Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Evangelical Liturgy

So many of us Evangelicals like to wax snooty eloquence about the fact that we've left the dead liturgy of the Catholic church, the Episcopal church, the Lutheran church, the Orthodox church, etc. It goes like this, "When I was a child I chanted the creed, I sang the boring hymns, I did the weekly rituals. But now that I have a real relationship with Christ and go to an Evangelical church - I've put away those childish things."


I've been in worship and even led worship in countless churches. Believe me - there is an Evangelical liturgy. It goes something like this:

Worship Song #1 (A fast one to wake everybody up!)
Worship Song #2 (Another fast one 'cause we're having so much fun!)
Worship Song #3 (Slow it down - get serious - it's almost time to ask for money)
Offering/Woship Song #4 (Something serious - we're sacrificing you know)
Worship Song #5

For a kicks n' grins, just add one of the following ingredients:
  • Do a drama (embarrassingly thrown together, of course)
  • Throw in an an extra, unplanned chorus - prove that we're open to the Spirit!
  • Testimonies are nice - it gives the service that Oprah-like feel (just keep it short)
  • Dust off an old hymn - throw the old folks a bone
  • Focus on missions - just keep it short - we don't really care about those people in Botswana - we just want to get to our Grand Slam at Denny's and then take a nap

As humans, like to have things in control. We like to know what to expect. It's comfortable that way and I don't have to think. The Evangelical church didn't abandon liturgy - we just threw out the old and found something that was more comfortable for us. We got rid of that ugly old sweater that mom bought us long ago, but we still have a sweater we bought for ourselves and we wear it all the time because it's comfortable.

I read the Gospels and find that Jesus' teaching was revolutionary, in part, because He didn't do what everyone else did. "He isn't like all the other teachers of the law," people said. He took his message outside the temple and synagogue. He spoke in a different medium than everyone else. He got people listening because they didn't know what to expect. "What is this guy going to say next?" - "What's He going to do now?"

We could learn something from Jesus. He constantly had people on the edge of their seats. We have people comfortably lounging in our padded chairs (we're so progressive we don't have pews!) and looking at their watches.


At 5:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Technically, liturgy is derived from a Greek word that means "the work of the people." It used to connote a public project that the community worked on, or a project a philanthropist funded for the good of the entire community (such as building a bridge or a road). It is used ecclesiastically to mean corporate worship in which all are involved and participate. Evangelical worship, although done corporately, is focused on a personal relationship with Christ. However, the worship of the catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox churches focus on Christ's presence in the community - and the community's relationship with God. Admittedly, the ritualistic acts of liturgical worship are often lost on many believers in a society where we put the "self" first and community next. However, liturgical worship is the worship of the community, and that's what makes it different - not the rituals in and of themselves.

At 12:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cynical and accurate. I've been a Christian for 8 years and have grown weary of the shallow and slap dash evangelical liturgy and am now hoping to find a richer one in a Bible centered Episcopalian church.

At 12:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Been right where you are brother. I have a feeling that I know the answer that the Spirit is putting on your heart, but you won't like it. I fought it with every fiber of my being until I opened my heart to the Spirit and let him lead me where He wanted me to the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church. Feel free to drop by the forums at God Bless, Faith Admirer (Ryan)

At 5:40 AM, Anonymous joel said...

After years among Baptists and Presbyterians, it was in large part the beauty of traditional liturgy that led us to a Lutheran (LCMS) church.

At 5:20 PM, Anonymous Dan said...

I agree with your basic analysis - evangelicals have a fairly common set of events that can be called a "liturgy". And it isn't well thought out.

On the other hand, I was raised Catholic and spent three years recently in Anglican circles. The problem with Romana and Orthodox and recent Anglican liturgies is that they do subtly usurp the place of scripture as the source of doctrine and in particular seem inevitably to lead to the view of communion that makes it an offering, in some way, of Christ to the Father for the remission of sins.

There was once a fairly Evangelical Liturgy - Cranmer's 1552 Communion Liturgy. Perhaps Evangelicals need to produce a liturgy that is fresh - that has the essential historical elements of creed, prayer, confession, the Lord's Table and the public reading and teaching of scripture but without the exta-biblical traditions that subvert the gospel of the finished work of Christ.

At 9:38 PM, Blogger LI said...

A little bitter, a little salty, but also very high-lariously accurate! OMGosh, what happened to you? You are way too funny, glad you have turned your lemons into lemonade for those of us who are in the midst of those very same lemons, yum! Other commentators, lighten up a little, please. funny

At 7:51 PM, Anonymous InsideOut said...

Hmmmm... I guess you need to get some slack. But I noticed that what you are talkin about is more on what we call "convenient Chistianity", that which is easy on you, not disturbing on your part, hence your convenience...

I guess that's where your dilemma starts. And yeah, trying to be funny while tackling a serious and spiritual matter is a bad idea....

Hopefully, you'd ask for discernment from God over these things.

At 7:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've seen the Holy Spirit move in incredible ways in churches that didn't know a liturgy from detergent. I don't know what any of that traditional church terminology means. All I know is that when the Spirit moves, none of that stuff matters. I'm currently attending a Pentecostal Church of God in VA. I think we've become way too obsessed with methods and structure. I don't believe God adheres to any of that stuff.


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