I have been in vocational ministry for almost 30 years, having served with three different parachurch ministries and the pastoral staff of a large Presbyterian church. In 2001, I consciously became an Anglican, and was ordained as Anglican priest in 2008. From time to time I am questioned by folks that consider it strange, given my background, that I prefer liturgical worship, usually describing it as “ritualistic” or “ceremonial” or even as “dead.” I have responded to those questions informally over the years, but thought it might be helpful to collect those thoughts in one place.
Leveling the Playing Field
I went to an evangelical seminary and only one class on worship was required. Fortunately I had a great professor who gave us thoughtful assignments. We had to attend three worship services of church traditions we were not familiar with. But the assignment that made the most impact required a tape recorder. We were to record the church service we were going to at the time (Laura and I were attending an Evangelical Free church). After we recorded the service we had to transcribe or type out everything that was said in the service, except for the singing and sermon, and turn the paper in to our professor.
The Free church we were going to was a typical bible church with contemporary worship. As I listened, stopped the recorder, typed, and repeated the process, the light came on. As I recorded the words and prayers of the pastor (the congregation only participated in the singing), I recognized what later the professor later made explicit; every church has a liturgy!
A Christian liturgy is a set pattern of practices, prayers and rituals used to enter into worship. Pay attention the next time you go to church, wherever it is. My guess is the church follows a pattern each week, probably pretty much the same each week. The clothes worn by the pastors and other people up front communicate a message about the church. The words and actions, the use of space, the pace of time in the service, the use of silence or lack thereof, all are a part of a liturgy. So the question is not liturgy or not, but how to do liturgy; how to order worship so that we can glorify God and allow Him to break into our lives to establish a fresh understanding of Him, ourselves and of the world. Various church traditions answer that question in different ways.
Well, I’m out of time but want to address some more themes, so I’ll try to write some more soon.