I (mostly) read a post yesterday criticizing evangelical churches for their lack in liturgy. The post had a point. One of the favorite times of worship my wife and I had was on our 23rd anniversary which was on a Sunday where we were staying near Lake Michigan. We headed off to an Episcopalian church we had seen before, running late, and were directed in a crowded room to the front where we sat behind a kind woman who directed us through the Book of Common Prayer, so we could track with the service. The words of the liturgy and accompanying songs were rich and beautiful, steeped well in scripture and Christian tradition. Words matter, what words may be spoken.
The post did not necessarily presuppose high church or liturgy. But most criticism of this kind aimed at evangelical churches would be focused to some extent on that. And with some legitimacy. Why should it be unusual, for example, for a church to recite the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray (the “Lord’s Prayer“)? Or what is wrong with repeating the Apostles’ or the Nicene Creed? And there are wonderful prayers which eloquently in few words can help us lift our hearts to God in worship, confession, petition and praise. Yes, every church could benefit from considering more use of such liturgy.
Just the same, there is not one model of the church. I’m not suggesting the post is saying that, either. One does need to consider the entire New Testament, not to try to incorporate everything, but if nothing else to get a better idea of the diversity within the unity of church. For example, how many churches today even begin to follow a pattern of church and worship as given in 1 Corinthians 14? Ordinarily we would confine such a pattern to Pentecostal, or charismatic churches, and even there it might not be easy to find. Other than that, and what we might gather from Acts, there is not much in the New Testament which would spell out exactly how a gathering takes place.
Each church gathered is Christ’s body, gifted by the Spirit. As such each has its unique expression dependent on the gifts of each. The general calling for church would remain the same, but how that is worked out will vary from congregation to congregation. This is presupposing healthy, growing churches. Not to say that each church won’t have its difficulties to face internally as well as externally.
What I’m suggesting is the obvious point that the church can’t be confined to one way of being church. But certain elements are essential, and while they might (and I think, would) include something of what the post is getting at, there is much more from the New Testament essential for each expression of Christ’s body. Each to be growing into complete maturity toward the wholeness and likeness of Christ.