Tuesday, August 03, 2010


Old Value

On the weekend iMonk died Chaplain Mike reprinted an iMonk Classic about how him came to love high church liturgy. Some highlights:
In addition, lectionary preaching is a wonderful alternative to the “whatever text strikes Brother Billy this week” method. Lectionaries bring Christians together, as many different churches read the same lessons and hear sermons from the same Gospel or Epistle passages. Lectionary resources allow preachers to share their ideas on how they will approach the text. And, of course, the lectionary keeps the scriptures front and center. You can’t just chase the issue of the day when the lectionary does its job.


One of my favorite times in the worship service is the congregational confession. Standing together, saying in unity the words that agree we are all failures and all in need of grace, I really feel at home. It’s the same with the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, questions from the catechisms and our weekly responsive Psalms. Together, as one body, no one showing off, we confess our sins, announce our faith and talk to God in the words He has given us.

I love the fact that liturgical worship isn’t every worshiper doing whatever he or she wants to do. I’m not one to criticize the particular behaviors of any group of worshipers, but I would like to suggest that there is something really wrong with a service where people are given permission to try and outdo one another in participation and enthusiasm. Now many of my friends call this being “free” in worship, but this sort of freedom seems to have certain predictable consequences.


Evangelicalism has become a cult of celebrities. Leading pastors are superstars, even cult-like figures of adoration and near-worship. Most evangelical worship encourages this imitation of the entertainer. Musicians, preachers, worship leaders all take their cues in style, dress and manner from the entertainment idolatry of our culture. Liturgical worship does not encourage this, and actually works against it by restraining the minister within the liturgy. The minister is the servant of the Word. He is ordained for the ministry of Word and sacrament, and his personality must become his servant that the Word might be heard and seen.


Yet it appears to me that the answer to deadness in worship is not sheer innovation. It is not rejecting the liturgy that brings to us the Christian tradition in the very words of scripture itself. The judgments of modern worship consumers on liturgy are not reliable. It will survive, and if we value it, it will thrive now and in the future. It will outlast polls and market studies, because it has outlasted every trend it has ever faced, and yet it continues to serve the church.
It is a rich post, but I have a very different perspective as someone who grew up in the liturgical church; someone for whom, at one point, the liturgy did grow stale and lifeless.

Spencer was right - liturgy will survive if Christianity survives. The problem is its wonders, depth and sincerity are a product not of the liturgy itself, but of those that practice it. I learned to love and embrace it - again - when my faith grew deeper than my creativity; when I learned to at least try, and let the liturgy help me long for God more than I long for self-expression.

As hinted in the quotes, liturgy moves us from consumers of worship to participants. As long as the Holy Spirit continue to make some into His disciples liturgy will survive.

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