Monday, September 19, 2011

Liturgy: Every Church Has One


One of the reasons my wife and I were drawn to the Anglican church was the liturgy. I will be writing more about this in an upcoming post, but before I write about what drew us to the Anglican liturgy I want to write briefly about liturgy in general. The reason I feel this is important is that there is a general bias against the concept of ritual for many within the modern American church.

In short, liturgy is a set of agreed-upon and prescribed rites or rituals. Every church has a liturgy. I know some of you are already starting to compose an email to me proudly arguing that your church is liturgy-free. Most arguments against liturgy are fueled by a general bias that liturgy is a stodgy, antiquated monstrosity that either destroys any opportunity for a truly dynamic relationship with God or disrupts the promulgation of a relevant church that will welcome the present culture. Despite your objection, I will reiterate that every church has a liturgy. Not convinced? Here’s how you can test it:
(1) Convince the leadership of you church to completely change the order of service for the upcoming Sunday without telling anybody in the congregation ahead of time.
(2) Convince the music team/leader/organist/pianist/drummer/chanter to use songs that your congregation has never heard before.
(3) Convince the preacher to use a version of the Bible from the opposite end of the spectrum from your church’s usual version (instead of NIV, use KJV; instead of NASB, use the Message).
(4) Make a large sign with the words “Tell Us What You Think of Today’s Service” and include your own cell phone number. Hang this sign from the front of the pulpit or project it onto the plasma screens hanging on either side of the stage.
(5) Turn your cell phone on five minutes after the service starts.
(6) Record the number of angry or frustrated calls you receive before the battery in your phone goes dead.
Yes, I admit I’m exaggerating... a little. If you’re honest with yourself and those with whom you worship you will likely conclude that it may not be as much of an exaggeration as you may want it to be.

What’s the point? The point is that when we enter into community worship we settle into a set of prescribed and expected rites and rituals no matter how informally they are presented or casually the are held. My point is not to argue for one style or type over another, but rather it is to highlight the fact that to function successfully in community a set of community values and practices must develop over time. In relation to this general concept, there are only two basic differences between liturgical and non-liturgical churches:
(1) Liturgical churches have a formally established and prescribed set of rites to which they intentionally adhere, while non-liturgical churches have informal expectations that are casually followed.
(2) Liturgical churches share their prescribed set of rites among a large group of local churches, while non-liturgical churches aren’t typically concerned with the specific rituals of other local bodies.
Before you respond with “we’re not under law, we’re under grace” as a way of arguing for the dangers of ritual in the church, let me leave you with this thought. Jesus, in His earthly ministry, and the apostles, during the early years after Jesus’ death did not deny themselves participation in Jewish ritualistic worship in the temple.

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