Wednesday, January 15, 2014

On Liturgy and Being Liturgical

“Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle"  (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

Many of you at PCC have never heard of Liturgy (Lit–ur–gee) or even know what it means to be a liturgical church.  Basically it means to observe certain traditions or practices in a worship service.  Most are Biblical, some (I think) are man-made.  Words like formal, formalism, rites, or observances come to mind. 

Liturgical church services will often include elements like an order of service, pre-written prayers, scripture readings, reciting familiar phrases, and a consistent (if not predictable) church service which many find comforting.  Of course, it will also include Communion and Baptism services.

While we have never used the word “Liturgy” at PCC, you have been exposed to it because we incorporate certain liturgical elements in our church services.  For instance, when we receive communion I almost always quote the Apostles Creed.  From time-to-time we will close our Sunday morning services by singing the Doxology (usually acappella – that is, with no music).  Aside from being full of good doctrine and Biblical theology, singing the Doxology without any musical instruments just sounds good.  There’s something special about hearing nothing but the voice of God’s people (without a screaming guitar riff) that ministers to me on a deeper level.  Beyond that, I also use Numbers 6:24-26 as a closing Benediction from time to time.   It’s very traditional, time honored, and feels good.

These are just a few examples of liturgical elements that we use at PCC. 

For some, however, the idea of being liturgical means “dead traditionalism” or “religious formality” that has no life, and lacks the Holy Spirit.

Not so fast.

Let me offer another perspective.

Many people who attend liturgical churches believe they can actually “experience” Christ or the Holy Spirit in the elements of the service.  I agree. 

And why not?”    You experience the Holy Spirit in a communion service, right?  What about a baptism service?  Sure.  What about in a scripture reading?  What about in public prayers?  Sure. 

God hovers over these things.

Believe it or not every church has a liturgy.  It is simply an order of service which they follow.  Some are more formal than others.  That’s all.

Non-liturgical churches do the same thing when they follow their predictable order of service each week (i.e, two songs, a prayer, a sermon, and all done within the allotted time frame).  The main difference between the two – in my observation – is that one group prefers prior planning (to ensure God-honoring excellence) while the other group is often more spontaneous in nature, and chooses to assign “whatever happens” to the Holy Spirit.

My observations aside, it is clear that America’s youth are leaving churches in droves.  Could it be that many churches are so “hip” and “cool” that their lack of Biblical traditions fails to anchor youth to the Church? Furthermore, many of those who do remain in our pews - particularly the older generation - long to be connected to the traditions of the forefathers because it's simply so reassuring.

Christianity today has become a touchy-feely religion of precious memories, sentimentalism, and cultural trends.  It’s like angel food cake; soft, spongy, and unsatisfying.

I think sacramental hunger exists in the heart of every believer – including those who attend PCC.  We may not understand what it is, but it's there on some level.  We are wired to experience God.   

Speaking for myself, I sense the presence of the Holy Spirit more often and on a deeper level when things slow down enough in the worship service that I'm able to actually reflect and think about the elements being offered (such as scripture, the words to a spiritual song, communion, etc). 

Doug Holmes, a good friend of mine and pastor of Christian Life Church in Milton, wrote, “One of my daughters visited a hipster/clever church recently and told me something like: ‘I can’t drink enough caffeine to keep up with this church.  My week is so hectic that I need a slightly slower and more predicable pace.’”

I get it.

I think most adults, including younger ones, would rather experience a worship service that includes certain traditional elements of Christianity rather than the fast-paced, screaming nature of today’s designer pop-gospel.

PCC follows a liturgy, just like every other church.  I would just like to see ours become a bit more deliberate.

I'd also like to know what additional insights my pastor friends of liturgical churches could offer to explain what it means to "experience Christ" in the elements.



Doug Holmes said...

Very thoughtful, Ronnie. Thanks. I wish our schedules would let us dialogue more often in person. Blessings, Doug Holmes

Ron said...

Good to hear from you Doug. We'll carve out some time soon to get together.

Ron said...

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