Liturgy, what is it, and is it connected to worship?                                        By Jack Kettler


In the study of liturgies, you will come across such terminology as “Low Church” and “High Church.” The term “Low Church” is usually referring to an open spontaneous service along with no prescribed order for the worship service, whereas “High Church” would refer to Anglican worship that emphasizes the clerical or priestly, and ceremonial components in worship along with using prescribed prayers such as the Book of Common Prayer.


Liturgy in Eastern Churches confines itself to the sanctioned worship service and partaking of the Eucharist. The Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom is the most celebrated liturgy in the Byzantine Rite. The main liturgical component of the Roman Church would be the Mass, with the Eucharist and its accompanying sacramental system.


In this study, we will look at the idea of liturgy and how it works out in the pattern of worship in Presbyterian and Reformed Churches. Using the definition of a “Low Church” liturgy listed above, Presbyterian and Reformed Churches do not fit into this category. Reformed Church services are anything but spontaneous. And they are certainly not lacking in a prescribed order for the worship service. In this study, we will look the idea of a “Biblical Church Liturgy.”


Word Definitions:


Liturgy: An established or customary pattern for a public religious service. It may include prescribed content for readings and prayers, and/or designated times for hymns, responsive readings, scripture readings, prayers, the Lord’s Supper, and teaching, etc. *


Liturgy: is a set of prescribed practices used in public worship. Liturgies can be very detailed and lengthy or very short.  It is a pattern and custom used in church services.  Some are detailed and some are not.  Some require people to stand up and kneel at certain times after recitations of various scriptures or confessions of faith.  Other liturgies are very simple where people are more spontaneous within a broader pattern of a service. **


A layman’s short definition: A Christian liturgy is a pattern or structured order for worship used by a local church congregation or a denomination on an ongoing basis. There is nothing inherently wrong with the word liturgy. What every believer should be concerned is, is the liturgy biblical. 


Liturgy is principally about worship. What exactly is worship?


Worship: The obligation to respond to God’s character and actions by giving Him honor, glory and obedience; also used specifically of a church’s public activity of glorifying God together by means of instruction, confession, prayer, singing, and participation in the Lord’s Supper. *


Worship: The obligation of God's creation to give to Him all honor, praise, adoration, and glory due Him because He is the holy and divine creator. Worship is to be given to God only (Exodus 20:3; Matthew 4:10). Jesus, being God in flesh (John 1:1; Joh 1:14; Colossians 2:9), was worshipped (Matthew 2:2; Mat 2:11; Mat 14:33; John 9:35-38; Hebrews 1:6). **


From Scripture, a pattern that we see that informs us of what constitutes worship:


1.      The reading of the Word of God, and preaching of the Word of God in worship:


“And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42)


“Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.

Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” (1 Timothy 4:13-16)


2.      Prayer in worship:


“And said unto them, it is written, my house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” (Matthew 21:13)


“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” (Ephesians 6:18)


3.      Tithes and offerings in worship:


“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.” (Malachi 3:8-9)


“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” (Matthew 5:17)


Does fulfil mean to cancel? In common parlance, “fulfilled” simply means your order has been processed and shipped. If the order cannot be fulfilled, one solution is to cancel it.


“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Matthew 23:23)


Jesus stated that tithing is something that should not be abandoned when He said: “and not to leave the other undone.”


4.      Singing in worship:


“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Colossians 3:16)


5.      The observance of the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord's Supper in worship:


“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:41, 42)


“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.


After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)


6.      Discipline in worship:


“For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” (1 Corinthians 11:29-30)


Church discipline is another component of true worship. A church that does not practice church discipline, is in danger of allowing the improper administration of the sacraments or guarding against unbiblical preaching.


The above Scriptures establish a pattern of what happened during a meeting of God’s people.


This Scriptural pattern involves:


·         The reading of the Word of God, and preaching of the Word of God

·         Prayer

·         Singing

·         Tithes and Offerings

·         Biblical administration of the  Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper

·         Discipline


Digging deeper, from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:


Worship, Worshiping

A — 1: προσκυνέω

(Strong's #4352 — Verb — proskuneopros-koo-neh'-o)


“to make obeisance, do reverence to” (from pros, “towards,” and kuneo, “to kiss”), is the most frequent word rendered “to worship.” It is used of an act of homage or reverence (a) to God, e.g., Matthew 4:10 ; John 4:21-24 ; 1 Corinthians 14:25 ; Revelation 4:10 ; 5:14 ; 7:11 ; 11:16 ; 19:10 (2nd part); 22:9; (b) to Christ, e.g., Matthew 2:2,8,11 ; 8:2 ; 9:18 ; 14:33 ; 15:25 ; 20:20 ; 28:9,17 ; John 9:38 ; Hebrews 1:6 , in a quotation from the Sept. of Deuteronomy 32:43 , referring to Christ's Second Advent; (c) to a man, Matthew 18:26 ; (d) to the Dragon, by men, Revelation 13:4 ; (e) to the Beast, his human instrument, Revelation 13:4,8,12 ; 14:9,11 ; (f) the image of the Beast, Revelation 13:15 ; 14:11 ; 16:2 ; (g) to demons, Revelation 9:20 ; (h) to idols, Acts 7:43 .

Note: As to Matthew 18:26, this is mentioned as follows, in the “List of readings and renderings preferred by the American Committee” (see RV Classes of Passages, IV): “At the word 'worship' in Matthew 2:2, etc., add the marginal note 'The Greek word denotes an act of reverence, whether paid to man (see chap. Matthew 18:26) or to God (see chap. Matthew 4:10)'.” The Note to John 9:38 in the American Standard Version in this connection is most unsound; it implies that Christ was a creature. J. N. Darby renders the verb “do homage” [see the Revised Preface to the Second Edition (1871) of his New Translation].


A — 2: σέβω

(Strong's #4576 — Verb — sebomaiseb'-om-ahee)

“to revere,” stressing the feeling of awe or devotion, is used of “worship” (a) to God, Matthew 15:9 ; Mark 7:7 ; Acts 16:14 ; 18:7,13 ; (b) to a goddess, Acts 19:27 . See DEVOUT, No. 3.

A — 3: σεβάζομαι

(Strong's #4573 — Verb — sebazomaiseb-ad'-zom-ahee)

akin to No. 2, "to honor religiously," is used in Romans 1:25 .

A — 4: λατρεύω

(Strong's #3000 — Verb — latreuolat-ryoo'-o)

“to serve, to render religious service or homage,” is translated “to worship” in Philippians 3:3 , “(who) worship (by the Spirit of God),” RV, AV, “(which) worship (God in the spirit);” the RV renders it “to serve” (for AV, “to worship”) in Acts 7:42 ; 24:14 ; AV and RV, “(the) worshipers” in Hebrews 10:2 , present participle, lit., “(the ones) worshiping.” See SERVE.

A — 5: εὐσεβέω

(Strong's #2151 — Verb — eusebeoyoo-seb-eh'-o)

“to act piously towards,” is translated “ye worship” in Acts 17:23 . See PIETY (to show).

Notes: (1) The worship of God is nowhere defined in Scripture. A consideration of the above verbs shows that it is not confined to praise; broadly it may be regarded as the direct acknowledgement to God, of His nature, attributes, ways and claims, whether by the outgoing of the heart in praise and thanksgiving or by deed done in such acknowledgment. (2) In Acts 17:25 therapeuo, “to serve, do service to” (so RV), is rendered “is worshiped.” See CURE, HEAL.

B — 1: σέβασμα

(Strong's #4574 — Noun Neuter — sebasmaseb'-as-mah)

denotes “an object of worship” (akin to A, No. 3); Acts 17:23 (see DEVOTION); in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 , “that is worshiped;” every object of “worship,” whether the true God or pagan idols, will come under the ban of the Man of Sin.

B — 2: ἐθελοθρησκία

(Strong's #1479 — Noun Feminine — ethelothreskeia[-ia] — eth-el-oth-race-ki'-ah)

“will-worship” (ethelo, “to will,” threskeia, “worship”), occurs in Colossians 2:23, voluntarily adopted “worship,” whether unbidden or forbidden, not that which is imposed by others, but which one affects.

B — 3: θρησκεία

(Strong's #2356 — Noun Feminine — threskeiathrace-ki'-ah)

for which see RELIGION , is translated "worshiping" in Colossians 2:18 .

Note: In Luke 14:10, AV, doxa, “glory” (RV), is translated “worship.” (1)


The Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) provides the structure and content of Worship in Presbyterian and Reformed Churches:


We can only approach God on his own terms, not only for salvation, but also in worship. The Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) is the doctrine that everything of religious significance in worship must be prescribed in Holy Scripture, either explicitly or by good and necessary consequence, such that “whatever is beside the Word of God is against the Word of God. Put another way, “in God’s worship there must be nothing offered up to God but what he hath commanded, whatsoever we meddle within the worship of God, it must be what we have a warrant for out of the Word of God.” Ultimately, the Regulative Principle of Worship is nothing more than the specific application of Sola Scriptura, that Scripture alone is the sufficient rule of faith and life, to worship.


What is the Scriptural basis for the Regulative Principle?


The regulative principle in early covenant history is closely tied to the example of the Levitical priesthood as is primarily seen in the book of Leviticus and other portions of Scripture, along with God's punishment for its violation.


Consider the following examples:


Strange Fire or worship condemned:


“And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.” (Leviticus 10:1-2)


Uzzah's error punished:


“And they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drave the new cart. And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was at Gibeah, accompanying the ark of God: and Ahio went before the ark. . . . And when they came to Nachon's threshing floor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God.” (2 Samuel 6:3-7)


Man-made worship condemned:


“And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart.” (Jeremiah 7:31) See also, Jeremiah 19:5.


“And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring: that ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God.” (Numbers 15:39-40)


What about the New Testament, are there examples of these same types of warnings and judgements?


In the book of Acts, we see death for deception in charitable giving:


“But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.” (Acts 5:1-11)


Damnation for unworthy participation in the Lord’s Supper:


“For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” (1 Corinthians 11:29-30)


These warnings are serious and are why many historic Christian fellowships practice some form of guarded or closed communion. An open communion may be complicit allowing people to sin publically by making a false profession of faith when partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Partaking of the Lord’s Supper or communion is a public act of faith. The Church should guard against profane acts of worship.      


God is very specific:


Unauthorized or man-made worship is condemned and even punishable by death. While it is admitted that it is out of the norm for God to execute sinners today like the examples above, nevertheless God still brings about spiritual judgments for violation of the Regulative Principle as evidenced by Paul's warning to the Corinthian Church by participating in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner.


A Scriptural liturgy:


The next a citation is an example of a liturgy that takes serious the commands and warnings on what God requires in corporate worship.


John Calvin’s liturgy:


The Order of Public Worship in Calvin’s Congregation at Strassburg was as follows:


Invocation and Call to Worship

The Confession of Sin (Prayer) and a Brief Absolution (which would oftentimes include the 10 commandments).

Reading of the Old Testament / New Testament

Psalm Sung

Pastoral Prayer / Prayer of Illumination

The Word of God Preached (The Sermon)

Prayer of Intercession and Application ending with the Lord’s Prayer (a prayer for the people by the minister).

Psalm Sung



Calvin’s Alternate Order of Worship for Communion:


Call to worship

Confession of Sin / Absolution

The Ten Commandments (sung) (In Calvin’s preparation of a metrical tune)

Psalm (sung)

The Word Read from the OT or NT

Prayer for Illumination

Preaching of the Word Sermon

Prayer of Intercession

Apostle’s Creed (sung) (In Calvin’s preparation of a metrical tune)

The Lord’s Supper

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Psalm (sung) or Song of Simeon (sung)

Blessing (2)


Westminster Confession of Faith’s 21:1 directory for public worship:


“The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited to his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture (Exodus 20:4-6; Deuteronomy 4:15-20; 12:32; Mat 4:9-10; 15:9; Acts 17:25; Col 2:23).”


DIRECTORY for the Publick Worship of God:


The Preface.

Of the Assembling of the Congregation.

Of Publick Reading of the Holy Scriptures.

Of Publick Prayer before the Sermon.

Of Preaching of the Word.

Of Prayer after Sermon.

Of the Sacrament of Baptism.

Of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.

Of the Sanctification of the Lord's Day.

Of the Solemnization of Marriage.

Of the Visitation of the Sick.

Of the Burial of the Dead.

Of Publick Solemn Fasting.

Of the Observation of Days of Publick Thanksgiving.

Of Singing of Psalms.

An Appendix touching Days and Places of Publick Worship.


In closing:


A Modern day Presbyterian Order for a Worship Service:


Call to worship

Response to the call - Psalm

Prayer of invocation and Lord’s Prayer

Scripture reading

Psalm of response

Prayer of intercession

Tithes and offerings   

Preaching of God’s Word

Psalm of response



This order of public worship is taken from the Westminster, CO Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA).


The goal of this study is to help us magnify the Lord God for his marvelous grace that made us children of God through no merit of our own. It is my prayer that this goal has been attained. 


“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)



1.      W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), pp. 1247-1248.

2.      Philip Schaff, Schaff’s, History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity, The Swiss Reformation 87: The Liturgy of Calvin, (AP&A Publishers, Eight Volumes in 3), pp. 176-178.

“To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)


Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at:

For more study:


* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes:


** CARM theological dictionary


The Scriptural Regulative Principle of Worship by G. I. Williamson