Liturgy for Life: The Rhythms That Shape Us

by Morgan Byrd June 13, 2019

Rhythm is a constant movement or pattern that shapes and creates form. Rhythm sets up a structure so that uniformity can take place. Many people live life not realizing how much they rely on rhythm, or how much they are shaped by rhythms. Rhythm plays an integral part in life, art, and within the church.

Over the last few thousand years, rhythm in the life of the church has usually been called “liturgy,” especially as it pertains to the form of corporate worship. The liturgy of corporate worship must be guarded so that it reflects the gospel of Jesus Christ. If this is true, then the church must pay even greater attention to the rhythm of its community life. The liturgy for life that the community of God enacts should reflect the story of the gospel.  

What place does rhythm actually have in shaping what people desire? In his critique of the "seeker" church, Jared Wilson argues, “How we ‘do church’ shapes the way people see God and his Son and his ways in the world. If you agree with that, it behooves us to constantly evaluate what shape our church is taking and what shape of Christian our church is making.”[1] That last phrase is the key to the conversation: 

Does it matter what shape the Church is taking? Only if it matters what shape of Christian we are making.

A case study on this matter is found in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. Paul is reminding the Corinthians that “how” he shared the message of Christ with them mattered just as much as the message itself. They were just as easily going to be shaped by the form of Paul’s preaching as they were going to be shaped by the content of his preaching. His argument is not hard to follow, “My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not be based on human wisdom but on God’s power” (1 Cor. 2:4-5). The form that Paul used in his ministry would inevitably shape the form of their faith. If he constantly showed off his eloquence, then there was a danger: they might actually be trusting in him and not God. Commenting on this passage, Arturo Azurdia writes, “Where the affections of people are at stake, there must be no competitors allowed. The gospel must capture their hearts, not the genius of those who seek to communicate it.”[2] 

The Christian is going to be shaped by things that happen in the corporate gathering. So, to take Wilson and Azurdia’s thought a step forward, if Christians are shaped by the form of corporate worship, then they will also be shaped by the rhythms of their daily life as a part of the community of God.  

The Rhythm of Family        

In the mind of Jesus, there is to be a parallel between the family interactions of believers and the family interactions of the Godhead. It is not a stretch to say that participation in the family life of the community of the church mirrors God Himself. Again, if Christians are shaped by the rhythms that they participate in, then regular family engagement is a healthy practice for forming the very life of God in them. A Trinitarian shape is formed in a Christian as they move away from living an autonomous life, and embrace being a person-in-community.[3]

The Rhythm of the Incarnation

There was a massive cultural barrier that the Son of God crossed over when He assumed flesh. For God to communicate to man, He had to accommodate, and this accommodation came by way of manifesting His message in an understandable language—a human Person. The humility, accommodation, inconvenience, and translation of God’s mission work together to shape the incarnation in the Christian. As the church engages in the mission of God, the mission of Christ is formed in them.

The Rhythm of the Cross

Confession is the rhythm that conforms the Christian to the cross. Dietrich Bonhoeffer has made this most clear in his classic, Life Together, saying, “In the deep mental and physical pain of humiliation before a brother—which means, before God—we experience the Cross of Jesus as our rescue and salvation. The old man dies, but it is God who has conquered him.”[4] Through confession the old man dies and the sin is put to shame, just like it was at the cross in the body of Jesus. A liturgy for life must include forces that shape the Christian to the cross of Christ, and no rhythm is more potent for this than confession.

The Rhythm of Resurrection

Churches ought to take seriously the overall shaping aspect of the Lord’s Day worship as a celebration of the resurrection. Fifty-two times a year, a Christian joins with his community to celebrate the resurrection. What will a resurrection conformed church look like? Ray Ortlund dreams, “A gospel defined church is a prophetic sign that points beyond itself. It is a model home of the new neighborhood Christ is building for eternity. People can walk into this kind of church right now to see human beauty that will last forever. Such a church makes heaven real to people on earth so that they can put their faith in Christ now.”[5] What a marvelous thought, the people themselves, prophetic signs pointing towards the promised future! When the rhythm influence of the Lord’s Day celebration has had its effect on the church of God, heaven itself is formed in the community.

Notes

  1. ^ Jared C. Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2015), 21.
  2. ^ Arturo G. Azurdia, Spirit Empowered Preaching: The Vitality of the Holy Spirit in Preaching (Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor, 1998), 99.
  3. ^ Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008), 41.
  4. ^ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper & Row, 1954), 114.
  5. ^ Raymond C. Ortlund, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ, 9marks: Building Healthy Churches (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2014), 51.