Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Return of the Liturgy

There is a current attraction among those evangelicals of non-liturgical background for having a liturgy, whether by going to churches that still possess one or instituting one in churches that do not. I cannot say I am without sympathy with this impulse. Is it a good thing?

I am convinced that if God had wanted to institute a detailed order of service for the Christian church, He would have. We need only look at the detailed Old Testament description of the tabernacle and its service to see it could be done. I am convinced God commands what He intends to command (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:5,6; Matthew 15:8,9).  Nor is there any basis for an identifiable extra-Biblical apostolic tradition that prescribes such things. And how would you tell which of the traditions was the right one? Therefore, while I conclude that the New Testament lays down broad principles of how worship should be done, it does not prescribe the details. Now this is a two-edged sword that undermines both the dogmatic liturgist and also the dogmatic anti-liturgist. It leaves us free to chose, within broad boundaries, how we are to worship. And one possible opinion could be a liturgy.

There are, I conclude, dangers in both directions. It is possible to see a liturgy as magic words and to feel we can only approach God through the words of the liturgy. It is also possible, through opposition to liturgy, to reject any carefully thought out or planned part of a service, even opposing people writing out their own prayers beforehand. The one can end up opposing any sort of personal involvement. The other can end up opposing any kind of deep thought or preparation. I suspect there is some kind of middle ground here. If it were up to me (so far no one has been willing to put me in charge), I would probably try to bring together what I thought were the best elements of various forms of worship. But I believe the freedom here allows for many possible approaches. If some congregation or group of congregations wants to preserve or institute a liturgy because it is deep or beautiful or shows our continuity with the Christians who have gone before us or simply because they are accustomed to it, I have no problem with that. But the absolute opinions expressed on both sides, that theirs is the only right way, will not stand up to examination.  

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