Sometimes the idea of “formal worship” scares people. I hope to make that less scary. The Protestant traditions include Anglicanism, Lutheranism, the Reformed, and Presbyterianism. Although these traditions have important differences, they reflect important similarities in the way they worship. I could feel more or less at home in any of these traditions, so long as they are true to their Reformation heritage. A liturgy is an order of worship in which God gives grace in the gospel and we respond in faith, hope, and love.
1. I love that liturgical Protestant worship is shaped by the Gospel.
Common in Protestant liturgies is a movement from the law of God and our repentance to the Gospel. The Gospel announces our forgiveness and justification. A good liturgy is evangelical in the best sense in that it helps move the congregation through the ordinary patterns of the Christian life. I constantly feel the weight of the week’s sins lifted as I confess my sins in a prayer together with the congregation. Then I hear the pastor preach the gospel, telling me again that my sins are forgiven because of Christ alone.
2. I love that liturgical Protestant worship has specific prayers as part of the service.
In Protestant orders of worship, there is usually a prayer of adoration, a prayer of confession of sin, a pastoral prayer for the needs of the congregation, and a prayer of thanksgiving. Sometimes some of these prayers are expressed in song; other times the entire congregation reads a written prayer. The pastor leads the congregation in these prayers that reflect our unity. Through public prayer, we bear one another’s burdens. When I hear my pastor pray for me, I feel his love for the congregation, and me in particular.
3. I love that liturgical Protestant worship includes lots of Scripture reading throughout the service.
Usually there are readings from the Old and New Testaments, Psalms, Epistles, and Gospels. Sometimes the Psalms are sung. Protestant liturgies include a variety of arrangements and a number of Scripture readings. Hearing so much Scripture read in church is like being washed in God’s Word.
4. I love that liturgical Protestant worship includes the pastor preaching both the law and the gospel from the Bible.
A good sermon doesn’t just tell me about what happened in the past. A good sermon helps me to understand my life as a part of God’s story. A good sermon focuses on what Jesus did—and is doing—to save sinners like me. A good sermon shows me why Jesus had to die. A good sermon shows me how to respond in faith, hope, and love. Protestants preach God’s word of law to humble my proud heart and God’s gospel to show me my savior and remind me how God has promised to work in my life to save me from sin’s penalty and power.
5. I love that liturgical Protestant worship recites creeds.
If you have never been in a church that recites a creed like the Apostles’ Creed, then this is a great reason to visit. When we recite this creed, we recite something that reflects the basics of our faith. The pastor asks, “Congregation, what do you believe?” and we respond with, “I believe in God the Father Almighty….” We confess our common faith together. In this act we connect to the church past, present, and future. We are expressing the one faith that all Christians have sought to maintain for generations.
6. I love that liturgical Protestant worship sings old and new songs.
I love singing old songs, because they remind me of the different cultures and time periods in which God worked. I love singing new songs, because they remind me that the faith is still living, that Christianity is still vibrant today, and that God is still working. Singing new and old songs reminds me that God has promised to gather the nations as his people (Ps. 86:9).
7. I love that liturgical Protestant worship expresses a range of emotions.
Like the Psalms, Protestants know how to mourn, how to praise, how to ask God for our needs, and how to give thanks for what he has already given. When I come to church, I’m not forced to be happy or sad, but I get to express that weird mixture so common to Christians: joy and sorrow, praise and lament, and repentance and faith. I love that I get to express the way I actually feel, and am helped to express the ways I should feel, as I am taught to express the entire range of emotions that are part of the ordinary Christian life.