the place of good liturgy

Every church has its liturgy. Not every church is liturgical. And of course there might be bad liturgy. Our church, in the free church tradition is a healthy mix between set worship and spontaneity. So we use good liturgy, in song and in prayers, along with scripture readings. And of course, the sermon which is at the heart of the worship service, as we seek to hear from the Lord, anew and afresh. Unlike many evangelical churches, although I suppose more and more are changing in this regard, the Lord’s Table is not just an aside or something celebrated now and then. Everyone participates in it once a month and it is offered weekly, a good number gathering at the end of each service to partake. And most Sundays we recite the Lord’s Prayer.

Liturgical churches have some degree of spontaneity, but largely everything is set. There is an order of service which is followed. In a good liturgy, scripture is prominent, prayers mixed in, along with song from the best of Christian tradition. There is the sermon which has something of a central place in hearing the word of God proclaimed. But what is at the heart of such services is the Eucharist, remembering our Lord’s death in the participation ceremonially of his body and blood through the bread and cup.

Every church has its liturgy. I was raised Mennonite, and the singing of hymns was in large part our liturgy. And many of the hymns we sang were really good, solid poetry in expressing something of the wonder and beauty of the faith centered in Jesus Christ and flowing from the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. There are churches in which spontaneity is given pride of place. Or we might say from the best of such, a dependence on the Holy Spirit to direct the proceedings. Not to say nothing is planned, especially in sermon and song, but set prayers are avoided, the Lord’s Prayer itself rarely if ever recited.

As one who believes in the charismatic side and wants to be open to the Spirit’s moving, I also believe in the liturgical side. I think we do well to practice something of both. The two are not necessarily separate from each other. Not everyone prays in tongues, one form of praying in the Spirit, that is prayer (or even song) in an unknown tongue. But prayer offered in a known tongue should be every bit as much offered through the Spirit, even when (and we might say especially when) offered in great weakness. Praying in the Spirit is done in a good number of ways. In fact priority of place should be given to that which is understood by all, so that everyone can be built up in the faith.

I don’t like to compare churches. All kinds of churches can be vibrant and Spirit-filled regardless of the differences. I will offer the thought that churches which are steeped in good liturgy, often called liturgical  churches, can be more dependent on scripture and on the gospel. And less dependent on personalities, gifted though they may be. Or in lesser, questionable things, such as worship people like.

In the end we are all one Body in Christ, even as we seek to be true to the one faith and our calling together in and through Jesus. We need to avoid thinking that our way is the right way. At the same time wanting to grow up together in Jesus into maturity and as a witness to the watching world.