We hear of those churches either rooted in the Great Tradition, or closer rooted to it of the importance of the ministry of the word and the sacraments. Of course referring to scripture and at least to baptism and the Lord’s Supper (or, Meal, referring to the Eucharist or Holy Communion). I would agree in the sense that both the words and the acts are holy, not only in terms of the human participation in them, but of no less than God’s participation in them as well. We can say they’re symbolic, but we can’t stop there. The sign is imbued with the reality, in other words something of the reality accompanies the sign I take it– by the Holy Spirit of God. Just how all of this happens, take for example in the Lord’s Meal, I don’t think we need to know. Except that both the past and the future is brought into the present by the Spirit in and through Jesus. N. T. Wright in this little book makes a good case for that.
Good, well thought out liturgy such as we find in the tradition Thomas Cranmer began in the Book of Common Prayer carries with it both a beauty and power which reaches deep into the human experience, indeed into our humanity bringing into that nothing less than the divine in and through Jesus. And by that a working toward the fulfillment of our true humanity made no less than in the image of God. The prayer book takes one through scripture along with prayers and song and opportunities to pray for a host of things, good and important reminders.
In so many evangelical churches while there is some good liturgy by virtue of the songs sang and the scripture that is read and preached, it is often hit and miss in terms of the gospel remaining front and center in it all, I’m supposing. The words and acts in such services are certainly no less holy, and there’s not one way of meeting together in corporate worship. But I am thinking there are certain basics which need to be covered which are the usual common fare in the churches of the Great Tradition. And we do well to learn from such in this regard. There is a Roman Catholic church in our neighborhood which I attended (a 5:00 pm Saturday service) once. So rich in liturgy both in the reading of scripture and in prayers and song. Only about 5% I’m supposing was Roman Catholic, the rest being common to us all. I have also been impressed from what I’ve seen of the Eastern Orthodox tradition in this regard. Symbols being treated as they really are: holy. Because through such we are taken into the very presence of God in and through Jesus by the Spirit.
We could say adoration of God in praise, confession of sin, thanksgivings, along with supplications meaning petitions in prayer to God should be basic in all of corporate worship. Along with the proclamation or preaching of the word. And I think it is good to leave open room for the unusual, what is nowadays called the charismatic, movings of the Spirit in God’s people outside the normal rhythm, yet in harmony and resonant with that. The good order and normal flow and work of the Spirit may at times be accompanied or temporarily suspended by a needed holy interruption. Before getting back into the normal flow.
Our church is good at incorporating something of this into each service. So that we have a good balance between the liturgical and what might be called free or spontaneous. Again there is no one way of being church in the corporate worship setting. But it does seem essential to acknowledge and remember that our words and acts are especially marked out as holy in those places and times.