As I’ve mentioned recently, I was raised Lutheran. Since leaving the Lutheran Church, I’ve attended and visited a number of different churches, from Greek and Russian Orthodox to Evangelical Free to independent charismatic and “third wave” churches, to post-modern experiments. I can say from experience that there are things to appreciate, and things to challenge, about all of these traditions.
One of the things I have noticed in the more contemporary, freestyle church is that they are made up of people who fall mainly into one of three groups:
- Those who were raised in the more traditional “liturgical” churches and upon “getting saved,” now despise their former church, seeing it as representative of “dead religion;”
- Those who were raised in a fundamentalist, anabaptist or other “non-liturgical” type of church, who have no personal experience of “high” church (and who also view high churches as dead religion);
- And, last but not least, those who have no church background whatsoever, and who more than likely have been given no theological framework for evaluating any church tradition (and who probably assume what they are in is the “best,” which is a normal default assumption).
These attitudes can come from what they have been taught, or simply from the modernist assumption that “newer is necessarily better.” In truth, newer is neither better nor worse, simply because it’s newer. Newer benefits from additional scholarship and historical perspectives; on the other hand, the modernist form of newer often tends to toss the baby out with the bath.
The result is that there is often a misunderstanding about liturgy; views range from seeing liturgy as merely old-fashioned to downright evil. An example is the adage, “liturgy is what you do when the Holy Spirit fails to show up.” Most critics fail to appreciate the historical importance of liturgy, which has served as a crucial teaching tool as well as a theological “rudder” through the ages, especially before the Bible was available for mass distribution.
The other common misunderstanding about liturgy is that contemporary churches don’t have it, which of course is an absurd thought. The Greek word from which we get our word “liturgy” simply means “public works,” or in other terms, “the way things are done.” If you go to church knowing you sing for 30 minutes, take an offering then listen to a sermon for the remainder of the time, you’ve got a liturgy.
What most people mean, however, in their dissing of liturgy is the repeated recitation of creeds, proclamations and prayers. The assumption here is that if it isn’t ad hoc or spontaneous, it’s not valid. I’ll not only disagree with this assumption, but offer this: if this is truly what you believe, then you’d better stop singing worship choruses, too. A song is merely a recitation put to music.
I will also suggest that if you are comparing 30 minutes of worship songs to 30 minutes of responsive readings and hymns, the choruses will come up short on many points. The main one for me is that creeds and responsive reading generally tend to be theologically and Biblically accurate, something which you can’t always say about worship songs.
Be honest: do you really believe what it is you are singing every Sunday morning? If not, you are not only participating in a meaningless liturgy, you might also be a hypocrite to boot!
I am not proposing that the so-called “high” churches are better than your church, or that they are worse. I am merely pointing out – once again – that the freestyle churches’ liturgies tend to lack in sound teaching and theology, and it’s time we changed that. What’s wrong with people learning sound doctrine through worship? I have a feeling that was the thought behind the Orthodox (which pre-dated Roman Catholicism) liturgy to begin with.
Learning in church… what a concept!
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As you imply, all groups have liturgies, though some may not recognize it. The charismatic liturgy is every bit as pronouced as the “high” church form, and includes not only ritualized actions, but ritualized attitudes and emotions as well.
It would be a very constructive excercise for the leaders of charismactic churches to review and evaluate their own liturgies as liturgies. In fact, knowing we actually have liturgies can be very helpful in refining the corporate experience.