Why People Don't Go To "Liturgical" Churches Part 2: It's Un-American!

This is my fourth article of six exploring "liturgical" worship and whether or not it works in my culture, that is "middle American Christianity". Here is our foundational question: Is the liturgy too elitist and academic for "regular" or mainstream Christians who fall into the general Evangelical, Pentecostal, or Protestant camps?

This article, the second of two parts, addresses some of the many possible reasons why worshipping God through "the liturgy" does not seem to work for my context. The particular focus here is why "the liturgy" as a worship practice challenges some of our most cherished "American values." 

The previous articles can be viewed here:
Is the Liturgy Too Elitist and Academic For "Normal" Christians?
Liturgical Worship is Like Being a Radiohead Fan
Why People Don't Go To "Liturgical" Churches Part 1: Liturgy's Superiority Complex

Reason #5). The liturgy "quenches the Spirit". It tells people how to worship and puts words in their mouths instead of allowing them to seek God freely in their own way.

Americans hate being told what to do. Americans like their independence. Americans want to be free to choose. This mindset most certainly translates to how people approach their worship of God. Sure, they will obey the Scriptures, but something like the liturgy is only "man made" and therefore not even remotely required or edifying. In fact, many Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians see anything remotely resembling the liturgy as "dead religion", as the opposite of what the Spirit of God can move and work through. To many Christians there seems to be something inherently wrong with being forced to pray a pre-written prayer, as if one could never pray those words sincerely or make them into an actual prayer to God. By default a "script" like the liturgy can only "stifle" or "quench" the moving of the Holy Spirit among God's people. The Spirit needs to be free and the liturgy is a man made attempt to relegate God. By having the liturgy as our basis of worship, it is as if we are telling God "These are the boundaries within which you are allowed to operate. Please go no further than the parameters within which we've set for you." 

Along with this, "liturgical" worship is viewed as "legalistic", as an additional (and man made!) law and thus antithetical to the Gospel. Galatians 4:8-11 is often invoked: "Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain." And so is Colossians 2:8: "See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ." As well as Romans 14:5-6: "One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God." These Scriptures are used to point out how those of us worshipping with the liturgy are either caught up in "worthless elementary principles" or are merely following our own convictions, which is fine so long as we do not thrust those convictions on others. That is, the liturgy is merely an option. In many cases the Holy Spirit is also invoked: "The Spirit moves on people in different ways and who are you to say how God leads different people to worship him?"

6). "The liturgy is great and all, but do we really have to do ALL of it?"

There are some churches who have discovered the "ancient paths" of the faith and have begun incorporating some liturgical elements in their worship and have also started following the Church calendar. Some have felt the conviction to celebrate Communion every week (or nearly every week). However, since these are typically "free church" or non-denominational congregations they do not have any regulations to follow and thus they often practice the liturgy as their own conscience and instincts dictates. When there is no obligation to do the whole thing, pastors and worship leaders will typically only do what makes sense to them. In other words, it is difficult for us to submit to the whole of the liturgy, especially where there is no denominational oversight or regulations. This goes back to my earlier point about legalism, where the mindset is "This is all good stuff, but it's not like it's a requirement or anything. Let's just do what is most natural to us." And thus American Evangelical/Charismatic churches rarely live into the full liturgical tradition. We hate feeling like we have to do something, that if rules and strictures are placed on us from an outside source or an overseeing authority, that it is somehow wrong. After all, as Americans we are a people who threw off our oppressors! We are the ones who will decide for ourselves what is the right way to worship God. Of course, when it comes to seriously practicing the liturgy, things rarely get this far in 21st Century American Christendom. The American Church has long been a fractured assemblage of church bodies "going their own way," and thus something like the liturgy is merely one option among many to choose from, and only if you so desire (and people rarely desire, I have found).

7.) The liturgy takes a lot of time—to understand and to practice. My former pastor Fr. Jay Greener of Church of the Redeemer in Highland Park, Illinois always encouraged people to stick around our congregation for at least three years. He wasn't so much trying to gain more members as he was encouraging people to enter into a new way of life, a way of worshipping God that takes a lot of time and repetition. In three years you get to go through the entire cycle of the lectionary Scripture readings. You get to enter into Lent and Advent and Easter and Ordinary Time at three different stages of your life. You get to repeat the Creed and the Confession of Sin every week as you gather around The Lord's Table. Your mind memorizes the words, your body memorizes the motions, and your heart memorizes a continual posture of humility, praise, and wonder. But this takes time. Most people get bored and most people immediately start questioning why there is SO MUCH to memorize (as stated above).

8.) Finally, in summation, the liturgy has no brand recognition amongst Evangelicals (or "normal" Christians), meaning it is not an excepted "brand" of Church worship or Church culture and therefore is not trusted or desirable as a choice for most Christians.
Let's take an alternative example: You do not need to force people to read ALL of the Harry Potter books and neither do you need to tell football players to follow ALL of the rules of football. No, readers of fiction and serious athletes eagerly give themselves over to the fullness of whatever they love. Readers eat up every page, memorize obscure facts, wear elaborate and authentic costumes ("cosplay"), and argue with people for hours on end about what the books mean. Football players work hard in the off season, memorize complex plays, and dutifully listen to their coaches in the hopes of winning a championship. But we do not typically treat church this way. We treat churches like big-box department stores that need to have all items in stock, have those items easy to find and cheap as possible, and create an overall positive shopping experience. Whether we like it or not we Americans treat our religions like the consumers we've been trained to be and the "brand" of "liturgical" worship is not a trusted or desired source (as all my previous points have established). There are other more accessible "brands" of church in our community. Their product is easier to understand. Their product is more comfortable to us. Their product affords us many more conveniences. And therefore we choose that product instead. Why would anyone want a Church product that is difficult to use, difficult to understand, and makes us feel uncomfortable? It's simple really, "Liturgical Church" is not the brand for us. But I wonder what would happen if Joel Osteen, Andy Stanley, Rick Warren, Steven Furtick, or Bill Johnson started seriously incorporating liturgical practices into their worship...?

And so I end on a decidedly cynical note...but if I am going to remain committed to liturgy (and I am) all my lamenting and "diagnosing" does no good unless it leads me to try and figure out a solution, to figure out how to translate the liturgy for today's people and how to enact it in today's world so that it compels modern humanity to worship and devotion to Christ and his mission as I believe it is designed to do. 

This coming Sunday I will be doing what I always do, celebrating the liturgy and entering into the rhythm of the Church calendar. I still hope to be able to invite others into the celebration. And so, with this renewed sense of hope my next two articles (to be put up next week) will turn, the first focusing on how the liturgy can speak to us and the second focusing on the Church calendar. It is time to reconstruct and for those of us who know little about liturgy or who have been put off by it, I am offering you a chance to consider or re-consider it.

A chance for reflection: after reading through these intentionally negative and deconstructionist articles what is there here worth reflecting on? Perhaps this is a moment requiring some introspection and self-analysis:

1.) If you find yourself in the "liturgical tradition" have you attempted to get into the headspace and heartspace of those Christians who would never set foot in your kind of church? To you they may be in error, but have you considered a way you might engage with them and open them up to a realm of worship that is foreign and off-putting to them? What has helped you to be more patient and understanding with where they are coming?

2.) If you go to a more "low church" or "free church" congregation is there anything about your worship that is more "American" or self-serving rather than being rooted in the Bible or your identity in Christ? Were there ever any moments where your negative conceptions of "liturgical" churches were challenged and revealed to be rooted in false presuppositions? 

Other Articles in this series:
Is the Liturgy Too Elitist and Academic For "Normal" Christians?
Liturgical Worship is Like Being a Radiohead Fan
Why People Don't Go To "Liturgical" Churches Part 1: Liturgy's Superiority Complex
How the Liturgy can speak to modern people (if we allow it to)
How the Church Calendar Can Speak to Modern People—Turning our holidays into holy-days
What Exactly Is a Normal Christian Anyway? (and yes, my answer sounds elitist)
Related Articles on Worship and Liturgy
Will it Endure? The Search For a Canon of Contemporary Worship Music
I Don't Care If the Church Will Sing It In 2065
Worship in Full Spectrum: An Introduction
Hymnals = Vinyl: The Case For and Against Hymnals in Worship 

Confession: I Am An Irrelevant Worship Pastor
4 Things I Learned About Worship By Being on a Podcast
Worship Music Should Be Radically Contemporary


anndw22 said...

Dear Christopher Marchand,
Because I am intrigued by the liturgy, I have skimmed your articles, responded twice, and now I am responding to the 1st question at the end of this article. I think that God has put this question about the liturgy in your head so that He can bring you to the place He is leading you to in regard to His view of the liturgy. Have I ever considered getting into the headspace of those who worship in a different venue? No, not really. I know that I am worshiping where I am because He brought me to this place and has settled me in. I will stay as long as He says stay and will be ready to leave when He says leave. And I figure He places others where He wants them. He just picked up one of my friends who is a life-long member of the "liturgical" church and placed her in a non-denominational church. He settles His people into the body of believers---the church ---with Christ as Head for His own good purpose and theirs. Liturgy, no-liturgy, Robes, suits, Hawaiian shirts, building, no building... Is the gospel preached... Christ crucified / resurrected...Is the gospel lived....? Is the mandate from the gospels implemented: Go, make disciples, baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all Christ's commands?.... why are you spending so much time on the talking about the liturgy? And why some worship here and some there? "What is that to you?" God's got it. It would be interesting to read His response to you about this. Blessings, FHs Ann Westerman

Fr Richard said...

Chris, I think part the problem here is what seems to be an assumption on your part that you think pentecostals/protestants/etc. are Christian. Of course non-Christians don't want the Liturgy; the Liturgy will make them Christian instead of semi-pagan.

Jake T said...

Wow. I think I just got called a pagan (or rather, I got called one several months ago and just found it out!

Jake T said...

Wow. I think I just got called a pagan (or rather, I got called one several months ago and just found it out!