555320_551335144879496_764508725_nIn my last post, I began exploring the reasons that I believe  that liturgical, historically-based order of worship is the most ideal way to “do church”.  Since writing that post, I’ve had a good number of new email subscribers and visitors to  Homilies/Prayers/Bread.  I hope you all are enjoying exploring the site.  Just yesterday, I was telling a friend of mine from the blogosphere, Fr. Matt Marino at The Gospel Side,  that I blog in order to organize and process the random information that sometimes rattles around in my head.  Also,  I hope that something I write might provoke thought and conversation, and encourage personal exploration of the historical roots of our faith.  Being a post-evangelical means that I grew up in ministry in Evangelical circles.  Unfortunately, it also means that I “did  church” with very little knowledge of where the Church came from.  I also found myself surrounded by other pastors who, at best, cared little for historic Christianity;  at worst, they had utter disdain for the first 1500 years of Church tradition, tradition which many of our Christian brethren continue to adhere to up until this very day.

Don’t get me wrong…By no means am I stuck in the past.  I do, however, believe that our rich history has much to offer us in terms of renewal, revival,  and reformation of the Evangelical Church we know today.  Our historic liturgies and faith practices lead  us to a deep, substantial practice of our faith, inside and outside of our church buildings.  My  admiration of historical Church practices and tradition has nothing to do with me being stubborn about how worship should be conducted;  instead, it’s looking back so that we might move forward toward the coming of our King.   If you don’t know where  you come from, you’ll never figure out where you’re going!

All that being said, let’s continue our countdown of reasons why I believe liturgical worship works….

5) Liturgical worship is the glue for the capital “C” Church.

Some time back, I wrote here about a Pew Research Center survey on the size of different Christian denominations, which reported at the time that the four largest were…
1) Catholic (Over 1 billion world-wide; 68 million in the U.S.)
2) Eastern Orthodox (200 million; 2 million in the U.S.)
3) Anglican (82 million; 36 million in Africa; 26 million in England; 4 million in the U.S.)
4) Lutheran (75 million; 13 million in the U.S.)

I think sometimes that American Evangelicals get a little smug, thinking that most of the world does Christianity the way that we do. That’s just flawed thinking. Baptist came in at #5, with 47 million adherents, with around 40 million of these living in the US.

Most of the Christian world participates in some form of liturgical worship. There are numerous similarities within the liturgies each of these groups use, but the point isn’t that the exact same words are used. It’s the fact that all of these follow a basic fourfold pattern of worship:

1) Gathering together (greeting and welcoming each other, singing together, praying together)
2) Hearing the Word (reading scripture and preaching)
3) Offering and Thanksgiving (giving of our resources, receiving Christ in the form of Holy Communion, and offering ourselves as a grateful response to His sacrifice)
4) Dismissal (the benediction)

It’s a basic pattern that Justin Martyr described in the first century of the Church that continues to today, Having spent time as an Anglican, I can find familiarity and comfort in the worship practices of any of these denominations. What they do reminds me of home. This pattern unites us not just in what words we speak, but in a common hope that transcends time and denominational lines.

4) Liturgical worship keeps us grounded in our patterns of worship.

I touched on this briefly in a recent post entitled The Duty of Constant (or at least weekly, for Christ’s sake…) Communion.  Having a set liturgy keeps us from latching onto church fads.  We think that doing worship in a way that looks similar to things we see in pop culture will make us “relevant”.  Unfortunately, our attempts to mirror the greater culture sometimes just make us look silly.  Again, this discussion isn’t about contemporary music vs. hymns.  It’s more about trying to create the idea that church is somehow as cool as the culture around it.  I’ve seen it all…smoke machines, massive television screens, and of course, the hologram of the pastor, projected from the main campus.  We invest in expensive audio and video equipment, then realize we have no one in our congregation who knows how to operate it.  We come up with creative sermon series, thinking our genius will convince people that they should come worship with us instead of going to the lake on Sunday.  We forget that our role, as the Church, isn’t to make people comfortable by mirroring the world.  In fact, we should make folks somewhat uncomfortable with the life we know.  We challenge our parishioners to be different, but we work so hard to be the same.

Having a liturgy prevents us from using prayer as a tool to transition from one point in the worship service to the next. In other words, you don’t run into situations where the pastor finishes his sermon, and automatically has to pray so that the band can return to the platform.  Instead, it promotes a collective intimacy with God.  The liturgy feels mysterious and familiar.  It challenges us to sit, stand, kneel, walk to the front of the church, take something that has been identified as flesh and blood, and eat it so that we can be whole.  It is mysterious and strange; welcoming and convicting.  I’ve been blessed to hear the Divine Liturgy in Old Bulgarian, and found that I could identify some parts of it, even though it was spoken in a language I’m not familiar with.  It gave me a sense of the mystical, the divine touching earth.

Worship in and of itself creates a thin place, where there is miniscule dividing line.  The question to ask yourself is this…Does that thin line only marginally separate you from the status quo of familiar trends, making you feel safe and tingly?  Or is that line a mist that barely conceals what you know in part, but want desperately to know in full; something you can almost reach through and touch and feel the wounds of love in the hands of the reckless, raging, resurrected Christ?

3) Liturgical worship relays the Gospel narrative in easily identifiable, easily memorable form.arton336-00e1a

In UMC Word and Table I, a portion called The Great Thanksgiving takes the hearer through the entire Gospel in easily understandable terms, from creation to Christ’s death and resurrection.  If one only hears The Great Thanksgiving, with no sermon, they have heard The Gospel.  Using a pattern of historically-based liturgy can make up for many a poorly delivered sermon.

The recitation of Creeds are a vital part of liturgy.  My earliest memories are of hearing and saying the Apostles Creed at church.  I can remember not being able to read, and reciting the Creed.  I may not have been able to read the Bible, but I knew the essentials of the Christian faith.  Because of this, I have always known what it is that I believe.  I was a covenant child.  As badly as my Baptist brethren want me to have had a dramatic conversion experience, I can’t say that I did.  I heard the Gospel over and over, Sunday after Sunday, and I don’t recall any point in my life that I didn’t realize that I was a sinner, and Christ had died for my sins.

As a pastor, I often had individuals come to me and ask me to speak with a friend or family member who was “lost”.  Time and again, I would ask why they couldn’t talk to them, and the response was usually, “I don’t know what to say.”  My question was always, “Why don’t you tell them what you believe?  The great advantage of being a part of a church that uses a liturgy week in and week out is that you don’t have any doubt about where that body stands on certain matters of faith.

2) Liturgical worship reminds us to be humble, and establishes us in a place of honor.

The liturgy serves to remind us that we aren’t perfect. Here’s our prayer of confession, which we pray corporately…

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your name. Amen.

Most Christians will readily admit that they are sinners, but I think 
sometimes we tend to minimize our sins are part of our average day.  We 
lie, cheat, and say we love our neighbors, then narrowly define who are 
neighbors are according to who we like (like and love are two different 
things...That's a post for another day!).  The corporate prayer of 
confession reminds us of what we've done, then, in the comfortable 
words, we're reminded of who we are...

Christ died for us while we were yet sinners;

that proves God’s love toward us.

In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!

We sin, but we are a forgiven people.  Here, we are exposed to what GK Chesterton called “the furious love of God”.  God loves us.  We are His beloved.  Zephaniah 3:17 says that He rejoices in us, and that He dances over us.  I’m reminded of the story of Jesus’ baptism, when the heavens opened, and God spoke with an audible voice, saying, “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  At that point in His ministry, as far as we know, Jesus had done absolutely nothing to merit His Father’s love.  As for us, we run from that love when we pursue sin.  God runs faster.  In the liturgy, we are reminded constantly that we are loved.

1) Liturgical worship ends well…

Let’s close out the discussion with the final slice of bread in the liturgical sandwich, the benediction.  So many churches struggle with how to end their worship service.  Many do an altar call, but then there’s this awkward moment when the pastor must say something that politely sends the message, “It’s time for you to go now.”  I once sat in a contemporary, evangelical worship service that was running a bit long, and the pastor advised the congregation that it was okay for them to leave.  He understood that folks had other obligations, but there were still people doing business at the altar.  People begin to gather their purses and children and walk toward the door, and in a mocking tone, the pastor blurted out, “And all the Pharisees left the building.”

Not a good way to end worship.

In the benediction, we receive two things:

1) A blessing.

2) A mission.

In the Book of Common Prayer, worship ends with the words, “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord”.  Simple.  We’re given a blessing (peace), and a mission (love and serve the Lord).  Scripture is full of amazing benedictions…

May the God of hope Fill you with all joy and peace in believing, So that you may abound in hope By the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen. (Romans15:13)

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:15-17)

Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)

The benediction is a gift.  Traditionally, parishioners will hold out their hands as it is spoken, symbolic of receiving the gift.  When someone gives you a present, do you stand there with your hands in your pocket?  No!  I used to do benedictions when I would speak at the UGA chapter of InterVarsity, and a student came up to me once and said, “That’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced!” She was a great Christian girl, surrounded by people of faith, and she said that the benediction was the first time anyone had ever really spoken a blessing over her life.

The benediction matters.  Pastors sometimes focus so much on writing their sermons, they forget that church will end, and they will need to bless and send forth the listeners.  These are hungry people, waiting to be fed.  So feed them, and send them on the way.  Don’t wing the benediction.  Put some  effort into it.  Robert F. Kennedy was once preparing for a ten minute speech to be delivered to a civic group in New York City.  It is said that he agonized over it for days.  One of his staff members asked why he was putting so much effort into something he could undoubtedly do off the cuff, and wow the crowd.  RFK responded, “Every word matters.”

You never know except that your benediction may be the only encouragement some people hear.  It may be the fire that inspires someone to do good.  It is meaningful to the listener.  It should be meaningful to the one speaking it, as well.

Well, it looks like we’ve come to the end of the dirt road.  We’ll stroll again another day, have another talk, and enjoy the sunshine. 

For a great read on liturgy, check out Mark Galli’s “Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy” .

Another good book on the subject is Bishop Todd Hunter’s “Giving Church Another Chance: Finding New Meaning in Spiritual Practices”.

Now, may the Lord bless you and keep you: the Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you: the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.