If you go to church, then you experience their liturgy each week. I used to think that “liturgy” meant a more formal expression of worship.
In preparing for today’s post, I looked up the definition at thefreedictionary.com online. Here’s their definition: “A prescribed form or set of forms for public religious worship.” According to this definition, liturgy is whatever sense of worship order a church establishes for use during its worship service. Even not having an official order of worship can be the liturgy for one church and its neighboring church’s banners and choir procession with doxology sung, responsive readings, and the reciting of the Lord’s Prayer all before the sermon is also liturgy.
In my lifetime here in Columbus, GA, I have had the opportunity to be exposed to various liturgical styles as church member or as a guest. I have seen the Christian calendar seasons acknowledged in the Methodist Church, have participated in the many ups and downs kneeling at a Catholic wedding, and have been served Holy Communion by means of intinction in real red wine at an Episcopalian wedding. The first time I had communion in the Baptist Church I ate my wafer as soon as I got it only to realize that in that church, the whole congregation takes communion in one motion. Oops. Growing up in the Methodist Church, we were escorted to the altar one row at a time where we knelt there with our hands open when ready to receive the elements and could spend time there praying before going back to our seats by way of the center aisle. At an Evangelical Presbyterian now non-denominational church we visit in the summers, the liturgy there is very much blended between the traditional and the contemporary.
Over the years I have seen robed choirs herald their joyful noises to God accompanied by a full orchestra and have watched swaying clappers in their Sunday jeans with arms raised praise Jesus with their voices, tears streaming down.
Because I had grown up with one liturgical style, it has been a challenge at times to accept the opposite. I have had periods of time where I poo-pooed the formal and embraced the casual. I have also had times where I craved the formal and loathed the casual.
There are times when I want to sing every stanza to that old hymn as opposed to the repetitive emotionally-driven praise chorus because I have missed the richness of the words the hymn writer penned confidently resting in God’s goodness even in his or her trial. At other times, I just need the repetition of that simple chorus to remind me who I am in Christ.
There are things going on in the Body of Christ, the Bride, the Church. She is changing. She’s still trying to reach the lost for Jesus and she’s still trying to disciple those newly saved. Sometimes she doesn’t do either very well depending on how much like the world she strives to be in her appeal to be noticed by it. She’s kind of like me updating my hair or my wardrobe or makeup colors. She’s trying to figure out how best she can preserve herself for the glory of God. Amen? Boy, I can relate to that statement. : )
In Isaiah’s day, God was weary of the way His people were worshiping Him. They were going through the motions of the prescribed ritual but not letting their hearts be changed out of obedience to His Word. He calls them a burden He can no longer bear. He was sick of them from the priest all the way down to the beggar.
He looked at their heart compared to their worship. Their worship was meaningless ritual because their hearts were so callous toward Him.
Does it really matter to God where you worship or that church’s liturgical style? Probably not. Based on His Word, though, we must sit under those leaders who know the Author, His Writing (the Bible), and who are humble enough to admit faults but example enough to motivate the ones to whom he ministers.
I think though, that the Church in its efforts to appeal to many, has compromised in some areas. Assuredly, as in most things, this cycle will come back around and next year someone will all of a sudden decide that using hymnals, for example, rather than big screens is “better” after all and having a building with a steeple is a good thing not to be mocked by the non-steepled, disco-ball congregation. I have to admit that I miss the hymnal…I can read music. When I sing just words on the screen I get lost in the potential note coming up. Will it go up? Will it go down? Will it be a whole note or a half or quarter? You can tell I like to sing and not make a mistake on the upcoming notes. Hymnals are my musical GPS.
Wherever you and I go to worship I think there are some things we need to remember:
- we are all part of the Body of Christ and we need to quit poking fun at the haves and the have nots (regarding stained glass windows, robes, hymnals, steeples, and mortgages).
- when we show up wherever God has directed us to be, we need to remember it’s about God and not us (this one hurts on a personal level).
- if the church we attend cannot adhere to the Truth of the Bible, we need to move on. To sit under false teaching and allow it because we don’t know any better is scandalous and we as individuals and the Church universal are accountable (Isaiah wrote lots about this for his Jewish brothers in the temple).
- we need to pray for our neighboring churches not mock them or criticize that which we do not know. We need to stop the gossip.
- when those in the midst feel God tugging them to move elsewhere, we need to part on good terms prayerfully rather than harbor resentment. If they decide to come back after a time away, we need to welcome them sincerely rather than say they should have hung in there with us rather than deserting us in the crisis moment. Do we know how arrogant that mentality is?
So, to answer the question in the title today, “What’s so wrong with liturgy?”
1. Know the definition. Every church has liturgy.
2. Appreciate the fact that there are reasons for more formal liturgy and less formal. At different seasons in our lives, we may find that one style draws us nearer to God than another. Thank God for the variety and appreciate the meanings behind the reason. The more formal liturgical styles have been around a long, long, time. Perhaps a bit of investigating as to the “why” of a particular practice can open our eyes to an element of genuine worship we can appreciate and maybe, embrace rather than mock.
3. We need to examine our hearts individually before we ever set foot in our church to check our motives for being there. If our motives do not line up with Scripture, we need to repent and get right before God.
Well, I took a much longer time than I intended to say something that is heavy on my heart. I could have broken it up into smaller chunks which would have expanded to bigger ones, I fear. I still have much I could say even now.
I do have a question, why do you go to the church of which you belong? What keeps you going back? How are you using your gifts there? What are you seeking in a church home?