Continuing my thoughts and opinions on what I believe the evolution of the church is going to look like over the next twenty years, I’ve compared it to hash, the kind of stew my grandfather used to make in a big black pot over a hot fire in the backyard when the mornings got cold enough for hog-killin’ in the fall.  I’ve identified a couple of spices that I believe are going to define the distinct flavor of the church over the aforementioned time span, starting with Ministry as a ‘Career’ vs. ‘Calling’, a look at the idea that because of difficult economic times, we’re going to see more home-grown, bi-vocational pastors in the future.  There’s a less-than-subtle suggestion in there that pastors who are planting churches might do well to stop looking at target audiences, and attempting to style a worship experience to suit them, and instead look at the primary occupation of their target audience, and work in that type of field, in addition to being a pastor.  This would give a pastor more insight into the daily joys and struggles their community faces.

I’ve also considered The Evangelical Response to Growth in Orthodox Denominations, stating my belief that as orthodox movements become more visible and popular, we’re going to see some of our churches be against the movement, living in the same paranoid suspicion that many evangelicals have had for Catholics and other traditionally orthodox groups for generationsSome evangelical churches will adhere to some aspects of orthodox worship,  taking on liturgical practices in their worship services because they see it as the “hot” thing to do during worship, a tool for reaching those who are hipsters, or whatever they will be calling twenty-somethings in ten to twenty years.  Others will adopt orthodox tradition, fully becoming a part of denominational groups like the Anglican Church of North America, or the Orthodox Church in America.

Today, I’ll explore the current revival in liturgical practices, and attempt to answer the key question, “Are liturgical practices here to stay?” 

My illustrious grandfather, Boscoe Fouche (so nick-named because the doctor that delivered him suggested it, as he had just been to the carnival in Athens and witnessed the wonder of “Boscoe the Amazing Snake-Eatin’ Man”), would make a fresh pot of stew every year when the weather got cool enough.  As a young boy anxious to assist my Papa in any way, I had two jobs when it was time to make hash.  One was to stay out of the fire.  I believe that task was actually assigned by my mother, with several threats attached, some involving disfigurement and bruising.

My other job, and the one I loved the most, was to stir the pot.  If my memory serves me proper, and my older siblings will surely correct me if it doesn’t, he had a stick that somewhat resembled a small version of a boat oar, made of hickory, that was used for stirring the pot.  Shoot, I must have really loved the job, because I’ve been stirring the pot ever since.

The word “liturgy” is Greek in origin, and means “work of the people”.  Liturgy is composed of those things we do on Sunday morning, offered up as a cumulative expression of thanksgiving to God.  I, for one, believe that liturgy, or the work we do as an expression of thanksgiving to God, extends beyond the church doors, but this is a subject for another day.  Every church has a liturgy, even the most contemporary ones.  Liturgy is simply the order in which things are done.  The liturgical revival that is happening today, the one I’m such a fan of, is a return to an ancient, “traditional” way of doing Sunday morning worship.  As I’ve said in previous posts, for me, it has nothing to do with music style or genre, but everything to do with having a pattern of worship with depth and substance.

That being said, if the other ideas I’m considering in this series are the spices in this pot of hash we’re watching being made, I would suppose that liturgy is the stirring of the pot…It’s how we actually, actively, “do church”.  And in many circles, the way church is done is looking a lot less like the seeker-friendly movement we evangelicals have embraced for the past couple of decades, and more like it did in the earliest days of Christianity as an institution.

Here’s some excerpts from an exciting (at least exciting to a liturgical nerd like me) article I recently stumbled across in Time Magazine:

+++ “Across the country among Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Lutherans, a radical reform in both the form and content of religious services is now under way. It is a liturgical revival that both goes back to primitive Christianity in its emphasis on the Communion service as the central sacrament of worship and, at the same time, is immensely sophisticated in welcoming back much of the traditional richness of the church. “The revival,” says Dr. Edgar S. Brown Jr., executive director of the department of worship for the United Lutheran Church in America, “has made the church aware that there is a unity of the order of worship that includes both preaching and the Lord’s Supper, and that these two cannot be divorced.”

+++ “We were trying to put religion in everyday clothes,” says Dr. Henry C. Kodh of Washington’s United Church of Christ, “until finally we found that we had put everyday clothes on Sunday.” Adds Dr. Earl Waldrop of San Antonio’s Central Christian Church: “We began to realize that for no reason other than prejudice, we had discarded some of the beautiful aspects of worship. We had become more a meeting of fellowship than a group of worshipers.”  According to Dr. Samuel Miller, dean of Harvard Divinity School, ecumenicism has been a major influence in the liturgical revival.

“With the move toward church unity, everybody is becoming aware of the value of symbols and order in worship. People are looking for unity and order in religion, which, because of these anxious times, they cannot find elsewhere in life.”

+++ “In Cincinnati’s new Kenwood Baptist Church, a Communion table surmounted by a wooden Cross is at the center, with the pulpit off to one side. “This is unusual for Baptists,” admits the pastor, the Rev. J. Stanley Mathews. “It’s a move on our part to create a worship center and a dignified approach to worship.” The First Baptist Church in Washington has stained-glass windows depicting outstanding figures of the Christian past. Says the Rev. Edwin Hughes Pruden: “I doubt if 25 years ago I could have built such a church.”

Here’s some additional thoughts from Chris Armstrong of Christianity Today:

+++ “Without a healthy engagement with our past, including historical definitions of “church,” we are being true neither to Scripture nor to our theological identity as the church. Though (J.I.) Packer doesn’t put it this way, it is easy to see ways in which their stunted ecclesiology has led evangelicals to allow the world to shape the church.”

+++ “Stop endlessly debating and advertising Christianity, and just embody it. Live it faithfully in community with others—especially others beyond the white suburban world of many megachurch ministries. Embrace symbols and sacraments. Dialogue with the “other two” historic confessions: Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Recognize that “the road to the church’s future is through its past.” And break out the candles and incense. Pray using the lectio divina. Tap all the riches of Christian tradition you can find.”

“Some thoughtful youth have continued, like Gillquist’s 1960s group (Peter Gillquist, former Campus Crusade staffer who is largely responsible for the creation of the Orthodox Church in America), to yearn for a golden time and place (say, before Constantine, or in the medieval monasteries, or the anti-state ranks of the 16th-century Anabaptists) when the church seemed to have its own culture, standing against the stream. And as they come into contact with older, traditional churches, the younger evangelicals believe they have found links to that countercultural church.”

Sounds exciting to me!  The old ways are roaring back!

Now, here’s the kicker:
The Christianity Today article is from February 2008.
The Time Magazine feature is dated December 22, 1961.
Christianity Today, with strong influence from Ancient-Future proponents David Neff and Mark Galli as a part of their team, has featured dozens of articles over the past few years about the liturgical revival taking place in evangelical churches, and how many of us evangelicals are looking to the past in order to find fresh ways to shape the future of the church.
Apparently, before I was even a gleam in my mama’s eye, some folks were having the same idea in 1961.  The rise in popularity of liturgical worship seems, on the surface, to come and go just like other trends.
The forms of worship seem to change significantly from time to time, almost in waves.  From the era in which Time featured the thoughts above,  until Christianity Today echoed the same sentiments in the here and now, we’ve seen the waves splash onto the shore: The Jesus movement with its folksy/hippie feel in the 1960’s and 1970’s;  The rise of contemporary worship in the 1980’s in charismatic circles, which spilled over into Baptist and other denominations in the 1990’s; The worship wars that continue on until today; and on and on….
Some of these waves lap onto the shore, and eventually drift back out to sea.  Forms of worship are present for a while, then don’t come back.  Others find places to rest, holes in the sand, not too deep so as to drown the participant, or to stand the test of time, but just enough to allow us to wade for a bit in the waters of spirituality.  These forms of worship linger for a while, but eventually dry up.  As pop culture changes, so do the worship styles.  Somehow, though, liturgy has managed to stick around for the 2000 or so years that Christianity has been in existence.
Liturgical worship is a deep pool of water, drawing from the spring of historical faith that is full and refreshing, and has withstood the heat of pop culture for 2000 years.
The ancient patterns of “doing church” aren’t going anywhere.  Even through the past 30 years of the reported death of historically based worship methods, and the rise of contemporary worship, the four largest Christian denominations in the world (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran) have maintained, for the most part, the liturgy, or some semblance of the liturgy that was present at the time of the earliest church gatherings.
Justin Martyr gave the first recorded account of a Christian liturgy around 164 AD…

“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. ”

Sound familiar?

We gather on Sundays, read the Bible, hear a sermon, pray, take communion, and take up an offering, which is identified as being used to take care of orphans, widows, the sick, the poor, prisoners, and travelers.

Is it just me, or did Justin forget to mention that a portion of the offering should be used to pay the pastor’s salary, cell phone bill, mileage, and housing allowance?

Again, that’s a topic for another day.

The pattern of gathering, hearing, expounding, receiving, and giving is much the same today in “traditional” churches as it was in 164 AD.

Over the next twenty years, I do believe that some evangelical groups are going to adhere to liturgical practices, because they will see this as a trend, a tool to draw in the masses for a “meaningful worship experience”.  A friend of mine pastors a Baptist church, but grew up Catholic.  He told me a while back that he wanted to incorporate some aspects of historical worship in a setting that is very, very contemporary.  He began with asking his congregation to pray The Lord’s Prayer corporately, all together at once.  He asked the congregants to stand and pray the prayer together, with him leading.  He said that as he got deeper into the text of the prayer, he moved the microphone away so that the people could hear themselves pray together.  He was mortified to realized that when he wasn’t praying into the microphone, there was complete and utter silence.

No one was praying.

After church, he was greeted with the following comments:

“I’ve heard the Lord’s Prayer prayed a lot of times, and I know they do it down at the Methodist Church, but I didn’t pray it because I’ve never memorized it.”

“I was a little shocked that we were praying the Lord’s Prayer like that together.  I’ve always thought of it as a vain repetition, and just not very sincere when people do that.”

And my personal favorite…

“Why were we praying that prayer together?  You did a sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer, and every Sunday for a month, you told us we weren’t supposed to actually pray the prayer, but that it was just a pattern for how to pray.”

Isn’t it interesting that it’s difficult for even the most “Spirit-led”, spontaneous churches to change patterns of worship?

The same church celebrates Lent every year, but it’s the only part of the liturgical calendar that they recognize.  A hip thing for churches to do now is “40 day fasts”, but many don’t even acknowledge that these are happening during the season of Lent, and focus more on “seeking God for the direction of the church” during that 40 days, instead of focusing on the making personal sacrifices, so that we might recall the sacrifice of Christ.

Other evangelical churches are increasing the frequency of sharing in the communion table.  There’s a small movement within the United Methodist Church back to the Book of Common Prayer and weekly communion as standards for worship.  Many churches are offering “Ancient-Future” worship services, where someone can experience everything from The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom to chant to lectio divina.

So, liturgy isn’t leaving.  It will remain strong in the circles where it has been the pattern since the dawn of the church, and many evangelical, more modern bodies are going to begin using the tools of the early church as they do “the work of the people”.  I believe that over the next twenty years, we will see a rise in churches taking part in more frequent communion, using the liturgical calendar and colors, and having corporate prayer.  I believe that we will see more Christians adopting ancient practices as a means of personal spiritual discipline, such as pilgrimage, praying the rosary and the daily office, and fasting.  As for those who are riding the waves of fashion and trend, time will tell if these things will stick for good.  As for me, the jury is out on whether evangelicals will hold on tight to liturgical worship, or treat it like just another fad.  I’m hoping that we will take our worship seriously, no matter what form it takes, and that our liturgy would be lived not only on Sunday mornings, but outside the church walls.

+++“We’re not looking for gimmicks to glamorize the service,” insists the Rev. Donald Roberts of the Los Angeles’ Covenant Presbyterian Church. “We are restudying the heart of our faith. We are getting back to the concept of the church as a fellowship.” The renewal of sacramental worship, adds Dr. Robert McAfee Brown of Union Theological Seminary, “is not just a matter of trying to do it now as they did it then. It is an attempt to gain a totality of Christian worship in modern terms. The critics would say that having failed to deal with the social and religious problems of the world, the church is turning inside itself and occupying itself with niceties inside the club. My answer would be that it has been the concern of the liturgical revival to relate liturgy to what goes on outside. Liturgy is derived from the Greek word meaning ‘the work of the people.’ The work they do in worshiping God in the church is ultimately related to the work they do for God in the world.”  (Time Magazine, 1961)