Evangelical Liturgy

I hate to post too much from Michael Spencer, but lately he’s had a lot of good things to say. He recently has begun a series looking at various forms of liturgy in use in churches we normally think of as non-liturgical.  From #8 in the series:

In many evangelical churches, particularly those of a more contemporary flavor, public reading of the Bible is avoided. Scripture will be scattered across a few song lyrics and inserted as point prompts or proof texts in the sermon. There will be no scripture lessons, no reading of scripture outside of the use of scripture in some function of the service and no sense that extended scripture reading is a high and worthy use of time in worship.

Ironically, it will be the liturgical church and its scripture saturated service that will be called “liberal” by the Bible-waving, but not Bible reading evangelical church. Declarations of confidence in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God will dwell in puzzling juxtaposition with worship services where the most scripture encountered is in popcorned bits projected between film clips and other visuals.

It’s a point I have made here more than once.  Those who claim they have the highest view of scripture (innerancy) certainly don’t act like it’s holy, and often the pastor plays fast and loose with his use of it.

Spencer’s goal, however, is to take a positive (or at least neutral) look at the various elements that can make up a standard evangelical worship service, which should prove interesting.  You can see the into to the series here.

I have discussed with my wife and a few others the relative value of including more liturgical elements in evangelical worship. While there are benefits, I do question whether adding form – even Scripture reading – bridges the gap between traditionally non-liturgical and liturgical churches, if there is no theological foundation for it.  It’s a question I haven’t answered yet.

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One Response to “Evangelical Liturgy”

  • Larry Says:

    Alden,

    Thanks for the kind words by the way (Larry).

    I can’t say I’ve read Michael’s blog lately on this issue but glanced at it. I like the way he thinks sometimes, or at least his humor.

    I was intrigued by his approach which you captured in this quote, “Spencer’s goal, however, is to take a positive (or at least neutral) look at the various elements that can make up a standard evangelical worship service, which should prove interesting.”

    That’s interesting to me as a scientist. There are two ways to investigate a phenomena. One way is the way it appears Michael is doing it, kind of inductively, gathering all the data and attempting to reduce it to its fundamentals and then distilling what it means. That’s one way.

    Another way is to look at it as a whole and it’s source. All liturgy, even pagan “liturgy” per se has an underlying driving principle from which it issues. That principle is the real “religion” behind it all.

    E.g. 1 When we moved from evangelical/reformed to LCMS one of the most stunning things brought to our attention was the liturgy and why. In a nut shell it was that “within these four walls (the church) should be chalked full of the forgiveness of sin”. Everything from start to finish is under ridden and unto that end point in Lutheran liturgy. Christ crucified is continuously in the service, divided into two part Word and Sacrament…without going into all the details. It’s just like Luther’s thought, objective already present justification for you permeates and drives everything.

    Likewise in other confessions (denominations). In Reformed liturgy the driving force or principle is the sovereignty of God, not necessarily Christ and Him crucified and the forgiveness of sin. The later is not utterly devoid but not the driving principle of all things and thus the liturgy is set forth. Evangelical liturgy is probably driven by experience and emotions and thus the apparent differing forms, alter call here, stage show there, praise music over there. The parts can give the illusion that the liturgy is all over the place, but if you step back to 50,000 feet and look for the driving principle, the excitements, then you begin to see the liturgies source and the underlying religion. There’s very little difference in some of these excitements than the prophets of Baal for example trying to “move their god”. Blood letting is just not a nice sophisticated modern excitement.

    E.g. 2 Zwingli recognized that liturgy was the key to changing the view on the LS. So he implemented the individual cups and the stay in your seats distribution of the supper rather than coming up to partake of the common cup, etc…. There is always deep theological import in every liturgy, orthodox or heterodox. It’s not that some things outward cannot be altered, but does it comport with the driving principle which is at the end of the day tied to the real religion underlying it all?

    Yours,

    Larry

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