Against Liturgy

Over the past decades there has been something of a recovery in liturgical forms of Christian worship. The reasons are manifold. There are those who are drawn to the beauty of certain liturgical forms, others have found solace in ancient practices which bridge the gap between the present and the distant past, still there are some who find such rites and rituals interesting simply because they have the ring of novelty to them. In a strange twist of irony all these different sorts flock to “smells and bells” because it is at once venerable and nouveau.

As someone who is a conscientious proponent of liturgical worship, I am elated that many others of my generation are discovering some of its peculiar glories. But I am also aware of many of the problems which attend such practices. I could mention the usual culprits: drama displacing true devotion, pageantry promoted above piety, the tendency toward nominalism, and so on, but I am more concerned here about the tendency which hounds the most devout among us. Namely, the tendency to accept poorly executed liturgies without remonstration, or worse still, to seek to persuade folks that these forms somehow demonstrate true worship “in the beauty of holiness.” It’s one thing to wince because your date turned out to be hideous; it’s another thing altogether to attempt the argument that hers is that face that would launch a thousand ships. Everybody knows that’s just flat out lyin’. We should all be decidedly against that type of liturgy.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you lead (or otherwise participate) in worship.

1.) Make sure that your desire to move in a more liturgical direction doesn’t simply spring from an inordinate desire to play dress up. In that case you’re probably just a dandy.

2.) Just because liturgy sounds like lethargy doesn’t mean that it should look like it too.

3.) Read the Scriptures distinctly and dramatically. I am not suggesting that the Scriptures must be read as though they were penned by Shakespeare, however, I am arguing that they be read as though they were authored by Almighty God. As yourself this question: of the two authors which do you really think requires more gravity and dignity?

4.) Music is not the ball and chain attached to the service in order to keep it from becoming too rambunctious.

5.) Sing as though God had promised to inhabit the praises of his people. Sing as though the hymns were battle cries rather than lullabies. Sing as though the voice was the actual instrument and the organ was merely the accompanist. 

6.) Remember that you are proclaiming lively oracles. Thus it would be a sin to bore people with them.

7.) Don’t read the prayers; pray them. Leading prayer with a warm heart and well-watered eyes is not a violation of canon law.

8.) Confess the creeds as though you actually believe them.

9.) Remember that sermons are not the purview of scribes. Speak as one having authority. You are an ambassador for the Most High; you didn’t come to extend his apologies.

10.) Always be mindful of both your congregation and your audience, understanding that the former isn’t the latter. Standing beside you is the General Assembly and Church of the Firstborn whose names are registered in heaven, the spirits of just men made perfect, cherubim and seraphim arrayed in festal garments, and all the saints of God both militant and triumphant. But standing before you is God, the judge of all, and Jesus Christ, the mediator of the New Covenant. Your congregation is innumerable but your audience is One.

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