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Liturgy as an appropriate unifier

This entry is part 2 of 8 in the series

"Worship and Doctrinal Distinctives"

Read more posts by using the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

God wants his people to be unified, but some doctrinal and practical matters are important enough that secondary division is necessary. Such is the case with issues such as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the regulative principle.

However, even when God’s people must separate over important matters, it is always a good thing when they can display appropriate unity. Last week, I mentioned that traditional psalmody and hymnody have provided one way to do just that. Denominations groups who otherwise worship separately due to significant differences have been able to display unity by sharing psalm translations, hymn texts, and even tunes across denominational lines.

Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Another worship element that has encouraged transdenominational unity while preserving denominational distinctives is traditional liturgy.

While specific features of the liturgy may reflect particular denominational theology, most post-Reformation denominational groups traditionally preserved a similar shape to their worship services. As Bryan Chappell notes, “where the truths of the gospel are maintained there remain commonalities of worship structure that transcend culture”1 and, I would add, denomination.

Groups with various denominational identity have traditionally shared a liturgical shape of adoration, confession, assurance, thanksgiving, petition, instruction, charge, and blessing.2 As with traditional psalmody and hymnody, this common worship structure allowed Christians of various denominations to share an appropriate unity while maintaining their important distinctiveness.

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About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

  1. Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 8. []
  2. Others have made this observation including Robert B Rayburn, O Come Let Us Worship: Corporate Worship in the Evangelical Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980); Constance M Cherry, The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010); James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013); Robbie F. Castleman, Story-Shaped Worship: Following Patterns from the Bible and History (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013). []