Friday, November 23, 2007

On "liturgy"

Pre-written order of service, typically including prayers to be spoken in unison and designated locations for hymns, bible readings, and teaching. (Theopedia)

the customary public worship done by a specific religious group, according to their particular traditions. It may refer to an elaborate formal ritual such as the Catholic Mass, or a daily activity such as the Muslim salat (see Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, p.582-3). Not infrequently in Christianity, a distinction is made between so-called "liturgical" and "non-liturgical" churches based on the elaboration and/or antiquity of the worship, but this obscures the universality of public worship as a religious phenomenon...Typically in Christianity, however, the term "the liturgy" normally refers to a standardized order of events observed during a religious service, be it a sacramental service or a service of public prayer.

low church
A neutral term that describes a more informal worship setting, which does not follow set liturgical patterns and where the order of service is far less prescriptive. Historically, this emerged from disagreements on how to approach church worship during the Reformation. Spontaneity is especially encouraged in Pentecostal-Charismatic churches. (BK)

This is a hilarious and thought-provoking conversation between a father and son upon visiting a church that was more low-church in practice. Some excerpts:
Nathan: OK. Why didn’t we confess our sins when we began the service?

Papa: This church doesn’t believe in it.

Nathan: WHAT?!

Nathan: What about the Creed? Why didn’t we say the Creed?

Papa: Well, partly because it’s liturgical. They think they won’t mean it if they say it.

Nathan: We could sing it.

Papa: They don’t know how.

Nathan: Oh — they haven’t been Christians very long, huh? Let’s teach it to them.

Papa: Let’s not.

Papa: No. They don’t drink wine here.

Nathan: WHAT?!

Papa: SHHH!
You have to read the whole thing; it's brilliant! And written in the spirit of fun, it should be said. Although I'm still not on board with infant baptism...

I enjoyed reading it partly because I've been to churches along the whole spectrum. I grew up in a fairly typical evangelical low church environment, where we sing song after song, followed by notices, prayer and the sermon, and we had the Lord's Supper every month. For many years I thought this was normative, not recognising the diversity of traditions amongst Protestants, having assigned "liturgical" services to the Catholics and those slightly weird Anglicans. In my less mature teenage days, of course, I simply thought that liturgy was mere ritual and dead to the movement of the Spirit, not recognising that even the tradition of informality was a tradition in itself!

Since then I've been to Anglo-Catholic services: candles, incense and all. That did make me a little uncomfortable. Right now, I attend a church which is somewhere in between. Actually, because of my low-church background, for a long time I considered it very formal; my friends from more traditional backgrounds disagree, telling me that it doesn't resemble anything "high church"! (Very typical middle-of-the-road Anglican in that sense). But I really enjoy it, especially the evening services, as you can often see how much thought has been put into the order of service. What I find particularly helpful is that there is a deliberateness about it.

We often begin by considering a theme, usually related to the sermon on the night, say, for example, the great love of God, and the songs are chosen accordingly. At set points throughout the service, there might be a short Scripture reading, a confession of sin, and occasionally we recite a creed. This also helps in fostering a sense of corporate identity, and a sense of connection with the saints that have gone before us. Songs-wise, we sing everything from old hymns, played on the organ, to contemporary songs like Redman or Tomlin or Sovereign Grace with a full backing band. I've come to realise that if you have the resources and personnel, any song can be jazzed up. The service leader keeps things on track, often reminding us why we sing a particular song, or encouraging us - for instance, reminding us after we've confessed our sins of the forgiveness already given to us by Jesus. There's also room within the service for reflection.

Interestingly, it has been noted that in the last decade or so evangelicals have begun recovering an emphasis on liturgy, and it's interesting that in America at least, statistics show that younger evangelicals (20s to early 30s), especially those with a college education, are now more likely to attend churches that would be considered a little more "liturgical". I haven't quited escaped my upbringing though; I think I would always prefer to go to a charismatic church rather than an Anglo-Catholic one! :)

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Blogger Timothy said...

Wonderful post. Thanks for linking to longer article. Reads like many of the conversations with my own childrenat various times.

AS you seem to have some interest in liturgy, have you ever read any of the early Christians and their descriptions of the liturgy of the times?

The last half of the Didache describes a first century liturgy.

Also, near the end (Chapter 65) of Justin Martyr's First Apology, he describes a second century Christian liturgy to the Roman emperor.

The most well known Christian liturgy is The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome, a third century liturgy. Much of which survives to this day.

God bless...

4:05 pm  
Blogger BK said...

Thanks. I haven't actually thought much about "liturgy" in itself, just my experience of it. Am interested in Christian history though, and will at some point read up more on the Church Fathers (and maybe the Church Fathers themselves)!

7:24 pm  

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