Before I was Anglican, I was Baptist, and the only time I’ve heard of the word “Liturgy” was at a nondenominational Christian conference seminar about the importance of liturgy. I was 16 years old and didn’t give a care to the word so I’ve forgotten everything he said about it.
After being led by my husband to consider Anglicanism, I had to learn the word! A short explanation from a previous post:
What is liturgy? What is Anglican liturgy? Liturgy is an orderly and structured form of church worship that consists of a combination of prayers, readings, songs, and sacraments. The Anglican liturgy is uniquely defined in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. It specifically contains a 3-year schedule of prayers (where you sometimes stand and sometimes sit), readings from the Bible (at least one from the Old Testament, one of the Epistles, and one from the Gospels), and the sacrament (Communion). Each year is broken down into liturgical seasons where upon a different theme is focused. This sounds boring, you may be thinking. With centuries of knowledge and time dedicated to figuring out the best chorus of verses and prayers, the liturgy is quite exciting and helps focus the soul on what’s most important: Christ. Check out this article on “Why Millennials Long for Liturgy.”
I’ve attended church my entire life, and I feel like I’ve seen all type of churches – nondenominational, pentecostal, free, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Catholic and Baptist. From my experience with people from each kind of church, it seemed like there were the ‘dead’ churches (Lutheran, Presbyterian, Catholic) and there were the ‘alive’ churches (nondenominational, pentecostal, and free). So I came to the conclusion that the ‘dead’ churches were the ones with liturgy, so the aspect of liturgy must be why those Christians don’t seem to have a faith that is alive.
There are so many layers of my perception of faith to unpack, but I thought that my relationship with God was driven primarily by my ability to ‘feel’ Him emotionally and secondarily driven by duty. If God is love, and we understand that true love isn’t driven by emotion but rather dedication, then why define your relationship with God through emotions and not obedience? Why thirst for that ‘spiritual’ emotional high and not a dedicated approach to bringing God honor?
Once I was able to set aside my primitive understanding of my relationship with God, and embrace duty and obedience as more important, the idea of liturgical services became a viable option for me. After attending several liturgical services, I felt a sense of awe and reverence to God that I had not experienced in the ‘low-church’ setting. The reverence I felt was a much more appropriate emotional response to God than the “Jesus is my buddy” concept floating about. Peter Kwasniewski wrote in The New Liturgical Movement, “This ancient and longstanding custom [the silent canon of liturgy], like the ad orientem stance and the exercise of liturgical roles by ordained ministers, expresses the great reverence due to our Lord Jesus Christ in the most Blessed Sacrament.”
Despite my emotional response of reverence to the liturgy, liturgy contains within it centuries of wisdom and custom. What is the purpose of Sunday morning worship? Is it to get that personal emotional high? Is it to show personal obedience? Or is it a time of corporate worship? As tradition has passed down from the time of Jesus, corporate worship is the purpose of that Sabbath day. So the intention of the service should not be solely to make us feel closer to God, or even necessarily to educate the individual about God. It is to point our souls toward heaven and worship him corporately.
There are sections of the Bible that, when studied carefully by scholars, reveal that even in Jesus’ time or soon after, people were already conducting liturgical services where creeds would be cited. These would be statements of faith that people memorized and spoke together during their gatherings. Some examples are:
1 Corinthians 15:3-7
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:
6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
These statements of faith have been preserved in the liturgy as creeds that are cited in liturgical services. What a beautiful tradition to keep!
I also trust in the many faithful, wise and Spirit-filled men and martyrs that died for the preservation of the gospel. They tailored a liturgical service together to best emphasize the important themes of the Bible to point us towards a holy and godly life. A church I attended before was known to preach through the Bible from Genesis to Revelations, which is great in a world that hardly reads the Bible, but I wonder, if every verse was given the same weight, time and importance as the next, the words of Christ would be heard as often as the genealogies, if not less! The design of the liturgical calendar and every individual service teases out the important verses necessary to sharpen our faith. The rest of the Bible is taught in a more personal setting. This is true spiritual formation.
If you come from a free church or pentecostal background, you may be thinking that liturgical services don’t ‘leave room for the Spirit to move.’ That’s what I once heard a pastor say in criticism of the Baptist churches, and they don’t even follow a liturgy! In response, the church as a body of believers from the time of Christ have come together to agree on things like the canon in the Council of Nicea and the liturgy has been put together through the leading of the Holy Spirit. The thing is, the church was deposited with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the massive cloud of witnesses since then has worshiped liturgically. Should an individual believer in the moment of worship trump the work and wisdom of the ancient cloud of witness? Sounds a little pretentious to me. The Spirit moved to create liturgical worship, and continues to be present and move within them; maybe not in the unexpected outburst or changing of a sermon as you may be accustomed to, but surely transporting worshipers to the throne room of God in reverence and humility.
Is liturgy important? The definitive answer is yes. Now the question is, how do I teach my baby to love the liturgy so that she might be properly formed and come to love Jesus?