That’s a loaded statement. And, it’s one we need to discuss. While the answer may elude us, and more questions may arise than answers, the way we worship in our various churches is a serious matter that needs to be part of a larger conversation that includes culture, society, and the rise of secularism we’re witnessing right now.
Our ship is taking on water, and some, instead of bailing, are filling up the boat by the bucketfuls.
Identifying the Problem
In our worship meetings, it is often difficult to distinguish between worship of an almighty God and the concert arena. All manner of elements have become part of our worship, and it is difficult to distinguish between the sacred and secular. What is part of one can easily be imported from the other. Music, with it’s performance cousins sound and lighting, are at times indistinguishable from the concert in the arena. Preaching, too, can resemble a self-help book or an afternoon “fix-your-life” TV show. The line between sacred and profane is, at times, blurred at best.
If you’re an 80 year-old, don’t blame me. It’s not my fault. And, I (a 53 year-old), will certainly not place blame on those 20-something year-old worship leaders. We – all of us – have simply repeated history.
It’s His Fault
The line between sacred and secular in our worship services was blurred a long time ago by a guy named Constantine. In the early 4th century, Constantine, the emperor of the Roman world, legalized Christianity. No longer were Christians persecuted for their beliefs. No longer were they seen as a problem in the empire. Instead, Christians, who had to make a deliberate decision to follow in The Way, could come out into the open and live their faith. They were free…and free to worship.
What once was done in secret in a believer’s house, could now be done in the middle of the city in the temple. Preachers could wear their robes, singers could sing louder, and everyone could attend the weekly gathering of saints. From the catacombs to the city square, believers made the joyous procession to worship God.
However, the gatherings that once focused on the “writings of the Apostles”, to praying, to giving alms, to caring for the widow and orphan, and breaking bread to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus, became infected from the outside. All those who now freely came brought with them their previous pagan practices and slowly, surely incorporated them into Christian worship. What was once a singular expression of believers was now being corrupted by a pagan, or secular, society.
In the book Perspectives on Christian Worship: 5 Views, Timothy Quill, a Lutheran pastor, proposes a focus on the historic Liturgy of the church. The liturgy is simply the elements included in worship, and may be a word many are unfamiliar with.
Liturgy – from the Greek leitourgia – is used in the New Testament man times whenever worship is discussed. The word literally means public service, and in the early church referred to the acts of worship. It’s from that Greek word that we get ‘liturgy’, and it is used to describe what we do as a church when we worship.
Before you dismiss the word, thinking that your church doesn’t incorporate a liturgy in its Sunday gatherings, know that your church does indeed have a liturgy. It may be an unintentional liturgy, but it’s a liturgy, nonetheless.
Think about your Sunday morning service. How does it usually begin? An upbeat song? And then, what usually follows that? A prayer? And then, some more songs, and so on? That pattern, that weekly way of doing worship at your church is a liturgy. It’s the accepted way and followed by your congregation weekly, and it says a lot about your church.
Quill tells us that “Worship practice reflects and communicates the beliefs of the church. Liturgy articulates doctrine.” That means how you worship says much about what you believe. Some churches observe communion every Sunday. Others will have a time set aside for manifestation of spiritual gifts. Others will sing a few songs, then hear an hour-long sermon. Still, others will read scripture from a Psalm, an Epistle, and a Gospel. All of it says much about what is important to you and your church.
What Liturgy Should Do
In his article, Quill clearly states that liturgy is not style. Music is not limited by preferences. Preaching, too, is not a stylistic issue. While we all have preferences, we can’t equate those to liturgy. Liturgy has one purpose, and that is to reflect the gospel.
In some churches, the liturgy will be divided into the liturgy of the Word (preaching and scripture) and the liturgy of the Table (the Lord’s Supper). Within these two parts is the opportunity to express the gospel – who God is, who man is, what Christ has done, and how we respond.
Quill goes on to say that the liturgy provides “a common biblical and theological understanding of how man acts in God’s presence and, more importantly, how God has chosen to be present and how God acts towards those gathered in his name.”
A liturgy will help us stayed focused on God and the gospel. It will help us, too, keep the secular influences out of our worship, an act of public service that is unique to believers who celebrate the gospel. If we are to be an influence in our society, then we must focus on what makes us different and what gives us hope – God’s salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Focusing on the gospel in our worship is the correct way to worship. Any time we stray from that, and allow something other than the gospel to be proclaimed and lived, we become no different from the pagans.
Let our liturgy proclaim the gospel.