Liturgical churches have long been a favorite evangelical punching bag. Those of you who are fellow evangelicals, see if any of these sound familiar: “They’re dead.” “They’re religious.” “It’s all just dead, dry ritual.” “It’s not religion, it’s a relationship, and they just don’t have a clue.” “It’s all just meaningless words and rote repetition.” “They worship God in vain; it’s all just rules taught by men.” In my church, the one I hear most frequently is “They’re irrelevant.”
I would like to speak to this today, because this critique does liturgical churches a gross injustice, and as a matter of fact it betrays a lack of understanding on our part.
Granted, there are an awful lot of liturgical churches out there that are fully deserving of this critique. But liturgical Protestantism is not quite the dead, dry wasteland that we evangelicals make it out to be. There are lots of good things happening in the LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod)–take a gander at this video from Grace Lutheran Church out in Tulsa and see what you think. Also there are lots of Anglican churches that have defected from the Episcopal Church USA in recent years over the Gene Robinson thing and other issues. Many of these churches have joined up with the Anglican Mission in America (an outreach of the African Anglican communion), and there are plenty of good things happening there as well.
Part of the problem here is that, in many regards, evangelicals just don’t get liturgical Christianity. For instance, we may look at a liturgical service where the sermon only runs for about ten to twenty minutes and say that these people have no regard for the word of God or the authority of Scripture. Or we may look at the use of music in a liturgical service and say that these people just don’t have a clue about worship.
The truth of the matter is that there are serious and profound differences between the ethos of liturgical Christianity and the ethos of evangelicalism. Because of this, certain things will look decidedly different in a liturgical church than they would in an evangelical church.
Take preaching, for example. We evangelicals believe that preaching is sacramental (though we would probably never in a million years use that word to describe it); that is, that God meets us and speaks to us through the preached Word; and therefore our attitude toward preaching is “Love it, love it, love it, gotta have more of it!!!!! Feed us!!!!! Fill us up until our brains burst wide open!!!!!” On the other hand, a liturgical church which has a very high regard for the word of God and the authority of Scripture may have only ten or twenty minutes devoted to the sermon. This does not mean that they despise the word of God or the authority of Scripture; it just means that they have different ideas about the role of preaching and how the sermon should coexist with other elements of the service.
Or take worship as another example. We evangelicals are infatuated with the idea of worship as nothing more than the part of the service where we sing–or rather, are sung to by professional musicians on a stage with a rocking band and a kick-ass light show. Recently on one of my favorite blogs, a Catholic blogger and commenter expressed that this view is completely and totally foreign to her understanding of worship because, in the Catholic scheme of things, every part of the service is worship:
Now see, here is the part that makes my head spin.And I don’t want to sound like a proselytizing Catholic who’s criticizing the non-Catholics, because that’s not my intent, and we’re just as bad in the other direction.
But I did have a real moment of cognitive dissonance (fancy term, heh?) when I tumbled to it that by “worship leader”, people meant the person in charge of the music.
I was going “But…but.. the pastor? minister? whatever you call the guy on the altar? okay, you don’t call it an altar, probably, but… but…”
And that’s the head-spinning bit for me. Prayer isn’t worship, listening to the Scriptures isn’t worship, the service of the Lord’s Supper/Communion isn’t worship.
Worship means singing along (or more like, reading some of these posts, sitting and listening) to sub-rock songs. Worship means having a band (an actual band, with drums and guitars) playing and a soloist warbling.
That’s worship? Or a rock concert for the formerly hip and the non-hip (amongst whom I’d include myself, so not sneering)?
Seriously, as an interested, fascinated, and rather frightened outsider, when did “worship = watered-down secular music” become the equation?
Now there is plenty of room here for a rant about how evangelicals have completely and totally denigrated worship by making it all about music. But that’s another diatribe best left for another day.
The point here is that in liturgical churches, worship is going to look quite a bit different than it does in evangelical churches. Not because they are not serious about pursuing God through worship, but because they have made different decisions about what constitutes worship and about what is the proper role of music in the service.
And I haven’t yet said anything about the sacramental part of liturgical services. Most liturgical churches have a significant portion of their service that is devoted to the Lord’s Supper, because they believe that this is a crucially important thing where God has promised to meet us in a very special way. Unfortunately this is something which we evangelicals just don’t know what to do with.
The upshot of all this, my friends: Be very careful in criticizing our liturgical brethren as “dead”, “religious”, “traditionalistic”, or even “irrelevant”. Even if they are. Because all is not hopelessly lost out there in the liturgical wasteland. There are liturgical churches which are serious about the things of God; but many things in those churches will look decidedly different from what we expect. So let us not rush to judgment, but let us instead take the time and effort to understand.