4 things I learned about worship by being on a podcast

Last week I was on a local podcast, called "The Walrus and the Carpenter". I spoke on worship, liturgy, worship music, and the sacraments. You can listen to it or download it here: 

High Church, Low Church, Some Church, No Church

Of course, I highly recommend you do so.

The podcast is put on by two lower-case baptist pastors, Garry Geer of Calvary Baptist Bible Church and Jason Alligood of Fellowship Bible Church, both in Peoria, IL. At least, I know one of them is lower-case baptist—I'm not really sure about the other guy. It get's confusing after a while. This is why Anglicanism (which I am a part of) is so much easier—there's just nothing confusing about it all. Not sketchy national ties, or whether we're "Catholic" or not (or "catholic" ?), or having multiple Anglican movements/denominations in the U.S. Ab-so-lute-ly nothing confusing about it what-so-ever.

Moving on, afterward, I didn't really know what to think about the discussion I had with them. I felt like I might have come off a little too abrasive or that I took too much time explaining what is different between them and I (e.g., liturgy and the sacraments) and not enough time on our commonalities. I mentioned this the next day to Pastor Garry, who is a good friend of mine, but he told me not to worry and everything went fine.

Still, in the days since they put up the podcast I've been doing some reflecting on what I said, what I wish I would have said, and my approach to the whole conversation.

So, here are 4 things I realized about myself and about worship through this process. The 4th point is the most important one, (to me) justifying this entire post.

1. I need to become a better liturgical scholar: You wouldn't believe the amount of books on my shelves regarding liturgical theology, sacramental theology, the history of worship, the history of Anglicanism, and the practice of Anglican worship that I haven't read yet. And THEN, there's all the books in the same subject I don't even own yet. I am a bi-vocational worship pastor, which means I split my time between the paying job and the ministry job, which doesn't leave enough time in my week for concentrated study. Still, I want to get a better foundation in my main field of study over the next few years and become more articulate regarding how I speak on liturgy and the sacraments, especially when to people for whom such subjects might be foreign. (For a truly articulate conversation on liturgy, watch this conversation between my former pastor Jay Greener and theologian James Smith).

2. I'm more prideful than I realized about the way I do worship: I really truly believe doing the liturgy is the "correct" way for the Church to worship God, that it is more than my personal preference, that there is a universality to it that applies to all worshipping Christian communities, but that doesn't give me a reason to be arrogant about it. I might not come across all that arrogant in the interview, but that's probably because I was fighting it within myself the whole time. Let me say this: if I were having a conversation between me and two other Anglicans you better believe I would have come across entirely haughty for doing worship the "right" way whereas everybody is else doing it "wrong". Actually, I could sense the same tendency in Garry and Jason for opposite reasons, but they held the reigns tightly on their own swelling pride. For instance, they do expository preaching while we preach from the lectionary, and I know that I know that I know they think their form is superior, and that's fine. It is really tough to not be arrogant about this stuff and the interview helped me to be aware of how easily I place myself into the "in" camp on these issues, relegating everyone else to the "outside" ignorant darkness.

3. Because really, I love the Church and the fellowship of all believers: Yeah, my third realization is that I love being with and talking to fellow believers who challenge me and encourage me in my faith. For all our differences, there is so much Garry, Jason, and I share in common. I loved talking with them and hearing how God is moving in all our hearts in similar ways and I long for our world to know Christ and to acknowledge him as Lord, savior, and king.

4. Finally, and most importantly, more than ever I believe following and practicing the liturgy should be central to every congregation's worshipping, missional, and shared life together and that I have significant concerns for churches who don't follow it

At one point in the conversation Garry asked me what role I thought the liturgy played in the sanctification of believers, which is basically to ask what role it plays in making believers more like Christ and more holy. Although I think I answered the question relatively well, I do wish I was a little more articulate. Essentially, what I said was that in the circles in which I run (which tend to be high church Anglo-Catholics) the "liturgy" seems to be the official agreed upon words we are required to say every week. That by "doing the liturgy" we mean to say that we've said all the correct words in the correct order. Actually though, the word liturgy itself means "the work of the people", and thus when God's people gather together to "do the liturgy" we are together doing a work that proclaims and lives out 4 indispensable things: 

1. Who our God is 
2. What our God has done and will do
3. Who we are as a result of 1 and 2, and 
4. How we are to live as a result of 1 and 2. 

So what I meant to say without trying to sound arrogant about it, was that it is my contention there is no better way for believers to learn about the work of the Triune God and to live out their faith in that God than through enacting the liturgy every week as a community. And thus it would also be my contention that congregations who do not "do the liturgy" have a serious deficiency in how they worship and in how they are shaping their people. God certainly shepherds and sanctifies and disciples all his people, but my concern is that without the liturgy undergirding their lives a vast majority of believers are significantly malnourished. This does not stem from a belief that my church worships God the "correct" way, but instead that the liturgy merely teaches us the essentials of the Christian faith in the most matter of fact way possible (It would take an incredible amount of work to teach and do all the things the liturgy does within a compact amount of time in other church settings, such as an adult education hour or a weekly small group/Bible study). It is also a belief that the liturgy is NOT about reciting the correct set of words in the correct order but is about doing a set of actions all of which are the core of the Christian faith. Now, whether or not "liturgical" churches do a good enough job of explaining what the liturgy is about to their people is a topic for another time.

Allow me to explain my position briefly. What I am about to attempt to articulate is contained within numerous volumes (most influentially in the work of Alexander Schmemann and Aidan Kavanagh), and thus my explanation is in no way complete.

Every time my congregation gathers to worship on Sunday we perform a number of actions, which might be called rituals. We 

worship and give praise to God (often through singing), 
we pray to God on a personal level (through written and spontaneous prayers), 
we confess our sins and receive forgiveness, 
we hear God's word read aloud and we discuss God's word together (in the sermon), 
we confess our faith (in the Creed), 
we pray and intercede for the needs of our world and community (in the prayers of the people), 
we make peace with each other (in the "passing of peace"), 
we give back to God what he has provided for us (by giving our money in the offering), 
we remember all that Christ did for us through his death and resurrection (in Communion), 
we are reconciled back to God and to each other (also through Communion), and, 
living in light of what Christ has done, we are sent back out into the world to live out and proclaim the "Good News" of Christ.

The liturgy, then is very simply the bedrock of the Christian faith. It is not about getting worship "right" for an hour our more on a Sunday, but about teaching us how to live every moment of our lives. It is a series of actions that should permeate our entire being. For we should always be a people who 

worships God, 
who prays to God, 
who confesses our sins, 
who hears God's word and responds with belief and action, 
who prays for our world, 
who makes peace with our brothers and sisters, 
and who remembers and lives out the work of Christ. 

These are both daily personal actions and weekly corporate actions.* These are normal everyday Christian things. 

Essentially, there is nothing non-essential about the liturgy. It all needs to be done and ALL the time. It's not about the words—it's about the actions. It is simply what the Church does. It consists of the "normal" day to day actions of those "in Christ" but laid out over the structure of a time of gathered worship. And the structure for putting these actions into place have been handed down to us already. To have invented the structure on our own would have been quite the daunting task indeed. Praise God we have a tradition to guide us and under which to submit to. Through it, may we all "grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." (Ephesians 4:15, ESV)

Let me end with two points of clarification: 

1. While it can and should be taught about as primarily a set of actions, the liturgy is also primarily experiential is nature. Assuming the various stages of the liturgy are explained in brief during worship gathering and at length in different educational church settings (Sunday School, small groups, etc.), the beauty and proficiency of the liturgy is that it teaches by doing. So, for example, should we teach our people at length how to make peace and seek forgiveness with those in our community? Yes, of course. But just in case we haven't taught on that in a while, we also allow time every week to actually go and make peace and seek forgiveness. We don't just teach on peace, as a people we go and do it
2.I am not suggesting we do the liturgy as some kind of law, as if we have to follow it to the letter. I would instead say that we should follow/practice the liturgy in the same way the church in Acts 2:42-47 were about a number of definite communal practices. I would argue that empowered by the Spirit, those practices, as outline in Acts 2, are simply the Church being the Church and that the liturgy is the extension of Acts 2 handed down to us through the generations. This is a Law/Gospel distinction, a key Reformation principle as laid out in this article, where we practice this thing called the liturgy as an act of love, as a people compelled by God. It is a law written on our hearts by God's grace. 

*I fully realize the Daily Office, that is, the daily practice of Morning and Evening Prayer, a tradition in the Anglican Church, are daily corporate actions. What I mean to say is that the Church's corporate worship is not only a weekly action, but can be done daily. However, it is increasingly difficult to do so in our bifurcated commuter culture where the phenomenon of neighborhood church (or parish church) has all but vanished.

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liturgy said...

Thanks for these thoughts.

Christ is Risen!


rocket said...

Rock on, Chris!
I liked the podcast and your afterthoughts. I'm also a convert to Anglicanism, from Evangelical Free and Presbyterian background, about 25 years ago. High church would be my preference, though loyalty to the people in my current parish wins.
Some 20 years ago I learned about the Benedictine roots of Anglicanism (Canterbury Cathedral was a Benedictine abbey for the middle 500 years of its history) and, a few years later, was introduced to Kavanagh and Schmemann.
You wrote: "Assuming the various stages of the liturgy are explained in brief during worship gathering ..." -- The last time our parish (then ECUSA) was in between rectors I had the privilege of presenting a 2-3 minute talk once a month (before the offertory) on some aspect of (or related to) the liturgy. Reading Kavanagh and Schmemann, augmented by the gracious loan of a stack of books on liturgical theology from the rector of a neighboring parish, was a huge boost in my personal and devotional engagement with the liturgy. In the talks my aim was to help the rest of the congregation connect personally and spiritually with that boost, and I think there was some success. Most of the responses were gratifying, especially from some who had been Episcopalians far longer than I, who told me they'd learned something new.

Jake T said...

As somebody with very strong low church roots and preferences (I'm pretty sure my way is right and ya'll are definitely doing it wrong), the things you listed as the Liturgy sound like a pretty normal order of service.

I don't really understand much about what liturgy really is-how is what you do different (in more than just form) than what we do on Sunday morning?

PostConsumer Reports said...

thanks for sharing your story. I'm convinced all "liturgical" churches need to get used to continually explaining and re-explaining what the liturgy is doing. It's not going to cut it anymore for high church congregations to just breeze through everything and expect people to know what's going on. We're past that point as a culture and I think it borders on rudeness and is a bad witness to our guests that are un-initiated. It's great to hear about your 2-3 minute talks.

PostConsumer Reports said...

Great question Jake!
What your asking is a blog post unto itself, so I will attempt to be brief here.
Here's what I would say is a typical structure to a "low-church" worship gathering:
1. Greetings, gatherings
2. Worship song set
3. Announcements/Offering (with a "special" song)
4. Sermon
5. Optional response to sermon (such as an altar call or call to salvation)
6. Optional celebration of Communion

What would you add to this? Of course, it could be re-arranged a little depending on how individual churches do it.

So, I would say the liturgy is a more full expression of our faith in this. In the low-church liturgy above, there's no real call to confess our sins to God. Some churches do a brief confessions (silently)before they take Communion, but most low-church congregations only take Communion monthly or quarterly. In liturgical churches every week we confront our sins, give them to God, and receive forgiveness. Now, of course ALL low-church congregations advocate going to God to confess sins, but what I'm saying is that low-church congregations do not actively give their people an opportunity to do so within their gathered worship times. Liturgy is at its most effective when it both gives me the opportunity to live out my faith in the moment (confess and receive forgiveness right there and then with all of God's people)and disciples me for the rest of my life (it gives me a framework to go to God to seek repentance in my normal everyday life "out in the world").

There are many other aspects of the Christian faith that low-church times of worship simply do not cover. I grew up in a church that had some awesome mid-week prayer services where we really sought God's face for the world and for the people in our lives that were in need. In liturgical churches we are given the opportunity to do this when we gather together on Sundays, although it is way more dry than the Pentecostalism I grew up with. I would also say liturgical churches need to get a lot better at having their own intercessory prayer services during the week (I know there are some out there).

Scripture is another thing. In my church we read out long sections of the Bible for all to hear. None of the low-church congregations I went to or visited growing up did this, even though they claimed to value Scripture so highly.

Low-church congregations also usually do not confess the Creed, pass peace among each other (giving us a chance to seek forgiveness), or have a true sending out into the world on the mission God has called us to.
Some of these things are present in low-church worship, but the liturgy very intentionally makes us aware of them.

All in all, I would say you should experience liturgical worship over the course of a few months or even years. I'm being a bit cheeky when I say that, but a former pastor of mine used to say it takes about 3 years before someone really starts to understand what the liturgy is about, what it does, and how it shapes us.

Jake T said...

Hm. That gives me some good stuff to chew on - thanks.

I used to be part of the (very) low church Christian Church (you know, the denomination that is convinced it isn't one).

Interestingly, they have a lot stronger liturgy than any other church I've been a part of - the fact that they do communion every week has something to do with that I think, but it's interesting to me just how homogeneous those Christian churches are on Sunday morning compared with other denomination' various churches.