shadow of the heavenly  worship. Indeed we find it said of our Lord Jesus Christ, who sits in the heavenly places...

We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.

There is in heaven therefore, a High Priest, and a sanctuary and a tabernacle. All of these remind us that the liturgical worship of the Mosaic tabernacle was not an aberration before the introduction of modern evangelical non-liturgical worship, but was also an echo of that worship which is offered in Heaven by those who have been made the New Israel, that is the Church.

Elsewhere in the Letter to the Hebrews it is said of our Lord Jesus...

And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood....Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

What does it mean when the priests among men are compared to Christ, our High Priest, other than that the ministry is of the same character, and if it is of the same character then the worship of Heaven is liturgical. The priests among men pass away because they are mortal, but Christ, who is also a priest, has an unchanging priesthood in Heaven because he has risen from death never to suffer death again.

There is only time to turn briefly to the Book of Revelation. In this passage from Rev. 8 we may see a very liturgical aspect of the worship in Heaven.

And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.

There is an altar, there are ministering angels or deacons, there is much incense which ascends before God. This is liturgy. It is how we will worship in Heaven. It is how the Old Testament believers worshipped, and it is how the early Church and all Christians until the 16th century worshipped.

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