Why do we read prayers and creeds in our worship services?
The answer is simple. It is because the WHOLE Church is called a priesthood.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2.9)
So, since ALL the people of God are priests, shouldn’t we all be actively involved in the priestly function – worship? If we are all priests, we should all not only be present for and participating in worship, we should all be conducting worship.
In worship services, the worship leaders & musicians lead, but the people are actually performing the worship. The people are enabled to do this when they are given tools to read & respond. These tools are not replacements of the Bible. On the contrary, many even most tools are excerpts from the Bible. These tools should be seen as to the liturgy of worship what the hymnal is to the musical aspect of worship. They are intended to equip the people for doing the work of the priesthood.
The recited prayers are also part of the training manual for worship. They are not the only kind of prayers we should use during a service. Usually there will also be “free” prayer during worship. But the set prayers follow Biblical examples such as The Lord’s Prayer. They are usually well-stated prayers that uniquely express the common needs of God’s people. They are sometimes called collects because they are a collection of the needs of Christians that are brought to God by those who pray.
Set prayers are prayers that have a unique history to them. The following prayer has a special story attached to it:
“O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom; defend us thy humble servants in all assault of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries, through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
This prayer was written by a minister in the city of Rome sometime during the fourth century A.D. It was composed at a time when barbarians were about to conquer the city. On the night on which it was prayed, the barbarians mysteriously left and never came back. The Church has kept this prayer which God so profoundly honored.
While this prayer was offered at a particular time in history, if one considers what is expressed we will see the near universality of what is expressed. We all, at one time or another, face assault from some enemy; we all, at times, have our freedom threatened. So, while the origin of the prayer may have been in the fourth century, we can easily see the adaptability and the contemporary applicability it posesses.
The common objection, though to such “read prayers” is that they are not sincere. They are someone else’s words. They did not originate in our hearts or minds. They are therefore somehow inauthentic, or disingenuous. But this is not necessarily the case. People read vows at a wedding or even memorize what they want to say. Does this mean that they are insincere? Hardly. In fact, people very carefully choose their words when they are important and they really have to mean them. Remember, this is how people act at special occasions before special people. And to assume that offering to God words that someone else wrote in inherently inauthentic, inappropriate, would effectively eliminate any singing at church. We sing songs with lyrics written by others. Yet we understand that when we embrace the words written for us, when we personalize the sentiment, something very real, very personal often occurs through our singing in worship. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone object to that.
Just imagine what worship would be like if we placed the same restraints on singing as some want to place on praying. If everyone could only sing songs they had themselves written, or at least sing only lyrics they had composed – composed spontaneously on the spot – we would have a cacophony, not harmony! It would be a horrible experience! Are songs we sing – musical prayer, or musical expressions of praise – supposed to be any less intimate than spoken prayers? Yet we do not place such artificial restraints on our singing. (Thankfully!)
But how about the repetition? Doesn’t this lead to deadness? Again: No. People usually benefit from repeating what they love. Favorite, oft-recited portions of scripture such as Psalm 23, The Lord’s Prayer, and The Beatitudes all serve to illustrate this. How about certain hymns, Christmas carols, or simple songs such as Jesus Loves Me? These are repeated by the same people over and over. Does the repetition mean they are insincere or don’t mean what they say? Not at all. They are repeating what they love. More important, they are repeating what they mean. In fact, repetition is sometimes more difficult for people when they don’t mean what they are saying. And so it is true of every aspect of worship.
Finally, repetition has been called the “mother of learning.” Repetition is a way of learning basic elements of anything, including worship. Most Christians don’t know how to worship because they have been led to believe that it only comes naturally. But tt doesn’t come naturally. Perhaps it should, but it does not. At least not since the Fall, when sin entered into our world. In fact, nothing in the Christian life come naturally. It must be learned. (Why else would Jesus have to teach us to pray, as he does by the Lord’s Prayer?) And since repetition is the most basic way of learning, the worship service involves repeating certain important parts, which leads to learning.