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What Can We Learn From the Liturgical Church?

Continuing this series on what we can learn from other branches of the church I want to look at the liturgical tradition.

Liturgical church By liturgical I am referring to churches that have planned and set words such as readings and prayers that are read out and rituals that are dutifully performed on a regular basis. This is one of the oldest branches of the church and represents many tradition including Presbyterians, Anglicans, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.

Problems with the liturgical church

Charismatics have usually frowned on the idea of liturgy. One of our defining characteristics is our intimacy with God. We experience a wonderful sense of God’s presence both in our own devotional times and when we meet together. Prayer is not just an intellectual activity it is also an emotional one where we experience freedom from guilt

How to talk to God

God is our father – our daddy. We can approach him any time and tell him how we feel and ask him whatever we like. We do not have to follow a formula to come into his presence. It is not that we have to perform the right rituals or even the right behavior to be allowed into his presence. We should not be frightened of doing or saying the wrong thing.

Liturgy and history

Very quickly in church history this extemporary worship gave way to planned liturgy. Worship also began to involve patterns of Old Testament worship such as priests, sacrifices and altars, which the New Testament had clearly done away with. As such ordinary worshipers became distanced from God, especially as they became more onlookers than participants.

Protestantism dealt with some of this but in the 60s the Holy Spirit began to be poured out on the liturgical church in what became known as the Charismatic Renewal. The legacy of this today is that many within liturgical traditions have experienced the Holy Spirit in dynamic ways. They are often in a process of moving away from their liturgy to express this intimacy with God.

What value is liturgy?

The liturgy that remains may have been made more contemporary and in denominations such as Anglicanism has included more space for those who wish to express their freedom. Those who’ve experienced the freedom and grace may look down on liturgy. But it still remains and is valued by many.

Is there anything that we can learn from this? What elements could we non-liturgical churches if any incorporate into our worship? In considering this question it important to recognise that using liturgical element as and when we feel they are appropriate is very different from being bound by them.

What can we learn from the liturgical church?

Planning

When worship is well planned activities don’t get neglected if there isn’t time for it. Important elements such as communion and praying for current affairs can be scheduled in each week. Having an overall picture can mean that what is sung, preached, read and prayed can be planned to fit together seamlessly and the whole experience makes more sense to the worshipper.

Preparation

Sometimes the emphasis is on the priest leading but often today parts of the liturgy are delegated. People who wouldn’t be confident enough to take an initiative themselves in more spontaneous worship can feel at home in taking part enabling more people’s gifts to be used in worship.

Shared words and actions

The biblical emphasis on us being the Body of Christ points to worship being corporate. Shared words read together and actions such as taking communion together can be a great expression of corporate worship. I wonder if planning to include carefully prepared elements from our liturgical tradition might add to this sense of corporate worship.

Elements to include from the liturgical church:

Sacraments

We must take care not to forget the very real spiritual impact of physical acts. I believe that in a sense God is present when we break bread and surely meeting with God and enjoying his hospitality is the very reason we gather. Similarly let us remember the very real power of baptism in freeing people from their sins and the importance of anointing with oil in prayer for the sick.

Songs

In a real way our worship songs are for many churches a new liturgy. Those with lyrical depth, good theology to ponder and tunes that are easy for congregations to sing are often the great hymns of the past. Let us not forget these hymns when planning our worship. There is plenty that we can learn from these for those who compose new songs for us to use to sing God’s praise.

Prayers

When words are crafted ahead of time they can have a poetic depth that may be lacking with off the cuff contributions. Everyone praying the same words together adds to our sense of corporate worship. Finding or writing such prayers could be done in contemporary style meetings especially if they are projected on screens so that they people hands are free to be raised.

Art

Church artwork is present in ancient buildings but fear of idolatry has often meant it has been avoided in more recent protestant churches. Yet beautiful images can sometimes help our concentration in meditation together in worship. Today we can incorporate photographs of God’s creation and classic artwork in images we project during worship for all to see.

Calendar

The Christian year gives us an excellent thought through plan for our worship and teaching. The knowledge that this is being followed by many others outside of our own church adds to the sense of corporate worship. This shared focus can even enhance discussion of the Bible with other believers outside of our local congregation, especially now we have the internet.

So…

The liturgical church can severely lack an intimate relationship with God. Nevertheless those of us that have that intimacy with God can enhance our corporate worship by planning and preparing to include these elements from liturgical worship into more contemporary style worship as and when we feel appropriate.

June 7, 2014 at 10:00 am
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