The Sunday Morning Service

2 Weeks of Pagan Christianity

Typical Order of Worship:

  • Singing
  • Prayer
  • Announcements
  • Offering
  • Scripture
  • Sermon
  • Prayer
  • Benediction or Closing Song

The Protestant order of worship has its roots in the early Catholic Mass. Chapter 3 of Pagan Christianity deals with the history of the worship service since the Catholic Mass and describes the influences after the Reformation by Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and others.

“The high point of the Catholic Mass has always been the Eucharist.”

“Luther made preaching, rather than the Eucharist, the center of the gathering, but kept the same order of worship as found in the Catholic Mass.”

“Luther gets credit for making the sermon the climax of the Protestant service.”

“Reformation brought very little reform in the way of church practice.”

It was interesting to learn how Frontier Revivalism changed the goal of preaching to conversion and to read how certain practices came about, such as personal decisions, the altar call, and the sinner’s prayer.

As I said in my previous post, let’s take a look at this from the perspective of our practices in relationship to our principles. Do our practices influence and shape our principles? Or do our practices reflect our principles?

What are the principles or ideals that should be reflected in our gatherings?

  • open participation
  • every-member functioning
  • mutual edification
  • spiritual transformation

It was recently REVEALed that the typical Sunday morning service does not produce spiritual transformation. Is there a way to incorporate these principles in a Sunday morning service?


18 thoughts on “The Sunday Morning Service

  1. One of my favorite early church descriptions of a service is from Tertullian’s Apology, chapter 39. Here he is even making an intentional contrast between Christian and pagan practices and thought. It has struck me how “emerging” it looks, though certainly those in Carthage were doing this quite a fair bit before the last decade.

  2. I think it’s interesting how the principles of modern evangelicalism are so well embodied in our practice — if the point is atomized individuals making “decisions”, then gathering a thousand people to listen to one person preach is a pretty good way to go. On the other hand, if the point is to make disciples, we might want to focus on activities that have less to do with butts in chairs. We might have to actually encounter people “on the way” as Jesus did. I don’t know if we can reform Sunday morning into becoming such a different thing — it may take moving the emphasis off Sunday and coming back to it once we’ve discovered some practices that embody the principles of discipleship.

  3. Hey Grace, I think there is, it’s called, ” releasing people.” We’ve started to experiment with creativity, canning the routine and peacher. A group of people get together, whether a home group or friends…they wrestle with a theme. The meet together, lots of coffee ( beer )…conversation, debate…arguument…” spiritual formation.” They utilize alot of creativity…art, poetry, music and reflections. It becomes a feast for the faith community, a potluck of peoples gifts. It creates community, validates community, transforms community. It does require work, and it is a challenge for communities that have been doing the same old thing for a long time…we can form some pretty deep ruts. We need to embrace change, creativity and experiment.

  4. What I’m wondering this morning is if the weekly gathering is supposed to produce spiritual transformation. We gather to worship corporately, right?. Did God intend worship to be for the purpose of our growth? In the OT, worship included praise, sacrifice and humility (bowing). Jesus taught in synagogue-like gatherings because that was the venue most often available to him. Was it God’s plan for the church to incorporate that teaching meeting into worship? Jesus didn’t lead worship, after all. He taught because He was the subject of worship.

    I guess I’m thinking that maybe we aren’t yet clearly focused on what the goal of the worship gathering should be. We’ve deconstructed it, but now it seems we’re trying to reconstruct several puzzles into the same frame.

  5. Cindy, I wonder if the weekly gathering is supposed to be corporate worship. Sure that’s part of it, but it seems in the letter to the Corinthians Paul emphasized edification, not worship. Those in the church were to consider their actions in terms of how it helped others grow. Which is why he de-emphasized speaking in tongues. Better a prophecy, he said, because that speaks to others.

    If we see the goal of the gathering as edification this includes both a vertical and a horizontal dimension. We cannot grow if we are not looking and focusing on the source of our growth, but we cannot grow if we are isolated beings among others, rather than a community with others.

    Seeing edification, not worship, as the goal of the church seems more Pauline. Meaning the church service is more akin to synagogue than Temple, but the development of the Mass has turned the symbolism around, something Protestants did not fix, even as they changed some of the symbolism.

  6. Seeing edification, not worship, as the goal of the church seems more Pauline.

    Well, was the gathering of the saints meant to be about us, or Him?

    Communion then the central aspect of gathering together. And Paul very detailed about how that rite was to be carried out.

    Clearly it was done, “in remembrance of Him”, not to edify one another. Worship by definition to take the focus off oneself & put it where it rightly belongs. How this has been expressed throughout various church traditions should not be quickly dismissed as extraneous ritual.

    Catholic & Orthodox & High Church Protestant traditions alike make The Eucharist the central aspect of worship. And rightly so I believe. It may be the associated order of service or the requirement of priest/clergy to officiate that may be questionable. Or maybe even the associated theological emphasis of what the bread & wine actually represents. But certainly the communion table a major identifying aspect of the Person we derive both identify & family name from.

    The Protestant reaction to strip more & more layers off the spiritual depths of communion needs to be corrected. It has been relegated to the trite: grape juice & oyster crackers once-a-month as required by church bylaws. Strip it of any semblance of Romish sacredness & practice while demoting it to mere symbol. No wonder people in the modern institutional independent churches feel a void they cannot quite put their finger on…

    You know why the liturgical expressions are attractive to the unchurched youth as they explore spirituality today? The very reasons are rooted in those practices being abandoned by zealous reformists. Mystery & sacredness & awe replaced by cold calculation, rational thought & a scholarly approach to scriptural jot-and-tittle. You know, that modernist ‘know-it-all’ attitude of biblical proportion. Hey, we got it all figured out! So the bible has been elevated to the new altar of religious correctness & damn those frilly traditions, full speed ahead!

    Can sanctifying grace be transferred to the worshiper through sacred practices? Can such a dynamic be magnified through a corporate setting? More so than is available to the individual? If so, the promise that He is in our corporate midst must be different than simply having a personal connection with Him. If not, why be admonished to gather & not forsake such assembly? Keep it to the minimum if you wish. Keep the group numbers low or manageable or intimate, however you wish to express meeting together. But if such a gathering isn’t about Him or focused upon Him & strength derived from Him, attempts at fulfilling the kingdom directives (however you wish to prioritize them) will have little lasting impact…

  7. The problem is, Paul did emphasize the relationship to one another and the edification of one another as the purpose of gathering.

    And if Paul didn’t write Hebrews, than the author of Hebrews also made similar statements.

    1 Corinthians 14:26ff and Hebrews 10:24-25 spring readily to mind.

    And what was the reason Paul even went into detail about the remembrance we call “Communion” in 1 Corinthians 11? Because the body was not thinking of others in the body. The focus, even in that meal, was on the building up of the body.

    It has been relegated to the trite: grape juice & oyster crackers once-a-month as required by church bylaws. Strip it of any semblance of Romish sacredness & practice while demoting it to mere symbol.

    Oh, like Rome had it right? C’mon! They were the ones who kept it from the people and turned it into a wafer and a sip of wine. The fact that they do it in every mass doesn’t change the fact that they stripped Paul’s instructions down, too.

    By the way, Paul never, ever mentioned leaders only getting to “serve” the “meal” (if you can call it that).

    It was hardly Protestantism that stripped the meaning of the Lord’s Supper from what it originally was.

  8. Gosh, I didn’t mean to spark a fracas. I should be more careful of “wondering” on somebody else’s blog! Sorry Grace!

    Since I am far, far, far (did I say far?) from an expert in Pauline or any other kind of theology, all I can do at this point is observe from my limited perspective and try to learn from all of the perspectives around me.

    Patrick, Joseph and Steve- thank you for chiming in on this. Obviously the question of the purpose of the weekly gathering isn’t one that we all agree on right now! I can only guess that it’s this very discussion that results in the fact that most of our gatherings attempt to include both corporate worship and teaching/spiritual formation.

    Individual experience seems to color the way we see this, doesn’t it? My experience has been that worship, although earnestly attempted, has been mostly pushed aside for teaching. I say that, realizing the irony that my name is listed by the title “worship leader” in my church bulletin. Even I find myself attempting to use the music I choose to teach a little. I see a great need for good teaching and correct theology. Like Paul, I look around and think, oh my we need to get some right thinking going on in here!

    Still, in our efforts to “be Pauline” in our approach, I wonder if many of our churches haven’t gone so far that we’ve lost some of the reverent worship that could and probably should also be occurring in our gatherings. I’m not sure that I really know what that would be like. I, as Joseph aptly described, feel a need for something I can’t precisely identify.

    I won’t discount anything that has been said here. However, I’m not fully convinced that Paul’s answers to the Corinthian’s questions were meant to be a treatise on how to conduct corporate gatherings. They seem more to me to be attempts to sort out the wrong turns and inevitable misunderstandings that were occurring in these new groups of believers. As in the matter of communion– when i read it I don’t see a statement of how or why to celebrate the meal, but how not to go about it.

    There I go again, wondering about something I’m wholly unqualified to wonder about. I’ll leave it at that. Good discussion everyone!

  9. I find it interesting that through Acts and the epistles there is never a mention of the purpose of Believers assembling to be for “worship”.

    What I do see in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, especially from chapt. 12-14 is that, first of all, Christ is not like the dumb idols by which they used to be led astray, but rather Christ speaks to His people through the various spiritual gifts which He has given to His body for the common good. (12:1-11)

    We all are the body of Christ, and each of us is a member of it with our own particular function–for the common good. (12:12-31)

    The operating dynamic of our spiritual functioning is Love. (chapt. 13)

    So, we are to eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy. When we are gathered we are to bring some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction so that all may be edified. Try to excel in gifts that build up the church. “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” (chapt. 14)

    I see that the purpose of the assembly is for hearing from/of the Lord which is for the mutual edification of the body. That is certainly one aspect of our “spiritual act of worship”. In this, the gathering of the saints is ALL about Him leading us. The focus is off any one individual, except HIM. “Mutual edification” means that all Believers are mutually responsible for speaking and presenting Christ to one another and to the world. This is not the purview of “specialist”.

    As to the Lord’s Supper…yes, it has often been trivialized and neglected. It has also been overly ritualized and given meanings other than what Jesus and the Apostles put in it. The Lord’s Supper in its simplicity possesses as much mystery as Christ Himself.


  10. Cindy,

    We all seem to be “experts” here… ;o)

    You wrote;

    I’m not fully convinced that Paul’s answers to the Corinthian’s questions were meant to be a treatise on how to conduct corporate gatherings. They seem more to me to be attempts to sort out the wrong turns and inevitable misunderstandings that were occurring in these new groups of believers. As in the matter of communion– when i read it I don’t see a statement of how or why to celebrate the meal, but how not to go about it.

    Perhaps your right in that Paul wasn’t delivering a detailed instruction manual for the conduct of corporate gatherings. But, much can be understood from his corrections to the Corinthians what the “norm” would look like. Apparently, Paul had in the past given them some instruction and training relative to their gatherings.

    While Paul did make corrections relative to the conduct of the Corinthian Believer’s eating of the Supper, he also gave quite direct instructions as to the “how and why”–look at I Cor. 11:23-26.

    OK, I’m done co-opting Grace’s blog as my personal soapbox….


  11. There I go again, wondering about something I’m wholly unqualified to wonder about. I’ll leave it at that. Good discussion everyone!

    Cindy: Everyone is qualified to wonder about all such theological considerations… :)

    I believe it to be one of the least championed universal giftings…

    Best make the reason for our even being called Christian clear: It is Jesus the Christ in whom we, “live and move and have our being.” Jesus said if He be lifted up, all men would be drawn to Him…

    Of course we can make Him out to be something less than He claimed. Miss the forest for the tree. That is why I think any consideration for meeting together, in His name, is to well, focus on Him…

    How others wish to incorporate such a priority into the expression of group participation I think open to a myriad of creative elements. But the one binding theme or thread for all believers everywhere throughout all time is worshipping Our Lord. Not only the church on earth, but the saints in heaven. We are all part of that great cloud of witnesses…

    That is why communion has been given central billing in the oldest of church traditions. They understood its importance. It was the simplest manner which spoke of the ‘common unity’ of the brethren. We indeed are one body. All joined together through divine adoption into an eternal family. It is the one ritual or expression or sacrament that condenses the gospel into a sacred testimony. And for those outside the family it is not at all understood or appreciated as those of us bought with a price…

    I think without looking up scriptural references Jesus told His disciples it would the Holy Spirit that brings to remembrance every word He spoke. But it was Jesus Himself that instituted the Last Supper & told His disciples to do this in remembrance of Him…

    Sure there are many good things to think about or do or focus on. Only one Preeminent Being in all the universe whose name is above all others. Jesus alone exalted to the highest place. And I am sure He is not in need of any reassurance from His creation that remaining in such a lofty position requires our acknowledgment. Yet I do believe we have to be reminded of it on a regular basis. Communion then brings our focus on the main attraction: Jesus.

    I don’t really care to participate in monthly communion as I have experienced it in the more conservative or charismatic churches I have attended in the past. I think it woefully misrepresentative of what being in common union really means. I will be the first one to agree that simply going through the motions, however they have been ritualized, does not magically bond those participating together in love. It does not automatically endear us to one another. If all that is seen or expected is the form, then sure, there is nothing more to be derived from the activity…

    True community then forged through greater investment in relationship than simply being in the same building each Sunday for a few hours. I think we all understand the level of intimacy & level of commitment grace hints at as being the litmus test for divine relationship. Way beyond the brief encounters one has with other attendees of a Sunday only arrangement.

    Maybe your position or function or role at your fellowship makes this a more sensitive aspect of gathering together “in the name of the Lord.” Worship or course can be encouraged, invited & made a place for. But of course we know it cannot be commanded or forced or even expected. God is not desirous of a canned music set with semi-conscious congregants lifting hands in hopes the early morning cobwebs drop off. Heavenly worship, I heard Kevin Prosch say, will not be lead by a white guy playing guitar. But there should be concern if one in your position feels they need to coerce worship from the saints. Like pulling teeth. Or working up the necessary fervor to elicit worshipful responses from the congregation. If we do not really feel like worshiping when we gather together we may be putting the cart before the horse. Maybe we should have a time of sharing scripture, partaking in communion & then as a response to our time together, worship as the benediction.

    Anyway, my intent in posting these thoughts meant to elicit greater contemplation, not solicit argumentation. I don’t wish to participate in point/counter-point. Been there. Done that. For the past 8-9 years I have been detoxing from church. Been on a journey of rediscovery. I’ve heard much of the ongoing conversation. Keeps coming back to a few basic themes. No real conclusions reached. No one claiming they have all the answers. Others jump in at different places & take up the wondering. And much of the posturing of those adamant about the certainty of their perspectives simply tiring. Unlike the prophetic movement which I exited from, those identifying themselves with the emerging dynamic must be their own most critical evaluators. They must challenge & contemplate & play devil’s advocate for any theological proposal considered. If so, they will discover the inherent weaknesses of their position long before outside scrutiny conveniently dismisses all such effort as heretical nonsense. So Cindy, keep wondering. It is the beginning of wisdom… :)

  12. I would contend that the Sunday morning service can produce some (maybe not much) spiritual transformation. Any time God’s Word is appropriately and authentically spoken in the language of the people, the Holy Spirit can (and often does) transform us. The question is – do we come ready to be transformed?

  13. Cindy, you have the Holy Spirit. That’s all the qualification you need. :-)

    I wish more people would be willing to share. Leaving discussion to the supposed experts is what caused the problems. One, no one really is enough of an expert to be absolutely, assuredly correct. Two, this leaves a conversation in the hands of particular kinds of thinkers, rather than a broad range of influence, and thus it is a distorted conversation. I hope my sharing wasn’t a cause to retreat. I apologize.

    It’ s a bit too long for a comment, but here’s some of my thoughts on communion and church.

  14. This is an interesting thread of thoughts. I am no more qualified than any of the rest here but here goes anyway.

    One of the things that strikes me as I read through the various comments is that we may need to define worship. If we think of worship only as something that happens in a room with people singing, praying and listening to a sermon we may have far too narrow a definition.

    As Paul says in Romans our spiritual act of worship is offering our lives to God each day. This certainly can include singing, praying, etc. but I think the New Testament and in many respects the Old Testament as well, would teach us that worship is how we live our lives each moment of each day. So, in my mind edifying one another while together is worshipping God because we are helping each other become more conformed to the image of Christ.

  15. Cindy: You didn’t spark a fracas…

    Patrick: Good thoughts on communion…

    I think this central element of what historical Christianity has celebrated throughout the centuries has been relegated to more & more of a minor inclusion in the gathering of the saints. And as you rightly pointed out, it has become a bone of contention (or more accurately, body & blood) in The Church where it is supposed to represent a oneness all members of The Body enjoy…

    “Being in Communion” then has greater significance for the disunity of doctrinal issues it highlights rather than the positive aspect of what sharing in the Lord’s Table should be. This more than anything else in the church today indicates just how ‘disjointed’ The Body has become…

  16. Anyway, my intent in posting these thoughts meant to elicit greater contemplation, not solicit argumentation. I don’t wish to participate in point/counter-point. Been there. Done that.

    Joseph, I feel compelled to believe that your comment must be directed at me. If you think that I was merely trying to be argumentative, I’m very sorry.

    Since you have stated clearly that you don’t wish to actually discuss the views you present here or be challenged on them, I will not bother you anymore. My deepest apologies for annoying you.

  17. Steve: No apology needed, but thanks for the sensitivity…

    I have no agenda. Really. And I know for a fact I am not going to be the final word on any post that I submit or respond to…

    I have been around the Mt. Sinai of what has been coined “the emerging dialogue” more times than I care to remember. I have vented much, contemplated much, discussed much, & attempted to explain myself again & again much. I tend to write in compact concepts since I know the grander content of what I might mention in just one sentence or paragraph. No one here a mind reader. Prophet maybe…? :)

    You happened to key in on my posts with more, well, vigor than others. I tend to be less definite & more general in my approach. You know, like thinking out loud rather than trying to inject my comments into an ongoing convo or trying shouting above the din. But really I simply inject an idea or thought for others to ruminate on. Attempts at getting my to ‘defend’ my position will usually be ignored. Being accused of staw man arguments or ad hominem arguments or any other debate ‘buzz’ terms my que to simply move on…

    I can accept being misunderstood. My thoughts or ideas no more pertinent than others. In fact, I prefer to just add comments instead of engage in dialogue. But occasionally I will find an ongoing exchange worth my while.

    Since we do not really know one another except through the electronic written exchanges here that represent us, I would not think it too much of a stretch to say we just got off the wrong foot.

    See you around on the other forums…


  18. Before I wade in at all, I think we need to understand that there is room for diversity in church, and how we do church. What works for me may not work for you, which is why we have different denominations. That is not a bad thing (and not the only reason).

    When we talk about Sunday services, are we saying that in that one service we do all our spiritual work of the week? We need to look at Sunday services in the context of the rest of our involvement over the other days. For me, Sunday is a celebration. I am working on making the service as interactive as possible, allowing people a place to use gifts in music, or technology, or sharing a word of testimony or support. We sing to corporately worship; I hope it is not the only time we sing in our week. We give offerings because we can do more together than separately. Giving is also a form of worship (and for some a spiritual gift). We look at the Word, directed by a preacher – but then we have a time after for response. People can disagree if they want on a point, and it can lead to further discussion. There is a gift of preaching, and offices of Shepherding, that are a part of the body too. During this response time after the sermon, we also share prayer requests so we can pray for one another (for some it is a gift). This is worship, too. People can also share a word of testimony, of how God is working in their life – that is definitely worship! I pray that as people leave after a time of refreshments (more opportunity to interact and pray, and just be friends) that they have been encouraged in the walk with Christ on several different levels.

    People are also invited to affinity groups. Most of them are focussed on the sermon, a separate study to go a bit further in a small group with what was talked about on the Sunday. They could be anywhere, at anytime, that works for people, but they are set for a 3 or 4 month period.

    If people had to choose between the Sunday service or a small group, I would encourage them to go to the small group. they will make deeper connections there. They will be better held accountable for living out their faith.

    If you want to do a Sunday service on a Friday, do it like a cafe style, great! Don’t let the form, though, detract from celebrating Jesus and His involvement in our lives. Whenever we get together we recognize we don’t just come to get. We also come to give. Some days, though, we need to get more than give, and that is fine. the caution is if that is what we always do. Hebrews 5 says to get out of the spiritual nursery and grow up in Christ.

    A Sunday service is just a program. It is one of probably many, or maybe the only one. The rest of the week should still be filled with worship. I had a college teacher who said, “Service is the highest form of worship.” I think he is right. What does our worship cost us? Sunday is cheap -it is easy, and done in a crowd. Small group is harder – more personal. Helping a friend with an addiction, even more so.

    The purpose of the church is to be help people become more Christ-like in their lives. That is discipleship. The question to ask each day is, “What are you doing with Jesus today?” Are you letting Him sit on the throne of your life, or are you in control. Another question is, “Who are you discipling?” – and this is all part of the Sunday question!

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