I couldn’t think of a snappier title. The two topics listed are not related, they just show up on the same blog, Michael Spencer’s Internet Monk.
First, a fictional (and hilarious) send-up of mainstream media coverage of Easter this past weekend. It’s conversation between two CNN producers, “Frank” and “Joe,” about what their angle on Easter should be this year.
Second, as part of a regular feature called “The Liturgical Gangstas,” IM poses a question to a panel of representatives of churches on the more liturgical end of things.
Here’s this week’s question:
One of the hardest things for evangelicals to understand is liturgy. It is equated with dead, ritualized, rote, repetitive religious observance. It’s assumed to be irrelevant and terminally boring. Many evangelicals glory in being “anti-liturgical.”
Make a brief argument or outline for the value of liturgy, not just in your tradition, but for all Christians. Especially, what would be your response to the typical evangelical complaints that liturgy is a prescription for a lethargic personal experience of faith.
One of the responses — by Wyman Richardson, a Southern Baptist minister, really caught my eye. In part, he said:
I think I’d want to start with the inevitability of liturgy. Here is something I’ve learned after a lifetime spent in churches that pride themselves in being free of liturgy and dead ceremony (terms used interchangeably in some places): the premise is absurd. There is no liturgy-free worship, and the moniker “non-liturgical” makes about as much sense as “government intelligence.”
The same churches that will ostensibly operate beneath the feigned guise of “free” worship or “Spirit-led” worship will inevitably, predictably, and without fail fall into a liturgy that is so set it makes the Greek Orthodox look like wild-eyed Pentecostals on speed. I’ve heard Baptist deacons anathematize written prayers only to turn around and say the same prayer over the offering plates that they were regurgitating back when Herbert Hoover was in office (i.e., “Father we just…”, “bring into the storehouse…”, “our tithes and your offerings…”, “bless the gift and the giver…”, with about 10 more “just’s” and “umm’s” thrown in). I’ve seen the same Baptist people who mock the formulaic worship of the liturgical churches respond to small changes in the customary bulletin layout with a venom that makes Genghis Khan seem like Stuart Smalley. I’ve known pastors in churches which chide the physicality and symbolism of liturgical churches almost get martyred in the center aisle for suggesting that the flag be moved from the sanctuary, or for putting their Bibles on the communion table, or for projecting a song instead of singing from the hymn book. The same Baptist who will condemn the Catholics for their relics will threaten to murder you in your sleep if you move the black-and-white picture of Miss Bussie from the display cabinet in the foyer. I’ve met more Tetzels in Baptist land than outside it.
The only difference between the “non-liturgical” churches and the “liturgical” churches is that the former’s liturgy is (1) present but denied, (2) inherited instead of intentional, (3) culturally defined instead of ecclesiologically mandated, and (4) largely pragmatic instead of theological.
Now, this inevitability creates an irony but not a dilemma, and that’s where I’ve been trying to lead the church I pastor in appropriate and careful ways. Should not these inevitable structures, ceremonies, and services be intentionally infused with the wisdom of the church triumphant and ancient instead of subterfuged by the implicit assumptions of whatever culture we happen to reside in? Should we not see the siren song of neophilia (”love of the new”) as less desireable than the ancient liturgical practices? Will we not have more genuine “freedom” in worship operating in the context of a living, embraced, meaningful, God-exalting, deliberate liturgy of substance than we currently do in the context of our own assumed freedom which inevitably ends up being simple enslavement to the cultural mores of that odd little patch of earth we happen to live on?
So liturgy is inevitable and it ought to be embraced. To be sure, the old warnings against “dead ceremony” are legitimate and should be heeded. I do indeed relish the Baptist emphasis on the movement of the Spirit in worship and the place for passionate preaching and extemporaneous prayer and testimony. I mean that sincerely. But it would seem that one could not only embrace the best of both realities, but that the liturgical forms of the church can actually aid us in seeking God’s power and movement in our midst. [Emphases mine, CRC]
Sound like anybody you know?