Liturgies, Apostolic Tradition or Carnal Ritual

One of the greatest controversies dividing the Christian world is the question of whether a Church service should incorporate the use of a “Liturgy”, or what could be described as a preset order of prayer and worship.

This debate has left us with two groups, one being those Churches supporting the use of Liturgies, consisting of all the Apostolic Churches and some of the more “traditional” protestant gatherings while the other is the main body of Protestantism and the various cults and sects that have derived from them.

Arguably, this began in Europe during the Reformation period when various members of the Roman Church began protesting against the corruption they witnessed by their Church, presuming it to be the sole authority governing the entire Christian faith, as this was and is, part of the Roman doctrinal teaching.

“The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, ‘is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.’ ‘For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition

One example is an Augustine monk named Martin Luther, who states in one of his writings identified as “The German Mass and Order of Divine Service”, Dated January 1526 the following comment,

“The Popish Divine Services are to be condemned for this reason that they have made of them laws, work, and merit; and so have depressed faith. And they do not direct them towards the young and simple, to practise them thereby in the Scripture and Word of God; but they are themselves stuck fast in them, and hold them as things useful and necessary to salvation : and that is the devil.”

In one sense, Luther could be correct; it did appear that Rome had made the Liturgy into something that could be defined as law. However, the use of the Liturgies is not something that the Church of Rome introduced, but rather they were introduced by the apostles. The liturgy was a tradition of the Church since its apostolic beginnings thus to deviate from the use of appropriate liturgies would clearly be in defiance of the Apostle Paul’s instructions to continue in the apostolic traditions.

“Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” 2 Thessalonians 2: 15

It is possible that Luther may have believed the use of a liturgy was a practice introduced by the Roman Church and as he saw no direct reference to their use in the standard scriptures we find in today’s Bible, he would naturally assume they were not a necessary part of correct worship done in a manner pleasing to God. It is to be noted that Luther stated his reason for condemning the use of the liturgies, what he calls “Popish Divine Services” is that they have made them “law”, Christ however said “If you love me you will obey me”. As the apostles were Christ’s anointed authorities, as were the prophets, and as it is they that we can be assured were inspired by the Holy Spirit we must obey out of our love for Jesus Christ, thus the use of the liturgies are not an act of Law, but of “Love”.

The second reason given to us by Luther is that he claims the liturgy is a “work”. This is true, but according to the scriptures, we must “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” thus even the Word of God calls our actions “works”. We must repent, which is a choice, followed by an action, therefore being a “work”, we must accept the Truth and be baptized. By partaking of these actions, our part is also a “work”, in that it is something we have done, even if the Lord Himself has brought us to do it.

The salvation that Christ offers to all mankind is a covenant between Him and us, He has fulfilled His part, but we still have to “abide” in His will. To suggest we must make no effort towards our salvation and have no “works” contradicts the entire Spirit behind both the Old and New Testament, as faith without “works” is ”dead”

“You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” James 2:24-26

Thirdly, Luther uses the term “merit” as a reason to condemn the use of the liturgy. This again contradicts sound doctrine. Through out the Word of God we have examples of those that performed actions that were considered righteous and that the Lord considered it to their “Merit”.

“Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God.” James 2:22-23

Possibly one of the reasons Luther has made these statements is his lack of faith, perhaps not in God, but in his Church, a lack of faith that is completely understandable due to the condition of the Roman Church at that time.

Nevertheless, he failed to identify that lack of faith; he did not recognize what was their corruption and what was true apostolic tradition. He states that the service is not directed towards the “young and simple”; he failed to perceive the liturgy is directed towards God Himself, as in essence the Liturgy is a prayer. The Church of Rome obviously failed to teach the “young and simple” the purposes and nature of the liturgy and through this failure the people developed a lack of faith. Therefore, the problem lays not in the use of a Liturgy but in the teachings of the Roman Church.

Two examples of early Church Liturgies are the Liturgy of St Mark and the Liturgy of St James, both of which can be verified to have been in use well prior to 200 AD.

In the case of the Liturgy of St Mark, its author, the same that wrote the second Gospel, originally passed it onto Anianus, the first Bishop of the Church of Alexandria, to be used for prayer during the Church service with the three priests that were ordained with him.

This Liturgy, one of the oldest of the Church was originally learnt by heart until around 330 AD when St. Athanasius, the Pope of the Church of Alexandria put it in writing and passed it onto Afromentius, the first Bishop of Ethiopia.

What is also of note is that some time later, Cyril of Alexandria had added some additions to this Liturgy and from that time, this newer version was known after him. Other offshoots of the same Liturgy are the liturgies of St Basil, St. Gregory and the Ethiopic Canon or the Liturgy of All Apostles.

The liturgy that I have mentioned here is that known as the Liturgy of St James, as used by the original Church of Jerusalem. This liturgy, like that of Mark may not have been personally recorded in writing by its composer, however, both did remain in total accord with all the fundamental principals and tenor of what had been part of the oral tradition of the apostolic Church until the time of their being recorded in writing for the ever expanding Church (around 200 AD).

“Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” 2 Thessalonians 2:15

Regardless of whether Mark, James or any of the apostles personally recorded a Liturgy on paper for the Church, there are two facts that remain undeniable. Firstly, it was Jesus Christ Himself who ordained a set manner in which we should pray when He gave us the “Lord’s Prayer”. Secondly, the recorded liturgies we do have can easily be confirmed to have been in use by the early Church.

Thus if we deny the use of liturgies is appropriate then we reject the principle of a set prayer and in doing so, reject the example of Jesus Christ’s own words and we deny the credibility of the early Church, those that we rely upon as our witnesses to the scriptures themselves. For it is their testimony, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that we have as our witnesses to the authenticity of the canon of scripture that we today call “The Holy Bible”.

If you should choose to do a study of these liturgies, both of which are presented on this website, please note the office of Priest is recognized, as is the burning of Incense, the use of an Altar and various other factors often rejected as it is commonly assumed these were practices pertaining only to the Old Testament period of Jewish worship or a legalistic ritual practice, introduced by the Church of Rome.

However, these are also not unique to these Liturgies, composed for the Churches of Jerusalem and Alexandria, but are consistent with all the early liturgies of all the original apostolic Churches, including those that predate the existence of the Church of Rome.

Please click the following link to read the Liturgy of St James,

Please click the following link to read the Liturgy of St Mark.

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